Thursday, October 31, 2013

It takes confidence to wear a hat while surfing

“Time keeps on tickin’, tickin’ into the future.”

This unposed photo is almost a cliché by now. A young person absorbed in the trivialities of the virtual world while something beautiful happens in the real world. We old farts either chuckle at their foolishness or bewail the impending collapse of civilization.

But we all do this in some way. Maybe not glued to a smartphone or computer. Usually just caught up in the mundane demands of everyday life. 

When did you last pause to watch the sun set? Or spent unstructured, agenda-free time with people you love?

A friend says, “He who dies with the most memories wins.” What will your deathbed memories be?

While I’m on my current physical and mental journey, I’m making an effort to load in as many fine memories as I can. Among other things, I’ve pledged to myself to watch the sun set, to take notice of the planet spinning on its axis, of time passing. Because Time, that uncaring jerk, doesn’t stop for us. Tomorrow, and the next day and the next day arrive whether we’re ready or not. And they leave whether we’re done with them or not. Whether we’ve had any memorable experiences or not.

That young guy walking the beach (give him credit for being there instead of cooped up somewhere) probably thinks, like most young people, that there are decades ahead to notice the golden glow of sunsets over the Pacific. (Whoa! Where did my life go?) Maybe he has taken note of thousands already. Maybe he was on his smartphone setting up something exceptionally memorable. I hope so. What about you?

Aaargh, I'm a he-man!

This morning I stepped out of my van wearing lightweight nylon pants and a t-shirt, mesh sneakers with no socks. I was comfortable. Sure it was a little on the cool side—according to my thermometer it was 53 degrees. I’ve become acclimated. 

It helps that there’s no wind in the campground. I imagine if I climbed over the dunes to the beach I’d have a different story.

I feel a little smug, though, when I see fellow campers wearing their fleece jackets and warm hats. Wimps.

Then I think back to when I lived in a house. I would have been grumbling about the cold. Brrrr, don’t want to go out in that!

Beach-front room, $45.00

I lived in California for nineteen years, about two thirds of it in So Cal. I lived walking distance from a nice beach for five years. Yet I didn’t go that often.

“Eh, no need to go today. There will be plenty of other chances.”

Then those chances were gone. I moved east to where it was a real burden to get to the ocean. (And, I’m sorry, the Atlantic doesn’t qualify as an ocean. Well, except maybe the parts that abut the Caribbean.) Nearly all my vacations involved getting on a plane to a place with salt water and sunshine. “Bargain fares to Europe in winter? No thanks. I’d rather pay through the nose to go to the Caribbean or Mexico in high season.”

So, when I was in the California desert the other day, I thought, “What am I doing out here when the ocean is just down the highway a bit? Go west, old man, until you get wet.”

Today I’m at Carpinteria Beach. One of many that I’d never been to. It’s a classic Southern California beach. And the weather was actually rather nice this afternoon.

As far as campground prices go, the California State Beaches aren’t cheap. But they’re a steal compared to beachfront hotels. Purist van dwellers will refuse to stay anywhere that charges. Free camping only. I’m obviously not a purist. I’m an ex-Californian.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


Gas mileage has dropped suddenly and dramatically. Something's not right.


There's an advantage to camping on a weekday in the off season.

The geology of asphalt

BAD camper!

Left behind

Couldn't... quite... make... it... to... the... dumpster.

Some campers just don't care. 

Prettiest ten minutes of the day

Sunset at Lake Casitas.

Sunset at Lake Cachuma.

Strong magnet, weak glue

I use a hide-a-key on the van. This one happens to be made by Bell, the helmet makers.

This morning I needed to use that spare key because I wasn’t fully awake when I got out of the van and locked it up.

I reached under the van and got the hide-a-key from it’s secret spot. I unlocked the door, got my usual key and put the spare back in the hide-a-key. Everything worked like it was supposed to.

Except the magnet that holds the hide-a-key in its secret place was no longer on the hide-a-key. It was still stuck to the secret hiding place. That’s not right.

Fortunately, I have some glue that should remedy the problem. I will be generous with it.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Janette & Dick

Janette and Dick are pulling a trailer with their
restored and modified 1966 Ford Country Squire.
Janette said she didn't have time for lipstick.
Near Point Mugu, California.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Not enough eyes

I was driving down Pacific Coast Highway, from Malibu to Los Angeles, noticing cars parked along the road near beaches.

I wondered what the parking restrictions were. I occasionally saw signs saying no parking midnight to 7:00 AM. I saw some that said no parking at all.

But there seemed to be stretches without any parking signs. Did I just not see them? Was I too focused on the road and traffic? (Can one be too focused on driving?)

This is where a passenger would be handy. He/she could concentrate on signs and gather data.

But the Rolling Steel Tent has no passenger seat. I sacrificed it for more storage. Oh well.

Maybe I need some kind of advanced dash-mounted camera with sign recognition technology and voice feedback. "There haven't been any parking regulation signs the past two miles, Sir. Cross-referencing with the local parking regulations database, that means overnight parking is allowed."

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

At the edge of the continent

It's a little corny, but after returning to the beach after a long absence I can't help but think of these lyrics. They're especially apropos considering where I've spent the past few weeks.

     After nine days, I let the horse run free
     'Cause the desert had turned to sea
     There were plants and birds, and rocks and things
     There was sand and hills and rings
     The ocean is a desert, with it's life underground
     And a perfect disguise above

The desert and beach both have sand and the potential for sunburn, but there the similarity ends. 

I don't know why we humans love staring at water. Some say we evolved from "water apes" and that the affinity for water is in our genes. I say don't ask why, just enjoy it.

When I first moved to Los Angeles back in 1976, I didn't stop driving until I got to Santa Monica Beach. I parked my crappy car, took off my shoes, crossed the sand and walked knee deep into the water. I had arrived at the edge of the continent. And I loved it.

So, after having had my fill of the desert, I plan on spending at least equal time by the sea. Warm, cold, clear, foggy, dry, wet... The rest of the West Coast awaits.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Since last we met

There I was in St. George, Utah, with drizzle coming down. Eh, no fun. Besides, the library there has the slowest net connection since dial-up. Time to hit the road again.

Things were worse when I passed through Flagstaff. Icy winds. Snow on the ground. More on the way. Winter travel warnings.

Driving down I-17 took me to lower latitudes and altitudes. And higher happiness. Ah, the joys of driving with the window open again.

I stayed two days at a boondocking site near Wickenburg, AZ even though I got a little self-creeped out. It’s one thing to be alone out in the middle of nowhere, where people who might cause trouble are far away. It’s another to be alone on the edge of town in a place that looks like locals might come to get high. The first evening a truck cruised slowly through just before sundown. The next night a different truck cruised through at about 11 PM. Nothing happened, but it made me anxious.

I spent the next night in a county campground on the Colorado River, just outside Blythe, CA. I was surrounded by boaters, but felt totally secure. But $24 a night can get spendy quickly.

Across the river and up the hill from Blythe is Quartzsite, AZ, which is a hub of the snowbird RV universe. Vast stretches of flat, firm desert where there’s plenty of room to park big RVs. Free. And nice winter weather. It’s also a rockhound mecca. 

Between Blythe and Quartzsite is Ehrenburg, AZ. A smaller place for smaller rigs. I spent a couple of nights there, between a truck stop and a gravel pit. Mmmm, beauty.

Looks like a bush inside a bush.

Next was a visit to Los Algodones, Mexico. Its claim to fame is cheap, fast, decent quality dental and optical clinics. And low cost prescription drugs. Without a prescription. I got an eye exam and two sets of continuous bifocal lenses mounted in my old frames for $240, and in less than four hours.

The Quechan Indian casino is just two miles from the border, on the US side. They let truckers and RVers overnight in their parking lot. So I stayed there while visiting Los Algodones. I was next to a Canadian couple. We swapped stories about the horrors of winters there.

Perhaps one of the more famous/infamous boondocking sites is Slab City, by the Salton Sea. Reading about the place ten years or so ago planted the seed for my current life. So, naturally, I had to go there. Opinions of the place, and reports of its safety (or lack thereof) vary.  I took a nap there but didn’t stay the night.

At the entrance to Slab City is Salvation Mountain, the work of Leonard Knight. He’s too old and ill to work on his colossal art/religious piece anymore, so others are trying to maintain the place.

One cannot pass through the Southern California desert without paying homage to the Cabazon dinosaurs. Their fate is also uncertain since the restaurant that owned them has gone bankrupt.

I'd had my fill of desert for a while, so I pushed on to the coast. Oh, wait, the beach is a desert, too. Only with water. And people. It wasn't exactly beach weather, though, along the Orange County coast.

I made my first attempt at urban stealth camping, though. Where in Orange County can one get away with sleeping in a vehicle? I know, visitors' parking at Hoag Memorial Hospital.

Since the beach was fogged in, I skipped more time there and went to my dear ex-wife’s place in Los Angeles, from where I'm writing this. Among other things, she’s an advocate and educator for urban beekeeping. Today was “Bee Church” out in Simi Valley. I went along to learn more about bees and to add something to my life experiences. I did not get stung.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Kendal & Matt

Rock climbers from northern Virginia,
spending four months traveling the country with all their gear
in a Nissan Xterra.

(different climber)

King of the hill

It looks like only a van, but underneath it’s a pickup truck. So never mind the rocky, bumpy uphill climb along a dirt “road.” Go for it!

While all the folks with big fifth-wheel trailers and Class A motorhomes had to stay down on the easy road, I powered to the top of a hill overlooking the valley. 

They didn’t even try coming up here on their ATVs. Wimps.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Deconstructivist advertising

There are still guys who look like this

Man vs. Nature

Navajo Bridges (vehicles on the left, pedestrians on the right) over the Colorado River.

Sneaking in the back door

I learn interesting things on the web. While searching for boondocking sites near St. George, Utah, I learned about the Kolob Reservoir. So I checked it out.

The reservoir itself is kind of meh unless you like fishing or staring at water. But the drive up is beautiful, particularly if you go when the sun is low in the sky. And when the aspen are yellow.

The narrow, twisty road starts in Virgin at about 3,500 feet and climbs to 8,100 at the reservoir. Along the way you pass through sort of the back side of Zion National Park.

Eventually, you get as high as the top of the peaks of Zion.

It's a 20-mile drive, but worth it.