Sunday, January 26, 2014

Useful moves

Are you hitting your head here, hoping you'll wise up?

The solitaire app on my iPhone is kind enough to inform me when a particular shuffle has no solution. 

“No useful moves detected.” 

I love that phrasing. No useful moves. “Sure,” it says, “you could keep moving cards around, hoping for a breakthrough, if that makes you happy, dear player, but don’t pretend you’re accomplishing anything.”

How many times in life, after lots of determination, hard work and expended resources, do we learn we’d been wasting our time, that nothing we could do would bring about the desired outcome? Perhaps you or I are in the middle of one or more right now but we haven’t realized it yet.

For those of us who don’t learn from our mistakes, or who believe making a different choice earlier would change the outcome, the solitaire game provides the option to replay a dead end shuffle. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again, right? But there’s seldom any going back and starting over in the real world. 

It would be great if we all had magical Futility Detectors. A gizmo that tells us in a soothing, forgiving, avuncular voice when our moves are useless.

“Al, my friend, you can keep moving around the cards of your life, but it’s not useful. There’s no solution. What do you say you cut your losses and try something different?”

No, I’m not quitting this van dwelling life. I’m just reaching out to my audience (assuming I have one). Examine your life, your goals, the time and energy spent on it. Are you making useless moves? Is there really any possibility of a win? Is it time to change course?

American culture tells us it’s wrong to quit. Losers quit, right? (Insert everything you’ve ever heard in school, pep talks, company meetings or the gym.) But chasing futility is also losing.

For those times it’s possible to reach the goal, but at way too much cost, it would also be great to have a personal Point of Diminishing Returns detector. To help us decide what to do at each point of diminishing returns, we should also have a Success Simulator. Again, the wise, soothing voice:

“Al, here’s what it would be like when you grab the prize. And here’s what it would be like after the rush of accomplishment fades. Will it be worth what you’re going to have to do to get there? Are you sure?”

Our caravan stops at an oasis

Itchy feet attacked again, and for unknown reasons (other than bad cellular service and supplies being a bit of a schlep) we left our nice spot on the Colorado river and relocated to Yuma.

The surrounding farmland smells like a salad.

Lou snagged a nice spot from where he can launch his kayak

We're still on some water, though. A lagoon formed by various irrigation channels and diversions. It's a short run to town. The TV reception is better, too, I'm told. At night we get to watch C130s from the Marine Corps air station perform impossibly acrobatic moves. And the weather is a few degrees warmer. At the moment.

Another of those sunset things

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Large man, small van, tiny dog

The Ford Transit Connect is a very compact van. Sort of like a tall, boxy Escort. It was originally developed for delivering small loads in the narrow streets of European cities. So there’s not a lot of room.

That didn’t keep Randy from turning one into a camper, complete with solar, a microwave and swing-out stove.

The dog only looks psychotic in this photo.
She's actually very sweet.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Everyone wants waterfront property

I returned to Quartzsite long enough to rejoin some friends and relocate to a much different and less hectic place. We’re on the edge of a wildlife preserve right on the Colorado River. And it’s free.

Locals call it the Hippie Hole, because people sometimes come out here to party. Unfortunately, there’s evidence of that. Trash, a smashed boom box... We hope the presence of us old farts will keep the riffraff away.

On the up side, the wildlife doesn’t care where the preserve boundaries are, so we have waterfowl, fish and other creatures we didn’t have out in our desert campsite. And we’re only forty miles away. About 30 as the egret flies.

That night we had some unexpected drama. We were sitting around the campfire near the water’s edge, feeling mellow, when there was a hissing in the fire. 

“Oh, that’s just trapped moisture escaping from one of the logs,” someone conjectured.

Moments later, someone with a flashlight said, “Um, there’s water in the fire ring.”

Uh-oh. The river was rising. Water was rather close to some of our vans. We had no idea how much farther the river would rise. So there was some quick relocation to higher ground, including the hooking up of trailers. Well, bummer.

Since I tend to awaken several times a night anyway, I checked the water level a few times. It encroached a few feet more, but we were well out of range. In the morning, the level was below when we first arrived.

Our location is between Parker Dam and Imperial Dam, in the middle of a region of vast irrigation canals. So the level of the Colorado River is subject to the opening and closing of any number of gates. When we re-relocated this morning, we looked for signs high water levels. Some of my companions were more optimistic than me.

Saturday, January 18, 2014


She once rode a bicycle from Vancouver, BC (her home) to
Joshua Tree because it sounded like a challenge. Indeed.

She now lives in this nicely converted Chevy Astro.

Desert life: California highway 62

Things went through my mind as I drove from Parker, AZ to Joshua Tree. "Gee, this road is lonely... A lot of empty desert... Glad I'm not here in summer... Not a good place to break down in any season... But everything is fine, according to the gauges... I should make it just fine... Right?..."

What I wasn't thinking was, "I expect there to be some curious expressions of humanity out here." But I should have been.

I didn't stop to take photos on my way to Joshua Tree because I was suffering a case of my father's got-to-get-there disease. But I made a point of it on the way back.

At the junction of highway 62 and Iron Mountain Pump Station Road.

At the base of the direction totem. Why? Don't know.

Where the highway parallels a railroad track, and where the grade of the track is a few feet higher than the desert plane, people have used stones to leave their names and messages. Rock-ffiti, if you will. It goes on for miles, until the road and track diverge.

I had pulled over to take pictures when
a CHP officer stopped to check if I was okay.

Then there's the ruins of an abandoned gas station and who knows what else. Standard graffiti rules the day here.

And junk.

And shoes.


Some left by egotistical grannies from Hemet...

Some left by drag queens.

Freedom, indeed.

Point of interest

On this spot, sometime in the late 20th or early 21st century,
a bronze historical marker went missing.

More Joshua Tree

Dead Joshua tree or trees in the foreground,
Sphinx-like rock formation in the background

Skull Rock

Friday, January 17, 2014

Just a comment about commenting

Please do.

Power to the people

When I was at RTR, people kept asking, “How many volts does that solar panel put out?”

I’d reply, “It’s 270 Watts.”

“No, volts. Some panels are rated 12 volts, some 24.”

I could only answer, “I have no idea.”

Well, now I know. Here’s the label on the back of the panel:

Maybe those who wanted to know are reading my blog.

Moving on

Quartzsite is the closest I’ve come to living in a retirement community. The majority of people there in winter are my age or older. It destroys my cherished illusion that I’m ten to twenty years younger than I am. “Oh. I’m one of them. Rats.” So I left for someplace a little different.

What’s nice about Joshua Tree (besides the place itself) is that it draws a much wider age range. Sure, there are white haired folks with their large RVs, but there are also twenty-somethings tenting out of economy cars. (I remember doing that, whereas I will never do the big RV thing.) It’s more like the real world than some geriatric gulag.

Despite its funky logo, this is a good gas station. They have the lowest prices in Parker, AZ, without any of that cash-only, pay-inside fine print. 

But here’s what really won my heart. There wasn’t just water in the squeegee buckets (a miracle in itself), but soapy water! And the squeegee blades weren’t rigid and notched, nor the sponges falling off, meaning they actually worked. 

However, I have no opinion regarding the convenience store aspect of the operation.

Let this be a warning

You know how sometimes you’d like to smash a bad driver’s car with a baseball bat?

Hey, it wasn’t me.

Dream life

Years ago, my therapist said that the content of our dreams was less important than the emotions they evoke. If that’s true, then I’m mentally healthier these days. Since hitting the road, my dreams are much less about anxiety, stress and negative situations. Some of them are actually fun and entertaining now. I vote for more of that.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


The sun goes down in the west

And the moon comes up in the east

Call of the wild introvert

While extroverts are energized by groups, we introverts are exhausted by them. So even though there’s another week of Rubber Tramp Rendezvous, I’ve packed up my cranky, reclusive self and headed for some solitude.

(But there's more than the introversion issue. Quartzsite has become an infuriating mess of codgers in big RVs and "toads." The situation is worth its own ranting post, but I'll skip it and embrace the peace and quiet of my new location instead.)

I didn’t run far. Just fifteen miles north, to a low pass in the mountains. With a surprisingly sufficient 4G LTE signal. What more could an introvert want?

Monday, January 13, 2014

And the cycle of giving goes round and round

As I was researching what I’d need for this van life of mine, people kept mentioning water storage. The more the better. The seven-gallon Aqua-Tainer jug got frequent mentions. I bought two of them. Then, as I built out my van, it became clear I’d have room for only one of them.

I filled the jug with seven gallons of tasty spring water and loaded it in the van. I hauled it from one coast to the other and all around the West. Until this morning. That’s when I finally realized I’d used the seven-gallon jug only when I felt guilty for not having used it. It had been much easier handling and refilling ordinary one-gallon water jugs. And the smaller jugs fit easily under my bed instead of taking up valuable “hallway” space.

I put the seven-gallon beast, with about six gallons of water in it, on the free stuff tarp. Someone took it.

Meanwhile, someone had given another van dweller two milk crates. The new owner of the used crates didn’t really need them but figured he’d find someone who did. That’s when I happened along. 

“You know, I’ve been thinking about getting one,” I said. “Let me see if it will work for what I have in mind.”

“No problem. If not, just put it on the free stuff tarp.”

I took the milk crate to my van. It fit perfectly into the space once occupied by the seven-gallon water jug. And it easily held everything (and more) I’d been keeping in a five-gallon utility bucket next to the seven-gallon jug. Rectangular things are more space-efficient than cylindrical ones. Excellent.

So I put the five-gallon bucket on the free stuff tarp.

“Hey, that’s exactly what I need,” said a guy who was putting a medium sized plastic storage container on the free stuff tarp. He went away happy with the bucket. His container will probably be exactly what someone else needs.

And so it goes.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Human soup

I went to El Dorado Hot Springs today for a good soak. It's a funky, cobbled-together, hippie-ish sort of place in Tonopah. (Yes, that's a schlep from Quartzsite, but just about everything is.)

I showered away the desert dirt, soaked the dead skin from my feet, relaxed my muscles and got my mellow on. Must not fall asleep in the hot tub... Must not fall asleep in the hot tub...

Smells like brunch

RTR this morning featured a sharing session about various ways van dwellers might cook. Bob started things off with a solar oven. It's an interesting concept, but impractical for me. It's a slower method of cooking. That would mean planning ahead, like thinking about dinner while eating breakfast, prepping everything, and then... waiting.

Granted, solar ovens are great for baking, which you can't really do on a stove. And, if I had room for one, I'd use it when I'm in the middle of nowhere and craving hot baked goods. (Assuming I had the makings for baked goods.) Otherwise, I'll let the pros do the baking. Or someone with a solar oven.

Friday, January 10, 2014


1. I've used a lot of public restrooms the past few months and experienced a lot of different faucets, paper towel dispensers and hand dryers. I don't like automatic faucets or towel dispensers. Too much hand waving. I hate the towels that pull down out of the center of the roll and come out all twisted. I love the powerful hand dryers, except for the water drops left on the floor. And we should boycott places that don't provide hot water.

 2. It has been my experience out here in the Southwest that the vehicle most likely to be speeding is a pickup truck.

 3. For all those people who are surprised deserts get cold in winter: deserts are deserts because they get very little rainfall, not necessarily because of perpetual summer.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Someone asked my story. Fool.

A reporter named Jessica Bruder is doing an article for Harper's on people who choose to not live in houses. She showed up at RTR, talked to Bob Wells and, because I happened to walk up, he suggested she interview me. Um, okay. We talked for about fifteen minutes. I explained how I came to be living in a van in the desert. She took some photos. So I took a photo of her.


Her notes

Take me, I'm yours

A feature of RTR is the give-away tarp. If you have something you no longer need but someone else might, you leave it on the tarp. Too bad those flip-flops aren't my size.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Can there be too many sunset photos?

I'm on a quest to find out.

Evening of RTR Day 1

Nice to meet you. Which rig is yours?

The Rubber Tramp Rendezvous is for anyone enjoying the mobile life, either full- or part-time. Since there are many approaches to living on the road, here's a sampling of the variety currently at RTR.

 There's the ubiquitous cargo van

 The self-converted passenger van

 A smaller Astro van

A 4x4 Astro passenger van

 A reconverted conversion van

A reconverted conversion van with top boxes

A reconverted conversion van with storage trailer

A reconverted wheelchair van

A Class B RV

A self-converted box van

A van with travel trailer

A utility trailer converted to a travel trailer

A Jeep and small travel trailer

A Class C RV

A fifth-wheel trailer, with slideouts

A Class A RV

A hand-built gypsy vardo

A camper on flatbed 4x4 pickup, with a trailer for an ATV

And it's only the morning of the first official day of RTR. Who knows what will roll in later.