Thursday, July 31, 2014

Goin' a-visitin' in a cellular-free zone

Mark and Donna, Thanksgiving 2013

My friends, Mark and Donna, are hosts at a Forest Service campground. They saw from this blog that I'm sort of near them. So Mark sent a text inviting me to come spend some time. I haven't seen them since winter when our paths diverged. As extra incentive, I can stay free at the campground. Excellent.

I'm heading off shortly. A drawback is that the closest cellular service is twenty miles from the campground. Ack, web withdrawal.

Foiled by fog

Yesterday was mostly cloudy with occasional showers. Not great for us solar users. In order to get an early start charging my batteries in the morning, I picked a campsite with a large clearing, away from the shadow of mountains. Being smart, thinking ahead, right?.

But I woke up to this:

Haven't posted a sunset in a while

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Coming clean in Truckee

There are two places in Truckee, California where travelers can shower without getting a room. There might be others.

The first is the Community Recreation Center. Open Mondays through Fridays, 6AM to 9PM, Saturdays 8AM to 1PM. It's a very nice place. For $5 you can use the gym and the shower. There's no shower-only option. The drawback is that there's just one shower. You might need to wait your turn. Bring your own soap and towel.

The other is the Community Swimming Pool. It's behind the high school. Go around the left side of the building and follow the fire lane to the back. For $5 you can swim laps and shower. A shower by itself is only $2. The problem is, pool hours are all over the map. So, while it's cheaper, it's harder to fit into one's schedule. That's why I ended up at the rec center. And it's why I don't know about soap or towels at the pool. But I'm squeaky clean.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Rocky road (no, not the ice cream)

Sometimes finding a good boondocking site requires creeping slowly along some rough roads. There's probably a metaphor for life in there somewhere.

A mile of this feels like ten

I'm in the Tahoe National Forest, near Truckee, California. Within the forest are Recreation Areas where camping is allowed only in designated campgrounds, which are not free. So one must carefully consult Forest Service maps to find side roads that lead out of the Recreation Areas but not onto private land. A road that looks promising on the maps might have nowhere to pull off and camp. That means a bit of exploring. Over some gnarly, or at least annoyingly bumpy, roads.

The campsites are there, though. And the bad roads will have discouraged the dilettantes. And most large RVs.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Poisoned myself. Twice.

I had severe gastrointestinal cramping and spent a lot of time on the toilet. I'll spare you further details.

I thought it was because I'd failed to notice the milk I'd put on my cereal had gone bad. So I threw away the rest of the milk, even though it smelled okay.

Two days later it happened again, and I hadn't had any milk.

I realized the culprit had to be something I'd eaten both days, and only on those days. Something I hadn't had before.

Ah-HA! It was the chocolate peanut clusters I'd gotten from a bulk bin at the grocery. They must have been contaminated with something. Won't be doing that again, even though they were mighty tasty.

Monday, July 21, 2014

It has to be Shasta

Shasta, California, was a gold boomtown. Then, like so many others, it went bust. Now it's a State Historic Park with a few preserved storefronts, some complete buildings and Highway 299 running through the middle of it.

I don't know if that's a safe place for a safe

Another case of bad letter spacing and unnecessary punctuation

That'll keep 'em out

Go east, old man

I've decided it's time to head for the Sierras. That means driving through some horrible heat, but it might not be too bad if I get an early start.

I spent the night at a tiny—but free—Forest Service campground at Big Bar, California, near the Trinity River and at the edge of the Trinity Alps. Four campsites, with fire pits and tables. I chose the one closest to the toilet.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Not too much peace, thank you

I had a bit of a realization today. Or maybe it was just a moment of remembering something I already knew about myself.

Even though I’m not a sociable person, I prefer having people around. Not that I want to interact with them or anything. Ew, yuck. I just like to have something going on around me—something I can ignore. When I’m out in the boonies, when I really am completely alone, it gets creepy. And a little dull.

I was at the beach today. In the parking lot of the beach, actually. In my van. With the side door open. Reading. The Sunday beach goers were coming and going, making enough commotion to let me know I wasn’t the only human on the planet. It was good. If I were to be in the same spot, doing the same thing on, say, a Tuesday, I wouldn’t have been as relaxed and at peace. After all, what kind of weirdo sits in a van, in an empty beach parking lot, reading.

Worst of all, when I’m absolutely alone, I have no one to complain about. Except myself.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Morning at Trinidad harbor

Lighthouse on the bluff

The fog starting to lift

The gulls and the guys are waiting... waiting...

Meanwhile, outside the harbor...

Apples and epiphytes

Beard lichens on an apple tree, drinking up the fog

Coin flip

Checking the forecasts, my choices for the coming week seem to be coastal fog or heat in the upper 90s or higher. Hot air rising inland creates low pressure. Cool, saturated, ocean air slips in to fill the void, until the mountains block it.

In theory, there are spots between the two extremes. The question is whether there are any places to camp. Free.

Few roads pass through the mountains, from the cool, gloomy coast to the Central Valley frying pan. The ones that exist follow rivers through canyons and gorges. Attractive, but very few places to pull off that aren't private property, restricted to day use, or campgrounds that charge a fee. Given my past experiences with wandering up mountain "roads," it's not something I'd like to do again without some local knowledge. Time to talk to some strangers, I guess.

Actually, there's a third option: making a dash to the Sierras. Hmmmm.

Friday, July 18, 2014

One of my favorite tourist traps

Trees of Mystery, Klamath, California

Now, the thing is, oxen are castrated bulls, but this Babe the Blue Ox hasn't been.

It took an hour and a half longer to get to California

And a few people aren't going to get there at all.

Just south of Brookings, Oregon, traffic on Highway 101 came to a standstill. Put-it-in-park-and-shut-off-the-engine standstill. Go-stand-in-the-road-and-try-to-see-what's-going-on standstill.

There had been a bad accident just across the state line. As near as I could figure out as I eventually crept past, a southbound pickup had slowed or stopped to make a turn. The driver of a big Class A RV behind him wasn't paying attention, swerved to the right in an attempt to miss him or minimize the impact, but hit the back corner of the truck, ripping the passenger side off and buckling the pickup in the middle. Then a second big Class A RV slammed into the first one.

This is one reason I hate huge RVs.

This has become the casino parking lot tour

Before and after spending a week at Chinook Winds, I spent nights at the Three Rivers casino in Florence, Oregon. It doesn't have a view, the stores aren't close, and they have you fill out a form to stay in the rather bleak RV parking area. Other than that, it was a quiet place to crash for a night.

Now I'm at the Cher-Ae Heights casino in Trinidad, California. You register here, too, and the limit is three days at a time. The ocean is near and you can see a bit of it through gaps in the trees.

Why casinos? Because unlike just about anything else along the West Coast, they're free. And because I need a break from the boonies.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Staying free by the sea

"So," you might ask, "where exactly did you boondock while you were in Lincoln City?"

I would answer, "At the Chinook Winds Casino."

Like nearly all tribal casinos, Chinook Winds welcomes RVers and has a designated parking area (shaded red on the photo). Unlike most tribal casinos, there's no check-in and (at the time I'm writing this) no limit to how long you can stay. Best of all, it's a short stroll to the beach.

Being a semi-reclusive van dweller, not a highly social RVer, I like to have some space around me. And I don't like generators or idling diesel engines. So, even though there were dozens of RVs, I managed to find a decent spot the first night (number 1 on the photo). But I ran some errands and did some sightseeing. When I got back, that spot was blocked. So I moved to spot 2. I lost that spot the next day and moved to spot 3.

Now it was the weekend and the joint was packed with RVs. And generators. And barking dogs. I had to move for my peace of mind.

Being a mere van, I figured I could actually park pretty much wherever I wanted, and just blend in. I just needed a regular parking space, not ten of them. So I moved way over to spot 4. It turned out perfect. Quiet, only three or four cars on that row, and short walks to the casino restrooms and to Safeway. It was farther to the beach, but, hey, it's exercise. I stayed four days in that part of the parking lot.

If you want to stay free on the Oregon coast—for a night, or for several weeks—Chinook Winds is a pretty sweet spot. Just don't abuse a good thing.

UPDATE: Starting June 2015, Chinook Winds stopped allowing overnight camping. Day use only. Bummer.

Adieu, Lincoln City

Low tide at the south end of Lincoln City

Now that my feet are clean, they're itching to go. So it's southward, to California—the place I lived longer than anywhere else.

The fine folks of Lincoln City claim the D River, flowing from Devil's Lake, under Highway 101, and into the Pacific, is the world's shortest river. Other's disagree. The Guinness World Record folks stopped caring.

I don't know where they say the lake ends and the river starts

Meanwhile, a few miles south, is Depoe Bay. Not to be out-bragged regarding diminutive things, it claims the world's smallest harbor. Mmmm, I dunno. There's probably a little pocket inlet somewhere on the planet just big enough to anchor one boat. But you gotta get your tourist dollars somehow. The harbor is nice, though. And any place you can get fresh seafood gets two thumbs up from me.

Besides the fascination with small things, someone in the past must have been fixated on the Prince of Darkness. Along this stretch of coast are Devil's Lake, Devil's Punch Bowl and Devil's Churn. I thought the devil went down to Georgia.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Shower time

Where does a van dweller go in Lincoln City, Oregon, to get a shower? Ordinarily, truck stops are the answer, but there aren't any along Highway 101. There are showers at state campgrounds, but paying for a campsite just to take a shower is more than I want to splurge.

Fortunately, anyone with $3.25 can use the showers at the city's recreation center. For an extra 50¢ they'll loan you a towel. You can even rent a swimsuit if you're suddenly in the mood to use the pool and hot tub.

The laundromat I wrote about before is on the other side of the block, next to a fresh caught seafood joint. Clean yourself, clean your clothes, have some crab.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Sorry, but I need sun

Actually, my batteries do. Three days of coastal overcast and drizzle have meant not really enough sunlight to the solar panel. Some sunlight makes it through the clouds, but I could use more.

So I drove inland, to Salem, this morning. Whee! Blue skies! Big ol' sun! Happy batteries!

The down side is that it's hotter here. The forecast is for 90°, as compared to 65° at the coast. It's a trade-off. I'll get the batteries all charged up, get some supplies, then head back to the coast. It's supposed to clear up there tomorrow. We'll see.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

We pause for a moment of crankiness

When RVs (and their generators) pull into what used to be a reasonably separate space I'd found for myself, I start wishing for several thousand caltrops with which to establish a perimeter. And big snarling dogs.

Just looking

There I was, looking at the ocean, contemplating the waves, the forces that cause them—currents, winds, weather systems, the shape of the sea bed, the moon's orbit, the planet's rotation—listening to the ka-foom and hiss, watching the way they curled as they broke, counting them to see if there were any patterns, drifting away from whatever was happening behind me in the rest of the world. Sure beats working.


The fog comes in
on little cat feet
wrapped in cotton candy
and covered in a down blanket.

Then it hangs around
for a couple of days
like it owns the place.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Coming clean

Looks like Friday mornings are a good time to do laundry in Lincoln City, Oregon. Large coin laundry, clean, nearly empty, and all machines functioning. Sort of makes me wish I had more dirty laundry.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

What's in a name?

Some companies think long and hard about product names, spending tons on market testing, getting customers' reactions. Some companies just grab something they think sounds cool, even if it has nothing to do with the product.

The only time a Stealth toy hauler is stealthy is when it's among other big ass white-with-swoopy-graphics RVs.

Another kind of Oregon beach

Nye Beach, Newport, Oregon

Okay, to be fair and accurate, the sun does come out in Oregon. And there are beaches very similar to those in Southern California.

Now, if it were just twenty degrees warmer with less wind.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

My order of fog arrived

I lived in California for twenty years, most of it in SoCal. So it's hard getting my head into the not warm and rarely sunny Oregon style beach. The voice of wisdom (which must get beamed in from somewhere other than my own head) says to release expectations so I can embrace a different type of beauty. I'm trying.

Cape Cove, near Heceta Head lighthouse

You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows

The Oregon coast makes me act insane

Doing my best (which means horrible) Randle P. McMurphy impression.

Drive west until the land stops

I'm headed to the Oregon coast today. This will not be me. I promise.

Sunday, July 6, 2014


The keyboard on my laptop has stopped working. That means a detour to the Apple store in Eugene. (Correction: an independent outfit named The Mac Store.) Until then, I only have my phone. Aaargh!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Night visitors

Well, it was dusk, actually, when the Forest Service rangers drove up. They were going around checking if any campers were thinking of setting off fireworks, which is a no-no.

"No fireworks for me," I replied. "In fact, I haven't even been making a campfire. I'm a propane and solar kind of guy."

Via his magical ranger powers he was able to discern I was telling the truth. We chatted a minute and then wished each other a happy Independence Day. Hey, I'm celebrating my independence every day.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Town as theme park

The commercial district of Sisters, Oregon, has a design code intended to make it look something like a preserved and restored 19th-century western town. Mmmmmm, okay. At least the parking is free.

A peek at some peaks

McKenzie Pass runs through a lava flow zone. The Dee Wright Observatory (built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s) is at the summit. It's not an astronomy observatory. It's for observing the landscape. Well, if you're up there at night I guess you're free to look at the stars with your naked eyes or your own telescope.

There are peep holes between the windows that point at individual mountains

From there you can see two of the Three Sisters mountains (the third one is behind the others), as well as mountains named after presidents.

The Three Sisters in the background, the Rolling Steel Tent in the foreground

Mt. Washington

Mt. Jefferson

On the way up and back you can try not to run over cyclists. And you can swear at the guy pulling the huge fifth-wheel trailer who ignored the 35-foot vehicle limit sign and the last chance turn-around for jerks like him.

Bang... bang... bang...

Yesterday gunshots echoed from somewhere in the forest. The shots were spaced by a few seconds, like someone sighting a scope or target practicing.

My only concern was that the shooter was absolutely certain there was no one (especially me) in his line of fire. The land here is essentially flat. If there was a hill or berm to serve as a barrier, I hadn't encountered it in my campsite-finding wanderings. The trees aren't very dense, so there's a possibility of bullets threading between them and hitting someone way down range—someone that wasn't seen because folks don't generally wear safety orange when it's not hunting season.

The firing stopped after a while, after about a box of shells. I was fine. I hope everyone else was, too.