Saturday, January 31, 2015

More power! Argh-argh-argh!

Sixteen solar panels putting out almost 3,000 Watts, according to the owner. Some are connected in series, some in parallel, flowing through several controllers, feeding 12- and 24-volt battery banks. And other stuff that was beyond my understanding. It sounded mighty impressive, though.

It's enough power to smelt iron or run a particle accelerator and still have plenty left over to chill a couple of meat lockers to subzero temperatures.

Many RV owners say that with the AC unit(s), vents, hatches and antennas on the roof they don't have room for many solar panels. So, duh, build a rack over all that rooftop clutter.

A misty morning on the pond

Friday, January 30, 2015

Now for something completely different

I was going through a Moleskine book in which I used to write vacation-inspired essays, commentary, poems and other ramblings. "Oh, look, a bunch of silly haiku I wrote while in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. I think I'll inflict this upon my blog readers."

Playa del Haiku, April 2007

Travel light and small
One carry-on bag should do
More is much too much

Stop dead, look stupid
Tourists acting like tourists
Flying is a bitch

Sitting for hours
while the plane does all the work
Why am I tired?

Ideas resist
then flow out of my boredom
Sometimes that's the way

Trinkets for tourists
Mass-produced objects of art
Sombrero madness

Sand in my sandals
Flip-flops flipping and flopping
Things with perfect names

Goth girl on playa
Semitransparent pallor
against azure joy

tacos from a microbus
Breakfast of nightowls

Plastic dolphins leap
frozen for a photo op
Graffiti covered

Girls dressed as cacti
promoting who the hell knows
They must need the work

All Latin males
issued a white fitted shirt
to look like pop stars

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Where to?

I have a few more legal days here at Fortuna Pond. We haven't seen a Forest Service ranger since we've been here, so I might get away with staying longer than the allotted fourteen days.

But then what? What's the big picture for the next several months? Less zigging, zagging and backtracking than last year. I hope. Okay, but where do I want to be?

The only definite commitment is to be in Los Angeles on February 28. I have tickets to a live performance of "The White Album." That means drifting from Yuma to LA over the next month. From there I could spend the spring working my way up the coast and the summer hopscotching down the Sierras. However, California is very short on free camping spots. And everything costs more.

An alternative would be getting another New Mexico State Parks annual pass, spending more time there and then heading up into Colorado.

Maybe a week or two in Mexico before going to Los Angeles.

Maybe more time in Arizona then on to Utah.

Maybe an Arizona-New Mexico-Colorado-Utah-Arizona loop.

I don't know.

Even without needing to be in LA, heat would eventually drive me out of the southern desert.

I have a month to figure it out.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Humidity attack

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you probably know I'm a fan of aridity. That's the main reason I love the West. High humidity drove me out of the Southeast.

Dry feels clean. Dry feels fresh. Humidity feels like mold, mildew and rot.

Imagine my dismay when I saw a heavy coating of dew this morning. Imagine how bummed I am feeling the moisture in the air this afternoon.

The weather report says the humidity is currently 47%, which is considered dry in the Choking Rivers of Sweat Belt. But it's positively tropical compared to humidity in the twenties and teens typical of the desert.

Oh well. I'll tough it out.

Hmmmm... What if I made a suit from silica gel packets?

Partying with the pack

At about 1:15 this morning, coyotes started barking and howling just outside the Rolling Steel Tent. Well, actually, the barking was more like yapping and the howling was more like ah-e-e-E-E-E-e-e-e-e-e-e-e, as if someone was blowing a tiny but loud party horn. The one doing the howling was right next to the van while the barkers were scattered a little way off. It went on for about fifteen minutes.

I decided they were upset I hadn't left any chicken bones for them. "Hey human! Feed us!" Sorry to disappoint, guys. I don't eat chicken every day.

It was interesting and a little amusing, but I figured the other campers weren't much interested in a coyote serenade. At least not at that hour. So I opened and closed the side door. The ruckus stopped. I got back into bed.

The noise started again about a minute later, but this time the howler was farther away. The pack made a fuss for a couple of minutes more, then quieted down and moved off. Hurray for nature.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Five hard pieces

Donna and Mark arrived yesterday in the Yellow Submarine/Weinermobile. We talked of "old" times as we celebrated Lou's birthday with salad and cheesecake.

Conversation eventually led to the story of the jigsaw puzzle that kept us occupied during the long drizzly nights in Quartzsite after Thanksgiving in 2013. Several of us would gather under Donna and Mark's awning, with wet feet and inadequate light, to work on the puzzle. It kept us busy for more than a week.

At one point we became convinced there were pieces from other puzzles in the mix. But we eventually found their proper places, feeling stupid.

There were several empty spots that frustrated us. "I know exactly what goes right here, but I can't find the piece. Aaaargh!"

In the end, the last couple of dozen pieces fell quickly into place, mostly because there weren't many places left for them to go. Ta-dah! Finished!

Mark kept searching the photos on his phone while we talked about the puzzle. 
He eventually found a photo he'd taken of it. Can you see the empty spots?

But wait. There are still holes. We didn't have extra pieces. We were short five.

We searched the dirt and mud around the table. No luck. Oh well. We'd had fun anyway. And we'd found something to do on those long nights besides crawling into our vans and going to bed. At 5:30.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Beige is the new white

It rained last night and today. Can you tell there are several miles of unpaved road between my campsite and town?

Good thing it's mostly gravel and not that sticky, slippery, sink-to-your-axles type of mud.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Living small

My big question upon committing to van dwelling was whether I could stand living in such a small space. From 1,350 square feet to 60. With a ceiling too low to stand erect. True, I only used a fraction of the space in my house, but a van?

I'm not claustrophobic. I can be in small places without freaking out. (I probably have cleithrophobia, though, which is the fear of being trapped. You can have a cleithrophobia attack in a wide open place if you can't move, can't get out.)

My apprehensions disappeared once I was out on the road. It felt rather natural. I realized that at any given second I need only a fraction more space than what my body takes up.

Some van dwellers complain about not being able to stand. I figure there's unlimited room all around me. Need to stretch? Having trouble pulling a sweater over my head? Tired of looking at the walls? Step outside. Because I'm not living in a van, I'm living out of one. The van is where I keep my stuff and where I sleep. Even when weather drives me inside, I know it's just temporary.

Perhaps "enough room" is more a state of mind than a physical dimension.

Friday, January 23, 2015

So, where the hell is Fortuna Pond?

Last winter, Lesa was talking up Fortuna Pond. It sounded nice.

"How do I get there?" I asked.

"Well... It would just be easier to lead you," she replied.

And she did. It involved driving through fields of green leafy vegetables and doubling back on a levy. And the entrance wasn't all that obvious.

It's an attractive spot, usually quiet, with easy access to Yuma. I knew I would be returning this year. Lou wanted to go, too.

"How do you get there?" he asked.

"Well... It would just be easier to lead you," I replied.

I originally thought this blog post would give detailed directions, complete with maps and photos of landmarks. But then I came to my senses. There isn't a lot of room for camping. It could get crowded quickly if more people knew how to get here. So I think it's better if someone who likes you, who knows you're a good camping neighbor, leads you here. Or, if you're resourceful enough to find Fortuna Pond on your own, then I guess you would have earned the "right" to be here.

Meanwhile, there are the occasional loud, irresponsible, destructive assholes I wish would forget the way to Fortuna Pond.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Yet another mysterious noise

There was suddenly a d-doinka-doink-doinka noise in the Rolling Steel Tent whenever I drove on bumpy roads. ¿Que? Was it a newly rearranged object bouncing around? Was something broken? Something critical and expensive? I saw nothing out of place when I crawled under the van. But that doen't mean anything.

It went on for two weeks, starting about the time I arrived at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous. Sometimes it would go away for a while, only to return.

With my hearing being what it is, I have a hard time locating sounds. It's extra difficult when there are also the normal sounds of driving. I was pretty certain, though, that it was on the right side of the van, about half way back. But was it near the floor or the ceiling? I was going to have Lou ride with me and try to locate the sound. We never got around to it, though.

Today was the last day of the RTR. "We'll try to find the noise after we get to our next camp," I thought. I packed away the awning, table, chairs and everything else, and drove off.

"No noise, yet," I thought as I drove through the camp and turned onto the dirt access road.

No noise at all by the time I got to the end of the access road.

No noise while on the bumpy pavement.

"What has changed since the last time it made the sound?" I contemplated it on the way to Yuma.


Ah-ha! The folding chair is back in its storage spot. The noise was bungee cords nocking against the steel cabinet.


Monday, January 19, 2015


I became a South Dakota resident when I started this van dwelling life because it's laughably easy. Online renewal of vehicle registration is another matter.

You have to create an account, supplying a crapload of information, including the answers to four—four—security questions. That generates a user name and temporary password which you then use to create an actual user name and password (be sure to include at least one capital letter, number and symbol). Then you log back in, verify that you want to renew your registration, click through several more screens, and get transferred to a US Bank site to pay your fee.

It was much simpler in North Carolina. No multi-step process, no passwords. Just fill in your driver's license and registration numbers, your payment info, and click. I haven't decided whether the South Dakota DMV is being way too cautious or whether North Carolina wasn't cautious enough. Oh well, at least I don't need to drive back to South Dakota in the winter and stand in line.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Pet sharing

Bob's dog Cody paid a brief visit to the Rolling Steel Tent. He left after determining I had no snacks for him.

Dropping by the hour

The day before yesterday, regular gas at a truck stop in Quartzite was $2.13. Yesterday morning it was $2.09. Yesterday afternoon it was $2.04. This morning it's $1.95. I'm enjoying this.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Clown car

How hard is it living in a cargo van? Not that hard if you can make do without a bathroom and kitchen. And super easy compared to living in a Geo Tracker, like Dave does. He used to tow the Tracker behind a 30-foot RV, but decided to do a radical downsizing.

Not shown: solar panel, batteries and a bicycle

How is it even possible? Well, there's a hitch-mounted rack on the back and a cargo box on top. Everything packs away like magic, including his 6' 2" self. Dave says he wants to get a tent for when the weather warms up. I hope it's a large one.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Now you're cookin'

It has been months since I've been in a cooking mood. Oh, I've cooked, but only because it was necessary. And it was seldom anything more complex than bacon and eggs. Plunk me down at RTR, though, with friends to share whatever comes out of my pot, and I suddenly turn into a chef. Or at least a guy who can combine ingredients into something that tastes better than expected.

I made lunch today for Lou, Jo and Lesa. Cubed pork, carrots, leeks, lentils, rice, assorted mushrooms, garlic and some carnitas seasoning. It got thumbs up from the crew. Jo brought a nice kale-quinoa-tomato-almond salad and Lesa provided bread she'd baked herself over a wood fire. Lou supplied the space and beverages. We ate and gloated over how sweet our vagabond life is. That's the best dessert.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Barefoot in January

Fine weather here in Quartzsite. Now, if only that were sand instead of gravel.

Spudapalooza II

For the second year in a row, Donna and Mark Cabral have held a baked potato late lunch/early supper for all the Rubber Tramps. The Cabrals supply and roast the spuds, others bring toppings. Folks have no trouble showing up for food. And conversation. Unfortunately, fewer are interested in helping clean up afterward.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The poop tent

A bathroom tent was set up for those who came to the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous in—or on—a vehicle too small for some sort of toilet facility. A fabric outhouse, if you will.

Chet makes friends

Brian from San Diego

Sharon from Carmel

Denise and Dale from Sioux Falls

Dan from Salem

Chris from Vermont

Pick one superpower

A. The ability to become invisible at will

B. The ability to fly like a bird

C. The ability to instantly be wherever you choose

D. The ability to move objects with your mind

E. The ability to change into anything you choose


Monday, January 12, 2015

You might be too clean

As a van dweller, what do I miss most? Without question, long hot showers every day. I've gotten used to not being squeaky clean, though. And that's a good thing, according to dermatologists. We might be ruining our skin in the name of odorlessness. We might also be killing off beneficial bacteria (there is such a thing).

"If you're so inclined, you can clean the grossest parts of your body with a soapy washcloth or cleansing towelette to remove odor-causing bacteria on non-shower days."

Hey! That's what I've been doing! Good for me.

Besides being better for your skin, showering less is also environmentally sound. You use less water and don't expend natural resources heating it.

Take a good whiff of yourself. Don't you smell smart?

One man's journey is another man's errands

As I've written before, I probably need to stay put for longer periods in order to save gas expenses and wear on the Rolling Steel Tent. Part of the problem (if it is a problem) is that my view of "a short distance" is longer than that of many fellow van dwellers. Sometimes much longer.

Seventy miles for a few supplies? No problem. This is the big, wide open West. Everything is spread out. Yet I know folks who measure distance by the New England standard, where going three miles to the next town necessitates a suitcase and provisions.

I've made two runs from the outskirts of Quartzsite to the other side of town during the five days I've been here. For showers at the truck stop. And to get chili fixings while I was at it. I've been given more than one are-you-crazy? look. Come on, people, I drove here straight from Los Angeles. Two-hundred sixty miles. Piece of cake. And that's not even going by transcontinental trucker standards.

Oh well. This life lets us live the way we choose. I just choose to drive more than some.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Chet visits the Chili Dome

Saturday was the pot luck chili dinner at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous. Everyone supplies a can of chili or ingredients and it all goes into a big pot. Actually, three big pots. Mild, spicy and vegetarian.

To make sure there was something resembling actual meat in the chili, I cooked up a couple of pounds of stew beef. That required something larger than my pan. Jessica loaned me her thrift store pot (a.k.a. the Chili Dome).

A catch-all of various chilies sounds like a recipe for disaster, but the spicy chili, with a little grated cheese and some oyster crackers, was probably the best I'd ever eaten.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Make your own kind of music

Some folks at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous got together for a bit of jamming. (And, yes, it was perfect shirtsleeves weather while much of the country was frozen solid.)

Peter and Lou have got the blues

A little bluegrass with Atlee on banjo and Jessica on guitar

I don't know this guy's name, but he plays a mean Melodica

Friday, January 9, 2015

Hide in plain sight

General van dwelling wisdom says you need to be stealthy as hell if you’re going to try living in your vehicle in cities. That’s not always the case. Some cities, or at least some areas of some cities, are more tolerant. Take this group, for example.

Zero stealth factor. They’ve been there for years, on Sepulveda Boulevard, in Los Angeles, under the interchange of the 10 and 405 freeways, between commercial and residential areas. They’ve become just part of the scenery.

The folks in the gray and blue RV aren’t just parked. They’re essentially homesteading. They have dozens of planter boxes on the roof and ground. They’ve even cleared a patch between the sidewalk and the embankment for a garden.

Thanks to Google Maps Street View you can see their rooftop garden 

I wanted to talk to these urban campers. There were generators running and I could see lights on through gaps in the curtains. Someone was home. I walked from one rig to the other calling out, “Hello! I have some questions!” But no one acknowledged me. Maybe they were suspicious. Maybe they’d had their fill of questions. Maybe they were on the toilet—which had me wondering how they dispose of their waste, since the RVs never move and there aren’t a lot of dump stations in LA. If I’d been more of a journalist and less of an introvert, I might have been more persistent. I might have gotten my answers. And more photos.

"Gee, you sure blog a lot."

Research has demonstrated that writing for even a few minutes a day can improve one's physical and mental health. I know it helps keep me sane.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

My beach

I lived in Corona del Mar twice in the late 1970s. First an over-the-garage apartment I shared with three other guys, then, after I was making better money, the front half of a duplex I had to myself. (The former is still there, but the latter was torn down and replaced with a huge and ugly house. Money doesn't always equal taste. Or even buy it.)

It was a pleasant walk from either apartment to Corona del Mar Beach, situated at the mouth of Newport Harbor. Like everyone else in town, I considered it my beach. One goes to Corona del Mar Beach for the sand, the water, the sun, maybe some volleyball—the pure beach experience. There is no promenade with shops, bars and restaurants to attract the riff-raff. One goes to Huntington, Newport or Laguna for that. It's not a surfing beach, either, because of the harbor breakwater. However, you can see the infamous Wedge just on the other side of the harbor mouth. When there actually is surf. The sea was calm when I visited.

For beach recluses, there's Little Corona del Mar, a pocket beach separated from the main beach by a rock formation. One needs to watch the tides, though, and be ready to scramble to higher ground. Fortunately, there are stairs.

I have to visit my beach whenever I'm at the Southern California coast. I think that big palm waved at me.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

We love it!

I will always have a fond place in my heart for Los Angeles. It's where I started my post-college, on-my-own, real adult life. Though I didn't live in LA-proper very long (a few days on a friend's sofa in Venice Beach, a few months in an apartment near McArthur Park) I spent a decade in its orbit. It was an exciting place and time. Whenever I return for a visit, I have to crank up this song. (Sorry about the ad YouTube inserted.)

The weather has been perfect since I arrived (thank you) so it was time to make a pilgrimage to the beach. In January. On a weekday. Yes!

I know, Santa Monica is technically not Los Angeles

When I can no longer do the van dwelling thing, just roll me here

Monday, January 5, 2015

Gallery crawl

I go the the Los Angeles County Museum of Art nearly every time I visit LA. And I make a point of applying my sticker crookedly.

I saw a couple of the temporary exhibits and revisited some of my favorite permanent collections. Contemporary art, ancient Asian art, Dutch... I particularly liked the Larry Sultan photo exhibit and Jazz Age paintings of Archibald Motley.

Sometimes I go less to see the art and more to just absorb the atmosphere. Like this.

I think this intentional double exposure works nicely

The weather was a perfect LA day, including nearly no smog. It was almost a shame to spend any of it inside.

Farm fresh

My ex is a back yard farmer in Los Angeles, only a couple of miles from Beverly Hills. She has twelve hens and would love to get four more, even though her current flock is all healthy and producing, and their pecking order has worked itself out. The hens are a variety of breeds, so she gets different colors of eggs, from white to brown to greenish. (Yes, you could have green eggs and ham.)

Eggs come naturally with a coating that protects them from going bad. If you resist the urge to wash off the hen house schmutz, you can keep the eggs for a month or more without refrigeration. Grocery store eggs have all been washed to make them pretty, and so you'll buy them more often.

Best of all, her eggs are much more flavorful. In addition to some chicken feed, the hens get kitchen scraps from a neighbor and a nearby restaurant. Fruit, vegetables, even fish and cheese. "They're crazy about feta and salmon. Chickens are omnivores," says my ex. They also get earthworms, mealworms and black soldier fly larvae. (Mature black soldier flies have no mouths, so they can't eat. They live just long enough to mate.) She also has a foraging garden and one for plants with medicinal qualities the chickens eat as needed. Sunshine and room to roam and scratch are essential as well.

Even if we weren't dear friends who share a lot of interests (and history), it would be worth the trip just to have some of her fresh, delicious eggs.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

It is resolved

My original thought was to do a rather longwinded post about how we typically approach New Year resolutions. Blah blah blah pop philosophy yammer yammer yammer tedious faux wisdom et cetera blah blah blah…


Let me make it short instead. Consider dialing back on the self-flagellating resolutions and add more resolutions on the self-indulgent side of the list. Have more fun, more adventures, more love. Worry less about the calories consumed and the shit that's still not together. Live as if your goal is to write a fabulous memoir rather than a strident self-help book. You'll feel less like a failure.