Saturday, October 31, 2015

Nomad fashion

Oh no, I'm becoming one of those people who wear pajama bottoms as pants—at least in the mornings until it warms up. I haven't worn them to town, though. I have to draw the line somewhere.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Simple is often better

I have the back door of the Rolling Steel Tent open most of the time, for ventilation and a feeling of greater space. It's usually still open come bedtime. Then (grumble grumble) I have to get up, put on my shoes, go out to the back of the van to close the door.

"It would be great, " I thought many times, "if I could close the door while still in bed." I spent a lot of falling-to-sleep time thinking of contraptions. Rods... hinges... springs... rare earth magnets... linear actuators... photon torpedoes...

It's a good thing I don't immediately try to build the first or second ideas to come along. I save myself a lot of trouble. "He who hesitates doesn't get neck deep into dubious projects." Right? I think it was Aristophanes who said that. Or Bob Vila.

Then the solution came to me the other day. Duh.

There were already screws in the window frame that used to hold wire security grates. And the loop thing is for the door latch. I used a spare carabiner so I could unclip the cord whenever it would get in the way.

This setup also makes it easier to open the back door without getting out of bed. Before, I'd have to give it just enough of a push (repeatedly) for it to catch in the first detent without it coming back or swinging all the way to the second detent. Now I can just unlatch it, give it a hard shove, then pull it back until it catches the first detent. (I don't know why I don't like the door open all the way to the second detent. No rational reason. It just seems wrong.)

Next up is some way to hold the door open only a few inches. It might mean scrapping this solution. Or maybe not. I'll need to think about it for a couple of years.

One way to do it

I heard a generator running. I scanned the parking lot and there it was.

Van dwellers who spend a lot of time in hot locations end up wanting/needing an air conditioner that runs when the engine is off and when they don't have access to shore power. Some hope they can run the AC from solar power. They can't. At least not for very long. Air conditioners drain batteries faster than the sun can charge them—at least with a system small enough to be portable.

So this person has a generator mounted on the back. It was about 7:30 in the morning and nowhere near warm enough to require air conditioning. It was mostly overcast, and the solar panels wouldn't be getting much sun yet, so maybe the generator was charging the batteries. At least I hope the generator is for more than the air conditioner.

There have been times, after a few overcast days, with the batteries getting kind of low, that I contemplated the benefits of a generator. But then I'd remember the negative side of having a generator. The initial cost... the room it would take up... the noise... one more thing to potentially go wrong... the possibility of theft... It's easier for me to adjust the way I live so that a generator is unnecessary. Use less electricity, relocate to where the sun is shining more yet isn't too hot or humid. That's so much easier. Easy is good.

The state steps in at the Steps

I never got the definitive story behind the boondocking area near Parker Dam, Arizona, known as the Steps. Word had it that the hills had been terraced for an RV park, and then the developer either went bankrupt or got caught in a swindle that left ownership of the land in dispute. Boondockers discovered it and moved in. I spent a week or so there in December of 2013. I think some others I know were there last winter, too. But no more.

The place was deserted when I drove by on my way to Lake Havasu City yesterday. There was a brand new sign, though. The state has taken possession and kicked the riff-raff out.

Maybe camping is allowed with a permit. I don't know if it's worth the trouble, though. Before, there was no enforcement, no stay limits. Whee! Freedom! I imagine the permit would impose limits of some sort.

Oh well. The Steps wasn't one of my favorite places anyway. A numbingly cold wind howled through there. And it's inconveniently located to both Parker and Lake Havasu City.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Without a hitch

A few weeks ago I got stuck on a wet, muddy road. Luckily I was near Bob Wells and he was able to rescue me from my stupidity.

Good thing I had a tarp

The process would have been easier if I'd had a trailer hitch. Just loop the tow strap over the ball, or clip it to the safety chain holes, then pull. Instead, I had to get in the position shown above and loop the strap around a spring mount, sort of one-handed.

Bob pulled, Cody laughed

Since that ignoble day, I've considered getting a trailer hitch. Not that I would ever want to tow anything, but it would simplify any future rescues. Or I could rescue others. But a hundred-something bucks is a bit much for something I hope I'll never need. So I thought about alternatives.

These days, most cars have a steel loop welded to the front and rear for tow straps or cables. And there are usually four sturdy plates with holes near each corner of the undercarriage that are used to anchor the cars in transport ships and car carriers. My van had neither of those. But it gave me an idea.

What about a big-ass eye bolt? I could use the holes that are already in the chassis, the same ones a hitch would bolt to.

I figured someplace that catered to users of heavy machinery might have what I wanted. So I went to Tractor Supply in Yuma. Sure enough. A big-ass eye bolt, 5/8" thick. They also had extra nuts and some washers.

The existing holes weren't large enough, so I drilled one out. Chevrolet was thoughtful enough to put slots in the frame rails so not only could I get washers and the nut on the end of the eye bolt, but so I could also get a wrench in there.

Hand shown for size reference

Will it work? Will it be strong enough? I hope to never find out. (Yeah, right, that's what I said the previous time, when I had to be pulled out of sand.) But if it fails, I spent only $7.36 on it. And I can always do what I did last time.

Stop laughing, Cody. And Bob. And James.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The comfort of insecurity

I did a lot of research and planning before embarking on this nomadic life. What would I need? What were the potential problems? Where would I go? What would I do? What’s my backup plan? Questions questions questions… I was looking for reassurances—maybe even proofs—that it was a good idea, that it wouldn’t be a disaster.

But all that book learnin’ (or web learnin’) could take me only so far. I wouldn’t actually know until I made the big leap.

Now, twenty-six months after stepping off the cliff, the answer is, “Oh, this is easy. For me, anyway.” My particular cliff was more like a curb.

I’m descended from Vikings, from explorers (and, well, rapers and pillagers—sorry about that). I’m also descended from people who took the big leap, who left the lives they knew and came to America. But then my ancestors became settlers. They dropped anchor. They dug in. They planted and built and stopped wandering. Stopped exploring. Stopped sailing beyond the horizon, off the edge of the map.

“Anchored” has opposing connotations. The anchor keeps a ship from drifting into danger. It also keeps it from getting anywhere. Security versus entrapment. I spent my fifties feeling like the latter. Stuck. I wanted to cut the anchor.

Ben Franklin said (approximately) that those who would sacrifice freedom for security deserve neither. I wouldn’t go that far. I think we deserve both. But I believe there’s a scale of compromise. The more you want of one, the less you can have of the other. However, now that I’ve made the major commitment to freedom, I don’t miss the security much. I don’t feel insecure. I feel like my authentic self.

I know other nomads who want more security than I do. They are allowed to find their balance. But I propose they need less security than they think. Is security a castle keeping danger away, or is it a cell keeping you a prisoner? Is security a fuzzy blanket you cuddle into, or is it baggage taking up space in your van?

Saturday, October 24, 2015

I must be French

Lee Child's series of Jack Reacher novels aren't Great Literature, but sometimes there are passages that rise above the good-guy-versus-bad-guys formula.

Jack and Joe Reacher live in the US. Their French mother returned to Paris after her husband's death. They see each other infrequently. In The Enemy, her sons are shocked to learn she has cancer and is refusing treatment. She doesn't have long to live, and she's fine with that. She explains:

“I’m French,” she said. “You’re American. There’s a world of difference. An American gets sick, she’s outraged. How dare that happen to her? She must have the fault corrected immediately, at once. But French people understand that first you live, and then you die. It’s not an outrage. It’s something that’s been happening since the dawn of time. It has to happen, don’t you see? If people didn’t die, the world would be an awfully crowded place by now.”  
“It’s about when you die,” Joe said. 
My mother nodded. 
“Yes, it is,” she said. “You die when it’s your time.” 
“That’s too passive.”  
“No, it’s realistic, Joe. It’s about picking your battles. Sure, of course you cure the little things. If you’re in an accident, you get yourself patched up. But some battles can’t be won. Don’t think I didn’t consider this whole thing very carefully. I read books. I spoke to friends. The success rates after the symptoms have already shown themselves are very poor. Five-year survival, ten percent, twenty percent, who needs it? And that’s after truly horrible treatments.”  
It’s about when you die. We spent the morning going back and forth on Joe’s central question. We talked it through, from one direction, then from another. But the conclusion was always the same. Some battles can’t be won. And it was a moot point, anyway. It was a discussion that should have happened twelve months ago. It was no longer appropriate.  
Joe and I ate lunch. My mother didn’t. I waited for Joe to ask the next obvious question. It was just hanging there. Eventually, he got to it. Joe Reacher, thirty-two years of age, six feet six inches tall, two hundred and twenty pounds, a West Point graduate, some kind of a Treasury Department big shot, placed his palms flat on the table and looked into his mother’s eyes.  
“Won’t you miss us, Mom?” he asked.  
“Wrong question,” she said. “I’ll be dead. I won’t be missing anything. It’s you that will be missing me. Like you miss your father. Like I miss him. Like I miss my father, and my mother, and my grandparents. It’s a part of life, missing the dead.”  
We said nothing.  
“You’re really asking me a different question,” she said. “You’re asking, how can I abandon you? You’re asking, aren’t I concerned with your affairs anymore? Don’t I want to see what happens with your lives? Have I lost interest in you?”  
We said nothing.  
“I understand,” she said. “Truly, I do. I asked myself the same questions. It’s like walking out of a movie. Being made to walk out of a movie that you’re really enjoying. That’s what worried me about it. I would never know how it turned out. I would never know what happened to you boys in the end, with your lives. I hated that part. But then I realized, obviously I’ll walk out of the movie sooner or later. I mean, nobody lives forever. I’ll never know how it turns out for you. I’ll never know what happens with your lives. Not in the end. Not even under the best of circumstances. I realized that. Then it didn’t seem to matter so much. It will always be an arbitrary date. It will always leave me wanting more.”  
We sat quiet for a spell.  
“How long?” Joe asked.  
“Not long,” she said.  
We said nothing.  
“You don’t need me anymore,” she told us. “You’re all grown up. My job is done. That’s natural, and that’s good. That’s life. So let me go.” 
“Why didn’t you tell us a year ago?” Joe asked.  
“You know why,” she said.  
“Because we would have argued,” I said.  
She nodded. “It was a decision that belonged to me,” she said.
I'll die someday, and I'm fine with that. I have a Do Not Resuscitate tattoo on my chest. Decades ago, after reading a couple of news stories about people who were terribly injured or ill, who were near death yet fought back, I wondered what I would do if I were in that situation. Would I fight to live, or would I think, "Eh, I'm going to die sometime anyway. This is sooner than I would have liked, but..." Now that I'm 63 instead of 23 I wouldn't complain that my life was too short.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not looking to die. But if I see it coming I won't fight it. Just make me comfortable. As my tattoo says, drug me and unplug me. But maybe some champagne first. C'est la vie.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Feeling ten feet tall

Location, location

One thing I like about the Hi Jolly 14-day camping area in Quartzsite (besides being free and close to town) is the cell tower just across the highway. Feel the microwaves, baby.

Like Yuma, Quartzsite is pretty much free of snowbirds right now. It's in the 80s today with a good wind—like nature's giant fan—to keep things pleasant. If you're thinking of heading this way, consider this your scouting report.

Dump, fill, change, rotate

I took care of some chores before leaving Yuma. I dumped my waste and trash, filled up with $2.02 gasoline, had the oil changed and the tires rotated. The last two were made simpler because Jiffy Lube and Discount Tire are right next to each other. It always feels good to check some things off the list.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

One night stand

I made a run to Los Algodones, Mexico, today to stock up on the meds I didn't stock up on the last time I was there. Because why do things the smart way?

It's a little early in the snowbird season, so there are no crowds yet. The border crossing was a snap and the streets of Yuma are almost traffic-free.

When I'm in the Los Algodones/Yuma area, I prefer to camp at Fortuna Pond. And, since, like I said, it's a little early in the snowbird season, there are only three other rigs here. That left me with many choices of campsites. There was only an hour of sunlight left, and I'd been charging all day (mmmmmmm, sunshine) so I went for one of the spots among the trees. Cozy.

Tomorrow I'll head up to Quartzsite where it's just a touch cooler. My presence is certain to add to the coolness factor.

"Oh, look! The Rolling Steel Tent guy is here!"


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Chasing the perfect temperature

One of the joys—and challenges—of mobile living is that we can chase ideal weather instead of putting up with the climate in one spot. That's one reason I'm in transit today, playing climate Goldilocks. Too cold... too hot... just right.

If you don't mind putting on a lot of miles, you might follow meteorologist Brian Brettschneider's route that should, in theory, keep you in lovely 70°F weather all year. He has a shorter one in case you don't want to drive all the way to Alaska. There's also a nifty animation showing the various 70° sweet spots each day.

However, daytime highs are only part of the story for me. Humidity, precipitation and nighttime lows also matter. I'd take a clear, dry 85° over a foggy 70° any day—though I did a lot of the latter this summer just to avoid 100+ temperatures. You might want to try Brettschneider's road trip before continued climate change makes his data and calculations irrelevant.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Comin' at ya

Storm blowing in. Anchor everything. Get ready to close up the doors and windows.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Had to check

Last night, while trying to sleep, I began thinking about various van things. Time for an oil change... new spark plugs?... rotate the tires... have the alignment checked?... tow hook?...

The tow hook idea got me thinking about where on the frame to mount it. Visualizing the frame got me thinking about my hide-a-key that's tucked into a cranny, held by a magnet. "I've been over some terrible washboard roads lately. I hope the key is still there." I didn't want to crawl under the Rolling Steel Tent in the dark, though, to find out. So I looked this morning. Very dirty, but still there.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Relocating again

I don't think I've been in as many campsites in the same general area before. This is number four this week in Sedona/Cottonwood. It certainly has the best view of them all.

Underfunded visions take a long time

Paolo Soleri had ideas on how to build better, greener, more human-friendly cities. Rather than just wave words and architectural renderings around, in 1970 he started building a proof of concept in the Arizona desert. Soleri died in 2013 with only about five percent of Arcosanti built.

The gray parts of this model show how much of Arcosanti exists today

Though Arcosanti isn't as colossal as planned (at least not yet) it's still interesting. The mixture of public and private spaces, living, working and entertainment spaces works well—for people like me, anyway. Most of the complex uses passive climate control. Sun for heat in winter, shade and thermal mass for pleasant temperatures in desert heat. There are water features, olive trees, grape vines, succulents and ornamental plantings that are also functional.

Arcosanti is also known for its bronze and ceramic bells and wind chimes. You might have seen them (or cheap copies.) before.

They're made by hand in the on-site bronze foundry and ceramic studio and are one of the ways Arcosanti is funded.

It would be great if benefactors were to dump a pile of money into Arcosanti so the work could progress further and faster. It would be even better if enough people were interested in alternatives to suburban sprawl so that developers would create places employing the principles of Arcosanti.

Friday, October 16, 2015

The 4,000 square foot, five-story halls of Montezuma

Montezuma Castle was given its name by imaginative, but uninformed, European-Americans. Even if Montezuma had ever made it to central Arizona, this pueblo, built by the Sinagua peoples, predates him by several centuries. Sinagua is also a name invented by white Americans. Scholarly ones, though. Sin agua is Spanish meaning without water. However, ancient settlements were always located near some reliable source of water. Beaver Creek and the Verde River, in this case.

I learned this and more from a presentation by one of the rangers. For example, the Sinagua ranged from about Durango, CO to Durango, Mexico, and from Las Vegas, NV to Las Vegas NM. They were renowned weavers of cotton. They mined salt. And they had parrots they'd acquired via trade. B-w-a-a-a-k!

A little bit of Slab City comes to Arizona

The rumor is gaining strength that California might be selling the land that has become Slab City. So maybe someone thought they'd get a head start on a new location, between Cottonwood and Camp Verde, AZ.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Being different

The first time I saw an albino peacock I wondered, "Okay, peacocks have huge colorful tails to attract females—peahens. So, what do peahens think of albino peacocks? Do they think albino males are boring and weird, or do they think they're exceptional, intriguing, extra sexy?" I don't know.

I knew I was different, especially during my teens when deviating from the herd was social suicide. I was so odd that there wasn't even a special sub-clique for people like me. But high school is a terrible place to learn individuality and self-worth. Only certain types of people are rewarded—by peers, by teachers, by the system.

Fortunately, things changed for me in college. I majored in a field where originality and uniqueness are valuable assets. Ironically, I fit in with people who weren't concerned with fitting in. My opinion of myself, and my life, improved greatly. Different is good.

It wasn't a difficult leap, then, for me to sell my house, divest myself of most of my possessions, disconnect myself from conventional society and start living in a van. It's not normal, but so what? I'm no longer concerned with being popular. But, you know, I wouldn't mind having women flocking around me, drawn by my sexy oddness.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Moving down the road a bit

On the way to and from the Honanki cliff dwellings the other day, Lou and I saw some other boondocking spots. Where we were was okay, except for traffic and the uninspiring view. So we relocated to a site farther from the highway, a little higher, and with a bit of a view of the Sedona red rocks. We still have a good 4G signal and Lou can pick up even more TV stations. (I don't have a TV, so it's not an issue for me.) The downside is a longer drive to town over a washboarded road. It's worth it, though.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Up in the rocks again

The Honanki cliff dwelling, and it's sister site, Palatki, are tucked into the red rocks near Sedona. Palatki requires reservations, so Lou and I went to Honanki.

Gas bags at dawn

Each morning, hot air balloon tours lift of from somewhere in Sedona. The breeze tends to bring them this way. Sometimes they end the trip near us.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Electrical puzzle

My electrical inverter isn't fancy, but it suits my needs. Charge my electronics, the batteries in the lights, the camera battery. Occasionally run my hair clippers. No problems.

When inverters get warm, from the electrical load passing through them, or from the weather, or from both, a fan comes on. Mine has been doing as it should.

Then a few days ago, I noticed the fan was on with very little load and in cool weather. Hmmmm.

Then the fan started spinning slower and slower. It has never done this before. Hmmmm.

Then the fan stopped. Hmmmm.

Was the inverter starting to go bad on me? It was still charging, so was it just the fan? Or the circuitry controlling the fan? Would the lack of a fan eventually cause the inverter to burn out? Hmmmm.

I figured I'd keep using the inverter and see what happens.

Today, while charging my laptop and JetPack, the fan came on again. So it's not dead. At least not yet. Hmmmm.

Maybe the problem was the altitude. ;)

UPDATE: Since originally posting this about a month ago, the inverter has been acting perfectly normally. So maybe it was just a one day thing. Or maybe I had been imagining things.

Seeing in the dark

Unless we're cats or bats or other nocturnal creatures, we need some light at night. I have a couple of options in the Rolling Steel Tent.

The aluminum insulation tape and white ceiling help reflect light

When I built out the van, I installed LED strip lights. There are different types out there, but I used some flexible, self-adhesive ones that are marketed to people who want to jazz up their cars. I got them at Walmart and they're wired into my house battery system.

The tricky part was the wiring connections. The wires are so thin and my fingers are so thick. All I could do was twist the wires together and cover them with tape. I suppose some people would solder the connections, but my kludgy technique has worked fine. Also, LEDs are finicky about polarity. Positive to positive, ground to ground, or they don't work. I had the wire from the battery already connected so I could see the LEDs come on before I twisted the connections together.

Because of their placement along the wall-roof joint on one side, and behind the mail boxes I use for storage on the other side, the LEDs give a nice soft, indirect light. It's not enough to read by, but I can certainly see my way around the van at night.

Sometimes I don't want to light up the whole van or get up to reach the switch for the LEDs. And even though LEDs use very little power, sometimes I want to conserve my house batteries. So I got some touch lights powered by their own rechargeable AA batteries.

Since there's a lot of exposed steel in the Rolling Steel Tent, I got lights that stick with magnets. That makes it easy to move them where I need them. (And when I put two side-by-side, they look like boobs. Nyuk-nyuk.) The way I use them (a few minutes here, a few seconds there), the batteries can go two or three months before needing to be recharged.

Here's a shot with all six touch lights turned on. To get a comparison of light output, the photo was done with the same manual exposure settings as the one of the LEDs.

And, because someone will want to know, here are all my lights turned on at once.