Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Doing the time warp again

Days of the week have become less relevant since I've retired. They've become even less relevant since I'm living out on the fringes of regular society. I have to remember when certain businesses and services are open or closed, but beyond that? Eh.

Sometimes, though, I feel a little like Billy Pilgrim of Slaughterhouse-Five. Unstuck in time. It's not that I have flashbacks or think I'm being held in an alien zoo. It's just that everything feels like it should be a different day of the week.

Each of the past five days have felt exactly like Sunday. Not going-to-church Sunday or watching-football Sunday. Just things-are-shut-down-and-quiet Sunday. It felt that way today as I drove to the post office to pick up my forwarded mail. Even though I knew it was Tuesday, a business day, it felt wrong. Part of my brain was saying, "The post office isn't open on Sundays." The traffic didn't feel like workday traffic. The comings and goings of people didn't feel like a workday either. The light, the angle of the sun, the smell of the air, the sounds (or lack thereof). It all told me it was Sunday.

I know it's because I have no weekly routine and that I'm around people who also have no weekly routine. Even my daily routine is very loose. And my sleep schedule is all over the place. Does this mean I need more structure in my life? Oh man, I hope not.

Seven minus five

For the past month (except for the time I went off to the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous), seven friends have been camped together here off Ogilby Road, near the Algodones Dunes. Now there's just Lou and I. And only for a few more days. Then we'll head in different directions. Loretta and Hal rolled out this morning. Lora and Scott left Sunday, as did Jo.

Even though I'm over on the reclusive end of the scale, and even though I spent a lot of time alone in the Rolling Steel Tent, I still like having friends around. I never know when I'm going to have a sudden attack of sociability.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Leading weather indicators

You can tell it was officially a warm day because:

Lou broke out the shorts

I was barefoot on the "porch"

Lou and Hal were playing music outside as the sun set

The doors were open on the Rolling Steel Tent

Short subjects

The carpet runner in the Rolling Steel Tent had gotten dirtier than sweeping or vacuuming could clean. And it had a funky aroma. So I replaced it. A nice high-energy design. It was the only one like it at the Home & RV Super Store out on the east side of Yuma. I hope that means mine is unique, not that it was the last one because others had bought the rest.

Every now and then there will be someone on the van dweller forums asking about ladder racks for high top vans. Here's proof they exist. This one, seen at RTR, is made by VanTech. They also make them for lower high tops.

Most people with rigs too long to fit in a standard parking space have the courtesy to park out on the fringes of parking lots. This isn't one of those people.

What am I thinking?

Hurray for homo sapiens and our huge brain. We can do amazing things with that lump of meat inside our skull. Or, like the silicon-based computers our meat computers created, we can clog them with useless data and malware. We can get hung up on irrelevant things.

The other day, in response to an online rant about the price of something the writer was never going to buy anyway, a more clear minded person wrote:
Why give space in your head to that?
I totally agree, and it's something I'm totally guilty of. It's not just a matter of expending too much of my finite mental power on things that serve no purpose in my life. It's that I'm wasting too much of my finite life being upset. About nothing.

I used to get paid to worry about trivialities. My employers and clients rented that head space. But those checks stopped coming and now I can use that room for whatever I choose. How about filling it with things that enhance my life instead of crap that drags me down?

Yes, not thinking about things that upset us can start to resemble denial. But denial is ignoring things that actually affect your life. I'm talking about ignoring things that don't. Let. That. Shit. Go. And don't invite more of it in.

One of the advantages of being a semi-minimalist is that there's less I'm obliged to worry about. My life isn't bogged down with the care and feeding of a pile of material stuff. Now, if only I could apply the same minimalist principles to the invisible, immaterial stuff in my brain.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Well, that's a nice surprise

I filled the tank today, did the gas mileage calculation and came up with:

Wow. That's a new high for the Rolling Steel Tent. Not much slow driving during that tankful. Mostly runs between our Ogilby Road campsite and Yuma. Highway and freeway driving in the 55 to 70 miles per hour range. Sure, I've had some strong tailwinds, but I've had nasty headwinds too. I hope this is a trend rather than a fluke.

There was an old Walter Matthau movie where he had a neighbor who wouldn't stop bragging about the mileage his VW was getting. So Matthau and his little boy started sneaking over and adding gas to his tank. The neighbor bragged even more, of course, until Matthau & Son started siphoning gas. Maybe my friends saw the movie and are playing the same trick on me.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Hmmmm, maybe I should stay

Regular readers know weather is one of the big influencers of my travel decisions. January has been cooler and wetter/snowier than usual. And less fun. But it has been way better here in the desert than other places. Now the storm system blasting the West has moved on, or taken a break. Maybe it's off catching its breath for something bigger. Once this annoying wind we're having finishes blowing good American sand and tumbleweed into Mexico, the forecast looks very nice.

Mid 70s, mostly sunny, low humidity... This is the winter weather that sells desert real estate. I'd be foolish to leave it in my rear view mirror. Besides, my friends are here.

Meanwhile, the Texas coast forecast looks like this.

Similar daytime temperatures, warmer nights, a little cloudier, maybe some showers, higher humidity. But it will get oppressively swampy before long. Now is sort of a weather sweet spot for that region. Go now or wait until autumn.

I know, I know. The Texas trip is mostly about seeing new places, experiencing new things. And the joy of being on the move. So I'll go. But maybe a few days later. That's what's handy about not needing campground reservations. I'm not locked in.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

A plan is hatched

How many winters in a row can I spend in the Arizona and California deserts without going stir crazy? The answer is approximately three and a half.

Since the mess over gasoline prices has taken Mexico off the table for now, I considered my alternatives. The West Coast is wet and expensive. Most everywhere else is cold. Florida is too far. So... the Texas Gulf?

I did some research, watched some videos, checked the forecasts. A little warmer than the greater Yuma area. Free beach camping. Yeah, the Gulf could work.

The slow, lazy route

At first I thought I could take a slow, lazy route hugging the border from El Paso all the way to the tip of Texas. But, ouch, there are some freezing nights along the way.

The expeditious route

So I'll take the expeditious route there, blasting along I-10 to San Antonio, then south on I-37. A couple of freezing nights in rest areas is tolerable. Just enough to have some stories to tell. I could take the slow, lazy route back after a yet-to-be-determined number of days/weeks. Things should have warmed up by then. Or I could head off in a completely different direction.

I don't know whether or not I'll like the Texas coast or the border country. (I did like the Big Bend area when I was there a couple of years ago.) But it will be something new. A bit of an adventure. Something to blog about. If nothing else, I'll be able to speak from experience when someone asks about those places. I like knowing things.

Now I just need to wait for my forwarded mail—which includes my renewed vehicle registration—to arrive. Then I'm out of here.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A rapidly talking nomad with important things to say

Tamara was a consumerist fashionista until she had a vision for her life. Presto, she became a minimalist and a wilderness guide.

It's just a game—until it isn't

I don't usually get sucked into board or card games, but after plying me with alcohol last night, Hal, Loretta, Jo and Lou got me playing Uno.

It's a simple game and each round usually lasts five or ten minutes. But round two went on forever. Strategies weren't working. Non-strategies weren't working either. Perhaps I'm partly to blame. Whenever the draw pile got low, I'd gather and shuffle the played cards. My shuffles, although good and diligent, kept us from getting the cards we needed. We'd draw and draw and draw...

But the laws of dumb luck eventually kicked in and we had a winner. It happened to be me. The joy was from the game finally ending, not from me winning. "Yay! We can stop now!"

A tip for couples, though. It's probably better to not sit next to each other, because you'll end up making plays that mess with each other's game, and maybe the relationship.

Long ago, I had a girlfriend who got me playing Scrabble. She was very competitive and serious about it, and she was quite happy to beat me. I'm not the competitive type, but if I'm going to play, I won't just go through the motions. So the more we played, the more my game improved, and I eventually started winning. Then I started winning most of the time. Her interest in Scrabble quickly faded. Then, perhaps not coincidentally, so did her interest in me.

So be careful who you play, and how well. People are more important than winning. We don't want Tic-Tac-Toe leading to divorces or fist fights.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Becoming a full time nomad unexpectedly

Kyle went on a trip to see America. He hasn't returned yet.


Back in 2013 I made some covers out of Reflectix for the Rolling Steel Tent's rear windows. They did a fine job of blocking light, creating privacy and providing a bit of thermal barrier.

I stowed the covers at the end of the bed, between my folding table and folding chair. Partly because it was a handy place, and partly to act as padding to keep the table and chair from rattling. It's essentially bubble wrap, after all. But over the years, the silver finish started to wear off, and instead of being opaque the covers became translucent. Then one of them blew away, never to be found again. (How can a shiny object about two feet square not be clearly visible out in nature?) I repurposed one of the side window covers, but it left a gap.

So I got some new Reflectix at Herb's Hardware in Quartzsite—one of the places you can buy it by the inch off of a big roll rather than buying a prepackaged roll of too much. I made new window covers and, presto, opacity returned.

With the window covers in place, the blackout curtain drawn between the cab and "living area," and the bedding pulled up to my chin so I can't see the status lights on the solar charge controller and voltage meter, it's really dark.

When you tour Timpanogos Cave in Utah, there's a moment they turn off the lights, plunging you into absolute darkness deep inside the mountain. It's a blackness darker than closing your eyes in a dark room, because your eyes are wide open, fully dilated, searching for something, anything. It's like this, only darker:

That's how black it seems in the van now, in the middle of the night, even though outside there's glow on the horizon from the lights of nearby cities, plus stars and a sliver of a moon. And the decorative lights of an RV across the way. It's so dark I had to get up and blog about it. Man, the laptop screen is bright!

Monday, January 23, 2017

It's sort of like Camelot

The rain may never fall 'til after sundown
By eight, the morning fog must disappear
It was clear and relatively warm (for January) yesterday in far southeastern California. Then it clouded over during the night and rained a little. It was mostly overcast at sunrise but clear and sunny by mid morning. I can go for the rain-only-at-night thing. It provides needed water yet keeps me from being bummed out and trapped in the Rolling Steel Tent.

It has been a wet, stormy winter at the coast, including hail yesterday. And there's heavy snow all over the country. But the geography that makes the desert a desert has kept most of that away. Hurray for being able to travel with the weather.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Fighting brain trauma in a van

Boondocking provides Debra with the calm she needs to recover from seizures caused by a traumatic brain injury. Let her explain.

The mileage thing

There was yet another thread about gas mileage on a van dweller forum. It reminded me I'm very casual about the subject. I guess because my budget allows me to be. Luckily.

I truly feel sorry for those who have tight fuel budgets, because the main reason I live in a van is to travel. A lot. I'd feel trapped if I had to park to preserve gas. I like to be moving. Especially in open window weather. Mmmmmmmm, yesssss. Cue the traveling music.

When in doubt, drive. Feeling antsy in this perfectly good campsite? Drive. Getting bored? Drive. Even if it's just another trip to town for the thing I could've gotten last time but subconsciously forgot so I'd have another reason to drive. And which I further justify by asking campmates if they need anything from town. No? Well, see you in a few hours.

Friday, January 20, 2017

LaVonne practiced being a van dweller

Some people jump right into the nomadic life. LaVonne eased into it. Then she overcame obstacles and setbacks along the way.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Sunset at Imperial County

Bicycle-touring, sitar-playing bus driver in a van

My friend Atli rode a bicycle from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Joshua Tree National Park for her mental health. Along the way she realized she could save a lot of money and be able to travel more if she lived in a van.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Oh yeah, that bag law

Californians voted to ban single-use plastic shopping bags, and some cities had already passed such ordinances. That means they no longer ask, "Paper or plastic?" at the grocery checkout. Now it's, "Bag or no bag?"

I've had a fabric bag for a couple of years. I bought it in a burst of environmental responsibility. However, my concern for the planet seems to disappear whenever I head into a market, because I keep forgetting I have that bag, even though I keep it in the Rolling Steel Tent's driver door pocket.

Sad looking, but functional

Each time I face the lack of a sack I have the option of buying a new one there at the checkout. Instead, I just load my purchases back into the cart, roll it out to my "house" and load things into the fridge and cupboards. It makes a lot more sense than bagging it all for the short ride through the parking lot.

Burning Van

Unlike legendary Burning Man, Burning Van is free and has much less art and nudity. The official story of Burning Van reads:
Last year we had a big cardboard box.
We made a van.
We burnt it.
A tradition was born!
This year, someone made a small van out of wood. No doubt, it will become a bigger deal and before long they'll be torching a full scale model of an Econoline loaded with fireworks. Then there will be nudity.

For a backpacker, an old car is luxurious living

After hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, Joe decided he didn't need to live in a building anymore. Now his home is a 1981 Volkswagen Rabbit diesel. Here's his story.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

For a moment I thought I had a girlfriend

The Crab Woman from the planet Ltpvëkgf^e-Gii 7 appeared this morning. She was the first female (at least I think she was female) in the Rolling Steel Tent since, well, ever. But she didn't want me in that way, or any other way. She wanted Chet. Sure, women always go for a guy in a fez. I told her Chet was in federal custody, awaiting trial for heroin smuggling, but that I didn't know which facility had him under lock and key. She gave me a disgusted look, snapped her claw, and dematerialized. Then I noticed Zorro the Wonder Dog was gone, too.

Maybe I'll remember now

Every year I've needed to relearn what days the Quartzsite dump is open. I've had no problem remembering Sunday, because that seems unusual for a government facility. And I remember Wednesday, because it's the middle of the week. But what my brain couldn't hold onto was whether it was Sunday to Wednesday or Wednesday to Sunday. As they say: take a picture, it lasts longer.

Prejudices fell away

Monday, January 16, 2017

I can be a jerk (or worse)

Kuehn Street, in Quartzsite, from the camp host turn-in for Scaddan Wash until its eastern end, is crumbling asphalt. And the speed limit is 35. At least for the part that's posted. Many of the various RVs, travel trailers, trucks, vans and whatnot on that road drive slower than 35. Some are looking for campsites off to the south (rather than pulling onto the wide, flat, smooth shoulder to do that). Some drive as if they have no idea where they are or where they want to be. Some drive as if they believe they will earn extra points in the hereafter for every mile per hour under the limit. Some drive as if disturbed by the roughness of the pavement and think it won't be as bad if they drive slowly. Some (me) drive it like mad men, like total asses.

I'm one of those asses who believes rough pavement feels smoother the faster you go. And I'm one of those double asses who has little patience for those I imagine to be timid or inattentive drivers. And I'm one of those triple asses who, knowing there's no enforcement along a stretch of road like that, will drive, oh, 50 miles per hour. And will blow past the folks who are trying my patience. But it's wrong.

So, to the four or five drivers I zoomed past this afternoon and all the times before, and especially to the guy on the scooter who stopped to give me a proper lecture I didn't want to hear, I deserve whatever things you shouted or fingers you waved. It was stupid of me.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

A man in a tiny van

Scott works in Southern California and lives in a Ram ProMaster City compact van because housing costs are outrageous and because he wants to travel. He has been able to fit a surprising amount of creature comforts in 131.7 cubic feet. Sink, stove, refrigerator, bed and more. Here's his story.

A milestone

Hmmm, maybe it's time for some Rustoleum, too

For the first time in my van dwelling life, I've run the propane tank empty. I've topped it off only three times, I think, in the three and a half years I've been wandering. A gallon here, a gallon there. The last time was during the previous Rubber Tramp Rendezvous. Obviously, I'm not a big consumer of propane. But it has been chillier this year, so I've had the heater on more. Gotta keep the old bones happy.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Serious equipment

Most of us van dwellers need to watch our money. So when we equip our vans we often repurpose things rather than buying purpose-built items. A classic example: ladder racks for solar panels. We broke folk drool with envy, then, when we see really cool stuff, like the bumper/guards/spare tire carrier/storage box/mini rack on this Ford.

It, and similar parts, are made for pickups, SUVs and vans by Aluminess. The right half swings to the right and the left half swings to the left. There's a place for a lock in the center. I think this 50/50 approach is much better than swinging it all from one side, like most spare/gas can carriers.

Some people would say something like this should be made of mighty steel rather than wimpy aluminum. Others would vote for the weight savings.

Interestingly, there's just a standard bumper on the front of this van. Maybe the owner doesn't see the need. Or maybe he/she is saving up for it.


This is the free pile at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous. Attendees leave things they think others might want or need. Some of the free stuff is good and useful. Some isn't, but the ones who left it can't bring themselves to just throw it out. At least their hearts are in a good place.

It's easy to give to people I like, people I approve of, people who pass whatever worthiness tests I might have at the moment. That's almost not giving. With the free pile, I'm putting it out there for... whomever. Maybe someone stone broke and in desperate need will get it, but maybe someone who could easily afford to buy the stuff will take it, or maybe someone who'll resell it, or maybe someone I hate. That's difficult, but I believe if I'm going to give, it should be with no questions asked.

I'd rather give more and judge less. I judge too much. It makes me hard. It requires me to be suspicious. It's a burden. Maybe I could lighten my load by putting a big sack of judgment on the free pile. Sadly, there's probably someone who'd take it.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Setting sun over Airstreams (and a Casita)

Another way to do solar

I hadn't seen these before. Flexible, foldable, lightweight solar panel arrays.

Not that I'm looking for different solar panels, but I wanted details—who makes it, how much power it produces—but the owner wasn't around. So I looked for a label. And found it.

That got me to the website. And that got me looking for prices. Whoa! $605 to $699, depending upon the retailer. That's mighty spendy for 60 Watts, and no charge controller. (Their intent is that you go directly to the device you want to run. Charging batteries gets passing mention.) Meanwhile, something like a Renogy 60W briefcase style solar panel with charge controller is about $200.

PowerFilm is lighter than typical solar panels and folds to about the size of a loose leaf binder. If those are your priorities, then this might be a good thing. Not for me, though.

There are a lot of ways to do this

I strolled around the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous this morning checking out the rigs. Here are some of the more interesting ones.

A homemade pop-up camper

An early-60s conversion van

A tiny trailer, complete with solar, used by some tent campers

An AeroCell tradesman's van given a military look

Actual military equipment converted to civilian use

Homemade trailer built on the aft portion of a pickup chassis

A modern Conestoga wagon
UPDATE: Watch a tour of this trailer here (about five minutes in).


My frying pan is small and the handle weighs more than the rest of the pan. So unless I put the pan just so on my single burner camp stove, it tilts and slides. Like this morning.

Perhaps it was the forces of the universe telling me I don't need to be eating bacon. I think of it as an offering to the coyotes. They'll come for generations to lick the rocks and dirt, telling each other the legend of the day pig meat fell from the sky.

See, I'm not the only one

Spotted at RTR. The step stool industry probably counts on us inattentive klutzes to run over their products, necessitating replacements.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

RTR 2017: Morning Announcements

For those who have never been, here's just a quick taste of how the day starts at RTR. I wouldn't be so cruel as to inflict the whole thing upon you. There's a seminar afterward. The noobs usually stay and learn while the veterans, who've heard it all before, usually go visit or do something constructive, like starting lunch.

Now with 100% more YouTube

Okay, so I've collected some of my videos on my very own YouTube channel. I'll be adding more as time goes on. Something more than beaches. Stay tuned.

I've probably broken all the rules of effective video monitization and search engine optimization. Too bad. I might even have set things up all wrong for easy viewing by you. If so, give me your feedback and I'll try to fix things.

Like they say, bookmark it, subscribe, share, yadda yadda yadda.

Here's a sample, an oldie but goodie:

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Full moon rising at RTR

Overflow parking

Before I arrived at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous, I'd heard/read reports of over 300 rigs of various types, and about 500 people of even more types. I was a little skeptical of the numbers. More than twice as many as last year? Now that I'm here, those numbers were totally believable.

Wow. It's packed.

Most RTR attendees like some space between themselves and others, even when the others are good friends. There's just not space for that this year. The primary area is loaded up more like an RV park where the rigs are so close the slide-outs touch and you can hear your neighbors snore and fart. That's an exaggeration, but still...

But there's room in adjoining areas for those who value privacy and quiet over easy social access. That's where I am. I call it overflow parking. One turn-off before the main RTR entrance, two forks to the right. A straight path to the meeting area takes me about a quarter mile down into and up out of six washes. Going out to the road and back is about a half mile. Either way, I need to head back before dark. Don't want to get eaten by coyotes.

I eventually found Bob Wells, the creator of RTR. Gesturing at the roaming masses I asked, "What have you wrought?"

He shook his head, "I'm not sure."

Shameless self-promotion

Since I'm going to the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous, I thought it would be good to give attendees notice—for better or worse—that I was among them. And the sign would make it easier for me to find my rig among all the other white vans.

I gave the art file to the nice people at Sign Masters in Yuma and they had it done in a few hours. It's self-adhesive vinyl. I'll remove it after RTR so I can be slightly more stealthy.

Oh, and I put the sign on a slant because it's much easier than getting it perfectly straight. Intentionally crooked looks better than just a hair off.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

While it lasts

My 65th birthday is in April. I knew I would be eligible for Medicare three months before then, which would be sometime this month. But I was a little surprised when I discovered my Medicare card in my forwarded mail. So soon?

I had been playing healthcare roulette since, oh, 1999 when I went freelance. I lucked out for the most part. My health was sufficiently good, no major injuries, and my occasional out of pocket expenses were a fraction of the cost of paying insurance for eighteen years. (Funny how when you cancel a policy they don't give you back all that money you paid in but never used.) I would have been totally screwed if something major had happened, but it didn't. "I just need to hang in there until I can get Medicare."

Well, I slid safely into home, only to have Congress itching to blow up Medicare, ACA, Medicaid and everything else.

So I'm going to play a less risky version of healthcare roulette again. Sure, let Part A (while it lasts) cover the poverty-creating hospital costs. But I'm going to opt out of Part B (while it lasts) rather than have them deduct a hundred-twenty-something dollars a month from my Social Security check (while it lasts) for doctor visits, lab work and such that I probably wouldn't be using in the foreseeable future. I'll also opt out of Part D (while it lasts), because I have Part M. M for Mexico. Perfectly good medications at a fraction of the US prices.

In a few months—or even days—a lot of Americans are going to wake up to find themselves totally screwed by the people who promised to make the country great again. They might grandfather in people who already have Medicare, in which case I and millions of others could relax a little. If not, then for me it will be a return to the old no-coverage status quo. I've been there, I've done that. I can do it again. While I last.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Another day in the rear view mirror

Men doing what men do

Makin' stuff, usin' tools. Argh, feel the testosterone. I cut while Lou held down the other end of the plywood. Thanks to Kirk for providing the saber saw and the power to run it. Thanks to Scott for the photo documentation.

The Rolling Steel Tent is undergoing a small bit of renovation. Some unsightly Reflectix that had been held to the inside of the sliding door with duct tape (that was even more unsightly) is being replaced with wood.

There was disagreement over whether the plywood should be varnished or painted. The others made their case for varnish. I made my case for paint. "I like paint better. I already have some leftover from earlier projects. And it's my van. So there." Testosterone.