Sunday, December 30, 2018

Putting some bedding to bed

I went into Kohl’s looking for a particular thing and didn’t find it. But I came across some down quilts on sale. Well hey, I’d been thinking it was time to replace my old one.

Thirty-two years is probably a decent lifespan for a down quilt. I had sewn up dozens and dozens of little leaks but there would still be an errant bit of fluff or two or three each morning. The cotton exterior was becoming like netting.

A quick check online a few weeks ago informed me king size down quilts started in the $200 range. Ow. But Kohl’s had them for $89.99. After-Christmas pricing, I guess—plus this being far southern Arizona where demand for warm bedding isn’t as great.

So why a king size quilt on a twin bed? I love being all bunched up in my bedding.

I’ll take the old quilt to Goodwill and let them decide whether it still has some life—or feathers—in it.

UPDATE: First night with the new quilt. Excellent.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

It’s b-a-a-a-a-ck

The desert air had been unusually placid for the season. But the wind blew in from the frozen regions last night, cranky, probably drunk, and howling obscenities as if its flight had been delayed and its baggage lost.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Christmas on the Colorado

Arizona in the background, California in the foreground, waterfowl between

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Not poinsettias

Ocotillos can leaf out and bloom whenever there’s enough water. I’ve never noticed them blooming in December. We had some drizzle earlier in the month. I guess it was enough to do the trick.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Tis the season again

I have some pagan friends and relatives for whom the winter solstice is a big deal. But for me it’s unofficially Seasonal Affective Disorder Day. True, the solstice means we’ve turned the corner on the shorting daylight thing, but for us SAD sufferers it’s rock bottom time, not a celebration. Today’s overcast makes it worse. The cruel trick of SAD is that it makes me want to spend what little daylight there is sleeping, leaving me awake to curse the increased darkness.

The up side is I’m not in one of the bleak frozen regions. I’m not in central Saskatchewan like I was in 1971 and 1972. The desert temperatures are mild and the usual high winds haven’t shown up yet. It’s still my least favorite time of year, though.

I’m tired. I’m going to take a nap.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Out of my sight, mostly

There are several chips in the Rolling Steel Tent’s windshield. The most annoying one is pretty much in my direct line of sight, taunting me.

About the size of a nickel

Years ago, when I was returning a car at the end of the lease, I had a chip repair guy do his thing. It didn’t work. So I’ve been skeptical ever since. But I ran across a video and thought, what the hell, that’s well within my abilities. I’ll give it a try.

Well, it didn’t come out perfectly, but it’s a huge improvement. One down, four to go.

Analog GPS

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Will it go boom?

Every vehicle dweller is concerned about engine longevity. I am. A busted engine would immobilize my mobile lifestyle. Where would I live if the Rolling Steel Tent was in the shop? And where would the mountain of money come from to fix it?

So a YouTube video about the top ten issues with Chevrolet/GMC LS-series truck engines (also known as Vortec engines) grabbed my attention. My engine has over a quarter million miles on it and is still going strong, but what should I expect in the future? Expensive things? Catastrophic things? Things where I’m better off setting the van on fire and pushing it off a cliff?

Certainly, something very very bad could happen to my motor, but as with the rest of life, it’s most likely to be relatively small things. At least according to the mechanic in the video.

I was particularly happy none of the top ten things he listed were about the guts of the engine, only things attached to the engine. And some (like the gauges) weren’t about the motor at all.

At the end he says very nice things about the LS-series engines. That’s reassuring—and makes me feel so damn smart for choosing a Chevy.

What’s the frequency, Kenneth?

Last night I was streaming a video about Express van repairs when it stopped. When that happens, and the circle thing spins for a couple of seconds, videos will start back up. Not this time. I waited and waited…

I looked to see if the battery in my mobile hot spot was still charged. Yup. But whereas I’d had three bars of 4G signal before I now had two bars of 1X. Hmmmm. The same with my phone. And then, as I watched, its signal dropped to none. Hmmmm. The hot spot briefly showed one bar of 3G then joined the phone in the land of no signal.

Well crap. So I returned to the old off-line world and read an actual book.

I checked back on the signal situation a couple of hours later. Still nothing. I figured there was a problem at the tower. Or maybe it was an aftereffect from the Geminid meteor shower. Or flying monkeys. Or the dirty work of Dr. Watts & the Ampere of Evil. Whatever. It was late, so I went to sleep.

I woke at about 2:30 (which is typical for me) and, after clearing the crud from my eyes, checked the signal. Still nothing. I contemplated moving my camp if this was going to be a continuing problem.

I woke again at about 4:30 (also typical for me) and rechecked the signal. I had one bar of 4G and a message from Verizon welcoming me to Mexico. Well, yeah, I’m about seven miles from the border, but there are cell towers between there and my California location. Oh well. I don’t get charged extra for international roaming.

Things were back to normal at sunrise. Yay technology (he said semi-sarcastically).

Saturday, December 15, 2018

I ride an old paint

There are spots on the hood of the Rolling Steel Tent where the paint has flaked off. It’s a common problem with cargo vans. According to a body shop guy, the gray epoxy-based primer is really good at preventing rust but it doesn’t get along all that well with the utilitarian white paint used on cargo vans. Sort of like coworkers who don’t like each other. Or a failing marriage.

I’ve done quick and dirty repairs on the hood with white spray paint. It looks okay from a distance, but up close it looks scabby in a way the says, “Poor and homeless.”

It would be nice to have a pro repaint it, but I don’t really have the money for it (unless there are folks feeling generous enough to click the donation button on the right).

Barring that, I need to sand back the the edges of the flaked spots so they blend in, then take a little more time applying the paint. I could do the sanding by hand, but it would go a lot faster if I had a random orbital sander. Mmmmmm, power tools.

I could rent a sander from a home improvement store, but I would need a cordless one, which they don’t have. So I considered buying one. I saw one for about $50. Not bad. Then I read the fine print on the box. “Battery and charger not included.” I guess they figure by the time you get a sander you already have one of their other cordless tools and you could just use the batteries and charger from them. Otherwise it’s another $50.

Well, since I already have a cordless Makita drill and impact driver I could get their random orbital sander. But it’s $99. No savings there.

So, it looks like I need to use good old elbow grease. Or just ignore it.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Where oh where?

Let’s say you wanted to buy one of these flexible grabber things to fish something out of a tight space in your van. Let’s also say you went to a store specializing in tools and related tool-ish things. A store like, oh, Harbor Freight on 16th Street in Yuma. Yeah, that’s a good example.

Here’s the question: Among what other tools and related tool-ish things would you expect to find a flexible grabber thing?

You’re wrong. Unless your mind is ordered in the same illogical way as someone at that Harbor Freight.

Or maybe the decision was made by a chimp caged at corporate headquarters. Let’s call the poor primate Skippy. The corporate honchos ask, “Where should we put the flexible grabber things, Skippy?” Skippy then throws his feces at a big map of the store layout. Wherever the largest bit sticks is where they put the flexible grabber thing. Then Skippy throws some feces at the corporate honchos. Because his name is actually Zeltonus the Great.

Sunday, December 9, 2018


Part of boondocking along American Girl Mine Road in far southeastern California is the train track nearby. Trains rumble through all day. And all night. I’ve become used to it. Mostly.

Last night I awoke to what sounded like a colossal VW Bug with a bad muffler idling just outside the Rolling Steel Tent. I checked. Nope. Just an unusually loud and odd sounding train. Perhaps it was loaded with idling old Volkswagens.

Saturday, December 8, 2018


We’re getting down to the short days and long nights, with some rainy days thrown in now and then.

My non-tilting solar panel provided enough charging power through last winter and so far this year. But I still need to be judicious with my use of electricity. Dude, recharge the laptop and phone before sunset.

After a little thought I realized I could tilt the solar panel by just removing two bolts and having it pivot on the other two. Grab a wrench and a socket for the drill, stand in the side and back doors, z-z-z-erp z-z-z-erp, remove the bolts, lift, slip a piece of scrap lumper in there to hold it up, and there I go.

A longer board would tilt it higher, but this was what I had on hand. It’s good for adding at least a half hour of exposure at each end of the day.

Now cross my fingers and hope for only mild breezes.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Dream Report: Trapped

In the wee hours I dreamed about visiting my former house/prison to see what the current owner had done with it. The renovations were ugly and poorly done.

It had snowed about a foot while I was in the house but there was a snowless spot on the driveway where I had parked the van. Where’s my van? Panic!

Then I realized I was in a dream. But how could I get out of it? Am I trapped?

I became sufficiently conscious to know I was out of the dream and in my good old van, snug in bed with rain pattering on the roof. I relaxed—and drifted right back into the dream. Crap.

Now a friend from high school had set up an office in one of the bedrooms. He was renting the space. The owner came in and was mad I was there. I wanted to leave but, ergh, I couldn’t find the exit from the dream.

Thanks, subconscious, but I don’t need to be reminded how glad I am to not be a homeowner anymore, to be a mostly carefree nomad.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Two introverts named Alan walked into a bar

Well, there was no bar, and they didn’t walk in, but two introverts still got together. At a gathering of nomads. Ew, gatherings.

My friend Alan emailed me with the news he was taking a break from his homeowner life in southern Texas to visit a friend in Albuquerque and to hang out with one of the Cheap RV Living caravans camped near Parker, Arizona. Did I want to meet up? Sure!

So, what do introverts do at a social gathering? Talk to each other. Off to the side.

Okay, but why meet at a social gathering? Because Alan from Texas had set a goal to make at least two new friends. His Texas buddies are all too occupied with families and jobs. A group of nomads, who are less tied to those things, and who share an interest in wandering the country, would be a good place to seek likeminded folks. Even if it meant a 3,000 mile round trip.

I was there because I hadn’t seen Alan from Texas in over a year. And because he understands the whole introvert thing.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Doing it correctly

Back before Thanksgiving I reported how I fixed my headlight with a zip tie. It worked but, you know, it wasn’t a proper repair. Since I’m relatively close to a Chevrolet dealer, I went to buy the spring I should’ve acquired years ago. Naturally, they didn’t have one in stock. They ordered it and it arrived after the holiday. It had been sitting in my console since then, waiting for me to be in the mood to remove the grille again. Today I was in the mood.

While I had the hood open and the tools out, I also got around to replacing the heater fan control I’ve had for about a year. Or more. Now I have my preferred fan speed back.

Old on the right, new on the left

Old one removed

New one in place

I was in the process of buttoning everything back up when an RVer from about 200 yards away strolled up and asked if I had some kind of trouble. I explained what I was doing and thanked him for his concern.

Friday, November 30, 2018

What's better than a freebie?

Two freebies. And maybe more.

It used to be that non-pro drivers paid $12 for showers at the Flying J on the east side of Yuma. The last two times I was there they waved away my cash and said, “Give us your driver license to hold until you return the key.” (This is an older place without fancy digital door locks on the showers.) And it all went just like that.

This isn’t my favorite truck stop for showers. The towels are thin and scratchy and the bath mat is a piece of paper. But hey, it’s free. At the moment, anyway.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

In with the new

Having set up a mail forwarding address in Quartzsite it’s now easy to have packages shipped to me—providing I’m in the general area or would be passing through. And since had knocked 20 percent off the price of Keen Arroyo II’s, it was a good time to order up my favorite shoe.

Looking a little too new

My old Arroyo II’s are still going strong, but it’s good to have a backup pair in case they stop making them or I grow another set of legs.

Good thing I had stopped at the fish market earlier

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Hurray for public dumpsters!

Trash disposal is seldom simple for us nomads. We can leave small bags in trash cans at places like gas stations, city parks, fast food joints, and big box store parking lots.

Our options become a lot fewer, though, if we’ve been away from civilization long enough to fill a 30-gallon trash bag or two. Then it’s time to find a dumpster. Naturally, no one wants their dumpsters filled with other people’s trash. That’s why so many of them are locked. But what do building dwellers and business owners want us to do (other than not exist)? They don’t want us littering. We don’t want to litter.

Fortunately some governmental institutions have seen the wisdom of providing dumpsters in places heavily used by the mobile public. It’s cheaper to have dumpsters serviced than to clean up trash all over the boonies.

Four of six dumpsters at a California rest stop

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Now hear this

If I’m going to spend more time around clusters of campers, nomads, RVers and such, I might need to get a bullhorn.

“Hey! It’s after ten o’clock! Shut down your #*/x!@+* generator!”

“Hey! Quit revving your #*/x!@+* ATV for no reason!”

“Hey! Silence your #*/x!@+* dog(s)!”

Yeah, maybe Santa will bring me one.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Hey, buddy, do you have the time?

I’m camped in the southeast corner of California, about fifteen miles from Yuma Arizona and ten miles from Baja California. That means time is an issue—at least as much as time can be a issue for a guy with no schedules. Pacific Standard Time in California and Baja, and Mountain Standard Time in Arizona and Baja Sur. I’ve had a few weeks to adapt, but still…

It’s simpler here when it’s Daylight Saving Time and Arizona is on Contrarian Time. Then the time is the same in both California and Arizona. And those who cross in and out of Utah, New Mexico and Sonora grumble about the time difference.

When I camped here with Lou, he kept his watch set to Arizona time because he had various medical appointments in Yuma. I compromise. I keep my computer set for whatever time zone I’m camped in and let my phone automatically switch as I drive. It’s not that great of a compromise since I sometimes forget that’s what I’m doing. Good thing it rarely matters. At least I’m not in one of those states with two time zones. Oh, wait. The Navajo Nation (but not the Hopi Nation, which is surrounded by the Navajo Nation) observes Daylight Saving Time.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Nose job

I decided to do a little cosmetic work on the Rolling Steel Tent while the grille was off. The gold coating on the Chevrolet logo had started to peel and, since I’m not a huge fan of gold, I painted it white. After cleaning the bug guts off of it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018


The headlight buckets on the Rolling Steel Tent are each held in place by two aiming screws and a spring. Sometime a few years ago, one of the springs went missing. It was because of a budget-cutting design flaw. One end of the spring hooks into a plastic piece, and that piece eventually breaks.

I rigged a repair using a zip tie. It worked fine until the zip tie got dry and brittle and broke. So I replaced it with a thicker zip tie. That one broke recently after about three years of faithful duty, so it was replacement time again. I had meant to get some bailing wire after the last time, but, of course, I forgot.

While I was at it, I figured I’d replace one of the headlights. It still worked even though there was a small hole in it, but who knows how long that would be the case.

These two jobs would be easier if I removed the grille first. I had never done that before and it turned out to be rather simple. Undo four screws and yank the clips out of their slots.

(Hmmmm… I like the GMC grille better. I wonder if I could find one cheap at a salvage yard. It should attach the same way. And I like to confuse people.)

Dream report

I dreamed I was staying with friends. They said, “You must have had a horrible dream last night.”

“Why do you say that?”

“You were screaming.”

“Really? I don’t remember. Was it angry screaming or fearful screaming?”


“Huh. I wonder what that was all about.”

When I woke up I thought, “A dream about a dream. That’s a new one.”

Monday, November 19, 2018

Gas pains

The Rolling Steel Tent gets about 16.5 miles per gallon most of the time. About 15 in city traffic and occasionally 17.5 downhill with a tailwind.

The other day I filled the tank then drove two miles to an overnighting spot. When I started the van the next morning, the needle on the fuel gauge was down about a half tick mark while sitting on level ground. Hmmm, maybe I didn’t actually fill the tank all the way.

Just past ten miles down the road the needle was down a tick and a half. At thirty miles I was down a quarter tank. “That’s like seven gallons, which is (...head math...) a little over four miles a gallon. That’s ridiculous!”

I didn’t smell gasoline from inside the van, but I pulled off at the next exit, popped the hood, looked around underneath… No visible leaks, no fumes. “Where is the gas going?”

I pulled onto the highway again and the fuel level continued to drop unusually fast. “Maybe it’s just the gauge.” I stopped at the next gas station and filled up. It took ten gallons. “Okay, so it’s not the gauge. But what is it? A sensor or something? I mean, it’s driving fine otherwise, just drinking huge amounts of gas in order to keep running ‘normally.’”

I hit the road again, hoping I wouldn’t need to keep stopping for gas, trying to formulate plausible sources of my problem.

Then gas consumption magically returned to normal. About 125 miles on a quarter tank, 250 on a half tank…

Okay, mechanical things don’t fix themselves. But electrical things can go weird then return to normal. Before going weird again. Or never going weird again. Because electricity is the tool of the devil.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Is it a pattern?

I’m a big fan of slow traffic keeping to the right, even when I’m the slow traffic.

I’m also a big fan of long following distances, especially since it takes a while to haul down the Rolling Steel Tent, even with fresh brakes.

I don’t like squeezing between vehicles in order to make lane changes. Give me a nice big gap in case the guy ahead hits the brakes or someone behind does something stupid. And especially if traffic in the left lane is going a lot faster.

So, there I was, cruising south on I-5, keeping at or below the 70 MPH speed limit most of the time, keeping in the right lane as much as possible but gradually closing on slower traffic. When there was plenty of empty right lane ahead—a quarter mile, a half mile—and I didn’t need to pass anyone, traffic on the left was usually light.

Lots of following space, light left lane traffic

But when I’d use up my following distance and would want to pass, the left lane would suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, be filled with a long line of tightly packed traffic, usually driving about ten miles per hour over the speed limit. And vehicles behind me in the right lane would be merging into the gaps in the left, making the line even longer. I would need to slow way down until the left lane cleared, which always seemed… to..… take…… for………. ever.

Needing to pass, lots of left lane traffic

I started planning my passes sooner, but it still meant fast traffic way back there would be on my ass before I could make it around a couple of semis, an RV and someone in a small truck with a big trailer. And another semi. So I would wait. And wait.

But perhaps the most frustrating and infuriating situation is when a lone vehicle, going just a fraction of a sliver of a hair faster then me is hugging my flank as I get closer and closer to the slow traffic. PASS ME, DAMMIT! Nope.

This jerk

Oh well. I don’t need to drive that type of highway very often.

Waking to reality

Once again I had another series of dreams about being back at work, with troublesome coworkers and the deadlines for too many projects looming. For some reason, cold Mexican takeout cluttered my office. (What did burritos and quesadillas have to do with anything? Meals missed?)

But the anxiety of those dreams turned to happiness when I awoke. Oh yeah, I’m retired. That’s not my life anymore. I’m free.

Good morning, freedom

Friday, November 16, 2018

California fire escape

It wasn’t until I crossed over into the desert that the air started looking mostly smoke-free and I could see more than a half mile or so.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Su casa es su casa

Staying in someone else’s house is weird. No matter how much they say to make myself at home, I just can’t. And, honestly, they wouldn’t want me to. Because, to me, being at home means wandering around in my underwear (or less), leaving the bathroom door open, eating out of a pot while standing at the sink, spreading various projects on all available horizontal surfaces, going the entire day without talking to anyone or acknowledging their presence… Instead, I play the role of the Good Houseguest. That’s exhausting.

It’s not any better when my hosts are away, when I’m watching the house and tending the pet. “Here are the keys,” they say, “and the emergency contacts, the wifi password, and the instructions for that slightly malfunctioning appliance. Help yourself to whatever’s in the fridge and cupboards.” But left unsaid is, “Don’t steal anything, break anything, befoul anything, clog anything, flood anything, set anything on fire, or conduct a criminal enterprise. And, most of all, don’t go snooping around trying to discover our embarrassing secrets. If you accidentally discover an embarrassing secret while looking for, say, a garlic press (though why you’d be looking for it in the master bedroom closet is a mystery) just erase that new knowledge from your brain. Otherwise we’ll have to kill you.” That means I need to play the Good Houseguest on the Honor System, which is twice as exhausting, even if I’m free to drink all the tequila, naked.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Good dog

Caira has all the qualities I’d want in a dog. Smart, obedient, even tempered, well socialized.

I was concerned she might reject me. But she saw I was accepted by her owner, so, presto, I was a member of the pack. She responded to my commands as if I’d been with her all her life. That was particularly important when she was off-leash in the dog park. Just call her name and she comes right to you.

We go out at least twice a day. She knows when I put on my shoes she’s going for a walk or ride.

Does spending one-on-one time with a fine dog like Ciara make me want to have a dog again? No. It’s more responsibility than I want right now. And I don’t want to repeat the heartbreak of needing to put a dog down. So I’ll just enjoy other people’s dogs. The good ones.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Pet sharing

This is Caira. I’m looking after her for a few days while my friends are away on business. Besides having canine companionship, I get to stay in a casita with such luxuries as hot running water, high-speed internet and a view of San Francisco Bay.

Friday, November 9, 2018


So, let’s say you’re feeling a little lazy and don’t want to make the 340-mile trek from Lake Isabella to Mill Valley in one day. Where might one stop for the night that’s about half way there? And free?

Well, the nice folks at the Harris Ranch Inn & Restaurant in Coalinga let RVers and riffraff like me overnight in their parking lot.

I found a space away from the RVs. There’s faint traffic noise from the freeway but the smells from the restaurant compensate for it, as does the free no-password-needed wifi.

Smile for the camera, again

I was driving through a California canyon when a Google Street View car passed in the opposite direction. The Rolling Steel Tent will be featured if the cameras were on. They might not have been, since that highway is already on Street View and nothing about it warrants an update.

A few years back, Google Satellite View captured Lou, Jo and I camped together in Joshua Tree.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Know before you go

As the kids’ book reminds us, everyone poops. But not everyone poops in a bucket in a van. And some people who want to poop in a bucket in a van just can’t. Maybe they have physical limitations that prevent them from squatting on a bucket or un-squatting afterward. Maybe they’re grossed out by pooping in something other than a flush toilet. Maybe they’re the type who can only poop under certain conditions. Maybe they worry about making a mess with their mess.

Well, this is something folks should figure out before committing to living in a van. Because it could be a deal breaker. Get a bucket and some bags and try it out before driving away from the world of indoor plumbing. Your first experience will probably fit somewhere on a scale with Impossible at one end and No Problem at the other. For me it was This Is Weird and Will Take Some Getting Used To. After a few days it was totally normal. Hurray for adaptability.

But bucket pooping isn’t the only thing to try out ahead of time. For example, will you actually be comfortable with your planned bed? Will you be able to cope with not having hot water from a tap? Out in the boonies, with all your “normal life” bridges burned behind you, is not the place to find out.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Double bagging

I had checked the forecast, so I knew it was going to be in the low 40s last night. Ordinarily that wouldn’t be a big deal, but I haven’t had time yet to re-acclimate to cooler temperatures. No problem, I’d just don some wool socks, pajama bottoms and a long-sleeve t-shirt and pull my down quilt over my head.

At about 2:30 a.m. I sensed I needed more to keep me warm. So I reached into the cabinet and pulled out my sleeping bag. Quilt over sleeping bag, two layers of downy goodness with a cozy pocket for my feet, which are always the first to complain about being cold.

But around 4:00 I woke up sweating. Yup, that’s what too much insulation will do to ya. So I ditched the sleeping bag and was fine for the rest of the night.

This is a variation of the game I play during the transition into and out of summer. Can I get by without the blanket, or will my legs and feet get cold? Sure, some type of thermostatically controlled central heating and cooling would solve the problem, but it would create the problem of being in a building.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018