Wednesday, January 31, 2018


I started my van dwelling life with a 7-gallon water jug. It was too unwieldy, so I gave it away and changed over to several 1-gallon jugs. First six of them, then five, then four. Now I only keep two jugs around. There are two reasons for this decline in jug population.

The first was that I don’t go far from sources of potable water for long periods. So I don’t need to stockpile it.

The other reason is I consume less water than I used to. I’ve never been a coffee drinker and I’m rarely boiling foods. When I do dishes I use only enough water to get the sponge wet or to spritz water on the dishes. I clean myself with a wet washcloth. (I also use public showers of one type or another, and I use laundromats, but that’s not water I need to carry with me.)

This all came to mind today when I refilled one of my jugs. The last time I got water was, oh, six weeks ago. That’s about a third of a cup a day. (The other jug was still full.) That doesn’t mean you need to do the same. It just works for me.

Blue green purple blood super mega deluxe moon eclipse

I was up at 4:59AM to watch the lunar eclipse. I don't have a fancy telescope, so my photo doesn't have the crisp detail you'll see in other shots, but it's still pretty good for my old camera and sort of adequate lens.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Not quite Quartzsite

Let's say you're in transit through southwest Arizona and Quartzsite makes a convenient place to stop for the night. Let's also say you don't want to bother with getting a permit for one of the popular short-term boondocking areas like Scaddan Wash or Hi Jolly, and you don't want to drive down lumpy, dusty, unpaved roads to spots like Palm Canyon. You want quick, no-fuss access. Easy in, easy out, back on your way in the morning.

Well, there are dispersed camping areas along US-95 south of Quartzsite and north of Yuma Proving Grounds. Just keep your eye peeled for patches of desert pavement with level transitions from the highway and tire tracks leading back into the mesquite, saguaros and ocotillos. You'll probably come across a fire ring or two. Highway noise is light with almost none at night. It sure beats being wedged in between generator users.

Friday, January 26, 2018


You run across things in the desert that leave questions unanswered. For example, is this a monument to a lost love, or to the Rolling Stones' disco era? Or both?

Thursday, January 25, 2018

More about the front end

I posted before about the steering repairs my friend Forrest did for me. I knew several parts were worn, with the Pitman and idler arms being the worst. Installing new ones helped a lot, but there were still some thunks and wobbles. In any case, I'd need the front end aligned.

I googled alignment shops in Yuma. Chassis Dynamics is a family-owned shop with excellent reviews. They offered suspension inspections for a fairly reasonable price, so I could have them check things out to see what else needed replacement. I booked an appointment via their online form.

The place has the look of serious, no-frills shop—the kind locals have been depending upon for generations. The vehicles being worked on included cars, commercial trucks, one of the school district's buses, and RVs.

There was a hiccup, however. The guy behind the desk apologized profusely that their online reservation system was buggy and essentially useless. He muttered a few things about the IT guy they were using and said he needed to add a message to their appointment confirmation email telling customers to reconfirm by phone. He said he could fit me in first thing the next day and that he'd give me half off the inspection. "Sure, I can do that," I replied. He wrote it in his calendar book, old school. So I was there when the gate opened this morning and they were true to their word. The guy at the counter even remembered me by name.

I thought about what the inspection might reveal. The inner and outer tie rod ends were probably as shot as the Pitman and idler arms had been, and if I'd been thinking I would've had those parts for when Forrest did the other work. They're easy to replace. In fact, I could probably do it myself. Then there was a chance the ball joints were also worn. That would be beyond my capabilities, and Forrest probably wouldn't have the specialized tools with him to do the job. But it's not that big of a deal at an actual shop (as opposed to the middle of the desert). But the one I feared most was worn out control arm bushings, because replacement is labor-intensive. I read a magazine (gotta love a place that has Rolling Stone) and waited.

The guy returned with the report. The news was... good. The ball joints and control arm bushings were fine. Only the tie rods needed replacement. He said he was kind of clogged with paperwork but he'd call later with an estimate. I'm curious what they would charge, even though I'll probably do it myself.

I've been trying to remember when I first became aware of the front end clunking and wobbling. I can't pinpoint it because it happened gradually. That's the nature of mechanical wear. But a problem creeping up on you is better than it announcing itself by swerving you off a cliff or into the path of a semi. So pay attention to the sounds, vibrations and whatnot your vehicle makes and the way it behaves. Be aware of any changes. It's a sign.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

More crowds

About a hundred members of Escapees have escaped Quartzsite and gathered across the road from me. But they're far enough away that I don't hear their generators.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Lesson learned

After I posting about being able to have the door open on winter evenings, Nature chastised my bragging by sending van-rocking wind. I've had to seal up the Rolling Steel Tent to keep out the dust.

Saturday, January 20, 2018


Alex was shooting a documentary at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous. Its working title is "Burning Van." After he interviewed me, I interviewed him.

The monetary cost is low, but...

It's time again to renew my vehicle registration. Eighty bucks is a pittance, but getting it done costs a lot of frustration. It's as if South Dakota wanted to make their online renewal process obtuse and awkward to discourage its actual use.

First, there was no Renew Vehicle Registration menu item on the home page. Because, you know, no one would ever want to renew their registration.

Then, once I'd read a not-very-prominent paragraph and clicked the correct logo to get to the renewal login, it decided last year's username and password were invalid, so I had to create a new account, with an overly complex password and three security questions. Because, you know, no one would want someone sneaking in to pay their fees for them.

After it emailed me my new username and password, it wouldn't let me copy and paste the password into the login box. And it wouldn't show me what I was typing as I was typing it. I could type or see the actual characters, but not at the same time. Because, you know, who would want to do that?

Then, if there's an error entering your payment information (like not noticing auto fill stuck part of your phone number in the ZIP+4 field) you have to reenter your card number.

But I finally got it done and received a confirmation email. Woo! Legal for another year!

The $1.77 "Convenience Fee" made me laugh. I guess it would be a lot more if the process had actually been convenient.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Not to make you feel bad, but...

It's the middle of January, in the United States, it's getting dark, and it's warm enough to leave the Rolling Steel Tent's door open. This is one of the things I truly love about the nomadic life. Oh, and no mortgage, no rent.

Adios RTR

Denise & Dale

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Robot 34

Another freebie

On my way back from Blythe I stopped for a shower at the Flying J in Ehrenberg.

The cashier asked, "Do you have a rewards card?"


"Are you a professional driver?"


At this point they usually ask for twelve dollars. Instead, he got on the intercom and said, "Eric, my computer shows showers 3 and 14 are available. I'm sending back a guy in a gray shirt with a white beard. Give him one of those."

"Why, thank you."

Eric directed me to shower 14.

"Thank you."

This has happened five or six times before. Or a trucker in line behind me will offer one of the free showers he'd accrued with his rewards card. There are nice people in the world. I left a tip.

Hurray for friends with skills and tools

Forrest at work

The Rolling Steel Tent had been making thumping, knocking sounds on rough roads—the kind of sounds associated with worn front steering and suspension parts. So I went to a mechanic in Yuma that had been given high scores on Yelp. He put the van on the lift, shook, jerked, twisted and articulated the steering. He showed me how the Pitman and idler arms were worn.

Some Steering 101: The hand bone's connected to the steering wheel bone. The steering wheel's connected to the steering shaft. The steering shaft's connected to the steering box, and the steering box's connected to the Pitman arm. The Pitman arm is connected to the steering linkage. The idler arm, on the right hand side of the chassis, mirrors the Pitman arm, except it's passive (idle). And all of this makes the wheels turn right and left.

The mechanic worked up an estimate: $911, most of which was for parts. "The parts estimate is based on the highest price. We might be able to knock off thirty or forty bucks."

I know mechanics mark up parts prices to help cover overhead. I don't begrudge the practice, only the degree to which some of them do it. So I went online and to the Chevy dealer to find out the actual prices. The mechanic's prices were 100% more than the dealer's full retail. Dealers are notorious for high markups. The dealer's prices were about 50% higher than full retail at auto parts stores. And the auto parts stores' prices were about 50% higher than online parts, even with shipping.

Before going back to the mechanic (or to a different one) I contacted my mechanic friend, Forrest, to get his opinion on the prices and how to proceed with the repairs. He said he was going to be at RTR (which I hadn't known) and he could do the job there if I were to get the parts. Well sure! 

I ordered the parts from Rock Auto and had them shipped to Quiet Times—a shop in Quartzsite that receives shipments for a small fee. The parts and Forrest both arrived Tuesday.

You can see in the video what it takes to replace the Pitman and idler arms. One of the biggies is an air wrench, which requires a compressor and the power to run it. Or, in our case, a lot of grunting, banging, torching and swearing. But Forrest got it done, with me handing him things he needed. Now I just need to get an alignment. And find a way to repay Forrest for his generosity.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

More cleverness

My friend Forrest keeps his wrenches nice and orderly by stringing them on self-locking clevis pins. A square one for one type of wrench, a rounded one for another type.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The start of a new video series

About half the vehicle-dwelling folks I meet are part-timers. They hit the road for a few days, weeks or months, then return to some type of home base. What's more, some of my full-time vehicle-dwelling friends have been transitioning to part-timers or have forsaken the nomadic life altogether.

Since I have no desire (yet) to attach myself to one place, and since I can't imagine (yet) living in a building again, I decided to have part-times tell me their stories. Perhaps my perspective will change.

So here's the first in the Nomads with Anchors series, starring my friend, Lesa (pronounced like Lisa).

There is no overtime

A few days ago, my friend, Vanholio!, posted a blog article asking what we’d do if we had only six months to live.

The thing is, we seldom know when those last six months start.

I learned today that a fellow nomad had died. Steve had been in and out of hospitals several times in the past few years and had a sense his end was approaching. Soon. But if there were things he still wished he’d done, he was in no shape to do them.

The last six months might not be about death. We could be alive but physically or mentally unable to do those things we keep putting off.

A friend has crossed a couple of things off her bucket list—not because she has accomplished them, but because her body will no longer allow her to.

Randy (the guy who told me about Steve passing) is losing his vision due to macular degeneration. He’ll eventually have to stop driving, among other things. He now has fewer options for his last six months, whenever they might be.

There are people here at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous using wheelchairs, mobility devices and canes. There are people with bad backs, bad hips, bad joints, bad bones, damaged tissues, faulty organs. There are those who have trouble breathing or peeing. But they’re all trying, in their own way, to live as if they have only six months left.

A woman I met today said her van was far from being what she wanted, but she’s out seeing the country anyway because she doesn’t want to waste time waiting for the van to be perfect.

You or I might already be in our final six months. So we should start living that way now. If it turns out we have years or decades more time, then wonderful. We would’ve lived the way we wanted, with more chances to keep living that way.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Far from the madding crowd

A guy took my camping spot while I was away. I half expected that to happen because I didn’t leave anything to claim the site. But he ended up doing me a favor. I drove farther back from the road, past my friends, to where there was almost no one camped. Ah, solitude.

The closest neighbors


Full-time nomads are a subset of the general population. Full-time nomads who go to the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous are a subset of that subset. Full-time nomads who go to the RTR and camp according to vehicle type are a subset of a subset of a subset. A Venn diagram of that would look something like a target.

Here's a group of people with modified step vans.

And here are some people with the same model of Ram ProMaster-based Winnebago.

Other countries get some cool vehicles

Spotted at the Albertson's in Blythe, California. An all-wheel drive, turbocharged Mitsubishi something-or-other with right-hand drive and British Columbia plates. It's a little shorter than a minivan.


Christine from New Mexico, who travels in a first-generation Ford Transit Connect, uses an oil change catch tank for her gray water. Its low profile works well in her limited space.

She also has the option of popping a hose onto the sink drain and letting water run out on the ground.

Meandering in the desert

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Is it a sickness or a cure?

I’ve wandered around a lot in the four and a half years since I’ve become a full time nomad. A day here, a couple of days there, a day farther down the road, and so on. And on.

It’s not that I haven’t yet found the perfect spot to settle into. I’ve been to some great places, places my former self would’ve been thrilled to live the rest of my days. But that was then. Now I could have a free place on the beach, with perfect weather, and good friends, and I’d still be itching to take off after a week or so.

Is it like getting out of prison after serving a 61-year sentence? Is it a fear of commitment? Is it too much curiosity? Is it because I hear the big clock ticking and catch occasional glimpses of the Grim Reaper? Is that I’m one of those people who doesn’t form a lot of attachments? Is it that I just haven’t found contentment yet?

I don’t know. But I’m not going to spend much time wondering about it. Wandering works for me. At least at the moment.

Thursday, January 11, 2018


You can tell I plan to stay a while when I bother to erect some shade and put out the chair.


A new feature at RTR. Enough to satisfy BLM regulations,
 but not nearly enough to satisfy the crowd

More people

Today's the start of the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous and the tribe has pretty much gathered. Compare today's photos you yesterday's.

I don't think folks are packed any tighter than last year's record breaking crowd, but they're spread over more area to both the north and south.

Apparently Bob has some staff this year to help keep him from being overwhelmed. Perhaps he could also enlist some large, intimidating people to handle any rule breakers.

"Dude, those using generators must camp over there."

"Hey you! Clean up after your dog. Now!"

And so on.

But things have been mellow so far. Maybe it'll hold for the next ten days.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

We homeless scum have started to gather

The annual Rubber Tramp Rendezvous starts later this week but people are already arriving. Fifty, sixty, seventy rigs so far? There were several hundred last year and there's talk of maybe a thousand this year. We'll see how that works out.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

To infinity and beyond

My new unlimited data plan started a couple of days ago. The primary motivation was to be able to do what I normally do, and maybe a little more, without worrying about overages toward the end of the billing cycle. But then I realized, duh, I could do anything onlineJust like when I lived in my house. So, after four and a half years of feeling all sanctimonious because I no longer watched TV...

Stream, baby, stream

Friday, January 5, 2018

Thursday, January 4, 2018

I hope I was helpful

I was at the rest stop on I-8, next to the Imperial Dunes, carrying a sack of trash to the dumpsters. A blue Ford pickup rolled my way, the driver waving at me. Was it someone I was supposed to know? He pulled to a stop next to me. The driver was a white-haired Mexican man, skin like saddle leather, with a walker stuffed in the passenger seat.

“¿Los Algodones?” he asked. Did he mean he remembered me from one of my visits there? I must have looked confused. He repeated himself, this time pointing in random directions.

“Ah! How do you get there?” I replied.

“Si. Yes.”

I wish I had been able to answer, “Ve por allí, dieciséis kilómetros, al lado del casino.” Instead, I pointed east and said, “That way, about ten miles, by the casino.”

He smiled and nodded as if he understood, then drove away in the correct direction. The casino is a very obvious landmark, and there’s a sign at the off ramp pointing to Mexico, so I assume he got to Los Algodones okay. I just wish I knew more Spanish.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Monday, January 1, 2018

Hide and seek

Frustrating things can happen when you don’t drive for several days. And you’ve been moving things around in your van. And you’re an easily confused old fart. Frustrating things, like misplacing the van key.

I had been parked in the desert since Friday, chilling, reading, avoiding holiday traffic. But I was getting antsy and wanted to go into Yuma and maybe have a meal cooked by someone else.

The key almost always gets tossed on the counter along with my wallet. Sometimes it stays in my pocket. But it was neither place today. It also wasn’t on the floor, the bed, between the mattress and the wall, under the bed, in the laundry bag, in the pockets of the pants in the laundry bag, in the cupboard, in the cabinet, in the storage boxes, on the ground outside the van, under the driver’s seat, in the wastebasket… I even checked in the poo bucket. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

I had resigned myself to getting the spare from its hiding place under the van and having another key made when a small idea made its way into conscious thought. “Check the mailboxes.”

I have a row of mailboxes along the wall where I store underwear, socks, odds and ends, and medication. I can usually grab the pills I need by touch, but the other night I emptied that mailbox while trying to find the aspirin. Then I scooped everything from the counter and dumped it back into the box. I hadn’t noticed “everything” included the key.

The upside of this, besides finding the key, is knowing it hadn’t been a case of intentionally putting the key somewhere that made perfect sense at the time and then forgetting where.