Sunday, September 30, 2018


I had checked the forecasts in several directions. To the north the nighttime temperatures were in the freezing range. To the east it would be in the high nineties. To the south, the remains if Hurricane Rosa would be dumping rain with the possibility of flash floods. To the west, at the coast, it would be cool and very humid. The best option would be to stay put for a while. I felt hemmed in.

Then, just after sunset, a caravan of strangers decided they were going to share my campsite. Without bothering to ask. I would’ve said, “Sure, squeeze in,” but, come on people, this was bad camping etiquette. It’s not like this is a trailhead parking lot where just grabbing a spot is perfectly acceptable.

Oh well. They were quiet, with only a little chatter and a minimum of door slamming. And I had been thinking about returning to Lone Pine.

UPDATE: Half of them left at about 8:15 a.m. and the rest left at about 9:00. Alone again, naturally.

Friday, September 28, 2018


I was thinking about my friend, Jon. Then I thought about a conversation I had with his wife, Katherine. She collects folk art. I used to. I told her about the paintings by well regarded folk artists I had to sell before becoming a nomad. I really loved that art.

As I contemplated that conversation I was surprised I couldn’t remember one of the artist’s names. I guess I had really closed the door on that part of my material world.

I googled around until I found the artist, Jimmy Lee Suddeth. Then I googled the others. To my astonishment, there on the interwebs were two of the paintings I’d sold. They were up for sale again.


I had been imagining my buyer wanted to keep and enjoy the art rather than make money off it. Oh well. We can’t control what people do with our former possessions. At least not without some type of contract.

Getting rid of our stuff is one of the big challenges for many aspiring nomads. Most of our stuff is generic. (How did I end up with so many potholders?) But some of it is cherished, irreplaceable and filled with meaning. Those things are hard to let go. Or forget.

Up to Bishop

It was time to get supplies and the prices are really high at the small grocery in Lone Pine. So decamped to Bishop where the prices are only sort of high.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Location, location

Morning shade or afternoon shade? Maximum shade or maximum solar exposure? Best view or best sun/shade ratio? How level do you want to be? And what about privacy?

There are decisions to be made when choosing a campsite. Fortunately, the rock formations at Alabama Hills offer many options.

I moved a short distance to gain some privacy, to have the side door facing north, to get a nice breeze flowing through the van without it becoming a wind tunnel, and to add some distance between the van and the afternoon-heat-radiating rocks. And to feel like I’d gone someplace new.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

It’s a reflection on my character

Yesterday a fellow nomad blogged about washing his rig. He remembered his mother saying they might be poor but they didn’t need to be dirty. My own mother was big on being clean and presentable. Most moms probably are.

I used to be a lot better about keeping the Rolling Steel Tent washed and vacuumed. But the past few months I’ve let it slide. Either I knew I was headed someplace dirty so what was the point, or car washes didn’t easily present themselves, or I hoped rain would take care of it, or I didn’t feel like going through my change jar for quarters, or, most likely, I was just lazy.

So after nearly a half year of making jokes about a protective layer of dirt, I put on my man shorts and went to the car wash. This one had an RV bay with elevated walkways to make it easy to wash the roof and solar panel. (Ew, how long has that pancake-sized bird dropping been on the panel?)

Now, as you can see from the reflections, the Rolling Steel Tent is all sparkly. And ready for new dirt.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Back at Alabama Hills

Although Kennedy Meadows was very nice, I needed cellular service. So I came out of the mountains and headed to good old Lone Pine and Alabama Hills.



Sunday, September 23, 2018

Up into the Sierras again

I learned about Kennedy Meadows when I read Wild. It’s a rest and resupply spot on the Pacific Crest Trail. And, as I learned from studying Google Maps satellite view, the road is paved all the way there. Paved and steep. Steep enough that I needed to stop a couple of times to let the engine cool down. (Good thing I have actual gauges and that I look at them from time to time.)

The Kennedy Meadows campground isn’t much to write about or take photos of, but I discovered a dispersed camping area a little south of the campground with a short trail to the South Fork of the Kern River.

I made the trip because after a week of tolerable temperatures in Kernville it had become too hot. Ninety-something degrees. Since Kennedy Meadows is about 3,500 feet higher it would be cooler. I could handle being a little chilly at night better than roasting in the afternoon. And it was someplace new to me. New is usually good.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Another river

Kern River upstream of Kernville CA

Free camping at Chico Flat, featuring river access, outhouses, dumpsters

Friday, September 21, 2018

Hi, mister ranger

A ranger drove by today. Drove by. Didn’t stop. I like when they don’t stop. It means I’m okay. I knew there was no problem, but I still get a twinge of nervousness around authority figures because some of them let their authority go to their heads.

I grew up with a favorable opinion of rangers because of a local (Washington DC) cartoon show, Ranger Hal. He was sort of Mr. Rodgers in the forest. (Meanwhile, over on another station, Jim Henson was starting his career with his own kid show, “Sam & Friends.”) As you can see, we were easily entertained back then.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

For sure

Career Day, 1969. Part way through one of the presentations I knew for the first time ever, with utter certainty, what I wanted to do with my life.

Yes, that’s it. I could do that. I’d be good at it. I’d enjoy it. Perfect.

I never doubted my choice because in my mind there was nothing to doubt. I just did it. Thirty-seven terrific years. (Well the last two or three years weren’t that great, but that was because the industry had changed.)

I experienced the same clarity when I learned about van dwelling.

Yes, that’s it. I could do that. I’d be good at it. I’d enjoy it. Perfect.

When people considering the nomadic life express doubts, I have to fight the urge to say, “Then it’s not for you.” (Oops, I just said it.)

A lot of nomads forge ahead despite their uncertainty and anxiety, and they discover they can do it, they are good at it, and they do enjoy it.

I worry about the others, though. Particularly those who went all in, who burned their bridges and now there’s no going back. That’s why I don’t try talking anyone into this life and why I feel like I should dissuade those who aren’t at least 85% sure. If you don’t know, don’t go.

Extreme case of, “Where am I?”

I change locations a lot, so sometimes upon waking up there’s a second or two before I open my eyes when I can’t remember where I’ve camped this time.

This morning, while part of my brain was still enjoying my adventures in Dreamland, not only had I forgotten where I was camped, I’d also forgotten I was in my bed, in my van.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Temperature is personal

The laundromat attendant was wearing a T-shirt, sweater and down vest. There was a scarf-ish thing wrapped around her head. The afternoon temperature was in the low 90s outside and the mid 80s inside. No apparent air conditioning. If it weren’t for social conventions and not wanting to gross out my fellow laundry doers, I would’ve been more comfortable naked. Oh well.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Adventures in physiology

A muscle twitch showed up three days ago. It’s just above the left knee, on the inside. According to a muscle chart I found it’s the bottom end of the vastus medialis (a name my spell checker refuses to recognize). The twitches come and go. Sometimes it’s twitch-twitch-twitch-flutter-twitch-twitch. Other times it’s twitch-twitch…… twitch……….. twitch-twitch-twitch… It doesn’t hurt, it’s just one of those old-man’s-body-falling-apart things. Of course, it’s actually a neural thing. A signal is misfiring somewhere. Or a toddler got loose in the brain’s muscle control department and it keeps pounding on the vastus medialis button.

UPDATE: The twitch has moved to my other leg.

I’ve written before about how my hearing is kind of poor in one ear and worse in the other, making it hard to locate the source of sounds—particularly ones happening somewhere in the van while I’m driving. A squeak developed today that had the tonal quality of the warbling ring of ‘90s phones blended with the tinkling of beer bottles rattling together. I finally figured out it was the plastic wall of my refrigerator rubbing against the styrofoam of the insulated box I have it in. Mystery solved.

Thursday, September 13, 2018


It’s gospel fact for travelers: gasoline always costs at least forty to fifty cents more per gallon in California thanks to higher state taxes. Smart folks fill up before crossing into the Golden State. That’s what I did this morning in Nevada.

When I stopped for lunch near Sacramento I was stunned to see gas prices lower than what I paid during peak summer travel time in Oregon and Washington, and only a dime higher than what I’d just paid in Reno. This is not how the world is supposed to work.

I know prices are dropping all over the country now that peak summer travel season is over, so the half buck difference in California prices will probably return. In the meantime, I’m just glad I’m not facing four-something-a-gallon gas. At the moment.

Oh, and here’s a handy gasoline price map.

Personal limits

People have little respect for speed limits, right? They will always drive faster. Five over, ten over, whatever they think they can get away with. So when the speed limit is 80 miles per hour, on a wide, smooth highway in the middle of nowhere, with very light traffic, and no cops in sight, everyone will go a hundred or more.

But they don’t. Most of them don’t even do 80. Sure, there’s the occasional dude who’ll fly by, but most drivers are cruising along five to ten miles per hour under the limit. I thought about possible reasons for this as I drove to Reno.

I think drivers reach a speed that feels comfortable, natural. Sort of a sweet spot. “Seventy-three is fine. I’m cool.” Going faster feels like pushing it for no good reason. It harshes their mellow.

However, I noticed something as I got nearer to Reno and traffic grew heavier. Instead of most people driving lower than the speed limit, the general flow increased to about five over the limit.

I don’t think it was because they’d been used to driving 75 and now the limit was 65, because the additional traffic hadn’t been out where the limit was 80.

I think it’s because people get competitive in traffic. They get this urge to pass others, to not be the slow one, to not be the loser.

I don’t think it’s a conscious thing. It’s the affect of crowds. You know the clich├ęs. A country person freaks out in the city because everyone is pushy and aggressive. The city person gets frustrated in the country because everyone and everything m-o-o-o-v-e-s… s-o-o-o… s-l-o-o-o-o-o-o-w-l-y.

Being out in the boonies most of the past five years, away from crowds and traffic and aggression, has been good for my mental health. I have plenty of room and an open road where I can move at my own pace.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Nevada slog

I was a bus passenger the only other time I was on I-80 between Elko and Reno. There are harsher stretches of country, like US-50 across the belly of Nevada, but there’s something about Elko to Reno (or Reno to Elko) that makes it seem twice as far as it is. And unlike the bus trip, I couldn’t sleep to pass the time.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Because winter will be here before you know it

There are many nomads who knit and crochet. And some of them worry about keeping their vehicles sufficiently warm. Well, here’s some inspiration.

Another repeat

I camped at Angle Lake, near Wells, Nevada on September 15, 2015. I got snowed on during the night and cut my stay short.

I camped again at Angel Lake last night. The weather was quite pleasant, considering it’s over 8,000 feet up. No snow this time.

Monday, September 10, 2018


September 10, 2013, only a couple of weeks into my nomadic life, I camped at City of Rocks National Preserve in southern Idaho.

September 10, 2018 I camped at City of Rocks again.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Old life, new life, and stuff

You can’t take it all with you

When you decide to become a full-time nomad you’re committing to a new life, a different life. The question—and the potential source of problems, disappointments and frustrations—is how different you’re willing to let the new life be.

Do you want it to be essentially the same, just without housing costs and with greater mobility? Or do you want to take the big leap and remake your life from bottom to top, inside and out?

Does becoming a nomad seem like loss to you or like opportunity? Are you giving up so much, or gaining even more?

Life change is easier for some folks because there’s nothing about their old life worth keeping. But for the rest of us, the idealized concept of hitting the road eventually collides with the reality of deciding what to keep and what to let go—of the material goods we surround ourselves with and of the stuff in our hearts and minds.

Okay, let me pull back from the internal stuff before I get too philosophical and spiritual and start babbling about attachments, enlightenment and the meaning of life. That’s your own trip to make. And it’s not what inspired me to write this post. I’ll concentrate on the material world for a moment.

So, there are people preparing for full-time nomading. And they’re sorting their stuff, dividing it into needs and wants until they don’t have too much to fit in their vehicle. I was there.

But a woman who calls herself ChezCheese has proposed a different approach.
Imagine you have nothing. Lost it all. Flood or fire or divorce or the taxman: you have only your van that was parked elsewhere and survived your own private, personal disaster. Drive around in your empty van (I mean in real time now, not in your imagination). A long drive. Go to a national park or some empty place. Sleep in it, with nothing. Maybe you feel cold, or sore, or hungry. Next morning: decide what is most important to have. Get that one thing. 
Spend another day driving, another night sleeping in your empty-except-for-that-one-first-thing van. Next morning, decide what the next most important thing to have is. Get that thing. 
And on, and again, until you realize that you have enough stuff.
Start here

In other words, start by determining your essentials, not by trying to whittle everything down to a manageable pile. Add the wants after you’ve got the needs taken care of.

Or, as George Carlin put it:

Friday, September 7, 2018


The phone conversation with Lou was short on details. He said he would be leaving Coos Bay to do some fly fishing on the Owyhee River.

I said, “You’re heading to far eastern Oregon and I’m heading to western Idaho. Let’s meet up.”

“I’ll be downstream of the dam, ” he said. “Just drive until you see me.”

Since he wouldn’t be leaving Coos Bay for a day or two, and since it’s a couple of days driving for him, and since he’d be fishing for at least a few days, I figured I had time to call back for details. But I failed to figure there would be no cell service where he’d be camped. Oops.

I had never been to the Owyhee River and didn’t know how to access it. I saw the town of Owyhee on the map and trusted Google to get me there.

I started having my doubts when Google sent me wandering down farm roads. Go west two miles, turn north for one mile, turn west for seven miles, turn south for five miles, turn west for two miles, turn north for a half mile, turn west for a half mile, turn south for eight miles… At least it didn’t send me east.

Then I happened to see a sign with an arrow pointing left. Lake Owyhee State Park, 25 miles, campground vacancy. I didn’t know if that road would take me to Lou, but I decided to risk it. At least there was a campground in case I didn’t find him.

But I did. It was the right road to the right place. Good guess.

Unfortunately, a few minutes before I arrived, Lou had lost his footing in the river and bashed a shin on a submerged boulder. He was limping and swearing, but still had a bit of humor left.

“It seems like whenever you’re within 200 miles I hurt myself somehow.”

He kept his shin iced and the general swelling was down to just an ugly knot by morning. But Lou felt too gimpy to be wading in the river, so he decided to move on.

“You know, Lou, I’m trying to remember the last time we boondocked together rather than being at someone else’s place while working on projects, like in Redmond, Salem, Ridgway...”

“Probably outside Yuma a couple of winters ago.”

“That sounds right.”

Now the answer to that question would be, “There was that one night on the Owyhee River in September of 2018.”

Wednesday, September 5, 2018


I never thought I’d say this

The rising sun illuminates the western peeks

It would be an understatement to say I was never much of a morning person. I hated mornings. Probably because I loved sleeping so much. However, since becoming both an old fart and a van dweller my internal clock has shifted to where I happily wake up around 6:00 a.m. That doesn’t mean I get out of bed, though. It’s still one of my favorite places—especially when it’s 53°F/11.6°C in the van.

Summer is nearly over, the autumnal equinox is just down the road, and there’s less daylight. I haven’t noticed it that much yet in the evenings. I’m a little surprised it’s not totally dark until after 8:15 p.m. or so. But, man, lately it seems like the sun… will… never… rise. It’s even worse when, like today, I’m surrounded by mountains.

I’ve said many times before I’m a huge fan of Daylight Saving Time. I think it should be the standard. But dare I say it? Here goes: I think I’ll be a little glad when we shift back to Standard Time. How about a compromise? Let’s shift just a half hour. A little more sunlight in the morning without losing too much in the evening. Or I could chase daylight southward. How long would it take to drive to Chile?

Monday, September 3, 2018


I left Salmon after lunch and headed south on US-93. The original goal had been a free campsite a little south of Challis, but halfway there I saw the sign for Cottonwood Recreation Site. I pulled in to check it out for future reference and decided I liked it enough to stay. It’s only five bucks with the old fart discount. Almost free.

I was in the middle of some serious relaxing when I became aware how clean and fresh the air was. It’s like that out here in the sparsely populated regions.

Then, maybe a half hour later, the folks in an upwind campsite started their toy hauler-hauling diesel Super Duty and let it idle while they gathered up the kids and bid friends goodbye. My air (and the silence) was spoiled.

The air cleared up shortly after they left, un-harshing my mellow. A-a-a-a-a-h-h-h-h.

But then, somewhere else upwind, someone fired up their barbecue. First there was the stink of lighter fluid, followed by the gooey smell of caramelizing barbecue sauce and the sharp scent of carbonizing meat. I appealed to the forces of nature to shift the wind direction. No luck.

So I went into extreme meditation mode (napping) and the air eventually cleared again. A-a-a-a-a-h-h-h-h.

If things like this really bugged me I would avoid campgrounds. But they’re minor, temporary, and give me something to blog about.

Nannies taking the kids down to the river

Sunday, September 2, 2018


Conventional wisdom—at least the wisdom of my friend Vanholio!—says camping by water means camping with mosquitoes.
Guess what else loves water? Mosquitoes! That goes for lakes, ponds, marshes, creeks, rivers, seashore, bays, and the rest. Water equals mosquitoes.
But I’ve been lucky this year. Despite camping by various bodies of water I been bitten on only two nights. Knock on wood.

In addition, the past couple of weeks seems to have been the end of fly season. I’ve been able to have the Rolling Steel Tent’s windows and doors open without needing to constantly swat or spray. There have been occasional flies, but they were the type that flew in, took a look around, then left. They weren’t the type that insist on buzzing around my face. Thank you.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Really, I'm not fixated on vault toilets

This is the only vault toilet I’ve ever seen with a mural. Heidi Messner’s painting elevates the Lemhi Hole river access site from being just a dirt parking lot. Free camping, a place to poop and art? Excellent.

You know, artists often have their work figuratively shat upon by critics, but in this instance...

Watching the water