Monday, November 18, 2019

Rotation day

Other than time taken from my life, tire rotations are free at Discount Tire and other places. And these guys actually used a torque wrench to tighten the lug nuts to spec. Oh, and they didn’t feed me bullshit about needing new tires.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Burning questions

If I were to make a list of things I’m likely to find in a fire ring, I wouldn’t include sheet music. Yet there it was.

So I wonder what the story is. Sure, it’s paper, and paper is a good fire starter, but… Was it the paper they were most willing to burn? Was it the last paper they had? Had they already burned all their books? Had they already burned all their cash? Was it a sacrifice to the music gods? Were they music haters? I invite you to make up your own stories.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

You ain't goin' nowhere

The McPhaul Bridge, just outside Yuma AZ, was built over the Gila River in 1929 and served traffic on US-95 until it was deemed inadequate in 1968. It was retired and both the highway and river were rerouted. No one wanted to spend the money to tear it down, so it sits there, barricaded at both ends, vegetable fields at one end, firing ranges at the other. Now it’s called the Bridge to Nowhere. And signs warn it’s unstable.

There’s a metaphor for life in that story. You’re born, there’s a celebration, an honorable name is given, everyone has great hopes for you, you work hard for forty years and then, “Eh, we don’t need you anymore.” The world moves on and leaves you there. And whispers that you’re unstable. And maybe infested with bees.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Well there’s your problem

I’m at Villanueva Auto Repair and Juan has yanked the brake booster from the Rolling Steel Tent. There were a number of things that had to be moved out of the way or disconnected first. Wires, hoses, cables, reservoirs, dirt... It seems one of the internal seals has worn out. Or a surface is too worn for the seal to, um, seal. Anyway, replacing the unit is less expensive than the labor to repair it.

Since the van doesn’t need to be on a lift, I can hang out in my living space instead of the waiting room. The bed is much more comfy than plastic chairs. And I have food.

Speaking of food, I’ve finally been able to add bread back to my diet. Today’s lunch was black forest ham on a toasted English muffin.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Embracing the darkness

What do we call the period between Halloween and Thanksgiving? I don’t know about you, but for me the shortening daylight hours signal the beginning of SAD season. Seasonal Affective Disorder. My symptoms are relatively mild, but they’re enough to make me really loathe this time of year.

However, a video linked to a friend’s blog got me rethinking my relationship with short days and long nights. Too much artificial light tells our mind and body it’s time to be awake.


A key factor in how human sleep is regulated is exposure to light or to darkness. Exposure to light stimulates a nerve pathway from the retina in the eye to an area in the brain called the hypothalamus. There, a special center called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) initiates signals to other parts of the brain that control hormones, body temperature and other functions that play a role in making us feel sleepy or wide awake… 
…Melatonin is a natural hormone made by your body’s pineal gland. This is a pea-sized gland located just above the middle of the brain. During the day the pineal is inactive. When the sun goes down and darkness occurs, the pineal is “turned on” by the SCN and begins to actively produce melatonin, which is released into the blood. Usually, this occurs around 9 pm. As a result, melatonin levels in the blood rise sharply and you begin to feel less alert. Sleep becomes more inviting. Melatonin levels in the blood stay elevated for about 12 hours – all through the night – before the light of a new day when they fall back to low daytime levels by about 9 am. Daytime levels of melatonin are barely detectable. 
Besides adjusting the timing of the clock, bright light has another effect. It directly inhibits the release of melatonin. That is why melatonin is sometimes called the “Dracula of hormones” – it only comes out in the dark. Even if the pineal gland is switched “on” by the clock, it will not produce melatonin unless the person is in a dimly lit environment. In addition to sunlight, artificial indoor lighting can be bright enough to prevent the release of melatonin.
Interfering with natural sleep patterns can negatively affect our mental and/or physical health. This is somewhat ironic, since the most popular treatment for SAD is exposure to artificial sunlight.

People who’ve spent their life in populated areas are often freaked out by the darkness when they first come to remote places—partly because it’s a new experience, partly because we tend to conflate darkness and danger. “Ack! There are things out there, and I can’t see them!” But then there’s their reaction to seeing so damn many stars. Live and in person. “Oh WOW!”

I’ve written before about people who are at a loss when restrictions prohibit campfires. What will they do in the evening if they can’t stare at the flames (and dodge smoke)? Stare at the sky instead, folks. Let your eyes adjust. Let your perceptions adjust. Observe the vastness of the universe. Feel your place in it.

So tonight I’m going to take my own advice. I’ll turn off the computer, go outside, and lie on my back until overcome by wonder and melatonin.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

What color is your noise?

Back in the late ’70, when I first started making enough money to have disposable income, I went out and bought a component stereo system. It’s was the thing to do because, you know, there weren’t personal computers or 48-inch flat panel TVs yet. The proper stereo system had a receiver, pre-amplifier, amplifier, turntable, reel-to-reel tape deck, speakers and, what I thought was the coolest part, a multi-band graphic equalizer.

It was while equalizer shopping that I first encountered the term “pink noise.” I had heard of white noise, but what was pink noise? According to the sales literature, white noise is random levels of all frequencies. It’s a snowy hissing sound. Pink noise is specific levels of all frequencies and is used to calibrate audio equipment. It’s like a deeper version of white noise. Then there are also red noise and brown noise, which are even deeper.

There are studies that say listening to white/pink/red/brown noise helps us concentrate and even sleep better. Cool. But what does that have to do with living in a van?

Today I moved to a different part of Quartzite, because I was getting antsy, yet didn’t want to go far away. My new location features background sounds from I-10. Gray noise, if you will. Surprisingly, it’s sort of relaxing. Most of the time. Almost like waves on a beach. Mmmm, the beach.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Bacon, eggs, fluid and blood

I had breakfast this morning at Main Street Eatery (the cafe in front of the laundromat & showers) with former waitress and radio news personality/current nomad-author LaVonne Ellis. We discussed travel, preferred Quartzsite camping spots, wood stove ventilation, and writing.

Then I went back to Blythe to talk to highly recommended Villanueva’s Auto Repair Service about my leaking power steering fluid. It has gotten bad. I’ve had to refill the fluid reservoir twice in the past week. Juan showed me how, contrary to what I had thought, it wasn’t the hose that connects the power steering pump to the hydraulic brake booster (a system GM calls Hydraboost) that was leaking, it was the brake booster itself. He put together a reasonable price and I’ll return on Wednesday, after my Social Security check drops.

Afterward, I came upon nomad-geologist-genealogist-actor Swankie in the Albertson’s parking lot. We discussed my health, her surgeries and how to bang yourself up real good by leaning a ladder against the front of an Express van.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Meeting at the crossroad

I’ve been in Quartzsite for a while. I learned from his latest video that the man who showed me living in a van was possible and enjoyable—Bob Wells—was also currently in Quartzsite. And I had a general idea where. So on my way back from a supply run to Blythe I decided to see if I could find him.

I exited I-10 and eased up to the 4-way stop at the end of the ramp. There, to my left, was Bob in his distinctive van. Gee, finding him couldn’t have been any easier.

I followed him to his destination—in a non-stalky way. We chatted for a few minutes and, because we’re friends, he shared some inside poop on his plans. I thanked him again for the positive effect he had on my life. Then we wished each other well, he went into the store and I returned to my camp.

A different approach to stealth

When I went to the Walmart in Parker AZ I discovered I had parked next to a uniquely outfitted late-90s Cadillac Deville, with Michigan plates.

First I noticed the roof rack. Then the flexible solar panels stowed in the back. Then the charge controller neatly mounted above the arm rest. Then the refrigerator on the seat (nicely color coordinated with the leather upholstery). Other than those things, there were no signs the car was used for anything beyond cruising to the country club and back.

I wondered if it had towed a trailer, but there was no hitch. Then I wondered if it was a “towd,” but there was no extra hardware on the front. It could’ve been towed with one of those mini trailers that go under the front wheels. But if it had been towed by an RV, why the fridge and solar?

I don’t know the true story of this Cadillac. I waited about a half hour, hoping I could talk to the owner. I grew impatient and decided I liked the story I was fabricating myself. The owner knows no one would suspect that anyone lives in a clean, well maintained luxury barge. Yet there’s enough trunk space for not only supplies and clothing, but also for sleeping. Yeah, that’s it.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

It’s all in my mind

It was one of those dreams again. Frustration, anxiety, anger, helplessness. I was surprised because I had been feeling quite happy in my waking life.

I suppose one could say I’m not actually happy because I have all this inner turmoil. Or you could say that letting the ugly stuff out leaves me happier. I vote for the latter, because I had some extremely nice dreams afterward.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Another way to do it

Prior to becoming full-time RVers, John and Mary packed away all their possessions. Then brought all of it with them.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Chasing flavor

In the continuing quest for stuff I might enjoy eating, I broke out the ramen last night. Not just your ordinary chicken-ish flavored noodles, though. This was special picante chicken-ish flavor. Oooo, a few chili flakes in the packet. I’ve had better luck with spicier foods, so this was promising.

There are many varieties of chilies, from mild to burning. The ones used in this ramen must have been at the very bottom of the Scoville scale. Because I tasted nothing picante. I didn’t taste anything chicken-ish either. Not even salty. Just plain noodles.

But that’s a bit of a victory, considering most wheat products have gummed up my mouth. I guess the noodles were wet enough to compensate for my low saliva production.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Relocating

I had been boondocking west of Yuma the past five days. I spend a chunk of winters there, so I didn’t really want to be there this early. But a massive cold front sent the nighttime temperatures elsewhere down too low for my comfort. So there I was.

The front passed and I was off to Quartzsite—90 miles north and about 800 feet higher, but with a good forecast. The snowbird season is just getting started so neither the town nor the surrounding dispersed camping areas are crowded. Well, for the most part.

I like the Hi Jolly campground on the north side for short stays. Easy to get to town, great cell signal. But all the good spots were taken. I guess others like it, too.

This is better

After one night I moved to Scaddan Wash. The crumbling pavement and the spottily maintained dirt road keep more people away. I’m in a spot with no visible (or audible) neighbors. Just me and some cacti. I’m sure the conditions will change over the next few weeks.

I have a month before I’m supposed to be back in Los Angeles for a PET scan and doctor consultation. I don’t think I’ll stay in Quartzite that full time. Regulations say I can only stay fourteen days anyway. So Parker… Joshua Tree… Mojave Preserve… There are options between here and LA.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Almost enjoyable

Carnitas with some crispy bits... guacamole... pico de gallo... salsa verde... lime juice... A surefire recipe for maximum deliciousness. Right? My brain said, “Yes!” But my tongue said, “Eh, it doesn’t taste horrible, so I guess that’s better than before.”

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Bye-bye, birdie

A dove picked exactly the wrong time to fly up out of the ditch. Always look both ways before crossing the highway, boys and girls.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Wicked Wind of the West

I knew there were going to be strong winds during the night. Twenty to thirty miles per hour with gusts up to fifty. A red flag warning had been issued. Semis and RVs should avoid crosswinds. Beware of downed trees. Stuff you have outside might blow away.

I figured I had the Rolling Steel Tent positioned nose-first into the wind, presenting it’s smallest, most aerodynamic side (aerodynamic for a van, anyway). I should be good for the night.

But the wind changed direction about 45 degrees. It tumbled and spun, became ragged, lumpy and angry as it came over the Cargo Muchacho Mountains. The van rocked and shook worse than in any windstorm I’d previously experienced. Was I going to end up in Munchkinland?

I could get up, get dressed, go out in the dark, ascertain the true direction of the wind, and realign the van. But my bed was comfortable and warm. So I rode it out.

But I’d had enough by dawn. Mumble grumble, pull on shoes and get things straightened out. And check for crushed witches.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Early bird

Not many boondockers show up in the border desert this early in the season. But a big Arctic cold front makes other areas less appealing to me. So here I am, the closest neighbor about a quarter mile away. Solitude City. Happyland.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Some other time

Every Californian knows the best beach weather is in autumn. It’s still warm enough. You don’t get the fog and overcast sent by the marine layer. There’s no rain. The kids are in school.

But every Californian also knows autumn is wildfire season.

As I sit here in the desert I yearn to be at the coast. But it’s on fire. The air is filled with smoke and ash and anxiety and sadness.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Chinese experiment

My tastebuds and saliva glands are still recovering, but the situation is improving. Some things clog my mouth. For example, chicken turns into a fibrous lump that soaks up all moisture and is hard to swallow. Bread turns into putty. And while more things taste somewhat like I remember them, most things taste different. The good news is that not nearly as many things taste outright nasty.

Rather than make or order a meal and end up unable to eat most of it, I’ve been going to Chinese buffets and trying a bit of this, a bit of that, looking for foods I can enjoy. Spring rolls, sautéed mushrooms, broccoli beef, and shrimp get tentative thumbs up. Noodles, rice, pot stickers, not so much.

Still, I consider it great progress. After all, it has been only a little over two months since treatment ended.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Using that pass

I’ll probably go to Death Valley when I finish my Pahrump visit. In terms of distance here in the West, it’s just over the hill.

Death Valley got me thinking about National Parks and how many of them I’ve been to. So I made a list, alphabetical, by state.
Grand Canyon, Arizona
Saguaro, Arizona
Death Valley, California
Joshua Tree, California
Kings Canyon, California
Lassen Volcanic, California
Pinnacles, California
Redwood, California
Sequoia, California
Yosemite, California
Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Colorado
Mesa Verde, Colorado
Rocky Mountain, Colorado
Biscayne, Florida
Everglades, Florida
Glacier, Montana
Great Basin, Nevada
Crater Lake, Oregon
Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee
Big Bend, Texas
Arches, Utah
Bryce Canyon, Utah
Canyonlands, Utah
Capitol Reef, Utah
Zion, Utah
Shenandoah, Virginia
Olympic, Washington
Grand Teton, Wyoming
Yellowstone, Wyoming

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

White spots in the desert

Not too many years ago I would have thought it very odd for RVs to be parked out in the desert. Now it’s part of my normal world.

I and a few dozen others are camped on the edge of Pahrump NV. The town is a lot busier than the last time I was here, about three years ago, but it’s quiet out in the sage and cacti. And the weather is great.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Corner to corner

They say the gods laugh at our plans. Hell, I laugh at my plans.

Monday morning, as I rolled out of Rancho Lou, I figured I’d pick up my new driver license in Douglas, Arizona, then slowly head west, keeping to warmer weather. But Monday evening I learned there was going to be an open house mid-day Wednesday at the Homes on Wheels Alliance vehicle buildout project in Pahrump, Nevada. That meant several people I’ve wanted to see again would be in one place, plus I could check out how the projects are going.

Hmmmm, from the southeast corner of Arizona to the southern end of Nevada in a day and a half? About 600 miles? Ten hours? Plus gas, food and pee stops? It could be done. And it wouldn’t be as insane as the Flagstaff-Phoenix-Yuma-Kingman-Flagstaff one day trip I made a few years ago. But I’m supposed to be recovering from cancer treatment. Would I have the stamina? Only one way to know. So adios old plan, hello new one.

Today’s little drive

It’s Tuesday evening and I’m camped at Lake Mead. Tomorrow will be a leisurely cruise to Pahrump. At least that’s the plan.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

It would be great if this worked for me

This article made me think about my own condition. My malfunctioning tastebuds were caused by radiation treatment, not pernicious anemia, but I wonder if B12 would help.

A 64-year-old man went to the doctor complaining of pain in his tongue and mouth. Upon examination, doctors found the patient's tongue to be missing taste buds. He was diagnosed with pernicious anemia, which is caused by an inability to absorb vitamin B-12, needed to make red blood cells. 
The condition was reversed after weekly injections of B-12.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Two-inch drop at the chop shop

After it warmed up a little this morning I started emptying the Rolling Steel Tent so I could disassemble the bed and lower it. The stuff under the bed, the stuff in the semi-secret compartment under the mattress, things in the “hallway.”

Then it was time for Lou and his reciprocating saw. Cutting the legs was quick work.

When I put the frame back into the van I realized I hadn’t considered the wheel hump. Oh. Yeah. The bed just barely cleared it before. But now…

Time to improvise.

I worked out a suitable solution that didn’t involve taking a cutting torch to the wheel hump or beating it into submission with a sledge.

And now, voila, headroom! No more slouching. No more rubbing a bald(er) spot on the top of my head. Happiness.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Lou’s vardo is back on the market

Now that his house is ready for occupancy, Lou doesn’t need to live in his trailer anymore. It includes solar, a composting toilet, on-demand water heater and much more.

Spread the word, or grab this beauty for yourself. Here’s the link to the listing. Someone is going to get a great deal.

Sittin’ pretty

After more than 270,000 butt-miles (with 116k of them being from the previous owner’s ass) the Rolling Steel Tent’s seat was in sad shape.

The old cushion

While searching the interwebs for a suitable replacement, I discovered an outfit that sold new covers and fresh foam. Even better, they had a video on how to install them.

So I placed an order as soon as I had the budget, a predictable shipping address, and someone to help. (Thanks, Lou.)

The new cushion

Everything looks easier in videos, particularly when the stars have a large table to work on and plenty of experience recovering seats. My reality involved more fumbling, wrestling and swearing. But we managed to get it done, and except for a slight pucker on one side, it looks like it was done by someone who knew what he was doing. And my ass gives its top rating: five farts.

Ready for many more comfy miles

Monday, October 14, 2019

Meanwhile

The licensed HVAC guy finally came and hooked up Lou’s unit. That means the house is ready for final sign-off.

A few items have already made their way into their new home.

Requesting clearance

You’ll see signs or notations on maps declaring certain “roads” are for vehicles with high ground clearance. Okay, 4x4s immediately come to mind, but which other vehicles are considered high ground clearance? There are probably many choices in the automotive realm between Lamborghinis and monster trucks.

Well, to figure that out, I looked up the specs for various trucks and SUVs. A factory-standard Jeep Wrangler—the very stereotype of “high ground clearance”— comes in at about 10.5 inches/26.6 centimeters. Other unmodified 4x4 rigs fall between there and 9.5 inches/24 centimeters.

That made me curious. I got out my tape measure and crawled under the Rolling Steel Tent. The lowest point is the differential (as it is with nearly all trucks). It’s 9.5 inches/24 centimeters from the ground. All the other bits—oil pan, gas tank, muffler, etc.—are higher. I was not surprised. Full-size vans are essentially pickup trucks underneath. So if a 2x4 pickup could handle a certain road, why not a van?

When I told Lou I was going to write about ground clearance he said, “You only need to be higher than the rocks.”

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Start the presses!

Sometimes my craving for arty stuff coincides nicely with an event calendar. This weekend was the Southwestern Print ¡Fiesta! in Silver City NM, dedicated to silkscreening, lithography, woodblock and such. I signed up for a letterpress workshop and had a pretty good time. It was a hands-on affair. However, it was also sort of a group project, and you know how those things go. And there was one participant who seemed to think it was all about her, so… Still, it was good to be among artistic people—even the ones with huge egos.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Fixing the fakery

Chevrolet and GMC trucks have hubcaps held on by fake nuts. The plastic gets more brittle over time, and some tire jockeys go overboard tightening them, causing them to strip or split. Then road vibrations cause them to loosen. It’s not a great design, but I like the looks of the hubcaps better than none at all.

So rather than having to keep snugging up the fake bolts, I got wondering about some type of sticky stuff I could apply to hold them on but not make them impossible to remove. Something permanently temporary. Thread locker? Silicone? Ear wax?

Lou suggested plumber’s putty. And he had some on hand. It was worth a try. I smeared blobs on the actual lug nuts, installed the hubcaps and…

It has worked so far. After about a thousand miles, some of it on lumpy and washboarded roads, the fake nuts are still snug.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Thursday, October 10, 2019

I. O. Who?

I finally picked up mail from my address in Arizona. These are the medical bills that have been piling up since May. It’s not as bad as it looks because most of them are just monthly demands for payment of the same charges. And most of the charges are less than $100. Understandably, Tucson Medical Center and UCLA Health want some four-digit amounts from me. Thanks to Medicare, my portion is just a fraction of the nearly $100,000 total. My out-of-pocket share is far less than premiums I would’ve been paying a regular insurer, and probably less than the deductibles said insurer would have me pay. So hurray for socialized medicine, y’all.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

This little piggy

I have no idea what caused this toenail to start turning black. I don’t remember injuring it and it doesn’t hurt. Any thoughts on what’s happening and why?

Who are you now?

You who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
And so become yourself
Because the past is just a goodbye
Questions for my fellow nomads:

Have you rethought your life, your values, your goals since hitting the road?

Do you have a code?

Have you become your authentic self?

Is your past over and done with or is it part of your present and future?

What would you teach “the children” about your experiences, your changes?

Which dreams would you feed them?

Which one would you want them to know you by?

Have things worked out pretty much the way you hoped?

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Half way there

My bed doubles as my chair. I’d like to lower it a couple of inches so my head doesn’t brush the roof, or so I don’t need to hunch over. However, the existing bed height was chosen so a 58 quart storage bin could slide underneath.

In the beginning, there were three of those bins. But over the past six years I’ve discovered more things I don’t need to carry with me. So three bins became two. Then one of those was replaced with a half-height 28 quart bin. Then the half bin became only about half full.

Hmmmmm…

I bought another half-height bin and, after realizing I no longer needed a certain threadbare fitted sheet nor a pair of worn out shoes, I could fit everything into the two shorter bins. I thought it would be harder than that.

Now the only thing in the way of a lower bed is a small bin that sits atop one of the short ones. It contains my four quart pot and lid and a few other things. Or I could relocate my laundry bag. It’s soft so there are more placement options.

Hmmmmm…

Monday, October 7, 2019

Coffin for a jack

The tire jack for Express and Savana vans comes mounted to a bracket in the rear corner. I removed that bracket to make room for the cabinet. And to make paneling easier.

The past six years the jack and associated bits have lived on the floor, under the cabinet. But there are other things I’d rather put there, like shoes.

Since Lou has a table saw (among other things), it was a perfect opportunity to build a box for the jack. There are several places in the van it could go while being both out of the way for daily living and still easily accessible if I should need it. It turned out pretty good, especially considering I did it all by myself.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Nature had other plans

An hours-long thunderstorm payed a visit last night. Water rushed out of the mountains and canyons and across Rancho Lou. Shoes, a rug, some lumber and assorted items were washed across the yard. You can see the high water mark on my tire, plus the way the van sank about an inch into the softened ground.

I wanted to go to Las Cruces today, but when I tried to back out I just dug ruts. Lou attempted to pull me out, but he just dug in. Oh well. I guess I’ll be waiting until things dry out. It’s not like I needed to go to Las Cruces.

(Insert lecture about the benefits of a locking differential and offroad tires)