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


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.


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.


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)

Thursday, October 3, 2019

The down side of insulation

The Rolling Steel Tent is pretty well insulated. Two-and-a-quarter inches of foam board in the roof, an inch-and-a-half in the walls. That usually results in a ten to fifteen degree difference from the outside temperature.

However, in cooler seasons, like autumn, when I’m glad the sun is up and warming things, the Rolling Steel Tent wants to maintain its lower overnight temperature.

In the summer, when the insulation makes a 90 degree day a slightly more tolerable 80 degrees, it wants to hold onto that 80 degrees into the night when the outside temperature is much more pleasant.

This is why Jason Odom, author of Vanabode, is against insulation. The van takes longer to warm up and cool down. True, but insulation also helps keep things warmer and cooler when I want it to. So it’s a tradeoff. And there are solutions. I can turn on some heat or go outside on mornings like today. I can sleep with the windows and door open on summer nights. Or, in the spirit of living closer to nature, I can just tough it out.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

More friends!

Loretta wants you to know she doesn't like this picture because she’s squinting

Hal and Loretta from Oregon arrived at Ranch Lou yesterday. I unknowingly drove past them in northern New Mexico last week. They have a different travel trailer than before, so I didn’t recognize them. Their former rig had distinctive arched solar panel racks. It’s funny how we get to know people by the details of what they drive/tow.


The shower floor reminds me of Joan Miro’s paintings

Lou has just a few things to finish up on his cabin. The bathroom is essentially done and the kitchen just needs some shelves and a cabinet door. He’s waiting for the air conditioning guy to hook up his mini-split unit.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019


I wore a beard from about 1980 until radiation therapy decided to make about half of my whiskers fall out. Now I shave the remaining patches, which makes me feel like I’m betraying the whiskers that boldly, strongly withstood the attack. Sorry, guys.

I don’t like the whole shaving cream and safety razor thing (no matter how many blades they put in them), and I can’t keep running to the barber for a professional straight razor shave, so I bought an electric shaver. The last time I had one was in the ‘70s, and it didn’t do a very good job. Shavers have improved a lot since then. My new one does a good job. Nice and close. Quick and easy.

So many Boomer men—especially nomadic ones—have beards. It’s almost the standard look for guys my age. So being clean-shaven puts me in a different group. Maybe it makes me an outsider. Which is fine. That’s sort of the story of my life.