Monday, February 17, 2020

Hide and seek

I always toss my wallet, key and pocket change on the counter after I’ve parked the Rolling Steel Tent at a camping spot. Almost always. Not yesterday.

I had changed out of jeans and into shorts when the day warmed up. I folded the jeans and put them back in the cupboard with the rest of yesterday’s laundry. So when the key wasn’t on the counter this morning I immediately thought, “Ah, it’s still in the jeans pocket.”

But it turned out yesterday’s jeans weren’t, as I presumed, on the top of the stack. Or the second pair down. Or the third. That’s when I remembered I had put away the laundry after changing into shorts. The correct jeans were next to the bottom.

“Normal” people often wonder how we nomads spend our time. Seems like a lot of mine goes toward trying to find things I’ve misplaced. And shuffling stacks of pants.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

A short winter weather report

It’s 6:30, the sun is about to drop below the horizon, and it’s still shorts temperature. This is why being able to follow the weather is a good thing.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Three-day hold

Maidenhair Falls

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park was calling from the other side of the Imperial Valley. “Psst, Al. Al. Come on over. Take a hike to Maidenhair Falls. Visit the Slot. See the Galleta Meadows sculptures again. Free camping, friend.”

Yeah. Good idea.

The Slot

But first I’d need to get my knives back from AZ Sharpening. They’d be done Friday afternoon.

Oh. Friday. The beginning of the weekend. Weekends aren’t the best time to go to Anza-Borrego. All those folks from the San Diego area coming to the desert for R&R. All those ATV people. I’ll wait until Monday.

A typical off-roader invasion

Then, sometime during my pre-relocation errand running I realized it was Presidents Day weekend. Long weekend. Monday would not be good either.

So I wait. And adjust plans. A luxury of retirement.

We discuss the state of the world

Friday, February 14, 2020

Cowboy week is time for a new hat

I went to Los Algodones, Baja California, for shrimp tacos and meds. Decided I needed to add another hat to my collection.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

It’s not an eating disorder

Through most of my middle-aged years my waist size fluctuated between 36 and 40 inches. With my gut hanging over my belt. If I had worn my pants at the proper height, at my navel, I would’ve needed 44-inch pants. Maybe 46. I was not healthy.

But, as I’ve mentioned before, the throat cancer has caused me to shed a lot of weight. Now that I can eat normally again (hallelujah) I no longer look gaunt and I’m gaining back muscle. Nonetheless, my waist keeps shrinking. And shrinking.

Today I tried on some jeans with a 30-inch waist. Perfect. I can not remember the last time I wore that size. Maybe in boys “husky” apparel? Amazing.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Lost in a small space

I have a headlamp. In fact, I briefly had two of them. I didn’t like the first one so much and gave it away shortly after getting one I liked.

I hadn’t used that headlamp in a while. (While meaning years.) So, naturally, when I did want to use it the other night, I couldn’t remember where I’d put it.

This is an all-too-familiar story with me and the Rolling Steel Tent. I put something where it makes perfect sense (at the time), or put it someplace temporary that unintentionally ends up being long-term, and then I can’t find it. I mean, there are only so many places to lose something in a vehicle. Right? Sigh.

I had a couple of vague mental images of the headlamp. It was in a thing with some other things. That made me certain the light was in one of two places.

It was in neither. And it wasn’t in several other places. Okay, systematic search time. Front to back, top to bottom.

The headlamp wasn’t (as the old wisecrack goes) in the last place I looked, it was in the last place it was possible to look. If it hadn’t been there I would have declared it lost and then bought a new one, setting me up to validate another old wisecrack: the surest way to find a lost item is to replace it. Sigh.


And you worry about mice in your engine compartment?

(it’s plastic)

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Lost and found

Sometimes you find trash at a campsite. Sometimes you find treasure. This 4-way screwdriver was just sitting there, wondering when its owner would be back. I gave it a new home, even though I already had one.

Space race

Having scored an inexpensive stockpile of canned and packaged food, I had to make room for it somewhere in the Rolling Steel Tent. My storage system had become jumbled and inconvenient the past few months. Tools, food, clothing, hardware and what-the-hell-is-this-and-why-do-I-have-it just stuffed wherever they fit. It was reorganization time.

I found a lot of badly used space. Hey, how about combining these two half-full boxes into one? How about putting all the pans in one place? Oh look, this fits here much better than there. And so on.

As I worked I remembered some old advice I was given, had passed on to others, then pretty much forgotten: bags pack more efficiently than boxes. Because not only do boxes hold whatever you put in them, they hold unused empty space. Empty space that mocks your desire for compactness. Meanwhile, bags are happy to compress into whatever form you need.

So I transferred things like ibuprofen, gauze pads and nitrile gloves from their partially empty bottles and boxes and into zip lock bags. All those rechargeable AA batteries? Off their blister packs and into zip lock bags. Those three remaining pencils from a box of eight? Bag ‘em. You get the idea.

Not only did I find room for the new supplies, I was able to rid myself of a shoebox-sized container and three foil pans that had held small odds and ends. Anyone want them? Right now they’re just taking up space.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Fly, mi amigos, fly!

Eatin’ cheap

There are a couple of vendors during Quartzsite's high season that sell deeply discounted grocery items. Canned and packaged foods, toiletries and cleaning products, pet foods and such. They buy up excess stock and pass the savings onto you and me.

The catch is that most items aren’t the big brands. And there isn’t any fresh produce or meats. But I stocked up on canned fruit and veggies, soups, condiments and protein bars (six for a dollar). And imitation Oreos.

In a far corner of one vendor’s tent they have big number 10 cans of vegetables and sauces for your next community soiree. Or kinky erotic adventure. Mmmmmm, pudding. Only three bucks a can.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

My favorite British Columbian

I met Atli six years ago. Each winter she takes a break from the dismal weather in Vancouver and hangs out with us dismal nomads in Arizona. Well, except for that winter she went to Hawaii instead. We’ve almost forgiven her for that.

This year she invited select friends to camp with her. I was proud and flattered to be included.

I had my aversions backwards

The forecast was for overnight lows near freezing, and it was certainly feeling like that shortly after sundown. Grumble moan whine. I could use the stove to heat the Rolling Steel Tent while I was awake, turning it on for short periods, but I couldn’t do that while sleeping. Groan mumble whine.

I got under the covers: a medium down quilt with a lightweight blanket on top. Layering, man. I pulled on my ratty old knit cap. Keep the head warm, amigo. And I thought about how miserable I was going to be. Groan mumble whine.

The temperature continued to drop and my bedding was barely adequate. I reached into the cabinet (which is easy when you’re in a tight space like a van) and grabbed my sleeping bag. I added it to the bottom of the pile. That helped. Oh, the joys of retained body heat. The groaning mumbling and whining died down and I slept well, in a semi-conscious, semi-cryogenic state.

It was 34°F/1°C inside the van when I woke in the middle of the night to pee. That’s when I had a mini epiphany: It’s not sleeping in the cold that I hate. It’s being awake in the cold.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Getting in shape for hiking… by hiking

So here I am, five months out of cancer treatment and massive weight loss, and I have the bug for hiking in the canyons of southeast Utah (once it stops freezing at night). It shouldn’t be a big deal, right? Hiking is just glorified walking, and I’ve been doing that my entire post-infant life. One foot in front of the other, repeat as necessary.

But I’m out of shape. And I have old man knees. And peripheral neuropathy in my feet. And part of that weight loss was muscle.

I haven’t hiked more than a couple of miles since I was a Boy Scout, when we did a week-long trek up the C&O Canal from Washington DC to Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia.

The hike up Grand Wash with my sister and brother-in-law back in September revealed I had a lot of recovery and rebuilding ahead of me. Although I feel much stronger now, I still have some work—or working out—to do.

Yesterday morning I left our campsite and strolled up the road to the Palm Canyon trailhead. That was the original goal. Trailhead and back, a couple of miles round trip, a nice and easy restart of my hiking life, pausing along the way to take photos.

The walking felt good. No complaints from my feet, joints, muscles or cardio-vascular system. So I didn’t stop at the trailhead.

Your basic trail

I had been up Palm Canyon once before. I knew the trail changed back and forth between hard dirt, gravel, stones, scree and bare rock. It wouldn’t be a stroll in the park (or, in this case, a wildlife preserve), but it wouldn’t be difficult. The question was whether my body could deal with it.

Watch where you step

I had to watch my foot placement in several sections to avoid slipping, tripping, falling. But my balance was good and my limbs were doing what I asked without trouble.

So I kept going, to the viewpoint for the palms and a little beyond. There the trail got a little more serious. I had left my walking stick behind because it’s awkward when I want to take pictures. Not enough hands to hold things. As they say, discretion is the better part of not falling, hurting oneself and needing to be air-evacced out of there. Besides, I had already surpassed the day’s goal. I turned around.

Walking downhill is less of a cardio workout but more a test of joints. At least it is for me, because I’m not graceful. I land on my heels, with my legs stiff. Thump thud thud thump. Because I don’t trust the muscles in the uphill leg will flex without collapsing. That’s part of getting in shape.

Also, downhill footing is trickier. Or it feels that way. Will the soles grip, or will this grit make them slide and send me sprawling? Is that rock going to tilt and make my ankle buckle?

I made it back to the trailhead without incident. The only challenges from there were washboard, dust and monotony. I might have been only a mile from the Rolling Steel Tent to the trailhead, but it seemed like four coming back. One foot in front of the other, repeat as necessary.

This morning I feel fine. No aches and pains, no blisters, no wounds to heal. A couple of more months of this and I’ll be in decent shape. And southeast Utah won’t be as frigid.

These Keen Gypsum II shoes kept my feet happy

Friday, January 31, 2020

Heart of stone

Discovered while hiking in Palm Canyon

Muy sabrosa

I went to Quartzsite General Store/Coyote Fresh Foods the other day. I wanted bacon. They have a good butcher and I’ve been happy with my meat purchases there.

As they were weighing and wrapping my half pound of salt-cured pork belly I noticed a pan of marinating beef labeled carne asada. Mmmm, that sounded good. “And a half pound of that too, please.”

The meat used in carne asada isn’t always the best, which is why it’s marinated. I was prepared for it to be a little tough and stringy—but flavorful.

I don’t have a grill, so I just threw it in a hot pan to get a little sear going. Then I turned down the heat and added some butter. Because, butter.

To my surprise and delight the meat was very tender and moist. And, as I had anticipated, it was delicious. Not too salty, like some marinades.

I’m going to need some more of the General Store’s carne asada before I leave Quartzsite. I hope its quality is as consistent as the bacon’s.

(As you may have surmised, my tastebuds are almost fully recovered.)

Thursday, January 30, 2020

A good place to be stuck

January is one of those months when it’s five weeks between Social Security checks. Under normal circumstances I have to be careful with my spending. Buying a couple of tires means I need to squeeze every last nickel for the next couple of weeks.

The largest budget item is usually gasoline. Unless I don’t go anywhere. So I’m staying put along the road to Palm Canyon in the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge south of Quartzsite. Atli, Joe and LaVonne are here, so I'm not alone. And it’s very pretty.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Mystery mollusks

Hundreds of small shells are scattered at the base of a saguaro in the middle of the Sonoran Desert. How did they get there?

Were they left by a human or other animal? If the latter, where did they get them? Are they freshwater bivalves or salt water? I suppose the Colorado River is the closest fresh water. The nearest salt water is the Sea of Cortez.

While I like to imagine a bird making trip after trip after trip to the water and bringing their meal all the way back to the same cactus, it’s far more likely some campers dumped the shells after making a chowder. Because, ugh, people.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

A couple that’s a couple of washes away

My favorite Upstate New Yorkers and occasional commenters on this blog, Scott and Lora, spend part of (not enough of) the winter at Coyote Howls, in Why AZ. They decided to take a break from that break and hang out near Yuma. And I happen to be nearby. They invited me over for dinner and conversation. And a commemorative selfie.

In a pile of rocks



Monday, January 27, 2020

Steve & Jackie & Steven

Craig approves of the Rolling Steel Tent

I was at Discount Tire in Yuma to replace my flat. The clerk came out to the van to check the mileage and the condition of the other tires. The insulated box for my fridge grabbed his attention. Then the solar charge controller. Then the mailboxes I use for storage. I explained it all and he nodded. “This is a very cool setup. I guess a lot of people are doing things like this instead of big RVs.”

“Thousands and thousands of us.”

The tire I wanted wasn’t in stock but they’ll have it tomorrow. That’s fine. I can wait. In my cool setup.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Now I know, so now I can go

In my travels around the West I’ve passed many amazing hiking spots. Because I didn’t know they were there, or I didn’t know how to get to them. And I didn’t know whether they were actually worth driving miles down sketchy dirt roads, far from civilization and help. Or whether they were within my abilities.

Well, thanks to Roxy Whalley I have the answers. I met her. I watched some of her videos. Yes, the places are incredibly beautiful, and she can get there and hike them—often alone. Now I want to go and experience it all myself.

In one of her videos, Roxy recommended Michael R. Kelsey’s Non-Technical Canyon Hiking Guide to the Colorado Plateau. (The Non-Technical part really caught my attention.) Descriptions, directions, maps, photos and piles of information on places you can hike without special skills (other than common sense and a desire for self-preservation).

Just a few months ago, on the way to hiking in Capitol Reef National Park with my sister and brother-in-law, I saw signs for the Devil’s Backbone, between Escalante and Boulder, Utah. What was that all about? Connie and Kent didn’t know much. Kelsey knows a lot. He has hiked hundreds of trails in the region, from Dinosaur National Monument, to Grand Canyon, to Mesa Verde, and has made notes about it all. I ordered the book and it arrived yesterday.

So I guess I’ll have to get out there and do more walking, get in shape. And find a hiking partner or two.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Let it rain

At first I noticed the chrome things sticking from the van. Some sort of fixture repurposed as tie-downs? Just unusual decorations?

Then I looked up. Aha! An exterior shower setup.

I have long complained the showers in RVs were too small. Here’s one that’s as big as all outdoors.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

A rolling stone gathers no air

A pointy bit of rock managed to find its way into my front passenger-side tire. Hurray for driving in the desert. I discovered it while there was still air in the tire, before I could destroy the sidewall by driving on it.

Okay, despite it being a pain in the ass, I decided to change the tire. I’ve done it before. But if you’ve been following me a few years, and if you have a decent memory for things that don’t directly concern you, or you’ve had to change a tire on a GM pickup or van, you might recall there’s a common problem getting the spare tire from under the truck.

Then there’s the issue of trying to work on rocky ground. And the issue of me being kind of weak after cancer. I fussed with it a while, discovered my WD-40 didn’t want to spray (despite being partially full) and I started feeling exhausted. I thought it might be wiser to stop before I hurt myself.

Plan B was to try some Fix-A-Flat. There was a truck stop a couple of miles away. I got out my electric pump and reinflated the tire to the proper 50 PSI. I checked it again about a mile later. It was down to 25 PSI. I pumped it up some more.

I got some Fix-A-Flat, followed the directions and pumped it up again. By the time I got back to camp, Fix-A-Flat was bubbling out around the puncture. Rats. I checked on it after a while and the pressure was back down to 25 PSI. The Fix-A-Flat wasn’t bubbling out anymore when I added air, but I could feel a bit of air coming out. The goo didn’t do the job.

And, of course, this happened on a Sunday, when the local tire shops are closed. So I’ll keep reinflating the tire until Monday morning, even if that means getting up to run the pump in the middle of the night. Then I’ll limp to a tire shop to get the spare freed up and installed. Since selection of tires is low and the prices high here in Quartzsite and neighboring towns, I’ll make a run to Yuma for a new tire. Or two, considering the other front tire has also been patched.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Disappearing act

I dropped off a load of things at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous free pile, which is now a curated group of tables rather than stuff dropped randomly on a tarp.

I returned to the Rolling Steel Tent for the shoes that didn’t make it in the first load. By the time I got back to the free pile, both stoves had been taken.

There was only one of eleven DeLorme atlases left (Wyoming). (I still have all my Benchmark atlases of the western states. I prefer those maps.)

The heavy gauge wire was gone.

And one of two belts had found  a home.

The kingsize duvet cover was still there, along with the twin XL fitted sheet. If no one wants them for their original purpose, the fabric can be turned into other things, like curtains.

Flammable/explosive/toxic fluids aren’t allowed at the free pile, so I put a notice on the bulletin board for my mostly-full propane tank. I got a text within a half hour and met with the tank’s new owner.

The van is about fifty pounds lighter now, and less crowded. And it feels good to help others.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Just out on a walk

1 + 1 = 1, or Now you’re cookin’ with gases

I started my van life with a Coleman one-burner propane stove. I could use either a 16-once bottle or a large five-gallon tank. The tank was more convenient because it lasted much longer and propane is less expensive in bulk. The stove sufficed, but it seemed to have only two temperatures: off and burned. Meh, I adapted to it.

A few years later, I was given a very slightly used Coleman one-burner butane stove. I liked it a lot. It was self-igniting and had much better temperature control. And it had a handy case. However, butane canisters are half the volume, more expensive, and sometimes difficult to find. Also, cool temperatures lower the pressure in the cans, reducing the flow rate, and making it so the burner barely burns. This is twice the problem if, like me, you want to use the stove as a heater. Furthermore, butane doesn’t like the thinner air of high elevations.

Golly, if only there were something out there combining the positive features of propane and butane stoves.

There is. Dual fuel stoves, like those from Gas One. They self-ignite and have good temperature control like butane stoves, and they can use cheaper, more plentiful propane that still burns well when it’s cold or above 7,000 feet.

I’ve waited until now to get a dual fuel stove because I can give away my other stoves at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous. Someone will be grateful for one, despite the various drawbacks.

Time bandit

This is part of the leap year adjustment, right? Or is part of my phone in a different micro time zone?

Monday, January 13, 2020

The pre-event event

The Women’s Rubber Tramp Rendezvous starts the 14th and the regular Rubber Tramp Rendezvous begins the 18th. But today there was a gathering to help attendees figure out the new format, to arrange carpools between various camping areas and the venue, to pick up some swag, and to see which of your friends might be there.

The gathering was scheduled to start at 11:00 AM, with no need for any attendees to be there at the very start. I imagined I’d get there around 11:30 by the time I got gas and stopped by my mail forwarder. I drove under the speed limit yet still arrived just before 11:00. And there were over a hundred others there already. Either they also overestimated their travel time, or they were very eager to familiarize themselves with the venue, pick up their stickers, badges or t-shirts, and to meet Bob Wells—the creator of the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous.

I had donated to the Homes On Wheels Alliance, so I was entitled to a sticker. It now resides on my van wall with all my other stickers. And I got a name badge, because this time, dammit, I’m going to meet new people.

There was a crowd around Bob, like fans swarming a celebrity. There were a lot of hugs and selfies. I’ve been friends with Bob since the autumn of 2013, so I stayed to the side until the admirers thinned out. Bob is over on the invert side of the scale, yet he’s devoted to building social and practical connections among nomads, a good portion of whom are also introverted. It’s a paradox. And it’s draining on him. Only an hour or so into a two-week event and he was already looking overwhelmed, despite having a staff and a pack of volunteers. I wished him the best of luck with the new format and suggested he set himself up with a comfy stool when greeting the masses.

My pledge to meet new people lost, without a struggle, to my desire to head back to camp. But there will be other chances. After all, this wasn’t the main event.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Machine bites the hand that feeds it

The washing machine coin slot was balky. I pushed, pulled, pushed, pulled, rattled it a little pushed and then gave it a good shove with the heel of my hand. The slide finally, suddenly, moved as it should, then jabbed a hole in my hand.

Ow! Hey, I was just trying to give you money!

Well, that’s different

Instead of the usual cans, bottles, nails, cigarette butts and other litter I usually find in fire rings, this one featured a small rug left to the side.

I imagine the previous owner just didn’t want it any longer and offered it up to a future camper who would have need of it. I don’t know how many others have passed on it or how many others in the future will leave it be. I just know it’s nothing I needed.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Those kinds of people, again

Even if it was an experiment trying to determine the melting points of aluminum and steel, and not just the litter of thoughtless jerks, they could’ve cleaned up the aftermath. I guess they were counting on someone cleaning up for them. That someone is me this time.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

When is a snake not a snake?

I respect snakes but I don’t fear them. So it was surprising I dreamed last night I was attacked by huge rattlers.

I won’t get into the details of the dream. I think the important part was two people I was with were afraid to help, or just didn’t want to, but two strangers rushed in, yanked the anaconda-sized diamondbacks off me and dispatched them.

When I wake from dreams like this one, I try to figure how it might be related to my reality. What’s going on in my life, in my conscious mind? Do I feel like I’m in danger? Do I feel like the people I’d expect to help me won’t or can’t? Do I hope unknown people will come to my rescue? Mmmmmm… No. Not that I can see. Things are rather good right now.

So if the dream was just about the danger of snakes, I’ll be even more careful about where I walk.

Monday, January 6, 2020

This land is my land

The first time I went to Slab City was 2014 when I’d been a nomad for about six months. It’s sort of a mecca and cultural touchstone for us rootless folks on very low budgets. You have to visit at least once or they take away your nomad license. I stayed several weeks, hanging with artists, musicians, writers, runaways, survivalists, hipsters, druggies, Canadian snowbirds, and plain old poor people. Most Slabbers were nice, some of them were scary.

I made a few one-night stops in the ensuing years because it was conveniently on the way to somewhere else. A waypoint rather than a destination. Because I’d done the Slabs thing. And because both the place and I were changing.

The population of Slab City has probably doubled in six years—partly because it has become increasingly well known, but mostly because of the same forces that are driving homelessness all over the country.

It seems as if a greater proportion of the new Slabbers are determined homesteaders, building more substantial abodes. There are far fewer sleeping-bag-under-a-bush types, far fewer snowbirds in large RVs—because there’s less room for them.

The homesteaders not only take up ground for their structures, most of them also lay claim to their compound with fences, walls, containers or anything else that says, “This is mine.” There are private property signs, even though no one owns the ground they’re living on. The state does.



So, while the Slab City population is becoming more stable and less transient, it’s also becoming more exclusionary. The signs might welcome you to “the last free place,” but these days the greeting seems less authentic, more self-congratulatory. “Woo-hoo! We got free land! Now buzz off.”