Monday, July 6, 2020

Cul-de-sac life

For almost a century, new housing developments have been designed with a minimum of through streets and a maximum of cul-de-sacs. It’s what the market wants. A little quiet corner of the world. A retreat from the grind. A bit of Heaven—if your idea of Heaven is summed up in this Talking Heads lyric:
Heaven is a place
where nothing
nothing ever happens
To me, cul-de-sacs are about reducing the size of your life by reducing your exposure to it. After all, cul-de-sac is French for dead end. Or, more literally, ass of the bag.

Even though my house was on a through street, I had unintentionally created my own ass of the bag by shrinking my life down to a world small enough to fit in my numb, barely functioning mind. My little routine, in my little world, with very little satisfaction. (I can’t get no… no no no.)

But as retirement and the end of my career loomed, I was forced to evaluate my life. Retirement meant change, right? So what did I want to change? How many things did I want to change? And change it how much?

“I… I… I don’t want to be here,” my inner soul said. “Here” being in a house, stuck in one place.

“And I want more than… than… this.” (Gesturing vaguely at myself and the pathetic energy field I emitted.) “I want to be more.”

So here I am, seven years on the road, running from the literal and metaphorical ass of the bag. My world and life are bigger, and I hope they keep growing until I reach that final dead end.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

In a van, down by the river

The North Platte River again, this time near Casper WY

At least it’s not the transmission

If I were to try to make the most comprehensive list possible of things in the Rolling Steel Tent that could fall apart, I’m pretty sure I would never think of the brake pedal pad coming off. Yet there it was, on the floor, when I went to climb into the driver’s seat this morning. When and how did that happen? Nothing tragic. Some glue and wiggling will fix it. It’s just a very weird occurrence.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Seven years with my gear: Cobra DC to AC Inverter

The solar panels, charge controller, and batteries all deal with DC electricity. If we want to use anything that runs on AC, we need an inverter—a glorified transformer. Since I would just be charging my electronics, not trying to run power sucking things like microwaves, air conditioners or Bridgeport milling machines, I figured this 400 Watt Cobra inverter would be more than adequate. And it has been. Zero problems. There’s really nothing more to say.

Like clockwork

The past few days, strong winds have arrived as evening begins. It’s as if Mother Nature opens a valve and air rushes in to fill the void created by the retreating sunlight.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Do it yourself

The other day, I offered up photos of a beautiful sunset and sarcastically asked how I could tolerate living in such meager conditions. Then, by coincidence, a friend presented an essay that articulated part of the answer.
What if enjoyment is a skill that you can improve? 
Not a personality trait, but a skill. 
I don’t mean to confuse enjoyment with happiness — I think happiness is too big to be a skill — and something that is largely our of our control — but what about enjoyment — what if enjoyment is simply the skill of putting joy into an experience? 
That would be a skill worth learning, wouldn’t it?

The skill of putting joy into an experience. Not just finding joy, but actively creating it. Wow, we can do that? I can do that? Maybe I have been. Maybe it’s what keeps me sane.

The friend is Patrick E. McLean. That’s him over on my book list. We used to work together. He’s much more dedicated to his writing than I am to mine, and therefore much more successful. Here’s the link to his essay.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Animal, vegetable or mineral

The cottonwood trees around me are releasing their fluffy, cottony seeds. Sometimes in clumps, sometimes individually.

There are also tiny flying insects that look a lot like cottonwood fluff. I imagine it’s one of those evolutionary adaptations. The floating seeds give cover to the bugs, confusing their predators, enhancing their survival.

I suspect the little buggers are also of the biting variety. We juicy humans start thinking all the drifting white specks are harmless plant matter and stop swatting at them. That’s when the insects slip in.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

How can I stand to live in a van?

Litter by little

To approximately the red arrow and back

I took a walk along the shore and then back via the road. Along the way I formulated a hypothesis: The crappier the beer, the more likely its drinkers are to toss the empties… wherever. I picked up a few cans of Keystone and Bud Lite and took them to the dumpster. Tomorrow I’ll take a trash bag on my walk. And I might wear gloves. 

There’s not a lot of litter here, just enough to get me muttering about how lazy and/or clueless some people are. I mean, how long do you have to stare at a plastic bag caught on a bush before finally thinking, “Should I throw that away? I mean, it’s not mine. It was there when I arrived. It’s not my job to clean up after people. Eh, I think I’ll just let it ugly up my view.”

So here’s the plan

It turned out it wasn’t just the vegetation at the campsite on the North Platte River that had me thinking of North Carolina. There were also mosquitoes. Big, aggressive ones. Is this going to be standard in Wyoming?


Bright and early (well, not so bright, because it was overcast, but it was still early), I headed off to my next location: Grayrocks Reservoir near Wheatland WY. There are free boondocking sites all along the south shore. I scored this sweet little spot, well separated from the neighbors by clumps of cottonwoods. It’s almost like being at the ocean. I’ve convince myself that’s a bay out there, not a lake. Fourth of July at the beach, how classically American.

I formulated a plan yesterday. Although I want to eventually make my way westward, I’m in no hurry. I also want to avoid the places that attract big crowds, like Yellowstone and the Tetons. So I’m going to continue northward, veering a little to the east, into the Dakotas.

There are only four US states I haven’t been in. North Dakota is one of them. I just never had a reason to go there. And when I first became a nomad I set up residency in South Dakota, did a whirlwind tour of the Black Hills, then split. I should do it again, taking my time—if Trump hasn’t set the place ablaze with his fireworks. Then I’ll go to Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. The campgrounds and visitor centers are closed, but the roads and trails are open.

From there I’ll go into eastern Montana and back down into Wyoming. The Bighorns, Thermopolis, Wind River Range, into Idaho, back into western Montana, across the Idaho panhandle, into Washington and the northern Cascades, down to Oregon, through the costal ranges of California (instead of my usual coastline route), across to the eastern Sierras and western Nevada, then end up in southern Utah for the fall. Or something like that. As always, my plans are subject to change. Almost daily.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

In a van, down by the river

Although it was a gorgeous day up at elevation, I didn’t want to be there for nighttime temperatures. So I came down about 3,000 feet to spot along the North Platte River, near Saratoga, Wyoming. This riparian zone reminds me of the years I lived on the East Coast. Except it’s nowhere near as humid.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Off to the white stuff—on purpose

Yesterday was windy and wet, but the gambler (or fool) in me decided today was a good time to go where it was guaranteed colder and probably windier and wetter, perhaps even snowing: The Snowy Range, west of Laramie. The mountains got that name because it can snow there any time of the year. But I lucked out. It was a gorgeous day. Here’s evidence.

An example of why the campgrounds and picnic areas are still closed

Hey wait, it’s supposed to be summer

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Suffering for my art

I was in the midst of capturing the setting sun on distant hills when I realized I was being swarmed by some kind of mosquito-ish things. Rather than run for the Rolling Steel Tent and my Raid Flying Insect Spray, I stayed and got the photo I wanted.

Today the bites are making themselves known. Three on my head, two on my neck, two on each forearm, one on my right hand. Ergh.

Decision time again

The section of the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest east of Laramie provides a nice variety of boondocking spots. There’s a network of good roads running through grassland and forest. You can have wide open spaces or tuck up among the trees, on hilltops or in valleys. You can even be by water. Its formations are popular with rock climbers. And everyone else.

The yellow markers are my campsites

So, yeah, there are people around.  That makes it tricky finding a vacant spot. But not impossible. I’ve stayed at six different campsites during the week I’ve been here, satisfying my compulsion to move around.

Right now I’m debating with that compulsion.

“Dude, you’ve been here a week!” it says. “There are so many other places you could go! Why are you wasting time around here?”

“Uh, because it’s nice, there’s variety, it’s close to supplies. And I can be here another week before I’d have to move on.”

“But that would have you trying to find a new site during Independence Day weekend.”

“Yeah, there’s that.”

“So you should take off now—Wednesday at the latest—and get settled in somewhere else. Tomorrow would be better.”

“Yeah, but I like it here.”

“You can come back some other time.”

“Okay. I guess I’ll get out my research materials.”

“Good boy.”

Saturday, June 27, 2020

How to get a strong, unboosted, cell signal while boondocking

I’m currently camped in a National Forest, in the saddle of a ridge above Laramie. There are towers to the north and south of me. One or more of them are probably broadcast antennas, but at least two of them are cellular towers. One must be for Verizon and one is for whatever carrier my StraightTalk phone is linked to. Because, woo, I have strong signals! Or maybe I’m connected to towers down in the valley. But whatever the reason, still woo!

The things you might find in a fire

I was cleaning litter from the fire ring I was camped next to and noticed a large nail—a spike—in the ashes. I fished it out. There were several more. Why?

My first thought was that they’d been used as tent pegs. Or someone had tried to use them as tent pegs but discovered the ground was too rocky, so, frustrated and angry, they tossed the spikes in the fire.

Not tent-peg-friendly ground

But then I realized they had been burning pieces of rail fencing, which is held together with spikes. I guess this is sort of the rancher version of burning pallets. I hope the fencing was their own.

I imagine the spikes has been weakened by the fire, but I saved them anyway, in case someone needs tent pegs.

Local flora

Cattle trail

What’s up here? Let’s find out.
The Calf-Path 
Sam Foss 

One day through the primeval wood

A calf walked home as good calves should;

But made a trail all bent askew,

A crooked trail as all calves do. 
Since then three hundred years have fled,

And I infer the calf is dead.

But still he left behind his trail,

And thereby hangs my moral tale. 
The trail was taken up next day,

By a lone dog that passed that way; 
And then a wise bell-wether sheep

Pursued the trail o'er vale and steep, 
And drew the flock behind him, too,

As good bell-wethers always do. 
And from that day, o'er hill and glade.

Through those old woods a path was made. 


And many men wound in and out,

And dodged, and turned, and bent about, 
And uttered words of righteous wrath,

Because 'twas such a crooked path; 
But still they followed—do not laugh—

The first migrations of that calf, 
And through this winding wood-way stalked

Because he wobbled when he walked.


This forest path became a lane,

that bent and turned and turned again; 
This crooked lane became a road,

Where many a poor horse with his load 
Toiled on beneath the burning sun,

And traveled some three miles in one. 
And thus a century and a half

They trod the footsteps of that calf.


The years passed on in swiftness fleet,

The road became a village street; 
And this, before men were aware,

A city's crowded thoroughfare. 
And soon the central street was this

Of a renowned metropolis; 
And men two centuries and a half,

Trod in the footsteps of that calf.


Each day a hundred thousand rout

Followed the zigzag calf about 
And o'er his crooked journey went

The traffic of a continent. 
A Hundred thousand men were led,

By one calf near three centuries dead. 
They followed still his crooked way,

And lost one hundred years a day; 
For thus such reverence is lent,

To well established precedent.
A moral lesson this might teach

Were I ordained and called to preach; 
For men are prone to go it blind

Along the calf-paths of the mind, 
And work away from sun to sun,

To do what other men have done. 
They follow in the beaten track,

And out and in, and forth and back, 
And still their devious course pursue,

To keep the path that others do. 
They keep the path a sacred groove,

Along which all their lives they move. 
But how the wise old wood gods laugh,

Who saw the first primeval calf. 
Ah, many things this tale might teach—

But I am not ordained to preach.

This poem is about how we can individually, collectively, institutionally end up doing things for dubious reasons—often because, “That’s the way we’ve always done it.”

However, sometimes it’s just fine to follow a rut cattle have stomped in the ground. I’ve been doing a bit of it lately. Besides making for easier walking, the trails usually lead to pastures or water or roads. Even if it leads to nothing more interesting than a pile of cow pies, it’s easy finding my way back. And since these trails aren’t designated in the guides, I have them to myself. Well, myself and some cows.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Grow where you can

Things you can do with a puddle

The weather system here in southeastern Wyoming has offered up scattered clouds and nice sunsets the past few days. There was a bit of rain, which left us with puddles and the chance to do an old photography trick.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Surrounded by boulders

Sort of like Joshua Tree, but with pines and aspens instead of Joshua trees

Seven years with my gear: Sun Xtender batteries

Sometimes silly things can influence my choices. In the instance of deep cycle batteries for my solar power system, it was color. Trojan was the most popular brand of deep cycle batteries back when I was shopping. (Maybe they still are.) Everyone recommended them. (Maybe they still do, except for the LiFePo evangelists.) But I absolutely hated their maroon color. I’m a believer there are no bad colors, just colors used badly. There’s something about the combination of maroon, plastic, and electrical components that makes me cringe. And shop elsewhere. Fortunately, there were chromatically inoffensive options that functioned just as well.

A much less silly consideration was the dimensions. I wanted batteries that could fit in the bottom of the Adrian Steel cabinet that came with the van. I read a lot of spec charts.

And, because I wanted to stow the batteries in the cabinet, where they wouldn’t be convenient to get at, I also wanted sealed batteries. I don't enjoy battery maintenance anyway. The extra cost was worth the pleasure of just hooking them up and forgetting them.

This led me to Sun Xtender absorbed glass mat batteries. Two 12V, 104Ah beauties. Enough power to run my fridge and charge my electronics. Exactly the right dimensions to fit in the cabinet. And not maroon. They cost $295 each when I bought them in 2013. The Sun Xtender series is made by Concorde—another big name in deep cycle lead-acid batteries.

I’ve heard Sun Xtenders were never intended for mobile applications. Something about the cases not being rugged enough. Or not maroon enough. But, as you can see, they’ve held up just fine, despite a lot of washboard roads. And they still function properly, even though they’re getting on in years. Whereas I would be lazy about flooded cell battery maintenance, I’m almost religious about never drawing more than 50 percent of charge. In fact, I seldom go below 70 percent.

When it’s finally time to replace these batteries, I have no qualms about getting another pair of the same. Unless the price of LiFePo batteries come way down. Or there’s some newer, cheaper, better technology by then. As long as they’re not maroon.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Wait, I'm where?

My previous post was about a tiny town in very southern Colorado. Tonight I’m in Laramie. Blew right through most of Colorado.

I had a meager plan: drive to the top of Pike’s Peak. Then explore more of the area around there. But due to construction at the summit, this summer you can only drive part way up Pike’s Peak, then take a shuttle the rest of the way. That’s no fun. Being at the top of Pike’s Peak is not the same as driving the Rolling Steel Tent the whole damn way, like the world’s slowest hill climb racer.

Well what about the cog railroad to the top? It’s not the same as driving, but it’s more interesting than a bus. The train is not running this year.


The Front Range and all the nice areas in the mountains were very crowded anyway. It was a weekend, Fathers Day, the solstice, and all that. Ergh. I’ve been spoiled by sparsely populated areas. Well, screw it. Wyoming is rather empty. So here I am.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Neato burrito

San Luis claims to be the oldest town in Colorado. That’s mildly interesting but of no use to me. What I wanted was lunch, and there was a taco vendor set up in the shade along the main drag. Support local small businesses, right?

I like the eclectic assortment of chairs

I know there’s not just one type of Mexican food, but this is the first time I’ve encountered this variation on the burrito, topped with something very much like melted Velveeta and a drizzle of crema. It was still tasty, just in a different way.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Over the river and through the woods.

 I took a turnoff from a turnoff, ended up at a trailhead, then got out and walked.

There was a nice camping spot along the way, but I wasn’t mentally prepared to stay. Definitely another time.