Thursday, December 31, 2020

One size fits two

I use this stabilizer ring when I connect good old green propane bottles to my dual-fuel stove. As I reported a while back, I also have a couple of propane bottles intended for use with blowtorches. They’re taller and narrower, so more prone to tipping over, right? Hmmmm…

The stabilizer was already out and in position because the green bottle had just run out. I connected the blue bottle and plopped it into the stabilizer because it was where there was room. 

Surprise, surprise. It fit nice and snugly. Because there was an inner ring the correct size. Some industrial designer knew there would be someone using different sized bottles. Maybe he had a vision. “I see an old fart in a van in the desert, about to cook breakfast…”

Monday, December 28, 2020

Deconstructed breakfast burrito

I exercised amazing restraint and ate only half of the carne asada burrito I got yesterday. Okay, what to do with the remaining half? Ordinarily, I’d treat it like leftover pizza and just eat it the next day, cold. Not bad, but I could do better.

First, I disassembled the burrito, cut the tortilla into strips and deep fried them.

Then I reheated the meat, adding a little Salsa Huichol for extra kick.

Next, I fried up a couple of eggs in clarified butter.

Finally, I assembled my repurposed creation and topped it with the last of the salsa verde that came with the burrito. Much better than cold, even with extra pans and dishes to wash.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Down for the count

I’m a big believer in the siesta. Since retirement I’ve become almost religious about it. Mmmm, yes-s-s-s-s-z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z…

However, I hadn’t napped the past few days. Maybe it was because I didn’t want to miss any of the limited daylight. 

Then, this afternoon, after doing laundry, getting water and butane and a carne asada burrito from Diego’s, after doing some house cleaning and rearranging in the Rolling Steel Tent, I laid back to read and… whoosh, I was deeply, deeply out. For two hours. I guess I was making up for missed naps.

Hit me with your best shot

Just like our human joints get stiff with age, so do some of the Rolling Steel Tent’s parts.

The sliding door has latches at both ends. The rearward one has started sticking, despite several treatments with cleaners and lubricants. But a smack on the door does the trick.

There’s a vendor in Quartzsite who makes custom vinyl stickers. So, because I’m a weird guy, I had him make this:

Bit o' desert

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Friday, December 18, 2020

Fortunate one

There’s no question I’ve been lucky in many ways. All my life. I didn’t realize it when I was young (do we really realize anything when we’re kids?) but now I know I’m lucky.

Lately I’ve been thinking about how fortunate I am to be 68 years old with a body that functions fairly well. Yeah, there was the throat cancer, and infectious hepatitis in my twenties, but other than that I’ve been okay. Cross my fingers and knock on wood.

So far I’ve been spared the medical problems common to people my age. My heart, lungs and nervous system are fine. My back and joints are good. I have no chronic illnesses. I haven’t even had appendicitis or a broken bone. Amazing.

There were years I was terribly out of shape, but that was because of my habits, not a malfunctioning body. Now it looks like by systems have weathered the abuse much better than I had any right to expect. Thank you, genes.

My heart goes out to those who struggle, who suffer. That’ll be me someday.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

It weighs heavily upon me

After using my weighted blanket a few nights, I’ve decided I like it. A lot. I tried using it several ways and have settled on folding it double and covering only my torso. Then the other bedding goes on top, as usual.

I wake up fewer times during the night, and although it’s too soon to tell if there’s a pattern, my dreams have been more pleasant.

What the weighted blanket doesn’t do, though, is make me warmer. Ceramic beads aren’t good insulators. I hope this means I’ll be able to use the blanket in warm weather.

Mind games

When I woke up last night to pee it was 43°F/6°C in the Rolling Steel Tent. By the time I finished my chore the bedding had lost all its warmth. 


So I tried a mental trick. I imagined it was summer and the bed was air conditioned. 


It’s good I’m so easy to fool.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Weightlifting while sleeping

When I first heard about weighted blankets I thought, “Hell yeah! I love sleeping under piles of bedding.” But I was uncertain. Some things sound too good to be true. What if I spent the money on a blanket but didn’t actually enjoy it? So I continued on with the bedding I had.

Then the other day I happened to see weighted blankets in Walmart at a price I was willing to risk. But before committing to it I asked my social media friends and family if they had any experience with weighted blankets. Several did, and their reviews were positive. I took the leap.

Yeah, I like it. Not exactly what I imagined, but very nice. I tend to move around in bed a lot before finally falling asleep, and that has become a workout with the weighted blanket. Yet building muscles isn’t listed as a benefit. Go to sleep flabby, wake up toned!

Thursday, December 10, 2020

My moment of non-fame

I was an extra in the Nomadland movie. The Rolling Steel Tent was a prop. It got paid more. 

There was also a scene where several of us improvised lines. I was curious to know whether that bit made the final cut. I finally saw the movie and, alas, no stardom for me.

However, both the van and I can claim to have shared the screen with Frances McDormand. Or did she share it with us?

The Rolling Steel Tent with directional cell antenna erected

Me in my plaid jacket and black hat

It's official

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Man cannot live by worm jerky alone

Back in July, when I was in central Montana, I wrote about Mexican roasted and seasoned grasshoppers called chapulines. Yum. So when I saw Newport Jerky Company also offered a mix of grasshoppers and crickets I added them to my order.

Alas, these are seasoned only with a little salt, so they aren’t as tasty as chapulines. They’re still nice, though. Sort of like slightly wilted cheese puffs—without the cheese—and a little more chewy at the end. They’d be good sprinkled on a salad. Mmmmmm, orthoptera croutons.

Friday, December 4, 2020

No. Yes. No.

 As I’ve written before, part of me is ready to settle into my usual wintering area and part of me doesn’t want to do that yet. 

So I thought about making another visit to Joshua Tree, the Mojave Preserve and Death Valley. Yeah, that sounded good. I checked the forecast. Nights in the upper 30s, days only in the low 60s. Eh, no. I wouldn’t be a happy camper.

But I couldn’t shake the idea. Today I checked the forecast again. Oh, highs in the 70s, lows in the 40s. That’s actually nice. I could head out after the weekend.

This evening I looked at the LA Times. There’s a new stay-at-home order and travel restrictions in California. Rats.

Stop traveling, the governor says.

With the “regional stay-at-home” order issued Thursday and likely to be triggered in coming days, Gov. Gavin Newsom is imploring Californians to stay home for at least the next three weeks and cinching already tight restrictions in areas where the COVID-19 pandemic has hospitals under the heaviest pressure.

Outlining the new restrictions, which include new capacity limits for retailers and other changes, state officials said hotels and other lodgings will be allowed “to open for critical infrastructure support only.” But in the immediate aftermath of the governor’s announcement Thursday afternoon, details of the new travel restrictions remained unclear.

…Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s secretary of Health and Human Services, said the state is, in effect, telling, not asking, Californians to stop all nonessential travel. That includes canceling holiday travel plans, he added.

However, he and Newsom also said that parks and beaches would remain open and that Californians could boost their mental health by hiking, running, fishing, practicing yoga, skiing, snowboarding and otherwise savoring outdoor activities.

…In a widely circulated letter to industry professionals, Visit California President and Chief Executive Caroline Beteta wrote that in regions where the order takes effect, “hotels can remain open, although the order announced today bans non-essential travel statewide.”

…California State Parks did not respond to questions about how the governor’s order would affect its campgrounds.

…Other details of the state’s plan for enforcing the tighter limits remained unclear Thursday afternoon.

…Officials have said the status of the state’s nine national parks depends on consultation with county health officials and could take several days to sort out.

On Nov. 13, the state Public Health Department issued an advisory urging that anyone entering California on a nonessential trip — whether they are outsiders arriving or Californians returning from elsewhere — “should practice self-quarantine for 14 days after arrival.” During quarantine, that advisory said, “these persons should limit their interactions to their immediate household.”

I don’t know if this means I’ll have to leave my preferred boondocking area in far southeast California and stick to Arizona until who knows when.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Know thyself

A homesteading friend was outfitting a one-room cabin. She imagined her small abode being heated by a wood stove and even found a previously owned one. Three hundred pounds of cast iron and steel. But the cabin’s interior walls needed to be finished before the stove could be installed.

Meanwhile, she observed her wood-stove-using neighbor and started rethinking her heating plans. “A wood stove is a lot of work. She’s out there every day splitting wood! I realized I’m not that type of person. You really need to be honest about yourself when you’re making decisions like that.”

So, if you’re on the cusp of diving into the nomadic life, you might pause and reflect. Has the glamorous allure of #vanlife obscured some of the realities? Are you really that type of person?

What type of person is that? (If you have to ask, then maybe you’re not.) Here’s an excerpt from a November 2016 post:

...I've assembled a list of attributes that, from my experience, are shared by happy, successful nomads. I think a lot of the attributes also apply to the building-dwelling life. (No doubt there are more things that could be on my list. Feel free to add your own.) Rate yourself on a no–somewhat–yes scale. Obviously, more yeses are better.

I have an independent nature 

I'm self-sufficient 

I'm self-directed and self-motivated 

I always have a back-up plan 

I'm not tied to a location 

I'm not tied to a culture 

I'm not tied to the past 

I look forward to new experiences 

I can entertain myself 

I'm curious 

I'm alert 

I like solving problems and have a good track record at it 

I'm good at finding answers 

I have a good bullshit detector 

I adapt easily to changing situations 

I'm usually calm 

I can distinguish between the essential and inconsequential 

I'm comfortable with tools 

I'm not afraid of getting dirty 

I know generally how vehicles and gizmos work 

I can change a flat tire 

I know what to do in emergencies 

I enjoy camping 

I have an adequate sense of direction 

I like myself

If you didn't score many yeses or somewhats, you might want to think more deeply about this whole nomad thing. You might do some work on yourself. Is your temperament changeable? Your personality? Some psychology professionals say yes. Some of the skills on the list can be learned. Knowledge can be gained.

My intent isn't to talk a lot of people out of their nomad plans. It's to prepare them. I try not to say, "Hey gang! Come be a full time nomad! It's perfect for everyone!" Because it isn't. I don't want to see frustrated, anxious, stumbling, unhappy campers. I don't want anyone to regret their decision. I don't want anyone to crash and burn. I want them to have the life that works great for them. For you. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Because why not?

In one town I lived in, it was common on rainy days (or when people forgot to turn off their sprinklers) for the worm population to avoid drowning by crawling out of lawns and gardens and onto the nearest pavement. I guess there weren’t enough hungry birds to gobble up all the worms, so hundreds, maybe thousands, of the crawlers covered the sidewalks. If you wanted to walk anywhere during those times you either had to find ways around the worms or just step on them. 

I had a girlfriend in those days who would refuse to go out when there were worms on the sidewalks. It wasn’t that she worried about squashing them. Worms just gave her the creeps. Simply saying worms made her skin crawl, which I guess is appropriate since worms are essentially crawling skin.

Some of the worms would fail to make their way back underground before the sun came out and turned them into jerky. I’m fairly certain that’s not how my latest food experiment was made.

Earthworm jerky from the Newport Jerky Company is grilled earthworms marinated in sugar, lime powder, smoked paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, red chili, vinegar, salt and MSG. What’s not to love? You could probably marinate a skunk’s scent gland in that mixture and it would be yummy.

I was disappointed by the small amount of jerked worms in the package, but not by their taste. Very nice. I imagine the company’s other jerky products (which include alligator, octopus and shark) taste pretty much the same. Jerky is jerky. Some varieties just come with mental baggage. 

As for texture, or what the food industry calls mouth feel, worm jerky starts out something like a slip of marinated and dried paper but becomes surprisingly chewy.

For the sake of the planet, we protein craving carnivores need to find alternatives to beef, pork, chicken and fish. (Insert vegan proselytizing here.) Worms—at least in jerky form—are ridiculously expensive for anything but some oooh-look-I’m-eating-worms entertainment value. (Hundreds of dollars per pound. Plus shipping. And you thought waygu beef was spendy.) But scaled up production would bring prices way down. Better yet, you can have a your own vermiculture operation in just a box of dirt. With maybe a little sidewalk in there for the times you overwater.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Checking in

I haven’t had much to blog about lately. No travels or adventures. And it’s like my brain has decided to power down for the season. At least the deep thoughts and wry observations part of it.

I’m in Quartzite to pick up a package that should arrive at my mail forwarder tomorrow. The contents of that package will be good for a couple of posts.

Being here is also an opportunity to load up on stuff from the overstock/off brand/past-freshness-date stores where almost everything is a dollar. Nutrition bars are ten for a buck. And one place was giving away red potatoes.

Part of the haul

Then it’s back to Yuma where the nights are a little warmer. Although Yuma is a much larger city it feels less crowded than Quartzsite because everyone’s not trying to use the same handful of shops and services. And Yuma is more pleasant to me because it isn’t a monoculture of RVers.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Was that a hike?

A reinactment

Where’s the line between a walk and a hike? They both consist of covering ground by repeatedly putting one foot in front of the other without falling down. 

Is it a matter of where you walk? We don’t say we hike around the block. 

Is it the distance? Would circling the block all day turn it into a hike?

Is it about difficulty? Is a trail up a mountain hike-ier than a trail across flat land? Even if the latter is longer?

Is it about the pace? There’s no ambling, no moseying, no lallygagging in hiking, right? 

Is it the degree of remoteness? Do we need to be out in the boonies before that one-foot-in-front-of-the-other thing can be called a hike?

Is it about the gear you take—or don’t take—with you? If you don’t have special shoes, a pack, water, food, a first aid kit, maps, GPS, and trekking poles, are you simply on a walk or just insufficiently unprepared for a hike?

Maybe it boils down to intent. When I stepped out of the Rolling Steel Tent this afternoon I was just going to wander in the desert a bit. Get some easy exercise. Just, you know, go for a walk. I had covered about three miles by the time I got back. There were some hike-ish aspects to the walk—going in and out of washes, sidestepping minor obstacles, pushing through some vegetation—but mostly I just walked across the gravely alluvial plain. At an energetic, but not cardio-stressing, pace. Since I’ve been living in this particular patch of desert for about a week, I guess you could say I went for a walk around the neighborhood. Or a hike. 

Today’s desert treasures

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Toasty toes

Circulation in my old man feet ain’t what it used to be. So I took a friend’s tip and got these thermal booties for lounging about the Rolling Steel Tent in cold weather. Their happy redness compensates for their bloated Michelin Man shape. The temperatures don’t require them yet, but I had to show them off.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Alternate fuel

There’s a shortage right now of those green 1-pound propane bottles. I’m guessing it’s a combination of it being high-demand season in the region and a supply chain messed up by the pandemic. I had no luck finding them at three Walmarts, a Lowe’s and a Home Depot. But then I had an idea. I checked the blowtorch section at Home Depot and, ah-ha!

Propane is propane

They’re 14.1 ounces rather than 16. I bought two of them at $3.97 each, which is in the range of the green bottles—which I haven’t found. Having some at not the ideal price or format is better than none.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Joshua Tree rocks (flickering light warning)

Seven changes and one thing that’s the same

— The Park Service at Joshua Tree is out of the newsprint flyer that contained a trail guide. They have a laminated version at the visitor center and recommend you take a photo of it with your phone.

— About half the dryers are out of order at Country Wash, my heretofore preferred laundromat in Blythe. At least they have nice long tables for folding your stuff.

— La Paloma, my favorite Mexican restaurant in Blythe, featuring huge and hugely delicious burritos, is not only closed but also boarded up.

— They’re doing some remodeling of the driver lounge/laundry/showers at the Flying J in Ehrenberg. The showers are still in service and still satisfying.

— Ken’s Market, in Quartzsite, where everything is a dollar, used to have piles of single-serving cherry flavored Craisens, five for a buck. Perfect for oatmeal. There are none now. It’s always a matter of what overstocked, out-of-date stuff they can get a deal on. 

— The other Quartzsite everything-a-dollar grocery still has cans of pork and beef, but there were none of my favorite nutrition bars (six for a dollar) hiding in the heap of various brands and flavors. They were giving away donuts.

— The host at the Hi Jolly dispersed camping area is the same guy as the previous three years.

UPDATE: It turns out La Paloma is still around, just in a new location on Lovekin Blvd, near McDonalds. Yay!

Monday, November 16, 2020

A mobile society

Some people choose to live their entire lives in pretty much the same place. It makes them happy but it would make me crazy (or crazier). 

But a good portion of the population moves to a different state, different region, different culture. Some do it several times. So I’m fascinated by the graphs at this link showing where people tended to relocate. Some folks crossed the country, some just went to a neighboring state. I like to imagine the stories behind it all. College? Jobs? Marriage? Cost of living? Chasing a dream? Witness relocation?

Meanwhile, there are those who wonder how/why people like me are happy drifting around with no home base. I answer, “There are too many other places to be.”

Sunday, November 15, 2020

I continue to social distance

More sun, please

I woke up this morning and realized we’re already halfway through November. Besides it being one of those my-how-time-flies old people moments, it also means we’re closer to the winter solstice. And that means a reversal of this decreasing daylight hours crap. Sure, January and February are no picnic for a winter hater like me, but at least those months offer hope with a little more light each day.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

A return to the Slot

Clockwise instead of counterclockwise

A change of direction. Instead of Yuma to Quartzsite to Joshua Tree to Anza-Borrego, I decided to do it the other way around. Because.

My previous visits to Anza-Borrego have been to the northern part of the park. I thought I’d check out some of the southern part this time. It’s very similar.

I found a campsite at Blair Valley, which seems to be the state’s version of a designated boondocking area. I cleaned up a previous camper’s debris. Evidently they disassembled a folding camp chair, leaving fittings and screws scattered about. I suppose there’s a story behind that.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

A plan is forming

I’ve stayed put for a week but realized I’m not quite ready to settle in for the winter. So I think Monday I’ll go to Quartzsite to pick up a package that should be arriving at my mail forwarder, then head to Joshua Tree for a couple of days to do some hiking. As always, plans are subject to change. Especially after announcing them.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

How to conceal a knife

A few years ago my friend Forrest got a special deal on some simple sheath knives and gave one to me. I’ve never been a blade guy, except for kitchen knives, but this one has become my go-to tool for opening packages, removing bottle seals and such. It lives in a particular spot in the Rolling Steel Tent, next to the scissors and hand sanitizer.

Then it wasn’t there. I had used it the day before, but now…? I searched all over, including inside crates stowed under the bed. No luck. Had someone broken into the van, taken only the knife, left everything else undisturbed, and relocked the door? Not likely.

I searched again. Still no luck. Oh well. Maybe it ran off to join the table knife that disappeared a few years ago.

Then, as it often goes, I found it while looking for something else. It was under a couple of washcloths, next to some pill bottles, in a cloth bag of odds and ends, inside one of the mailboxes I use for overhead storage. Why had I ever put it there? Or had the afore mentioned intruder hidden it just to mess with me? No. It was only my old man brain spazzing out. Again.

Monday, November 9, 2020

Why here?

To people in the greener parts of the world, the desert is rather bleak. And where I am now is bleak even by desert standards. A gravely alluvial plain with little vegetation. Modest mountains to the east and north, dunes to the west, the border to the south. The last trickle of the Colorado River contained in concrete channels. A mine in the hills. Active railroad tracks over that way. Occasional Marine aircraft overhead. Not paradise.

But, for reasons I don’t fully understand, I like it here.

Sure, it’s free and legal boondocking where even the rangers ignore the 14-day limit. Access is easy and the ground is level. There’s a strong cell signal. All the resources I need are just a few minutes away. And for the next couple of weeks there’s almost no one around. Are those benefits reason enough to like the place as much as I do? 

Nah, there’s something intangible. I’ll have plenty of time to figure it out.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Just one of those days

Sleep in a little… Check the Internet… Have a light breakfast… Do some cleaning and straightening up… More reading… Get dressed… Drive into town… Pick up some supplies… Get a carnitas burrito… Return to the desert… Move to a slightly better spot… Put away the supplies… Enjoy the burrito… More reading… Check the weather forecast… Take a nap… Do some research… Watch some videos… Watch the sunset… Have a couple of dark chocolate Oreos… Re-aim the van into the wind… Twiddle my thumbs… Write a blog post.

Friday, November 6, 2020

Seasonal migration

I’m back in my usual winter range, near Yuma AZ, ahead of a cold and wet front sweeping across the West. I’m a little earlier than usual, but that means it’s less crowded. That’ll change come Thanksgiving when the OHV folks swarm over Imperial Dunes and when the snowbird season semi-officially starts.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Feeding the multitude

The day before yesterday I deposited about a quarter cup of leftover cornbread batter next to a bush.

Yesterday the batter was dry and covered with ants.

Today the batter is gone.

Busy ants. Ants with extra food stored away. Or ants craving some chili to go with the cornbread.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

A place of my own

In his review of the Nomadland movie, Stuart Klawans of The Nation says of us nomads, “These people have no place to call their own…”

Is that true? If we’re talking about the traditional bit of real estate, yeah, okay. But that reveals society’s rather limited, unimaginative concept of life and home.

I don’t remember ever feeling truly at home in the conventional world. I felt like I was playing a role, acting out someone else’s life. So there I was, in my nice suburban house, assimilated into a community, living the Dream, but unhappy and wanting to be somewhere else, needing to be someone else.

When they say “home is where the heart is” they usually mean it’s where the people you love and who love you are. I think it’s also where your mind and soul and happiness are. It’s where you’re your authentic self, regardless of external forces or circumstances. Home isn’t wherever you hang your hat. Home is within the person who wears the hat. Home is internal.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Almost blue moon

We’re going to have a blue moon. What once-in-a-blue-moon thing are you going to do, or hope happens?