Wednesday, April 29, 2020

I’ve been stimulated

My coronavirus stimulus check was autodeposited today. Woo-hoo! Lou got his, too.

It happened just like they said it would. Even though I haven’t needed to file taxes the past few years, even though I changed bank accounts and addresses since the last time the IRS ever autodeposited money on my behalf (and I hadn’t sent them my current data), they used my Social Security information and, bingo, there it is.

So, what will I do with the money? Fortunately, I’m not one of those made jobless by the pandemic. I have a stable (if meager) income with Social Security. I’m not facing foreclosure, eviction, repossession, loss of utilities, or starvation. So I have a few more options open to me.

There’s the temptation to blow the money on a big purchase. For example, I could finally splurge on a drone. Mmmmm, no. I don’t need that.

The wise thing is to add it to my emergency fund. The Rolling Steel Tent is going to need major repairs one of these days. Or a series of minor repairs. So I transferred the $1,200.00 to my savings account, away from impulse buys.

I know, the intent was for us to pump the money right back into the economy. Sorry, they’ll have to wait for mine.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Can your life fit in a van?

What sort of things do you need to do day to day, year to year, to feel like you’re living a full, rich life? A few things or a great variety? Simple things, or more involved activities?

We vandwellers talk a lot about downsizing the amount of stuff we have in order to fit in a van. But I haven’t come across much discussion of adjusting one’s life to a size that works in a van.

A nomad friend recently said not to believe those who say living in a van is easy. My reaction was, gee, it has been rather easy for me. Sure there are inconveniences, but nothing has been very difficult.

I guess that’s because I’m not trying to have the same life I had before. I’m not trying to live as if I’m not living in a van. That would be hard. It would be impossible. And even if I could pull it off somehow, it wouldn’t make me happy. Because I’m done with all that. I was done with it several years before I finally escaped. But the things that are important to me now, the things that give my life meaning, can fit in the Rolling Steel Tent with plenty of room to spare. In fact, the most important things fit in my head and heart.

But this is just me. I realize everyone is different, has different needs, desires, limits, obligations, goals, paths… All I’m saying is if you’re contemplating van life, think about whether the totality of you and all you want from life can fit in a van. Otherwise, it’ll be a struggle.

Monday, April 27, 2020


I was exploring a road in the Gila National Forest. I stopped at a pullout and walked along a trail into the woods, where I discovered this:

I don’t know why there’s glassware scattered about instead of the usual bottles, cans and shell casings. A higher class of littering jerks? The banana peel has me thinking daiquiris. There was no shattered glass anywhere, so I doubt they were used for target practice. At least they remembered their axe so they could pointlessly vandalize a tree.

Lou takes the next big step in home ownership

Lou made a deal with one of the neighbors who helped him build his house. The guy has a small engine repair business and occasionally gets his hands on a decent riding mower that just needs a little work. He traded this previously-owned mower for some of Lou’s leftover construction materials.

The degree to which Lou has become domesticated (and the speed of it all) freaks me out a little. I mean, one of the reasons I sold my house and moved into a van was to avoid yard work.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Adventures in cheap packaged foods: Spam

So far, this series has featured canned meats I had never tried before. Now I’m shifting focus to products I’ve had in the distant past. Some were served by my mother. Some I tried on my own. I used to love some of them and others tasted nasty. What would I think of them now that my tastes have matured, and after my tastebuds had been destroyed by throat cancer treatments and regenerated? I’m on a mission to find out.

No one ever said it was health food

First up, famous/infamous Spam. The lasting legacy of World War II. Still popular enough to fill supermarket and convenience store shelves. In a variety of flavors. Someone is eating this much-maligned stuff.

In all its naked glory

Luckily, the market offered half-size cans of Spam Classic. So I’d be throwing away less, if it came to that.

I took a taste and… nothing gross, just a lot of salt. Spam is short for spiced ham, and the number one spice is salt. Mountains of salt. Otherwise, it tastes a lot like bologna or hot dogs.

Spam is already fully cooked, so it can be eaten cold or heated. I fried up mine with potatoes. Given the amount of salt in Spam I didn’t salt the spuds. I could’ve gotten fancier, adding onions, peppers, cheese or whatever, but I wanted a more pure Spam experience. So just a little black pepper.

It was merely okay, which I suppose is a lot better than I had feared. I may never buy Spam again because there are better choices. But it’s no longer on my uninformed, knee-jerk, I’d Rather Starve list.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Infected with the toilet paper acquisition virus

Lou and I made a supply run to Silver City. I needed some food (and some new canned meats for future reviews) but as I passed the toilet paper aisle I saw they had some of the good stuff.

I already had enough to last a while, but the FUD circuitry in my brain said, “You don’t know about future availability! Get some while you can! Just in case!”

I usually get six-packs. Four-packs if I can find them. Because there’s not a lot of room to store the stuff in the Rolling Steel Tent. But all they had were twelve-packs. Er… um… okay. At least they weren’t 24-packs.

Back at Rancho Lou I filled the cupboard and the auxiliary crate with groceries. The toilet paper sat on the ground. Where could I put it that wouldn’t always be in the way? Hmmmmm…

“Hey Lou! Got any room in your shed where I can store this temporarily?” He did. Problem solved. For now.

It’s good to have homeowner friends.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

At the intersection of real life and old television

Adventures in cheap packaged foods: Butterfield Farms Diced Ham

This diced ham was exactly what I expected. The contents, texture and flavor were exactly like a canned ham, because that’s what it is, only diced for your convenience, and in a smaller quantity. So the only issues are whether you like canned hams and want it in labor-saving cubes.

I gave mine a quick sauté then scrambled in a couple of eggs and topped it with some cheddar and salsa. Yup, tasted like ham.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Home show

Some of you have asked for photos of the interior of Lou’s place now that it’s finished and furnished. Here you go.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Thanks for the literal support

Lou knocked on the van. “With the hiking you’re talking about doing, you could probably use this. I got some of these to help wade in streams when I fish. The middle section doesn’t slide but you can probably fix that with some WD-40 or something.”

I thanked him and fiddled with the pole for a while. I took a break to sit in the sun, then fiddled with it some more. Presto, the middle section freed up and now it works as it should.

It isn’t a fancy new carbon fiber pole, just aluminum. The color has faded and there are scratches and dings, but it’ll make me look a little like a veteran hiker instead of the rookie I am.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Los amigos

Back in New Mexico with Lou. As you can see, we’re keeping proper social distance. Six feet for him plus six feet for me. Plus another six feet just in case. Friends don’t let friends infect friends.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

More about food: When does it go bad?

As you know, I've been experimenting with packaged foods I haven’t tried before—some of them past their best if used by date. Was I asking for trouble? Did I miraculously dodge illness and poisoning? According to this article in the New York Times, nah, not really.
Here’s the first thing you should know: Expiration dates are not expiration dates. 
Food product dating, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture calls it, is completely voluntary for all products (with the exception of baby food, more on that later). Not only that, but it has nothing to do with safety. It acts solely as the manufacturer’s best guess as to when its product will no longer be at peak quality, whatever that means. Food manufacturers also tend to be rather conservative with those dates... 
...So long as there is no outward sign of spoilage (such as bulging or rust), or visible spoilage when you open it (such as cloudiness, moldiness or rotten smells), your canned fruits, vegetables and meats will remain as delicious and palatable as the day you bought them for years (or in the case of, say, Vienna sausages at least as good as they were to begin with).
So the “expired” goods you might pick up at a dicey looking tent in Quartzsite, or discover in the far corner or your cupboard, are probably fine, if they ever were.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Adventures in cheap packaged foods: Great Value Roast Beef

If you read my post about canned beef, you’ll know I thought it was good enough to wish I had gotten more.

Fast forward a few weeks and several hundred miles and I’m cruising through Walmart, trying to find something promising on the denuded canned food shelves. Oh, look, a case of house brand roast beef. Smaller cans, much higher price.

Was it still on the shelf because everyone knows it’s awful? Or because it’s unfamiliar and therefore suspicious? Or because it was just recently put on display? I figured it was worth a try. And remembering the lesson from my previous canned beef, I grabbed four cans.

Unlike the other canned beef, which was mostly a lump of meat chunks with a little liquid and some congealed fat, a can of Great Value Roast Beef is about half broth. (Well, it says In Beef Broth right on the label, so I was warned.) I suppose that gives you a head start if you’re making stew or gravy, but dang. Adjust your expectations accordingly.

The most important thing, though, is it’s totally edible, even though it’s far from the best cuts of cow. Like other canned meats, it could use some seasoning. I added some barbecue sauce. That did the trick.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Day of the decadence

A nomad friend posted that he had splurged on a truck stop shower. I was surprised the showers were open, considering the public health issues we’re dealing with. I could certainly use a shower. Sponge baths do the job but they’re not as pleasurable as lots of hot water beating against my skin.

I wondered if the showers were open at all truck stops or just some. I went online and Pilot/Flying J proclaimed their showers are available and sanitized after each use. Cool. Where was the closest one to my boondocking camp? Almost 40 miles away. I didn’t care. Now that the idea was in my head I wouldn’t be able to rest until I had my shower.

The travel center was nearly deserted. There was no one in the cashier line. And there was no wait for a shower. The room had that not-too-pleasant-yet-reassuring odor of disinfectant. The water was hot, the pressure was good, the towel was large. I was in heaven.

While shaving, the impulse hit me to delete my mustache but keep the chin whiskers. Because, variety. Oh, wow, my lip is very pale. Evidently a bit of hair is an effective sunscreen.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Please don’t do this

Some people burn pallets at their campsites. Thoughtful, conscientious, patient folks disassemble the pallets and pull all the nails before burning. They are rare. Most just smash the pallets apart and toss them on the fire, leaving the place littered with nails. Like this.

And some knuckleheads, for reasons known only to… well… no one, make a nail-laden pallet fire in the middle of the road. Like this.

I suppose they expect credit for fully dousing their fire before tossing the remains of a pallet into the bushes.

Mr. Obvious strikes again

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Chilling with my prickly amigos

Fill 'er up

I don’t remember when I last bought gas for less than $2.00 a gallon. Just a few weeks ago I was excited to get it for $3.19. I hear it’s under a buck in some places. May the Saudis and Russians keep squabbling long after all the quarantining is over.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Blow dry

It’s warm here today. It’s also very windy. The weather services report winds of twenty to thirty miles per hour with gusts to fifty. There’s an airport for gliders about a quarter mile away and I can see its windsock, fully horizontal. That means the wind is at least 15 knots, 17 miles per hour or 28 kilometers per hour

Wind out of the west at 15+ knots

I started the morning with the van pointing into the wind to reduce shaking, but the wind slowly, sneakily shifted direction and now I need to reposition.

Dust blows in and things fly around in the Rolling Steel Tent if I open a window or door. If I open the roof vent the lid rattles and might break off. If I close things up it gets uncomfortably warm. So I settled on rolling one window down about an inch to get a little circulation. It let the flies in. I think they wanted out of the wind as much as I did.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

The commuter

I noticed this caterpillar a couple of mornings ago making it’s way in a fairly straight, purposeful line, south to north. Then midday I saw it again crawling on the same line, north to south. It returned about and hour and a half later, south to north again. Then, toward evening, north to south once more. The same behavior has been repeated every day since.

I like to imagine it’s going to work, going home for lunch, returning to work, then going home after a hard day of caterpillaring.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Wishy washing

My laundry bag is getting full. The last time I went to a laundromat the coronavirus thing was just becoming a story. I cleaned my clothes in semi-ignorance and didn’t become infected. But what about now?

I’m not worried my laundry will be contaminated by someone else’s. Soap disintegrates the virus by dissolving the layer of fat that holds their cells together—hence all the washing of hands. They use soap on their clothes, I use soap on mine, soap soap soap.

The problem is everything else in the laundromat. The people, the surfaces, the baskets, the outside of the machines… And laundromats can get crowded. It might not be possible to maintain six feet of separation. It’s enough to make me envy (only a little) those quarantined in their homes with their own washer and dryer.

Unlike some nomads I am not a wash-it-in-a-bucket kind of guy. I don’t have a wash bucket or a lot of extra water or a clothesline. Or patience. So my choices are to find a rather deserted laundromat or to wait until I get to Lou’s place.

Meanwhile, I came across an article in the New York Times. It would be nice if it cited sources for this advice.
Is it safe for me to go to a laundromat? 
Yes. If you are healthy and have run out of clean clothing, it is OK to leave the house and do laundry. The same general rules apply: Wash your hands frequently, practice social distancing, and don’t touch your face. You can bring disinfectant for the surfaces you will touch, though this isn’t necessary as long you wash your hands after your laundry is done. 
Avoid going to the laundromat when it is full. It might be worth calling ahead to check how busy the place is, or asking when their quieter hours are. Some laundromats may already have crowd-control policies in place. 
Once you are inside, stay at least six feet away from others. Tasks like sorting dirty laundry or folding dry clothing should be done at home. Touching several surfaces is inevitable while doing laundry, so avoid touching your face until you’ve used hand sanitizer or washed your hands. Avoid lingering inside and wait outside or in your car in between loads, if you can. 
Practically speaking, doing one large load every couple of weeks in order to minimize your contact outside is ideal.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

The thing we fear

People ask us nomads what the hell we do all day. How do we fill our time? How do we avoid succumbing to that fate worse than death: boredom? They used to ask because they couldn’t imagine a life not filled with all the distracting, time-consuming stuff of ordinary living. Now they ask because self-quarantine is driving them nuts and they want some useful tips. By “they” I primarily mean extroverts, because we introverts are pros at sheltering in place. Can’t go out? Can’t see people? No problemo.

(I know introversion and extroversion are more complex, more nuanced than that, but this is a blog, not a dissertation.)

When I was a kid and complained about being bored, Mom would respond with little lectures about making my own fun, reminding me (yet again) that only boring people get bored.

Ah. Yes. Perhaps the reason we avoid boredom is to avoid the ego-damaging realization we aren’t as interesting, entertaining, compelling, cool as we like to imagine, that we’re actually (oh god, no) boring.

Why do we look to external sources for relief from boredom? Because we don’t have the cure within us? Because we just react to prefabricated stimuli rather than creating our own? Because most of us are consumers rather than creators? Because consuming is easy and creating isn’t?

Creating anything, whether it’s any good or not, puts us in a state of focus. All that other stuff out there—time, for example—ceases to exist. It’s just us and the thing we’re doing. It’s us inside our self, projecting our self into the world, enlarging our world. It’s giving rather than taking.

Here are Nathaniel Drew’s thoughts on boredom.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Different grassland

It was a travel day and I don’t feel like writing. So let this picture from my new campsite at Las Cienegas National Conservation Area serve as the proverbial thousand words.