Monday, August 31, 2020

Net limbo

I’m visiting LaVonne, Linda May, Gary, Wendy and Jeremy, and assorted dogs, at the compound in Tres Piedras, NM. The downside of this visit is lack of a Verizon signal. I need to drive about twenty miles toward Taos before I can get online. Right now I’m in grocery parking lot. Oh, the glamor of nomadic life.

Speaking of glamor, in a few days Linda May and LaVonne will be heading to Los Angeles to appear at the premier of the “Nomadland” movie, in which they play semi-fictionalized versions of themselves. (Oh, yeah, and Frances McDormand stars.) They’ll be hauling Linda May’s infamous little trailer, the Squeeze Inn, because it’s in the movie, too. 

Linda May and the Squeeze Inn

I may or may not be in the movie, depending on the final edit. Chances are good I’ll be in at least one scene, as part of the background crowd (look for a guy in a black & white plaid jacket), but my one-sentence speaking part will probably have been cut.

Director ChloĆ© Zhao, DP Joshua James Richards, Frances McDormand

Is the movie any good? At least one person thinks so. Linda May had to dub a bit of dialogue, and the sound engineer said he had worked on a lot of films, but this is one of the best he’s ever seen. He cried at the end.

“Nomadland” is on the festival circuit right now and will be released December 4.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Not much to report

Another multi-hour dash across the desert, from Flagstaff to Albuquerque. However, it was about 25 degrees cooler than the Mojave, thanks to elevation, cloud cover, and a sprinkling of rain.

About 50 miles of the drive, I was following a Ryder rental truck because we were both content to cruise at 70 MPH. But the whine of its tires eventually became too much and I took an exit for a break.

I’ve driven this stretch of I-40 a dozen times or so, and there has always been construction. This time had the least I can remember.

Now it’s a hotel room and delivery pizza, then off to Taos to see friends again.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Where was I?

Twelve states in twelve months. Oregon, California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota. And that’s with a couple of months spent at Lou’s place.

The yellow markers represent places that were new to me. The red ones are for places I have been before. Mostly new spots this time.

Happy vanniversary!

Is seven years long enough for the conventional folks to accept I’m serious about this wandering around in a van thing? No, I’m not searching for the perfect place to settle down. Not even cancer has made me change my mind. This is who I am.

Grand Canyon is on most people’s Natural Wonder Must-See list, so it’s a good place to observe my vanniversary. I’ve been here before, but this time felt special. I sat at the rim, sort of meditating, thinking about the past seven years. And I was sublimely happy. To be there, to be alive, to be living this wonderful life. I’m so damn lucky.

On my way to Grand Canyon, I started thinking about hiking a little of the Bright Angel Trail. A mile down, a mile back up. The past week of hiking had emboldened me. There are people who run the Bright Angel from rim to rim—and back. Surely I could walk a little of it. I strolled along the west side of the Rim Trail to where I could get a look at Bright Angel. Ummmm... No. The uphill would kill me. Maybe I'd do it someday on mule back. Poor mule. 

Part of the Bright Angel Trail

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Choose your path wisely, Grasshopper

I was at Mammoth Lakes, California, wanting to get to Taos, New Mexico. Sooner rather than later. But several obstacles were in the way (because that’s what obstacles do).

There’s Death Valley which just had record heat of 133°F/56°C.

There’s the Mojave Desert, which is almost as hot.

There’s Las Vegas. Sometimes I go there on purpose, but I’d rather avoid the traffic. And the heat. Traffic and heat are a bad combination.

Grand Canyon is in the way.

Lake Powell is in the way.

There’s the Navajo Nation, which is closed to outsiders because the the pandemic. 

I’d need to go way out of my way to bypass the Navajo Nation on the north, because while there are roads that run sort of north and south through Grand Staircase-Escalante and Capitol Reef, there’s a shortage of ones running east and west.

So… Hmmm… Maybe… No… Ummm…

I decided to brave the Mojave because it’s familiar. I know where gas and assistance are along the way. 

I left Mammoth Wednesday afternoon and went south on US 395 to Lone Pine. Not much of a bite out of the trip, but it would shorten Thursday’s drive a little. And I knew I could boondock at Alabama Hills.

I headed out very early Thursday morning, continuing south on US 395 to Kramer Junction, then east to Barstow. It was noon by then and 102°F/39°C. I grabbed a burrito, prepared my mind, and got on I-40. Into the oven.

Now, this shows what sort of half-crazy, half-smart guy I am. I drove through the Mojave Desert, in the heat of the day, with the air conditioning off. Just the windows open. Old school, like when I was a kid. Because I’d rather it was me getting overheated than the Rolling Steel Tent’s engine.

It got hotter and hotter, from uncomfortable to stinging. But at least I had the shade of the roof and wind coming in the window.

It was 114°F/45.5°C in Needles, California. It was 108°F/42°C inside the Rolling Steel Tent. Whee.

But the van and I made it. Now I’m in a hotel in Kingman, Arizona. No way I was going to try boondocking in this heat. And I needed a shower.

Tomorrow I’m going to Grand Canyon. It’s cooler and prettier. And now it’s sort of on the way instead of in the way.

My first hiking video

I hadn’t planned on doing a video. I was just going to take photos. But I thought, oh what the hell, I’ll give it a try. It’s short on substance because I did’t start shooting until I was on the way back.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Three-lake hike

Early morning at Lake George. 
My destination was at the base of that tall peak, Crystal Crag.

This morning’s hike from Lake George to Barrett Lake and JT Lake was one of the most enjoyable and rewarding ones so far. It was a mixture of climbs and easy strolls, scrambles, obvious paths, and creative way finding. (Ah, there’s a footprint.) The steep sections had me huffing, but I dialed up my determination and kept going. Yay me!

Over the river and through the woods

Then up...

And up...

And up...

To Barrett Lake. Then over a ridge to...

JT Lake and Crystal Crag

That’s Mammoth Crest in the distance

More “trails” to the other end of the lake

Monday, August 24, 2020

One hike, two pits

About 600 years ago (which is like this morning in geologic time), rising magma encountered groundwater in the Sierra Nevadas, resulting in colossal steam-powered explosions that created a chain of craters. The excitement is over and now it’s safe to hike there.

The Inyo Craters Trail is another short hike, mostly uphill. It’s a five mile drive from “downtown” Mammoth Lakes, the last mile of which is on a forest road that has seen better days. This helps keep down the crowds.

North crater

South crater

The northern of the two craters is larger and filled with trees. The southern one is mostly barren with a brilliant turquoise pool filling the bottom. It’s hard to get a sense of scale, particularly in photos. It would be nice if, like the Barringer Meteor Crater in Arizona, there were a mannequin at the bottom. Maybe a taxidermied bear. Or Sasquatch. Or Sasquatch riding a bear.

Besides the natural uniqueness of the craters, there’s another situation I’ve never encountered before. The guard rail has a guard rail.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Mom would be proud

Living in a vehicle changes you. And it changes your habits. For example, from the age I was expected to help with chores, until I became a nomad at sixty-one, I would always put off dishwashing until… later. 

I’d leave the dirty dishes in the sink, maybe soaking, maybe not. Or I’d get ambitious and hide them in the dishwasher. I’d finally, grumblingly, clean up when there were either no more clean dishes or no more room in the sink/dishwasher. 

Can’t do that in the Rolling Steel Tent. First, there’s no sink or dishwasher. Second, I have only one set of dishes, one pot, one pan. So the new habit is Use It > Clean It > Right Now. Imagine that.

And here’s the great discovery: Dishes are easier to clean when you do it right away, before the residue transforms to adhesive. I’m pretty sure epoxy was discovered by a chemical engineer who hated doing dishes.

How do I wash dishes without a sink or running water? First I wipe off as much as I can with paper towels. Then I spritz with a water-vinegar-soap mixture and wipe again until clean and dry. Sometimes, for really sticky, gooey things, I heat about a quarter cup of water, maybe with a bit more soap, in the dirty pan.

However, Mom would not be proud it took me until I was a senior citizen to develop proper dishwashing habits.

Yet another lake loop

At first I was just going to leave camp and hang out for the day somewhere with a nice view and fewer trees blocking the sun. I found such a place, but after about a half hour I got antsy. I wanted to hike. A little.

There’s a family-friendly half-mile trail from the Horseshoe Lake parking lot to McCloud Lake. Easy, but uphill. Enough uphill to have me thinking, “Crap, it’s uphill all the way.” And just enough uphill to make me feel like I had accomplished something. Sort of a Goldilocks hike. Just right.

Upon arriving at McCloud Lake, you have the choice of continuing on trails that go farther uphill and over passes, or you can walk the loop, which is about another half mile. Guess which I chose.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Another lake loop

I’m developing a routine. It works like this: Go for a sunrise hike, when there are few people. Afterward I drive to another trailhead—that’s now crowded—to scout the next day’s hike.

Case in point, yesterday I went to Convict Lake to see what was up. Nowhere left to park, but I found the trailhead and got a feel for the place. This morning I arrived there shortly after sunrise. Plenty of parking, and it was just me and some anglers as I hiked the loop around the lake.

About half way along, I detoured down a game trail that led to others at the base of the mountains. No anglers there, just me and some deer. A boulder provided a perfect spot to sit and be in blissful peace. Or peaceful bliss. Whichever. It was great.

Just like the day before, crowds had filled the parking lots and day use areas by the time I got back. But I was leaving, so no sweat. From there I drove to the trailhead at the end of Rock Creek Road. Trails from there enter the John Muir Wilderness and connect with the Pacific Crest Trail, so it was totally packed at noon. I also checked out the trailhead at the end of McGee Creek Road. It was also full, but I loved the way the mountains rose dramatically around me, so I’ll be back. Early in the morning. Probably after the weekend.

Thursday, August 20, 2020


After poking around Mary and Mamie lakes in the mountains above Mammoth, I moved the Rolling Steel Tent to a more solar-friendly parking spot about a quarter mile down the road, at Horseshoe Lake. There was a collection of day hikers, mountainbikers, beach people, paddleboarders and some old farts like me just wandering around.

Several trails lead out from the parking lot. Most go farther up into the mountains. Since I just wanted to stretch my legs, not hump my way uphill, I decided to take the trail circling the lake.

It was a nice two mile walk through the forest. Just poking along, taking photos, exploring small side trails—one of which led me to a guy teaching his little girls how to rock climb. Harnesses, ropes, hand chalk, the whole thing. The family that climbs together, um……… climbs together, I guess.

The parking lot was packed by the time I returned, a sign it was time to retreat to my boondocking spot.