Monday, July 26, 2021

Good evening

It seems like the past few months here we’ve had either no clouds or overcast at sunset, so the evening sky hasn’t been very interesting. Or I haven’t been paying enough attention. But this evening was camera-worthy.





Sunday, July 25, 2021

Whiteout

Either I’m turning into a yeti or I’ve been doing some sanding. Or both.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Shoo, fly! Don't bother me!

You know it’s fly season when all the stores are sold out of flying insect spray. And fly traps. And swatters. And zappers. 

They’ve been driving me nuts. No matter how many I execute there are always more. (Why can’t it be the flies that are dying off instead of the honey bees?) 

I don’t understand why flies congregate in the Rolling Steel Tent. There’s not anything here for them except a cranky old man who’ll try to kill them. And he doesn’t taste good, even by fly standards. 

Meanwhile, about a hundred yards away, there’s a pasture filled with nice, fresh, warm-from-the-cow dung like Mama used to make. It’s an all-you-can-eat buffet over there. It’s free! Go get it!

But there’s no reasoning with flies. I think their diet of poo has addled their tiny brains. So I’ve had to take extreme measures. I bought a screened room, a Clam.

The non-rolling, non-steel tent

I don’t know whether I’ll be schlepping the Clam around when i travel. It takes up a bit of room in the van. And when you get a screened room, the next thing you know you’ve somehow acquired a rug and furniture and fairy lights and the other “necessities” of outdoor living to haul around too.

Friday, July 16, 2021

Good

I usually grumble about any rain, anytime, anywhere. But we really need it. So I’m happy we’re having enough rain to actually form puddles instead of the water immediately disappearing into the parched earth. That means the soil is starting to recover.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

What do I see?

I really like the perforated vinyl I had installed on the Rolling Steel Tent’s rear windows all these years ago. It blocks some of the sunlight and (under the right conditions) provides privacy. 

But when it rains (like today) water is trapped in all the little holes, turning the view into a blur. That’s not helpful when I’m driving.

Up close, though, each dot of trapped water acts like a lens. It’s sort of like looking through and insect eye, I suppose, but without the proper neurological connections to make sense of the bigger picture. There’s a metaphor for life in there somewhere.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

This is what happens when I stay in one place for several months

I try not to clutter my life. And I try not to clutter the Rolling Steel Tent with unnecessary things. I’m not 100% successful. The problem is I’ve always liked to make things.

Lou is also a maker of things, but on a much grander, more complex scale. Boats, airplanes, travel trailers, houses… That’s why he has a workshop.

Lou plays guitar rather well. He used to make them and even had a guitar shop for a while. I play guitar rather poorly, and a couple of decades ago I tried my hand at making them.

So, after months of hanging at Lou’s place, my desire to build something finally overwhelmed my desire for an uncluttered life. I’ve taken on a project.

I bought a used beginner’s electric guitar at a pawn shop for $75. I’m going to reshape it and probably upgrade a few things. I see it primarily as a design and woodworking experiment. I’ll be doing some luthier stuff, like fixing the nut and fretwork, but that’s not the main thrust.

I could go sort of Jet Age, Googie (not Google) inspired

Or maybe Art Deco

The iconoclast in me toyed with the idea of hacking up a guitar with almost sacred status, like a Les Paul. It’s always fun to piss of the purists (in any fanatical subculture). But even cheap versions of revered guitars are beyond my budget.

So now the challenge is to turn a crappy guitar into something lustworthy. And different. At least I’ll satisfy my urge to make something.

Monday, July 12, 2021

More darkness

As I’ve mentioned before, Lou has graciously supplied me with shore power. However, the electricity went out this evening, perhaps knocked out by the approaching thunderstorm. 

It feels a little like being back in Charlotte where the power was constantly going out, despite being the headquarters of Duke Energy. I’ve been in developing countries with more reliable power.

So now I’m running on the Rolling Steel Tent’s solar-fed batteries and Lou is scrounging double-A’s for his portable amp so he can play guitar by candlelight.

UPDATE: Power was back after a couple of hours. We’re all sittin’ pretty now.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Lost in the dark

Last night I had been watching The Toe Bro videos which inspired me to check on my nails. Yeah, it was time to trim them again. So I got my box of grooming necessities, removed the small bag I believed the clippers were in, and… The clippers weren’t there. 

The box

The bag

Maybe they were in one of the four other boxes. Nope. In the catch-all tray on the counter? Nope. In the mailbox I use for medications and wash cloths? Nope. The one for underwear? Nope. The one for socks? Nope. Ergh. I turned on a few more lights and checked everything again. Still nope nope nope. Sigh. Where had I misplaced them?

I searched again this afternoon. I got my box of grooming necessities, removed the small bag I believed the clippers were in, and… there they were. Nestled among some Q-tips. Things are easier to find in daylight.

The clippers

The hub of happiness

Since I haven’t been doing much wandering the past few months I haven’t been spending a lot on gasoline. I’ve used some of the gas money for small improvements, such as the converter in yesterday’s post. Here’s another one.

I’ve written before about the Rolling Steel’s hubcaps and how they’re held on by plastic thingies pretending to be lug nuts. They get old, crack, and cease doing their job. One had abandoned ship long ago.

I finally got a replacement set. I chose black because they look bad-assed, thus disguising the fact I am not.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Inverter reverter subverter diverter converter thing

As long as I have shore power here at Lou’s place I might as well exploit it as much as I can, thereby extending the careers of my batteries a little. 

My only major appliance not using shore power (other than the fridge) is my 12-Volt fan. Hmmmm… Is there a way…?

Why, yes there is. A 120V AC-to-12V DC transformer. As the packaging says:

Suit for car devices which its rated power less than this power adapter such like car vacuum cleaner, car air compressor, car fridge/warmer, car washer car fan, car air purifier, car mp3, car mug and so on.

You don’t get perfect English translations at this price. But the gizmo works. 

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Lou's radiology report

There were two pages of mostly Latin. At the end, the summary essentially said things are stable, that existing tumors haven’t grown, and that there are no new spots. So that’s good news.

Monday, July 5, 2021

That weird minivan thing

I first saw one of these Vehicle Production Group MV-1’s in Southern California a few years ago and thought the ugly thing had been imported from China. Or maybe North Korea. But it’s a wheelchair vehicle designed and manufactured in the US from 2011 to 2016 by AM General — the HUMMV folks. It was originally envisioned as a taxi.

It’s a body-on-frame design, first based on the Chevrolet S-10 pickup, then on the Ford Crown Victoria, with a Roush designed frame in there somewhere. Early versions have V-8s and later ones have V-6s. There are also compressed natural gas versions. The taxis were rather utilitarian, but they were gussied up when they were marketed to the general public.

It’s a little larger than an ordinary minivan. For example, compared to the current Dodge Grand Caravan, the wheelbase is about 10 inches longer, it’s an inch wider and 6 inches taller.

They’re starting to show up on the used market. So if you want something slightly larger than a minivan, with military contractor toughness and the hope of taxi fleet longevity, and if you don’t care about looks, this might be what you’re looking for.

Friday, July 2, 2021

Preliminary results

Lou had a comprehensive PET scan on Wednesday. Not only did they want to check the status of his lung cancer, they wanted to see if it had spread anywhere else.

Today he went in to get the results. Well, the radiologist’s report wasn’t ready, but the oncologist gave his opinion of what he saw: no new growth, and one spot seemed slightly smaller. 

So, unless the radiologist sees something the oncologist missed, the situation has at least not gotten worse. That’s a degree of good news and a bit of a load of Lou’s mind.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Dream car

Vehicles have been on my mind. Last night I dreamed I inherited a Cadillac show car from the 1950s. Dusty rose with maroon leather interior. A bubble top. A strange Dutch door system where one handle opened the whole door and another handle opened just the upper half.

I sat in the back seat thinking, “This is cool and amazing and beautiful, but what am I going to do with it?” Then I realized the car was huge. The interior was wider and longer than the Rolling Steel Tent. “I could live in here. Hell, the trunk alone could hold most of my stuff.”

I pictured myself driving it into the boonies. It would get dirty, maybe scratched. Could it handle rough roads without shaking apart? I thought about the ethics of using/misusing a one-of-a-kind show car like that. 

Would the Caddy’s low ground clearance limit where I could go? To answer me, the car rose two feet on air suspension, then eased all the way onto the ground. Ah, okay. Then, to answer a question I had never had, it rose again, leaving behind a tiny go-kart sized car styled sort of like a Karmann Ghia. The Cadillac carried a spare car?

I woke up. For the next hour or so I contemplated whether I really could live comfortably in a big old real life sedan. I decided not.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Because, reasons

I was lounging on Lou’s patio yesterday evening when one of the local rabbits (a smaller species than the one with the damaged ears) lazily hopped out of the long grass and into the mown area. It paused a few seconds, perhaps checking me out and assessing whether I was a danger, then it moved a little to the left. It sat there for a minute or two then moved farther left where it stretched out on its belly. After a while it found another spot off to the right and closer to me. Then it hopped back to the left, then farther left, then a little closer, then a little farther, and just sat there for several minutes, apparently having found a spot it liked. Or maybe just zoning out. It eventually hopped lazily back into the tall grass where I lost sight of it. Tan rabbit moving through tan grass that waved in the breeze.

I continued lounging on the patio, wondering about the rabbit’s motivations. Why did it come out of the tall grass? Why did it pause at the places it did? Rabbits usually appear to be on some general mission. Searching for food. Commuting between the field and their burrow under the cargo container. But yesterday’s bunny seemed to be just wandering around.

Wandering. Hmmmmm, that sounds familiar.

I suppose my movements around the country, pausing here, zigzagging there, look random and purposeless to higher forms of intelligence. “What the hell are his motivations? Why that spot rather than another? Does he have a reason or is he just reacting to innate urges?”

Um, yeah.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Cargo or passenger?

Cargo vans usually come bare from the driver compartment back, making them a good blank slate for modifications. Passenger vans have seats and seatbelts and stuff that need to be removed first. 

Cargo vans have fewer (if any) windows in back, providing privacy and making it easier to insulate the walls. Passenger vans have windows in back, making it easy to see around you when you drive and allowing more light in so you don’t feel as confined, But the windows need to be covered with something for privacy. They also need to be insulated, because all that aforementioned sunlight can turn the van into a solar oven in summer and let all the heat out in winter.

Depending upon the state, cargo vans might need to be registered and insured as commercial vehicles, which is more expensive. Passenger vans are treated like big station wagons.

Cargo vans tend to tell thieves, “There are probably tools and other stuff in here worth stealing.” Passenger vans tend to say, “There’s a lot of seats, dog hair and dried kid vomit in here.”

Cargo vans usually cost more on the used market because there’s always a demand for them among various tradespeople. The demand for used passenger vans is lower, so the prices tend to be lower. Fewer people have the need or desire to haul a dozen people from place to place.

Considering these pros and cons, I’m more open to the idea of a passenger van when and if it’s time to replace the Rolling Steel Tent.

Oh, but there’s one more thing. See in the photo below how the air vents hang down from the roof, and how there’s a big duct running down the left side? Those take up precious headroom. And there’s probably an auxiliary A/C gizmo in the back corner. That’s a pain in the butt to remove. So maybe not a passenger van after all.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

I pick door number one, Monty

 I like sliding doors. Not the 1998 Gwyneth Paltrow movie; the one on the Rolling Steel Tent.

Some people dislike them. Some utterly hate them. They say the door is too heavy, that the sliding mechanism goes bad. They like swinging doors because they’re lighter and you can mount things like small tables, paper towel holders, and storage cubbies to them and still be able to open the doors.

But I like sliding doors for two reasons. The first is why sliding doors exist on vans and minivans in the first place: you can get loads and people in and out easily even while in a narrow parking space.

The second reason, which is more important to me as a vandweller, it that it’s super easy to have the door open as much or as little as I like, which simplifies temperature control. Open the sliding door part way and it stays there when it’s windy. It doesn’t stick out in the wind to begin with. You have to rig some way to keep swinging doors partially open. That’s a complication I’d rather not deal with.


Yes, my sliding door gets stubborn sometimes. That just means I need to clean and lubricate it. That’s about a once-a-year minor chore.

The thing is, as I’ve been doing preliminary—and hopefully premature—replacement van shopping, it’s apparent that most cargo vans have swinging side doors. So would I be willing to make that compromise? I’ll see when the time comes.

Monday, June 21, 2021

All talk and no action

There was a cow standing next to these trees, but it got blown away

Each afternoon for the past few days storm clouds formed, the temperature dropped, and the wind started blowing hard as if we were about to get a good drenching of much needed water. We even got a little thunder and a bolt or two of lightning. I’d close up the Rolling Steel Tent and await the deluge.

But there was no rain. Oh, a few seconds of droplets, which is better than nothing even though it’s as close to nothing as you can get without being nothing.

I hope insulting the weather will make it think, “Oh yeah? Well I’ll show you!” Even flooding would be welcomed.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Size matters

In the sea battle we call the Defeat of the Spanish Armada (not to be confused with the Nissan Armada which has been all but defeated in the US market), smaller English vessels were able to outmaneuver the huge Spanish galleons. Also, the smaller English ships were harder to hit. Those factors, plus some bad decisions by Spanish command, led to English victory. It’s an example of smaller sometimes being better.

So here I am, about 5,000 miles and four and a half centuries from the Defeat of the Spanish Armada, thinking about how size can be a detriment. I’m thinking about flies. There have only been a few of them, but they’re big. So they’re kind of slow, especially compared to the tiny flies I’ve encountered elsewhere that buzz back and forth, around and around, in my face and ears, rarely landing where I can swat them. Those flies are like the English navy, and the big ones I have now are like the Spanish: slow and easy to hit. I’m seven for seven so far today.

Bloom

Monday, June 14, 2021

Heatwave

The local temperatures lately have been in the upper 90s, occasionally slipping into the triple digits (about 36°C to 38°C) . It hasn’t been fun but it hasn’t been unbearable. I got out my windshield cover and shade netting, turned on the fans, and opened everything up to take advantage of the breeze/wind. This photo was taken just before sunset because it was unpleasant being outside in the blazing sun. But at least—hallelujah—it’s not humid.

The check is in the mail

A few weeks ago one of those You Might Have Unclaimed Money ads showed up on my Facebook feed and I thought, what the hell, I might as well check. A query of my former residence in North Carolina returned a handful of hits labeled simply “more than $50.” Cool. So I did the paperwork, sent it off, and settled in to wait and see if anything would happen.

Today I got an email:

As State Treasurer, I am delighted to inform you that your previously submitted claim for unclaimed property held by the North Carolina Department of State Treasurer has been approved and payment or property will soon be on its way.

Attached is the detail pertaining to your claim…

There are small amounts from AT&T (phone/TV/internet), Western Digital (for I don’t know—maybe a class action suit), the bank, a former home equity loan holder, and the Department of Transportation, but the biggest chunk was a property tax refund from the county. It all totaled up to $860.35. Not shabby. It wasn’t a massive inheritance from a distant relative, nor the payout from a PowerBall ticket I had forgotten I bought, but it was more than worth the very minor inconvenience of the claim process. I guess some things on the Interweb aren’t scams.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Local flora

The other day I mentioned the deer were nibbling the desert willows (Chilopsis linearis) Lou had planted. I was unaware they blossomed.

Friday, June 11, 2021

Hello out there

Mars and a sliver of the moon just before moonset. At this stage, seemingly alone in the sky, these two big rocks seem more real to me, more intimate than when the sky is filled with billions (and billions) of stars.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Adventures in cooking technology

There was something new (at least to me) in the camping foods section at Walmart. I wasn’t particularly interested in prefab pizza. What caught my attention was that it was self-heating—with any water at any temperature. So no need to boil water first. Hmmmm. I had heard of such a thing, primarily in military style MREs. Now here it was in a very civilian application, and for the same price as traditional boil-your-own-water dehydrated meals. I wanted to experience the NXH Heating Technology, even if the pizza might turn out to be crap. (Spoiler: it did.) Science!

NXH® Heating Technology, I learned, comes from NEX-XOS Worldwide, LLC which “is committed to producing safe, shelf-stable quality products that conforms to all regulatory requirements and meets the highest food safety best standards.” They also claim NXH® “has revolutionized what has come to be widely known as the flameless ration heater (FRH)… we created an innovative FRH that requires no water or saltwater, our FRH can activated with any non-flammable liquid! River water, juice, milk, tea, soda etc.” And that “Our proprietary heating technology, NXH®, is certified safe and non-toxic, odorless and safe to use in closed confined spaces. When activated, our FRH emits safe, odorless steam to heat up your meal.”

Essentially, there’s a porous packet of something-or-other that, when wet, creates a heat-producing chemical reaction.

I followed the instructions and… for a few seconds nothing happened. So I shook it and… nothing happened. I opened the bag to see whether the chemical pack had even gotten wet. Mmmm, sort of. I poked at things a little then sealed the bag back up and… Foosh! It started venting steam out of the little hole. I set the timer.

After five minutes (the instructions suggested 3-5 minutes) I used tongs to fish the foil pizza packets out of the very hot bag. The packets resisted my attempts to tear them open, so I used scissors. The “pizzas” were only slightly warmer than the ambient temperature. The “cheese” wasn’t even melty. It was as if the foil of the packets had insulated the pizzas instead of conducting heat. Maybe the process works better with other foods, like their cheese tortellini, chicken pasta parmesan, or lentils with beef. And maybe those are a better eating experience.

Go to the corner

There’s an exposed wire bundle in the back corner of the Rolling Steel Tent. In passenger vans it would be covered by nice plastic moulding, but in work vans it just hangs out there, saying, “Hi, I’m a bunch of wires and stuff.”

I’ve done various things over the years to make it slightly less unsightly. The first was wrapping it in white baseball bat grip tape. 

Linda May gave me a strand of fairy lights that I wrapped around the cable. Oooo, atmosphere. After visiting a Lakota shrine I started hanging strips of colorful cloth from the wires. I occasionally added feathers I’d find on the ground. Or bits of discarded metal rusting in the wild. A key… some washers… rings… a spoon… a piece of bone…

Then, this past winter, while wandering through the vendor tents in Quartzsite, I saw some cool beads. Yeah, that’s what I need. So:

I’ve acquired more beads since then, and I keep modifying the strands and changing things around. Who knows where this will lead.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Walking wounded

Lou’s place seems to be turning into the New Mexico Refuge for Animals with Damaged Ears. Yesterday afternoon a doe and some young ones came foraging through. They gobbled up some rice Lou had left on top of an old barrel, nibbled on a willow Lou has been nursing along, and fished seed out a bird feeder with their tongues.



The doe had a split in one ear. “Oh yeah,” said Lou. “Her name is Notch.”

Monday, June 7, 2021

So tempted

Bob Wells posted a Cheap RV Living video about buying used vehicles, presented by his assistant KC. Among other things, she mentioned Facebook Marketplace, which I had been ignoring because of various biases and some lack of experience. So, out of curiosity, I went to Marketplace to see what vans people were selling.

The Rolling Steel Tent has been pretty damn good to me, but it is getting on in years, with 312,377 miles at the moment. Should I remain loyal to the bitter end or should I be thinking about retiring it and bringing in some younger blood?

I’m partial to Express/Savana vans, so I searched them first. The choices were in three categories: ones only slightly younger the Rolling Steel Tent (250-280K miles), ones with fewer than 100,000 miles in the $25,000 range (ouch), and parts vehicles.

I checked the Fords. There were only three E-series at the moment and they were in sad sad shape. And the Transits were too expensive.

I have no interest in the Mercedes/Dodge/Freightliner versions of Sprinters or the Nissan NV series, and the Ram ProMaster, being front wheel drive, won’t serve my purposes. Or my wallet.

Oh, but what about the Chevy Astro/GMC Safari? Smaller, but maybe not too small. They’re getting on in years too, though. I checked anyway. And now I feel guilty because there are a couple of them at the moment that look pretty sweet, and I’m daydreaming about them. Sorry, RST.

One is a 1996 all-wheel drive Astro with 210,000 miles. The mileage is high, but the price is low: $5,000. And, dude, all-wheel drive (which I know isn’t the same as 4-wheel drive, but the transfer case can be swapped with one from an S-10 pickup.)

The other is an extended 1993 Astro with only 91,000 miles for $5,500. Aw man. I can almost taste it. However, it has a blue interior. I don't like blue interiors.

I would need to downsize further to fit into an Astro, but I suspect there’s a good amount of stuff I’m carrying in the Rolling Steel Tent simply because I can.

Part of me says to forget about it for now, if only because 210k miles and blue interior. The other part says good Astros will only get harder to find. Oh well, something to lose sleep over for a night or two.

I’ve never heard of this

A jackrabbit was chillin’ near the Rolling Steel Tent. Photo opportunity. When I looked through my telephoto lens I saw there was something unusual about its ears.

Holes. Are they wounds? The result of a disease or parasite? A genetic mutation? Piercings gone bad? Google wasn’t able to enlighten me, so I’m guessing the holes are not common.

I suppose this means the rabbit is hearing-impaired. But at least wind is less of a problem when its ears are deployed.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Charge!

I’ve had this Tenergy charger since the beginning of my nomadic life. Its primary use has been to recharge the batteries in various lights that aren’t hard wired into the house electrical system. It hasn’t been used much lately because I have fewer of those lights.

One of those lights had gotten rather dim. Time to recharge. Since the charger gets stored in an inconvenient place (which is appropriate for seldom used things) I decided I might as well top off all my various batteries, including the nine AA’s in my 1,200 lumen flashlight/bludgeon. And it's nice to be using shore power for this rather than my solar batteries.



Good morning

I’ve been back at Lou’s place for a week now. Less adventure to report but more companionship and support to give.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Filling in the gaps

Back in April of 2018 I had a plan: drive all the sections of US-191 that I hadn’t driven yet. Why 191? Because it runs through so many places that are significant to me. And because it runs border to border. I'm just weird about things like that.

But I got sidetracked in Safford AZ. I went to California instead. However, in August I drove the Montana sections of 191. That left just a couple of relatively short pieces: from Bluff UT to Chinle AZ, and from I-40 to Alpine AZ. 

There I was, in southeast Utah, reevaluating my hiking plans, and also wanting to check on Lou in southwest New Mexico. Ah-ha, finally an opportunity to complete my weird little quest.

So what’s next? Maybe I could finish driving the rest of Baja California—Guerrero Negro to Cabo San Lucas. We’ll see.