Thursday, October 14, 2021

Weighty matter

At one end of the vehicle-living scale you have those who worry about overloading their rigs but are far from exceeding load capacity. At the other end are those whose rolling homes are so overloaded the springs have bottomed out and driving is, oh, an “interesting” experience.

Diligent nomads can find public scales and weigh their loads, then weigh their options. But that’s not always convenient.

Now the big brains at Ford have come up with a clever solution. The taillights on their new pickup trucks are wired to weight sensors. Four small lights built into the lenses indicate how heavily—or lightly—the truck is loaded.

From Ford’s press release:

Smart taillamps operate like the battery charge indicator on a mobile phone, displaying the percentage of payload capacity by illuminating LEDs arranged in a built-in vertical bar. As the truck is loaded, all four lights illuminate, showing it’s fully loaded. If the truck is overloaded, the top lights blink. The maximum payload based on the pickup’s configuration is programmed into the system.

Someday in the future, when sensors like this become common, there might be more than a few nomads alarmed to learn that, just as in death, they can’t take it all with them. At least not in that vehicle.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Too much... too little... too much... too little...

It’s that time again when the weather becomes erratic. Therefore so do I.

I think we had bits of all four seasons today. Several times over. We might even have had some weather beamed in from another dimension. Or two.

This is why I dislike early fall and early spring. They get my hopes up then dash them. Over and over, until  the more mature, more stable winter and summer shove them aside.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Maybe you know

I discovered this tiny chrysalis attached to the latch on Lou’s shipping container/shop. I searched the web to find out what kind it is. I found other photos but they didn’t have any info about the species, because it was on Pinterest where the only real concern is that it’s pretty.

So, which Sonoran Desert butterfly is this likely to be? Any lepidopterists out there?

Friday, October 1, 2021

Wherein I get into the bracket racket

My friend, The Other Alan, posted photos on Instagram showing how six of his eight roof rack brackets had broken and how he had done a temporary fix with zip ties and bungee cords. He was trying to figure out who the manufacturer had been so he could get new parts. 


Since he was about four hours away I suggested he come here so we could make some more effective repairs. ‘Cause we got a shop and tools and stuff.

After studying his photos and getting some measurements from him I picked up a four-foot aluminum bar at the hardware store yesterday.

I used one of his unbroken brackets as a guide for where to drill holes as well as where and how much to bend the pieces of bar. I hadn’t done anything like this before, but it seemed within my skill set. I was a little surprised when my first bracket reinforcement gizmo actually fit.


Then I went into mass production mode, cutting five more pieces, stacking them together to drill all the holes at once using the press, then bending them in the vise while clamped next to the master bracket. Not as fancy as shops with 3D scanners, CAD software, plasma or water jet cutters or other high tech stuff. But you can’t beat my no-fee fee.

Start to finish was about three hours, with a 20-minute rain delay in the middle of things. It would’ve been much quicker if I had TIG welding skills and equipment. Sometimes I wish someone had taken me aside in high school and said, “You like creating things, right? Sure, graphic design is one way to go, but if you were to become a welder you could make things out of metal.” Ah, the road not taken.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Dealing with the hood for the last time, I hope

Sooner or later the paint starts to flake on white vans and trucks. I’ve done a variety of patch jobs on the Rolling Steel Tent, then other spots flake off. And in the wrong light you could see all my crappy spray can paint jobs. 

I knew I had a good sized bubble developing, so I wasn’t surprised when big chunks flew off at the car wash. I water blasted all I could and ended up with about a square foot scar. It was time for a solution I had been considering for a while: white roll-on bed liner. It would resist chipping better and it’s easier to get a uniform (though pebbly) finish. My research led me to a kit by SpeedKote.

I removed the hood so any spills, splatters or other goofs wouldn’t affect the rest of the van. I scuffed and smoothed out everything with a power sander. Lou and I discussed the pros and cons of leaving the black bug/rock shield, trying to pry it off, or just painting over it. I decided to paint over it. Goodbye Eugene Levy/Martin Scorsese eyebrows.

After mixing the two parts of the bed liner paint, the only tricky part of the application was blending the roller marks. I have a lot of experience with that, having repainted the entire interior of my house way too many times. (Finding the perfect yellow is so hard.)

The paint was dry enough (but not totally cured) in a couple of hours for Lou and I to replace the hood. 

I think it looks rather nice. We’ll see what happens over time.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Peg leg

It had been over two years since I last ran over my step. I think that was a record for me. But lucky streaks end. 

I hadn’t been the slightest bit aware I had run over the step until I returned from my errands. Aw crap. Two legs were bent flat. But the rest of the step was undamaged. I could replace the legs. 

One-inch square aluminum tubing with the correct wall thickness would probably be a little difficult to get my hands on. But, hmmm, I wouldn’t need to use aluminum—just something strong enough. Like one of the hardwoods.

Lou’s neighbor, Pat, had some scraps of oak. Perfect. I cut it to length and slathered on some tinted polyurethane, drilled holes, and presto. Good to go until the next time I have a brain fart.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Time for martinis by the pool with Sammy and Dean

For once the ads in my Facebook feed offered something I really wanted

I used to love Hawaiian shirts. I had a dozen of them back in the '80s when the whole Magnum P.I. thing made them readily available. But in the past few years I realized they had become the regulation wear of old boomer farts like me. Sigh, delete them from my wardrobe and add them to the list of trends I’m way too cool to be part of.

But then, o-o-o-o-o-o, something I’d never seen before in menswear. Googie-ish mid-century modern prints! Now that’s different! And different is good.

I scrolled through hundreds of choices until, bingo, there was the one. I placed my order and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Just when I had decided I'd been ripped off, the package arrived. Just in time for the end of Summer.

But, um, the sleeves are a different pattern. Manufacturing defect? Or special, rare, collectors' edition? I decided on the latter. Because it’s different. And different is good.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Just like Dad

I saw something again today I’ve seen several times before out here in the more rural regions of the country. Father and young son (about ten years old) dressed almost identically, from hat to boots. Rancher wear.

It makes me wonder if the boy admires his father and wants to emulate him, or if it’s just what every male in his cultural circle wears, or if he had no say about his wardrobe. The pair were interacting pleasantly, so I like to think he wants to be like his old man.

I, on the other hand, didn’t want to dress like my father. It would’ve meant wearing the uniform of a middle-aged federal employee. A suit and tie. No suit on Saturdays, but no jeans and T-shirts either. It would be chinos and a sport shirt. Then back into a suit on Sunday. That would’ve meant about 80% of my waking hours in a suit.

I mean, look at me, the little boy on the far left. 
Do I appear to love wearing that outfit?

But that was the version of Dad I grew up with. Decades before he was a rugged outdoors guy, working in the mountains as a road surveyor, living in tents, riding horses, and looking like this: 


No suits then. I probably would have wanted tall lumberjack boots just like Dad’s.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Hanging on the edge

I first learned about this thing called via ferrata last year from a Dana Hollister video. Oh, wow, it was something I wanted to do the next time I was in southwest Colorado. If it wasn’t beyond my limits. The wire bridges looked, um, challenging, but most of it was sort of a ladder system. I can climb ladders.

From Dana Hollister’s video

My return from California would take me through southwest Utah, so I did some research about hikes there. One of those was Kanarra Falls. Yes, that was already on my list. But then I saw a video about a via ferrata on private land, along the rim of Kolob Canyon. THAT! Yes yes yes YES! I lucked out and got the last space on an open group guided tour.

I worried I’d be the lone old fart in a group of young athletic people, but my companions were a couple of late-30s guys and five 50-ish women. We loaded into two OHVs for a two-mile Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride to the trailhead. The view of the gorge was astounding.

After a brief explanation of our harnesses and the cable system, over the edge we went.



Our harnesses had two clips. When we navigated past cable anchor points we’d unclip and re-clip one safety line, then the other, so there was always at least one line connected.



Although it wasn’t as tough as some of the other via ferratas I’ve seen on YouTube, it was still a great time. Until the final climb. I think the guide said it was a 100 foot ascent. About two-thirds of the way up I became convinced he’d left a zero off that number. But I made it. Yay me!

Monday, September 13, 2021

Happy and disappointed. But mostly happy.

I learned about Kanarra Falls Trail when I was in Utah back in April. But the canyon is owned by Kanarraville and they limit the number of daily hikers. You need a reservation and the hike was all booked up.

This time I was able to snag a spot. Yay!

In the meantime, though, a flash flood had destroyed the ladder at the first waterfall. Rats. But half a hike is better than none.

The first quarter mile is up a steep road, but the going is much easier after that, especially once you get under tree cover. Then the fun starts—hiking in the creek, feeling like you’re being bad like a little kid. Or like you’re extra adventurous. Trails? We don’t need no trails!






I had been studying up on GoPro settings, learning what more I could do with it, like better exposure control and field of view options. This hike was going to be a great chance to apply what I’d learned.

But I got something wrong. The video played back too fast and I had somehow turned off image stabilization. Most of the footage is unusable. Damn. You’ll just have to settle for my screen captures. Or watch someone else’s great videos. 

Someone had rigged some logs at the first falls. It was very sketchy to start with, but spray from the falls also made it wet. Some people used it—like nimble 20-somethings oblivious of their mortality—but I chose the more sensible option. I turned back. But not before making my way behind/under the falls.

Even without the video I was glad I did the hike. I’ll return some day when the ladder is back. And my GoPro settings are correct.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Ghostly light

FreeCampsites.net pointed me to Maple Hollow Campground, up a canyon from Holden, Utah. Even though it was technically still Labor Day weekend, I had the place to myself. Sweet. 

After it got dark I noticed some fairy lights hung at a neighboring campsite. I assumed some very quiet campers had slipped in without me noticing. But come dawn there was no one there, only the lights, which were still on. Hmmm. Either the neighbors had slipped away just as quietly or they had been there some other day. Whichever, they forgot their lights.

I fished them out of the trees. It took me a few moments to figure out their odd shape. Oh, ghosts. The spirits of departed gummy bears, perhaps.

Monday, September 6, 2021

No wonder they didn’t know where they were going

I hadn’t seen the BLM road I was looking for until it was too late. I continued about a half mile to a historic marker pullout. There, a woman in an RV with a couple of cars in her convoy waved me down.

She gestured to the stack of papers she was holding and said, “I don’t know whether I’m lost.” The papers were a printout of MapQuest directions. Ah. Well there was her problem.

I’m not a big brand loyalty guy, but there are brands I’m avidly disloyal to. MapQuest is one of them.

“Where are you trying to get?”

“Oklahoma City.”

“Hmmm, there are several ways to get there.”

“I know, but I need to follow these directions.”

I tried to make sense of MapQuest’s overly complicated instructions. I cross-referenced with Google Maps on my phone. While MapQuest had included the somewhat unnecessary information that US-50 is known as the Loneliest Road in America, it failed to mention that this section between Ely NV and Delta UT is also US-6. Besides, the Loneliest Road is generally considered to start or end (depending upon your direction of travel) at Ely, with Carson City as the other terminus.

I assured the woman she was on the right road (so far). I made my U-turn thinking, “Good luck with the rest of the directions, particularly getting through Las Vegas to US-93. At least it’s just I-40 all the way to Oklahoma City once she gets to Kingman AZ. But even then MapQuest might find a way to confuse her. And good luck with the jumble of interchanges in OK City where 40, 44 and 35 collide. May you find yourself in the correct lane, Ma’am.”

Sunday, September 5, 2021

It’s not always the same

I wanted/needed to get out of my beloved California. It wasn’t a good time to be there. To the immediate west all the National Forests in the Sierras were closed. To the north Lake Tahoe was on fire. To the south the desert was burning hot. So… east? Into Nevada? Across Nevada? Some of the emptiest, driest, most barren land in the country? I had crossed Nevada before and it had been rather brutal. High heat and high wind on one occasion. Nearly freezing and nearly snowing on another. It’s a place where you get twice the miles for your money. Each mile seems twice as long. At least it’s not flat and monotonous like the plains states. But… sigh… it looked like the way to go this time.

I googled some routes, distances and drive times. Less than five hours to the other side of the state, to Ely? (Pronounced EE-lee, for those not familiar with the place.) That wouldn’t be horrible. Especially if I started at the crack of dawn and beat most of the heat.

And, actually, it was quite enjoyable. Smooth, empty highway. Cruising along with the window open. Short pauses at rest stops to get the circulation back in my thighs and butt, a dip into the infamous Clown Motel in Tonopah to buy a sticker. And, for the first time ever, I was at my destination before I expected it. Had the clown ghosts worked some kind of time warping juju on me? If so, thanks!

Saturday, September 4, 2021

What would my great-grandpa do?

Sometimes, when I’m faced with a living-off-the-grid problem, I try to imagine how my ancestors would have dealt with it. The current case in point: keeping my head warm while sleeping in an unheated van.

One solution is to simply pull the bedding over my head, leaving an opening for my face. But I move around in bed and the covers can end up elsewhere.

So I’ve adopted that classic Victorian habit of the night cap. Not the glass of distilled spirits before bed. The head covering one wears to bed. As in “Ma in her kerchief and I in my cap / Had just settled down for a long winter’s nap.” Except rather than the long pointed stocking cap Ebenezer Scrooge is always depicted wearing (how did they avoid getting tangled in those things?), mine is an ordinary knit beanie. Warm head, no problem. 

Another advantage is that I can continue wearing the cap the rest of the day, if necessary, without anyone thinking I’m weird. Or weirder than usual. And if I want to sleep past sunrise, I can just pull the cap over my eyes. My ancestors would never do that, though. They’d be up before the sun to tend the livestock before heading off to the Dickensian sweatshop.

Friday, September 3, 2021

Video evidence of my crime

Under pressure. Or is that over pressure?

Weird things start happening to high-mileage vehicles. Little things. Mysterious things.

Suddenly one day the oil pressure gauge was pegged all the way to maximum. Um, what? A reading like that would mean way too much oil in the engine. I checked the dipstick. The level was in the proper range.

Then I noticed that when the ignition key was turned to the second click, before starting the engine, the gauge would read about 60 PSI, then jump to 80 PSI when the engine started. I concluded it was a problem with the gauge, not with the oil pump or engine. Okay, but what, exactly?

Thanks to the University of Google I learned it’s the oil pressure sensor—a thirty buck part that would cost a couple of hundred in labor if I had a pro replace it. Most of that labor would involve removing things to gain access to the sensor, then reassembling everything. None of the required work is beyond my ability. It’s simply beyond my desire and need at the moment. The false reading isn’t affecting the way the van runs. I can live with it for a while.

It's that time again

Breakfast isn’t The Most Important Meal of the Day for me. I’ll occasionally be in the mood for something that requires actual cooking, multiple ingredients, several utensils and some post-meal cleanup. But usually it’s something light and simple, like toast or a banana. And many times I just skip breakfast, especially in summer.

When the weather cools down, though, when it’s chilly enough in the morning to fire up the stove to heat the Rolling Steel Tent—like it has been the past few days here in the Mammoth CA area—then it’s time for oatmeal. Mmmmmm, oatmeal. It’s almost a ritual. And the good thing about oatmeal (and dried cranberries) is that it’ll patiently wait in the cupboard until it is time once more.

However, I’m out of cinnamon

Thursday, September 2, 2021

I’m legal

The National Forests are all closed, but nearby BLM areas are still open for camping. No campfires, though, which is fine with me. 

The $5,000 hike

Ignorance is bliss, right? Or maybe it’s just that not keeping 100 percent up on things means I have less to worry over. Relevant details? Pffff.

I had heard all the National Forests in California were shut down because of fire danger. I thought that meant only no camping. So I researched hikes near me, chose one, and drove to the trailhead. There were two other vehicles there and I met their owners on the trail. Hi, how ya doin’? Beautiful day! What could be wrong?

Parker Lake Trail in the Ansel Adams Wilderness is rated moderate, mostly because the first quarter mile is rather steep. But it levels off somewhat from there to the lake. The open sage area gives way to pine and aspen groves, and the trail meets up with the creek. Very nice.



Then there was the first glimpse of the lake through the trees. Oh, wow! Solitude in a beautiful place, my old body feeling good from the exercise. Is this a great life, or what?

It wasn’t until I was back from the hike that I learned the National Forest ban wasn’t just for camping, it was for everything. 

1. Going into or being upon National Forest System lands within the National Forests listed below. 

2. Being on a National Forest System road within the National Forests listed below. 

3. Being on a National Forest System trail within the National Forests listed below.

Yeah, so nowhere at all. Don’t even think about it, mister. And what if they catch you? 

A violation of these prohibitions is punishable by a fine of not more than $5,000 for an individual or $10,000 for an organization, or imprisonment for not more than 6 months, or both.

So, as soon as I tie up business here, I’ll be heading elsewhere. The Loneliest Road in America might be a workable alternative.