Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Pushing it

Sometimes (too many times?) I head off on an adventure with only the slightest of information. Yesterday was one of those times.

I needed to get from the Las Vegas area to Highway 395 along the eastern Sierras. I had taken the route through Death Valley many times and wanted to try something different. I consulted someone who was very familiar with all the routes and based on her recommendations I decided to take US-95 to Nevada 266, then California 168. That way I could go to Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest before connecting to US-395 at Bishop. That was enough of a plan to get me going.

Everything went fine and I arrived at the Schulman Grove visitor center, where the pavement ended.  The center was closed, but info boards outside showed two hiking trails. The four mile long Methuselah Trail seemed appealing. I knew “Methuselah” was supposed to be the oldest bristlecone pine ever found and I supposed the trail went there. So I headed off, packing water but not accounting for the fact I hadn’t done any serious hiking all summer, that all I’d eaten that morning were a couple of bananas and a fitness bar, and that the elevation was over 9,000 feet.

A half-mile marker came up rather quickly. It seemed twice as far to the one-mile marker. But I was feeling good. It seemed I’d walked three times as far by the time I decided the two-mile marker must’ve been missing, but, oh there it was. I was still feeling good, though. Half way. Piece of cake. But the last two miles felt like four miles, all uphill. Each bend revealed another uphill stretch. I kept thinking the next summit would be the last. Nope.

There were benches along the way. I started resting at each one. Also at spots between benches. My pulse was up and my legs were becoming unsteady. Hike fifty yards, lean against a tree, breathe deeply. Hike another fifty yards, sit on a boulder, breathe deeply. Another hiker came by and asked if I was okay. Yup, just old and not acclimated to the elevation. And probably hungry.

Never so happy to see a sign

I finally reached the four-mile marker. There had been no three-mile sign. I could see the roof of the visitor center at the top of the rise. I would make it.

Back at the road was a sign indicating Patriarch Grove, fifteen miles on a dirt road. Next to it was a warning sign. Heck, I’ve driven bad roads before. Off I went.

Washboard and walnut-to-potato sized rocks can make fifteen miles feel like forever. But at least I wasn’t walking. Suddenly there was a quarter mile of pavement. Okay. 

The elevation climbed to 11,000 feet. The mountain tops were treeless, just a carpet of sagebrush. The final mile of “road” was especially rough, just shy of Jeep trail status. Everything in the Rolling Steel Tent was shaking and bouncing. Woo-hoo! Adventure!

By the time I reached Patriarch Grove, even the sage was gone. Just bristlecone pines growing from gravel and rock. It was like a moonscape. With a scattering of trees.

Despite its roughness, the drive had given me the time to recuperate. I walked to the top of a hill with no problems, despite the thinner air. But as I climbed back into the van my right calf cramped up very badly. AAAaaaack! I lost control of my ankle and foot. I massaged the muscle, tried to flex my leg. Aaaack! No luck. The cramp continued for about fifteen minutes before it eased up enough to drive. I was probably more dehydrated than I thought.

I found a camping spot part way back down the mountain. I stretched out to do some serious resting and fell asleep until 4:20 AM. I guess I needed that.

Now I’m in Bishop, back within cell coverage, catching up on email. The main reason for making this trek might, almost literally, go up in smoke. Most of the National Forests in the area have been closed down because of fire danger. The TV crew’s permits are now invalid and they’re hustling to see if they can get a location on private land. Bob found a camping spot in a part of a forest that is still open. I’m headed there after posting this. We’ll see what happens. 

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Something in the air

As I approached Kingman I saw what I thought was a column of tan smoke in the distance. I realized it was a huge dust devil. An odd one, because it didn’t travel along. It just swayed a little side to side, like its feet were anchored, like it had a serious beef with a particular patch of ground. Strange.

I stopped for a chalupa in Kingman then headed up US-93 to Las Vegas. Off to the west an almost haboob-sized dust cloud streamed across the valley floor, headed for Laughlin/Bullhead City. Seek shelter and close the windows, people.

Ahead of me was a massive gray wall. Rain. I turned on my lights and wipers when the first drops hit. Then, whoosh, it was like driving into a car wash. Or under a waterfall. Strong wind blew from the side. There was standing water on the highway. Tire spray made things worse. Traffic slowed.

Then the hail started. Pea sized, but a lot of it. I attempted recording it with my phone, but I was concentrating on driving and hit the photo button instead of the record button. I got a blurry picture of the dash.

Then, like that, it was over. I half expected locusts or frogs, but no. Instead it was just 108° hellish heat. Welcome to Las Vegas.

Back at the canyon

It would be foolish to leave Flagstaff without making a run up to Grand Canyon. It was more crowded than the last time I was here, but not excessively so. It was a weekend, so that was to be expected. I strolled along the rim for a while before hitting the road to Las Vegas.

I had enough gas that the Rolling Steel Tent and I probably could’ve made it to Kingman, but I wanted to be safe. I knew gas in Tusayan (the tourist-oriented town just outside the park) would be ridiculously expensive because it had to be hauled all the way out there, and because, neener neener neener, where else are you going to get it, Mr. and Mrs. Tourist? I knew there was a station 20 miles south at the junction of 180 and 64, but it was just as outrageously priced—a buck and a quarter per gallon higher than in Flagstaff. I expected prices to be lower in Williams. Even though it’s sort of the gateway to Grand Canyon, it’s right on I-40, so fuel delivery should be no big expense. But the prices were even worse. It was a case of shameless exploitation, with probably a little collusion among the station owners. “Didn’t fill up before going to the canyon? Bwa-ha-ha! We got ya. Thought you’d be smart and fill up before going to the canyon? Bwa-ha-ha! We got ya.” So I gave them the one-finger salute and topped off the tank in Seligman.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

8th Vanniversary

Eight years. Wow. Time flies when you’re having fun. Becoming a van dwelling nomad has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It works so well for me and has been quite easy. So far. Fingers crossed.

Time also flies when you’re hanging out with a good friend, doing what you can to help him through a rough time. Lou’s condition seems to have stabilized and, with his encouragement, I’m off on another short trip.

As I write this I’m overnighting in Flagstaff, on my way to the Eastern Sierras. Bob Wells is involved in a project there with a British TV show and he invited me to be part of it. I don’t know much about it or what I’ll be doing, but I love that part of the country. And spending a little time with the man who inspired me to take up this new life is a very appropriate way to celebrate another year.

This morning I drove north from Silver City, New Mexico on US-180 to Alpine, Arizona. From there I turned onto US-191 to Springerville. It was a beautiful drive through the mountains, up into the forest. After Springerville you’re on top of the Mogollon Rim in high desert grasslands that stretch north through the Navajo nation. The monsoons had greened up the land, quite a change from when I passed through the same area in the spring. 

At St. Johns, where US-180 splits from US-191 again, the sign pointed to Holbrook and Petrified Forest National Park.Yay, a side trip! 

Naturally, someone like me can’t think “petrified” without thinking, “turned to stone,” which leads to thoughts of Medusa, or this:

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Under foot: thoughts on floor insulation

I have extruded polystyrene insulation in the Rolling Steel Tent’s roof and walls, and cellulose insulation in the side and rear doors. But there’s no insulation on the floor — at least not what most people think of as insulation.

I didn’t do what many folks do when they convert a van into an abode. I didn’t fill the ridges with wood lath, lay down foam board and top it with plywood or OSB and then some type of finish flooring. 

My main reasons at the time were budget, exhaustion, and a determination to stay away from cold places. Floor insulation would also reduce vertical room, which was in short supply to begin with. The van had come with a jute backed rubber mat. That was enough.

I eventually realized the summer sun shining on the black rubber mat made it too hot for bare feet. So I added some throw rugs. That fixed the problem. In cool weather I’d wear shoes, or at least socks. Most shoes provide excellent insulation.

But I started rethinking floor insulation after reading a nomad forum post about it. I looked around me and realized about three quarters of the floor was heavily insulated — by the stuff in the van. Cupboards, bins, crates, boxes and duffles filled with stuff, all blocking thermal transfer. Even the trash can and poop bucket serve as floor insulation.

I know there are some van dwellers living in much colder climates. Maybe traditional floor insulation helps them. But I suspect many new van owners look at the bare steel interior of a cargo van and shiver. Ack! Must insulate! Maybe, maybe not.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Happy feet

The rule is no shoes inside Lou’s house. That’s easy for him since he wears flip-flops most of the time. I, however, haven’t had sandals since mine “disappeared” in the night while at a campground in Baja. Even if I still had them, taking them off and putting them back on would be more involved than slide-off-slide-on flip-flops since they had a heel strap. I like a heel strap. I need a heel strap. Otherwise I have to shuffle along to keep from walking out of the sandals. And I hate a thong between my toes.

So even though they’re considered a hideous fashion faux pas in many quarters, I got some Crocs. I got ’em a size larger so I can slide in and out of them easily. The heel strap boings back into place. And I got orange because I’m secure in my masculinity. 

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Après le déluge


Back when I lived in San Francisco we had a streak of Pacific Northwest style weather. Overcast for what seemed like forever. Then I had to take a flight somewhere (Southern California?). The plane took off, rose through the clouds and then (cue angelic choir) broke through into glorious sunshine. Oh, yeah. The sun is always there. Philosophical metaphor.

I'm reminded of this because we've had a couple of days of unbroken overcast here in southwestern New Mexico. Monsoon season. Hurray for rain! But it has me feeling gloomy. This morning there was a small opening in the cloud cover with a jet contrail streaking through it. Ah, yes, there's sunshine up there. I wanted a photo to accompany this post, but by the time I got my camera the clouds had closed. Sigh.

Saturday, August 14, 2021


We had good continuous rain through the night. This morning the clouds are hanging low. It feels like summer is wrapping up, but it could be just a trick.

Monday, August 9, 2021

So, it went like this


I’ve been working on the guitar redesign project for almost a month. Fits and starts, changes of ideas, waiting for parts, doing a lot of sanding and painting and sanding, mistake correcting, more painting and sanding… And it’s finally looking like a guitar again. The wiring hasn’t been done, the frets need some attention, and I haven’t sprayed the clear coat yet. But I needed to assemble it at this stage so I could feel like I was getting something accomplished, and to know whether I might actually like how it was turning out.

So far

Yeah, I like it. Lou likes it too, even though our tastes aren’t always compatible.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Watch the birds

 Monsoon season in the Southwest means every day looks like rain. Big fat clouds roll in and out, sometimes dropping rain but more likely not—at least where you happen to be at the moment. So I've taken sort of a it'll-rain-when-it-rains attitude, not keeping too close of an eye on what's about to happen. Or not happen.

We have a couple of families of quail here at Casa Lou. They graze in the yard. A little while ago I saw them scurrying away, like they were late for an appointment. About five minutes later the sky opened with a heavy downpour, including hail. The quail knew.