Tuesday, May 3, 2022

I'll make it official

 I'm putting this blog on hiatus. Not much to write about lately. Other things require my focus. See all y'all in a few months, maybe. But here's a photo from earlier today. Bear Canyon Reservoir, Mimbres NM.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

I might have invented a game

The game is like Heads Or Tails, only it’s about whether the avocado pit will be in the left or right half when it’s opened. For another level of guessing/betting, there’s the question of whether the avocado will be unripe, ripe, or too ripe. And if two people with avocados open them at the same time you can play Same Or Different. Then make guacamole.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Wish list

Let’s say I could afford any replacement for the Rolling Steel Tent I wanted. What would I get? A tricked out 4x4 Sprinter or Transit with a high roof? A step van? A box truck? A Unimog?

Nah. I’d want something very similar to what I have, with a few minor improvements. Here’s the wish list:

Chevrolet Express or GMC Savana cargo van (because they’re tanks)

3/4 ton (a 1/2 ton would probably be enough, but they stopped making them)

V-8 (my 4.8L is enough, but now the only engine choices are the 4.3L V6, the 6.6L V8 and 2.8L turbo diesel 4 cylinder)

Silver (so I don’t have to deal with white paint peeling)

Sliding side door with tilt-out window (see this for why I prefer a sliding door)

Tilt-out windows on the back doors (ventilation, man)

Passenger seat delete (because I’d remove it anyway to make room for the fridge)

Power windows/locks/mirrors (because I’m tired or doing the door lock walk around, and I'd like to roll the passenger side window up and down from the driver seat)

Cruise control (because I cruise)

Blind zone alert (always good on a van)

Backup camera (because I have one now)

Automatic locking differential (for the iffy roads)

My needs are simple. 

Monday, April 11, 2022

White air

I’m in Pahrump. The wind is out of the south. And the sky is weird. There are mountains to the east, the city and mountains to the west, but they’re invisible today. It doesn’t smell like smoke, taste like dust, feel like fog, or trigger my allergies like pollen. It must be the end of the world.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

It was another one of those mornings

I woke up just before the sun crested the mountains. My first thought: this bed is very, very comfortable. I enjoyed it for another minute, stretching, scratching, letting out a deep breath. The desert lit up. G-o-o-o-o-o-d morning.

I tossed off the covers. The Rolling Steel Tent was comfortably cool. I slid open the door to let the sunshine in. I pulled on my pants and shoes and stepped outside.

The air was fresh and clean. It was quiet. The yuccas and creosote bushes were rimmed in light. Some of the rocks sparkled. I was still and absorbed the moment.

Whatever else was happening in the world, it wasn’t here. It wasn’t weighing on me. It was just this beautiful, peaceful morning. Another one of many. Another one I wouldn’t have experienced if I was living my old life.

Saturday, April 9, 2022

Today’s haul

Four 15-packs of cheap-ass beer

Three bottles of cheap-ass vodka

Two 1-liter water bottles

One 1-quart milk bottle

One small Pringles can

Three random pieces of cardboard

About a dozen no-longer-wet wet wipes

One sock

Thursday, April 7, 2022

Night noises

As I drifted up out of sleep I became aware of a faint repetitive plik… plik… plik… plik… 

Huh? What’s that? water dripping?

I sat up and turned my head side to side, trying to ascertain the direction the sound was coming from. There was a brief pause, then plak… plak… plak… plak… plak… plak…

I moved toward the front of the Rolling Steel Tent, hoping it wasn’t a mouse gnawing on something. The sound seemed to come from outside. I had left a bag of collected litter by the door. Had a critter broken into the bag, (re)scattered the contents and was now trying to chew a discarded water bottle?

I stuck my head out. The bag was undisturbed. The elusive noise changed to KAK… KAK… KAK… KAK…

There were headlights about a hundred yards away silhouetting a figure. Ah, that’s it. Someone is trying to drive tent stakes into the rocky ground. Oh, the misery of desert pavement. Oh the misery of setting up camp in the dark. What time is it anyway? 2:38 AM. Someone had badly miscalculated travel time, or had trouble along the way. Here’s wishing better luck, amigo.

At least I didn’t have a rodent problem. That I knew of.

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

These are the people I hate

The public land on the east side of Pahrump NV is littered with, well, litter. It can be windy here, so it’s somewhat forgivable when some lightweight something-or-other—a plastic bag, an empty water bottle, a paper towel, etc.—slips away and ends up stuck in a creosote bush a quarter mile away. Some litter blows in from the developed parts of town, where it seems trash cans and dumpsters have no lids. But some of the crap is just flagrantly dumped here. Like this:

I discovered it while gathering trash around my campsite. I don’t know what this pile was wrapped in originally (a blanket?) but the sun and heat have turned it into something that looks like dryer lint. Picking this up would require more resources than I have, starting with a backhoe and hazmat suit.

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

All clean

Way back, during one of my first visits to Pahrump NV, I discovered the Horizon Market, a convenience store out on the west side of town that had public showers. I knew it had showers because it said so in large letters across the front of the building.

I was feeling grimey after a week in the warm, dusty desert. I wanted something more than a sponge bath, so I headed to Horizon Market.

"Uh-oh," I thought as I turned off the highway. The store facade had been remodeled. It no longer listed showers. Did that mean they had stopped offering them? Although the guy behind the counter had sort of a surly desert rat look, he was quite affable and assured me they still had showers and that the price hadn’t changed. Two bucks for the shorter shower, four for the longer one. I splurged.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Monday, March 28, 2022

I fixed the fan, but...

In the previous episode, the power cord on the fan that I like, that isn’t made anymore, broke. I decided to do the ecologically right thing and repair it rather than replace it. 

To make the repair I’d need a soldering iron, some solder, and some heat shrink. At least I already had some suitable wire left over from installing lights and 12-Volt outlets in the Rolling Steel Tent.

I went to the Home Depot in Pahrump NV, just down the street from where I was camping. They were all out of the $20 soldering irons, so I had to get the $30 one. Add the other items and the total came to $49. Forty-nine dollars to repair a fan I could’ve replaced for $18. Sigh. It sort of makes me hope I’ll have an opportunity to use the soldering iron several times in the future—even though I don’t want anything to need repairs.

I bypassed the plug and wired directly to the internals

It’s back in action

All is good

Just got off the video call with my radiation oncologist, Dr. Chin. Everything on the scan continues to look good. Yay!

Thursday, March 24, 2022

The fan is dead. Long live the fan.

This fan has served me well for nearly nine years. The 12V plug disassembled itself last year and I replaced it. But when I tried to use the fan today (90-something degrees in the Mojave Desert) I discovered the other end of the cord was damaged. And the socket inside the fan had come loose.

I like this fan because of its magnetic mounting ability. I have the perfect location for it. But O2Cool stopped making this model several years ago.

So, do I toss the fan because of the cord? Or do I try to wire up a different cord, eliminating the whole plug and socket thing? If the latter, can I disassemble the fan, or is it glued together? Stay tuned.

Monday, March 21, 2022

It’s a gas gas gas

It was time to complete my schlep to Los Angeles. A little over 160 miles from the south entrance of Joshua Tree National Park to UCLA Health. I had about three-quarters of a tank of $3.87 Arizona gasoline. More than enough to get to LA. Not enough to get back.

I kept my speed down, following a big rig that was doing between 55 and 60 miles per hour. The truck also helped punch a hole in the strong headwind.

In my mind, the leg of the trip from Joshua Tree and on through the Indio-Palm Springs sprawl is just a ten or fifteen mile coast downhill and then a quick squeeze through the pass to Cabazon. But it’s sixty miles. No matter how many times I’ve driven it I’m still surprised it’s that far. 

The needle on the Rolling Steel Tent’s gas gauge moves faster as the fuel level drops. So half a tank on the gauge is something less than half, and a quarter is as good as empty. At least it feels that way. I watched the gauge and did sloppy calculations in my head about actual range. Well, I knew I would have to fill up in California sometime, and better too soon than too late, so I pulled into Banning.

If the question is, “Al, how much would you pay to know you’re either still cancer-free or something’s growing in you again,” the answer would certainly be more than a couple of hundred dollars. So even though it was shocking to see $100.00 ring up on the pump, I knew I wasn’t buying just gasoline. I was buying knowledge, peace of mind, and maybe an early warning.

Friday, March 18, 2022

Can ya dig it?

 I violated one of my own rules: Stay off loose dirt and sand. But, you know, there were other tire tracks, so I followed. Like a good sheep. Or lemming.

Most of the camping spots outside the south entrance to Joshua Tree National Park were taken or too close together, so I hunted for less likely spots. And ended up stuck about a van length from hard pack. The driver side got buried to the hub, the bottom of the shock absorber was scraping, and the differential was touching the ground. Sigh.

Fortunately, I carry an honest-to-goodness shovel. I started digging. And digging. I couldn’t get the shovel under the differential. I dug by hand. I jabbed at the ground with my tire iron and pried up a large stone. This was going to take a while, but I had all day.

There was enough room under the passenger side of the axle to slip the scissor jack in. It seems counterintuitive to jack up the high side, but it gave me more room to dig around the differential. 

Back on the driver side there was still no room under the axle for the jack, and jacking the chassis would raise the wheel last of all as it sagged on the spring. Hmmm, the spring… I dug out a spot large enough for the jack and a flat rock to set it on. Thousands of cranks of the jack later, I had the tire high enough to fit some flat stones underneath. I laid more stones along the bottom of the exit ramp I had dug. Good thing there were rocks mixed in the gritty sand.

As I was executing my inelegant desperation engineering, I kept thinking about how open differentials work. They transfer power to the wheel with the least traction. Since the van was leaning toward the driver side, that should mean less traction on the passenger side. That wasn’t the wheel that needed power if I had any hope of driving out of the hole.

But weight and traction bias must have been sufficiently in my favor. The driver side tire slipped a little, caught traction on the stones and, as you can see, I got out.

The irony of this misadventure is that next month I’ll be interviewing an off-road recovery/search & rescue guy for and article on the Cheap RV Living website about how nomads can avoid getting stuck.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Daylight Saving Time isn't the only change

I’ve been running my dual-fuel stove on propane the past few months for two reasons: it’s cheaper and it burns better in cold weather. However, there are more steps to using it. Get out the hose. Connect the hose. Get out the tank. Connect the tank. Disconnect the tank when I’m done. Put the tank away. Disconnect the hose. Put the hose away. It’s not a burden, just extra steps.

Oh, and there’s a third reason. I was out of butane. And so were the stores. But yesterday, ta-da!

I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many cans of butane on a Walmart shelf. They must’ve just opened a carton. So I grabbed some.

Later, back in the Rolling Steel Tent, the propane bottle I had been using ran dry in the middle of cooking dinner. So I switched to one of my new butane cans. Ooooo, slick and easy. Just load in the can and flip the lever. No messing with the hose. And the canister can stay in the stove when I put it away. The best part, though, is that cold weather isn’t an issue. Yippee! Shorts—and butane—season again!

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

I'm having a South American dinner tonight

Not fun

It started with head and body aches, then exhaustion, then some gastrointestinal distress. 

I flopped into bed before sundown. More exhaustion, now mixed with a little dizziness.

I wanted to sleep but couldn’t get comfortable. Everything my joints touched—even my super soft mattress—was annoying.

Then the dreams started.

Whenever I get sick my brain starts feeding me boring, frustrating, repetitive dreams. This time it was about how if I could decode the entries on a spread sheet I would finally feel comfortable and be able to sleep without interruption.

I woke up, thinking it must be about 3 AM. It was 9:34 PM. It was going to be a long long night. 

I kept waking every hour or so, cranky, frustrated, not wanting to move but unable to find comfort. 

Sometime after midnight my bowels sent out an urgent message. Aaaaaaaahhh, that helped. I came to the untrained conclusion I had given myself food poisoning. Some leftovers might have been too left over.

The sun finally rose and I debated myself. Would I feel better getting up and moving around, or should I stay put and slowly turn into a mattress? The fact I wrote this tells you what I decided. Not feeling too bad.

Monday, March 7, 2022

Ugh, planning

I have a PET scan appointment March 22 in Los Angeles. I want to go to Pahrump NV to report on the Homes On Wheels Alliance “Bring Your Own Vehicle” event. It starts April 4 and runs to the end of the month.

So, how can I best use the two weeks between the scan and BYOV without wandering too far out of the region?

I’d love to hang out at various Southern California beaches, but all the campgrounds are booked solid pretty much until the end of time. Stealth camping is essentially illegal all along the coast, however I know people who get away with it. The last time I did it I never rested calmly. The cops kicked me out of Imperial Beach.

The National Forests in the San Gabriel, San Bernardino and San Jasinto Mountains will probably still be cold at night and snow covered. So will the southern Sierras. And if they’re not, they will most likely be crowded.

That leaves the desert. I think I’ve had my fill of it for now. I need to dig deeper into possible options.

Friday, March 4, 2022


I met Deni three years ago on the set of Nomadland. We kept in touch and tried several times to cross paths again. First I got sick. Then she got sick. Then her van broke down. Then COVID. But we managed to pull it off this time.

Friday, February 25, 2022

Lessons remembered

My design schooling and career in advertising taught me about our psychological reactions to color, shape, branding, pricing and a bunch of other things that influence our purchasing habits. Despite that, I’m just as susceptible to manipulation as anyone. I prefer products in attractive packaging. I’m wary of lesser brands. Even though I know better.

So, the other day I was shopping in a discount grocery that specializes in overstock items, dented cans, crushed packages, and such. There on the shelf, sort of alone, was a can of chili. I hadn’t been looking for chili. To me, most of it tastes like mud with a metallic aftertaste. But this can had three things going for it. It didn’t have beans, it had a handy pull tab top, and it was only 75¢. Hmmm, I had some leftover sausage I could add to it. But it was a brand I’d never heard of. And the label wasn’t very appealing, except for the price sticker. What the heck. If I wanted stylish I wouldn’t be shopping here. And I’m not obliged to eat it all if I don’t like it.

And… it was pretty good. Some actual flavor and no metallic aftertaste. Adding the sausage made it even better. And the part of my brain that knew better said, “See.” 

Sunday, February 20, 2022

We might have a solution

Knowing of my cold feet plight and my quest for a solution, Lou sent me a pair of socks. Not just ordinary socks. Not old fashioned wool socks. No no. These are rocket science super socks! Aerospace fabric! Thermal looping technology! Soft-touch aluminized threads that reflect and distribute natural radiant heat! And thick, plush, never-want-to-take-them-off synth-fleece lining! So claims the maker, 35° Below, in a video that seems to have been made by the Veg-A-Matic, Pocket Fisherman folks.

The copper colored flecks are the aluminized threads. They're long and hanging loose inside, I guess to draw heat from your skin.

What the heck, don’t look a gift sock in the, uh, toes. I gave them a try. The weather had warmed some since I tried the heat pad and hot water bottle, so the test wasn’t as rigorous. Certainly not down to -35 degrees. Nonetheless, I award the socks the RST Seal of Approval.

They are comfy, despite the aluminized plastic threads. And unlike other serious socks I have, the tops aren’t too tight on my legs. I can wear them without being annoyingly conscious I have socks on. 

With the heat pad and hot water bottle I needed to keep my feet near the heat source. But since the socks follow my feet I can move freely in bed.

The 35° Below video features people happily frolicking in the snow and slush. They are obviously insane. But if one were to wear these outside, they’d need shoes a couple of sizes larger. These socks are thick. Try to squeeze all that thermal looping and cozy fleece into your regular sized mukluks and you’ll probably cut off circulation in your lower extremities. Good thing I’m smart enough to stay holed up in freezing weather.

But, yeah, thank you Lou for thinking of my feet. They’re happy now.

UPDATE: Lou got some of these for himself, so now we’re sock twins.

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Gimme power!

My job as editor of the Cheap RV Living site came with a new laptop. A 13-inch MacBook Pro. Boy howdy! But there’s a small problem. My old 400-Watt DC-to-AC inverter isn’t powerful enough to charge it. It took me a few days to figure that out.

I’ve ordered a 1,000-Watt inverter but, things being the way they are, it’ll be a couple of weeks before it arrives. In the meantime, I’ll have to sneak good old AC power where I can. Today that was in the truckers’ waiting room at a Flying J. The cartoon show on the TV was annoying but the chairs were comfortable.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022


The wind in these parts usually blows out of the north. And it was blowing hard today. When I pulled into my camp this afternoon I aimed the Rolling Steel Tent northward to minimize the buffeting.

After I had been settled in the van for a while, I realized the wind was coming from the west. That’s odd. So I repositioned.

Now, a few hours later, after dinner, shoes off, reclined into reading position, the wind has decided to mess with my peaceful evening by returning to its usual northerly direction.

So on with the shoes, out into the dust and sand laden air to move the van again.

I suspect the wind will move again sometime during the night.

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Forget the biscuits

Ladies and gentlemen, I present the guacaritto. Avocado, veg “bacon” bits, salt, pepper, Tajin and fried onions.

Thursday, February 10, 2022

The desert is just desolate, right?

Yesterday’s hike

From my campsite near Ajo AZ I can see a small mountain/large hill with a large stone pillar separated from the side. It looked like a suitable destination for a hike. And the weather was perfect for it.

The first half was along a dirt road. Not that interesting or demanding, but then I cut into open desert and picked my way through cacti and creosote, in and out of washes, sometimes following animal trails, sometimes not, until I reached the base of the mountain.

Progress from there required a little scrambling over scree and boulders. Scrambling back down is always trickier, but I would deal with that later.

Once I got to the pillar I saw a faint trail leading along the face of the mountain to a more gradual, less bouldery descent. Ah, that’s better than the way I had come. The route also revealed a small arch (or hole) behind the pillar.

After working my way off the slope and back through the cacti and creosote it was an easy but boring walk back along the road. I was grateful, though, that ATVs weren’t ripping around the place. At that time. My only human encounter was with a bicyclist wanting to know if I was Scott or Jeff or if I knew where they were camped. I did not.

According to the distance measuring feature of Google Maps, my little trek was about 3.7 miles. Maybe four if I counted all the zigging and zagging as I bushwhacked (chollawhacked, ocotillowhacked, saguarowhacked, organpipewhacked?) my way across open terrain. Nice day.

Monday, February 7, 2022

Avoiding the draft

 I’ve suspected for a while that I have a draft at the rear doors. I’ve been meaning to do something about it besides wearing a wool cap to bed. Today, on my way to Ajo, I stopped at a Lowe’s and got some weatherstripping. 

In case that doesn’t solve the problem, I also got some spray foam. I suspect the cellulose insulation I stuffed in the doors eight years ago has settled. Air might be infiltrating via the recessed license plate or the door handle.

We shall see. And feel.

Saturday, February 5, 2022

Workin’ the night shift

I think I’ve written before about how when we’re separated from all the outside forces imposing schedules on us, we humans tend to go into a pattern of a few hours sleep, a period of wakefulness, then a few more hours of sleep. Some cultures embrace this and use the wakeful period to read, socialize, do simple chores and what not.

Well, in a way, my new responsibilities running the Cheap RV Living site have imposed that schedule upon me. You see, I want to update the site, add articles, or shuffle things on the home page when no one is trying to use the site. That means the middle of the night— when the only traffic is Russian and Chinese spammers sending “comments.”

So, whereas I used to wake in the middle of the night to pee, then go right back to sleep (usually), now I’m fiddling with the site for a while. That gets my brain functioning to a higher degree. Then it doesn’t want to shut down and sleep. So I spend another hour or so thinking about site management or other stuff. I eventually nod off and the next thing I know it’s 8:30.

Now my naps have become very necessary.

Friday, February 4, 2022

The day is saved

I thought I was losing my mind. I knew I had just unlocked the side door of the Rolling Steel Tent, yet it was still locked. 

I unlocked it again, there was the clunk of the latch, but it remained locked. 

Turn the key counterclockwise to open. Clunk. Still locked. 

With the next attempt, I heard the unlocking clunk, but also a quieter clunk when turned the key to the neutral position to remove the key. Did it just relock?

So on the next try I left the key turned counterclockwise and, the door opened. 

I watched the inside lock lever as I turned the key back and forth. Yup, the latch kept clicking to locked position when I tried to remove the key. So I tried holding the lever as I turned the key. I could remove the key, but as soon as I let go the latch flipped to the locked position. Ergh.

I worked the key and lever through several cycles to see if things would loosen up and act normally. No.

Okay, before I order up a new locking mechanism and tear the door apart to replace it, let's try good old WD-40.

I sprayed it in the lock, in the latch, in the lever and any hole or crack in the general area of the lock. And... it worked. All hail WD-40!

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

If this van‘s a-rockin’

I knew the strong winds were coming. I knew I had the Rolling Steel Tent positioned crosswise to the likely direction of the wind. And I also knew from experience it would be better to point the van’s nose into the wind to minimize jostling all night long.

“I’ll do it later,” I told myself. “After I finish with this other stuff I’m doing.” Then, of course, I forgot about it until I was already in bed. 

That’s when I started rationalizing. “Eh, the buffeting isn’t so bad. Even if it gets worse, I’ve ridden it out before. I’ll eventually get used to it, or fatigue will conquer annoyance.” Because getting out of a warm bed, putting on pants and shoes, moving things out of the driver seat, and going outside to bring in the step (so I don’t run over it for the sixth time) is far more unpleasant and inconvenient than being shaken in my sleep.

Friday, January 28, 2022

Heat for the feet, part two

The heating pad didn’t satisfy my needs and wants so it went to a new home. May it serve the new owner well. 

Time to try the no-tech option. I got a real rubber hot water bottle and filled it with not quite boiling water. Mmmmm, nice and warm. I slipped it under the covers between my feet. Having never used a water bottle before, I didn’t know whether I was supposed to simply keep it in the general vicinity of my feet or rest my feet against it. I went with the latter. But that left me with tootsies that were toasty on one side and chilly on the other. So I moved my feet, leaving them feeling neither warm or cold. Okay, I’d try that.

I always change sleeping positions several times before falling asleep. Now I was bumping against the water bottle each time. I would move the bottle to make room for my feet, ankles, shins. Kind of annoying.

My big question was how long the bottle would stay warm. I understand a little bit of physics and know that when objects of different temperatures come in contact for a period of time, their temperatures eventually average out, with cold things warming up and warm things cooling down. And I also know that everything cools down unless more heat is applied. My semi-educated guess was that the hot water bottle would end up being a no-warmer-than-me bottle by morning.

And that was what happened the first night. Then there were several nights in a row that were warmer and my feet were happy without the bottle. The results the next chilly night were pretty much the same. I think if it had been seriously cold the bottle would’ve stopped being warm in the middle of the night.

So, meh, I don’t think a hot water bottle is the answer. The quest will continue.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Never bring a lazy man to a knife fight

A couple of months ago my only table knife went missing. I suspected it had slid off the counter then down the crack between the bed and the wall where it would be very hard to reach. The bed is bolted down and the things under the bed are packed in like Tetris pieces. And even if I were to move that stuff out of the way, reaching to the wall requires getting down on my back in the slightly narrower than myself space between the bed and cabinet, scooching over, getting my head under there, trying to see what I'm doing with just one eye and r-e-e-e-e-e-e-a-ch-i-n-g…

Well, I finally got tired of spreading things with the back of a spoon (even though it works better than expected) and did the unpacking part. Yup, there it was, up against the wall, out of easy reach. Then I had an idea. I got off the floor, found my potato masher and... yeah, that made reaching a little easier. I have my knife again.


Sometimes accomplishing stupid little things makes me feel like I totally have my act together.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Monday, January 17, 2022

A cone of my own

I spent part of my parking and traffic control shift at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous supervising this cone. I was the head of the cone. I was the conehead.