Sunday, July 31, 2011

Whynter 12 Volt Refrigerator

It is a pleasure to experiment with an affordable, high-efficiency, 12 volt DC, compressor-driven refrigerator. Results so far have been good. These units match up well with an RV camper who camps away from electrical hookups. (Do not confuse a compressor-driven refrigerator with those small, cheapo thermoelectric jobs.)

The RV industry probably does the right thing in installing (Dometic or Norcold) ammonia/hydrogen-cycle refrigerators as standard equipment. They are versatile and satisfy a wide range of customers. Mine gave pretty good service for 9 years with only one expensive repair job. Its performance on propane was mediocre in the summer, though.

But when one of these standard RV frigs is old and needs to be replaced ($1500 or more) or is begging for several hundred dollars of repairs, it's worth looking at alternatives, especially considering how expensive propane has gotten. (This blog is aimed at non-hookup campers of course.)

Saturday, July 30, 2011

In Praise of Generators

There are purists who aspire to going to heaven and sitting upon the right hand side of Thoreau and Gandhi; usually they proudly eschew generators on board their rigs. I think this is a mistake; more on that in a second.

Generators would have a much better public image if small, quiet units were paired with the right chargers and batteries, and only used to power appliances that make sense.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Camp Dead End

How many articles do you remember from glossy travel magazines? Believe it or not, I remember one. The title was "Camp Dead End." It was a warning against holing up permanently in an RV park, instead of 'chasing adventure out there on the open road'. The article was in harmony with the RV industry's economic self-interest, of course. But the article was still eloquent.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Van Camping Sub-Culture

Relatively late in my RV career I discovered the van camping sub-culture in the blogosphere. They are especially fun when written by a young idealist. What is it that makes them so pleasing to read? Is it because, like the opening of a famous Dickens novel, they are wondering aloud whether they will be the hero of their own lives? Or is it that they see their life as a noble experiment? 

Friday, July 22, 2011

Happy With So Little


It's too early in the monsoon season in the Southwest to see flowers. Most of them are cautious and wait until September. These two were a real surprise. Keep in mind that there was a severe drought for nine months prior to this.

It's not good enough to just be pretty when you're in the flower biz. Something more dramatic and interesting is needed. First we must push away the Trivial and the Prittee-Poo, and dwell on the horribleness of the drought. We must be willing to stare into the Abyss. Some people won't do that because that would be "negative thinking." Too bad, because the real beauty isn't in the "positive", banal, and insipid color of flowers; it's in the violent contrast between Suffering and Rain.

It reminded me of RVing in Mexico. Sometimes I would sit out in the plaza and admire the pretty senoritas; schoolgirls actually. It surprised me that they were so attractive. But why? Must a country have material affluence to have pretty young women?

Carry that thought to extreme: imagine you are in a war zone, with destruction, cruelty, and suffering everywhere. Even there, girls turn into young women. And seeing them must make people think there really is a future.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Midsummer Dawn's Dream

One of the great things about living at high altitude is the cool evenings and mornings. But there is something almost unnerving about Dawn in midsummer, especially when the monsoons start and nocturnal clouds and humidity trap the terrestrial heat. It doesn't even seem real to walk outdoors at Dawn and not brace yourself against the chill: to relax the entire body and not feel threatened, and to be at peace with the world at this most peaceful time of day. As much as I dislike mid-day heat, it's worth suffering it just to experience these mild Dawns.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Poor Man's Four Wheel Drive, part 2

Chalk one up for audience participation. Recall that I wanted a convenient way to put air back in my tow vehicle's tires after letting half the air out, which is helpful in backcountry RV camping: no only does it make the ride more comfortable, but it keeps you from getting stuck.

I was out of date on 12 VDC tire inflators. Reader Tom (of Orlando) suggested the Slime brand tire inflator. So I went to Walmart and bought the Slime "Heavy Duty" Tire Inflator (about $55, bar code # 16281 00618, no slime included.)

When I opened the box I immediately began fluttering my eyelashes. It was love at first sight. You see, the problem with low power inflators is not so much the low power, but the cheesy valve connector that leaks the air out as fast as the inflator is trying to put it in.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Poor Man's Four Wheel Drive

It has always been a mystery to me how travelers inflate tires. Your chances of finding a functional and non-vandalized air pressure pump at a gas station are a bit better than finding a functional pay phone. But even so, it's hard to get near the air pump with your trailer. The alternative is to carry one of those cheesy 12 volt tire inflators; years ago they were slow and would burn up. Are they better today?

Of course most people don't deliberately let half the air out of the rear tires of their tow vehicle, and then put it back in.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Is Four Wheel Drive Silly?

It's hard to discuss four wheel drive fairly. Since the 1980s it has been common and hackneyed to ridicule the owners of four wheel drive SUVs and pickup trucks as being turned on by the image of their machine, while in fact they have little, if any, use for four wheel drive. Indeed, if car loans weren't so easy to get, they would be forced to be more sensible.

My own view is the American male is so emasculated by feminism, political correctness, and traditional wife-ish henpecking that a giant truck -- with big ol tars, 2 feet of ground clearance, and a throaty exhaust system -- is the only macho stupidity that society still permits him. But this discussion isn't about aspirational brontosaurus drivers in the suburbs; nor is it about jeeping as a "sport"; it's only about RV camping in the outback, and whether you need four wheel drive to do it.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Rightsizing Versus Downsizing

Downsizing is both a challenge and a source of great satisfaction. However, one must be careful not to get sucked into Asceticism. The travel blogosphere is full of Holy Prophets of the Desert (grin), who think that when they die they are going to Heaven to sitteth upon the right hand side of Thoreau or Gandhi.

For folks not in the market for pseudo-religious emotionalism disguised as philosophy, let's look at the Downsizing mantra from a rational viewpoint. The concept of Diminishing Returns is one of the most universal and true ideas in life. The first bit of Goodie X is wonderful; the next unit does you less good, and so forth, until you are getting less and less for each additional unit of time or money.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Snakes, Murphy's Law, and Old Blind Dogs

It is remarkable how few rattlers I see over the course of a year. The long term average is 0.4 rattlesnakes per year. And some of that is just confusion with similar-looking (non-venomous) bull snakes.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Last Green Mile

How could a full time traveler not get spoiled and fickle; how could he ever adjust to doing the same thing twice? Those were the doubts I had when getting off the road about three years ago. But I had a secret weapon: the Granny J Principle. That is, I would now look at "routine" things more carefully and closely, instead of relying on sheer visual novelty. A mind can be like a camera that takes a macro closeup of interesting details, instead of a pan-opticon of ever-changing landscapes.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Chinese Credit Rating Agency

Credit rating agencies are important, since large institutions (pension funds, insurance companies, etc.) are prohibited from investing in governments or corporations that have low credit ratings. Also, low credit ratings will result in higher interest rates to compensate for the risk; that is the essence of bond market discipline.

During the financial bubble of the mid-Aughts, the dominant American credit rating agencies are "credited" with being the enablers of a thoroughly corrupt and reckless financial system. They gave "everybody" AAA ratings.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Second Lease on Life


My goodness there are a lot of things to do to get back on the road again. Although few people think of motor vehicles with the ruthless utilitarianism that I do, here was a chance for an exception: a brand new windshield made the old van look so pretty!, especially when reflecting some puffy mid-day clouds brought by the monsoon season.  In truth I love vans.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Triple Digit Reading Club

Once a year I usually have a chance to visit an RV friend who amuses me by writing first drafts of blog posts with pen and paper. (The reader might have an elderly aunt who still sends handwritten letters because they are more "personal".) Recall that it used to be more common to say that pen and paper help you think, whereas the computer supposedly distracts the writer. It seems quaint to see him look at his notes on paper and then start expostulating on his still-unpolished ideas.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Triple Digit Diet

Live long enough and you'll have a chance to witness just about any food fad: one year a bombshell is dropped on a slow news day: fad-ogen correlates with cancer! The food conglomerates begin pumping out (higher priced) "new and improved" versions of the most boring foods, boasting about how low in fadogens they are. The mayor of a big city on the coast bans fadogen from school cafeterias and vending machines. Rumors fly that that the mayor might be appointed Secretary of Education or Surgeon General in the new Democratic administration. But soon fadogen becomes yesterday's news.

Just then, a new blockbuster book comes out revealing that fadogen is actually healthy. Not only that, but fadogen is the only thing that one should eat. The author makes the circuit of TV talk shows, gives lectures for a six digit fee, and becomes quite the celebrity. Rumors fly that the author (a marketing major in college) might be in the running for the next Nobel prize in medicine.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Modernizing an Obsolete Holiday

One of these days somebody needs to construct a Top Ten list of ludicrous obsolescences: those anachronisms that somehow survive in the modern world, despite being way past their shelf life. Certainly Independence Day in America would make it near the top.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Monsoons Begin

I really thought I was dreaming last night when I heard raindrops falling on the roof. And it persisted! Those who haven't experienced dry climates might not appreciate how brutal aridity can become, at times.

But what should a person do to honor the occasion after a long drought is finally broken? Maybe the answer is in Frazer's The Golden Bough. It bothers me that I am living in a RV park surrounded by standard RV indoorsmen; the culture here encourages one to say, "So it rained last night, for the first time in six months. Big deal. What's on TV? Should we go out to eat?"

On an unrelated topic, my 2004-era laptop is having trouble starting up Windows. It seems foolish to take it to a shop: all they will do is run an anti-virus program on it, and charge $100. Does anyone -- Apple groupies excepted -- have an 11.6" netbook (no optical drive, and low power consumption) in mind, that they would recommend?

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Revenge of the One Hand Syndrome

It's a little hard to place this blog in the correct genre, since it's a hybrid -- or "bastard" if you prefer. RV, travel, camping, doggie outdoor lifestyle, walking/hiking and bicycling are all accurate phrases, but it doesn't fit cleanly into any of these pure categories. All in all, this pleases me. I can't imagine a better way to camp than with a smaller and less expensive RV, a dog, and a mountain bike.

While readying my rig to start traveling again, it was profoundly satisfying to arrange the contents of my cargo van, yesterday. It was probably the same primal satisfaction that any animal gets when they rearrange their den or nest. So why didn't I ever experience that satisfaction when I owned a regular stick-and-brick house?

Friday, July 1, 2011

A Better Camper

How can I do things better than before? That is the main question as I tool up for traveling again. Essentially, my answer is to push harder in the camping direction, as opposed to stereotypical RV travel or windshield tourism. Of course an RVer need not adopt a "camping" orientation at all, and most of them don't. But let's not talk about that.

There are some bicycle touring blogs who interrupt their routine descriptions of ride statistics or camping details with perspectives about the real benefits of what they are doing: what satisfactions are they getting that couldn't be gotten by a more conventional lifestyle. They enjoy consciously dwelling on the things that a person with a conventional lifestyle takes for granted. And they like being inventive.