Thursday, November 29, 2012

An Under-rated Outdoor Folk Dance

Yuma, AZ. Didn't Aristotle say that the aim of a good tragedy was to give the audience a katharsis, a violent expurgation of the soul? But who needs a tragedy? Wouldn't a rousing folk dance do the job? Before the television era, many people would have answered 'yes'. There are still sporting events in large stadiums that can provide a catharsis to the audience.

There are even more examples of how to purge the soul, and I just got back from one. After being a mountain biker/hiker for the last couple years, I got back on the road bicycle and did a club ride, my first in 5 years. If more people just understood what they are missing...

Many of the people in the club are 70-ish. They are fast! They used to hike on Wednesday, for variety's sake; but that tradition has been eliminated, perhaps because too many people were complaining of sore this and that when hiking, although they can pedal a "metric century" on any given day.

They are few moments sweeter than lying down for a nap after a great ride, especially if there are loving dogs on the bed. Such relaxation. Although any aerobic exercise outdoors will have that effect, cycling works better than most for completely other reasons.

Now, I don't want people to think I'm gossiping about hikers behind their backs...well OK, but just this once...but one needs a certain speed when exercising to work you into euphoria. Hiking is just so slow, it's almost donkey-like. And then there are those Tilley hats and khaki and olive green colors!

Cycling in a group does more than let you feed off of others' energy, as in a folk dance. It makes you 10 times safer on the road.

So for those who think that Yuma is ugly and that there is prettier scenery in other parts of Arizona: you are right. But who cares? The enjoyment of pretty scenery is as subject to Diminishing Marginal Utility ("diminishing returns") as anything else in this old world of ours.

This is just one example of the best way for an early retiree/full time RVer to live: get the benefits of living in the RV, but don't become a part of mainstream RV culture. Find locals who really add something to your life. They do exist and they are worth it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Perfect Driving Through a Not Quite Extinguished America

No readers obliged me when I begged them to talk me out of going to Yuma this winter. (Thanks a lot, guys.) For those unfamiliar with the snowbird culture of the Southwest, Yuma is in a unique position to love and hate. Although many places in the Southwest offer sunny, dry mid-days in winter, most get chilly-to-freezing at night. Yuma is one of the few exceptions. On the downside, Yuma isn't the bargain it once was, and it is hellishly overcrowded.

But it has the single best (roadie) bicycle club that I know of, and I've known a few. I only mountain bike when I'm dispersed camping on public lands. For safety's sake if nothing else, I think road cycling requires a club, which means "large city", bleahh. After finding a half-lot to rent through the grapevine, I decided to drive to Yuma for another "round" of winter.

Besides, isn't it a good idea for a person to take a winter sabbatical, a break, from whatever they do the rest of the year? That is probably true no matter how well pleased you are with your other three seasons, or "four" in the Southwest since we have two distinct summers. After all, don't you want to take off in the spring, all freshened up and charged up again?

What a pleasure it is to stay off the interstates, especially I-10. You get passed like you're standing still when you're going 70 mph on them, and I hate driving that fast when pulling a trailer.

New Mexico is probably the only state of the Four Corners that is still "underpopulated", at least away from the Rio Grande barrio-strip. Those who love slow driving can cruise at 50 mph for hours at a time, without making too much of a nuisance of themselves to the few other motorists that they'll encounter. I suppose that Wyoming and the western Great Plains are the only other regions in the 48 states that offer this luxury.

And luxury it is! I love to encourage travelers to bust out of the cliche-ridden confines of postcard scenery and open up to other kinds of beauty. Space, wide open space, people-free space, free of the clutter of houses and Dollar Stores. It's what America was once famous for. It's getting so that all other considerations seem secondary to me. All that matters is low traffic, low noise.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Some Lifestyles Make Thankfulness Easier

There must be many people who consider Thanksgiving to be one of our best holidays.  And least corrupted. Granted, its proximity to Christmas, our most obscene holiday, gives Thanksgiving a halo. But even without the easy comparison, Thanksgiving is easy to feel good about. Even people who dislike the vague religious overtones of the word "thankful" can still be comfortable being grateful to a "what", rather than a "who".

Wouldn't it be nice if the fine sentiments expressed at Thanksgiving really meant something -- something beyond mere ritual? Maybe they do, for some of the people who express them. They have a different life story than mine, or they have more imagination, or are making more of an effort. Who knows?

My guess is that most people have difficulty feeling genuinely thankful at Thanksgiving, although of course they all like to say they do. The holiday tradition should de-emphasize the meal and the ensuing food coma. Aren't you supposed to do something on a holiday that you don't do the rest of the year?

The average body in America is starting to look like those starring in "People of Walmart." Where are you more than a 3 minute drive from a convenience store or fast food outlet? How could the average American feel anything genuine about a holiday feast if they've never experienced want and hunger, and if they have never grown food?

It's not so easy to find a replacement ritual for the Thanksgiving feast. Any ideas? How about a neighborhood volk wanderung?

How could a country that carries food, gasoline, heating and air conditioning, debt, and every kind of consumption to extreme really pretend to be grateful and thankful for anything?

But what would the alternative be? At the moment I'm having trouble releasing the Continental Divide in southwestern New Mexico where it finally falls out of the last mountain range, debouches onto the desert alti-plano, and fades off into an ethereal mathematical concept. On the mountain bike ride today we went by some backwoods, off-the-grid homes.

Backwoods cabins, blue-water sailors, bicycle tourers, and RV campers (away from hookups) do not need to suffer intense privation of any kind. But they do have to put some deliberate effort into generating and storing electricity, finding water, stockpiling and meting out food, staying warm or cool, etc. On a daily basis, they are made more mindful of all the goodies it takes to live. 

"Thankfulness" about anything is impossible unless you are at least consciously aware of it first. But it's only a handful of unconventional lifestyles that have any conscious awareness of what they are using. When an ordinary homeowner flushes their toilet they use about half the water that I do in an entire day! That sort of unconscious waste permeates the entire middle class lifestyle.

So why don't we just admit that although "thankfulness" is a well-intentioned sentiment, it can only be an empty platitude, best left inside a Hallmark card, at least for the standard middle class suburban lifestyle. 

The most remarkable part of the unconventional lifestyles mentioned above is that their
appreciation of the goodies of life can last day after day. I never really take water or electricity for granted. Rather than thinking of the "simple life" as an endless process of subtraction, let's think about adding the daily ability/habit of being aware of the goodies in our lives. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Will the Windows/Nokia Phone Succeed?

"Postscript": At the end of the day I noticed that NOK stock had gone up 13% in European trading. Gosh, I didn't know that this blog had so much clout! Being a "market mover" is just too much responsibility. (grin) 

People who have no interest in the world of investments are missing out on a fascinating part of our culture. What's worse is that they are doomed to poverty in old age since we will probably be in a Zero Interest environment for many years to come, while real inflation cruises along at two to three times what the government officially admits to. People tend to underestimate the damage that inflation can do to their standard of living. (Unlike cynical ol' Boonie, a true optimist and positive thinker would hope to die before too many years of negative real interest rates reduced him to panhandling.)

Readers know that I'm not a qualified investment adviser, so they must promise not to take anything I say as the basis for buying or selling a stock. But any amateur is "qualified" to write about what interests them -- and that is all. Besides, my money-back guarantee for daily infallibility is restricted to the rather narrow field of sex, politics, and religion. (And camping aesthetics.)

Without a doubt Windows Phone 8 and Nokia is the business/investment situation that interests me and many others, at the moment. Wireless internet has been a rapidly growing area over the last few years and no doubt it will continue to be so. But the industry is just plain bizarre.

Since the wireless carriers (e.g., Verizon, ATT, Sprint, and some smaller fry) are so consolidated, they are in a strong position to squeeze the suppliers who actually make their telecom equipment, e.g., Qualcomm, Alcatel, Nokia-Siemans, Cisco, "Motorola" (Google), Tellabs, etc. Most financial analysts would agree about the unenviable position of the telecom equipment makers.

Here is what seems strange to me: isn't Apple just another supplier (of the wireless carrier oligopoly) that needs to be squeezed? Why then do the wireless carriers permit Apple's iPhone to be in such a strong position? Isn't it high time for Apple to be taken down a notch or two? The wireless carrier oligopoly subsidizes the purchase of iPhones to the tune of several hundred dollars for each customer who signs a two year contract. That must sting!

In olden times (2007) when the iPhone first came out, ATT had a monopoly on selling it. It was worth it to ATT to subsidize the iPhone, because smartphones caused more bytes to be consumed than dumb-phones, and with customers whipped up into a horny frenzy by Apple's brand cult, they could be distracted from the poor coverage of the ATT network. Without the sexy iPhone monopoly, most customers would have chosen Verizon in preference to ATT.

All well and good, but that's ancient history now. Google's Android has made the smartphone a commodity, although every other television commercial screams about this or that hot new phone model being unbearably cool and necessary for you to buy. Aren't they living in the past?

What isn't a commodity (I think) is seamless integration with office reports, spreadsheets, or anything else you do with your Windows office desktop computer or laptop. Although I do read many tech reviews, I still don't know if, say, the average cubicle rat in the metropolis could connect his Windows Phone 8 smartphone to a thumb drive or his Windows 8 office computer, and peck away at reports or office email while he sits in traffic.

In any case, you'd think that what would matter today is which phones the wireless carrier oligopoly chooses to subsidize. Don't they have a vested interest in promoting Windows Phone 8 and its Nokia embodiment in order to take Apple and Google (Android) down a notch or two, and make for smaller cellphone subsidies? And Microsoft wants a success in "mobile" so bad that the wireless carrier oligopoly should be able to soak It for some of the advertising expenses. Microsoft has tens of billions of dollars in the piggy bank earning squat.

Tech reviewers have a hard time believing that Microsoft/Nokia can ever get their groove back, at least in the mobile arena. They will also have a hard time believing that Apple has already reached its high-water mark. 

After writing this post I did a little more homework on, and found some articles by George Kesarios on this Windows Phone 8/Nokia 920 theme. You might enjoy reading the link for corroboration from a professional analyst.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Part 2 : Beyond Postcards

For years now I've tried to appreciate the beauty of travel on a higher level than the postcard-kindergarten level. (Must I take the time to add the tedious disclaimer that there is nothing wrong or evil about postcard kindergarten, when you're a vacationer or an RV newbie. It's just that years of experience at being a full-time traveler encourages one to progress so that travel remains challenging. That's only natural and healthy. Geesh, the time you have to spend smoothing feathers. 

What I aim to do is replace the "eye as the window of the soul" with a different metaphor: one of trying to imagine "Total Experience" as a real and tangible sensory organ -- the main organ that can truly appreciate this rather different way of life.

Normally my successes on this project are singles, bunts, and sacrifice flies. Home runs are rare indeed. But since one did occur last year near Socorro, NM, I wanted to write about it, but didn't feel up to the task.

One of the difficulties in writing about powerful experiences of any kind is the overuse of the first person pronoun, "I". I saw this, I felt this, thought that, ad nauseum. How can the reader get anything out of writing that seems too egocentric? When the passive voice is used, the first person pronoun is reduced in its obtrusiveness; but remember what was said of the passive voice by Strunk and White. The second person pronoun does help some, although it can come off as accusatory, if you know what I mean. The third person pronoun seems too formal and academic. How does "one" put up with a description of what one sees, described as best one can...

Perhaps a generous reader will just overlook first person pronouns and put himself into the situation being described.

Another trick for transcending the egocentric is the metaphor. Aesop's Fables, Greek mythology, the King James Version of the Bible, Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, and Hans Christian Andersen are the places we used to mine for metaphors. But changes in the educational system have weakened these traditional sources, without offering new ones.

Classic movies are a possible new source of metaphors. But not all readers are familiar with the specific classic movie chosen, unless it be the Wizard of Oz, and most of its metaphors have rusted over into cliches. So this technique has its limitations. Still, classic movies are drastically easier for a broad audience to access than at any other time in history.

The semi-classic movie that I choose is Tender Mercies, starring Robert Duval. (It's an "indie" that won an Oscar for Best Film circa 1980.) There was a scene in the movie that knocked my socks off just as powerfully as my hikes around Socorro, NM. Only later did I realize there was a connection that might be useful for other people to think about.

In the movie, the Duval character was a country-western songwriter who was on his way down in the world, thanks to the bottle. He went to see his ex-wife sing; she was still at the top of her game. Her first song was a bawdy little bar-ditty, that had me rolling my eyes with disdain. Anybody who has a low opinion of "Nashville" would have reacted similarly. 

She finished the song, the hayseeds all applauded and slapped thar sods, and she got ready to sing 'em another one. Aw shee-yit, I thought, they're not really going to make us endure two of these damn things!

She closed her eyes and started singing the second sawng. But it was the opposite of what I expected. I stopped breathing during this second song, even though it was really only a piece of a song.

Only later did I realize what a devious psychological trick the movie-maker had played on us. It had lowered our expectations to such a level that a good song would absolutely knock our socks off. (The female vocalist, although a Texas girl by birth, had amazing musical credentials from Broadway. Fortunately I had no "Memory" of them (ahem) so the surprise and shock wasn't ruined.)

And that's the same trick I had played on myself, accidentally, by reluctantly giving the benefit of the doubt to an unpromising dirt road on BLM land near Socorro. It was an impressive example of how subjective the outdoor experience can be. Your expectation, your preparation, count more than how high the mountain is, or how red the silly arch is.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Lion Hunters

We were taking a hike on the Continental Divide this morning when a couple super-athletes came by. Both dogs made Tour de France cyclists look like pudgy marshmallows. They had enormously long legs, exposed ribs, and tortilla-sized floppie ears. They had no interest in being petted or drinking water. They were not unfriendly to me or my kelpie, Coffee Girl.

All legs and lungs -- and ribs!

But there was an indifference that I'm not used to seeing in a dog. I don't like it. A dog should be your friend and come back to you when called. The "generalist" makes a better pet than an obsessive-compulsive specialist, like these two workaholic hounds.

Still, you have to admire a critter that is good at what it does, and does exactly what it was "meant" to do. That certainly describes these two. They were serious professionals on the job, hunting for something. Their earnestness was accentuated by the GPS collars and foot-long antennas, which gave them a bionic-super-dog look.

Since my own little poodle was rescued by an elk hunter a few years back (click on the blue tabbed "Disney Movie..." at the top of the page), I've felt a desire to return the favor. So I started walking back to the trailer, with these two hunters casually following me. I called the phone number on the collar at the high spot on the trail. The hunter met me back at the trailer 20 minutes later. 

He explained a little about the GPS collars, but what really interested me was what they were hunting for. Mountain lions! Gee that's the second time that subject has come up, recently. The other day my dental technician treated me to a good story about seeing a mountain lion in these very mountains, southwest of Silver City, NM. Her silly dogs didn't even sense the cat, but she did. She scared the cat off just before the dogs practically walked over the cat! (In case you're wondering, I hike and mountain bike with a hunting knife and pepper spray on my belt, and an ear-splitting whistle around my neck.)

As always I am delighted with the friendly encounters I have with outdoorsmen of just about any stripe -- even motorized ones! I ask specific questions about how their sport works, and they seem to enjoy an "outsider" being interested. My own sports are pretty much limited to mountain biking and hiking, with an interest in birds, photography, and geology. But whenever I cross paths with another mountain biker -- or even worse, a hiker -- there is usually a troubling coldness between us.

Friday, November 16, 2012

A Twinkies Bailout Coming?

You can easily imagine president Obama taking a few days off, maybe even a vacation, after a hard-fought reelection campaign. That's not to say that the next four years don't look frightening enough; in fact, "winning" the White House in 2012 might ironically turn out to be a curse for his party, or for the other one if it had won. But still, shouldn't he be able to act like a human being and soak it up for awhile?

Alas, political life can be cruel. His post-election Era of Good Feeling is already cut short by the crisis at hand. I'm not referring to the General Petraeus scandal or the Israeli invasion of Gaza. Those are just sideshows. I'm referring to the liquidation of Hostess Brands, the makers of Ho Ho's, Ding Dongs, and Twinkies.

Although it's good to see that a crisis of this gravity is being given proper attention by the business media, nobody is yet discussing the necessity of a bailout. (Perhaps in a day or two, we'll see pro-bailout editorials by Paul Krugman and Robert Reich.) It must be quite a moral quandary to good liberals about the proper course of action. On the one hand there are thousands of union jobs at stake. But surely they wouldn't want to help the purveyors of some of America's worst junk food -- what would Mayor Bloomberg say!

The current occupant of the Oval Office must also look past the current crisis; he must look to the future of his party and to his own legacy. Micromanagement of food is the next place for a huge expansion in federal regulatory powers, assuming that carbon taxes are blocked by the Republican-led House of Representatives. After all, look at how much junk food costs "our" national health care system. Mayor Bloomberg's New York is already leading the way. And the number of government sector union jobs at stake could dwarf the few thousand jobs lost at a mere private-sector union. All progressive thinkers accept the fact that government sector unions are the Present and Future of the Democratic party. As for private sector unions, well, the days of John L. Lewis and Walter Reuther are long over.

And that's the president's challenge. It takes a true statesman and a visionary to avoid the small issues of the crisis du jour, and to march boldly into the mega-trends of the Future. Besides, even though Hostess Brands, proper, is a goner, pieces of it can be gathered up, salvaged, and repackaged in some new financial entity. Twinkies might still be sneaked in to public schools, literally in a brown paper bag, and eaten in the school lunch room -- at least if teacher or surveillance camera supervision is lax. Perhaps Bain Capital will help in the restructuring.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Moving Beyond Postcards

An experienced traveler has to move onward and upward when it comes to his appreciation of the outdoors. The postcard-worship of the newbie/vacationer is no longer of much use to him. Many people are uncomfortable with statements like this because they think they are negative. Was it "negative" when you graduated kindergarten and were promoted to first grade?

A year ago I experienced an unusually powerful example of "aesthetic evolution" near Socorro, NM. Explaining it seemed like a big project. And we all know what people do when they are dreaming things up into a big project. They procrastinate. Since I returned to this area recently let's see if it I can knock it down to size, this time around. 

I went into a certain area along a dirt road. My expectations were very low. In fact I remember henpecking myself about the choice of road and the waste of gasoline. It was a complete surprise to encounter some sexy and naked "structural geology."

It's an RV blog cliche to rhapsodize about geology in other contexts, such as red rocks in Utah. Red certainly is a nice color and very impressive if you are looking at it for the first time. But after standing there (like a dope) looking at red rocks, you must eventually admit that it was red rock 265 million years ago, yesterday, tomorrow, and probably hundreds of millions of years from now. So what are you supposed to do about it, exactly?

Anything static quickly becomes boring regardless of how postcard-ish it seems, initially. That is why many people love rivers; fast running wildlife, horses, and dogs; a trickle of water dripping out of a rock in arid country; and rapidly developing clouds and storms. It's also why some people (like me) consider photo cliches like mountains, oceans, wildflowers, and sunsets to be boring after a few seconds. 

If you agree with any of that, even just for the sake of argument, you must wonder how I can see geology as interesting. Talk about "static"! Layers of rocks have been standing there with the same stupid look on their faces for hundreds of millions of years, Ice Ages and volcanoes excepted. 

Actually though, I'm admiring "structural geology": the change of rather uniform layers of sedimentary rocks into photogenic topographic sculptures by means of differential erosion from water, in a dry country! Trying to imagine those processes does not seem boring and static. 

How did these weird shapes in the landscape get here?

At first they seemed like volcanic dikes, which are vertical wall-like extrusions of lava out of cracks in the earth. If the surrounding material erodes away, the "wall" is left by itself. My favorite example is near Shiprock, west of Farmington, NM. St. George/Hurricane UT also have some fine examples.

But a hike revealed that those wall-like structures in the second-to-last photo were sedimentary layers that were upended at exactly 90 degrees. How does that happen?:

But whatever you do, don't think about the stupid color or pretty shapes -- think about the process that might have created these strange structures.

At the bottom of the arroyo the rocks became rounded. That's the usual thing in arroyos. It makes a great impression on you to be stepping on sharp rocks and cacti, while feeling guilty about how all this must feel on your dog's paws. And then, over a distance of a step or two, the rocks turn smooth and white:

Perhaps the soft curves in arroyos are easier to believe if we stop thinking of them as being "rounded by water", and think about a water-borne slurry of abrasive rock particles wearing the bigger rocks smooth.

No wonder I procrastinated a year. This post is already long. Part 2 will wrap this up with what I experienced this year. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Pop Quiz on 'How to Read a Book'

Occasionally it is fun to see if I can catch the readers sleeping by giving them a pop quiz. A couple comments about eReader gadgets recently revealed an opportunity for me to move in for the kill (grin). There seems to be a misunderstanding of what it takes to read a book comfortably

This is an important topic for those of us who see internet addiction (on trivial and repetitive websites) as a serious problem to overcome. Has anyone ever beaten a vicious habit by trying to replace it with a vacuity? I doubt it. They need to replace it with something that has a positive existence; something that is tangible, lively, and takes up time. In my case that means giving up the insulting trivialities of the blogosphere and going back to reading "books."

Now for the multiple choice quiz: which factor has the greatest beneficial effect on your comfort, endurance, and attention span when reading a book?
  1. Display size of the eReader, i.e, 7", 10", etc.
  2. Operating system of the eReader: iOs, Android, proprietary, etc.
  3. Tactile appeal. Are the edges rubber or slippery plastic?
  4. Weight and thinness.
  5. Battery life.
  6. The chair you are sitting in when reading.
  7. The "coolness" factor: when you sit down at Starbucks, does a hot babe at the next table cast furtive, but meaningful, glances at you.
  8. Percent rag content in the paper of the book.
  9. Ink chemistry.
  10. Idiotic or irrelevant marginalia left by the previous reader of the used book.
Now, while you are still cogitating, I'll insert blank lines so you can't see the answer on the screen.


Decided yet? The answer is of course #6, the chair. This might not be the right answer for a rubber-boned teenager who can read comfortably in any bodily position. But it's certainly the right answer for old farts or anyone who has a physical problem. I have no back problems, yet I find that 30 minutes in a crappy chair or overstuffed sofa puts me into a surly mood, even if the book is trying to be interesting.

I have gone for years at a time without one of those standard folding chairs that people put outside their RVs. I can't stand sitting in them. Even if you bought a high-end one that was comfortable, consider what it would be like trying to read outdoors: in the sun you would need a windproof parasol, made out of reflectorized mylar film. If you moved the chair into the shade of your rig, you would need to put on a hooded goose-down parka. Or ants would be crawling up your leg while you try to focus attention on the book, which you'll probably fail at anyway since there are too many other distractions outdoors.

The only way to shield yourself from these distractions and to control your environment is to read indoors. Sofas are uncomfortable. "Easy chairs" are designed to induce the catatonic state, which is the optimal attitude for watching television. 

After years on the road, have you ever visited a friend or relative in a beautiful home and felt a powerful impression of luxury and space when first walking into the house, only to discover later that all of that money has not managed to produce a decent reading chair and light? (The latter total up to $200; the rest of the house costs $600,000. And the damn toilet won't even flush right.)

In fact the only comfortable chair is the modern swiveling molded office chair, with good lumbar support, adjustable arms, and caster wheels. That probably means you are at a desk, reading. Now that you are at a desk, all of the vaunted advantages of eReaders and tablets are irrelevant. Any modern laptop or $300 netbook will do the job beautifully.

Are there really consumers out there who are so naive that they can't see the psychological gimmicks of eReaders? Once you blow some money on the gadget you are more likely to buy books from Amazon or Barnes and Noble or Apple to "justify" the gadget. And those companies are in "give 'em the razor, sell 'em the blades" mode. They want to keep you captive in their walled garden, rather than reading books downloaded on a Windows computer in which the consumer can shop around at a variety of bookstores for the best deal.

Now that we have killed off this cultural nonsense about over-rated gadgets, let's ask why Americans are so obsessed about the latest and greatest gadget, and are eager to swallow any lame excuse for another one. Is it just one more symptom of a declining middle-class standard of living? We can't afford to buy a new car without a 7 year mortgage on it, put gasoline in the car, go to the doctor, or eat out at a restaurant. But we can amuse and distract ourselves with latest electronic gadget, since they usually get better and come down in price.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

A Setback Along the Trail to Internet Addiction Recovery

The other day Coffee Girl and I were mountain biking on some fine land near Grants NM at the border of BLM and national forest. Even if huffing and puffing didn't inform you that you were climbing, altitude leaves a track by transitioning from high grasslands (with desert characteristics) to juniper shrubs to pinyon trees to ponderosas. One area was spider webbed with old two-tracks that went into a firewood-cutting area.

Naturally all of this exploring was free of silly encumbrances such as maps and gadgets. Trial and error. After many dead ends it was time to ask why I wasn't better at finding my own tracks: mountain bike tire tracks are easy to see.

Why was reading tracks so interesting and important? It sounds like a boring topic. But I experienced such a strange near-obsession over it.  As always, it is fun to stand somewhat apart from yourself and wonder what the heck was going on, and then explain it. 

Having free time lets the mind become interested in topics that would have seemed unimportant back in some ghastly metropolitan hellhole, living the usual hamster-wheel lifestyle.
(Thanks to the Mobile Kodger for using that phrase recently.) Therefore the mind expands to fill all available space, a la Parkinson's Law. Obsessions don't have the negative connotations that they would in that other world. Obsessions are just desires that have room to run.

The situation made me think of the DVD that I own, Last of the Mohicans (early 1990s). It's about the only movie I know of that emphasizes "Indian-style tracking" and high speed motion through the forest. I wanted to channel this obsession in a direction that would help me beat my internet addiction, so I seized this opportunity to download the book by James Fenimore Cooper from

There was a pleasant surprise. I opted to download the (free) book in Kindle format and used the (free) Kindle-for-PC software for reading it. How easy it was on the eyes, especially at night! You can keep tweeking the screen color, font size, etc. It also helps that modern PC screens have at least 1366 X 768 resolution. (Why do people think they need an iPad or a single-use eReader to pleasantly read a book?)

One night I was actually in a real forest service campground. (Except that it was a freebie and didn't have an officious busybody host.) Inside the RV I was reading "Last of the Mohicans". Outside the RV some neighbors (a repulsive term) were enjoying a huge "white man's fire." The juxtaposition seemed quite comical.

A few days later I was trying to get camped on land near Magdalena NM that I have studied for years, but never camped on. Would there be a Verizon signal -- oops, I'm supposed to stop thinking about that. All of the issues that I care about -- biking, semi-open scenery, the BLM/Forest Service boundary, unpopularity with noisy yahoos, services in a nearby town, etc. -- turned out positive. 

How satisfying it is to go into a doubtful and unknown location and make it all work! Topography, cell towers, dirt roads, and land categories are the modern equivalent of Indian-style tracking to me, and, like Hawkeye in the book, I take pride in being good at it. No matter how much I preach against the internet, finding the electromagnetic trail is just too much fun to give up.

And yet year after year, newbie after newbie will make comments on blogs or RV forums begging for a "list" of places where they can camp. They want GPS coordinates, how big a rig can it hold, how easy is it to get level, what's the temperature, etc. Somehow, they've missed the whole point.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Right Set of Balls (Updated)

Who was it that coined the phrase, "Nothin' beats a great pair of legs?" Cyd Charisse, Ann Miller, Juliet Prowse? Whoever it was, what counts is that the expression, whatever its veracity, is not of universal utility and applicability. For instance there are times when nothin' beats having the right set of balls.

While doing some backroad exploring near Socorro, NM, I took the wrong road. (There was no sign.) The road surface was hard and smooth, but very steep, well past negative double digits in percent slope. When the road deadended at a ranch I realized my error, got turned around, and started to go back up the hill. Whoa now, stop, breathe, think. 

It was time to let half the air out of the tires. We all probably forget to do this as often as we should. Even when extra traction/flotation isn't needed, lower tire pressure makes washboarded BLM roads less brutal. The trick is to buy a good tire inflator so it doesn't take forever to put the air pressure back in. 

Would this old engine (223,000 miles) really pull the trailer back up that hill, even if the rear wheels didn't slip? Coffee Girl and I walked up the hill and got quite discouraged. Even as recently as 10 years ago I might have gotten macho and cocky and tried to do it, probably resulting in a serious and expensive mess. 

But maybe we really do get a little wiser with age. I decided not to try to climb back up that hill. So we walked out to the nearest road junction where a pickup truck might go by every hour. (Geez, why didn't I bring water?!) Actually it was only 20 minutes before a heavy duty four-wheel-drive pickup came by.

There are times in life when it really would be easier to be a woman; especially a young one, and with nice legs. How was I going to get any sympathy from a guy! (That's why I brought my dog.) Apparently I started the begging process correctly: "I hope you are feeling heroic today." It worked.

The rancher, Jake -- and naturally he was a 'Jake,' and if married, the wife would be a 'Meg,' or am I confusing them with border collies? Anyway, we jumped in the back of the truck and rode back down the hill to the damsel in distress.  Jake wanted me to detach my tow vehicle, a van, and drive it up by itself, while he towed the trailer up with his pickup truck.

What amazing luck! He regularly plied that hill with a heavy, gooseneck, cattle trailer that mated to a large ball mounted on the bed of the truck, over the rear axle. But he also had a supplemental 2" ball mounted on his rear bumper, and that fit my lightweight trailer!

We made it back up the hill with no more excitement. He refused any money about three times until I finally said, "I'll feel like a real jerk and slob if you don't take the money, and it will be your fault." Guilt -- it gets 'em every time.

So what is the moral of this story, besides 'looking before you leap?' Most newer and all heavier trailers have the industry standard 2 5/16" ball. If he had had a receiver hitch, it might have had the 2 5/16" ball, and could not have towed me up. (Or he might have had the prescience to have a three-sized "balls of steel" on the receiver, which would have worked.)

But it would behoove a backroad trailer-puller to carry an inexpensive ball of the right size that could be switched with the incorrect one, owned by your would-be rescuer. 

I've lowered my expectations at Walmart the last few years. Nevertheless they came through with the right tools and hitch equipment so that I can take advantage of a good Samaritan in ranch country without the dumb luck I had in this post.


Saturday, November 3, 2012

Sniggering at a Cervine

It's rare to get a chance to smile at animals, aside from our domestic pets. The best shots at this occur when a normally boring or stupid animal suddenly becomes clever. For instance, ungulates don't seem like the brightest bulbs on Mother Earth, but under the right circumstances...

Going down a road in the Socorro NM area I was surprised at the number of "hunters" parked along the road. Which season is it now? But then again, maybe they were joy-riding four-wheelers, rather than hunters.

The "lower" Rio Grande starts at Socorro by my estimate. It is reminiscent of the Mojave Desert, even though it is the Chihuahuan Desert, officially. Although I postpone "winter" locations in order to keep North America from shrinking too soon, it was fun to start walking arroyos again, which is something I only do in the winter.

What really makes walking these arroyos delicious is the cold, dry air.

On today's walk there were some cows. That's hardly a novelty on BLM land. But there was something halting and static about the cows' behavior.

A few minutes later I spotted another large animal, so out came the snooper scope. The creature was standing stationary on the arroyo-side of a small ridge. No leaping and bounding over barbed wire fences, no gamboling over steep hills like they were table flat, no nothin'; just standing there and weighing its options. Suddenly sentient. On the other side of that ridge was a large gang of hunters and their vehicles. The creature gave me a funny look as if to say, "Oh hell, not another one!", or maybe, "I thought those clowns were on the other side."

All of a sudden we had walked out of an arroyo near Socorro, NM, and into a Saturday morning Looney Tunes cartoon. It was all I could do to resist laughing out loud and shaking the camera as I took the sly cervine's photo:

Friday, November 2, 2012

Why Blue Votes Blue and Red, Red

Near El Rito, NM. It was finally time to come down from the high ridges and head to town to get the usual supplies. Hunters said that the only store in town was a restaurant that was humble, but offered tasty food. Victims of Bernanke's Zero Interest Policy like me have no business "eating out" but sometimes it is irresistible in small towns. It seems like you are really "making a difference" in a place that has the weakest commercial pulse imaginable.

As it turned out, the restaurant was closed anyway. Typical. I drove through the town looking for a small grocery store, but found nothing.

Ahh but there was something else. There were huge school buildings and athletic fields; police headquarters with high tech and expensive squad cars parked outside; and a Forest Service office. It was a large, modern, air-conditioned, office building, decked out in nice office furniture and the latest computers. Outside was an astounding number of motor vehicles; not just high end SUVs, but also payloaders, bulldozers, and fire fighting trucks. The Forest Service office was so incongruous with the host town that "surreal" is the only word that does it justice.

I am guessing that anybody who experienced this would have come away thinking that "something is wrong with this picture," regardless of their political views. What I was seeing in this little burg was just an extreme case of what a traveler sees all over small town and rural America: a moribund private sector, and a huge, thriving, and ever-expanding government sector. Forget the politics -- how is such a situation sustainable economically? Don't the taxes have to come from somewhere? Like where, in an impoverished New Mexican dust hole?

I tried to imagine what my long-deceased father would think if he were driving through a nothing of a town like this. He was a good old-fashioned liberal Democrat, who looked up to FDR and Hubert Humphrey. He was also the union organizer in the teacher's union back in the 1960s when the whole idea of government employee unions was risque in a small conservative midwestern town.

But we had a reasonably prosperous private sector back then. A good liberal like my (public school teacher) father wasn't anti-business. He knew where his paycheck ultimately came from. He just thought that the government was needed to nudge the conservative businessmen and society "forward."

Well, now we are forward. And if he were driving with me through this little dusty rathole of a town with its disproportionate government sector, would he be pleased? 

Not surprisingly the pollsters are predicting that New Mexico will be a "blue" island in a sea of "red" states this election. There are actually productive sections of this state, in the east, and the northwest (Farmington). They produce natural gas and oil, the things that modern life would be impossible without. Presumably those are the counties that vote red in New Mexico.