Thursday, October 31, 2013

Murphy and the Mesa

Following our fearless leader up and over a crumbly cliff near Moab, I nonchalantly grabbed onto a boulder, about 2 feet in diameter. When much of my own weight was transferred, the boulder pulled out of its matrix, missed my leg by a bit, and crashed down onto a jeep road. Some day a jeeper's adventure will be interrupted by this boulder in the middle of their thoroughfare, and they will be forced to get out of the vehicle and use muscles to move the boulder. (They will then use that as an excuse to go shopping for a new GPS system or smartphone with a new app that identifies boulders on jeep roads.)

This really wasn't such a close call, but it was the largest adjustment of the Earth's surface topography that I have ever been responsible for.

Later in the scramble I was forced to wedge between two larger boulders. As I transferred my weight to one of these large boulders, I wondered how evil Murphy really was. Imagine if that boulder pulled into the other one, with my poor little body in between!

Today our fearless quartet is between St. George UT and Zion national park, and accreting a few more members soon. Almost exactly at sunrise, I heard "thunder." Huh? The sky was blue. Where did the lightning and thunder come from? There was road construction a few miles away. Maybe they were doing some rock-blasting.

I stepped outside the trailer and saw what caused the "thunder."

The camera doesn't show the cloud of red dust quite as clearly as it really was. It is about a half mile from our dispersed campsite. Wow, I've always wondered how often a big chunk came down from these vertical cliff faces. This suggests that you might not want to camp right at the base of a cliff.

And where was fearless leader? I expected him to come running out of his motorhome with his camera. But it was too early for him. (Blush.) Geesh, didn't he ever hear about early birds and worms!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Piecemeal Pilfering Somebody Else's Good Life

It is hard to believe that only a month from now I will be in southern Arizona, paying rent (gasp!), and riding a road bicycle with a large club. How strange it is that some of my "fellow" cyclist-snowbirds have already been in that furnace since the first of October. How could doing the same five rides/routes for seven months of the year be the Good Life? Isn't Dry Heat something you'd wish on your worst enemy? But they enjoy the shoulder seasons there, somehow.  And they agree with me on the cycling, something that is rare amongst gasoline-besotted Americans.

It is probably common to expect less and less of other people as we grow older. But the situation is different when somebody, who you thought had something in common with you, shatters your comfortable expectations of compatibility. This might be the sharpest kind of loneliness.

Be it a sports club, a church, or a political cause, you can befriend each other easily when you appear to have a bit in common. Later, you are unpleasantly surprised to learn that the other person's motivation is different than yours, and that your commonality was only superficial or based on practical circumstances.

For instance, I've been involved with bicycling most of my adult life because the activity makes me feel better than anything else I do. That sounds like simple common sense, does it not? But in fact, it is rather uncommon. Many "fellow" cyclists are motivated by athletic ego, the bike as an expensive status symbol, losing weight, or even a wish to meet their other half.

We could all give many such examples. Let's restrict the discussion to other people's sense of the Good Life. I can see how people would gravitate to living on a boat, long-term backpacking over the Pacific Crest Trail, and long-distance bicycle touring. I haven't done any of this because there are aspects of each of these lifestyles that do not appeal to me, or that seem impractical or too expensive. But they seem good in principle.

Other types of the Good Life seem absurd in Theory and Practice. For instance, urban boondocking seems perverse to me as a model of the Good Life; so does playing Ten Questions with Fred and Mildred at potluck or happy hour, in a standard RV park; or consider Slabs City, BLM long-term-visitor-areas, and as the lowest possible step, Escapee Park living.

It is probably innocuous and obvious to argue for the principle of breaking-down other people's Good Life into its main components, and stealing what seems good -- regardless of your overall assessment of their Good Life. But how different it is when you actually apply this to a real person! You have the opportunity to do this when you camp in small groups. 

Actually it feels quite liberating and empowering to say, "In general, Charlie is a horse's ass. And his views about This-or-That suck to high heaven. But when it comes to X, he is surprisingly clever and effective."

For instance I have usually exercised 3-4 times per week, because that seemed to be the point of diminishing returns. The appetite for exercise came back, naturally, after a day of rest. That always seemed more desirable than using self-discipline alone. As a result I had little reason to expect to gain much in this department by borrowing ideas and habits from somebody else.

Shadow of a rising hot air balloon rises over camp.

My fellow campers have influenced me to exercise 5 times per week. This is only a part of their lifestyle, and the rest I am leaving to them, at least for now.  But I see a genuine improvement in something that was difficult to improve.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Appreciating Vastness

While mountain biking the other day we saw something strange ahead of us, as we headed downhill to the main dry wash -- the same one where I witnessed my first "flash flood," a couple posts ago.

And once again I was fluttering my eyelashes at the abrupt onset of a small "slot canyon" in plain ol' dirt. In the past I've tried to explain this fascination on the grounds (ahem) of it being easier to make a big impact on a human observer when processes take place on a human scale, regarding years and size. In contrast, the working out of geology and topography over millions of years can leave the human observer indifferent and unimpressed. In a sense, we need to anthropomorphize geology and physical geography in order to make them interesting.

Then I crawled down into the "slot canyon," and photographed the vertical walls.

It was easy to imagine this two-foot-high slot as being more dramatic than all the famous photo icons in the Moab area; these latter are universally praised as being 'breathtakingly beautiful', when in fact, they are merely freakishly large. And red, but so what?

I was delighted to find my own gem -- one that was not known to mass tourists; and if you showed it to them, they would not appreciate it. If you really backed the mass-tourist into a corner, and asked him if real beauty is perceived by the eyeballs or by the imagination, he would grudgingly admit that it was the imagination that really mattered. And then he would squirm away and pursue activities, choose destinations, and spend his hard earned money in a way that completely contradicts what he just admitted! I leave the explanation as an exercise to the reader.

Soon we were down into the dry wash where I had had my mighty adventure with the Alluvial Entity. Today the dry wash was dry and boring. How could it be the same place of a few days ago?
Some sick fascination pulled me into the dry wash. I started pushing the mountain bike "upstream," from whence the Alluvial Entity had come. Not only was it unride-able, but it was tedious and obnoxious just to push the bike through all that loose sand. But push I did, for about an hour. It was worth every miserable second of it. But first I must digress for a couple paragraphs before finally explaining what was so great about this miserable walk through the loose sand.
Once upon a time I was an aspiring sea kayaker. I signed up for a guided tour in Lac Superieur, offered by a Canadian sea kayaker. I imagined it as a chance to get in touch with my Viking roots, by raiding towns along the shoreline, burning monasteries, and then ravishing and carrying off the beautiful maidens of those villages. It was also supposed to be a small group expedition. But the business was just getting started, and I was the only customer. Rather than cancel the voyage, we decided to make the best of it.

The worst of it was that damn little dog the Canadian guide brought along. She hated me, and we all had to sleep in the same tent! At that point in my life I disliked dogs in general.

Still, it was a good time, sleeping on the sand-less cobble beaches, finding a surprisingly warm bay to take a bath in, eating the good food made by the guide, and sinking into the trough of head-high waves, where nothing could be seen around you, but water.

At one point the guide and I looked out onto Lac Superieur. He gave a little speech about the vastness of it all. I could tell he wanted me to appreciate it, as he did. But I couldn't, despite the uniqueness of North America's Inland Seas, and despite the 1000 foot depth of the lake. But I wanted to appreciate it. The memory of that failure has stayed with me for over twenty years, now.
Now we can return to the present: walking in that disgustingly loose sand. Why was I doing this?  Although I had seen the flash flood where the sandy creek bed was only 20-30 feet wide, most of it was wide enough for a four lane highway. 
The exasperation just kept getting worse. Finally I had to imagine knocking over a common bucket of water onto the dry sand. How big a puddle would it make? (Three feet, maybe.) How many seconds would it take for the water to sink in? (Ten seconds, tops.) How many times would it sink in before water ran off, on the top?

Now imagine how many buckets it would take to produce that 2-3 inch deep "wall" of water that had come at me? A person can look at an ocean, and feel nothing! And then that same person can look at a puny little flood and experience the exasperation of loose sand for an hour, and then, finally, it all sinks in.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Part II, Models of the Good Life

How strange it is that, after 16 years of full time RVing, I've finally had a chance to camp and mountain bike with other campers. It's wonderful.

Why hasn't this happened dozens of time? Just about any rig could be parked where we have parked this past week. About a third of RVers have bicycles bungeed to the ladder at the back of the rig. (Virtually unused of course.) So this isn't about "practicality."

In the 'Solitude' chapter of "Walden," Thoreau asked, "What sort of space is that which separates a man from his fellows and makes him solitary? I have found no exertion of the legs can bring two minds much nearer to one another."

Good ol' Hank. I think we can answer his question: it's about the 'vision thing.' Retirees and travelers look like they are in one big category when you look at them from the perspective of the whirring hamster wheel of normal American life. But they are actually quite different from each other.

They have different models of the Good Life, worshiped in the altar of the imagination.

During their working years, most people were not lucky enough to have had any kind of outdoorsy club to join, so they never learned how much fun it was to be like a dog at the dog park, but with a small tribe of active human beings. It never became a habit of pleasure to them. Or maybe they were so busy, busy, busy with the phony pragmatism of conventional life that they just didn't take the time for it. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Different Models of the "Good Life" in Retirement

Part I: the Bark Park model.

Some people think that doing their homework about retirement consists of talking to investment "advisers" or reading glossie rags about "America's Top Ten Undiscovered Retirement Dream Towns." Or perhaps one half of the soon-to-be-retired couple has fallen under the evil sway of the cant of travel blog escapism. I'd like to suggest a faster and more effective approach to your homework: regardless of your pet situation, find a nice bench at the local "bark park." Just sit there and observe and think about the Big Picture.

Isn't it obvious that you are watching dogs enjoying the 'good life?' There is nothing subtle about a happy dog. Should the situation be that different for another species of social animals, such as homo sapiens? Oh certainly, homo sapiens is long past its hunter-gather lifestyle. 

First our animal species adopted the dreary routines of settled, neolithic agriculture. The donkey model has gone through a drastic change during the last couple generations, as we coalesced into giant metropolitan areas. Now our model is that of an over-regulated and over-populated termite colony. Who knows what the next upward leap in evolution will bring us to. (Amoeba, perhaps?) But none of this has changed the hardware and firmware of the human brain or body.

Why did I even include 'in Retirement' in the title of this post? Can't stick-and-brick-bound rat-racers also live the Good Life? They can to some extent at least, but their lives are constrained by a thousand and one "necessities."

A retiree could certainly live the Good Life in a pile of sticks-and-bricks: hobbies such as gardening, community organizations, etc. That's what I first thought about. I abandoned the idea up because I admitted that I was a home-improvement junkie. Also, for many people, it is financially burdensome to have most of their nest egg tied up in a pile of 2 X 4s that generates no income. In fact, the heap generates negative income in the form of property taxes and repairs, even if you are wise enough to resist the addiction of home improvement.

Furthermore, most places in North America only have two months of decent weather per year. So your good life in sticks-and-bricks must take place indoors. Now think again of the bark park.

For the rest of this series I'll restrict the discussion to different models of the Traveling good life...

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

My First Flash "Flood," part II

Between the noise and the rain and the sticky goo, I was getting cabin fever. Not just a hackneyed expression, this is a real state of desperation. Oddly enough, whenever I have personally experienced this mood, I rebelled against it with the most determined optimism. This can seem odd or even a little magical to the person experiencing it, but, if we are to believe William James in The Will to Believe, it is common behavior:
It is, indeed, a remarkable fact that sufferings and hardships do not, as a rule, abate the love of life; they seem, on the contrary, usually to give it a keener zest. The sovereign source of melancholy is repletion. Need and struggle are what excite and inspire us; our hour of triumph is what brings the void. Not the Jews of the captivity, but those of the days of Solomon's glory are those from whom the pessimistic utterances in our Bible come. Germany, when she lay trampled beneath the hoofs of Bonaparte's troopers, produced perhaps the most optimistic and idealistic literature that the world has seen; and not till the French 'milliards' were distributed after 1871 did pessimism overrun the country in the shape in which we see it there to-day. The history of our own race is one long commentary on the cheerfulness that comes with fighting ills.

So I put on a raincoat and took the dog for a walk down to the dry wash to see if it was still dry. The "red sandstone" under my trailer was hard. But the rain made it greasy and slippery in a way that I had never experienced. As with walking on icy sidewalks, I had to bend the knees and keep my weight forward. But I still fell once while walking slowly across it. It wasn't pure sandstone, apparently. Clearly, driving away from the kiddie motorcycle rodeo was impossible until the roads started to dry up in the afternoon.

I am still mystified. How could greasy wet Mancos shale be mixed with that red sandstone and yet still look like pure red sandstone?

As we approached the dry wash I remembered the warning from a local Moab expert about not crossing over if it was raining. An SUV, without that advantage, crossed the sandy dry wash just ahead of me, and then disappeared into the Great Beyond. It seemed ordinary and oddly ominous at the same time.
Something grabbed the corner of my vision. Water was streaming down. It was only 2 inches deep -- it was not like watching the Red Sea crossing in Cecil B. DeMille's Ten Commandments. Still, it looked so odd and unnatural to see flowing water all at once. Was this a humble example of the fabled flash floods of the Southwest? How long I had yearned to see one!

Woops, wait a minute. We were standing right in the middle of the formerly dry creek bed, and just downstream the vertical bank was 15 feet high. Warned or not, I just couldn't leave the stream bed. Surely there would be noise or something, or time to skedaddle if flash floods really were "flashes."  (I had always suspected that the term was an exaggeration.) Apparently "flash flood" is an analog term, not a digital one. This one didn't show any signs of washing man and dog down to the Colorado River.

Unable to dare this mere "sudden onset of moving water" into lethal glamor, I settled for merely observing it. The front edge moved downstream at half walking speed, because it kept filling in the low spots on the sides of the stream. As I continued to watch, the advance of water seemed systematic, relentless, and even sentient. But it is the foul mood, written about in the last post, that deserves the credit for the magic of this experience: I started seeing this moving water as a Malevolence.

Rationally It should choose the path of least resistance, but instead Its lethal fingers probed the sides of the dry river bed for victims. The fingers would close around their latest victim until they choked it, swallowed and digested it, and then moved relentlessly downstream to continue the slaughter.

Think of old-time science-fiction B movies: The Blob that Ate Philadelphia. Or Star Trek TNG episodes: a black oil slick thing that killed Sasha. And remember the "Crystalline Entity?"  

My encounter with the Alluvial Entity must be a representation of something more general.  Recall the half men/half bulls of ancient mythology, the sphinxes of the Egyptians and endless examples of that type, and the demi-gods, and the confused nature of Jesus for the first couple centuries. In more recent times there was the intriguing dual nature of light: sometimes seeming like a wave, sometimes like a particle. 

It's hard to imagine superhuman Benevolence or Malevolence unless it is made of some material that is different or superior to the humble clay of our own bodies. (Oh geesh, why did I have to say 'clay!') That is where the Alluvial Entity grabbed me mentally, if not physically. Once we begin to feel harmful or helpful powers and intelligence in this alien material, we can't resist partially anthropomorphizing it -- which is far more convincing than completely turning it human.

And to all my readers: have a happy (early) Halloween!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

My First Flash "Flood," part I

Camping in popular places and times is something to avoid. Places like Moab UT. There is very little dispersed camping still left there thanks to its overuse and misuse and mass popularity. But I had a couple reasons to be here.

So I rolled into a dispersed camping area close to sunset, in order to assess the neighborhood before committing. Gee, it was rather uncrowded and quiet at the end of the road, where I found a nice flat spot. Maybe people were scared off by the oncoming rain and windstorm?

How foolish I was to think that everybody was already there by sunset: I was projecting the travel habits of a full-time RVer onto time-constrained mass tourists. An hour after sunset I heard some vehicles outside. One glance out the window at the height of the running lights identified them as toy haulers, and I knew that my paradise of one hour was lost. They didn't even wait until morning light to start the madness. Suffice it to say that camping neighbors like this are the reason that RVers should not own guns.

After feeling a wave of anger at my bad luck, I started imagining opportunity in vague outline. Any experienced traveler knows that "adventure" is really a misnomer, because it is the misadventures that we will remember five years from now. There is a dialectic pattern of Ecstasy following Agony -- and vica versa! A big part of playing an apparently-losing hand to advantage is patience -- but how can you be patient with something that you despise? It certainly helps to have been around the block a few times, and be able to see an opposite future as being real. Vagueness of the imagination is the enemy at this point in the game.

Besides, there is a beauty unique to the right kind of torture. Chronic, low-level irritation is draining on a person. But when the Agony becomes intense, and is handled artfully, the victim can experience a cleansing catharsis. Think of Puccini operas, Thomas Hardy novels, or tearjerker songs sung by a moody Celtic lass.

I was only vaguely aware at the time that I was handling the Agony artfully. At first this seemed like another example of practicing the skills needed to reduce pseudo-emergencies into merely sticky situations that you dig yourself out of, one step at a time.

But in fact, one of those practical steps is to visualize the situation as a great drama in which you get to play the hero. The great drama puts Good versus Evil. From William James, in his classic Varieties of Religious Experience, page 49/521:
"In the Louvre there is a picture...of St. Michael with his foot on Satan's neck. The richness of the picture is in large part due to the fiend's figure being there...The world is all the richer for having a devil in it, so long as we keep our foot upon his neck." 
More concisely, people in the movie biz would say that it's the villain that makes the movie.

Non-motorized bigots (like me) tend to paint the motorsporters with too broad of a brush. ATVs are four-stroke engines. They are noticeably quieter than they used to be. Most adult ATVers operate them as you would want them to, and they are sensitive to the need for good "public relations." An ATVer might even rescue a non-motorized outdoorsman. I appreciate how their wheels kick off rocks and pack the dirt. 

And then there are the boys on two-stroke motorcycles, endlessly revving the engines, and buzzing everybody in the camping neighborhood. Your camping area is literally turned into a noisy motorized rodeo for kiddies! Sometimes they will come ten feet from your rig. Their parents won't let them head off on the trails alone; and for some reason, the adults won't lead them out on the trails. If they looped around all day, their victims might become inured to it, or use white noise in their RVs to block the sound. But no, the boys do a hundred loops over a half hour; and then they rest. Their victims start to lower their guard, and start feeling hopeful. Then the little bastards come out and buzz you for another half hour. Perhaps they have special training to increase the psychological impact of this torture.

All in all I get along with adult ATVers, in part by being pro-active. I imagined a religious metaphor: Jesus or Gandhi presenting the other cheek to somebody who has just struck the first cheek. You might criticize this as ridiculous moral posturing. But who cares?! As long as it works, and 'work' it did. I walked over to another large coven of motorized zombies. Except that they weren't zombies. They weren't bothering anybody. They were normal, sane people. We had a friendly conversation while our pooches had a frolic together.  Watching them play, the pimple burst and the hatred oozed away. 

Perhaps the reader is wondering why I didn't just leave. I couldn't. Have you ever heard of wet Mancos shale? This post is getting too long. It is the miserable preamble that created the chance to see my first flash flood.

There are probably licensing issues with motorsport machines that might keep the kiddies off the roads that are needed to get to the trails. One of the readers  probably knows about that. Motor-sporters probably think, "Well, you won't stop restricting and licensing us, so now all the damn kid can do is turn the campground into a noisy rodeo. Too bad. The people that that bothers are probably the same people who support endless restrictions."

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

In Praise of the Federal Government

...or at least part of it. The reader, being the suspicious cynic that he is, thinks the title has been chosen as a set-up for satire and facetiousness. Not this time. It is just too easy to mock the federales right now. Where's the challenge?

Besides, readers know that I am basically a "small-government" classical liberal. If they disagree, then I am annoying them. If they do agree, then I am boring them with an all-too-familiar sermon.

In politics people can lose their credibility when they become too ideologically predictable and uniform. They lose their individuality. Instead of working out opinions on their own, based on their own experiences in life, they end up merely repeating ideological package-deals, bumper sticker slogans, shibboleths, and mantras.

Consider, briefly, an analogy from the investment world: do you really trust perma-bulls or perma-bears? If an investment advisor can't change gears based on changes in the world, is he anything other than a salesman (especially the perma-bulls) or a member of the gold-buggering, gloom and doom genre (the perma-bears)?

What caused this topic to interest me is that I just finished a visit to a mountain biking area in a national forest near Dolores, CO. It was the kind of experience that leaves a guy with nothing but optimistic feelings.

There were no fees and no obnoxious anti-camping or anti-dog rules like you routinely find in other categories of public land. The area was quite popular, but not over-crowded. There were no paved roads, paved parking lots, expensive toilets or other pseudo-facilities that draw in the mass-tourists and serve as an excuse to charge fees.

Maybe this suggests a general technique for the traveler: go to not-so-famous places that are in the geographical penumbra of a disgustingly famous place. You might find some useful facilities and services without suffering the disadvantages of excessive popularity. Besides, it's fun to be around people who enjoy the same activities as you, as long as the number of them is pleasant. Solitude sucks. Sharing outdoor pleasures with a moderate number of similar-minded people is one of the great pleasures in life -- one that is more difficult to experience every year, in our over-populated world.

This isn't a great area for a cellphone/internet signal, but because it was only a few miles from town, there was a useable signal in some places. It was close enough to town that I went to the coffee shop, to the grocery store to buy their famous pies, and to watch an NFL game in a bar/restaurant that had a gorgeous deck right on the Dolores River.

Was it just luck that the trails were so close to town, or did the Forest Service actually have enough common sense to see how everybody wins by keeping recreational areas close to town? I'm not used to thinking of government agencies as sentient beings, or if they are sentient I expect it to be malevolent. Several times now, over the last year, I have experienced mountain biking trail areas set up by the Forest Service or the BLM that were enjoyable and close to town.

It wasn't a narrow-minded, intolerant land use situation such as the "ban-everything-but-hiking" approach favored by holier-than-thou, environmentalist, elitist, Greenie pricks from the big city. It was a "big tent" approach; the area was free to dispersed campers, families, horsemen, dogs, walkers, and runners. The regular forest roads that intersected the single tracks were available to ATVers. There were a few of them, not a horde of them. I always make a point of waving in a friendly way to ATVers.

There was nothing special about the land. It was "just" pleasant and enjoyable. Nobody will ever put a photograph of it on the front cover of a glossie travel rag, like National Geographic "Traveler", if it still exists in the internet age. In fact I didn't see anybody with cameras there. The land was basically flattish ponderosa forest. The trails were gentle, smooth, fast, and safe! Perfect. Why do people think that mountain bikers need mountains to have fun? The truth is quite the opposite.

But I did get a special kick out of the thick oak understory. It was red-brown or orange. I am incapable of looking at an oak leaf without fluttering my eyelashes a little. 

People whose interest is activity and motion and skill, are quite capable of having a wonderful time on land that is "merely" moderately attractive. Keep in mind that there is 50 times as much of that kind land as there is of the spectacular places -- and it's only these latter places that are closed right now. 

If a person is stubbornly unwilling or unable to enjoy wonderful outdoor activities in places of ordinary beauty, then they have missed a great opportunity in life. Rather than useless bitching about the temporary shutdown of government tourist traps, it would be more constructive to reflect on the habits of their own heart, and turn these temporary lemons into the lemonade of a broader and more flexible appreciation of public lands.   

Friday, October 4, 2013

(Revised) The Armchair Traveler's "Someday..."

Well, it's about time. I finally shared a good conversation with a traveler under proper conditions: sun, no wind, cool temperatures, and elevation. There is something about elevation that makes man rise above the messy minutiae of daily life and look at the big picture.

The Little Valiant One vanquishes yet another peak in the Rockies

Perspicuity. In general it comes from traveling through time rather than through geography. But this was an exception because location made quite a difference. Glenn M. of and I stopped on a ridge and discussed the various syndromes that armchair travelers and the blogs that pander to them are prone to. 

Mesa Verde in front of our conversation.

We concurred that much of what is on travel blogs is not helpful to getting armchair travelers out of their armchairs. Endless discussions of details about a blogger's rig are intended to be helpful, but are they, really? Or do they reinforce the mistaken notion that vast, virtually insurmountable practical difficulties keep the armchair traveler in his armchair? How convenient! An excuse for postponing his liberation for another year. 

Let's look at some quotes from a wise fellow from 250 years ago. If nothing else, it serves as an antidote to the lack of perspective that comes from discussing 'where is Joe parked today,' or, 'how did she improve the storage cabinets in her rig.'  So we go to Samuel Johnson's "blog", that is, his periodical essays called "The Adventurer" (#126).
"Many, indeed, who enjoy retreat only in imagination, content themselves with believing, that another year will transport them to rural tranquility, and die while they talk of doing what, if they had lived longer, they would never have done."
From another set of periodical essays, Rambler #2: 
"It is so easy to laugh at the folly of him who lives only in idea, refuses immediate ease for distant pleasures, and, instead of enjoying the blessings of life, lets life glide away in preparations to enjoy them."

"to rouse mortals from their dream, and inform them of the silent celerity of time..."

"The natural flights of the human mind are not from pleasure to pleasure, but from hope to hope."
These are things to think about the next time you hear an armchair traveler or RV wannabee prattling on with the standard bullshit, "I wish I could live like you. Someday good old Fred and I will finally be living the Dream..."

The reality of living the Good Life of travel is undermined when the armchair traveler becomes addicted to the psychological trick of substituting symbols for reality and future perfection for real living today. Romantic escapism is the would-be traveler's worst enemy. This is the reason I rail against the seductiveness of the postcard blogs. They are supposed to inspire the armchair traveler to get out out of the armchair. But they might have the opposite effect because they offer the traveler an addictive drug of dreamy vicarious experience that replaces action and reality.

People are not willing to face the brutal truth about aging. 

They will not acknowledge how quickly people of standard retirement age have their lives taken over by doctor-appointments and by various limitations and fears. After all, that would be "negative thinking." Positive thinking is what they believe in, and for the most part that consists of sticking their ostrich heads in the sand about the shortness of life.

The best travel blog is one that that succeeds at 'rousing mortals from their dream, by convincing them of the silent celerity of time.' But I doubt that that is the way to maximize Google ad income or win the popularity contest of 'friends and followers.'

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Part III, A Retro-grouch Goes Pickup Shopping

I was going to be kind and gentle in writing about the pickup truck insanity of modern America. This post was going to start off by discussing several recent trends in the motor vehicle industry that I think are quite positive: 
  • anti-lock brakes (ABS) as standard equipment across the entire fleet.
  • brake-based traction control systems as standard equipment, since 2010. This eliminates the need for mechanically complex four-wheel drive trucks for the vast majority of suburban cowboys.
  • the replacement of heavy, truck-based, gas-sucking SUVs by lighter, unibody-framed "crossovers".
  • the venerable Ford Econoline full-sized van is being replaced by a unibody-framed "Transit" van.
  • small diesels are being added to the light pickup truck line.
And then the bad luck hit. I happened to be driving around a dreadfully congested city (Durango, CO). It was impossible not to notice something weird when driving downtown, with the narrow streets and diagonal parking: full-sized pickup trucks are so long that they stick out into the street! A passing driver must take care not to ram the back end of these ridiculous vehicles. I wonder who would get blamed for the accident?

I also noticed new Toyota Tundra crew cab pickups with rear doors wider than the front doors. Oh great, that can be the latest and greatest trend towards making pickup trucks even longer! Nothing 'exceeds like excess.'

There can only be one explanation for this insanity, and it is the same explanation that is behind most of the ludicrous trends in modern times: easy credit. The financialization of society. The Federal Reserve's zero interest policy (ZIRP). The endless expansion of debt causes bloat in one sector of the economy after the other, be it 4000 square foot McMansions for retirees (who watch 16 hours of television per day), diploma and college-cost inflation, medical procedures and their costs, the military sector, and the number of government employees in general.