Friday, March 29, 2013

Part 2: Truly Appreciating Wildflowers

In fact I laughed when she rolled into camp. All that "mighty" thinking and worrying, and yet I had overlooked the obvious. One way or another a woman should help to intensify the experience of the best wildflower season in years. And that was the mission.

At first 'woman and flower' sounds like an old-fashioned cliche for poets and songwriters. And it is, but only for society in general. It's a good guess that men, who retired early and became full-time travelers, did so because they walked away from women relatively early in life. Therefore for us, the 'woman and flower' connection is not a cliche, but in fact, is radical and naughty. 

The diabolical scheme was simple enough: I would take her along on the walk into the Florida mountains to enjoy the best wildflower season in years, and somehow something might happen to take things way beyond the tourist level. 

It's one thing to say that you really want something to succeed. It's quite another thing to actually give up something to make it work. Praising lifestyle experiments is easy enough, but what if it fails? What if it causes embarrassment?

We weren't that suitable for each other, but there were a couple things in common, so it was at least conceivable. 
Spring wildflowers on an anonymous desert peak in Arizona.

The next day we took our walk into the mountains. We expected a spectacular show of flowers, of course. But we didn't expect to see a large herd of ibex.

We were near the top of the trail when I sat down on a boulder, while she continued to circle around the boulder. And then came the real surprise. She came over and sat down on the boulder next to me. Rather close. This was no longer a cute little experiment that I was toying with. The experiment itself had taken control.

We sat there for a minute while I tried to gather my wits. I had thought I was too old to feel static electrical discharges between my arm and a nearby woman's arm. Although the flowers at that location were beyond the superlatives of the tourism industry, it wasn't their beauty that impressed me; it was the impetuousness of life that did, and its unpredictability.

Then another surprise. Despite its subtlety, only a loutish adolescent would not have picked up the signal to "come no closer." The bubble burst.

But we still sat there looking west towards a late afternoon sun. The sky was as blue and dry as possible, but it was the calmness that was easiest to appreciate. There was the most perfect contrast between cool air and warm sun.  The sun could still warm the face. The boulder warmed the backside. But the rest of the body could detect an incipient bite from the evening chill. It was late afternoon and the sun wouldn't be able to hold off the chill for much longer. The downward slope faced the glowing but cooling West. 

My life was at the same o'clock as the day. Maybe the "near miss" I had just had was my "last chance." And from here on, I could only look downward into the declivity of old age and loneliness.

Later we walked back down the mountain. What if she had been playing the same game as I was? Perhaps she had told herself, "This particular fellow might be a sorry specimen, but at least he is a concrete representation of a general Idea that interests me at the moment, with all the desert flowers, Spring, and all that crap."

She had a long air flight ahead of her. I took her to dinner as her farewell present. We had a nice talk at dinner.  

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Turning Desert Wildflower Ennui to Advantage

For many people in many places, Spring means rain and flowers. But in the American Southwest a wet winter -- normally the secondary rainy season -- produces wildflowers only at the lower altitudes, that is, the desert floor. Really great shows don't occur every year. Fortunately there was enough rain this winter to produce a good show. 

If you are seeing the wildflower display for the first time, you have no choice but to be wowed. I agree with all the ecstatic praise about spring wildflowers in the desert. But please remember that this blog targets experienced travelers, a group that the tourism industry (and virtually all RV blogs) could not care less about.

It is natural for the magic to wear off once you've seen a couple good springs. Then what? Do you resign yourself to a lukewarm experience? Some people would prefer to deny that this happens, offer you a pep talk full of half-truths, and then attribute their attitude to "positive thinking." But it is more challenging and thought-provoking to face up to the truth and then think of a way around it.

A full time RVer must have the guts to stare into the abyss, sometimes.

Thus I found myself a few years ago, looking forward to the best show in years, but fearful that the magic had worn off. And I didn't have the foggiest idea of what to do about it. The local tourist rag in Deming NM was rhapsodizing about the show in the nearby -- and aptly named -- Florida mountains. (That's flor-EEE-duh.) The stereotypical tourist prose made me sick: you know, 'a dense carpet of...', 'profuse display of...', 'breathtakingly beautiful...', and the rest. Groan!

After all, when a fellow retires early and becomes a full time RVer, he gives up a lot. He has a lower "standard of living" to look forward to, at least if he measures it in the usual way. There will be less financial security, too. What does he get in return? A lot, potentially. But I wasn't living up to that potential by looking at the spring wildflower season like some common tourist. What a failure!

It might seem foolish to some people, who don't take early retirement seriously, to get worked up about this. But so I did, for three days. My goodness, did I ever get frustrated trying to come up with a good idea for experiencing that year's colors in a way that was more significant than the tourist's. But it was all for naught.

Then one day I looked out the RV's window and saw her rig pull into camp...

On a windy day in New Mexico, a yucca flower falls off and is impaled by the yucca stalk.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Part 6: Building Your Own "Wildlife Museum"

First day's "growth." Whether or not April really is the cruelest month, Spring (primavera) is the most difficult season to appreciate on a non-trite level. The timeless cycle of the seasons and the old principle of new growth are hard to find new expressions for, or at least, fresh embodiments of. But if we play defeatist and accept hackneyed celebrations of spring -- such as postcards of desert wildflowers or Hallmark card platitudes about Renewal -- we'll end up with a vague, but troubling, sense of opportunity lost. 

The Tucson area, my usual haunt in March, is a fortunate place to be in Spring if you are looking to really work on this project of appreciating Spring. Normally I like to start writing from concrete experiences and then migrate to the Big Picture. Today is an exception.

What a heartbreaker of a result! A reminder to leave your camera default in spot focus instead of center-weighted. Vermilion flycatcher south of Tucson.

Is it possible that the typical pattern of writing (and reading) is not helpful in appreciating Spring? The writer fusses and edits until the final result looks polished and presentable. Thus the process of writing is obscured. And it is this very process of development that has more to do with Spring than any end result of the writing.

Modern sentimentalists frequently use stock-phrases such as "in harmony with nature" and "according to nature". Ultimately these expressions trace back to the ancient Romans' use of "natura" as the  mis-translation of the Greek work, phusis, which actually means growth, development, or moving Purpose. (Isn't that a great expression? Thank Gilbert Murray, Ch. 3 of Five Stages of Greek Religion.)

"Development" is the very thing that is so noticeable in Spring. What better way is there to write about Spring than to imitate the act of Development in the process of writing, itself?

But how? Perhaps you could exploit some of the advantages of the internet to write in a sequence of unfolding stages, rather than editing the post into a finished product before presenting it to the readers. Ahh, but didn't Baltasar Gracian in his classic, The Art of Worldly Wisdom, warn us to "Never let Things be seen half - finished"?  The wise and shrewd old Jesuit's advice probably applies to writing, too. Seeing a half-finished book would lower the reader's estimate of the writer. But we are not talking about a professional writer trying to get ahead in the world.

Perhaps this is just a thought experiment and I won't really give it a try, but imagine a solid line being put across the page. Below the line, the writing is unfinished. Just raw ideas. Sentence fragments. Above the line is the finished product. Furthermore imagine this blog post changing every day: yesterday's raw idea jumps into today's finished product, above the line. Even the title would progress from day to day.

The raw content below the horizontal line would be the "soil", based mainly on quick thoughts of concrete experiences. Below the line lies "the vegetable mould through the action of" memories. The finished writing above the line would be the plant, topped off with the flower of quotes and metaphors from classic books and movies, of course!


Second day's growth.

One of the unique features of the Tucson area is the telescope culture. The observatories are easy to spot on top of Kitt Peak and Mt. Hopkins. In fact the latter is practically in my back yard where I am dispersed camping.

One of the Tucson observatories looking down on my dispersed campsite. You have to look close in the center of the screen.
Close-up of the observatory in the Santa Rita mountains south of Tucson.

The University of Arizona has its telescope mirror lab as well as an international reputation in that field. There are "dark sky" policies here to try to limit the light pollution from this metropolis of a million people.

A cynic might say that terrestrial telescopes no longer serve a serious scientific purpose in these days of radio telescopes and space telescopes. Perhaps the Tucson telescopes are used by the university for education. But of what? How many professional astronomers does the country need? Shooting from the hip, I have to guess that most of this is just science pork barrel spending. Maybe I'm wrong.

Be that as it may, I am here and need to make the best of it, so let's see if the proud old telescope culture can inspire me on some level. A mountain biker and dispersed camper is likely to be a map nerd. Topography and landmarks are daily obsessions. To a motorized outdoorsman, topography serves no real purpose other than visual entertainment. But to a nonmotorized explorer, every wrinkle has some effect on your effort, food and water requirements, ability to camp, damage and risk, etc.

Better yet, it is close to the equinox. Even somebody who thinks that the 'beauty and mystery of the heavens' is over-rated can get interested in the equinox when he pairs it to one of the important landmarks in the area. It is really something how some mountains lord over their surroundings, and seem to be visible everywhere in the area. A dispersed camper and mountain biker eventually becomes almost emotionally attached to these landmarks. 

South of Tucson the clear winner is Mt. Baboquivari, or Babo, which, as you can probably guess, 'was sacred to the Native Americans.' (Big deal -- what wasn't?) What matters to me is that I can step out of my RV on a dispersed campsite and watch the setting sun move northward near Babo every day. 

South of Tucson, as the equinoctial suspense builds. Mt. Baboquivari on the right. And don't try to tell me that places like this aren't begging for a new Sony camera, with sweep landscape mode!
Alas I'm camped on an east/west road, rather than a more desirable north/south one, where I could become completely obsessed over nailing it exactly. Just spend a little time on Wikipedia, reading up on Druids, Stonehenge, Babylonian or Egyptian astronomy. And then leave the city and the automobile and the television. Go RV camping, not RV parking. You have the same brain and body that they had back then.

One year, near Silver City NM, I did nail the equinox exactly with respect to a local celebrity rock structure, called the "Kneeling Nun."

Today, you and I can do something that a priest might have done thousands of years ago: hold your hand out at arm's length and count how many finger widths the setting sun moves north every day. Be careful with your vantage point, and using the same finger. Now replace it with a stick with regular tick marks in it. 

And ask Why and How? And what does it mean? This might be one of the first steps that Man took in becoming scientific, without which Life would still be nasty, brutish, and short. Think how revolutionary it was to measure something, and then notice regularity and patterns in it!

If any commenter says, "Wow dude, nice pix. Breathtakingly beautiful," I will puke.

Day 3. Patagonia AZ on the east side of the Santa Rita Mountains. Several times each morning, backpackers walk by the driveway I'm moochdocking on. They are usually headed north on the Arizona Trail. Technically the dirt road at the end of the driveway is a part of that Trail. So it pulls me in and then puts me off, at the same time.

This is a unique camping situation, so I want to cash-in by talking to some of these people. They should be interesting, shouldn't they? Alas, past experience has shown that my curiosity can be a nuisance to long-distance trekkers, be they on foot or on a bicycle. That's a pity. So let them pass undisturbed.

Besides, I am not inspired by these long distance trekkers. There is something sad and solitary about them. And doing the same thing for 10 hours per day sounds like too much of a good thing. Too much trudge and drudge. So why even write about them? 

That needn't be answered right now. Let's let thinking flow for awhile and then -- not stop -- but submerge, before re-emerging downstream, as does Patagonia Creek, itself.

Now that I've moved over to Patagonia, it was nice to see the same observatory from the east side, on today's mountain bike ride.

Day 4. Water. That's the most important word in the American Southwest. All of life is obsessed with getting this rarest and most necessary of commodities. And most of the Southwestern landscape is drawn by erosion. 

But to a modern outdoorsman, water doesn't mean much. Civilization has made it too easy to get water. Quite a bit of water can be toted along on a day trip into arid country, so why give it a thought? For something so precious to mean so little to somebody that it should mean so much to, is a limiting case of opportunity-lost.

But I'm not going to bring water filters and settle for hit-and-miss springs and creeks on my mountain bike rides. Water will still be toted. But imagining the importance of water is at least a way to appreciate long distance trekkers on the Arizona Trail or mountain bikers on the Great Divide Route. Their trek must be organized around watering holes, as routes were in the old days. These intrepid trekkers experience an authenticity that goes far beyond what a day-tripper experiences. Theirs is a more genuine Reality. 

Day 5.  Even people with wheels under their houses can't escape hot weather completely. In fact roughly 85% of the thermal discomfort that an RVer experiences annually is experienced in summer.  In the past I have tended to see each day of hot weather as a setback and an annoyance. I should be seeing it as an opportunity to appreciate water.  Only discomfort can create the chance to become violently thirsty, to become obsessed with taking a shower, or to stare in awe at the afternoon thunderstorm buildup during the monsoons.

Looking through the roof vent on a monsoonal afternoon.
But we humans are too good at avoiding the intensity that would make our travel experiences memorable and delicious.  We have such a security blanket from our economy and technology. Even more debilitating is the idea that we should always be comfortable.

And that is where a dog owner really cashes in -- but just try to convince the stereotypical dog-hating metropolitan Green hiker of that. Recently I was mountain biking with my dog on the alluvial bajada coming down from the Santa Rita Mountains, south of Tucson. There were the obvious sources of pleasure, but the one that I actually dwelled on was the least obvious: the tactile pleasure that the decomposed granite roads were giving to my dog.

I suppose there are people who get interested in geology for different reasons. But what are those reasons? Because it's fun to memorize the difference between Cenozoic and Cretaceous? I owe my interest to the drama of pain and pleasure that my little poodle went through on different geologies, before we conquered all with his own celebrity-endorsed product line of athletic footwear:

...but back to the present near Madera Canyon, just south of Tucson. My herding dog, Coffee Girl, and I biked right up to a hiking trailhead that started at a small creek. She was hot from the unusually warm spring weather. What a visually uninteresting, humble, little, cow-trickle of a creek it was. But what did it matter?!  She waded in and lapped the water up with the lusty noise that dogs usually do. The creek water must have felt wonderfully cool on her feet. 

It certainly looked clean. There were no cows upstream. But I couldn't bring myself to drink it. We've all been brainwashed with fear and suspicion. Drinking from a mountain stream is a primal and genuine pleasure that I have never had. 

Day 6. Spring means the Tucson area to me, probably because the altitude matches the calendar. Camping on the periphery of the metropolitan area causes me to appreciate how much I've detached from metro rat race society. Further away from the ant hill, I might not give it a thought.

Another object of pride in the Tucson area is the famous Desert Museum, and rightly so. Even I sprung for an admission ticket a few years ago. It was worth seeing, but I won't go again. I have few memories from it, except a dim memory of a mountain lion. It seemed like it should have been exciting. Why wasn't it?

They did a good job there. It's not that they were doing something wrong. It's just that any museum has unavoidable limitations. The mission statement on their website states that "The mission of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is to inspire people to live in harmony with the natural world by fostering love, appreciation, and understanding of the Sonoran Desert."

Geesh. Why did they have to use that silly word 'harmony'? Don't they know that that will make me jump onto a standard stump speech that ridicules their pseudo-religion? But there's probably no need to make the long-suffering reader submit to another round of that. Besides, maybe I need to emphasize a constructive alternative to their idolatry of photogenic and glamorous species.

The main limitation of a museum, no matter how good it is, is that the experience comes down to looking at something; and mere gawking can only impact you a little bit. Other experiences have knocked my socks off, so I know that I am capable of being affected by outdoor experiences if the correct approach is used.

The basic flaw in the ideology of the metropolitan nature lover is their metaphysical dualism between homo sapiens and everything else in nature. They simply can not see homo sapiens as one more animal species. Everything that we do is sinful, evil, and unnatural. Everything about every other species is perfect and "in harmony with nature." They stick to this absurd view because they have an emotional need for the simplistic "Good versus Evil" swan song of the Zoroastrian/Judeo/Christian tradition. This is ironic, considering how proud they are about being free of that tradition. But they never bothered to notice that they have only outgrown it intellectually -- not emotionally.

So what's the constructive alternative? To begin with, we need to own up to how overpopulated, over-regulated, henpecked, emasculated, office-bound, and detached from physical reality we've become. There's a quote in a book by the French historian, Hippolyte Taine, that captures the wimpy and henpecked mindset of a "modern." He was writing in the 1880s about the rise of Buonaparte. It was a fascinating simile: Corsica, like Sardinia and Sicily, had the culture in Napoleon's childhood that Italy had had during the Renaissance. It was a world of family vendettas, amoral scheming, condottieri, and latter-day Renaissance princes. Forgive me for using a quote with a context so far afield from the rest of the post, but I love it so.
On taking a near view of the contemporaries of Dante and Michael Angelo, we find that they differ from us more in character than in intellect. With us, three hundred years of police and of courts of justice, of social discipline and peaceful habits, of hereditary civilization, have diminished the force and violence of the passions natural to Man. In Italy, in the Renaissance epoch, they were still intact; human emotions at that time were keener and more profound than at the present day; the appetites were ardent and more unbridled; man's will was more impetuous and more tenacious; whatever motive inspired, whether pride, ambition, jealousy, hatred, love, envy, or sensuality, the inward spring strained with an energy and relaxed with a violence that has now disappeared. All these energies reappear in this great survivor of the fifteenth century; in him the play of the nervous machine is the same as with his Italian ancestors;

[Hippolyte Taine. The Modern Regime, Volume 1 (Kindle Locations 926-928). Available at]
This quote explains what happened once in a city park in Wyoming with my little poodle, who was still young and frisky. A young boy ran up from somewhere. He was shoeless and shirtless. My little poodle ran after him, playfully. For the first time in our careers together, I was jealous of another person. That boy was so thirsty! He jumped up to the water fountain and noisily guzzled and slurped at the water, as if he were a dog.

It wasn't news to me that canine loyalty was over-rated. (And that's a good thing for dogs' survival.) I stopped thinking about my own jealousy and contemplated the grandeur of what was in front of me: violent youthful energy, perfect health, and enthusiasm. The boy and the dog seemed so much alike.

That is the approach that I suggest for metro Greens. No matter how repressed and over-regulated they are, no matter how much modernity has beaten the life out of them, they need to look within and find that half-naked boy-savage of summer. More times than not, empathy with your dog will put you in the right mood.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Confusing Geographical Freedom with Lifestyle Flexibility

When a meme on the internet coasts along, year after year, without ever being challenged or tested, it is only natural for it to get flabby and to load up with blarney. So take the following post in the spirit of sportive iconoclasm. It's not aimed to hurt the feelings of any individual.

There is a persistent meme out there in the travel blogosphere that needs to be debunked and de-glamorized for no other reason than it could mislead RV wannabees and newbies. I'm referring to the "go anywhere, camp anywhere for free" meme. It is over-rated. 

It is usually an advertisement for van-camping on a street or in a parking lot, casino, or Walmart. (I should probably add that I like vans, have owned one for the last 16 years, and might be buying another one next year, for pulling a small travel trailer.)

A small rig might allow you to park overnight on more streets and parking lots -- without being booted out -- than larger rigs. But so what?! It won't mean that you're in paradise.

Don't think that this style of travel is the stuff of romantic "road trip" escapism, as in 'freedom of the open road' in a hippie bus circa 1970, 'freedom's just another word for nothing else to lose', Simplicity, Mobility, etc. How much good does it do somebody to "grin and bear it" for one more night in one more noisy city? And with police helicopters thump-thumping overhead; ambulance sirens screeching; asphalt-cracking boom-cars at all hours of the night; raucous music blaring out of a polelight in the casino parking lot; the parking lot "Zamboni" intentionally strafing your rig at 330 a.m.; and a garbage truck missing your bedroom by a couple feet at 430 a.m.

Freedom and flexibility should be aimed at improving your lifestyle choices, rather than finding one more parking lot to squat on. When your rig is huge, it will give you more lifestyle choices to go to a medium-sized rig. But this is not necessarily true if you go from a small rig to a smaller rig. If a rig is so small that you become a de facto slave of state parks (for their showers), casinos (for food and restrooms), truck stops, Walmart parking lots, etc., then I say that ostentatious Downsizing is subtracting more from your life than from your rig.

Small rigs tend to surrender on self-containedness. Typically they skimp on (or eliminate) the shower or one of the holding tanks. I wish I had a nickel for every holy prophet-of-the-parking lot who said they didn't need a shower because they can just take a baby-wipe and rub here and there. Yea sure, if they never exercise and have no need to strip off serious dust, bug goop, sunscreen, pet slobber, and salty dried sweat.

But that's my point: they might benefit from adding outdoor exercise to their lifestyle. But they aren't even trying, even though a mobile life allows them to have good weather all year. It should be at the top of list of the advantages of an RV life. They are content with having missed it. Meanwhile they brag about how long they squatted for free at the...

Too small of a rig might keep you from staying in cooler winter or warmer summer weather, if you have good reason to be there. And sometimes you do. Any kind of a seasonal job or volunteering gig will probably pull you into some non-ideal weather. So too will any kind of connection to interesting locals: a hiking club, a political cause, a church group, or whatever. Small rigs constrain you on pets and toys. Neither of these is frivolous, but in fact, can be an integral part of a more interesting and mobile lifestyle.

Small rigs can't store many days of food, water, propane, or waste water. This means an extra trip to town. So much for Frugality.

Challenge yourself by making a list of the ways that your lifestyle could be improved. More times than not, these ideas require a few things, things that need a little space. It's time for Downsizing to be called out: it is a shibboleth, devoid of any moral or philosophical value. It should be replaced with something that does have positive value: Selectivity. Downsizing for the sake of itself is just the flip side of the same coin as 'the bigger the better, the more the merrier.' Neither side of that coin is thoughtful.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Survey Markers of the Seasons

Expect to see some visually unspectacular photographs the next few days. I'm back at a seasonal haunt, dispersed camping in the Green Valley, AZ area. There are several landmarks around here, such as Elephant Head...

...that I look forward to seeing. They are certainly helpful for navigational purposes. But they are better yet as fiducial points of time. There is always some cognitive dissonance in making this switch from space to time.

Tomorrow morning, 'time' will get turned back into 'space.'

It's really nice coming back to some of the same places at the same time of year. These landmarks become old friends who are eager to greet you.

For the first time in a long time I actually wish one of my gadgets would wear out prematurely, so I can replace it with a new one. This place would be a good fit with the sweep panorama cameras made by Sony. On the ride today, Coffee Girl and I revisited a potential campsite alongside a large arroyo, washing down from the Santa Rita Mountains. It would have made a grand 180 degree sweep. The aspect ratio of the photograph could have been at least 10 to 1. I really want one of them suckers!


What a shame there aren't gravel lots for rent here, as there are in Yuma. I'd like to spend the month of March bicycling here. They've done an excellent job with bike/golf cart lanes. And there are so many bicyclists on the road here!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Shopping for a Transportation Machine

Oh sure, when you go shopping for a truck or van and a trailer, there are plenty of things that could discourage you. But with some effort you can see them as grimly humorous. Or you could put on your optimist-hat and say, with some irony, that the shopping experience confirms that Dr. Pangloss (aka, Leibniz) was right: we really do live in the best of all possible worlds.

I said 'ironic' because the average product made by the vehicle industry is probably better than what the average customer deserves. Most customers only care about the vehicle or RV as a fashion statement, a sex object, or a status symbol. Although they buy -- or rather, they borrow -- on that basis, they later come to regret on the basis of engineering trade-offs, those sober and grown-up issues that would be too boring or nerdish to consider at the point of sale. These have been my prejudices for years, and they were confirmed by a day of shopping for a new trailer and van or pickup in Tucson.

My first priority is buying a new towing machine to replace my Econoline 250 van (225,000 miles.) A year or two later, the newer van or pickup will be appended with a newer travel trailer. I really don't understand peoples fear about pulling a trailer. Perhaps they fail to distinguish a short trailer from a long one. It makes a big difference when it comes to turning around on a forest road. What I fear is being at the mercy of motorhome dealers. I want a tow vehicle that can be fixed anywhere. 

Buying a tow-vehicle/trailer combination is one of the few times in life when it actually makes sense to put 'the cart before the horse.' This is a bit surprising since the towing machine will have a higher initial price than most travel trailers, as well as most of the maintenance issues and costs. But it's the travel trailer that determines your options with the towing machine. Unless you keep the trailer light you will be at the mercy of the gasoline pump and the brontosaurus truck syndrome. The heaviness of the trailer will wear down the brontosaurus before its time. So let's consider the travel trailer first, even if it's not the thing that you need to buy first.

My current trailer weighs 4000 pounds loaded. The box length is 17.5 feet. I've only had two problems: low ground clearance with the trailer, caused by hateful 13" tires.  The problem shows up worst at the holding tank drain valve. The second problem is that it is too long for easy turn-arounds on backcountry roads.

(Standard RV industry marketing brags up lightweight trailers that "can be pulled by any SUV and even a mini-van!!!" One of the standard techniques for improving towability is to lower the ground clearance with these damn little teenie toy 13" wheels. Don't fall for it!)

Since Casitas are not acceptable to anyone over 5' 10" tall, I must go looking for small travel trailers with the standard 6' 4" inside standing height. At long last I had a chance to see my dream travel trailer in the flesh, in Tucson. It's the Kalispell, made by Carson. The bad news is that Carson has temporarily shuttered that segment of their business until the economy recovers, if ever. So 2012 was the last model year. So a recent model used Kalispell might be my future.

The box is 10.5 feet long by 7.5 feet wide. It weighs 2700 pounds dry and unloaded. The floor inside is 25 inches above the ground, compared to 19 inches in the current trailer. Now let's look at my obsession, ground clearance:

There is 15.25 inches between the ground and the bottom of the drain cap, compared to 8.8 inches for my current trailer. Notice also that the drain is in front of the axle, instead of the usual position, behind. It's a little hard to visualize whether that will help. 

This stubby little trailer has a toilet and shower. I could live in this thing full time. That being true, I can concentrate on buying a tow vehicle that needs to pull 3500 pounds.

Next time, I'll discuss the real problem, the tow vehicles.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Different Metaphors for Travelers (update)

Tucson, AZ. When a full-time traveler pulls into town, a ritual ensues. Much of it is just shopping and errands. But more importantly, the traveler begins once again to reconstruct a lifestyle, always hoping to improve on the last place.

Metaphor #1. For some reason I never saw the similarity of this reconstruction to something I was "brainwashed" with, as a child. My father, a teacher, would go down to the woodshop and collect sets of four or eight identical pieces of wood, sometimes blocks, sometimes round columns or other shapes. He would sand them off nicely for his two sons. Those were our toys and we ended up with a large box of them. We didn't have many plastic commercial toys or gadgets. 

Hour after hour, day after day, my brother and I would build skyscrapers out of these wooden blocks. When the skyscraper reached as high we could reach, we would admire it for 3 seconds, pull a block out of the lower corner, and then laugh with boyish delight at the collapse of the mighty edifice. Then we would start over again, with a slightly different architectural plan.

Photographic proof (from a sister) that my memory is sexist.
Looking back on that childhood experience, it was pretty good training for being a full-time RVer. The "wooden blocks" for a traveler consist of outdoor activities, local groups or events, friends, weather, the public library or used bookstores, RV maintenance or improvement, and cost control, not to mention doggie issues. It is more true every year that 'frugality' means staying out of a motor vehicle. At the moment I'm struggling to combine club road cycling with decent camping in the Tucson area.

#2. Although Metaphor #1 might work for some travelers, it probably won't work for the mainstream. (I suppose it's time to add the tedious disclaimer that 'there is nothing wrong with...') When they arrive and set up, the satellite TV dish is their most urgent errand, after getting level. The truth be told, they could survive without being level far easier than without TV. 

No wonder that their RV "Dream" uses TV-watching as its model and metaphor. That is why the mainstream RV lifestyle is just "channel surfing with gasoline."

#3. Scanning the bar codes of standard, sight-seeing "products."  Go to the visitor's center of places identified by a Rand-McNally interstate map; walk away with all the standard brochures about the standard places. Then go out and dutifully "consume" them. Stay away from anything weird, spontaneous, or individualized. They might be uncomfortable or dangerous. Worse yet, they might be less exotic and prestigious than what your peers consumed.

#4. Randy, over at mobilecodger, is insightful when he preaches the "whirlwind" metaphor for group camping. He is more than capable of speaking for himself, so I won't repeat his work.

#5. The holy prophets of the desert: a shriveled holy man in a loincloth, sitting on top of a cactus, following an abstemious diet, while preaching Downsizing and Simplicity. Modern day St. Simeon Stylites. I've already poked fun of them (and myself).

Looking for different models and metaphors is an important habit to acquire. Otherwise you might feel unnecessarily frustrated or disappointed when you meet "birds of a feather", only to discover later that the commonality is superficial, and that you are living-out completely different metaphors.

This oversight can occur anywhere in life -- I just happen to be looking at it from the perspective of a traveler. It could occur at work, church, a health club, a political cause, etc.

It goes far beyond disappointment. If you misjudge the other person's metaphor you will waste a lot of time before figuring it out. Then you might start criticizing them, and turn a friendly acquaintance into an enemy. Thinking that you have something in common with an individual separates them out from the 7 billion specimens that really don't interest you. (And even if they did, you have no time for them.) When you finally understand that the commonality was a misunderstanding, you are left with a profound sense of loneliness.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Playing King of the Mountain

Some time ago I wrote about how over-rated the "happiness software" industry is, and how human happiness is not that much different from animal happiness, because both are primarily hardware. Readers didn't buy it.

Very well then. How do they explain the little poodle in the photo? Has he just downloaded an upgrade to some trendy happiness-software? Could the operating system between those fuzzy ears even handle sophisticated software? Or maybe he has just read a special doggie version of Norman Vincent Peale or the latest and greatest self-help guru?

A man will be happy under pretty much the same conditions that a dog will be: the dog-pack's wild romp is similar enough to a human tribe's hunting trip. The best proof of this is to watch a rampaging horde of bicyclists, all feeding off each others energy.

Consider my bicycling club's recurring game of "king of the mountain." In the Yuma area there is only one real hill, the mountain pass penetrated by Interstate 8, about 10 miles east of town. The last time we bicycled over it, three of us had quite a contest to surmount the pass first. There is something mind-expanding about being focused on one physiological and athletic task. 

But that's just the thing: is it purely physiological? Why -- I didn't say 'how' -- do bodily cells of brain tissue send electrical signals to some other cells, these being of muscular tissue?  What does it really mean to be partly physiological and partly psychological? Playing king of the mountain on bicycle rides is an example of a boundary between human hardware and software. This boundary is confusing and hard to explain.

Many boundaries are not as sharp as they appear at first glance.  A more careful look usually reveals a smeared-out zone. Sharp and absolute discontinuities are more typical of mathematics class than they are of the real world. So what exactly is going on between my "will" and my muscles when I'm playing King of the Mountain?

Philosophers have been trying to sort out Mind-versus-Body (or Spirit/Material) for millenia.  As an individual I don't particularly care to get involved with these Big Questions. It's not because they aren't important, of course. It's just that I am not likely to reach a conclusion over these Big Questions -- not today anyway.

What an individual can do is experience, directly and intensely, situations that epitomize these Bigger Questions. And then feel profoundly satisfied! Perhaps it's because abstractions can be so unsatisfying; they can seem like mere verbiage. Perhaps it's a desire to see a condensed embodiment of a long-winded issue.

But let's get back to the boundary zone and why it matters. The boundary zone is an uncharted land for a world that no longer offers frontiers of the old-fashioned kind: the "westering" kind, the kind on the dark and dangerous periphery of the Known. Without geographically-outer frontiers to explore for adventure, we must look for interior frontiers, and murky and confusing boundary zones are one example of that.

The classicist, Gilbert Murray, in his Five Stages of Greek Religion, said:
The Uncharted surrounds us on every side and we must needs have some relation to it...

As far as knowledge and conscious reason will go, we should follow resolutely their austere guidance. When they cease, as cease they must, we must use as best we can those fainter powers of apprehension and surmise and sensitiveness...