Wednesday, April 30, 2014

What Does "Profoundly Satisfying" Mean?

While converting my new cargo trailer to a travel trailer, I've had "profoundly satisfying" experiences. The question is: does this phrase really mean anything, or is it just a pretentious way of saying, "Wow man, like, this is a great experience?" I want to believe that this phrase is significant.

But before theorizing and explaining, let's put some 'boots on the ground.' I apologize for these details. They are petty in themselves but they keep me from floating in the clouds of platitudes and generalities.

For instance,
1) An incipient purchase of a major item brings on anxiety. In my case I altered the freshwater tank and procedure in my old trailer, just because I wanted to see if the improvement would work in the new trailer. I haven't changed this in a decade. Why not? Why had I procrastinated so long? Did I really not believe that the water pump could self-prime by lifting water upward for two feet?

Anyway, it can. Now I just bring in a 5-gallon jug of water from the tow vehicle, and set it on the floor next to the water pump. Then I insert a flexible hose into the 5-gallon jug; this is the inlet hose to the water pump, of course. After a few seconds of gurgling, water fills the plumbing lines.

No more bending over (with 45 pounds of water) to pour the jug of water into a small water reservoir. No more spillage.

Now, when I heat the water on the stove in order to take a navy shower, I just bring the pan over to the flexible hose, or pour the hot water into a 1-gallon plastic container, and stick the flexible hose into it. Geesh, I should have thought of this years ago.

2) I once told a relative that he must have had a lot of fun building a new house, as opposed to constantly remodeling an older house, which was my experience. With new construction you are the designer; you are starting with a blank piece of paper; your work is additive and constructive.

In contrast, renovating/remodeling involves so much un-doing and the endless stripping of surfaces down to bare wood. You have to accept the other guy's mistakes, and try to live with them. And when you are finished, everything looks so ad hoc: there is no unity to the structure.

These two opposite approaches are somewhat analogous to the English Model and the French Model. In the political sphere I admire the English Model and distrust the French. Even in the house/rig racket, there are certain advantages to the "English Model", such as getting to live there immediately, and making piecemeal improvements with no huge risks.

3) When an individual does "home improvement," he frequently needs to be at both ends of the board or both sides of the wall, at the same time. Nobody's arms are twenty feet long. So the poor devil sticks vise-grips on the hex head of the bolt and tries to make them run into something, or maybe taping them down somehow. Or he uses unwieldy clamps. Well I survived these situations, but always resented them.

At long last I had a chance to use carriage bolts -- you know, with the heads that have a square layer that gets pulled into the wood, and locks up, so you can go to the other side of the wall and tighten the nut. What a marvelous invention! Nostalgia is a strange thing: carriage bolts remind me of my grandfather's farm, where there were lots of them.

4) Tearing my trailer apart before insulating it. Finding out where the mistakes are, where the wiring runs, and where the blasted "rafters" are, so that I can screw to something solid.

5) And last but not least, I experienced a happy ending to a 20-year-long retro-grouch episode. That's how far back I can remember a discussion with another home-improvement guy. He was already using one of those battery-operated, portable, screwdriver/drills. Those Early Adopters, won't they ever learn?! I held back and held back. On the day I bought my trailer I finally bought one of these tools. Now I can't imagine being without one.

Merriam-Webster's Dictionary tells us that 'profound' comes from the Latin for before + bottom. It defines the word to mean: 
1a : having intellectual depth and insight  b : difficult to fathom or understand
2 a : extending far below the surface  b : coming from, reaching to, or situated at a depth  : DEEP-SEATED  *a profound sigh*
3 a : characterized by intensity of feeling or quality  b : all encompassing  : COMPLETE.

What a marvelous and mysterious word it is! And what about these profoundly satisfying experiences? What do they have in common? Perhaps it is the feeling that comes from many years of low-level frustration that manages to stay mostly in the background. But the resentment builds up. When the situation is finally fixed, you realize what a load you have taken off your back.

OK, I'll add a couple photos later today. I mean, really! It's as if people would rather look at photos of blow-by-blow progress rather than read my "profound" words. Right now it is driving me crazy to try to type with Band-Aids on half my finger tips. That happens in single-digit relative humidity.

From the stern, looking toward the bow. The starboard side (curb-side to lubbers) is now livable with the bed, overhead storage boxes, and a garment rack at the foot of the bed. The latter is an efficient use of space, since your feet don't mind the neighbors and the dog thinks it makes a nice, cozy den. I am going to leave the plywood walls unpainted, at least for now. Condensation between the layers can not evaporate through the aluminum skin of the trailer. So drying can only take place inward. It's not like a house, where you would use a vapor barrier between the living area and the outside world.

Friday, April 25, 2014

"Kabloona" at the Four Corners

Last week I went to Utah to pick up my new cargo trailer. It was a long drive, so I decided to spend the night in my tow vehicle (a full-sized van), and pick up the trailer the next morning. How odd that I had never done this before! It was pretty uncomfortable sleeping in the back of a van with four bicycles inside. Nobody wants to roll over in bed and plant their face into a greasy bicycle chain.

But after a bit of obsessing over 'space' I started to grow suspicious that this reaction was too conventional and easy. Perhaps I was mislabeling the problem. The real problem wasn't space per se, tight as it was. The problem was 'transitioning.' 

People (like me) who aren't any good at transitioning can easily dislike conventional travel. It never occurred to me that the problem wasn't travel per se, but rather, packing and unpacking, looking for everything, zipping and unzipping, forgetting stuff, learning and unlearning daily habits, etc.

The real breakthrough in RVing comes when you are done transitioning, once and for all. Do you think that the general public of wannabees appreciates that? They probably think that 'practical' issues are the big thing. But I'm here to tell you that a human being can get used to just about anything, as long as there is some routine to daily life. If you live in a certain box, night after night, your habits conform to the opportunities and limitations. You make daily improvements.

And with that, I picked up my new little white box in the morning. It might be my home for the rest of my life. A little white box. It was cold that night in the van, so it was easy for the mind to wander off to igloos and Eskimaux. I thought about the book, "Kabloona, The White Man." It was written by a French anthropologist about his time with the Eskimaux, just after World War II.

Did they obsess over space "problems" in their igloos, or did they have more important things to worry about? As I spent all last week converting my new little white box, I couldn't get Kabloona out of my mind. I was Kabloona, living and working in the storage area of an RV park in Farmington, NM. It's not exactly a "rez" town, but it is surrounded by Indian reservations.

Some of the Navajos have strange habits. They are camping, sleeping in their cars, and loitering in "my" storage area. They haven't caused any problems for me, but I wonder what their arrangement is, with the RV park owner. I am the only Kabloona hanging out back here.

A couple days ago, an old cycling friend and her significant other came to visit me at this RV park. She was the one who recommended the Kabloona book to me, years ago.

Shot from the stern, looking towards the bow. Plywood comes off so that insulating foamboard can be put in the walls and under floor. Recall that readers who are interested in more details can read a discussion forum on this topic at

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Vertical Freedom for Travelers

Motorists are not completely oblivious to gaining or losing altitude, but generally they think in terms of miles traveled.  Horizontal miles. The same is true for most RVers, since they are just motorists. Of course the limiting case of "horizontalists" are boaters.

Bicyclists and hikers can go both directions. One way to quickly assess a new hiking or cycling buddy is to see where they line up on horizontal/vertical divide.

The limiting case of a "verticalist" would be an ice or rock climber.

Leaning heavily towards the verticalist end of the spectrum is the back-country, RV-ing dispersed camper. (I frown on the term, boondocking.) In particular, it has always been my dream to get higher ground clearance in my rigs, especially the travel trailer. Of course, the low spot on most RVs is the holding tank drain valve. A commenter once encouraged going to a welding shop and having a serious steel-skid-plate installed, to protect that vulnerable drain plumbing.

Actually 3 digit forest roads are not that rough, but a camper still has to cross a ditch on the side of the road in order to camp. Also, there are arroyo crossings and eroded ruts whose conditions can be bad, depending on recent weather. Roughness goes up drastically if you venture down 4 digit forest roads. And I don't even want to think about 4 digits with a letter after. (Those are best for full-suspension mountain biking.)
Progress continues very quickly with my new cargo trailer, which I'm converting into a travel trailer. And it is time to compare inches with the reader. I'll tell you up front that you ain't got a chance, buddy boy, now that I have replaced the factory-4-inch-drop-axles with a straight axle, thereby raising trailer box by 4 inches.

The standard 16 inch high Reliance 7 gallon water jug. Notice the 15 inch tires. Geesh, do I ever hate small tires! No tricks here -- the trailer and the ground are flat and horizontal.

There will be NO drain plumbing ever installed on this cargo trailer, although I might get around to installing a holding tank below the floor, but no drain plumbing!

The nominal ground clearance for the trailer box is 17 inches. But what really counts is the lack of any under-parts dangling down below the frame. The lowest parts are the U-bolts that clamp the axle to the springs.

The mechanic at the trailer store laughed at the 4 inch drop axles that tend to be the industry standard. He used to live in snowy country. Looking back in the mirror he would see that the trailer's drop-axle had smoothed the snow into a perfectly flat surface. 

The standard Rubbermaid Rough-Tote tub under the axle. The bottom of the center of the axle is 12 inches above the ground.

It is so predictable and such a cliche to talk about the 'freedom of the open road.' Actually paved highways and horizontal travel are pretty boring. Hopefully I've convinced the reader to change their orientation to "vertical-ism."

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

How to Enjoy (RV) Home Improvement

Farmington, NM. My goodness, how long has it been since I had a paintbrush in my hand? Seventeen years, perhaps? But there I was in Home Depot, actually looking at color charts. I smiled, reminiscing about seeing women looking at these charts. They were transfixed -- it was some kind of religious experience for them.

You know what? It was kind of fun. The color shade of "Navajo Sand" caught my eye. But say, which earth-tone color should a traveler be loyal to? Think of the reddish tones tones of Utah sandstone, the pallid calcareous tones of West Texas and New Mexico, and all the colors in the geology of our travels. Which one was best?

Who thinks up all these names that are used in the color charts? What was their college major? You'd think they would run out of words. I'm not sure the words are even that accurate. 

Now then, what color is best for the floor of my new cargo trailer? Forget 'pretty'! Some sort of buff color, resembling dirt and sand, is best.

You know, it was actually fun to paint the plywood floor. The truth is that I always liked to paint when I had a fixer-upper house. It was the thankless drudgery of surface preparation that got tiresome. There are several techniques that make the difference between loving home improvement and hating it. 

I sometimes wonder if seasonal house renovation wouldn't be a good sideline for an independent person who retired early, but not if it crowded everything else out, and that is exactly what it tends to do.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Update on RV Boondocking Rig -- Sold!

Apparently my boondocking travel trailer has been sold. Tomorrow I drive up to Utah to pick up my new trailer, a rather standard cargo trailer. 

Those who do something like this might be wise to order a trailer in the slow season, that is, any time but spring. Of course your winter location might be a long ways from your state of residence, where you will need to drive to, in order to register the trailer. 

Because spring is the busy season, I would have had to wait ten weeks if I'd ordered a trailer just like I wanted. That pushes the conversion into the Dry Heat of June, quickly followed by the monsoons in July. Thus I bought one off the lot.

Doing a conversion needs more than just good hardware stores and lumber yards. It should benefit from a commercial infrastructure of  "hard hat" and truck industries. There are remarkably few practical cities in the Four Corners area. Farmington NM is such a place, probably because of its oil and gas drilling economy.

Better yet, I found an RV park owner who was flexible, low budget, and full of common sense. I thought that such behavior was at least rare, and probably illegal, in this country. I need to park the old trailer (where I will live) next to the new trailer (being converted) for a month or so. Most RV parks would frown on that or charge you for two full hook-up sites. This fellow allowed me to move both into his small storage area for half of what a full hookup site would cost. (Remember, I have three vehicles there.)

What a great guy! Everything I need is one or two miles away. This has to be the best chance for an anti-RV-park person to put their aversion aside, temporarily. It is the sum of camping fees and transportation costs that need to be minimized. Obsessive free-camper-types can easily forget that. And yes, after a hard day of converting, I will take a non-navy shower in the campground's bathhouse.

Although the conversion will be my first and likely to be challenging, we should remember that there are many things worth doing that are not worth writing or reading about. My challenge will be to be helpful to readers, but to avoid drowning them in picayune details that won't carry over to their circumstances.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

How to Start RV Boondocking Camping Easily, Cheaply, and Quickly

I have a bumper-pull travel trailer for sale: 1997 AeroLite, 7 X 21 foot (nominal), weighing 4000 pounds loaded. (I am the original owner.) It would work best for a single person. The inside standing height is 6' 3.5". 

At its weight you can pull it with any half-ton pickup truck (e.g., Ford F150), Tacoma or Frontier, or truck-based SUV, Chevy Astro, or full size van (e.g., Econoline). You wouldn't want to use a crossover utility vehicle (CUV) or a 4 cylinder truck.

This travel trailer would be a clever way to slip into boondocking if you are uncertain whether you will really like the lifestyle, and you don't want to spend a lot to give it a try. It would be a fair test; otherwise you might use a rig that just isn't meant for dry camping, with the result proving nothing. 

This travel trailer would also be ideal for someone who doubts their skill or interest in volts, amps, sabre saws, and electric drills. All of that has been done a long time ago. You can start boondocking the first day you own it.

This travel trailer would also be excellent in non-travel mode: as a portable, ready-to-live-in cabin for an acreage or a driveway.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Why is the Anti-Hero So Important in Classic Movies?

The other night I was re-watching Billy Wilder's classic movie from the early 1950s, "Stalag 17." It is a strange mixture of comedy, detective story, and cynicism. William Holden certainly deserved the Oscar he got for Best Actor.

The commentary track kept talking about how good the comedic supporting actors were. I could not agree: the comedy seemed dated and un-funny. But the anti-hero, played by William Holden, did not seem dated. Why?