Friday, June 27, 2014

Ready for Material Sacrifices in the RV Lifestyle?

With only a little bit of exaggeration I can claim to have felt "panic" about giving up some creature comfort, for the first time in 17 years of full-time RVing. No kidding. Because my new trailer is smaller and lighter than the first one, the office chair was getting in the way of everything. Perhaps it should be switched to a folding chair with arms.

But first let's look at the big picture. Wikipedia has an interesting article on the subject of chairs. It is quite surprising how new-fangled the Chair is, at least when it comes to widespread use (no pun intended for Americans.) And perhaps rightly so. They were always rather uncomfortable things. 

It has only been the last 20 years that chairs have accepted the fact that the human back is curved. The office armchair is the most comfortable chair I know of. I don't understand how people can live with slouchy sofas, overstuffed easy chairs, or those dreadful little RV dinette things. Hence my panic.

You might be thinking that a dozen material sacrifices must be made by someone transitioning from a house to an RV. Ahh, but did you pick up on the key word in that sentence: transitioning? Only the first year was a transition. After that you accept a new "normal". You stop making things unnecessarily difficult by comparing everything in the RV to its counterpart in a standard house, and you stop flip-flopping between two dissimilar sets of habits.

And so what did RVing force me to give up? Only stuff that I had no real interest in. I don't care if the toilet paper dispenser in the basement half-bathroom is made of Italian granite. The only things that mattered to me were bicycles, dogs, and the office chair. 

When I lived in a standard house with the standard lifestyle, I never had a dog. It wouldn't have been practical.

I owned more bicycles as an RVer than as a standard suburban homeowner. It astonishes me that people, who think they have comfortable (and expensive) rigs, have no space to store a bicycle inside.

It is unbelievable how uncomfortable the standard suburban McMansion can be. Can you find a decent reading chair and light in the whole place? Does the toilet actually flush without jiggling and jiggling the handle? I've almost slipped and fallen in the "comfortable" showers in those places. The countertops and desktops are too low to the ground. Lights in the bathroom illuminate from the wrong angle. Kitchen cabinets are dark inside -- you need a headlight to see what's in there.

In fact, when people talk about "comfort" they are not talking about the ergonomics of the human body. They are talking about social status, entertainment, and high expense.

But surely I miss all the spa-a-a-ace in a standard house, you say. Not really. Parkinson's law just means that you will fill all that space with useless crap -- so much crap that you will never be able to find any of it.

Besides, when newbie RVers complain about their lack of space, they never distinguish square feet (on the floors and countertops)  from three-dimensional space, cubic feet. An RV is indeed hurting for square feet. But it is generous with cubic feet, which are usually squandered on windows.

And speaking of windows...

I just installed my first window in the cargo trailer. It was easier than I thought. It helped that the laminate door had no aluminum rafters of course!. The bottom half of the window slides up for a screen.

Sexy little beast, ain't it?

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Noticing Special Pleasures on Unpopular Land

I've certainly experienced it before, and many times. But it has been awhile since I enjoyed the exquisite pleasure of a partly cloudy day. It was bright and cheerful enough. The solar panels could charge the batteries. But what you really notice is how kind the world seems when you aren't under relentless attack by the sun. May and June are the worst months in the Southwest.

It takes a special effort to appreciate the importance of this kindliness. You just have to slow down, stop running around like a postcard tourist, and let it soak in.

My dog and I biked up to the top of a large ramp called the Uncompahgre Plateau, west of Montrose CO. It is not as steep and photogenic as the newer orogenies of Colorado, therefore it is less popular with sightseers. Even Wikipedia virtually ignores it. It is a place that only locals and old-fashioned outdoorsmen go. But the lack of extreme verticality makes it more fun to mountain bike and RV-camp on. 

But occasionally there are peeks at the distant, more photogenic peaks of the San Juans. It's almost a tease. And a challenge. You can't just settle into the easy and lazy mode of letting Mother Nature knock the eyeballs right out of your head. 

I usually rhapsodize about the rivers in Colorado. It seems fitting to visit the area where so many of the rivers start. But there aren't any big rivers here on the Uncompahgre, at least, not close. There is a pleasant feeling of detachment here.

After a mountain bike ride I am always in a relaxed mood, ready for a little mind-drifting. And thus I put on some piano music and let imagination and gravity pull me slowly off the plateau, down to that nearest far-off river. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Do You Feel Useless When a Friend is Sick?

The short answer is 'probably.' If we look at it in a typical modern utilitarian way, that pretty much ends the discussion.

But is this just one more case when a "failure" really isn't a failure if you adjust your expectations realistically? Perhaps once again the true enemy of the Good is not the Bad, but rather, the Ideal.

I returned to Ouray CO hoping to have a small beneficial effect on an outdoorsy RV friend. We did have a good visit. But medical complications got in the way of doing what I really wanted to do: go on recovery walks with him, and make the point that he didn't have to be athletic superman and indestructible super-Mark to be fun to be with; and to help him focus on the improvement rather than what he normally was capable of doing.

Seen objectively, he has a lot to be pleased with in his life. A zillion hours in the Colorado Rockies, hiking with a wife who loves it as much as he does. Then there is the little matter of two seriously nice houses in a ridiculously beautiful town. But would mentioning that be the least consoling? I doubt it, and it wouldn't be anybody's fault.

Visiting Ouray CO, but failing to be a positive jinx.

But perhaps it's hopeless to be an effective in-the-flesh sympathy card and we should just leave the job to Hallmark. There is actually something disgusting in the "superiority" of the would-be consoler, based on nothing more than having better luck -- for the moment -- than the consolee. Tomorrow the situation could reverse.

There are probably methods that would make a would-be consoler more effective. I suppose I should -- the typical euphemism for "probably won't" -- learn these methods. Something is holding me back. Maybe I don't want to think of a human being as a psychological mechanism. I want them to be an individual human being with free-will, and not a slave to some kind of deterministic manipulation.

Let us put the issue of utilitarian consolation aside and ask if there are other reasons for visiting a sick friend or relative. Once upon a time people would have thought it "fitting." But what does that really mean? Or they might have thought that visiting them "honored" them for the importance they had in our lives. Honor? Sounds a bit archaic doesn't it? What would a social scientist find if they put "honor" in their test tubes?

Well, I don't know much about this. But I am motivated to re-read Tolstoy's "The Death of Ivan Ilyich." It's not because my friend is going to die, of course. He is a tough old goat, and I suspect I'll be struggling to keep up with him pedaling up Flying Monkey Mesa next autumn or maybe the one after that. (A classic movie, loosely based on "Ivan", is "Ikiru" by the legendary Japanese film-maker, Kurosawa.)

Rather, Death and Illness are certainly related philosophically and sentimentally.  I can't seem to think about anything without invoking a classic book or movie. And novelists and scriptwriters usually make a subject of Death rather than Disease, perhaps just for intensifying the dramatic effect.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Traveling Again, Observing Again

I'm glad that southwestern Colorado (Cortez, Mancos, Dolores) seems to be coming up in the world as a mountain biking alternative to you-know-where in southeastern Utah. I will never understand what is so great about fighting loose red sandstone. Southwestern Colorado has some good ponderosa forests with smooth packed dirt trails.

The other day we saw a family at the top of the hill on the trail ahead of us. Did the mom ever have her hands full: a child too young to walk, a little boy-savage about 4, and a labrador retriever, together with all the impedimenta that goes along with them. I snapped my dog on the leash so that the mother wouldn't have one more issue to contend with.

Oddly enough, she seemed to be enjoying the moment of chaos. Her lab was friendly so I unsnapped my dog so that they could play together. I got a kick out of the little boy-savage, with his forest-camo, face-paint made of "Teddy Grahams."

All this little boy-savage-of-summer needs in the forest is a club or spear.

I wish I had more pleasant encounters like this with homo sapiens. Normally they are just a nuisance. But it should be an important part of the travel experience. I like the way the mother was content with a boy who acted like a boy and allowed her dog to act like a dog.

I always leave nice families feeling optimistic. Maybe this country isn't as sick and dying as it usually appears, especially with a woman like this willing to pass her genes on. Where did she get her optimism?

The Dolores public library, backing right up to the river, makes for a great place to hang out and suck free wi-fi, while listening to the symphony of piano music from the river. There was a young couple at the other end of the patio with a -- did I get this right? -- a pet Canadian goose. At least it was acting like a pet. My dog wasn't even lunging at the goose, perhaps because it was acting like a pet rather than prey.

Later, when they left, the silly goose followed them like a young duck will follow its mother. Even sillier was the goose's body language: 'what, you're leaving me? But I need you!' The goose kept following them, and the young woman kept turning around to check on it. She giggled in astonishment the whole way.  So that wasn't their pet! 

Apparently it was a denizen of the Dolores River, who had perhaps learned that it could mooch food from people on the library's patio. The goose followed them down the side of the highway for 100 yards, with cars streaming by, a few feet away. It couldn't walk as fast as the people, so occasionally it would spread it massive wings and hop a bit, giving it the appearance of love-sick indignation.

Surely this was a nice moment to get off the mountain bike and take it all in. Although they probably grow in many states, I never seem to run into wild roses except in southern Colorado. Perhaps it is the timing. It is nice having a smaller camera: occasionally even a retro-grouch adapts to the modern age of lithium batteries and more compact cameras.

So I was expecting a good photo of 'many a flower, blushing unseen' as some damn fool poet once said. But they were withering rather than blushing. Here is how I wanted them:

Taken at my favorite flower hangout above South Fork, CO
I wondered what the right attitude should be towards disappointment like this. It seemed like the subject for an entire essay, but right now a mountain bike in the stable is neighing plaintively and pawing anxiously at the ground.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Back to Living

Readers have heard me say it so often they are sick of it, but nothin' in this old world of ours beats living partially outdoors. I am enjoying the chilly morning air in a Colorado forest, at 7000 feet, especially with a sunrise coming through the screen door:

I would sleep all night with the IMAX screens open if it weren't for the possibility of a bear getting a whiff from my kitchen and then walking into the trailer!

And I'm back on the mountain bike again, after a 2 month long hiatus. Coffee Girl and I are both out of shape. We like the dirt in the ponderosa forest near Dolores CO and the views of Mesa Verde.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

New Chapter Began -- and Almost Ended -- Friday the 13th

I am in the habit of reading bicycle touring blogs, CrazyManOnaBike. I've noticed how uninteresting it can be to read the travel blogs of experienced and strong bicycle tourists. The daily numbers they put up are impressive. But everything is so smooth and predictable.

It is usually more fun to read the blogs of raw newbies. They are more open about their fear and wonder. They screw up and then have to deal with the drama of digging out of one mess after another.

This is redolent of my situation converting my first cargo trailer into a livable travel trailer. It was long-anticipated, and highly relished. But it turned out smoother than I thought. I didn't say 'easy.' But as I anticipate leaving on its maiden voyage tomorrow, Friday the 13th, I do feel slightly cheated. Where was the drama and the exquisite Noble Suffering that William James wrote about?

It seems playful to taunt the gods by starting life with my new trailer on Friday the 13th, after two months of sunrise-to-sunset work in converting it. It is strange how a vestige of superstition exists in Modern Man. For me it takes the form of fearing divine retribution for displaying hubris. 

It is entirely possible that the modern age is temperamentally superstitious under the outer skin of rational and scientific thinking. Consider what Gilbert Murray said in "Five Stages of Greek Religion:"

The great thing to remember is that the mind of man can not be enlightened permanently by merely teaching him to reject some particular set of superstitions. There is an infinite supply of other superstitions always at hand; and the mind that desires such things -- that is, the mind that has not trained itself to the hard discipline of reasonableness and honesty, will, as soon as its devils are cast out, proceed to fill itself with their relations.

All around us we see things like consumer brand loyalty, patriotism (the euphemism we normally use for imperialistic militarism), New Age fads, food fads and ideologies, quack herbal remedies, fear of Global Warming, etc.

But I'm not trying to sound totally superior to all of that. The great day finally arrived. I was getting ready to leave the heat and wind of Farmington NM, and then head to cooler Colorado, when I noticed the new trailer rising a bit at the hitch, whereas it had always been completely horizontal, before. Strangely, the (female) hitch wasn't really sitting down on the ball correctly. I had come that close to taking off with an accident waiting to happen. The gods were in fact still on duty.


In the Dolores, CO to Ouray, CO area over the next couple weeks? Feel free to email me if you would like to camp nearby and go mountain biking, dog walking, or cargo trailer note-swapping. I leave it to you to decide if I would be fun to camp with. My interests are listed at the top of the page. I don't really have much interest in the "boondocking" stereotype of the blogosphere, though. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

"Boonie" Era is Over; Introducing kaBLOOnie

There is too much personal chit-chat on the internet. It is trivial, banal, and unintelligent. What I have tried to do with this blog is focus on ideas, principles, and issues. Leave the personality trivia to TV talk shows and Facebook.

Thus I didn't even use a name at the beginning of blogging. 

My first day blogging: a mighty wind of hot air was about to hit the internet.

Why should I? The blog wasn't about me, per se. But commenters needed to begin with something other than, "Hey you," or maybe, "You jerk..."

So dear old Granny J started calling me "Boonie." I sort of liked it, and took it up, despite it not being a perfect name for me. Most of what people call RV boondocking does not even appeal to me. What does appeal is dispersed area camping on public lands. Technically, the Quartzsite mob-fest and Long Term Visitor Area (LTVA) camping are examples of dispersed camping, but these two don't appeal to me either. I simply do not want to hear a camping neighbor. 

Also, newbies probably come to this blog expecting how-to advice, down to the tiniest detail, on "boondocking." There are several excellent websites where they can go for that.

Now that I've finished my two-month-long project of converting a cargo trailer to a livable travel trailer, it is time to start anew, not just with camping, but with my internet persona, as well. So I am adopting the nickname kaBLOOnie, with the accented syllable in upper case. It is an allusion to the book, "Kabloona, The White Man", a book by a French anthropologist who spent a couple years with the eskimaux during World War II. You see, this white man (me) built his mobile white igloo in Farmington NM, surrounded by the Navajo reservation. In fact they were sleeping in cars next to me as I built this trailer in the storage area of an RV park. The name, kaBLOOnie, also sounds a bit like "boonie" in order to help people make the transition.

At least this helps to honor the occasion and to make me feel like I am starting over again.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Appreciating More Things in Life

Readers probably laughed off my "getting better with age" arguments as a mere pep-talk.  But I don't give pep talks, and roll my eyes when I catch somebody else doing it. Here's another important thing that can get better with age: the ability to appreciate more things in life.

This ability is not guaranteed or automatic with age. It requires broad and varied experiences. Most of us don't really get this from our lives and jobs. Life has become too bureaucratized and regularized for that.

But let's not surrender completely. Retirement offers enough independence and freedom to allow for wider experiences. (Must I say that I'm not talking about trivial experiences like looking at pretty scenery?) Of course early retirement offers more opportunities than retiring at the standard age, where, unless you are lucky, doctor appointments start to take over life.

For instance, even though I have owned a stick-and-brick house, I've never before had the experience of watching a house become a home. There is some interesting chemistry happening here, or rather, biology. I'm not talking about running around town buying fripperies and trinkets to decorate the new trailer. Rather, I'm talking about walking in and finding that everything works together; that you can find what you're looking for -- quickly; that you can turn around without bumping something; that you can walk around without snagging your shirt on something; that it is reasonably convenient to keep it reasonably clean.

You must be able to work efficiently in the kitchen or you will use that as an excuse for eating out. What parts will require maintenance first, and do you have those parts squirreled away in a box somewhere? Oh yeah, where?

The mechanical and electrical structure was done a week ago. But it was just a structure. It needed a human being living in it to make it complete. For instance, I just had a nasty coffee burn and spill because my top-heavy cup was sitting on the drying-cloth too close to the edge of the kitchen counter. Now I have to make a small project out of making sure that that never happens again.

She likes the view out the back. It's all screen, and she can walk out whenever she wants!

The window order got screwed up, so for the next week I'll have to be happy with the light and air from the Fan-tastic vent I just installed. It makes quite a difference.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Quickly Categorizing Travelers

Some people think it un-PC to stereotype people, that is, to categorize them. They think you are being "mean" and disrespectful. Nonsense. Every word in a language creates categories. If you said that a fire engine was "red", would a PC nambie-pambie immediately take offense because 'not all red things are alike?'

Similarly with RV travelers. We look for categories because they are mental shortcuts for understanding and predicting others' behavior. Standard small talk, when playing 20 Question with Fred and Mildred at an RV park, might start off with 'sooooooo, where ya frum.' But it would be more informative to ask them about their shower. That quickly categorizes the RVer for me.

If somebody can't survive without taking a 20 minute shower and using 20 gallons of water, they belong in an RV park or a house back in the suburb of the metropolitan area. It probably categorizes them as a vacationer or newbie. In any case, they will never succeed as a so-called boondocker. 

Then there are the fetid fellows in old vans, guys who are card-carrying members of the Gandhi-wannabee RV club. They don't take showers at all, and are proud of it. They just take their baby-wipes and 'rub a little here...and a little there.'  You can also guess that they never really do anything outdoors that gets them sweaty. They just hole up in their van, sleeping, watching satellite television, and bragging about how cheap they are.

The third category consists of rational and enlightened creatures, who love a navy-style hot shower. It takes less than a gallon of water, heated in a pan on the stove. It takes 5-10 minutes to heat the water, so that gives you time to set up the shower curtain. I use a fabric shower liner. You generate very little spray when taking a navy-shower.

Looking up from the curb-side door at the navy shower stringer. It will take a minute to hook up the fabric shower curtain, but you have to do something while the water heats up on the stove.
Then you pour the hot water into a one-gallon container, insert the flexible hose which is the inlet to your water pump, and shower away. It's easy to dispose of less than a gallon of shower water.

The plastic tub serves as the dirty clothes hamper, when not serving as the shower pan.

Inside view of shower. The flexible hose is the same one used at the kitchen sink, which is just behind (away from the camera) the shower curtain.
Oh sure, I will miss having a permanent shower stall, like I had in my first trailer. But it has a 7' X 17' box. The cargo trailer is 6' X 13' (including the V-nose), so something had to give.

No doubt the slight inconvenience will result in me taking fewer showers. That is good. There is no point of wasting the water unless you are covered with sweat, bug goop, or sunscreen, and really desire a shower. Remember the Prime Directive of this lifestyle: to live at the point of Diminishing Returns.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Altar of the Atlases

Yes, I'm turning into a rhapsode of "profound satisfactions" about converting a cargo trailer into a livable travel trailer. I built a symmetric rack for my cherished (and half-worn-out) Benchmark and DeLorme atlases. There was something altar-like in their position at the new "command-and-control" center.

This was hardly a great engineering feat. It was a trivial project compared to the kitchen or the solar equipment. And yet I just loved it. Now how could such a small project offer such satisfaction?

It must be the maps.  There is, in any endeavor, a delightful sophomoric phase when you realize you are no longer a mere member of the general public, but are becoming one of the cognoscenti. 

With an RV traveler that phase might happen when you stop thinking in terms of Rand-McNally interstate highway maps, which gas stations and restaurants are at which exits, or which over-crowded, over-priced RV park you are going to spend the night. And this corresponds to you loading up with Benchmark and DeLorme atlases.

By making an altar at the front of the church I get to be reminded of that sophomoric phase every day. 

And speaking of honoring the semi-holy, what better example could you find than the Henschel Australian Breezer, 3.5" brim. To store it with the honor it is due, you must use a spring-loaded hat mousetrap:

Anybody who takes hats seriously -- and in the Southwest, you'd be wise to do so -- stores their hat with a spring-loaded mousetrap.