Monday, September 26, 2016

A Different Kind of Colorado Postcard

When embarking on any new project, the most important precaution is to keep expectations quite a bit lower than what seems 'fair.' Give the world a chance to surprise you on the upside. This is what I tried to do in the first post on campground hosting.

Some of the campers did just that. One fellow -- and I swear he was the one who initiated the topic -- ranted about how much he preferred semi-open land to thick-as-dog-hair forests. What a relief it was to hear somebody more fanatical than me, on that topic!

Actually, in five days, I have had more quality conversations than in five years of solitary camping. 

The trick is to encourage compliance with the campground rules without becoming officious; to be briefly friendly without being intrusive; and to resist my entrenched habit of steering the conversation in the direction I want, the excuse being that the other person is too much of a blockhead to talk about anything other than 'so where you from?' 

I also need to stop seeing women as the impedimenta of the camping experience, and need to avoid certain expressions, such as, the average blockhead, motor-crazed yahoos, dumb tourists, etc.

The most pleasant memory of my first week on the job will come from a moving, visual image, rather than a conversation.  

There were two nice young families camped adjacent to me. Towards sunset, the slender, attractive mother was on her mountain bike, imprinting the lifestyle on a couple young boys who chased after her on their kiddie bikes. Following the people came the family dog, trotting jauntily with a big smile across his face. He was a friendly herding dog. Do you suppose he thought he willed the human members of his pack back home for the evening? Everybody looked so happy and healthy.

This image meant more to me than a thousand photo-clichés of yellow aspen at this time of year. Why so? Perhaps because I could only half-see them. They were backlit by sunset, so I only saw their silhouettes.
No views create such lasting impressions as those which are seen but for a moment when a veil of mist is rent in twain and a single spire or dome is disclosed. The peaks which are seen at these moments are not perhaps the greatest or the noblest, but the recollection of them outlives the memory of any panoramic view...
Edward Whymper (conqueror of the Matterhorn), Scrambles Amongst the Alps in the years 1860-69

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Selling Out to the (Camping) Establishment

What can you say about a camper who sells out to the Establishment, by flushing his principles and ideals down the toilet -- and a vault toilet at that!  Yes, reader, the unthinkable has happened: this old boy has become a campground host. I feel compelled to justify aberrant behavior of this type. 

If there is a better way to finish off a life than achieving Moral Perfection, go ahead and tell me what it is. Good ol' Ben (Franklin) would not have approved of this project if it were just a sterile sentimentalism. In order for Moral Perfection to be real and solid, there must be some way of objectifying and validating it.  Otherwise, a person would just fool themselves with feelings that bounce around in the echo chamber of their own skull.

One way of validating this project is to look at the effect we have on other people. That is why solitary camping needs to be abandoned.

In the tab at the top of the screen, entitled "Summiting: Ideals and Suffering," there are many juicy quotes from William James, explaining that significance and meaning in life result from chasing an ideal through struggle or even Suffering. The same idea can be applied to chasing Moral Perfection.

If left to your own choices, Other People could possibly be a source of pleasure and support to you, rather than the Suffering we are after. There are few better ways to be guaranteed of Suffering than in dealing with the general public, and one of the lowest levels of the general public is the tourist.

The conclusion of this chain of reasoning is that the pursuit of Moral Perfection benefits by overcoming the Suffering imposed on us by the lowest of the low, the tourist.

Granted, if I really lived up to this, I would have chosen to be a campground host in a national park; or a big state park centered around a motorboat-lake, an hour's drive from a burgeoning metropolis; or a campground near a plexus of motorhead trails.

Instead I have bitten off the modest Suffering that should come from a 15-unit campground in a non-motorized area whose clientele consists of mountain bikers, climbers, and a few hikers. Ya' gotta start somewhere!

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The "System" Shows Itself in an Innocent Sport

I was being foolishly optimistic on a mountain bike ride on the west side of Colorado's San Luis valley, by giving the benefit of the doubt to a trail that was likely to be too rough.

At one point we saw a fellow standing and looking at something, as if he were earnestly studying it.  He said he crashed on his bike at that spot, a couple years ago, and had broken a couple ribs. And today, he was out to even the score with this rocky obstacle. He enlisted my help in standing on one side of the rock, with the intention of preventing his fall and crash, this year.

His second weapon was a new mountain bike. It looked like it cost over $5000. He succeeded quite easily this year. If fact he did it twice.

I kept my mouth shut, that is, I resisted the urge to remonstrate against his foolhardiness.  This man in his sixties had a right to risk his own neck and wallet as he saw fit, without any criticism from me.

What interests me is whether it really was his idea. The American mountain biking industry can't compete with Asia on the basis of 'bang for the buck,' so it must encourage extreme trails, constant innovation in the design of the bike, and high prices, now enabled by financialization. (Bike shops now offer financing for their unbelievably over-priced bikes.)

The message comes through to the average consumer via advertisements, discussion forums on the internet, sponsored racing teams, television shows with guys on mountain bikes flipping over in mid-air, and old fashioned glossy magazines. 

And there are brown stakes on the trail and area, showing that it bears the imprimatur of government. 

So there you have it: the innocent sport of mountain biking is really just another manifestation of the unholy alliance of Corporations, Media and advertising, Financialization, and Government. Would any of these institutions care about your broken neck on your mountain bike ride? But the average peasant is OK with that. 

What if it isn't OK with you? What gives you the effrontery to have your own opinion? Are you smarter than the experts? Maybe you are just a crank, a troublemaker, a negative thinker.


West side of the San Luis valley, in Colorado.
Another possibility is that you are a cultural survivor from a long dead age. Currently I am reading Herbert Spencer's "Autobiography" from He explained the tradition of his recent ancestors, especially his father. They were independent thinkers. They didn't believe things merely because an Authority said so. Spencer saw the connection between these "personal" traits and the longer tradition of his ancestors being Wesleyans.
The nonconforming tendency—the lack of regard for certain of the established authorities, and readiness to dissent from accepted opinions—of course characterized, in considerable degrees, the earliest of Wesley’s followers;
What gave those early Protestants the sheer pride, self-assertiveness, and courage to take on the "Establishment?" They had an "ally," their belief in a Higher Authority, i.e., the Bible and God. They also had a grip on the high moral ground, as shown by their austerity and earnestness. They also got together with similarly-minded individuals every Sunday.

That was then. Today, when we confront the mindf*#k of the Establishment, we have only ourselves, as a puny weak individual, trying to stand up to a world that makes no sense to us

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Golden Age of the Internet Blogger

I was surprised to enjoy the book, "Martin Eden," by Jack London. After all, it wasn't an adventure about the sea, or about sled dogs and wolves in the Great White North. Rather, it is a semi-autobiographical (yuk!) story about a young man of working class origins who gets it into his head to become a writer. He goes from wild and romantic notions about Truth and Beauty to the sordid reality of being a professional writer.

The book can certainly make an amateur blogger of our times appreciate their chance to write publicly, without the miseries of Martin Eden.  As the old saying goes, 'if you want to take the fun out of anything, just try doing it for a living.' Before the internet era, keeping a diary was perhaps the only outlet for somebody who enjoys writing. And that wasn't public.

Amateur bloggers must usually content themselves with only a small bit of applause, if they write sincerely. The alternative is to write to please the marketplace. That means following a half-dozen formulas, disguised just well enough to convince the consumer that it is new!

I like to read, but it becomes stultifying after an hour. I feel more alive when I am thinking for myself, and writing is just a reflection of that.

This healthy outlet of amateur writing can not last much longer. Google must be under anti-trust pressure from the feds. In order to keep them off its back, it must be willing to adopt whatever measures the feds want. Soon there will be an end to anonymity or pseudonyms; writers will need credentials and a license; and then renew that license and pay a fee on an annual basis, after approval by a bureaucracy that scrutinizes the blog's opinions about the Children, the Environment, sacred Minorities, and of course, National Security. 

Or, if it is important to maintain the illusion of a free society, the government and Google could work out the software to bias search engine results. That would be invisible censorship, and is probably the most prudent approach for the government to succeed at what it really wants. The peasants won't know the difference, except for a few chronic malcontents, who will be dismissed as conspiracy theorists.

But let's not end on such a discouraging note. Think of the analogy to life itself: we know that we are mortal, but we don't let that ruin the life that we can enjoy.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Unfair Videos of Mrs. Clinton's Medical Episodes

Once, I almost read a book of the under-rated role of the health problems of famous leaders and events. For instance President Kennedy was a symbol of youthful vigor and charisma as the baton of leadership passed to men who had been soldiers in World War 2. Apparently he took some very strong medications for his bad back. Did I say "apparently?" That's the problem: how much was hidden at the time? What can ever really be proved?

How open was the press with President Roosevelt's wheelchair?

Hitler might have been heavily drugged by a quack doctor. How did this affect the fortunes of the Third Reich?

Did the masses in the early Soviet Union understand the strokes that Lenin had had? A few years before that, how open was the press allowed to be about the quackery of Rasputin in helping the doomed Romanov dynasty in dealing with the hemophilia of the heir-apparent?

I read a biography of Bonaparte recently. The historian thought that his famous stamina had been undermined before the invasion of Russia in 1812. Did the smart-set back in Paris really understand this? What about the hundreds of thousands of cannon fodder who were to die during this invasion?

It is doubtful that Julius Caesar ever went viral on the internet during one of his fits of "the falling sickness", epilepsy.

But the all-time winner must be the legend of El Cid, whose widow supposedly had his dead body mounted on a horse, where he led his troops to victory.

Until the last hundred years, medical knowledge was so rudimentary that even an honest appraisal by a qualified doctor might not be worth too much to an accurate understanding of how health affected history.

And I doubt that the medical appraisals were ever that honest. If somebody tells you, "But the doctor said such and such," what does that really prove? A powerful politician can always get the doctor to say what they want. If not, the doctor will be replaced by another one who is willing to "play ball."

Rising to the top of the political profession requires many years of hard work, pressure, and risks; and rather unhealthy eating at all the public events. By the time he reaches the top, a megalomaniac has likely either used up most of his good health or undermined it.

So the masses must be protected from the truth. That is how it has always worked for the great male megalomaniacs of history, regardless of their cruelty, corruption, or foolishness.

But now that a female megalomaniac is running for president -- and despite her impressive credentials in cruelty and corruption, showing herself the equal of any man -- we see her "medical episodes" plastered all over the internet. A feminist can feel pretty cheated about that. But she can't uninvent the smartphone or digital camera. What would you do if you were one of Mrs. Clinton's handlers?

1. Her sunglasses are a good idea. It prevents cameras from catching her in any more goo-goo-eyed seizures. Wrap-around Bollé sunglasses, like cyclists wear, might be even better. They might also help with her Angela-Merkel-like charisma deficit.

2. If you saw the video of today's 9/11 problems for Mrs. Clinton, you might have noticed how her entourage clustered tightly around her as her problems became visible. You would think that there would more of them and that they would respond quicker, blocking off the spying eyes of somebody's cellphone camera.

3. Can President Obama invoke the Patriot Act or find some emergency powers implicit in the Constitution to issue a diktat restricting cameras around Mrs. Clinton? 

4. Don't live radio and television have a few seconds of delay to bleep out naughty words? It wouldn't take that many minutes of delay to hide any more of Mrs. Clintons's health episodes. The mainstream media just needs a few minutes to expunge any offensive footage. If anybody says, "But I was there, and it didn't happen like CNN says," they could be laughed off as conspiracy theorists.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

American Civilization Finally Bottoms Out

There is something to be said for hitting rock bottom. You've survived the worst the world can give you. It's all 'up' from now on, you could say.

The other day I was at the library of a small town in New Mexico. On the way to the men's restroom, I saw a funny sign on the "women's" restroom. It was just a simple black-and-white line drawing of... what the heck is this? It was an explanatory diagram that clarified what female anatomy looked like. I hadn't known that there was any confusion about this. But then I remembered the President's transgender diktat was making the news.

I went away thinking, 'Has it really come to this?'

Recently I went to the men's restroom at a Walmart. I'm sure you've noticed how gigantic stores will sometimes only have a single stall, which is big enough to handle all the motorized wheelchairs that 1/3 of the customers require.

I was in a bit of a hurry, so Murphy's Law required that the stall be already occupied. Actually I've learned not to push on the door if I suspect it is occupied: it is surprising how many people are too lazy to lock the door. And it is embarrassing when this happens.

Instead, I looked through the crack to see if it was already occupied. It was. Some jackass was in there dicking around with his smartphone. It never occurred to him that there might be another customer, in need.

What was he looking at? Checking the weather forecast for the 35th time that day? Playing "Angry Birds?"

I should have muttered something under my breath, but I didn't.

Anyway, let's hope this is absolute bottom.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

A Heart-breaking Song in Sagebrush Hills

I wrote the last post after being so affected by the contrast between holiday tourist traffic and the total isolation I had just enjoyed on a mountain bike ride, earlier in the morning. If uncrowdedness were so great, why doesn't everybody avail themselves of it?

I suppose it is just human nature to go where everybody else does, by chasing brown signs put up by the forest service, park service, and BLM. It seems undesirable to think for themselves.

But the mass-tourist would probably not agree with that. They would argue that crowded places are crowded because they are more beautiful than the average place. If you then asked him, "What is beauty?', he would think you are being silly or argumentative, since beauty is "obvious." He means anything that is BIG, vertical, or freakish.

Although few tourists would consider the location of my morning mountain bike ride to be ugly, they would think it less entertaining than where they were.

But I was quite entertained, I assure you.  Of course, you can hardly go wrong when you are under the influence of psycho-tropic drugs like dopamines and endorphins. 

Despite the sunlight and perfect weather, there is a noticeable austerity to sagebrush hills. And once again I was affected by the fragile tendrils of forest that creep down the gullies of these hills. Frail copses clung to the edges of mesas, as well. Some of these trees and the ground vegetation were already turning orange and yellow.

Fall colors bathed in clear crisp air are supposed to be something to exult over. When the entire mountain side turns yellow, its glossy photograph would be included in next year's promotional pin-up calendar put out by some Colorado real estate office.

And yet, to the DNA of a northern European, there is something poignant about autumn, despite colors and crisp air. Aspen trees are famous for quivering in light breezes.

At breakfast that day, I had listened to some heart-breakers sung by EmmyLou Harris, with her quivering falsetto and all the emotion it evokes. While thinking of her music, I looked at these quaking leaves as if I were seeing them for the first time.  I don't ever remember being that affected by an entire mountain side of it.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Watching the Summer Tide Drive Home

Unaccustomed as we are to wasting time and money at coffee shops, Coffee Girl and I were sitting in the cool September shade outside a coffee shop in Gunnison, CO. We had just finished a satisfying mountain bike ride up steep sagebrush hills.

Just think: it was Labor Day weekend, and we didn't run into a single person out there. Not even any "Texas wheelchairs!" Great views and land, and pretty good dirt roads. But it wasn't a "brand name" location. (And if you don't learn anything else from this blog, Grasshopper...)

Looking at the stream of gigantic vehicles drive by (mostly from Crested Butte), I was at a loss for the right word to describe my feelings. Earlier in life, when I was a hothead, I might have looked at this tidal flow with disdain. A few years later, I would have rolled my eyes. But what about now?

'Perspicacity' comes to mind. Normally that word seems right for high altitude, when looking down towards all the little scurrying ants in the city. But here I was looking over horizontally. It seems that a retiree is separated from the tide of humanity in ways more important than a certain number of feet of altitude.

What word would you use to describe that profound separation? Again, I don't know. But I do feel the sweetness of nostalgia when recalling when I too was a piece of metropolitan flotsam, trapped in this Tide. It seemed like half of southeastern Michigan drove 'up north' to lakes and cabins, on holidays. It was so tense, with most of that traffic on one interstate. And it was a long drive too!

It was an important step in my life when I finally said, "To heck with going up north. I will stay in the metropolis where traffic is light, and go on a long solitary bicycle ride. And I'll save money, too, and be one click of the ratchet wrench closer to escaping this hellhole." It worked. It was wonderful.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Thinking About Work Over Labor Day

The Labor Day weekend is a good time to think about 'work'. Lately I have felt a desire for a project of some kind. Don't most people need a project to be happy?

Channel-surfing-with-gasoline is not my idea of a "project." Nor is looking at pretty scenery.

Laugh if you will, but I am going to look into applying for campground host jobs for next year. Perhaps it will help to apply in person this year, while I am still in the area.

Many, if not most, retirees give some thought to volunteer work. I did too. Perhaps I gave up too quickly. Most of the volunteer jobs, that I know of, are rather petty tasks that should be done by a teenager or a minimum wage employee, if the organization in question could actually afford a minimum wage employee.

Worse yet, there is some (paid) officious 'volunteer coordinator' who sits in her cubicle and dreams up rigid and arbitrary schedules for the volunteers, complete with pages and pages of guidelines, application forms, waivers to sign, safety regulations, etc. It's one thing to be humble about the actual work involved in an un-serious or volunteer job. But groveling to bureaucracy is a different thing. My immediate and emotional response is, "I am not going to beg for this!"

Like most retirees, I would be happy to do a low-paying or non-paying job if it was in some way meaningful, and didn't involve obtrusive time commitments. So I say, anyway. In fact, plugging myself back into any kind of bureaucratic system will probably revive certain unpleasant ideas: that the system is wasteful, arbitrary, or futile; and that its 'product' is useless. These are not the thoughts that make a fellow useful to an organization or a joy to work with.

Even jobs that should be fun, can turn un-fun once the novelty wears off. For instance, I was a paid bicycle tour leader my first year as an RVer. Sounds like a paid vacation, doesn't it? It's not quite that simple.

In truth I suspect that putting myself back in the swim of things will quickly refresh my memory about why I wanted to separate myself from the human race in the first place, many years ago.

But have I overlooked something? What about buying some rural land? That would be very satisfying and meaningful work. It would also be a high-overhead lifestyle. Imagine the open-ended, expensive trips to Tractor Supply and Home Depot! On the other hand, land could be a better investment than letting the Federal Reserve rot my life's-savings away.

Some RVers are much more involved with their motor vehicle than I am. They never lack a project! But I have never believed that it was possible to take the do-it-yourself approach when you are on the road. There are people out there who have proved me wrong. They deserve to be admired.