Showing posts with label RVcommunity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label RVcommunity. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Blog Spin-off Happens

In the old days, successful television shows occasionally featured guest stars who took off on their own shows. With that pattern as our inspiration, I am advertising a link to a discussion thread I started on , a mountain biking forum.

Its intention is to foster a sort of traveling club of mountain biking RV/van campers. We are trying to be rig-agnostic, that is, we welcome people in any rig. Where they camp is their business. (My cycling compadre and I disperse camp.)

The theme of the autumn and winter Romp is Utah and Arizona. Obviously we will follow the weather, as we head to lower altitudes and latitudes, approximately down the Colorado River. 

We have not advertised on RV forums. Perhaps we should. I don't know where the right place is.  

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Why Do Road Tramps Talk Shop So Much?

I go back and forth when using quotes from classic books, that is, I give an anecdote from my own life that seems to illustrate the principle described in the quote. Perhaps some readers would prefer that I just give a juicy, classic quote, without watering it down with my own stuff. Hopefully it adds 'value' to intercalate my own experiences with the quote.

Recall George Orwell's "The Spike", 1931, written about his experience in homeless shelters with smelly bums:
There was nothing to talk about except the petty gossip of the road, the good and bad spikes, the charitable and uncharitable counties, the iniquities of the police and the Salvation Army. Tramps hardly ever get away from these subjects; they talk, as it were, nothing but shop. They have nothing worthy to be called conversation, bemused emptiness of belly leaves no speculation in their souls. The world is too much with them. Their next meal is never quite secure, and so they cannot think of anything except the next meal.
It brought a wry smile to my face to think of Orwell's thoughts as I camp near Quartzsite, at this time of year. This must be the limiting case of "tramps" talking shop, even if they are bourgeois tramps, instead of the smelly kind that Orwell was writing about.

If you look for it, you could probably find an affinity group for people who own, say, the 'Bloat-box' brand of RVs. They are all convinced that their rig is unique because the color scheme uses a certain shade of blue-gray that swoops downward -- instead of upward -- towards the front of the rig. You would not make a new friend if you pointed out that 'Bloat Box' uses the same top-tier suppliers as the rest of the industry, that is, Ford, Atwood, Norcold, Dometic, etc. 

The existence of these affinity groups is a testament to human nature: people can't relate to hordes of people. They want a community, a tribe, of manageable size. And it has to be based on some sort of commonality. Let's be optimistic and hope that there are better ways to find your tribe, someday.

Still, why all the shop talk? RVers aren't living on the edge, as Orwell's tramps were. They are wallowing in modern comforts. And yet they act like they are just hanging in there.

Is it because the RV industry pulls in such ultra-bourgeois people, so obsessed with their comforts and status symbols, and so timid and indoorsy, that they are fool enough to think they are having an "adventure," instead of merely pissing away their children's inheritance?

Thursday, December 31, 2015

A Newbie Couple Camps With an Ol' Desert Rat

There are some disparities that are made to poke fun at: men versus women, old versus young, northern Europeans versus Mediterraneans, city slickers versus rural hayseeds, and even newbie campers versus grizzled old "mountain men."

A long term bicycle club friend of mine visited my camp recently. She and her significant-other were embarked on their maiden voyage in a converted van. They don't know of my blog. So hopefully I can write about their experience with candor. Although it may seem like I am poking fun at them, their foibles and mistakes are no different than any other newbie, including myself at one time in history. They both have a lot of practical skills, and I suspect that their RV careers will be a great success if they keep with it.

The idea here is to describe a newbie's ideas, habits, and mistakes, in order to let the reader flush out the principles and draw their own conclusions. I will try to suppress my own shop-worn sermons.

They reminded me how difficult it is to be transitioning to RVing. "Honey, where did you put that spoon?"  Supposedly they have downsized from two middle class houses, and embarked on a life of 'Simplicity' and 'Nature'. But they still spent most of their time looking for crap. Which box is it?

Their van is not completely converted. They are still operating a bit like a weekend car-camper. That means cooking outside. This all seems very romantic until it rains or, more likely, the wind begins howling. All those boxes with troublesome lids, all that crap spread out over the mesa.

But we enjoyed having a fire at dusk, something that I never bother with, when camped alone. It essentially lengthened the winter day by an hour. How precious that hour is! There really isn't much heat that actually gets transferred to the human body, but it is wonderful anyway. She didn't care for my fire-building, though. She wanted to add 6 pieces of firewood at a time. I was building the fire on the down-wind side of the tallest rocks of the firepit. She thought the fire would look prettier if I put the wood on the opposite (exposed) side of the firepit.

How she came up with such a great meal from a one burner backpacker stove, I don't know. It seemed almost scandalous that these two liberal environmentalists would use paper plates! (And of course, I had to poke them on that, a little.) But of course, it made sense for people who are trying to minimize washing dishes. He noticed that I went into my trailer to retrieve a deep melamine bowl to hold the meal, rather than a flat plate. Here I finally had to shoot my mouth off: it makes no sense spending an hour cooking a delicious hot meal -- for a cold winter evening -- and then put it on a plate -- outdoors -- and watch it sag cold in 20 seconds. He bought it.

They taught me a fun board game to play inside their van. In fact, their rotating captain's chairs made for better seating in their van than I had in my trailer. But I was dressed in my insulated bibs, with a winter parka over the top, and a Thinsulated stocking hat. Then they would turn the engine on and run the heater. I finally had to say that I was getting nauseous. So I stepped out of the van, sat down on the gravel, and wrestled with removing my bibs, in the dark. Sure enough, somebody opened the side door of the van and almost bashed me in the head. I took every ounce of available willpower to resist screaming, "I can't live like this!"

Earlier in the day they disposed of some food on the ground. (They are good environmentalists back in the city, you understand, and like composting.) A couple hours after sunset there were two yipping screaming coyotes outside my door. They sounded like they were having a food fight with each other or some other animal, and somebody was dying. I am surprised that my dog didn't completely freak out.

Sure enough, at about 4 in the morning, the wind began blowing. I had to step out with a flashlight and weigh down some of that camping debris, so it wouldn't blow into the next county.

But the thing that surprised me the most was that my old bike friend didn't even remember to bring trail-runner sneakers so that I could show-off the canyon maze to them. So we stayed on top of the mesa, where the walking was easier. She had on some sort of goofy impractical female-type footwear, in a land of sharp gravel and cactus. But they liked the view. At least she wasn't wearing Teva sandals or Birkenstocks...

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Combining Vehicle Camping with the Great Divide Route

Every year at this time of the year I look forward to reading the travel blogs by people mountain biking the Great Divide Route (GDR). (Do not confuse this with backpacking the Continental Divide Trail.) The GDR is a selection of dirt national forest and BLM roads, and occasionally paved highways, that stays close to the continental divide. The northern terminus is Banff park in Alberta, whereas the southern terminus is the New Mexican/Mexican border at Antelope Wells.

Yes I know, some readers think I dislike travel blogs. But there are some that really do involve adventure. It is a great thing to find them and read them. For instance, if you read the blog of this group getting ready to mountain bike the GDR, you will probably be infected with their anticipation.

An opportunity is being missed here. A person might love the scenery and mountain biking, but dislike the tent camping and the need to find water, biking too many miles per day, biking during monsoonal afternoon hail storms at 10,000 feet, etc. You might love sharing a campfire at night with other people, having somebody in a supportive group to pull your vehicle through a sandy spot, etc.

There are many things to enjoy about an adventure like this if you could just eliminate tent camping. I love coming into my RV at night. The same could be said of camping out of a CUV, pickup truck with a cap, or full-sized van. Vehicles would not need to be outlandish and extreme four-wheel-drive rigs. But they couldn't be suburban houses-on-wheels either: Class A motorhomes, Class C motorhomes with 15 feet of butt hanging out the back, or 30 foot long travel trailers.

It is easy to combine mountain biking and "vehicle camping" by playing leap frog with the mountain bikes: you ride off in the morning, checking out the dirt road. When you've had enough, you ride back to your vehicle, and then drive your vehicle to some spot you found on the morning's bike ride.

It takes the right personality to get a group like this going, and I doubt that I have it. But it is worth talking it up, nevertheless. One of these days, somebody who is right for the job might get the idea and act on it.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Famous "Go Anywhere" Traveler Caught in Boondocking Scandal

I think I had honored my guest, Glenn of, a week before he showed up in Gunnison, CO. The bolts that hold the travel trailer to its frame were loosening -- and credit that vital discovery to my friend Mark (Box Canyon Blog). Since one of those bolts was under the shower stall, it was necessary to remove the shower stall. But hell, why not just get rid of it! You can see I was already under the influence of Glenn's philosophical penumbra, despite him still being a couple hundred miles away.

What horrors would be revealed by removing the shower stall? Tools, money, or cellphones, that were lost years ago? A rodent nest and one pissed-off mama rodent baring her teeth at me? How about ghastly water damage and mildew?

Oddly enough I found nothing except the bolt that needed to be replaced. It was no small miracle that a plastic tub of just the right size was found at a well-known big box retail store. Then I rigged up a cloth shower curtain that hangs into the plastic tub. The flexible plumbing stayed the same. After taking a standard navy shower, I lift the plastic tub out of there and dump the dirty water into a sink.

This can't be claimed as a huge success at downsizing, but it will be, eventually. That plastic tub could be temporarily laid down on the floor in front of the kitchen sink. Thus you could take a nice navy shower without allocating space for a permanent shower stall. (I also got rid of several feet of shower drain plumbing which used to chop up storage space under the bed.)

Very well then, I had honored my visitor where it counts: with action rather than words. But would I learn that much from his famous Vanagon? He considers it "self-contained," but I don't. In fact I wish I had a nickel for every time I got excited about a smaller RV, only to see the bubble burst when they finally admitted that there was no toilet or holding tank; then they give the standard van-camper spiel about sponge-baths, baby wipes, or paying $5 to take a shower at the city swimming pool.

To make it even more challenging, Glenn is basically an urban boondocker. That is an activity I deign to, occasionally, when the back-country is pure mud. Still, if 10% of what he did to his customized and ingenious rig was useful to me, then he is worth learning from.

He got into town and we had a marathon BS session at the coffee shop. Because of the rain and mud we both went off in the evening and found our own urban boondocking sites. My site was known to me; I got a great night's sleep there, and that is no small miracle in any town or city. 

In the morning I had many hours to kill before the danged City Slicker would wake up. So I did some errands. While driving around I wondered what sort of place he had found last night.  After hearing him boast of  the "go almost anywhere" qualities of his rig, it was easy to imagine him finding a rare and exotic niche; perhaps it would be representative of an unknown category of places! I was really curious.

Well, as long as the engine was warm I might as well drop in at a certain well-known big-box retailer and do some routine errands. I was not emotionally and philosophically prepared for what I found:

Camp anywhere, go anywhere indeed! Another bubble burst. Still, it was his first night in town, and he soon redeemed himself.

The best way to benefit from Glenn's example is pull out of of the muck of phony pragmatism; ignore dissimilarities of his camping style and yours; and look for the larger significance of his project.

1. He did a rare thing in tackling a ball-buster of a project, instead of the mainstream RV approach of comfort and security worship. These are the very things that turn the "RV Adventure" into a non-adventure.

2. His project would be called an "existence theorem" in mathematics class. Metaphorical existence theorems are very important in the real world. Some people won't try a difficult project until somebody else has demonstrated it to be feasible.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Must a Dispersed Camper be a Hermit?

Saguache/Del Norte, CO. In the upper left quadrant of this photo you can see a white speck. It is my van and travel trailer, camping alone with excellent Verizon service. The photo was taken from one of the dirt roads/two tracks that make for excellent mountain biking in the public lands near Saguache.

Why should I camp alone, instead of sharing it with other campers that I have something in common with? I don't expect them to be mountain bikers, of course. Most people can be interesting about some topic or activity. 

In fact I rolled into a parking area in a special recreation site near Del Norte CO, and quickly told the camper who was already there not to worry about having his little sanctuary invaded, because I just wanted his opinion on any special dispersed camping restrictions there. I did end up camping next to them and it was great. They had a pickup camper that pulled a small utility trailer. When he told me that he even helped a buddy turn a utility cargo trailer into an "RV" I went crazy with one question after another. That really is what I should do for my next travel trailer. Sigh. I wish I had more non-solitary experiences like this. Why doesn't it happen more often?

You would get the impression from what many people write about dispersed camping that they are having some kind of pseudo-religious experience out there, the way they puff up with sanctimonious language. In fact they probably spend most of the day watching satellite television.

Or maybe that's just the old man. It is quite amazing that, forty years after women's lib, many women still think their job in a household is to stand at the kitchen sink and spray things with water, half the day. (The other half of the day they go shopping.) You just can't do that when you're camping outside an RV park; maybe that's why the old lady doesn't want to dispersed camp in the first place.

Or maybe people think that dispersed camping is a 'back to nature' experience. This idea gets confused by a misunderstanding of Thoreau's Walden. Even more confusion comes from the 'holy man of the desert' image. If people really saw dispersed camping as being back-to-nature, they might consider that the animal species known as homo sapiens is a mildly gregarious creature, a tribal animal.  

So why do I dispersed camp alone, as shown in the photo above? Because I have to. I insist upon a high quality camping experience, and that simply will not result from imitating mainstream RVers who are indoorsmen and portable suburbanites.

Do you know of any organizations that foster a camping/outdoorsman culture? The Escapee's Boondocker sub-group does, to some extent. But when I knew them, they didn't have gatherings in the Southwest in the summer. The WINS are basically about getting hitched up, and I ain't talking about trailers. Perhaps the LOWs do more than I think. 

So I'll just keep doing what I'm doing. When more social interaction is needed there's always the option of camping in a city that has a good bicycle club. In fact I'm thinking of returning to Yuma this winter. Somebody please talk me out of it!

Monday, June 25, 2012

The First RV Boondocking Team Member

And so my career in the RV Quest for Community Caravan is over. I left for another campsite in the same area this morning.

It was a noble experiment and, I think, a successful one. By "success" I mean that it involved non-trivial interaction between members, resulting in certain changes in their behavior or daily lifestyle.

Two raptors chase a raven around a thermal uplift.

Whatever else, we avoided the standard malaise of intentional/planned Utopias: repression and stasis. Recall your Toynbee (*):

For these works [planned Utopias] are always programmes of action masquerading in the disguise of imaginary descriptive sociology.

Hence in almost all invincibly stable equilibrium is the aim to which all other social ends are subordinated and, if need be, sacrificed.
The experience also required me to scrutinize my behavior around other campers, and then try to file off some of my sharp edges.

Or one could look at it as a good little Hegelian. Think of the RV stereotype as the "Thesis"; the Quest for Community Caravan as the "Antithesis"; and now it's time for a "Synthesis." In order to break free of some trap or rut, it helps to think about or experiment with its opposite, even it this "opposite" is no better as a match-up than the initial trap/rut.

The Synthesis I have in mind is more of a "Team" than a Community. I am not comfortable with the "...dawning of the Age of Aquarius" culture of the community. And besides, it's a chick term (grin). An "intentional mobile community" also makes some people uncomfortable because the very word "intent" implies social engineering, and most of us don't want to be socially engineered.

I want a "team" of RV boondockers who either exercise or pursue less athletic outdoor sports, without engines. Examples include mountain biking, hiking, photography (but not through the motorhome's windshield), fly fishing, rock collecting, off-leash dog walking, etc. As emphasized a couple posts ago, it would be great to see real, non-trivial, human interaction between team members  -- a band of mere exercise partners would be a huge disappointment.

The amazing news is that the first team member is showing up -- perhaps today! Now, if we can only coax his low-ground-clearance Class C through the lava bumps...

(*) Arnold J. Toynbee, A Study of History -- abridged volume 1, "The Arrested Civilizations," page 183.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Teaming up with a Bear in the Laundromat

It has been a long time since I've come out of a store with a big smile on my face. The Western Drug and General store in Springerville AZ was really too big to call a general store. It was really a home-grown department store of a type you probably thought extinct. Now I know what you're thinkin': that I'm about to use the cliche, eclectic, to describe it. But 'eclectic' usually implies gifts, souvenirs, or cyootsie-wootsie junk that appeals to women. Instead, the store had an excellent selection of practical goods.

The store reflected the local character of Springerville, the capital of Arizona's White Mountains, by having an excellent collection of camping supplies, hunting and fishing equipment, etc. I've had a running argument (a joke actually) with a fellow camper about how easy it is to buy 3/4" wide Arno straps and Benchmark or DeLorme atlases. She contends that these items are so exotic that they can't be gotten in a small western town, but of course I saw both in this wonderful store.

Off to the laundromat I went. If an RVer had to choose his favorite errand, what would he choose: 1) dumping his tanks with a leaky hose and cuts on his hands, or 2) doing laundry at the average laundromat? Answer: #1. Why? Because it's cleaner and all the signage is in English. So when I slid my quarters into the first washer and nothing happened, I rolled my eyes and then sighed. What else is new?

But in fact something was. A big burly bear of a man was putting the finishing touches on six loads of laundry. His baritone voice boomed over the squeaks and rattles of dilapidated laundromat machines. Few people would have been able to resist the energy and charm of this man. He works much of the year in the oil fields of North Dakota.

We seemed to connect on the subject of outdoor "fashions", if you can believe that. I told him how much time I had spent in the photo-camera (speed-trap) capital of northern Arizona, Show Low, trying to buy a long-sleeved, pocket T shirt in order to keep the deer flies and broiling sun off my arms. He agreed that long sleeve shirts were best for an outdoor worker. Then we moved on to outdoor fabrics in general. (This wasn't the stereotypical example of male-bonding, taking place over a brewski while arguing about the upcoming football season, but it worked.)

We talked about his industry, the pay scale, and how cold it got in mid-winter. We both got laughing when he talked of former computer-oriented, office workers trying to make it in the oil fields of North Dakota. Clearly he was hitting his stride now. He even mentioned that he good-naturedly and helpfully warned them that they probably wouldn't last three days.

There is no federal judge in Eugene OR who has offered an ever-expanding interpretation of the Endangered Species Act to "protect" a specimen like this man. I didn't think that such men still existed in a unisex culture of metropolitan and suburban cubicle drones. During the westering of a younger and more energetic America, there must have been many such men 'of the big shoulders,' building canals and railroads, felling white pines in Michigan and floating 'em down the Manistee, or working in the steel mills and stockyards.

Off I went, back to camp in the high country. Perhaps I was still under the charisma of that big ol' bear when I got back to my "community". There's something about that word that makes me feel uneasy. What is it exactly? Is it redolent of Hillary Rodham's "It Takes a Village?" What if we held hands in a circle while singing "If I had a hammer, I'd...", hugged trees, or had drum circle on a full moon?

But earlier in the morning, before the trip into Springerville, I'd offered to take trash in for other people, and fill up water jugs. The blue jugs of one fellow slid easily into a storage area in my cargo van, since I have it set up for the same blue jugs. Laugh if you will but this was so satisfying! It evoked an image from the semi-classic movie, "True Lies," when Tom Arnold reminded Arnold Schwarzenegger of something, and Arnold said, "What a TEEEAAAM!"

Team. It's a guy word. And that changes a lot.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Exercise Partner Syndrome

I make no secret of having little faith in building a loose RV camping caravan/community on the basis of idealism, platitudes, hippie-dippie cultural values, or group therapy while sitting in chairs. Talk is cheap. For me what matters is common activities in the outdoors -- activities that really matter to people -- and then acknowledging that these outdoor interests are more fun when sharing them with other people.

It is a great challenge to do this within an RV milieu because of mainstream RV culture's fanatical negativity towards using the human body for anything other than operating a motor vehicle or waddling down to the next potluck. And most of them are too old, too fat, completely out-of-shape, and have health problems. 

I have an ex-RVer friend who now lives in Tucson, which has a huge hiking club. He has had many hours of enjoyment with them. He had little opportunity for the same success with RVers, and that's one reason why he abandoned RVing. Apparently he made a good decision, at least for him.

But once I asked him whether most of the other hikers in the club were mere acquaintances and exercise partners rather than real friends. He sighed and admitted that most were just exercise partners.

Over the years I have been involved (at the level of many hundreds of hours of cycling) with a dozen road bicycle clubs. I did manage to beat the Exercise Partner Syndrome by becoming friends with several unique and admirable people. Several times they revealed their frustration with the Exercise Partner Syndrome.

The limiting case of that was a woman who was very outgoing and had many friends in church, political causes, and book clubs. But she finally gave up on the bicycle club because she didn't make friends there. That was a poignant moment for me.

Alas, they were tied to a specific town, job, and house, while I was footloose and fancy free, so the friendship died when the lousy camping and the overpopulation caused me to abandon ship.  

The first couple years of RVing I tried the bicycling/hiking club angle again, this time in a (birds-of-a-feather) sub-group of the Escapees. Instead of just having a newsletter, providing information to each other, and being pen-pals, I organized gatherings in which we camped together and then went off on outings. There was a small positive response to these gatherings, and with more persistence it might have grown into something permanent and significant.

Besides safety, one of the reasons why I'd like to camp with a group of (non-motorized) outdoors-activity-buffs is to negotiate Aging better. None of us knows how long or short the genetic straw is that we drew from our parents. When a setback occurs, are we going to just give up, or will we roll with the punches?

Consider all the runners who have ripped their knees up, switched to cycling, and went on to a rewarding second "career." There must be other such possibilities. Maybe my good luck with health with run out a year from now and I'll have to abandon cycling. Wouldn't it be great if there was a fly fisherman or rock collector or bird photographer in the camping group who infected me with enthusiasm for his activity.

Conversely I do a lot of things right when mountain biking. Given half a chance I could infect a hiker with the advantages of mountain biking, especially in summer, or on flatter land, which of course is easier to boondock on.  Many people don't even know how easy it is to bring a dog along on their outings.

Above all else many people have not had a chance to share outdoor activities with other people who are indifferent to equipment and who aren't obsessed with How far? and How fast? They need exposure to outdoor epicures and hedonists.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Update: How to Enjoy a Windy Day

Consider for a moment how much boondocking can enhance the RV camping experience, compared to the sterile non-adventure of suburb-imitating RV parks.

Likewise, any kind of non-motorized activity can enhance your enjoyment of the outdoors.

It makes sense to combine these two things -- boondocking and exercise  -- and hope that 'the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.'

Yet look at how rare this combination is in mainstream RV culture, with its attitude of "windshield tourism" and "channel surfing with gasoline." Do they really think the RV Lifestyle is 365 days a year of scenery vacationing?

When I got back on the road last August I claimed to be looking for ways to be a better camper. This wasn't just an empty platitude. Perhaps I have now found my main project/mission/cause: to build a loose caravan of RV boondockers-who-exercise. If not me, well, then somebody needs to do it. The goal is a three-way combination of group camping + boondocking + exercise.

Coffee Girl (my 5 year old kelpie) and I had the sort of outing today that was perfect as far as it went. But it would have been even more fun if other human and canine critters would have been along.

We started from camp at 8500 feet and mountain biked to a cell tower mountain at over 10000 feet. You've heard me say it before: when in doubt as to how to start enjoying a new area, try mountain biking or hiking up the service road to the nearest cell tower or radio tower.

Soon we were enjoying a showy yellow flower that wasn't here two days ago.

Looking at these photos makes me realize how good digital cameras are, and yet, purely visual beauty misses the point. The real pleasure comes from the physiological  -- and then psychological -- changes that occur when you are exercising. It's all about mood alteration. If somebody besides my dog would have been along, the experience would have been better yet.

When a lad's eyelashes are fluttering and his heart is palpitating with meadows and flowers... there any way to top it? Probably not, unless it's the sight of...

...4 bar wireless-internet service at 10,000 feet, and the destination of the day.

It was no small thing that the cool wind kept the flies off of us all the way up. It's easy to overlook the advantages of wind, but summer bugs and summer heat can cure you of that. In fact, of all the challenges such as heat, cold, wind, bad roads, rain, etc., insects are my least favorite.

Coffee Girl and I are good at what we do. It's high time to start sharing this with others who might enjoy it in person. I am bored with armchair travelers, vicarious traveler addicts, and free postcard consumers on the internet.


Saturday, June 2, 2012

Using a Fellow Camper as a Minesweeper

Springerville AZ. My fellow camper and I were finding so many RV boondocking sites that it was almost embarrassing. We were having so much fun with the drive that we climbed above the ponderosa pine and hit cheerful aspen and (ugly) spruce/fir. 

Large yellow/black butterflies made use of clumps of pale blue/purple flowers. (Moved to my animals Picasa photo album.)

Perhaps my fellow camper was surprised that cynical ol' Boonie would stop for 20 minutes just to photograph butterflies and flowers.  Is it a Western Tiger swallowtail alighting on a columbine?

I wish somebody would correct me. I do have a desire to know the names of things that I encounter at the moment of observation and inspiration, but you can act on this impulse only if you have a field guide, or these days, some kind of gadget and app. By the time you get home the impulse disappears.

We chose a patch of ponderosa forest (8500 feet) that belied my previous assertion that timber harvesting was a thing of the past in national forests since they are run according to Green theology rather than forest science. The forest here is drastically better for the selective logging taking place. They even did a good job of cutting stumps close to the ground so you don't have to look at them. After the first monsoon season this area will come booming back with flowers and grasses.

Ahh, but those stumps are well camouflaged. We came in all puffed up with overconfidence, as a result of which my fellow camper suffered some light damage due to a stump that was a half-inch too tall. 

It made me appreciate the extra care that needs to be taken with a Class B motorhome compared to a naked van, thanks to the plumbing and plastic trim that hangs underneath the Class B motorhome. We had no excuse not to walk one person in front to serve as the "minesweeper." 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Building an RV Community of Outdoorsmen-Boondockers

Long-suffering readers know that I'm not naive about utopian, pie-in-the-sky dreams about some vaunted community, especially one tainted with Age of Aquarius culture. But that's not the point.

A better RV lifestyle needs to be constructed, and the term "community" expresses that goal as well as any other single word. Before theorizing and polemicizing about this project, let's keep our feet on the ground by observing some very tribal animals: our dogs.

My fellow camper has two Corgis, a grandmother and her grand-daughter. Notice the moral support Grannie gives to the Pupster as she engages in community recreational activities with my dog, Coffee Girl (the larger, black dog at the bottom of the pile):

Initially Coffee Girl was afraid of the Pupster. But soon she learned how to play with her with just the right amount of roughness. Clearly it has become fun for both of them.

Normally their play begins with the Pupster trying to bring it on. The caption here might be, "Coffee Girl, your momma wears army boots!":

Soon the spirited Pupster has Coffee Girl on her back, and when her shoulder blades hit the ashy forest soil the ten-count starts:

...8, 9, and 10! Hooray the Pupster is victorious again! After this rough-housing, regardless of who won, the two dogs are good sports about it, and express their mutual satisfaction:

Somehow I think there's more to learn from watching a pack of rowdy dogs disport at a dog park than in all the social schemes and buzzwords offered in this month's edition of "Social Engineering Today" or "Utopian World" glossy magazines.

Those who are suspicious of the aspirations of "visionaries" -- and history has shown that you should be -- might be put at ease by experiencing another concrete embodiment of a chemical laboratory based on conflicting personalities, all stirred up by mobility and serendipity. Consider watching the movie, Bagdad Cafe. I rewatched it recently, courtesy of the ever-so-hospitable public library of Glenwood NM. I liked it better this time, in part because it brought the Mobile Kodger's platitudes down from the clouds.

Blogosphere update: other bloggers have commented on the idea of RVers caravanning together and melding into a little tribe. For instance Kurumi Ted has commented favorably on the idea. He has his own contribution to the design of a better RV lifestyle: carrying a small motorcycle on the back of his small class C motorhome.

Oddly enough, even Wandrin' Lloyd sort of liked the idea, despite his unregenerate loyalty to unaffiliated wandering.

Earlier Mark at Box Canyon Blog assayed the idea. This brought on an avalanche of comments to his post.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Designing the Ultimate RV Camping Machine

This is a followup to a post a couple days back about getting a group of RVers to design the perfect rig. 

Like baseball, real RV-camping (boondocking) is a 'game of inches.'  Too bad I didn't photograph the inch or two of clearance yesterday when I almost pinned my travel trailer between two ponderosa pines. 

It could have been worse: I could have bought my travel trailer a few years later, after the RV industry had "progressed" from the old 7-foot-wide standard (mine) to 8 foot. (For comparison, a Ford Econoline van is 6.5 feet wide.)

Once again I have benefited from traveling with a group and getting a chance to weigh the pro-s and con-s of a group of rigs. One of our party has the standard 8 foot width in his travel trailer. Bad news! The greater width will make life more comfortable when winter-camping in the desert, or on a casino or Walmart parking lot, but 8-foot is terrible in canyons, mountains, or forests.

'Nothing exceeds like excess,' should be the official slogan of the RV industry and mainstream RV culture. Of course you can still boondock in forests with an 8 foot width. But you will have to accept fewer choices, especially amongst the quieter, higher, cooler campsites. And remember, if the campsite holds your big-ass rig, it holds everybody elses too, which means that the site will already be occupied by a large party of noisy campers with toy haulers, 8 kiloWatt construction site generators, boomboxes, and motorcycles.

Meanwhile the van camper (Class B motorhome) in our group can pull in anywhere she wants. Backing out or getting turned around is so easy for her. Disgusting! 

The RV industry still makes 7-foot-wide travel trailers, but you will need to look harder for them, and it might be harder for you to sell it someday. Isn't it amazing that even though James Howard Kunstler assures us that the Cheap Oil Era is over, it's almost impossible to imagine the RV industry turning the clock back to 7-foot-wide travel trailers.   

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Project for an RV Camping Group

Although there are boondockers who praise Solitude for the sake of itself, I disagree. Solitary camping for me is largely the result of two things: 
1) most men are paired with a woman who thinks boondocking is uncomfortable and unsafe, as well as boring since it's a 5 hour drive to the nearest Coach or Nieman-Marcus. 
2) most rigs are not designed for, or well adapted to, the needs of boondocking. (Point 2 is partly the result of Point 1.)

Therefore if you want to boondock, young man, my advice is to stay single and get a good dog. Hence I usually had to camp alone, by necessity.

But if we do manage to found a core group of boondocking outdoorsmen, it would make a great group project to "design" a suitable rig for our lifestyle. The RV industry builds rigs for a typical customer whose desires are very different from ours.

There are two basic approaches: 1) Select and combine a system of mass-produced rigs/vehicles/appliances that are readily available and repairable, or 2) Go into Do-It-Yourself mode.

You've probably seen extremely customized rigs that the owner was very proud of, and rightly so in one sense. For some guys, this is a labor of love. But how do you roll into a standard auto parts store or repair shop in a small town in the mountains and effect repairs on a "cute" or exotic rig? How would you insure all those hundreds of hours of work?

The Do-It-Yourselfer is also prone to the traps of reinventing the wheel as well as underestimating the power of mass production compared to the extreme slowness of home-making everything.

I'll assume that most readers -- being experienced and well-seasoned fellows -- have already agreed that Approach 1 is preferred whenever possible, and that Approach 2 should be reserved for filling in the interstices of the overall project.

Try to imagine the brainstorming of a group of real RV campers, as opposed to mainstream RVers at a Gathering. First we might use the "Lessons Learned" technique. All of our rigs have had features that were a pain in the neck. At the very least, a better RV should avoid such mistakes. The "negatives" are so concrete that we should quickly inventory them and then move on to the positive aspects of designing the ultimate camping machine. Obviously the positive aspects will eventually fade out into the subjective and uncertain.

I've already learned from other people's rigs: the first time I saw a fifth wheel trailer with an unusually small number of windows that were also below average in size, I thought the fellow had made a mistake. But he was right. Excessive window area is a classic mistake for RVs. (The RV industry makes this mistake year after year because it helps make the rig look larger and cheerier at the point of sale. Gullible customers expect large windows to make their RV look like a cute little McMansion-on-wheels.) Windows are one step better than a hole in the wall, but they cook you in the summer and freeze you in the winter. But yours are darkly tinted, you say? Fine -- touch that darkly tinted window on a hot sunny day; now touch the insulated wall. You won't have trouble feeling the difference.

Many people would be impressed if they had a chance to step into an A-frame folding trailer, as I had recently with Box Canyon Blog. You can only get so far by looking at websites or RV forums. You need to see it in the flesh and talk to a non-sales-oriented owner.

I always study other trailer's tire size and ground clearance. The 13 inch tires and low ground clearance that my ultralight travel trailer came with were a serious nuisance  -- in town as well as in the outback. Fortunately it also came with a compensating feature: under-rated axles. When I bent both axles I had the trailer lifted 2.5 inches, which made a world of difference. But in the future, I will insist on 15 inch tires like some travel trailers have.

It also helps to use rubber couplings on the holding tank's drain tubes -- the drain plumbing is very exposed on a low trailer. Either something is allowed to slip off, after hitting a rock, or it gets destroyed.

I would love to have van-people in my camping group. One of the people in my current Kodger Caravan has a van, and it has convinced me of its advantages. But I don't care for the excessive stuff they they try to cram into too small a space.

Arguably, the best camping machine for a single traveler is a spartan E-150 Ford cargo van (i.e., no windows), 2 wheel drive, with a high top, and no added exterior trim or storage. It serves as your den, bedroom, and kitchen. Then you pull a small, single-axle cargo trailer behind it, which stores toys, water, propane, batteries, generator, gas can and automotive chemicals, and perhaps serves as the shower. And it needs high clearance!

It helps to have a portfolio of rigs around when you are thinking of the next rig or the next improvement on the current rig. Otherwise your mind stays trapped in its solitude or is at the mercy of misinformation and sales-hype on the internet. 

Most of the time we get stuck on solving some problem, it's because we overlooked something right at the beginning. Having other people around can help a lot; they can challenge your assumptions.

Monday, May 14, 2012

RV Caravan Becomes Reality Television

Even people who don't watch television can't help but be aware of reality TV hit-shows. Although I've never watched "Survivor", I can imagine it. It seems that our Quest-for-Community caravan is becoming the show. In fact, it looks like a 17-year-old miniature poodle is likely to be the eventual winner.

So far, we've survived being towed up mountains, infected doggie sutures, possible food poisoning, cargo doors that wouldn't close, tooth infection and pain, bad U-joints, a holding tank's drain valves being smashed against a rock, and nearly stepping on a rattlesnake.

To the hard-bitten realist, solving problems and surviving disasters is a better way to build a real community than rhapsodizing about dreamy platitudes in the clouds. So maybe all these problems are a blessing in disguise.

The latest disaster created an educational opportunity. In cellphone service-free Glenwood NM, we were struggling to find an old fashioned public phone in order to call a towing service. Rolling up to the Glenwood Trading Post, the only gas station and convenience store in town, we were amazed to find 4 bars (out of 4) signal strength.

As it turned out, the store offered Verizon's "Extended Cell Tower" service: the DSL (landline) service feeds a modem in the store that puts out voice to all Verizon phones -- even non-smart phones!-- and to Sprint smartphones, or perhaps to any device that reads wi-fi. It also puts out internet data. Amazing!

Remember that services like this don't show up on the Verizon coverage map. On top of that, the people at Glenwood Trading Post were kind and helpful to me in my hour of need. 

The moral of the story is to stop avoiding remote areas purely on the basis of some phone carrier's coverage map showing no service there.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

A New Community for RV Camping Outdoorsmen

No doubt a couple people -- including myself -- have been surprised by me surviving almost three weeks in a mobile "intentional community," without being booted out. Another phrase for what we are doing is "an RV caravan with a difference." We are attempting to build a community, rather than one more routine RV group.
Normally RV Gatherings and caravans are about having a good time, i.e., potlucks, happy hour, local sightseeing, and maybe some how-to seminars. RVers -- typically newbies -- have paid dues to join some organization, and they see the gathering as a chance to recoup some of that money by plugging themselves into a standard product that is at least good for a little entertainment or education. You all arrive as amiable strangers, spend a few days playing "Ten Questions" (Soooooo, where ya from...?), and then depart as strangers, never expecting to see that group of bores again. 
For the next few weeks I will learn what I can from our experiment, because something is missing from the permanent-stranger and perpetual-aimlessness syndromes of RV travel. Perhaps I can duplicate some of this group's success by starting a new mobile community that is closer to my own interests.

This new RV community would be dedicated to a non-motorized, outdoorsy lifestyle while boondocking on public lands for a week or two at a time, before moving on to the next place, taking climate and altitude into account. We are focusing on the high altitude lands of the interior West, actually the Southwest. (Should gasoline drop to pre-Obama prices and bank accounts revert to pre-Bernanke interest rates, it might make sense to expand the geographical reach.)
What does an "outdoorsy" lifestyle mean? Must you be a youngish Iron Man competitor? Of course not. I simply mean that you have some outdoor activity -- not necessarily strenuous -- that you do regularly enough to be an important part of your lifestyle and personal identity. Considering where we are likely to camp, the logical activities would be hiking, mountain biking, photography, walking your dog off-leash, fly fishing, rock collecting, etc.; in fact, anything but satellite television, driving to town to go shopping, potlucking in a circle of wide-body chairs, and four wheeling. 
Nor is this community for people who haven't exercised for years but who have a vague sympathy for the general idea, the sentiment, the dreamy platitude, and who will show up completely out of shape and then hope to get in shape when other people rub off on them. This is not a commercial spa or fat-farm for would-be dieters.
When we reach critical mass, I'd expect the community to split into two: one for boondocking and one for campgrounds-with-hookups.
So far, my only co-conspirator is over at Box Canyon Blog. We'll see how he responds on his blog. If you are interested in this project, please email me at . (underlines, not hyphens.)
Community Update: I got email from Ted at about what kind of rig would be needed. Four wheel drive is not needed, since most public lands boondocking is accessible from bladed 3 digit forest roads. Sometimes there is a ditch or berm that must be crossed to get to the actual campsite, and this can be a bit touchy for low-clearance rigs.
Large motorhomes and fifth wheels and Class C motorhomes with excessive rear overhang are troublesome for boondocking; they aren't absolutely unwelcome, but they must expect to put out the extra effort to find a compatible site, which might be miles from the main group. Vans (Class B motorhomes), pickup campers, small Class C's (Chinook type), and small trailers are best.