Showing posts with label RVtravel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label RVtravel. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

How Do You Tow a Van and Trailer BACKWARDS?

I was headed up the mountain for a favorite dispersed campsite of mine, in my van and small cargo trailer. Naturally I was nervous about a certain muddy rutted area, an area that has been touch-and-go in the past. But it was unusually dry there last night, so I plunged in confidently. Over-confidently as it turned out. And you think hubris is an ancient superstition?

1. Don't make it any worse. When you start spinning, you might as well stop. If ground clearance is a problem, you don't want to let air out of your tires.
2. Be patient, be calm; which was more difficult here because there was no cellphone service. Wait for a local person to show up. In fact, they did. But I had to spend a night camping in muddy holes. Actually it was pretty flat, and absolutely quiet. I slept well. Try to see a disaster as an adventure.
3. I was essentially on a one-lane deadend road. No tow truck could get in front of me to pull me forward, the usual way of being pulled out.
4. Can you be pulled backward when you are pulling a trailer? There is nothing strong on the trailer to grab with a hook. You certainly don't want to put the tow rope around the axle or spring hardware. Even if you bolted a towing hook onto the frame rails of the trailer, the stress needed to move the van will be transmitted through the weaker trailer. Not good: the strength of the trailer frame is meant for the trailer only. (The van weighs twice as much as the little trailer.)

The local folks talked me into surrendering gracefully and accepting a ride into Gunnison CO. (Oh what a blessing it is to not be macho, proud, and stubborn when the time comes!) 

There was a good local tow-truck company, but they weren't part of the Coach-Net network. Nevertheless Coach-Net paid the local company cash to come out and get me. Isn't that wonderful? It was much better than sending a tow-truck from a metropolitan area four hours away. Local tow companies are not only closer, but they have experience with the bad spots on the road, in question.

So what did the tow truck driver grab onto, to pull both rigs backwards out of the muddy ruts? He didn't! He pulled me forward. But wait, you say, how can he pull you forward when the tow truck is behind the van + trailer?

This is the first time I saw a winch being used. He extended the winch cable from the tow-truck to the first big tree in front of the van, looped backwards to the van, and hooked up the usual way. Thus the 6 inch diameter aspen tree served as a (stationary pseudo-) pulley.

After three feet of towing, I was out of trouble. Maybe I should go back to carrying a "come-along", that is, a hand-operated winch. I might have been able to do this myself. Still, this is the first time in 18 years of full-time RVing when a winch made a difference. The individuality of "I am stuck" situations is perversely fascinating.

So here is the guy who always complains about overly-thick national forests, who was saved by the fact that there was a tree nearby. My goodness, what if this had happened in the sagebrush or desert? (The tow truck might be able to drive around the stuck vehicle if it just means trampling some grass or sagebrush, but what if a large cactus was blocking the path? Or big ditches on both sides?)

So what is the moral of the story, besides getting Coach-Net towing insurance? (Thank you, John and Susan.) Most of the risk is concentrated on the outbound trip away from the main road. Also, consider the advantage of camping with the front of your rig facing the main road. 
 

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Flag Controversy and the Meaning of Travel

Somehow I have gotten sucked into the thankless and unpopular task of shaming reforming the travel blogosphere. After a thousand-and-one microscopic how-to details, somebody needs to ask What is the Point of travel? What does it mean? What are the fundamental benefits?

In fact it has long been recognized that 'travel broadens your perspective.' That's an interesting word, perspective.

So let's light one candle rather than curse the darkness when it comes to the Confederate flag controversy that has been raging the last couple weeks.  As a young man I spent some time in the South. My background was that of a typical, smug, brainwashed yankee -- from the Land of Lincoln, no less.

I had a part-time job at a Holiday Inn as a bus boy. Many of the cooks and waitresses were negroes, the first negroes that I had ever been around. One night, a pretty young negro waitress pulled me over with "...kaBLOOnie, I have a friend who would be just perfect for you..."  Actually she gave a pretty good sales pitch, but a young buck is usually suspicious of hearing about somebody's friend with a 'wonderful personality', and all that.

After running through all the girl's attractions, she rather matter-of-factly concluded "...and she is white." The way she said that made an impression on me that I still remember. She was slightly embarrassed, but not much. She sounded so natural, low-key, and common-sensical.

I came away from this experience, and others, wondering if I had been fed a pile of crap about race relations in the South, about the "Civil" War, Father Abraham, righteous freedom-loving yankees, etc. At the very least, my smug yankee moral superiority was taken down a notch.

Looking back on it, this was a travel experience at its best. No matter how many terabytes of "information" we absorb from our surroundings, and no matter how books we read by the winners of a war, our perspective is freakishly narrow, and yet we don't even know it.

I am skeptical about reading and political generalities and slogans. There is nothing that keeps your mental "feet" on the ground like actual experience. And travel experiences can be the best kind because they are outside your own milieu: they make you ask questions you never asked before.

Unfortunately most of the noise about the Confederate flag is the usual cant and catchphrases. Once again the blogosphere has missed an opportunity to contribute something that traditional media couldn't succeed at.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

So What Happens When You Miss Your Turn?

I was getting that sinking feeling that I had missed my turn. Sure enough, I ended up 60 miles away from where I was "supposed" to be. It happens every now and then. So what?

You can't be lost near the edges of the Plains of San Agustin in central New Mexico. It is unique, or at least rare. It's a chance to escape the sameness of mountains.

Lately I've been doing better than usual at having good camping experiences in places that I tend to neglect. Why the neglect? Is it just internet addiction? There is usually wi-fi somewhere, although it is expensive to use it unless you have a will of iron to resist eating there.

But I have it easy. What if I was a real city-slicker with some extreme, ideological diet? How would you survive with the tiny grocery stores? Western Family, and Shur-Fine brands are the only things that aren't priced at a confiscatory level. There are a few staples available, and with a tub of dry goods and canned goods in the rig, you should be alright for awhile. 

The trick is to be flexible and patient. 'Flexibility' means that you stop trying to impose a pre-conceived pattern on your new location, and you stop overlooking what is actually there. You come into a rural area with consumer habits of instant gratification. You come in thinking that you can't solve the problems of life without a busy commercial strip with all the usual big box stores along it. But people who live in these areas have some way of surviving. They have houses that need to be repaired, dogs and horses that need veterinarians, and cars that break. There has to be someway to do it.

But I have become so spoiled by the convenience of small cities that the survival skills of truly rural areas have become exotic to me. This makes me feel weak and stupid.

Very well then. I'm here in Datil, NM. Let's take it as a challenge. Sure, that sounds like a mere platitude. But what if this sense of being in some kind of vacuum is not visualized as austerity, but rather, is visualized as wide open space to expand into -- as wide and as open as the plains of San Agustin themselves.

 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Travel Envy

For whatever reason I continue to glance at bicycle touring blogs frequently. Usually it only takes a glance to gong them, and for reasons you can easily guess. Nevertheless it is almost worth the daily discouragement in order to experience occasional bliss. And I'm doing that now, with a blog by a cycling couple from the San Juan Islands, who are touring a park northwest of Seville, Spain.

Why do I enjoy the Griffins' blog so much? In part it may be that their lack of tent camping spares the reader a lot of repetitive details. But I even enjoy their photographs, which I usually dismiss in travel blogs.

Perhaps the route itself gets some of the credit. They are riding medium-fat-tire bikes on dirt trails in what is almost a national park. The trails are usually mild -- an under-rated pleasure in bicycling, if there ever was one.  Remember that there is no mountain biking allowed in national parks in "freedom-loving" America. The scenery is much like New Mexico, except that there appears to be a lot more agriculture.

There are many towns and villages along the way. They are picturesque and interesting, but not cyootsie-wootsie touristy and up-scale. They don't seem to be encountering dead animals and litter as a gringo tourist would in Mexico.

At one point they really had me fluttering my eyelashes:
You can't help but feel a shiver of anticipation as you walk into the mezquita on the hilltop above Almonaster la Real - the kind that comes when you realize you are seeing something significant that will open up a new dimension of understanding in your mind. This 11-meter by 10-meter room captures 2000 years of Iberian history in its small space. Here we were standing in the same spot where Romans, Visigoths, and Arabs had come and gone, leaving their marks on the present day culture of Spain, and we could feel it all in just this small room, inhabited at the moment only by us and the birds that were constantly swooping by at eye level. At one time there would have been small rural mosques like this in villages all over this part of the peninsula, built with materials reused from earlier cultures. This is one of the few that has survived. It was built in the 900's, reusing materials from a Visigothic basilica that was built here in the 5th century. That basilica itself seems to have reused materials from Roman times.
My goodness, in my next life I want to come back as world traveler. Compare what they saw to the history of New Mexico: 'Billy the Kid slept here.'  Or, 'Butch Cassidy porked a saloon girl, buried outside this town.'



A North American traveler certainly has some advantages, but they are mainly geographical and climatological. There is nothing interesting about our towns. Too much of America is alike. Perhaps our real chance to see something worthwhile (besides postcards) was destroyed by English-speaking Yankeedom reaching from ocean to ocean. If states had stayed semi-autonomous, and Washington DC had not become supreme, it might actually mean something when the RV crosses the obligatory sign welcoming you to a "new" state.

But I don't want to leave the reader with too much of a downer. In fact, when I crossed back into New Mexico from Arizona today, I was delighted to see the dilapidated hovels that New Mexico excels in. You would think the other Four-Corner states would give New Mexico a run for their money, but they don't. I wonder why?



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.


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.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Vertical Freedom for Travelers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 6, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Some Wise Men Versus the False Prophets of the RV Blogosphere

On one of the tabs at the top of the screen I take issue with the False Prophets of the RV blogosphere. (Must I take the time to point out that many bloggers, including myself, have flirted with asceticism; and it is the Idea, not somebody in particular, that I'm planning on having some tongue-in-cheek fun with.)

The world is divided into three camps on the issue of  'How much crap does a person need to own?' But most people close their minds to the topic. When they hear any criticism of Insatiable Consumption, as promoted in TV commercials, they probably take it as criticism aimed at them

But that makes no sense; they, as individuals, did not invent the consumer culture that we have. They, as individuals, were merely swept along in the rising trends, brought on by advertising and tax policies. So there's nothing personal in merely going along with the prevailing consumer culture.

But there could be something that dignifies the Individual when they rebel against this consumer culture. The question is what form that rebellion takes.

A rebel gets off on the wrong foot by thinking purely in terms of negation, downsizing, and pseudo-holiness. You aren't going to prove anything by trying to out-gandhi Gandhi. Nor is Margaret Bourke-White (looking like Candace Bergen in the movie version) going to come and take iconic photographs of you at your spinning wheel, for Life magazine. The copyright on this type of moral posturing has already been taken out. And yet the RV blogosphere is full of such poseurs.

The Buddha finally came to the conclusion that the 'middle way' was best. Aristotle preached the Golden Mean in his Nicomachean Ethics. St. Benedict replaced the ostentatious asceticism of the Desert Monks with his moderate and balanced Rule. Such men were wise, but vague, because they lived before the principle of Diminishing Marginal Utility was widespread. Thus we have an enormous potential advantage over the Wise Men of old, if only we would cash in on that potential. 

Charles Hugh Smith writes about this topic from time to time, and he did so again today. It fired me up.
To those with no shoes at all (a common enough occurrence in the 1930s Great Depression), the utility of one pair of shoes is extremely high: the utility (i.e. the benefits) resulting from owning that one pair of shoes is enormous.
The retailer attempting to persuade this consumer to buy a 25th pair of shoes must overcome the diminishing utility (i.e. marginal utility) of yet another pair of shoes. This is accomplished by offering a "deal you can't pass up" or appealing to the always pressing need to jettison last year's style in favor of this year's "new thing."
Here's the critical point of this dynamic: to the consumer who already owns so much stuff that he has to rent a storage facility to store all the surplus goods, the utility of any additional purchase is low. In practical terms, the utility has declined to the thrill of the initial purchase and the initial wearing/use of the new item. Beyond that, it's just another pair of shoes in the closet.
The $3,000 I could spend on a replacement bike for the perfectly serviceable bicycle I bought used 15 years ago for $150 is of marginal utility; the better-quality parts and lighter frame, etc.--all the benefits that would flow from spending $3,000 for a "better, more modern" bike are extremely marginal to me, even though I put well over 1,000 miles a year on my bike. All those improvements are too modest to matter.
Here is the real benefit of the RV Lifestyle: you have a chance to rebel against the Consumer Culture, but in a way that is constructive and rational, rather than ostentatious and sophomoric. Nobody is less helpful than those "documentary makers" who want to film people living in their vans, without toilets or showers, and brag them up as the new Gandhis. These frauds are just taking advantage of people's desire for '15 minutes of fame.'

Of course Gandhi-on-Wheels gets his compensation by visualizing Mobility as a consumer good and a status symbol, and then falling in love with the insatiability of mobility.  So it really is just a re-incarnation of the very thing he thinks he is rebelling against.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Serious Traveler in His Own Country

I used to believe it just wasn't practical or possible for me to be a real traveler (as opposed to a sightseeing tourist). By that I mean somebody who visits different cultures, notices everything, asks fundamental questions, learns a language, takes on a part-time job, and shops locally. Expense was the first limitation, but there are others such as personal safety, health, and having to leave my dog at home. Many of the most enriching experiences would require the traveler to have a gregarious personality that could instantly charm a stranger's socks off.

Therefore it was a pleasant surprise to accidentally stumble onto the practice of performing at least some of that in my own country. The USA is not just one country. There is a rural/metropolitan split that is huge. When a camper goes out and disperse-camps, he even becomes more separated from the mainstream metropolitan-suburban culture of the USA.

And that sets up quite an opportunity for the camper when he comes in to the Big City after a long period in the back-country.  Each time I do this, I try a little harder to milk the act. It is pleasurable and challenging.  The opportunity is even more precious because it is short-lived: in a few days the backwoodsman will start to become inured to the craziness of the Big City. At that point, the travel-experience is over.

There are so many questions that pop into your mind the first couple days. Why do they do this or that? Why all the rushing around? How do they tolerate the noise? It is a life almost completely surrendered to phony pragmatism -- a life of chasing around after toys and status symbols.

You are tempted to spout off, but you know you shouldn't. The questions that arise in the camper's mind would be seditious if spoken aloud.  And the issues are vast. Normally a person procrastinates on a project that is just too big.

In order to knock it down to size, it has helped me to focus on the baubles and trinkets in a Best Buy store. That is the epicenter of techno-narcissism, noise, commotion, and hype. While walking through the aisles you can recognize one phony necessity after another.

But soon the magic wears off, and the backwoodsman becomes just one more meaningless termite scurrying around the termite colony. Now what? Now you must follow along, playing by the same rules as everybody else, more or less. Is this defeat?

The good news is that conformity on a tactical level need not carry over into the strategic level. An outwardly quiet conformist can be radically independent on a strategic level. It is difficult, but of fundamental importance, to appreciate this split between the Tactical and the Strategic.

You want an example? Think of Rhett Butler, in "Gone With the Wind." He acted the part of being a good Confederate when it was necessary. He mouthed the conventional platitudes. He even became a "heroic" smuggler who broke through the Yankee blockade. But he did so for his own profit. He worked for long-term personal success, and let the fools around him go to the devil. But he usually wouldn't come right out and say so.

That is a good attitude to have when back in the Big City.

Friday, October 4, 2013

(Revised) The Armchair Traveler's "Someday..."

Well, it's about time. I finally shared a good conversation with a traveler under proper conditions: sun, no wind, cool temperatures, and elevation. There is something about elevation that makes man rise above the messy minutiae of daily life and look at the big picture.

The Little Valiant One vanquishes yet another peak in the Rockies

Perspicuity. In general it comes from traveling through time rather than through geography. But this was an exception because location made quite a difference. Glenn M. of toSimplify.net and I stopped on a ridge and discussed the various syndromes that armchair travelers and the blogs that pander to them are prone to. 

Mesa Verde in front of our conversation.

We concurred that much of what is on travel blogs is not helpful to getting armchair travelers out of their armchairs. Endless discussions of details about a blogger's rig are intended to be helpful, but are they, really? Or do they reinforce the mistaken notion that vast, virtually insurmountable practical difficulties keep the armchair traveler in his armchair? How convenient! An excuse for postponing his liberation for another year. 

Let's look at some quotes from a wise fellow from 250 years ago. If nothing else, it serves as an antidote to the lack of perspective that comes from discussing 'where is Joe parked today,' or, 'how did she improve the storage cabinets in her rig.'  So we go to Samuel Johnson's "blog", that is, his periodical essays called "The Adventurer" (#126).
"Many, indeed, who enjoy retreat only in imagination, content themselves with believing, that another year will transport them to rural tranquility, and die while they talk of doing what, if they had lived longer, they would never have done."
From another set of periodical essays, Rambler #2: 
"It is so easy to laugh at the folly of him who lives only in idea, refuses immediate ease for distant pleasures, and, instead of enjoying the blessings of life, lets life glide away in preparations to enjoy them."

"to rouse mortals from their dream, and inform them of the silent celerity of time..."

"The natural flights of the human mind are not from pleasure to pleasure, but from hope to hope."
These are things to think about the next time you hear an armchair traveler or RV wannabee prattling on with the standard bullshit, "I wish I could live like you. Someday good old Fred and I will finally be living the Dream..."

The reality of living the Good Life of travel is undermined when the armchair traveler becomes addicted to the psychological trick of substituting symbols for reality and future perfection for real living today. Romantic escapism is the would-be traveler's worst enemy. This is the reason I rail against the seductiveness of the postcard blogs. They are supposed to inspire the armchair traveler to get out out of the armchair. But they might have the opposite effect because they offer the traveler an addictive drug of dreamy vicarious experience that replaces action and reality.

People are not willing to face the brutal truth about aging. 



They will not acknowledge how quickly people of standard retirement age have their lives taken over by doctor-appointments and by various limitations and fears. After all, that would be "negative thinking." Positive thinking is what they believe in, and for the most part that consists of sticking their ostrich heads in the sand about the shortness of life.

The best travel blog is one that that succeeds at 'rousing mortals from their dream, by convincing them of the silent celerity of time.' But I doubt that that is the way to maximize Google ad income or win the popularity contest of 'friends and followers.'

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Finally, "Emergency" Becomes Problem Solving, III

Now that I had overcome the urge to panic and make things worse, it was time for the positive agenda to start: what action should I take to get my RV unstuck off that mountain?

But not quite. There was still one more useless act to perform, but at least it did no harm. I started walking toward the half dozen ranchettes at the top of the mountain, known to me from a recent mountain bike ride. 

It turned out to be too far on foot. So why wasn't I riding the mountain bike? Probably because, in a panicky mood, I thought it would take "too long" to put on my bicycle shorts, and I had to "do something" immediately! Then I walked off to the ranchettes without bothering to put an explanatory note on the van's windshield. (That would have taken "too long", you know.) This act of stupidity just made me more ashamed of blocking the road to any motorist coming up the mountain, behind me.

Once again this other person, personifying Experience, said, "This walk is too long, you screwed up, this isn't helping." So I walked back down the mountain to my RV.

But the physical exercise did some soothing and calming. I straightened the front wheels; dug in front of the wheel that had spun into the road; tried rocking out of there, and almost made it; put rocks on the downside of the wheels; removed heavy 5 gallon water jugs from the van; and got the tow rope out so that it would be ready to go. 

It was amazing to watch "myself." Now this person had become a relentless problem-solver. No real physical breakthrough had occurred, though. Finally I went to the widest part of the road next the my RV and began removing rocks, so that motorists could get by. As each rock was hurled off the mountain, Panic became ancient history.

Recall the quote from William James, borrowed a couple weeks ago. It pertained to breaking bad habits, but I think it applies just as well to turning Panic into problem solving:
The second maxim is, Never suffer an exception to occur till the new habit is securely rooted in your life. Each lapse is like the letting fall of a ball of string which one is carefully winding up: a single slip undoes more than a great many turns will wind again. 

As Professor Bain says:— "The peculiarity of the moral habits, contradistinguishing them from the intellectual acquisitions, is the presence of two hostile powers, one to be gradually raised into the ascendant over the other. It is necessary above all things, in such a situation, never to lose a battle. Every gain on the wrong side undoes the effect of many conquests on the right. The essential precaution, therefore, is so to regulate the two opposing powers that the one may have a series of uninterrupted successes...
It's funny that neither of these gentlemen used the ratchet wrench as a metaphor. Perhaps the ratchet wrench was not commonly known in their era, at least to a Boston Brahmin and Harvard professor.

I kept busy at these activities for 20 minutes until a pickup truck appeared at the top of the mountain, and headed downward to me. He was a local, and had four-wheel drive. He wanted to put it in reverse to tow me out of there. This made no sense to me. He argued that his reverse gear was lower than first gear. I was calm enough by then to resist arguing with him; he was the hero after all.

The towing worked easily. It was almost an anti-climax. We had a little chat afterwards. I gave him a few bucks, as a token of appreciation. He didn't want to take the money, but I insisted.
__________________________________

Afterwards I developed some deep appreciation for the experience. It's not that we moderns are complete wimps and cry-babies. We just don't get much practice dealing with "emergencies."  If we did, we would start getting good at it, just as our ancestors were.

This brought to mind a quote from Gilbert Murray, The Five Stages of Greek Religion, page 170:
"...throughout antiquity the possibility of all sorts of absurd and atrocious things lay much nearer, and the strain on personal character, and the need for real "wisdom and virtue" was much greater than it is at the present day.  That is one of the causes that make antiquity so interesting...in general, the strong governments and orderly societies of modern Europe have made it infinitely easier for men of no particular virtue to live a decent life..."
Indeed, we live in climate-controlled comfort, with our government-mandated safety helmets and airbags, and our insurance programs. We live in more safety and comfort than human beings ever have. But, ironically, we are probably more fearful, much to the benefit of the political class. Our characters, our Virtues, have shrunk in the cocoon of security.

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There was another profound anthropological satisfaction that grew on me after this experience. How satisfying it was to receive help from another member of my own animal species! It's so easy to see the human race as a noisy nuisance in a metropolitan and over-populated world. "Help" is usually confined to odious bureaucracies. But to feel overjoyed to see a human being is a pleasure we have almost forgotten.

Just think how primal this kind of satisfaction is compared to the almost universally accepted notion of a "natural" experience: looking at useless pretty scenery. This requires you to think of homo sapiens as a part of nature, rather than as the opposite of nature.  The latter is the Manichean pseudo-religion of the metropolitan Greens. It is just the kind of experience we should move towards, as we graduate from our newbie-hood and our glorified tourist status, and start to take traveling seriously as a profession.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Turning an "Emergency" into a Problem to be Solved, II

It was unchivalrous of the reader to leave poor Ol' Boonie on that mountain, in dire need of succor and rescue. Let's see if we can improve on the situation. It's easy to look back on any emergency with a humorous perspective, and even to imagine yourself heroic; nevertheless, at the time, the situation seemed serious and scary, and you probably acted in a bumbling manner.

Spinning out on a dirt/gravel road near the top of a mountain isn't a true emergency in the sense of rolling backwards, jack-knifing, and demolishing your rig. But at first it felt like it. I had never experienced this before. It's so easy for the mind to run away with fearful possibilities and scenarios. To make matters worse, my van and trailer were blocking anybody else from going by. Oh how hateful these fat-ass rigs are! I decided right there and then that my next trailer will be a 6 foot wide cargo trailer, and the next tow vehicle will have the width of a Nissan Frontier or Xterra.

It was acutely embarrassing to block the only route for the half dozen houses at the top of the mountain. This exacerbated a sense of panic. There was no cellphone service right there, so I couldn't call my towing service. (And remember, you must be on a graded county road for the service to owe you help. I'm not sure it was an official county road.) Even if a Tow Truck were there, it couldn't drive around me; it could only push on the back end of the trailer. Would that even work?

I even considered backing down the mountain, at least to a point where I wouldn't be blocking other motorists. Backing down? A yellow light started blinking in the back of my head, because I recognized a pattern of behavior from an emergency or two in the past. This is where it really got interesting. Panic is caused by the Imagination running riot, which makes it your worst enemy; worse than the physical situation itself.

But Imagination is also necessary for Experience to win out over Panic. Somehow you must step outside your own skin, and imagine somebody else -- some pitiful fool who is not your real self -- displaying a pattern of thinking that is trying to make a bad situation worse. Recall the great Truth of Weaver's Ideas Have Consequences: "the apparent does not exhaust the real." It was only my "apparent" self who was stuck on that mountain. My "real" self was a quality, a noun, called Experience.

In our pampered era, we tend to use the term 'emergency' when in fact we are only in a "tricky situation." Most real disasters are actually a sequence of distinct mistakes. In all likelihood, you are still one or two mistakes away from a true disaster. Your all-important mission is to first arrest the downward spiral NOW.

Commenter, George, mentioned the similarity of accident emergencies and medical emergencies. Recall the great aphorism of medical ethics, primum nil nocere, 'first, do no harm.' Until a century ago, just about any medical problem was a scary emergency. It's easy to see why there was tremendous pressure on the physician to "do something."

Stepping outside myself, "I" saw a fool trying to "do something" at all cost, despite not having experience about backing down mountains. Yes, there were pro-s and con-s to backing down, but this other "Self" asserted itself, and said that this was not the time to experiment with a new technique. Happily I resisted the self-fulfilling prophecy of Panic.

This "negative" agenda must succeed first. Recall the old Latin poet's aphorism (Horace) that 'Fleeing vice is the beginning of virtue.' Yes, it's just the beginning. Now it was time to implement a "positive" agenda. That will have to wait for part III.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Sometimes an "Emergency" Can Just Be a Problem to Solve

Most of us have had an automobile accident or two. I'll bet you've launched into a retelling of the accident, only to notice that your audience has started fidgeting, has lost eye contact with you, and then changed the subject.

Why is that? Lack of empathy on their part? Poor listening skills, short attention spans? Or was the story teller too animated and self-absorbed?
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In either case, I haven't had an accident; but I did manage to spin out and lose traction near the top of a mountain in the Gunnison CO area; it was the first time in 16 years, and with two wheel drive, that's not a bad record. Now the question is, can I write about it with more efficacy than is typical in "horror stories."

This wasn't a reckless stunt. I had probed the slope the day before on my mountain bike, and had let out half the air in the rear (drive) tires of the tow vehicle. And there was good motivation: the most scenic dispersed campsite in years, and with two Verizon towers lighting up the mountain.

I managed to get over 95% of it. Then one of the drive wheels started spinning, which instantly produced a hole. At that point you're sunk. (Why don't all two wheel vehicles have limited slip differentials? The option only costs $300-400.)

Ahh dear, I can't wait to replace my old tow vehicle with one as new as model years 2010 or 2011, because they all have Traction-Control as standard equipment, even at the low trim level.

And then it started happening. Frustration turned into mild panic. How do you get out of a mess like this? Next time I'll try to educe general principles of more use to the reader. I haven't accomplished as much as desired when it comes to the balancing act of:
  1. Avoiding a too detailed, too personal, and self-absorbed description of a "horror story," (while the reader sniffs boasting), or
  2. Avoiding too general or dogmatic platitudes about risk and panic.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Famous "Go Anywhere" Traveler Caught in Boondocking Scandal

I think I had honored my guest, Glenn of toSimplify.net, 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.)
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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.



Friday, August 9, 2013

There Must Be Something of Value in Mud

Well, I certainly failed to "meet spec" on the recent cold mudhole debacle in Colorado. Yes, it was disgusting and uncomfortable -- but so what?  Let's see if I can redeem myself today.

But first, consider how absurd the situation was. It was cloudy and rainy and only got into the 50s (F), even in mid-day. I was wearing thermal underwear and a skull cap, but just couldn't get warm. In August!  I refused to go out to the tow vehicle and retrieve my winter parka; I also refused to turn on my propane heater. Finally I crawled into bed in mid-day and watched "Lawrence of Arabia", so that the mere sight of hot sand and deserts and camels would cheer me up.

What is valuable or meaningful about mud? Perhaps mud is the best example we have of true progress, in the form of gravel roads. It is easy to look up the date that certain gadgets or machines were "invented." (This is usually a bit misleading, since a working thing is a combination of technologies, and which exact combination constitutes "the invention?") Still most things are easier to date than gravel roads.

For instance I had a grandfather born on a Midwest farm in the year 1900. Most Americans were farmers in that era. How many roads in his county were better than simple dirt roads? Imagine the isolation and inconvenience that that involved. Why, it must have isolated them for weeks or even a couple months in the late winter!

It is true that horses do OK with muddy roads, at least if you are riding the horse. But they couldn't pull a wagon or carriage through that goo or slop. How did a family go to town on Saturday or to church on Sunday?

Consider how much the world changed in our grandfather's era, compared to our own. We are brainwashed to believe that a new gadget of some sort is proof of how rapid progress is. But look how trivial gadgets are compared to the inventions of two generations ago! Even in my youth, the "invention" (meaning widespread acceptance in middle-class homes and cars) of air conditioning was a drastic thing, compared to version 8.2.05 of some operating system or a minor change in the form factor of an iPad.

Although it is just human nature to take miracles like gravel roads for granted, it is still very nice to take a vacation from such ingratitude.  Real camping provides many opportunities of that type. It's a pleasure that mainstream, comfort and status-worshiping motorhomers will never experience.


Thursday, August 8, 2013

Rocky Mountain High Mud-Skiing

Gunnison, CO. There's always something new to learn in the travel racket, or at least, to accentuate. Camping in the mud has never been my favorite thing, and most dog owners would say the same.

But wait, wasn't I just praising the ability of the human imagination to turn any situation into one of Noble Suffering? And I meant it, too. But I draw the line at flying insects and mud. Mud is not noble.



You might wonder why I had to crash in the photo above, with all that "dry" land between the two tire ruts. The photo doesn't show how crowned that middle area was.

And speaking of crowned... I couldn't take the forest mud anymore. I had to head in to town, just for the pavement. Towards the end of the day, it appeared dry enough to attempt an escape. It was only 200 yards downhill to the main road. I was patting myself on the back for having the foresight to camp uphill of the escape route, at this time of the year.

On the way down, the tow vehicle and travel trailer were actually sliding down the hill, despite having 8 brakes! This caused a moment of panic. Here again it would be nice to boast of foresight. But in fact it was just dumb luck that the dirt road was troughed (concave) like a toboggan run. The van's steering would not "answer", but the concavity held the rig on track beautifully. What a relief! 

All kidding aside, folks, don't underestimate the importance of 1) camping uphill of the escape, and 2) troughed versus crowned escape routes.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Summiting Through Ideals and Suffering

...So there I was, pushing my mountain bike up a mountain, with little hope of ever being able to pedal it, except downhill where it might be dangerous. I'd never deliberately injected myself into a situation like this, before. But I simply had to make the San Juans a bigger success for my favorite sport of mountain biking. Defeatism had become disgusting. Although Anger was useful at the beginning to getting me going, it soon wore off. Now what?

The aerobic buzz was great, but it's not enough: the mind needs something to chew on.  Few things lend themselves to metaphor-mining like mountain climbing. The choice seemed obvious: Christ carrying his own cross up Mt. Calvary. So my mind stayed occupied all the way up the mountain by visualizing the awkward and uncomfortable (and weird) ascent as a type of Noble (voluntary) Suffering.


No doubt, the most metaphorical and non-literal allusion to religious tradition is sufficient to send many priggish atheist readers running for cover. But now that they've left the room, we are free to talk about them behind their backs. What metaphor would they find from their bland, modern, utilitarian, uni-sex, PC, "Whig Interpretation of History" worldview? If their worldview does not provide valuable myths and metaphors, perhaps they should reassess how superior it is to "old-fashioned superstitions," and how "intelligent" they are for believing it.

I was astonished how well my chosen metaphor worked as I kept pushing the bike -- despite the fact that I'm no more of a Christian than the priggish atheists who just walked out of the room. Normally my "brilliant" ideas don't work out as expected. I've learned to laugh it off. So when an idea works better than expected, it's time to wonder why. 

It was 3000 feet to the top, but it was the same effort as a 4000-5000 foot hike of the regular kind. I had to rest frequently because of the extra effort of twisting over and pushing the mountain bike. On the other hand, I felt no sharp pain. Although I expected to be sore the next day, that didn't happen.

Chiaroscuro of Hope and Suffering in the High Country

But, still, why was this silly thing working so well? The frequent resting, occasional slipping, bumping the tires into rocks -- the more miserable it was, the happier I felt. The best that I could do was ask the mountaineering guide that I had hired down in Lake City, William James:
Wherever a process of life communicates an eagerness to him who lives it, there the life becomes genuinely significant. Sometimes the eagerness is more knit up with the motor activities, sometimes with the perceptions, sometimes with the imagination, sometimes with reflective thought. But, wherever it is found, there is the zest, the tingle, the excitement of reality; and there is 'importance' in the only real and positive sense in which importance ever anywhere can be. [William James, Talks To Teachers On Psychology; And To Students On Some Of Life's Ideals. The chapter, On a Certain Blindness. Downloadable for free from Gutenberg.org.]
But what our human emotions seem to require is the sight of the struggle going on. The moment the fruits are being merely eaten, things become ignoble. Sweat and effort, human nature strained to its uttermost and on the rack, yet getting through alive, and then turning its back on its success to pursue another more rare and arduous still— this is the sort of thing the presence of which inspires us, and the reality of which it seems to be the function of all the higher forms of literature and fine art to bring home to us and suggest.[William James. Talks To Teachers On Psychology; And To Students On Some Of Life's Ideals. The chapter, What Makes a Life Significant.] 

There is a big difference between routine, work-a-day dreariness and the Noble Suffering I was experiencing, or what Richard Byrd experienced when he was nearly dying "Alone" on his solo Antarctic trip, or what so many polar explorers or sea voyagers have experienced. Their bodies might be in even worse condition than the body of a routine drudge, but something else is happening "in there."
...that their souls worked and endured in obedience to some inner ideal, while their comrades were not actuated by anything worthy of that name.
The barrenness and ignobleness of the more usual laborer's life consist in the fact that it is moved by no such ideal inner springs.
Sodden routine is incompatible with ideality...
And now we are led to say that such inner meaning can be complete and valid for us also, only when the inner joy, courage, and endurance are joined with an ideal.
Climbing a mountain is boring and unfulfilling if it's just exercise. Taken to its logical conclusion, the Colorado Exercise Lifestyle is just one more manifestation of the standard Rat Race. Why not stay back home in the city, go to the gym, and work out on the StairMaster? Exercise needs to be joined to a metaphor to make it noble and meaningful.


Let's go back to our hired mountaineering guide:
...mere ideals are the cheapest things in life. Everybody has them in some shape or other, [...] and the most worthless sentimentalists and dreamers [...] possibly have them on the most copious scale.
The more ideals a man has, the more contemptible, on the whole, do you continue to deem him, if the matter ends there for him...
Inner joy, to be sure, it may have, with its ideals; but that is its own private sentimental matter. To extort from us, outsiders as we are, [...]the tribute of our grudging recognition, it must back its ideal visions with what the laborers have, the sterner stuff of manly virtue; it must multiply their sentimental surface by the dimension of the active will, if we are to have depth... The significance of a human life [...] is thus the offspring of a marriage of two different parents, either of whom alone is barren.
There must be some sort of fusion, some chemical combination among these principles, for a life objectively and thoroughly significant to result.
The solid meaning of life is always the same eternal thing,— the marriage, namely, of some unhabitual ideal, however special, with some fidelity, courage, and endurance; with some man's or woman's pains.