Showing posts with label lifestyle. Show all posts
Showing posts with label lifestyle. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Opening Up to the Charm of Other People

Learning to appreciate a variety of things is important for what I call an independent lifestyle, that is, one in which sheer busyness, phony pragmatism, and chasing after toys and status symbols is not the 'meaning of life.'

I had a couple examples of appreciation that were new to me, recently. My dog and I were returning on a mountain bike ride. Therefore we were cruising downhill. Another dirt road 'teed' into ours. Coming down this road were a half dozen large beautiful horses, with riders. I guessed that the horsewoman who led the troupe was the employee of a nearby (dude) guest ranch. 

I asked and she confirmed it, in four or five words.  That's all it took for me to bike away, cooing, and fluttering my eyelashes at the sheer prettiness of her voice. This effect was so exaggerated that I had to wonder about it.

Was it just the usual joy juice in my blood that comes from mountain biking? This has happened so many times. Sometimes it almost scares me. Certainly, that is some of the explanation.

And yes, some women really do have lovely voices. Their voices can be amazingly clear on the telephone when the man's voice sounds like mere mumbling. I thought I was only knocked over by the hit-arias sung by the soprano in Puccini operas.

But maybe I was just being a dirty old man, and was imagining that woman in tight blue jeans, riding her horse away from me? Or maybe it was seeing people enjoy a traditional western experience?
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It is rare to find a town in America that has any individual character. For the most part, they are all the same. It fits in with the massen-mensch mindset of democracy. And the consumption of mass media. And besides, there is barely enough freedom in modern America to display individuality.

Despite all that, Mayberry-for-Hippies, AZ, allows dogs in their public library. One day a reader came through with their miniature schnauzer in tow. He was grey and older, and so sedate. His whole personality reminded me of a little old man who runs an antique book store in London: you know the image, a cardigan sweater, nerdy eyeglasses, and maybe a little mustache.

I simply cannot forget that little dog. It's like he was born to work in that library. Of all the times I have been charmed by dogs, that experience is still my favorite.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

What If I Were a Car Camper?

Every day I travel by a solitary car camper. Sometimes I feel like walking up and introducing myself. But I never have.

Is this just bourgeois prejudice, looking at somebody who appears to be a low-life? It could be, but it could also be reasonable caution. How am I supposed to know which topic lights the guy up like a firecracker? And how will I escape his rant, gracefully?

Another motive is self-protection. His situation seems sad, and I don't really want to wallow in it. The other day was a big day for him. I saw him walking around his car a little bit. At one point, he bent down and tied his shoes. That is the most action he has had in a week. The rest of the day, he just sits in his car and looks out the windshield.

There could be some genuine drama happening in that car. But who would know? Who could be affected by it vicariously, if everybody is afraid of him?

I always feel ashamed of myself when I go by him. Are he and I in the same category -- desert rat boondockers?
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In contrast, walking by a female car-camper makes me feel rather good. She is a talented musician and a dog lover -- she might have four or five of them in her tent and jeep.  She is always doing something. I have talked to her a couple times when her dogs came out to say hello to mine, as we biked by.

Perhaps the contrast comes from the vibrations she gives off that seem to say she only does this seasonally, and it makes no practical sense to buy a regular RV for a short stint in the desert.

At first, I rolled my eyes and thought, "Four dogs. What do they use for common sense?" But the more accustomed to her I became, the more it seemed like she was offering an authentic, anthropological performance that befits the human female. I like to think of people as a type of wildlife. 

Previously I had complained that I couldn't see any positive role for female campers. Most of them seem not only useless, but to be outright liabilities. In contrast, this woman was doing what they have always done: staying busy with three things at once, providing existence, survival, comfort, security, and pleasure to the other creatures in her life.

Monday, September 26, 2016

A Different Kind of Colorado Postcard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Selling Out to the (Camping) Establishment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Should Camping Tough Guys Have Satellite Television and Internet?

Let no one confuse a retro-grouch with a human fossil. This retro-grouch made a giant leap forward when I bravely submitted to my first demonstration of Facebook. The fellow who gave the tutorial was quite good at giving demonstrations.

Actually, I was impressed with Facebook as a platform. It seemed useful for certain types of groups. It seemed well integrated with other platforms on the internet.

So then, if I was so impressed with it, why haven't I opened up an account? Two things are stopping me.

1. Won't I lose control of ad-blocking on Facebook? Please don't tell me that ads are not too obtrusive, so far. On an internet browser such as Firefox, you can use a free ad-blocking program that works 98% of the time. I am suspicious that most of the bandwagon towards smartphones and Facebook is ultimately motivated by the desire to get people addicted to a platform first, and then bury them under ads that they can't do anything about.

2. Thoreau's classic wise-crack about new technology as being 'pretty toys...an improved means to an unimproved end.' When you see all these assholes walking around with their smartphones, unable to live without scratching the itch for more than three minutes at a time, you have to wonder what the content is, of these messages. Pictures of their cat? Banal chit-chat about the weather? Whether they ate corn flakes or Cheerios for breakfast?
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Civilizational decline was, at one time, best exemplified by tabloid newspapers and the like. Then Decline added another layer, as society became addicted to the garbage dump of television. Then the internet spam started; remember when people were forwarding dumb jokes to their friends' and followers' email box? And now societal Decline has culminated in Facebook.

In order to honor the occasion, a neologism needs to be widely adopted: triviality, banality, and drivel need to be combined into one word. I was inspired by Merriam-Webster's etymology of the word, drivel: "Middle English, from Old English dreflian, perhaps akin to Old Norse draf, malt dregs, before the 12th century."

Combining these words, let us adopt the word, drivia (drivial, driviality), to describe the effluvia of Facebook and smartphones. 

 
The larger issue here is whether a real camper should be tied into satellite television or the internet at all? Doesn't it seem funny to you that there are all these blowhards [*] on the internet, rhapsodizing about 'boondocking', and the wonderful life of Adventure, natural Beauty, Harmony, Simplicity, sacred Solitude, etc., and yet they spend half the day staring at satellite television or internet drivia. 


Why do they pretend their lifestyle is superior to the average schmo in a stick-and-brick house? Couldn't they just as easily move to a low-cost-of-living town, and buy a premium package of fiber optic internet and television?

I will let the reader cogitate on that for a couple days. What we really need to do is come up with more constructive uses of time when camping.


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[*] In case the reader can't tell, I am ranting against myself as much as anybody.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Why Not Be Good at Being a Consumer?

In January of this year I posted several times about a curious question: why didn't more people work harder at being good conversationalists, considering the benefits of improvement and its feasibility? It is in the reach of just about everybody. For the most part, it just involves overcoming a small set of bad habits.

The same question comes up in a different setting: why don't more people work harder at being good consumers, considering the benefits of doing so, and its feasibility? Is it a lack of knowledge? Or just the sheep-like behavior of the herd who sees too many commercials?

What caused me to think about this was the experience of screwing up on the purchase of an external keyboard for a computer which works fine but has a defective keyboard. How could I not notice that the 'enter' key and right hand shift keys were half size? This is the very reason why I avoided 10 inch netbooks when they were the rage a few years ago. Same for 10" tablet keyboards.


And how people type on smart phones, I will never understand.

I even made a second mistake by getting sucked into paying more for a wireless keyboard. There is no reason why I would need that. But it seemed like the 'cool' thing to do.

This is just a trivial example, and yet it is so inconsistent with my normal patterns. Perhaps it is easier to be a good shopper when a large and important item is needed. After all, you get serious about it then. But small expenses slip under the radar screen.

Considering what a big part of life it is to be a consumer, why wouldn't a guy enjoy being good at it? People desire to be good at other fundamental parts of their lives (being an employee, a driver, a spouse or parent), so why not consumer-hood?

Monday, March 21, 2016

What Nomadism Really Means

Mid-February was so warm that I said goodbye to the hiking season and hello to the mountain biking season for the next 10 months or so. I was biking down a dirt/gravel road in southeastern Arizona. Suddenly I felt misty-eyed.


How strange! I am not one of those modern 'sensitive' men who acts weepie and huggie because he has been told to do so. In fact, in all the years (19) that I've been in this racket, this is the first time this happened.

(Long-suffering readers of this blog know the formula by now: observe something odd or experience something unusually affecting, and then try to explain it by walking my way to the general and timeless.)

Perhaps I was affected by southeastern Arizona having some of my favorite balanced scenery, that is, grasslands in the foreground and mountains in the background. And oak trees! In contrast I have little interest in the pine monocultures that cover most of the mountains in the West.

Or maybe it was the realization that I come here every year. Having a friend in town certainly helps. Better yet, the woman who introduced me to my long-term friend was also in town. I went to visit her.  It was pleasing to both of us to hear gratitude. I feel at home here.

Home? That may seem like a strange thing to say for a full-time RVer. After all, aren't they supposed to be moving all the time? But in fact, I have never praised the 'channel surfing with gasoline' lifestyle that is so over-praised by newbie travel blogs.

'Home' to me does not mean "finding that perfect undiscovered mountain town" to settle down some day. I don't want to live in one spot, with crappy weather most of the year. Nor do I want to be stuck with endless house repair and tax expenses. But more generally, I don't want the pettiness, the constraints that eventually oppress, and the cloying domesticity of living in one spot.

Lately I've been reading about voyages of discovery, old-time trade routes, and nomads in North Africa and Eurasia. Some men are just not cut out to live the life of Cain, with its routine and sedentary drudgery. And the relentless over-concentration on such a small number of things!  They are meant for the life of Abel.

They need more variety, but that doesn't mean the geographical promiscuity of a first year RVer who begins to feel bored with any place before his engine even has a chance to cool off.

Awhile back I wrote about finding a better way to live without a generator that I seldom used: I fixed an inverter to run off my van's engine and battery, and sent that electricity to a battery charger in the trailer.

This is analogous to a pastoral nomad who learns to milk his herd, instead of just using them for transportation, clothing, cash, hides, bones, and meat. Seeing this analogy gave such a feeling of authenticity to my travel lifestyle -- it was much more pleasurable than, say, a free admission and camping ticket for 5 years to America's Top Ten national parks. 


A "pastor" from South America pursuing the lifestyle of Abel, in the high country of Utah'

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...

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Pascal's Winter Cabin

Winter is not just a season of climate, but is also a phase in a person's mind. In 18th and 19th century novels, the rural gentry conventionally retired to London in winter. Can you blame them? It wasn't just the darkness and weather, it was the muddy roads. People living in "normal" places in the modern world forget how frustrating muddy roads can be.

Every now and then I run into an Alaskan in the Arizona desert in the winter. They usually curse the darkness in the North more than the cold. Easy to believe.

I suppose there is a correlation between northern latitudes and alcoholism. Some of that might be the lack of grapes, and the northern grains lending themselves to hard alcohol. But surely some of it is due to the darkness and isolation.

There is something about sinking into the reality of winter-camping that brings a piquancy to a famous quote from Blaise Pascal in his Pensées, probably the only work of his still read today:
When I have occasionally set myself to consider the different distractions of men, the pains and perils to which they expose themselves at court or in war, whence arise so many quarrels, passions, bold and often bad ventures, etc., I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber.
Well, maybe Pascal would have been good at making it through winter in Alaska. 

But there is a bitter-sweetness to the rest of the chapter, as he advertises for an internal life. He was so ill. He was walking away from his brilliant accomplishments in mathematics and physics during the "breakout" century, when European Christian civilization led the world out of superstition and scientific ignorance. The long term consequences were so great it was as if homo sapiens had become a new species.

And yet this brilliant fellow was shifting his emphasis from explaining the real world in order to move towards morbid religious sensibility. If he had lived longer and continued down this track, what would he have accomplished? Sit indoors and wallow in a pool of emotion? Wouldn't he have wasted his life in self-absorption and introspection, as so many monks and holy men had done before him? What was new or brilliant about that?

I am not really sure I agree with Pascal's quote. I don't want to lose the healthy and external orientation to life in the winter. I don't want to become a monk or a 'holy man of the desert.'
But any winter camper or resident in an isolated cabin has an internal emphasis forced on them by the darkness and the social isolation. How far should we go in that direction? There is no one correct answer, of course. I do not seek one. But I would be pleased to identify the symptoms better, so I can switch back to an external orientation when I have gone too far.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Nibbling Away at Moral 'Perfection'

I have an ON again/OFF again involvement with achieving moral perfection. Mostly off. Even though I am getting started 40 years later than Benjamin Franklin, it still 'counts'.

And it isn't as silly as it sounds. What should a person work on as they get older? Sleeping 8 hours per night, without waking once? Growing lush dark hair on their head? Running a 4 minute mile? Living the dissolute life of an international playboy? Good luck with all that.

The fact is that wisdom about the conduct of life, self-control over our own behavior, and having a broader perspective on the human condition are just about the only things that we can improve at, with age. And that is good news! These are the things we should have been emphasizing our whole lives, instead of running around, taking care of frantic busywork.

So how does one proceed on this noble quest? There is something to be said for a 'bottom up' approach, quite the opposite of the approach of long-winded philosophers. It is too likely to be fruitless to read shelves of books, contrasting and comparing different sects of philosophers.

Of course we must not drown in microscopic "practical" details. The concrete example that we work on should always be looked on as a possible member of a category, and an illustration of a general idea.

Let's come down from the clouds and get our hands dirty with real life. All of my life I have noticed outdoorsmen volunteering information about how frustrated they get with themselves because it takes so long to get organized in the morning. And they always forget something! It is funny to hear people complain of the same frustrations, despite all the differences between them.

In fact, people are tempted to just give up on this issue, and shrug it off as inevitable. But actually it is quite explainable. The problem is caused by slovenly habits after the outing. They come back indoors, feeling relaxed and happy. It seems so easy and 'natural' to dump their equipment, hither and thither, on whatever horizontal surface is convenient and empty.  Entropy in motion.

Why not store all the junk necessary for Sport X in one and only one box, labelled 'X'?

This combines with overcoming another moral vice: the Early Bedtime Syndrome. I am always complaining about it. But it really isn't intractable: too much reading or movie watching in the evening is bad -- more physical activity, even with the most mundane chores, is good. So rather than rounding up my stuff in the morning to get ready for a mountain bike ride, just do it in the evening. In the morning, there should be virtually nothing to do.

Lately I have been working on this vice, and the results have been gratifying. Yes, this is a humble sort of accomplishment, but on the other hand, it has been dragging on, maddeningly, for years and years; and finally killing it off makes me feel that other longstanding and idiotic vices are curable. Young Ben would be proud of me.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Benefits of Getting Outside the Comfort Zone

There probably aren't many readers who are interested in bicycling. Nevertheless I will write about a certain kind of bicycling as an example of a principle that applies broadly and beneficially to early retirement and full-time travel.  

Lately I have given advertisements for adapting to steep land by pushing the mountain bike up the hills and coasting down. This makes me uncomfortable, more so psychologically than physically. It helped to consider the history of mountain biking: it originated by using cars or ski-lifts to get up the hill, and then they would ride the bike down.

But I overlooked the examples of other "one-way" sports, such as river canoeing or kayaking, downhill skiing, hang gliding, and parachuting. None of these practitioners think that their sport is ruined by "one-wayness." They would probably have a hard time imagining it any other way. 




The "push up/coast down" style of mountain biking is somewhat similar to a surfer, who drops their belly on the board, and paddles out past the surf-line, and then turns around and takes a wild ride back to shore.

What is the result of this experiment? Back onto sagebrush hills near Gunnison where one can do normal "two-way" mountain biking, I have the pleasure of feeling like a young superman. The pay-off of suffering that discomfort in the San Juan mountains shows on every ride.

Gunnison, CO. High altitude BLM hills at sunset, after an evening thunderstorm. That gives it a "Brahms moping over Clara Schumann, in November" sort of mood.

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This is a nice little example of the principle of doing things that are difficult instead of merely entertaining; of 'experiencing' rather than consuming; of reaching out in different directions instead of fixating on trophy scenery; and of living rather than vacationing.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Can Old People Still Learn?

It is funny how a somewhat vague idea can grab you sometimes. But you suspect that there is something valuable hiding in that vagueness, so you wrestle with it on a blog. It might be one of the better reasons for blogging.

Currently I'm on a 'learning counter-intuitive habits' kick. I am beginning to see the development of new habits and capabilities as an example of learning at its best. Think how far it is above the learning of a mere factoid.

But this is not a sermon for developing sheer willpower, like some crazed Puritan, and forcing yourself to develop a new habit which actually repels you, but which you have come to believe is 'good for you.'

Rather, it is about the exquisite tipping point, half-way from habit A to habit B, as if you were trapped in a Escher print.  

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Wasn't it Edward Abbey's "Desert Solitaire" that described the transition of Arches National Park into an over-improved tourist trap, replete with a paved auto-loop, visitor's center, and entrance fees? You could probably walk into a bookshop, head to the "Travel" section, and find a book with a title like, "Top Ten Auto Loops in America's National Parks."

Indeed, the human mind has a predisposition to loop-routes, rather than out-and-backs. I did too of course, at the beginning of my RV career. I wondered if I would ever find enough loops to make bicycling (or hiking) a big part of the Good Life.

My inclinations were just the opposite of geographical reality: most dirt roads started at the side of a secondary road; then they headed up into the mountains, getting steeper and rockier as they climbed. Finally they just crapped off altogether, perhaps at an old mine, abandoned ranch, or water tank, or at an impossibly vertical side of a mountain. You could only turn around and come back down.

This seemed so disappointing and frustrating. After all, wouldn't I see the same thing again? How would that be any fun?

But reality eventually won. Instead of a 'grin and bear it' attitude towards geographical reality, I came to think of it as 'my idea.' Over time I became addicted to the rhythm of the out-and-back. The scenery didn't look the same on the way down, because I seldom looked backwards on the way up. The relationship between the dog and the mountain bike reversed itself on the way down. Instead of getting an aerobic blowout, I got lazy, thought about safety, and enjoyed the scenery on the coast back down. It seemed like eating dessert.

Thus a "problem" turned into a new habit, Counter-intuitive Habit #3, Enjoying out-and-back trips. It might have been the first success in my new lifestyle.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Developing Counter-intuitive Habits When Camping

I just got back from an unusual mountain bike ride, that is, one in which I was successfully miserable. It started going downhill. Oh what a sinking feeling that is, literally and figuratively! It is so easy to dig a hole for yourself so deep that digging out of it will be pure misery. The same could be said of hiking down into a canyon at the beginning of a hike.

Consider for a moment how unnatural it is: when you were a child, your mother trained you to finish off your carrots and peas first -- bleah! -- before you earned dessert. That is the feeling you get starting a mountain bike uphill. You can get so addicted to the rhythm of depleting yourself on the ascent and to the smug satisfaction of resting at a scenic high spot, before turning around and whooping it up on the descent.

Now consider the opposite: descending at the beginning, and being chilly. When you turnaround now, it is later in the morning, and you are digging out of your hole in warmer air. That is just plain perverted!

And yet, when camping high in the summer to stay cool, you find most of the roads below you. So what are you going to do but start your rides downhill? It is useful to be able to learn to like this sort of thing, and I was practicing today. 

I have discovered a trick of the trade, and wrote it up in the tab at the top of the screen, "Summiting: Ideals and Suffering." Imagine taking some famous philosophers along with you on this ride: half of the bike club consists of ascetics, poets, Romantics, early Christians, Thomas Carlyle, and Nietzsche.

The other half of the club consists of that dreary string of Utilitarian philosophers, such as Jeremy Bentham, James Mill, and John Stuart Mill. (Ralph Nader would be a good addition to this list.) These are the people that Charles Dickens satirized as "Professor Gradgrind" in one of his novels.

'The greatest good for the greatest number'? The 'avoidance of pain.'? Comfort, utility, safety, long life, standard of living, and quantity as the standards of value? How does any of those maxims help when you are digging your way out of your hole, you are hot, your shin is banging the pedal, and you are twisted sideways to push the damn bike?

But the other half of the bike club tells you that your voluntary Suffering is noble, manly, and glorious. As you fixate on this vision, you do start to cheer up. You develop a disdain for the complaints of this rotting carcass known as a human body. "Reality" exists in an Ideal, not in flesh. And you do surmount the challenge. (If it doesn't kill you, that is.) People, that I would ordinarily poke fun at, have actually given me advice more practical than all the pragmatists, utilitarians, materialists, and men of common sense put together.

I am still looking for a chance to reread the opening of an interesting book by Neff, called "Carlyle and Mill." John Stuart Mill had initiated a friendly contact Thomas Carlyle, who was virtually a bete noir of Mill's sect of Utilitarians. Carlyle was working on his history of the French Revolution. He asked Mill for comments on the one and only draft of the book. Mill took it home.

And it was burned in an accident. Neff gave such a moving and poignant portrayal of the scene when Mill had to give Carlyle the bad news. Carlyle rose heroically to the challenge of starting the book over again from scratch, and he completed it. Would Professor Gradgrind have been able to do the same?
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Forgive me. I intended to make a paragraph-list of a half dozen counter-intuitive habits that help a camper get the most of his lifestyle. Instead, I went off on a sermonette about noble suffering. My excuse is that I am still trying to develop the habit of starting a ride downhill. Next time, the list.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Calming the Beast in the Cabin

I'm weakening. I hate camping underneath a thunderstorm. But the mud will dry up tomorrow.

There must be readers who are sick of my praise for wet snow and cold mud in May in the American Southwest. They are probably thinking, "Put up or shut up. Move to Puget Sound if you think wetness is so great."

My sermons are an echo of the ones from William James, presented in the page-tab at the top of your screen, Summiting: Ideals and Suffering. In trying to benefit from suffering, the key word is 'non-routine.' Over the long run, suffering loses its charm. In order to be stimulated, you must somehow idealize it, and that is hard to do to something routine. The weather the Southwest is having right now is definitely non-routine.

I'm not just opining and theorizing. My bouts with cabin fever have done me some good, and hopefully for the long term.

I was forced to do things that are easy to neglect: a book that was supposed to be re-read, but somehow wasn't; cleaning and organizing; off-line organizing on the computer; doing push-ups on the muddy trailer floor; cooking time-consuming foods such as rice and beans; crawling under the sleeping bag and napping at odd times, not because I was tired, but because I craved warmth.

It isn't good enough to just grit the teeth and try to force yourself to do these things. It is better to exercise the imagination on them, and visualize them as being valuable. At the very least I had to give them the benefit of the doubt, and judge them less harshly than usual. I had to be content with these half dozen activities instead of a dozen more activities which I should be able to pursue and which should be more exciting.

At first I saw only tangible things and activities. Over time a general principle appeared behind the scenes. Patience. I was developing patience.

Just as a child's imagination tends toward personification, I imagined Impatience as an unruly beast who I was trapped with. It seemed a huge wet dog, young and puppyish, and erratic. This even made it destructive in such a small trailer: scratching at my air mattress, getting excited and peeing on the floor, shaking off all over the bed. 

The beast wasn't malevolent by intent. In fact its flaws were rather common to its breed and age. Neverthless it was necessary for It to calm down.

So it is with the virtue of patience. Impatience always seemed to be a common and petty vice, before, and thus boring and easy to underestimate and neglect.  

But what profound consequences Impatience has in the long term. We are forever scratching an itch, driving to stores, spending money. So much of the money and time of our lives is spent fleeing boredom. We only needed to conquer Impatience. This issue is triply important to early retirees.

The great advantage of cabin fever is that we can no longer shrug off Impatience.  We are faced with a crisis, and the villain becomes apparent.

This may be an example of what Malcolm Muggeridge was writing about in A Third Testament. In his chapter on Dostoevsky, he writes:
Dostoevsky found himself in solitary confinement in the Peter and Paul Fortress where so many revolutionaries – Bakunin, for instance – were at one time or another incarcerated. For Dostoevsky it was the true beginning of his inner life, and of the illumination out of which his great works were to come. 

Prisons, let it be said, have fostered far more art and mystical insight than any Arts Council, Ministry of Culture or other such effort in the way of governmental encouragement. In the Peter and Paul Fortress he was willy-nilly introduced to the theme of punishment, which he was suffering, and crime, to which a long, elaborate examination sought to relate it. The punishment was tangible, the crime more elusive...

Friday, March 20, 2015

Are Extreme Sports an Answer to Shackleton?

Is it crazy to read about Ernest Shackleton's adventures when our modern world lacks real adventure? Everything on earth has been seen. If you were to sign up for XYZ Adventure Tours, they would have you sign legal disclaimers, despite nothing genuinely dangerous being permitted. And you would be encased in safety equipment.

In the world of travel, people who might see themselves as "adventurers" are actually like a lazy student who looks up the answers in the back of the book, rather than attempting to work the problem out on his own. With Benchmark and DeLorme atlases, Wikipedia, websites, blogs, and Google Earth, everything is known.

So are we just looking back at the good old days of Shackleton, when men were made of iron and ships were made of wood, with romantic nostalgia?

But there is still this thing called extreme sports in the modern world; marathon running, peak bagging, bicycle racing, etc. These don't offer the glamor of the unknown, nor are they particularly dangerous. But, as with Shackleton, they do give people a chance to climb way out of their comfort zone.

Actually, when you go outside the comfort zone, you are going into an 'undiscovered country', in a sense. It isn't "undiscovered" in the same sense as it was for Magellan or Shackleton, but it still counts.

I experience "extreme" sports a little bit, when acting like a pseudo-racer in the winter bicycle club in Yuma. There is something of value there. Ordinarily, I would be repelled by the repetition needed to get physically fit. Recall my standard stump speech in favor of not going past the point of diminishing marginal utility. Endurance athletes and racers go way beyond this point.

Perhaps that is the real value of a snowbird winter: to take a vacation from our usual way of thinking even if we like our usual way of thinking.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Part II, Ascetics as Athletes of the Will

It is rare for me to enjoy a biography. That is one reason why I am bothering to write about Ramachandra Guha's "Gandhi Before India." Last post I credited it with being a non-hagiography.

Over the course of the book I came to the same conclusion as the author at the close of his book (page 546/672):
But let us not win the argument ... through hindsight, but rather try and see Gandhi's own experiments as he saw them, as steps to a purer, more meaningful life. To simplify his diet, to reduce his dependence on medicines and doctors, to embrace brahmacharya, were all for him ways of strengthening his will and his resolve. By conquering the need to be stimulated by sex and rich food -- the 'basal passions' according to his teacher Tolstoy -- Gandhi was preparing himself for a life lived for other people and for higher values.

If he ate little, and that merely fruits and vegetables, without salt, sugar and spices, if he didn't care how often (or if at all) he had sex with his wife; if he dressed simply and didn't own property or jewelry, he could more easily embrace the rigours of prison life...
Gandhi's asceticism was a daily regimen of "muscle building" which could be applied to his overall battle. It takes guts to go to prison. It takes guts to spend your time in a political struggle while neglecting your legal practice and source of income. His worries were intensified by being a husband and father. We have been so warped by the "Mahatma" nickname that we take Gandhi's courage for granted. He didn't just magically become brave, he made himself a little braver each day by gradually becoming independent of the things that enslave a person to the "System." He became an athlete of the will.

I went from a mild dislike of Gandhi to admiration when I abandoned seeing him as a "moral athlete," and starting seeing him as an athlete-of-the-will.
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Now then, can I apply this lesson to my own blog about RV camping and independent living? I know that life can be far zestier and more satisfying after abandoning the suburban cocoon of RV parks, and adopting a lifestyle that is closer to nature. This includes:

1. Purely sensual and physiological pleasures. Pretty scenery is a small part of that, of course. Heat and shade, fresh air 24 hours a day, a navy shower after bicycling, sleeping in cold weather, getting the trailer door into the sunrise or the afternoon north, a nap-like sag after lunch or bicycle ride while listening to music, etc.

2. Primal (anthropological) satisfactions: friends around a campfire, an arroyo-hike with a dog, nailing wildlife, building a customized "man cave", hunting for a new campsite on public lands, getting lost on a hike and then "unlost," etc.

3. The philosophical satisfaction of making sense of the world and of your own life.

But instead of that message coming through, the readers may see a moral posturer who is always scolding conventional RVers.  Possibly I need to emphasize the positive more, but not to the point of coming off as one of those pep-talking charlatans of the motivational speaker ilk. The human mind is best when it operates like a pair of scissors: two blades must work in opposition to get positive work done. 

After finishing this biography I want to apply its message by presenting myself more as an "athlete of the X", but I'm not sure what word to use for X.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Admiring Ascetics as Athletes of the Will

It is so easy to poke fun at ascetics -- or moral posturers of any type -- that I usually give in to the temptation. Their philosophy does not agree with the Prime Directive of this blog: living at the point of diminishing returns.

I have no interest in renouncing the Prime Directive since I am thoroughly convinced that it is sane, prudent, rational, and adult. If I were acting as if I were going to renounce it, the readers should be suspicious of an April Fool's joke. That sort of thing does not appeal to me.

Rather than renounce a good principle, it is better to think of 'exceptions that prove the rule.'  Any essay on asceticism fits in with the tradition of New Year's resolutions. It also coincides with the biography I have just finished, "Gandhi Before India," by Ramachandra Guha.

Before talking about asceticism I would like to praise biographies of a certain type. This biography was about a man, not a "Mahatma." Those of you who have seen the well-known movie by director Richard Attenborough, "Gandhi," might remember how interesting the main character was at the beginning of his career, in South Africa, and how uninteresting and unsympathetic the "Mahatma" was in India. Why, he was virtually a "moral terrorist," with his hunger strikes and endless moral posing. If he tried that on me, I would have let him starve to death.

This may well be the case with biographies of many of the great men of history. I once read a non-hagiography of Robert E. Lee, and liked it for the same reason as this non-hagiography of Gandhi. Men are boring when they become "the great man on horseback," immortalized in a bronze or marble statue. As a reader, I want to be a pigeon who poops on the statue.

In a non-hagiography we get to speculate about how the man got started down a certain track. What was he visualizing? How did he overcome the fear of failure or recover from setbacks? How did he manage the competing pressures of being a husband and father? How important was sheer luck? Who were the unsung heroes along the way?

Good grief I haven't even said anything about asceticism yet. Let it wait until next time.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

In the World, but Not Of It

In contrast to the solitary traveling and mountain biking that I do the rest of the year, midwinter is the season for non-traveling and sociable road cycling with an excellent club in Yuma. I love having a library card and the public library to use it at. But there is an even more radical lifestyle-adjustment: I bought a television antenna so I can watch football. They actually have broadcast stations here.

In watching television, and especially the commercials, I get the profound satisfaction of feeling that "I am in this country and culture, but am not of it." That is an old saying in various religions [*]. I suppose it is usually a mere platitude for them, but no doubt some religious people really mean it. In any case I would like to apply this platitude to the internet, as well. 

Yes, I use the phrase 'profound satisfaction' too often. But it really is true that, at times, you need to slow down and let the sweetness and significance soak in.

The internet is not the moral and intellectual garbage dump that television is. So I don't really hate the internet. But the repetition that I encounter daily is really starting to bore me. Could I do something better than waste $53 per month on a wireless data plan of 5 GigaBytes? Perhaps the pre-pay plan of Walmart would discipline an internet junkie. There are enough free WiFi hotspots, such as the library, that would still keep me from being totally shut off. I wonder if I am just bluffing?

Afraid that Yuma doesn't look like this. But road cyclists don't look at the scenery anyway.

[*] It is not straining an analogy to bring up the history of Christianity before the Roman establishment co-opted it.  Christians were not persecuted for what they believed in, but for what they didn't believe in or pay lip service to. They were considered dangerous atheists because they wouldn't worship Caesar and the traditional gods; doing so was virtually a loyalty oath to the Roman "system."

Our culture's polytheism worships such gods as the Media, Debt, Consumerism, the democratic "General Will," the President and his Legions spread over the empire, etc. These are what an early retiree will not worship. It is our particular form of radical atheism.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Seasons Can Be "Complementary Lifestyle Modules"

Once again I am in Yuma, wondering if there is a business where I can put my brain into cold storage for the winter. 

And why not, I ain't got no use for it, anyhow -- at least not for the next couple months. In fact the intellect is over-rated, as my winter lifestyle will prove. My enjoyment of life will be physiological and anthropological: I will be roadie-cycling with the single best cycling club in the Southwestern winter.

As you can tell, I just finished my first club ride, came home and took a navy-style shower, popped "The Big Country"  into the DVD player, and took a deep sag in front of it. (Notice I did not say 'nap.')

There is a real satisfaction that comes from changing your lifestyle in the winter, rather than merely changing your geographical location. What is the marginal utility of one more location to an RVer after 50 locations, the rest of the year? [*]

But if he can spot some deficiency in his lifestyle the rest of the year, and if he can somehow come up with the complementary pro-s and con-s in the winter, well then, he has constructed the perfect 12 month lifestyle.

In my particular case, I experience more pretty scenery than a sensible human being would need. I know that Life's Little Adventures and Box Canyon Blog won't agree with me on this issue. Wonderful (and unique) people though they be, and as happy with their lifestyles as they are, they still suffer from a serious substance-abuse problem: pretty scenery is their heroin. (grin) Or it could be that they just don't invoke the concept of diminishing marginal utility as the Prime Directive of their blogs.

Thus in the winter I head to Yuma, one of the few places in Arizona that is visually uninteresting, if not positively ugly. Let my eyeballs and camera rest for a couple months.

The rest of the year I disperse camp, mountain bike, and walk arroyos with my dog, who is of course ridiculously happy about it. But unintentionally I live the life of recluse. I've tried various approaches to overcoming that; they were about 5--10% successful. 

Perhaps I will never solve this "problem." So be it. Life is too short to worry about the same old issues year after year. Whatever disappointment I feel in this one department of life can be turned to advantage by showing up in Yuma and riding with the road cycling club. Talk about turning lemons into lemonade!
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[*] Isn't it strange how the prophets of the RV blogosphere, imbued with all their Higher Forms of Wisdom, can so easily see the folly of the conventional lifestyle with its insatiable demand for one more gadget or one more granite counter-top. 

But they cannot see the pointlessness of one more location, after pushing their geographical "channel button" 100 times per year.