Showing posts with label weather. Show all posts
Showing posts with label weather. Show all posts

Friday, September 15, 2017

Bringing a Cliché to Life

Why do certain phrases annoy, in a vague sort of way? For instance, 'scudding clouds.'  'Scudding' is an interesting word.

Currently I disport on a mountain bike in the sage hills near Gunnison, CO. The monsoons have survived until now. Sometimes this area is hit with showers and wind on these open, sagebrush-covered hills. Once again I thought of 'scudding clouds.'

I wanted to be inspired by the phrase, but it still seemed flat. What was I missing? Perhaps I needed to stop worrying about beauty, and think about ugliness, instead. Some of that was readily available: power lines bisected this area.

But are these power lines really ugly? One could think of the power lines and towers as noble pieces of triangular architecture, like the ropes and masts on a ship at sea. This area, with its lonely rock skerries in the midst of a 'sagebrush sea,' (another cliché!) brings to mind the place where 'scudding clouds' is typically used. The mountain bike becomes a sea kayak that nervously paddles and pedals from skerry to skerry, looking for shelter. A dip of only a few feet destroys the horizon, and the bike is swallowed by angry waves in the 'sagebrush covered sea.'

This is how natural beauty actually affects me. It only happens after the mind cuts itself on sharp contrasts, and then soothes itself by wandering off to analogies far away in time or place.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Fire and Ice

Now and then, I catch myself bragging about setting a 'personal best' when camping. Last week the temperature inside the camper hit 27 F. 

Of course I have a heater, but refuse to use it. Usually I try to joke my way out of it. A better explanation would be to point at the movie, "The Red Violin." 

Chilly dry air, in contrast with sunlight at sunrise, seems like perfection to me. With a Platonic and pseudo-religious attitude, I pop my trailer door open to the east, and let the glorious sun come into the trailer. It feels warmer instantly, and irresistibly cheerful. If there is a better way to start a day, let me know what it is.

Nevertheless, consider this an exception to the rule. You will not have to read many advertisements for 'the ideal' or 'perfection' on this blog. Experience has taught me that the enemy of the Good is not the Bad, as you would expect. The enemy of the Good is the Ideal.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

One of the Greatest Pleasures Outdoors

This May and June we have actually had clouds in the sky, and a bit of rain. There are no fire restrictions yet, despite being into the second week of June.

What the sky is supposed to be like, in May and June. Ghastly!
Sometimes I just sit out in a chair in the afternoon and marvel at how magnificent it is to have clouds and shade in mid-day. If the wind blows, it actually feels cool. Truly, this must be one of the greatest pleasures an outdoorsman ever experiences.

I'm so glad I started years ago at trying to appreciate the Agony of Dry Heat, and the Ecstasy of moderate humidity and the southwestern monsoons. It isn't the obvious tourist-like approach. Perhaps it was just snobbishness on my part.

At any rate, taking that approach has paid off. Last night, for the first time in a long time, I left the outer door open all night. 

Friday, March 4, 2016

Another Attempt at Being an Outdoors Fashionista

My last attempt at being a fashionista was under-appreciated by the readership. But I will just try harder...

The topic is timely, now that Arizona is boiling hot in early spring! As I've explained a hundred times, 90% of staying comfortable in the western states is about staying cool, that is, defeating Dry Heat. The latest revolution in form and function is a wide-brimmed visor that fits over a bicycle helmet. In order for you to appreciate how good this innovative product is, let's talk a little about how I used to do it. 

Years ago I saw a mountain biker near Flagstaff with a classic cotton bandana underneath his helmet. This was inexpensive, but it offered poor coverage for the nose. It was hot too, unless you could find enough water to wet it down. (And there ain't no water in the Southwest.)

I have used baseball caps. They are great for the nose. If you get the kind that lack a "crown", they will be cool. But they mess up the fit of your helmet. They provide no coverage for the ears or neck.

Then there is the classic French Foreign Legion-style hats, with the cloth flap on the back for covering the ears and neck. These are very warm, especially if they are made out of the world's hottest fabric, supplex nylon. And most of them are.

You simply must keep fabric out from underneath the helmet, and away from the face. That is, you need a free standing visor. I have used an old wide-brimmed sombrero, with the mesh sides. But underneath a bicycle brain bucket, these are still hot. (You must also slit the sides to allow the helmet straps to pass through.)

Very well then, so much for all the alternatives that half-worked. Recently I learned of the helmet visors that slip on and over the bicycle helmet. No hassles, no interference with the helmet straps.

The "Sporty" model of the helmet visor made by

Compared to wearing a regular sombrero under the helmet, the daBrim visor is about 7 F cooler. That might not sound spectacular, but it is noticeable, and easy to appreciate. 

As a fashionista I usually go for a geologically-inspired color motif. It matches the color scheme inside my trailer. Issues like that are very important to guys like me.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Ultimate Heater for Winter Camping

Winter campers might argue about what the best kind of heater is, but frankly, I don't like using a heater at all -- for the obvious reasons of fuel cost, safety, and condensation. Besides, it seems wimpy.

There is another approach to winter heating. I owe this success to a camping neighbor. He doesn't buy expensive leather outfits for riding his Harley, but instead wears insulated bib overalls from Walmart. Well of course, that is what mechanics, construction workers, and oilfield workers wear in the winter. 

(I love having useful conversations with camping neighbors. Especially when they mention some trick-of-the-trade that I have overlooked. These conversations are so much more valuable than the usual small talk, long-winded stories about the past, personality salesmanship, etc.)

I have never owned bib overalls. But I took his advice and bought a pair of Walls brand from Walmart for $70. The insulation is not really thick, but they aren't supposed to be a snowmobile suit. I was sold the second I saw those metal zippers running down the leg.

This morning, my unheated trailer started out at 40 F, as usual. Once you slap them puppies on, and put a jacket over the top, it seems foolish to use a heater and generate all that condensation and waste all that propane. Why hell, with a sheet of sleeping bag foam on the ground at night, you could sleep outdoors with these things on.

The other campers will have to get used to seeing me strut over the mesa at sunrise and sunset, "modelling" the ultimate in desert winter boondocking chic. I'm not sure that women-campers are all that impressed with my advice, but little girls in kindergarten sure look cute in these things. 

Of course big girls can look pretty cute too, in bibs. Here's Jill Ireland pleasing Mr. Spock with her outfit.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Escape From the Jurassic Mudpits of Moab

You would think that a lot of experience at camping would toughen a fellow up, considerably. But rain and mud have a way of humbling me. Nevertheless, for the fourth time in two days, I narrowly escaped getting stuck in the mud, thanks in part to actually taking advice from a local expert about mud on certain roads in the Moab area.

It sounds so simple, doesn't it? Taking advice. It is certainly good news to become a 'wise old man' who is willing to finally do so. And yet, it is hard to break the changes down that happen to a person who becomes 'older and wiser.' Perhaps a person becomes humbler and more cautious with each misadventure that happens in life. It finally seems inconvenient, expensive, and stupid to have to learn everything the hard way. Misadventures have lost their romantic charm.

There was another reason for my narrow and successful escapes. I had a pair of rubber-bottomed boots in my van. Rather than rashly bulling my way through the mud, I put the boots on and walked it first. So simple. There is nothing subtle about the difference between ground that is merely wet versus pure gooey muck that swallows a tire. Your judgement from the driver's seat is nothing but visual, and that just isn't good enough.

But learning isn't just a matter of getting control over your behavior and temperament. Sometimes one makes a purely mental/intellectual error, quite apart from moods and emotions. It is easy to fail to distinguish 'raining' from 'being rainy.'  When it is merely rainy, things are pretty sloppy outdoors, but still walkable with those wonderful rubber boots, praised above. With a raincoat and a wide-brimmed hat to keep the sprinkles off your face and eyeglasses, you can be comfortable enough on a short walk. It is also a chance to allow yourself to be infected by the attitude of your dog, who of course could not care less about mud and sprinkles.

I have come close to throwing these rubber-bottomed boots away, a dozen times at least. They take up a lot of room in my rig. Besides, it has become 'common sense' to downsize things that do not get used frequently enough to justify themselves. But 'frequency' is not the only thing that matters -- some things you need badly when you do need them.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Worshiping the Wind

Perhaps one of the readers is up-to-date on El Niño and this remarkable summer in the Southwest, a summer of monsoons starting in May instead of July. The result has been the absence of wildfires, and an explosion of greenery and flowers. And bugs. This has been the first summer in years when I applied bug spray before going out on a mountain bike ride. Well it's about time I was made to appreciate how little I normally think of flying insects.  

The appreciation of something else goes up, too: a nice breeze to keep the bugs off. It's a miracle drug. Normally I praise the breeze in passing on to another subject in these posts. For once, let me talk only about the wind.

It's odd that so many people dislike breezy days. I used to, too, earlier in life. Some of these preferences are explainable: people with allergies are not helped any by the wind. 

Also, many people don't wear hats, which is too bad, considering how well the right hat desensitizes you to wind, sun, and rain. They would be surprised how much a simple string, on the hat, helps.  Hats used to be an indispensable part of normal, respectable clothing. When I watch a costume drama, say, a Jane Austen movie, I admire the prettiness of the lady's bonnets.

Now look what happens when the hatless one is a man with an extreme comb-over or a woman with high-maintenance "big hair."

Or consider a motorcyclist, who is so chilled by the wind, and must lean into it, that you couldn't expect them to ever really appreciate the wind. 

Or a golfer, canoer, picnicker, barbecuer, patron of an outdoor cafe, or people having a wedding ceremony in the outdoors.

In my case, staying cool when bicycling is of more interest to me than staying warm. If the weather is really chilly, I will just hike. A bicyclist becomes used to his sense of touch becoming his main sensory organ. Or call it 'mechanical or tactile pressure.' Your skin is always bathed and refreshed by moving air.

Or course there are sports that depend on wind, such as kite-flying or wind-surfing. But sailing is the quintessential wind-harvesting activity. Any exposure to sailing is likely to change your attitude about the wind, and for the better!

Would I really appreciate the wind if it weren't for the bugs? Probably not, at least not as consciously. So let's think of the bugs this summer as an advantage.

And in the mean time think of those consummate appreciators of breezes: those little hot-shots who disport with "ridge lift," and converted me to the religion of the ridge-line.

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...

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Healthiness of Being Stuck in the Muck... an appetizer for Lust for the Dust.

There are people who move to the American Southwest for "nice, warm" weather. I am not one of them. I never fled the Cold of mainstream Gringo-ville; I fled what goes along with the cold.

During the recent spring storm in upper Arizona, I was socked in for 48 hours. Surprisingly, the solar panels (480 Watts, nominal) did a half-decent job of charging the batteries. But without a generator, it was necessary to supplement the struggling solar panels by running the tow vehicle's engine. It would be undesirable to do much of that of course. After turning the engine on, the dog and I went for a walk, and tried to make the best of it.

How wholesome and healthy-minded this experience was! May and June are the crisis-months when I take to dreading Dry Heat. They are the months of disintegrating fingernails, nose-bleeds, cracked heels, paranoid parking with the dog in the van, fire closures in the forest, and wildfire evacuations.

When the monsoons finally arrive in the last days of June, they offer such relief that you want to worship them.

And that is why it is so gratifying to endure a little torture from a storm. (I love the Spanish word for storm, 'la tormenta.') It makes you appreciate sunlight and warmth, instead of dreading them, as I usually do. Shall we compare coldness and mud to a psychological "bank account" that builds up during a storm, and then allows you to live off of your "account" when the Dry Heat starts?

Just think: no driving, no spending money for 48 hours. You feel an inexorable tug to get everything back to normal, that which is predictable, bland, bar-coded, middle-class, and comfortable. But let's resist that tug, and see what happens instead.

Trapped in my little house, I had to adapt my clothing, sleeping, cooking, walking, reading, and everything else to mitigate a grim situation. I saw 'value' in things that would have been uninteresting under normal circumstances. It was wonderful just to cook beans in my pressure cooker, and warm up the little trailer. And my innards. 

It was like living in a bygone century, when winter and mud meant solitude and boredom. Just imagine how talented you would have to be, as a historian, to affect the readers even 10% as strongly as being mud-bound for a couple days does.

It takes imagination and determination to deal with this. Somewhere, Bertrand Russell lamented "modern man's" (his 1920s) inability to thrive in solitude. Proud atheist that he was, he admitted that a religious bent is a useful tool for thriving in solitude.  The recluse can imagine "God" as a friendly companion to talk to, and as an ally against the harshness of life. Have secular people done such a great job at inventing a rational substitute for the god-companion?

Long-suffering readers are used to me praising (short term, voluntary) Discomfort, not for its own sake of course, but rather, for its possible consequences. It is like a coiled metal spring: something must compress it so that it can subsequently expand and do positive work.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Uses for a Cold Day in a Yuma Igloo

Was it a waste of time to read some of the non-famous-novels of Tolstoy and a biography of Gandhi, "Gandhi Before India." by Ramachandra Guha? Today most people see the "prophet" Tolstoy as a prudish, anti-sex crusader and a romanticizer of Russian peasants. Gandhi was obsessed with diet and holiness even back in his student days in London.

Perhaps, instead, I should read about their actions and ideas that make them remembered as great men, rather than as oddballs and cranks. But maybe it is not that simple. Recall that Isaac Newton wrote more theology than mathematical physics. Was he not earnest in both endeavours? How could the same mind and personality be brilliant in one field and a forgettable crank in the other?

Perhaps we fail to read between the lines in their crank endeavors. More imagination might be needed to spot the great man in the fields where they did not shine.

At any rate I usually mock asceticism until it gets cold. Then I start acting like a holy monk. Yes, this is certainly inconsistent, but is also earnest. I have yet to use any supplemental heat this winter. Last night the inside of my trailer fell into the upper thirties (F). I was ready for it after retrieving my heaviest sleeping bag from the van.

I become furious at any weakness about the cold. It is best to get out of bed when it is still dark. Ahh, how nice it is to turn on the stove and heat up the water for coffee. Then a warm breakfast. When the sun finally pops over the local mountains, and pushes through the only window on that side of my trailer. It makes a square foot of bright rectangle appear on the opposite wall.

I am pleased with this photograph, but not because it is "beautiful," but rather, because it might be a non-verbal path to ideas. I hope it causes the viewer to start building a little essay in his mind.

The condensation on the metal screws is due to them connecting to the steel rafters of the wall and the exterior aluminum skin on my converted cargo trailer. 

Since I had to get hands-on involved with my window, it is a pleasant memory and an experience to me, not just a mass-produced good from a factory. I had to buy the right one and hope that it fit between the wall rafters. And where should I put it? Finally it came down to 'now or never', as I got out the drill and saber saw. My palms did sweat a bit, but it turned out easier than I thought. 

I did some reading on building igloos. They poke holes every so often for ventilation. During the polar winter/night, they sometimes put a window (about half the size of mine) in the direction that points to the brightest (and sunless) spot in the sky. Where that would be, I wonder? Three-dimensional, celestial maps are hard to imagine without a globe, a flashlight, and a dark room. 

Every "unit" of dreadfulness or discomfort suffered at night or in the morning darkness is paid back in double portions of pleasure and satisfaction, soon after sunrise. An hour after sunrise the warm sunny rectangle moves to the spot on the bed where my dog snoozes after her morning frolic in the desert. 

There is something about just having one window that focuses the imagination, which then intensifies my appreciation. It is almost a religious reverence: the rectangular spot is like the light pouring through the stained glass windows at the front of the church, and suffusing the altar with benevolence and hope. 

And yet there are comfort-worshiping, bourgeois sybarites in RVing that praise many windows and large windows in an RV. What soul-less philistines they are! (We needn't mention the cult-brand of RV.)

In the future I will see my little white cargo trailer with its lone window as an igloo all alone in the Canadian arctic, suffocating under 24 hours of darkness, but with a chink in its wall, focused on the brightest cluster of bulbs in the Milky Way.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Ghouls Silently Dancing Along the Ridges

Many people in the USA live along the latitude of 40 degrees north. So did I for much of my life. Typically there was a nasty weather collapse near Halloween. Now living in the Southwest, I should be free of all that.

But not this Halloween. Actually I put it to good use. Blue skies can make scenic areas look too predictably pretty. And insipid. I rather like the moodiness of mesa and canyon country during storms.

Canyons also give you a little protection from blustery winds. Of course if it were raining hard, you would be wise to stay out of the canyon. So I took my dog, Coffee Girl, up some canyons that are parked right outside my camper's door.

I wonder who loves this more, she or I? But this time the experience was enhanced by the stormy weather and the possibility of rain on the walk. It sounds ridiculous to think that a little rain has become some great Malevolence to me, but I guess living in the Southwest will do that to a person.

Good luck put a little more mood into this Halloween. You see, I 'heard voices all night.' I am camped on the route of a 25-hour mountain bike race near Virgin UT. Despite the cold and the light rain, the race went on. They talked with their fellow ghouls sometimes as they rode by my trailer.

What amazing headlights these ghouls were wearing! They were visible a couple miles away, as they rose over a ridge for a few seconds, sparkling like distant and solitary jack-o-lanterns. Then, just as quickly, they vanished into the next dip. They floated along the just-barely-visible landscape, silently and eerily, like angry, wandering Souls of the Dead.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Partly in Paradise

One of the advantages of writing is that it is deliberate and slow. It gives you a chance to test the clarity of your thinking.  Computers have made it so easy to edit what you've written that there are few excuses to be inaccurate or misunderstood.

Despite all those advantages there is still room for improvement, particularly in my recent advertisements for the Good Life in the great outdoors. I haven't been clear: it's living partly outdoors that deserves to be praised to the heavens.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

My First Flash "Flood," part II

Between the noise and the rain and the sticky goo, I was getting cabin fever. Not just a hackneyed expression, this is a real state of desperation. Oddly enough, whenever I have personally experienced this mood, I rebelled against it with the most determined optimism. This can seem odd or even a little magical to the person experiencing it, but, if we are to believe William James in The Will to Believe, it is common behavior:
It is, indeed, a remarkable fact that sufferings and hardships do not, as a rule, abate the love of life; they seem, on the contrary, usually to give it a keener zest. The sovereign source of melancholy is repletion. Need and struggle are what excite and inspire us; our hour of triumph is what brings the void. Not the Jews of the captivity, but those of the days of Solomon's glory are those from whom the pessimistic utterances in our Bible come. Germany, when she lay trampled beneath the hoofs of Bonaparte's troopers, produced perhaps the most optimistic and idealistic literature that the world has seen; and not till the French 'milliards' were distributed after 1871 did pessimism overrun the country in the shape in which we see it there to-day. The history of our own race is one long commentary on the cheerfulness that comes with fighting ills.

So I put on a raincoat and took the dog for a walk down to the dry wash to see if it was still dry. The "red sandstone" under my trailer was hard. But the rain made it greasy and slippery in a way that I had never experienced. As with walking on icy sidewalks, I had to bend the knees and keep my weight forward. But I still fell once while walking slowly across it. It wasn't pure sandstone, apparently. Clearly, driving away from the kiddie motorcycle rodeo was impossible until the roads started to dry up in the afternoon.

I am still mystified. How could greasy wet Mancos shale be mixed with that red sandstone and yet still look like pure red sandstone?

As we approached the dry wash I remembered the warning from a local Moab expert about not crossing over if it was raining. An SUV, without that advantage, crossed the sandy dry wash just ahead of me, and then disappeared into the Great Beyond. It seemed ordinary and oddly ominous at the same time.
Something grabbed the corner of my vision. Water was streaming down. It was only 2 inches deep -- it was not like watching the Red Sea crossing in Cecil B. DeMille's Ten Commandments. Still, it looked so odd and unnatural to see flowing water all at once. Was this a humble example of the fabled flash floods of the Southwest? How long I had yearned to see one!

Woops, wait a minute. We were standing right in the middle of the formerly dry creek bed, and just downstream the vertical bank was 15 feet high. Warned or not, I just couldn't leave the stream bed. Surely there would be noise or something, or time to skedaddle if flash floods really were "flashes."  (I had always suspected that the term was an exaggeration.) Apparently "flash flood" is an analog term, not a digital one. This one didn't show any signs of washing man and dog down to the Colorado River.

Unable to dare this mere "sudden onset of moving water" into lethal glamor, I settled for merely observing it. The front edge moved downstream at half walking speed, because it kept filling in the low spots on the sides of the stream. As I continued to watch, the advance of water seemed systematic, relentless, and even sentient. But it is the foul mood, written about in the last post, that deserves the credit for the magic of this experience: I started seeing this moving water as a Malevolence.

Rationally It should choose the path of least resistance, but instead Its lethal fingers probed the sides of the dry river bed for victims. The fingers would close around their latest victim until they choked it, swallowed and digested it, and then moved relentlessly downstream to continue the slaughter.

Think of old-time science-fiction B movies: The Blob that Ate Philadelphia. Or Star Trek TNG episodes: a black oil slick thing that killed Sasha. And remember the "Crystalline Entity?"  

My encounter with the Alluvial Entity must be a representation of something more general.  Recall the half men/half bulls of ancient mythology, the sphinxes of the Egyptians and endless examples of that type, and the demi-gods, and the confused nature of Jesus for the first couple centuries. In more recent times there was the intriguing dual nature of light: sometimes seeming like a wave, sometimes like a particle. 

It's hard to imagine superhuman Benevolence or Malevolence unless it is made of some material that is different or superior to the humble clay of our own bodies. (Oh geesh, why did I have to say 'clay!') That is where the Alluvial Entity grabbed me mentally, if not physically. Once we begin to feel harmful or helpful powers and intelligence in this alien material, we can't resist partially anthropomorphizing it -- which is far more convincing than completely turning it human.

And to all my readers: have a happy (early) Halloween!

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, June 21, 2013

Modern Mother Nature as a Wrathful Old Testament God

At one time or another, most people have wished that they had more imagination. But recall the old proverb about 'being careful what you wish for.' Too much imagination can actually kill you if it creates panic in the water, and causes you to drown. In other situations it can at least cause you to worry more than you should. 

South Fork, CO. It was the smell that I noticed first. Oh sure, we've all smelled smoke before, but wasn't the forest fire supposed to be over 20 miles to the west -- off in some useless, dreary Wilderness Area that nobody really cares about?

Doesn't a sudden change in odor imply that danger is close? And when the edge of the fire-storm-cloud is sharp, doesn't that imply that the danger is close? Otherwise, it would be smeared out, wouldn't it?

And why did I feel heat against my body, when there was darkness at noon?

It seemed as though the heat was coming from just over the ridge to the west, the direction of the conflagration. Had the extreme winds kicked it up? Why hadn't the town panicked?

I drove around some, for better views. But in fact the most dreadful view was right at camp. There the ridge blocked the view partially; and so the mind fears an infinite Wrath on the west side, the fire side, of the ridge. 

My red-tinted sunglasses were also adding to this exaggeration. This was a new experience for me. I over-reacted on the side of caution: I got the trailer ready to hitch up and move in 30 seconds.

The sharp edge of fire-storm-cloud was actually over 20 miles away, but the obstructing-ridge made it appear to be just on the other side.

The heat that I thought that I felt from the fire was from the sun. Perhaps the longer wavelengths still came through smoke pretty well, and half-a-sun at 8000 feet still feels warm.

Just a bit east of the cloud stood the local Colorado postcard, with perfectly clean air. It had been mercifully passed over.

In the evening the wind died down. There was less to see in the sky. I popped a movie into the DVD machine: Cecil B. DeMille's "Ten Commandments."

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Fully Living Partly Outdoors

A traveler who prefers open country and big skies is wise to extend his stay in high grasslands into late April and early May.  Silver City, NM, is an excellent place to play that game because it is at the boundary of grassland and ponderosa forests. Typically, in the second half of May, the oven door opens up, and it's time to flee to the forest. This year it was the wind that drove me into the ponderosa forests.

But it took a certain amount of fist-making and teeth-clenching. I admit that forests do have certain advantages, such as shade and cooler temperatures, and that they make good wind-breaks. But they will never be my favorite places. Still, I've been getting better at it.

Something quite wonderful happened during the first sunset, back in the forest. A patch of yellow sunlight appeared opposite a window, and ABOVE it. It was a stolen sunlight, seemingly from below the horizon. 

It's just the opposite of what you expect in a forest  -- normally the trees would clip off your rightful sunlight for the first and last two hours of the day. (And it shows that it would be a great camping policy to seek out north/south ridges.)

As ghastly and overgrown as our national forests are, they are actually thinned -- think chainsaws and logging equipment -- near the "urban/forest interface."  That is why I was getting sunlight at sunset. The thinning is a great reason to camp close to town, in addition to the other reasons. It's a real bright spot, literally and figuratively, in an otherwise dysfunctional forest management policy. I hope I'm encouraging you to appreciate it and take advantage of it.

It reminded me of something. During my two trips to Mexico in an RV, I developed a great appreciation for "Spanish architecture." No, I don't just mean colors and shapes...

... like clay tiles on the roof, arches, and las bugamvillas over the door. I mean interior courtyards, thick adobe walls, generous roof overhangs, palm frond roofs, solar screens, and all the other things that make you feel like you are living partly outdoors. Even better is when you can adjust the degree of outdoorsiness, according to conditions. How profoundly satisfying that was!

Living in a thinned ponderosa forest is like that. Tweeking altitude (by moving your campsite) is like that. It is a very different way to live than the usual gringo way of hugging a furnace for one half of the year, and hugging an air-conditioner the other half.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

"Top Gun" at Cliff's Edge

Luna, NM. If you ever spend time reading product reviews or discussion forums on digital cameras, well, I hope you get more out of them than I do. It's far easier to just say that the "best" camera is the one that gets taken -- every time.

Recently I was chewing myself out for forgetting my camera on the short dog-walk when Coffee Girl treed the coatimundi, the first I've ever seen. It's so easy to do so because short walks don't seem to "count." 

A few days after the coatimundi sighting: "Come on down, whoever you are, and I'll go easy on ya!"

Chastened by self-nagging, I went for a late afternoon dog-walk, this time with my camera. Out the RV door we went, walking up the short distance to the cliff's edge.

Although I could camp -- and in fact have camped -- right at the cliff-line for a dramatic view, experience has shown it best to camp a short distance away. This is a statement that many optical sybarites would never buy. I can think of one Lazy Daze motorhomer who would back his living room and IMAX window right up to -- or even hang over -- the cliff, if he were here. (grin)

The situation here is analogous to RVers trying to jockey their beached whales right onto the sand, when they camp in Baja California. What they won't go through to get the biggest window to face the ocean! They do so because it reminds them of a front cover on some glossie RV magazine. The result is wind, sand, and salt spray. They are lucky if they escape getting stuck in the sand.

Although it almost seemed perverse, it worked better to camp on the inland side of the highway, hidden (!) from the ocean view by small sand dunes. Then, every brief dog-walk out to the beach produced a blast across the eyeballs, a blast that refreshes you because you are conscious of it. Each variation in the viewscape is like an incoming ocean wave itself: you can sense the wave, but not the ocean.

The beach was a mirror, with incoming waves on one side, and our brief and recurring dog-walks on the other side, as the mirror image.
And so it was that we went on a short dog-walk to the cliff's edge, with the camera. A few steps away from the RV's door I noticed something odd.

A large bird, probably a raptor of some kind, was levitating about 50 feet from the edge of the cliff, just ahead of us. By 'levitating' I mean that his wings were not flapping and his ground speed was zero. So perfectly stationary was he that a camera on a tripod could have filmed him for 30 seconds or more, without moving the camera!

When the fumbling over the camera was over, I noticed the wind, the ridge lift, that the raptor was exploiting. "Wind whispering in the pines" is a hackneyed expression; "Whispering Pines" is a stereotypical name for a resort cabin lodge.

"Whispering," eh? This was no nambie-pambie sibilant sound.  The wind in the tops of the ponderosas sounded like a freight train. That was the other reason I gave up on camping right at the edge of the cliff: I was afraid of ponderosa pines falling on me.

Since this area is so volcanic, the ponderosas develop shallow root systems. The volcanic rock is porous, so water soaks in and leaves tinder-dry ponderosas, hence the monster fires that the area is prone to.

There have been many times when I've admired birds at cliffs or ridgelines. Frequently it is ravens who seem to display an intelligent playfulness when disporting with ridge-lift. But this situation did not require intelligence; it took sheer guts and athleticism. I've never seen anything like it.

White breast and hooked beak.

  I've got to take up hang gliding!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Fire and Ice

Silver City, NM. Today confirms an ever-strengthening prejudice of mine that pain and pleasure are linked in a dialectic, and that Comfort is the great false Idol of the tourist and RV newbie. There is a pleasure unique to a morning like this.

On my drive back into New Mexico I saw tumbleweeds ensnared in the upper horizontal members of utility poles. "Only in southern New Mexico," I smirked. But actually the wind has been howling in this entire quadrant of the country. It doesn't bother me as much as it does some people. Still, it does take its toll on you. You begin to feel like you are under constant assault.

And now this. Perfect calm, perfectly blue skies, clean air. At my dispersed campsite, a turkey vulture is searching vainly for a thermal; it is too cold. Until then it can only do languid spiral loops over the grassland. 

The inside of the trailer reached the low 30s F this morning. I slept in until sunrise. Never underestimate the pleasure of morning sun into a frozen, uncomfortable RV.  Sure, I've already praised it many times, and now I will again. Few things are finer than the opposition of scalding sun and cold, dry, calm air. And don't think for a moment it's because they neutralize each other into bland and meaningless Comfort.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Camping in Wind and Snow

Let's hope this is the last spring storm.

Maybe I've always misunderstood what was meant by a "windy day." Didn't it mean high average speed? But that certainly isn't what happened the other night. 

The average speed wasn't unusual, but the gusts were violent and a little scary actually. Since air is a compressible fluid it shouldn't be able to produce the hydraulic hammering that my RV experienced. Sleep became impossible. And wouldn't you know it: the "ship" was parked abeam the west wind. What happened to sailors pointing the ship directly into the face of the storm?

I was camped alone at the northeastern mouth of the Chiricahua mountains, where these vertiginous mountains debouch onto the lonesome horizontalness of high desert. Hmmm... sudden elevation changes seem like they could make large pressure gradients, i.e., wind.

What does a camper do when wind becomes a hateful nuisance, besides staying indoors that is? I headed up into the Burro mountains between Lordsburg and Silver City, NM. It sounds stupid doesn't it? The day was cold enough as it was. Why make it worse by gaining altitude?

But it helped. Forests really knock those gusts down to size. But then it started snowing...

It must seem silly to mainstream RVers to camp like this, instead of parking in a nice, tidy, small, rectangular spot in an RV park, sucking down 50 amps of electricity to heat the RV to 72 F, and following the storm on the Weather Channel. You can buy large-screen televisions these days at a pretty good price, and then fill an entire slide-out with the monster. And the picture is so clear -- why, it's almost like being there.