Saturday, December 16, 2017

Payback For Not Blabbermouthing Boondocking Sites

Ordinarily it is not a source of pleasure to find that an interloper has discovered your own secret dispersed camp site. So why did that happen here? It was in an arroyo somewhere in southern Nevada. 

Years ago, when this lifestyle was new to me, I happened upon a rocky overhang in the side of a cliff, which was redolent of an Indian cliff dwelling. It wasn't perfect -- it opened to the north, instead of to the south. How gloriously comfortable it would have been if it had faced south.

Still, it was tall and provided good protection. Back then, I was more impressionable. I positively fluttered my eyelashes over this spot. So I dragged my trailer to it, almost getting stuck in the process. And I had a campfire under the rocky overhang. It was fun to act like a kid, by projecting shadows of my hands onto the roof. 

Who's been sleeping in my bed?

But now I noticed somebody else had at least had a campfire there. Maybe they had slept there, too? Instead of being angry about the intrusion I felt strangely good-natured and generous about it. Why so?

Perhaps it was the thought of a nice payback for my policy of not giving away boondocking sites on the internet. This policy had, apparently, preserved the magic for somebody else -- somebody who decided on their own to find and appreciate this spot. (And it must be 'on their own' in order for there to be any magic in the camping.)

I'll never know who this person was. 

As desert dessert, there was a slot canyon in the "front yard."


Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Nietzsche and Desert Tortoise Fences

The other day I noticed fences, intended to protect desert tortoises. (Or some other species. It hardly matters to the rest of this post.) The fences seemed so elaborate and expensive. Common sense asserted itself to make me think, "You've got to be kidding..."

By luck I happened to be reading Mencken's book on the "Philosophy of Nietzsche." Imagine Nietzsche pulled though a time machine to modern America. I don't think he would be an angry white man about what he saw.  More likely he would just sneer at modern culture and say something like, "I knew it would be bad, but I didn't think it would be this bad!"

The limiting case for his sneering may be these fences. What could more perfectly embody the "slave morality" of the masses than treating endangered animal species as though they were so precious. Nietzsche would have thought it was just fine that a superior species, such as homo sapiens, could wipe out an inferior species like the desert tortoise.

You may disagree with Nietzsche about this. That is not the point. This was a splendid little example of how travel can make reading a book more interesting, and vice versa

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Building Character in a Canyon


I had a rematch with a complex canyon system recently. Would it still be interesting -- even after hitting it pretty hard the last few years? Proceeding through the canyon, the experience became more subjective and internalized. What could I do differently from the past? Or should I forget about myself and "externalize?"

Indeed, something was quite new this year: instead of walking the canyon, I was mountain biking it on my new bike, with 3 inch wide tires. These "plus" tires do quite well on the rubble and sand. I highly recommend that anybody in the market for a new bicycle go with 3 inch tires.

The experience also seemed new because biking is faster and cooler than walking. Walking is so slow that it almost numbs the mind. And it is warm.

The canyon has a badlands type appearance because much of it is rather soft and easily eroded.




The trick is to focus on it qualitatively rather than quantitatively. Think about the variety of interesting shapes, and how they got that way, rather than on how BIIIIIG things aren't. 

One single thought made a big difference to me, subjectively: I imagined sculptors coming into the canyon and carving gargoyles into these canyon walls.



Soon I was seeing gargoyles every hundred yards -- but something more than gargoyles: sculptural autochtons that grew out of the bizarre shapes of the canyon walls, and merely intensified and stylized the ideas already in the canyon walls.

So much fuss is made over petroglyphs made by the early tribes of the Southwest. Why use a two-dimensional art to merely scratch the rocks, instead of three-dimensional sculptures? Then again, maybe sculptures were made somewhere, and they just haven't been found. Eroded by time and weather, they collapsed into a cloud of dust at the bottom of an unknown canyon.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Quality Travel Experiences

Strangely, a certain coffee shop near St. George, UT, has been the location of a couple different experiences for me, memorable because there was something to them, other than scenery.




The coffee shop was located in an affluent housing development, at the foot of red cliffs. Until recently the coffee shop had a gift shop built into it -- the gift shop was trying to look like an Indian 'kiva.'  (Presumably the gift shop was "inspired" by the small Indian reservation, nearby.) 

It always seemed ironic and thought-provoking that Native American culture appeared so upscale and glamorous in the gift shop, with the expensive coffee table books, hand-carved wooden flutes, music, books, etc.; and yet, the genuine Indian reservation a mile down the road was a slum. (I rode my bicycle through this irony when I rode with a local club.)

But this year the kiva-gift-shop had been converted to an expensive restaurant. Presumably the menu featured items 'sacred to the Native Americans,' while in actuality they probably came from the Sysco truck, as with most restaurant food in the USA.

So that was a disappointment. But on the positive side I was reading a book on Russian culture and literature. During the 1800s, intellectuals went through a period of romanticizing the peasants of "Holy Russia."

It was delicious to think about that delusion in Russia while standing in a place in Utah that featured an analogous delusion.  There is no idea too ridiculous to be universally popular with intellectuals at some time or some place.

This is one more opportunity to give an advertisement for the strangely satisfying experience of reading the right book in the right place, when traveling. But why is the satisfaction so profound? Perhaps it is because different planes of existence are temporarily and serendipitously overlapping.



Monday, November 27, 2017

Always a Sucker for Analogies


One of these days I will outgrow my susceptibility to analogies. Until then I will be charmed by quotes like this, coming from Chris Whalen:

The idea of the Greenspan Put was that lower interest rates would cure the market’s woes. Unfortunately, the FOMC has since fallen into a pattern whereby longer periods of low or even zero interest rates are used to address yesterday’s errors, but this action also leads us into tomorrow’s financial excess. As one observer on Twitter noted in an exchange with Minneapolis Fed President Neel Kashkari:
“Central Bankers are much like the US Forest Service of old. Always trying to manage ‘nature’ and put out the little brush fires of the capitalist system, while they seem incapable of recognizing they are the root cause of major conflagrations as a result.”




A traveler in the western states gets to experience a real forest fire every now and then.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

A Moral Quandary at the McDonald's Kiosk

This wasn't the first kiosk at McDonald's that I had ever seen. But the first time, it had been optional to use it. Rest assured that I ordered and paid the old-fashioned way.

But today I wasn't even given the choice. The young punk was loud and aggressive about it. I dutifully walked over to the kiosk. But then something deep-within began to express itself.  I starting digging in my heels. Of course he thought that a stupid old man just couldn't figure the thing out, so, before my moral protest had time to get properly organized, he came over, asked the usual questions, and pushed the appropriate buttons.

So why couldn't he have done all that at the cash register -- the old-fashioned way? His final question was, "Pay with your card here, or with cash?" I actually paused and started to get curt. But he assured me that paying cash was still an option, although we had to walk to a special cash register to do it. Why couldn't we have done that right from the beginning!?

Before the young punk came over to push the buttons for me, I was deciding whether I would submit to this nonsense, or throw up my hands, cuss out loud, and storm out of the McDonald's. Alas, now we will never know.

He hasn't live long enough in this old world of ours to realize that 95% of change is aimed at extracting more dollars from his wallet, in exchange for fewer goodies. Then it puffs up as progress, leaving you to dutifully submit, with no questions asked.

We can guess McDonald's motivations. Much of it is outside their control. They will certainly lose a lot of business with geezers, who were probably their least profitable customers, anyway. 
_______________________________________________________________

It all happened so fast that there was bound to be missed opportunities. At least I had time to appreciate that I was staring into the abyss of moral and cultural decay...


...and that once this threshold was crossed, there would be no going back.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Family Values in Utah

Towards the end of a mountain bike ride, when I am feeling my best, I saw this family enjoying a ride together in Utah. I don't think a vision of a family ever seemed more appealing.


The boy was even wilder and more spirited than the border collie. His parents were wise to let him go first so he wouldn't always be struggling to keep up with them, and becoming discouraged. The bike was too large for him, but no doubt he was looking forward to growing into it -- and as soon as possible!

Friday, November 17, 2017

Appreciating Stylishness

There are even mountain bikers who ride with a certain stylishness, although they are not as stylish as horsemen. There is no need to watch a video of myself on a bike -- it can simply be assumed that I ride with no stylishness whatsoever.

This topic interests me perhaps because an appreciation of stylishness has developed so late in life. It snuck up on me.  Blame the horse opera DVDs I watch at night as a sleeping pill. They make everybody and every horse look so glamorous.

A female rider always has long hair streaming behind her, blowing in the wind.  Male riders are prone to high jumping onto the horse, without bothering with the stirrups. Or they ride with their upper body canted at a slight angle, to make them look more jaunty and confident.

The limiting case of this is Gary Clarke ("Steve"), one of the stars of the first couple years of "The Virginian." He would jump up vertically from the ground, and somehow insert his boot into the stirrup on the way up. I would like to see a blooper reel of the times he missed. 

The saddles and horse blankets of the horses are always gorgeous. And sometimes it seems as though the mane and tail of the horse were actually wigs.

But there are other examples of unbearably delightful stylishness. The actresses wore spectacular "Victorian" costumes on "The Virginian." One guest star on the same show had the sort of figure that most male sexist pigs couldn't take their eyes off of. But an above-average pig might have noticed her unusual voice, or rather, vocal delivery.

Perhaps the explanation for this appreciation is that repeated watching of a show or movie causes the viewer to ignore the story, dialogue, or suspense. This results in a type of vacuum, which the viewer then fills with their imagination. And it moves onto other things.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Death of Europe

Long-suffering readers of this blog are used to me praising moldy old books, while ignoring or even denigrating modern books. I am happy to be proven wrong. I have finished reading 2/3 of "The Strange Death of Europe," by Douglas Murray.

It's an "anti-mass-immigration" book by an Englishman, or rather, a Euro-person located on the island of Great Britain. It is uniformily calm and rational throughout.

To give you a flavor of the book, 2/3 of the way through the book he might have hit the essence of the problem:
The problem is one that is easier to feel than it is to prove, but it runs something like this: that life in modern liberal democracies is to some extent thin or shallow and that life in modern Western Europe in particular has lost its sense of purpose.
That statement made quite an impact on me, in part because I was simultaneously reading a book by the famous Catholic historian, Hilaire Belloc, "The Great Heresies." In his chapter on Islam, he reminded the reader how recent the European dominance of Islam was.

He wondered if the pendulum would swing back the other way, that is, towards the domination of Europe by Islam. It was fascinating to watch him think out-loud (in 1920's) about how this Islamic resurgence might happen. He never guessed that Europe would someday willingly surrender to Islam, as it now is.

I eagerly look forward to seeing how Murray's book ends. For my part, I see Europe's problem as basically that of Icarus, in the Greek myth. They flew so high in the age of Enlightenment. And yet the program was essentially negative: they destroyed Christianity, which is what had given Europe its identity. 

They never found anything to replace it with, other than the soul-less secular religions of Democracy (number-worship), Jacobin Equality (envy worship), Utilitarianism (comfort worship), Nationalism (state worship), and Socialism (bureaucracy worship). Daily life is protected against this existential angst by trivial busy-ness.

Quoting Murray again:
After all, how long can a society survive once it has unmoored itself from its founding source and drive?

Monday, October 30, 2017

A New Cultural Low on the Internet

Like many travelers I am happy that eBooks exist. Boxes of dead-tree books are heavy and space-consuming. And how many times per year can a traveler get to a decent bookstore?

Therefore I was in a good mood -- and a grateful mood -- when downloading an Amazon Kindle book today. But I noticed something new: in subtle, almost subliminal, markings, the eBook told you where other people had highlighted sentences in the book. For instance, it would say, "438 readers highlighted this."

Infuriating! Who the bleep cares what other people highlight? Am I not supposed to think for myself when reading a book? We don't need the equivalent of television's Nielsen ratings in a book! 

To think that reading a book is degenerating to the watching of television, or looking at "thumbs-up Likes" on social media! This would be a new low for modern culture.

I was so angry that it took me a long time to figure out how to eliminate "popular highlights" in a Kindle eBook. At the top of the screen for Kindle-for-PC, click on:

  • Tools. 
  • Options.
  • Annotations.
  • Then uncheck the box for "Popular Highlights."
Naturally the Kindle-for-PC downloads with the default set to display these obscene suggestions, since that is the networking business model of everything on the internet these days.

But in Amazon's defense, they at least allow you the option to wipe out popular highlights. And that's no small miracle. This was a close call: how do I know if I would have had the spine to boycott Amazon if the option didn't exist?

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Blog Spin-off Happens

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Ten Year Anniversary

Has it really been ten years? I checked. It has. It was ten years ago, and right here in the Book Cliffs/Grand Junction area, that I adopted my sweetheart.

Her first day with me on adobe badlands, ten years ago. What is that face saying? "I'm not so sure about this, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt."

She doesn't look much different today. You never quite know what a canine-American person is thinking, but she probably thinks she has had a pretty good life since then.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Returning to the Womb in Winter

Last post, I was having fun re-inventing the water bottle. But today I'd like to be completely non-facetious, because it really was profoundly satisfying to take that hot water bottle to bed with me. Isn't profound satisfaction worthy of a post?

The old saying about 'hunger is the best sauce,' is certainly true, and that no doubt gets a lot of the credit. 

But there is something else. Insulating a camper, wearing the right clothes, and toughening-up are all valuable activities. But they smell too much like 'living without.' That is, they are negative approaches. ('Negative' should not be thought of as a synonym for 'bad.')

There is something in human nature that is frustrated by emptiness, that is, 'living without.'  Using fewer gigabytes of data on your internet plan, eating less, spending less, being celibate, showering less, stifling yourself in conversations, sleeping less, etc. At some point you rebel against these constant, nagging constraints.

You simply must add a positive -- that is, additive -- approach to your life. Carrying that hot water bottle into bed was an example.

Of course, running a conventional heater would be another example of a positive approach. But it is so sterile and meaningless to just buy some bar-coded product. In contrast, it means something to an individual to invent, improvise, learn, and struggle.

The water bottle was warmer than snuggling with a little dog.


Archive: snuggling back in the old days.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Almost Needing a Heater

It is easy to poke fun at ascetics. I do a bit of it myself, particularly where the 'holy man in the van' syndrome displays itself, usually ostentatiously. Therefore it will seem ironic that this post appears to strut its asceticism before the readers.

Perhaps asceticism only seems ridiculous when it concerns itself with a topic that doesn't interest you, personally. Somebody who, say, gets up at 5 a.m. and runs five miles every day may laugh at people who are abstemious at the dinner table. There are many such examples.

In my case, small RVs don't particularly interest me. It seems like common sense to keep a rig small-to-medium in size, and that is that. But what does interest me is avoiding heaters in a camper. There are some obvious practical reasons behind this, but I would only be fooling myself if I started running on about microscopic 'practical' justifications.

The real reason is that the challenge of living without heaters inspires me. Blame my ethnicity, past habit of reading polar exploration books, a childhood or delivering newspapers in the frozen Midwest, or more recently, my dislike of summer camping, and growing appreciation of winter camping.

At first the weather gods were predicting that it would fall to the high teens this morning. Then they backed off to 20 F. Still, the chances were pretty good I'd break my personal record of 28 F inside the trailer by this morning. 

Ahh, but this time I have a secret weapon. Perhaps you have seen the classic movie, "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir," directed by Joseph Mankiewicz. There are two really good reasons to watch the movie: looking at Gene Tierney, and listening to the musical score of Bernard Herrmann. 

Courtesy of IMDB.com
At one point Gene Tierney's character, a young widow in England in the 1930's, prepares for bed by heating some kind of water container. Of course!, we 'moderns' have forgotten that a large reservoir of hot water kept people warm at night, before the age of central heating.

So I bought a Platypus brand water bottle, the flexible kind, with a capacity of 2 liters. I put the hottest water I could stand in it. The plastic and the seams did not melt. The heat lasted for three hours, and I slept like a baby. What a magnificent comforting feeling it gives you in bed!

So take that! Mr. Buddy Heater, Olympian, Propex, and Dickinson heaters. We live in harmony with nature in this camper.
 

Monday, October 2, 2017

Appreciating Cuteness

What statement from his wife does a married man dread the most? You could choose worse than this one: the couple is shopping. The poor fellow is bored out of his mind, but the path of least resistance is just to humor her. There is something noble and admirable about his stoic resignation. 

After awhile he finally hears what he knew was coming: "Honey, look at this. It is so cyoooooooot!" It is particularly cringe-worthy if spoken with a girlish squeal. Whereupon the wife comes running up to him, cooing and cuddling some utterly useless item that she has squandered unconscionable sums of money on. It might be the item's shape or texture, but it's probably the color.

The demographic of human males who suffer in this way is fairly broad. Their suffering may be more intense and predictable if they are middle-class, from a northern European Protestant heritage. And if they do something technical for a living.

This lengthy preamble was probably not really needed to establish my credentials with the reader as one of those no-nonsense guys who has no appreciation for cuteness. Until recently.

The other day a vehicle pulled into the campground with a small trailer behind it. I wanted to run it down, and even before they got parked, start mushing and gushing how cyoooooot! it was. It was small, and had only one axle. The paint job was fresh and custom. Some things had been done on the inside, too.

Although 'retro' style trailers have become quite the rage, this little baby was authentic: it was from 1967, had the rounded look, and some of the Z trim patterns they put on back then.

If only I could remember what color it was... 

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Campers Who Arrive After Dark

Well, well, I seem to have gotten quite good at this. I actually like walking through the campground early in the morning and busting people. It is usually campers who arrived after dark the previous evening. I nailed three of the little bastards this morning. Busting stealth campers gives me the greatest pleasure.

There is an element of grim humor to it. A movie metaphor always comes to mind, from "Apocalypse Now." Remember Robert Duvall's "I love the smell of napalm in the morning."

It is so important not to be a marshmallow and not to be a rule-nazi (or a Barney Fife.) Yes, the agency wants their camping fee. But busting one camper doesn't bring in that much money if it is only one night's fee. 

It is accomplishing something subtle to win over the camper by hitting just the right balance of firmness, friendliness, and explanations of the realities of a campground. Long term, that is worth a lot more money.

In a lot of ways, a campground host is like a school teacher: constantly dealing with kiddies who don't like to do what they are supposed to do. The teacher has to learn not to get upset about it, and adopt a professional attitude that steadily pushes the kids in the right direction, so that progress is made long term. In the short term, kiddies will be far from perfect. Especially late night arrivals.