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. 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.'  Carrying that hot water bottle into bed seemed positive, additive.

Of course, so would running a conventional heater. 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.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

More Equality is Needed for NFL Team Rosters

Some cynics say that politics is a sour and depressing topic, and that we should just avoid discussing it. Nonsense! I am enjoying the 'take-a-knee' protests by NFL players during the national anthem.

For one thing, it takes gumption to do what they are doing. That used to be a trait of Americans when they were a free people, way back when. 

The anti-protesters say that the players are welcome to their political opinions, but they shouldn't use their workplace to trumpet those opinions.

Oh really? Why aren't the anti-protestors concerned about the Military using NFL games as recruitment posters? Look at the military brass bands at half-time, the moments of silence to honor dead Heroes, and the flyover of Air Force jets. Do none of those things express a political opinion, at least implicitly?

The anti-protesters could win this situation by simply eliminating the tradition of playing the national anthem. Why don't they? Most entertainment industry events in America or the rest of the world do not start off with a national anthem. Why should they?

But the anti-protesters won't take this step. To do so would make American culture one tiny step less worshipful of militaristic nationalism. As a result, the take-the-knee protesters will win.

But there are plenty of hypocrisies on both sides. If the take-the-knee protesters are so worried about Equality in America, why aren't they a little more concerned about inequality on NFL rosters? 

How many Chinese, Jews, women, or transgender quarterbacks are making millions of dollars per game? And why not? There can be only one explanation: Discrimination. It might be subtle or implicit, but it must be there. Behind this discrimination must lie something even uglier: Hatred.

But I want to leave you with a positive plan: let's put the NFL schedule on hold until an Equal Opportunity program can be designed for its teams. Mind you, I'm only talking about a temporary program. It won't do any lasting damage to the NFL, and if it does, I'll eat my hat.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Autochthonous is the Magic Word for Outdoor Recreation

Surprisingly Wikipedia has no article on the 'history of the downhill ski industry in the USA.' Presumably it was a well-established industry by 1970. It had become expensive, some of which was unavoidable to a sport that requires special and exotic locations, and requires engineered slopes and lifts. Plus the cost of getting there.

But there were a lot of not-strictly-necessary expenses: fancy restaurants, chic ski fashions, gift shops, etc  -- all encased in glamor, faux exclusiveness, and hype. There was always a chance that somebody would have more expensive equipment than you.

Then, circa 1970, something radical happened: the sport of cross-country or Nordic skiing came to the US. It was the most un-American thing that has happened in my lifetime, in the field of outdoor recreation. The person who taught me to cross country ski said, 'This is so great! Just throw on regular clothes and a nylon windbreaker. Just head out from your backyard.' I was suspicious that that all sounded a little too good be true, at least for long. I was right.

This is a lengthy preamble to my attitude towards the mountain biking industry. With my mountain biking/RV friend, my job is to gently persuade him away from industry hype; that is, to look at the gorgeous land right in front of his rig, and adapt his attitude, riding, and equipment to that land, rather than go looking for situations that live up to the preconceived template produced by the industry. But of course, I won't push too hard.

It is just too nice to have somebody to ride and travel with, to jeopardize his cooperation with my blowhard theories. 

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.


Friday, September 8, 2017

Avoiding Over-Crowding in Tourist Areas

I was almost personally insulted to only have one camper at my campground last night. Was the world trying to say that we weren't offering a desirable product? Maybe I should have stopped in at his campsite and turned on the charm offensive.

No wonder we don't get many visitors: the scenery is too ugly!
But when I looked at it rationally and laid out the pro's and con's, things stacked up pretty well at this location. But most people don't think like that, apparently. They want to go to places that are popular with everybody else. It is strange that many people have so little confidence in the carefulness of their own thoughts.

An unpopular location or season offers a huge payoff to the visitor in Colorado. The over-crowding in this state is becoming discouraging. So it is very hopeful to realize that you can escape the crowds if you stop defining beauty the way that everybody else does.

All a person has to do is recognize the standard, bar-coded postcards that attract the masses, and then steer away from such places, at least at certain times of the year. Of course, that is re-defining beauty in a purely negative way. What we really need to do is visualize the unpopular places in an exciting way.

Maybe the next Democratic president will declare this a national monument and we'll get 2.6 million new visitors the first year. Gee, that'd be great!

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Identity Politics in a Campground

It has been a long time since I have been this positive about the political scene in the US. But don't misinterpret me. The situation has become so surreal, on both sides, that it has become easy to laugh the whole thing off. And laughter is more positive than anger.

For instance, identity politics is drowning in its own absurdity. The other day I was invited to give my comments to a large corporation where I had recently made a large purchase. Considering the blue-state headquarters and clientele of this corporation, it shouldn't have surprised me to be asked about which gender I "identified" with.

What phoneys!  If they really wanted to liberate human beings, why not broaden the question to "which animal species do you identify with?"

I know my answer. The other day I was making the rounds at dawn at the campground. No members of homo sapiens were up and about. But several dogs were already living the good life. A society of dogs seemed to be sharing a secret life, with well established routines and activities. It was redolent of that scene in "My Fair Lady" when Eliza's working class folks were up in the pre-dawn hours, setting up their stalls in the marketplace, while their betters were sleeping off a late night of easy living and debauchery.

One labrador retriever followed my dog and me for about a half mile. He was completely quiet and good natured. Then he suddenly stopped on the road and wouldn't proceed further. He just sat on the road, looking at us.

Closer to home we encountered two dogs who were disporting, silently but briskly, just outside the tent where the homo sapien members of their tribe were still sleeping. There was something about the dogs' style that made me love them to pieces. They were so idyllic. 

It was dawn, and rather bright by now. Why were the homo sapiens still sleeping? There is nothing to do in camp when the sun goes down, so why not go to bed, arise early the next morning, and enjoy cool air, calmness, and blue skies?  But no, homo sapiens won't become active until the heat of the day.

Dogs have more sense. Therefore I "identify" with canine-Americans. But that wasn't one of the options that the broad-minded, tolerant, PC corporation offered on their questionnaire.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Mixed Feelings on Donating to Houston

What do people think when they get an appeal to donate to Houston hurricane victims? Retrogrouches (like me) should respond positively to an appeal for voluntary help. It's about as 'retro' as it gets; after all, in modern America everything is either mandatory or illegal.

Then too, many people see the pulling together of humanity as one of its more admirable qualities.

So why didn't I donate? A seditious thought immediately came to mind: how could a society that has unlimited money for fighting foreign wars or inflating various financial bubbles, not be able to take care of hurricane victims in Houston, through government aid? 

How many people had this reaction to the appeals for aid? I am not arguing that it is the best reaction.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

My First Experience at Appreciating Metaphysics

"The great uncertainty I found in metaphysical reasonings disgusted me, and I quitted that kind of reading and study for others more satisfactory."
Good old Ben Franklin.  Thus he dismissed metaphysics from his life, and went on to accomplish real things. I reached the same conclusion years ago. So it is ironic that, relatively late in life, I've actually enjoyed a book about metaphysics.

Hardly a day goes by when there isn't news about Islamist terrorism. I am actually sick of the whole topic. Consider how much of your short life can be wasted on following the news on this subject, and yet, you end up understanding nothing! But being buried under trivial and repetitive news makes a person suspicious that something fundamentally important has been overlooked.

This put me in the mood to go back to the early days of Islamic thought. Where and when was the fork in the road for Islamic thinkers? Why did they take a different fork than Christian ones?

After reading Robert Reilly's "Closing of the Muslim Mind," I still wonder "why" Islam took the opposite turn from Christianity. But at least the When, How, and Where are more clear. He also did a good job in explaining how general orientations in patterns of thought have consequences in the daily news of the modern world.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Inconsistencies of Internet Pundits

I am impressed by internet pundits from time to time. They can say something that really needs to be said, and that the mainstream media won't say. Sometimes a single sentence from the pundit seems of more value than most books.

Then the pundit jumps on some emotional hobbyhorse. In seconds the reader feels embarrassed to even be reading the article. How could they be so "brilliant" one moment, and such jackasses the next?

One could argue that the same personality is putting out everything that they write, about every topic. So maybe the reader should just dump their entire opus into the waste can.

It may make more sense to acknowledge that it is easy for any human being to display checkered behavior or thoughts. Take a limiting case of this: I have read that Isaac Newton wrote more on theology than mathematics and physics, and that his theology was crank-ish. I have never read his theology, so I don't know if that is true. But if it were true, how could you explain sheer brilliance of great historical importance one moment, and crankish thoughts the next moment?

Another way to explain the inconsistent behavior of internet pundits is to make an analogy with a major league baseball player, especially a home run hitter. They usually are at the top of the league in strike outs, as well.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Another Tourist Asking for Trouble

I was becoming inured to tourists drowning their brand new $50,000 motor vehicles in our neighborhood river. So perhaps it was a good thing that the young woman showed up at the campground and asked about how to get to her friend's remote location higher up in the mountains.

There was only an hour of daylight left, the usual time for tourists to get organized enough to do foolish things.  She had a text message, but no map. She was driving a low clearance, passenger car. I didn't quite know the place her message named, but I was suspicious. Back in my trailer, I looked up the place on one of my smartphone apps. It was as I feared. 

Did she have much of a chance to get there? There wouldn't be any car repair places open tomorrow, Sunday. She had already lost cellphone reception. Had her friend made it to that location because they had a high clearance car? 

A tourist can be so foolish and get away with it because  -- and only because -- they have cellphone reception and a credit card. I'll bet that young woman didn't know how to change a tire, and that she was not equipped with warm clothing, a tow rope, a can of expanding tire sealant, or jumper cables.

Her notions of safety and normalcy were totally dependent on that delicate tendril of communication to a cell tower, and she had already lost that.

Or was I just being an elderly worry-wart? Would somebody else come to her aid? Young women do have advantages when it comes to getting assistance from a stranger. 

I admit to feeling a foolish male urge to chase after her and help her out of the mess she was working so hard to get in to. But I pushed the urge away: this summer has taught me not to expect too much from people who need to be rescued. In fact she would probably resent my interference.

So all I could do was sigh in resignation, and think of an image from the beginning of "The Wizard of Oz," when Dorothy is running away from home, and she encounters the kind-hearted old carnival man. He cons her into returning home. As she leaves, he looks up at an approaching storm, and says, "Poor kid. I hope she makes it."

Monday, August 7, 2017

RV Friends: Be Careful What You Wish For

It always seemed like a personal setback that I had to mountain bike alone. Such was not the case with road cycling. But a person gets better at accepting that 'the way things are, is the way things ARE', the older one gets. 


When I was least expecting it, a mountain biker showed up at my campground and introduced himself as a reader of this blog. We ended up doing quite a bit of mountain biking together during his canonical 14 days.

So that's good news, right? Not so fast...

He left me behind like I was a walker every time the trail got a little rocky or rooty. One explanation is that he had 29" by 3.0" tires. Since we are the same size, it was easy to exchange bikes. I was won over to "big rubber" immediately.

Today I bought a new mountain bike, on sale, with big rubber. In a week I'll run down to the urban hellhole to pick it up at the REI store. 

The moral of this story is 'be careful what you wish for.' It never cost me money to mountain bike with a dog!

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Soggy Tent Campers Making the Best Out of It

Oh no, here it goes again. What will it be this time? Hail, a slow all-night rain, or a monsoonal downpour. But the campground is full, mostly with tents or tent trailers. What do people see in this activity?

They have told me stories of how wet they get. But many people seem so good-natured about it. Some people are well prepared with tarps strung up between trees. Their gazebo-shelter-canopies sometimes protect an entire picnic table. Life seems to go on pretty smoothly at the picnic table.

So I want to admire how people make the best of it. I am held back only by the seditious thought that these people are crazy, and should be doing something else on vacations with their hard-earned money.

But they see something I don't. Think of this as a small example of how hard it would be to be a good novelist, who must crawl into the heads of the characters. 

I have better luck using a historical imagination. The other day a Brit was telling me about Scottish weather. Think of life in the winter in medieval Scotland. These people at their protected picnic sites help me imagine it.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Impressive (Anti-) Demonstration of Traction Control Systems

I thought the season was over -- the season of pulling people out of the river at my campground. But a rear-wheel-drive Ford Transit van got stuck just after its drive-wheels hit the water. It's true that he chose the wrong place to cross.

Remembering what I learned from experimenting with a Nissan NV van a couple years ago, I told him to turn off the traction control switch on the dashboard. Naturally he had no notion what that meant. But he finally found the switch. By turning off that switch, the traction control system was supposed to surrender its capability to throttle back/down the engine when a wheel starts slipping. Still, it was supposed to apply the brake to the slipping wheel, thereby imitating a limited-slip differential.

But that isn't what happened in practice, with the Ford Transit van in the river, where one wheel still slipped, while the other was completely stationary -- just the malaise of an open differential, in olden times. All this occurred in reverse gear.

Then I had the driver turn the traction control system back on. No difference. But the tow vehicle, a Toyota 4Runner, and several men kept working on it, until they succeeded in backing the Texan (naturally!) out of the drink.

I guess I need to study the owner's manual for the Ford Transit van. So far, it would appear that their traction control system was completely inoperative or useless, at least in reverse gear.

This was disappointing. Unaccustomed as I am to being a cheapskate and trying to beat the System, I used to scheme about buying an unpopular and inexpensive two-wheel-drive pickup truck or van as my next tow vehicle, and then hope for modern traction control systems to overcome the "one wheel slipping" syndrome. That appears to be a false hope.