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Showing posts from October, 2013

Murphy and the Mesa

Following our fearless leader up and over a crumbly cliff near Moab, I nonchalantly grabbed onto a boulder, about 2 feet in diameter. When much of my own weight was transferred, the boulder pulled out of its matrix, missed my leg by a bit, and crashed down onto a jeep road. Some day a jeeper's adventure will be interrupted by this boulder in the middle of their thoroughfare, and they will be forced to get out of the vehicle and use muscles to move the boulder. (They will then use that as an excuse to go shopping for a new GPS system or smartphone with a new app that identifies boulders on jeep roads.) This really wasn't such a close call, but it was the largest adjustment of the Earth's surface topography that I have ever been responsible for. Later in the scramble I was forced to wedge between two larger boulders. As I transferred my weight to one of these large boulders, I wondered how evil Murphy really was. Imagine if that boulder pulled into the other one, with my

Piecemeal Pilfering Somebody Else's Good Life

It is hard to believe that only a month from now I will be in southern Arizona, paying rent (gasp!), and riding a road bicycle with a large club. How strange it is that some of my "fellow" cyclist-snowbirds have already been in that furnace since the first of October. How could doing the same five rides/routes for seven months of the year be the Good Life? Isn't Dry Heat something you'd wish on your worst enemy? But they enjoy the shoulder seasons there, somehow.  And they agree with me on the cycling, something that is rare amongst gasoline-besotted Americans. It is probably common to expect less and less of other people as we grow older. But the situation is different when somebody, who you thought had something in common with you, shatters your comfortable expectations of compatibility. This might be the sharpest kind of loneliness. Be it a sports club, a church, or a political cause, you can befriend each other easily when you appear to have a bit in common.

Appreciating Vastness

While mountain biking the other day we saw something strange ahead of us, as we headed downhill to the main dry wash -- the same one where I witnessed my first "flash flood," a couple posts ago. And once again I was fluttering my eyelashes at the abrupt onset of a small "slot canyon" in plain ol' dirt. In the past I've tried to explain this fascination on the grounds (ahem) of it being easier to make a big impact on a human observer when processes take place on a human scale, regarding years and size. In contrast, the working out of geology and topography over millions of years can leave the human observer indifferent and unimpressed. In a sense, we need to anthropomorphize geology and physical geography in order to make them interesting. Then I crawled down into the "slot canyon," and photographed the vertical walls. It was easy to imagine this two-foot-high slot as being more dramatic than all the famous photo icons in the Moab ar

Part II, Models of the Good Life

How strange it is that, after 16 years of full time RVing, I've finally had a chance to camp and mountain bike with other campers. It's wonderful. Why hasn't this happened dozens of time? Just about any rig could be parked where we have parked this past week. About a third of RVers have bicycles bungeed to the ladder at the back of the rig. (Virtually unused of course.) So this isn't about "practicality." In the 'Solitude' chapter of "Walden," Thoreau asked, "What sort of space is that which separates a man from his fellows and makes him solitary? I have found no exertion of the legs can bring two minds much nearer to one another." Good ol' Hank. I think we can answer his question: it's about the 'vision thing.' Retirees and travelers look like they are in one big category when you look at them from the perspective of the whirring hamster wheel of normal American life. But they are actually quite different

Different Models of the "Good Life" in Retirement

Part I: the Bark Park model. Some people think that doing their homework about retirement consists of talking to investment "advisers" or reading glossie rags about "America's Top Ten Undiscovered Retirement Dream Towns." Or perhaps one half of the soon-to-be-retired couple has fallen under the evil sway of the cant of travel blog escapism. I'd like to suggest a faster and more effective approach to your homework: regardless of your pet situation, find a nice bench at the local "bark park." Just sit there and observe and think about the Big Picture. Isn't it obvious that you are watching dogs enjoying the 'good life?' There is nothing subtle about a happy dog. Should the situation be that different for another species of social animals, such as homo sapiens? Oh certainly, homo sapiens is long past its hunter-gather lifestyle.  First our animal species adopted the dreary routines of settled, neolithic agriculture. The donkey model

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 optimist

My First Flash "Flood," part I

Camping in popular places and times is something to avoid. Places like Moab UT. There is very little dispersed camping still left there thanks to its overuse and misuse and mass popularity. But I had a couple reasons to be here. So I rolled into a dispersed camping area close to sunset, in order to assess the neighborhood before committing. Gee, it was rather uncrowded and quiet at the end of the road, where I found a nice flat spot. Maybe people were scared off by the oncoming rain and windstorm? How foolish I was to think that everybody was already there by sunset: I was projecting the travel habits of a full-time RVer onto time-constrained mass tourists. An hour after sunset I heard some vehicles outside. One glance out the window at the height of the running lights identified them as toy haulers, and I knew that my paradise of one hour was lost. They didn't even wait until morning light to start the madness. Suffice it to say that camping neighbors like this are the reason

In Praise of the Federal Government

...or at least part of it. The reader, being the suspicious cynic that he is, thinks the title has been chosen as a set-up for satire and facetiousness. Not this time. It is just too easy to mock the federales right now. Where's the challenge? Besides, readers know that I am basically a "small-government" classical liberal. If they disagree, then I am annoying them. If they do agree, then I am boring them with an all-too-familiar sermon. In politics people can lose their credibility when they become too ideologically predictable and uniform. They lose their individuality. Instead of working out opinions on their own, based on their own experiences in life, they end up merely repeating ideological package-deals, bumper sticker slogans, shibboleths, and mantras. Consider, briefly, an analogy from the investment world: do you really trust perma-bulls or perma-bears? If an investment advisor can't change gears based on changes in the world, is he anything other tha

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

Well, it's about time. I finally shared a good conversation with a traveler under proper conditions: sun, no wind, cool temperatures, and elevation. There is something about elevation that makes man rise above the messy minutiae of daily life and look at the big picture. The Little Valiant One vanquishes yet another peak in the Rockies Perspicuity. In general it comes from traveling through time rather than through geography. But this was an exception because location made quite a difference. Glenn M. of and I stopped on a ridge and discussed the various syndromes that armchair travelers and the blogs that pander to them are prone to.  Mesa Verde in front of our conversation. We concurred that much of what is on travel blogs is not helpful to getting armchair travelers out of their armchairs. Endless discussions of details about a blogger's rig are intended to be helpful, but are they, really? Or do they reinforce the mistaken notion that va

Part III, A Retro-grouch Goes Pickup Shopping

I was going to be kind and gentle in writing about the pickup truck insanity of modern America. This post was going to start off by discussing several recent trends in the motor vehicle industry that I think are quite positive:  anti-lock brakes (ABS) as standard equipment across the entire fleet. brake-based traction control systems as standard equipment, since 2010. This eliminates the need for mechanically complex four-wheel drive trucks for the vast majority of suburban cowboys. the replacement of heavy, truck-based, gas-sucking SUVs by lighter, unibody-framed "crossovers". the venerable Ford Econoline full-sized van is being replaced by a unibody-framed "Transit" van. small diesels are being added to the light pickup truck line. And then the bad luck hit. I happened to be driving around a dreadfully congested city (Durango, CO). It was impossible not to notice something weird when driving downtown, with the narrow streets and diagonal parking: full-size