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Showing posts from 2017

(Revised) Starting the New Year as a "Dear Abby" Columnist

Once a friend told me that she/he never quite knew what I would blog on, next week. I considered that a fine compliment --the kind that all bloggers should aim for. Very well then, a new year is starting, so let's start off in a new direction: giving "personal" advice.

But first let's dismiss the reader's objection that my credentials are not in order, when it comes to being a relationship columnist. Since when are credentials an issue on the internet? I thought that was half the reason for having an internet. If bloggers only blogged about subjects they actually knew something about, of what use would semi-unlimited data limits be on the internet?

Since my friends don't even know have I have a blog, let alone read it; and since I don't blabbermouth names or places on the internet, I should be able to discuss their "case" without invading their privacy.

I listened to he/she discuss the personality and behavior defects of their other half. Thank goo…

Sinking into a Surprise

Of all the advantages of a fatter tire on a mountain bike, not the least is being able to go down dry washes, arroyos. Arroyos are the most natural highways, with ridgelines coming in for second prize.

I was doing so, the other day. Thank goodness I chose a route that descended that arroyo, and finished the loop by coming back on a smoother dirt road.

What was it about this arroyo? It certainly wasn't pretty. But it was impressive on some level, if only I could figure out what that level was. The arroyo had gotten a small bit of ATV traffic; thus the gravel was packed down just enough for me to keep moving on the mountain bike.  So neglected -- and yet it was only a couple miles from where masses of RVers hang out in the winter.

Downward it went, always sinking closer to the Colorado River. There is something creepy about that, in the pit of the stomach, and not just because I had to dig out of the hole on the second half of the loop.

Maybe it was analogous to aging and death. At any …

Making RV Travel More Adventuresome

Two reasons make this topic timely. I just read another adventure history by Samuel E. Morison, called "The Great Explorers." Books like this always rub a modern fellow's nose in his own weakness and non-adventuresomeness. Compare Magellan to a modern traveler -- the latter doesn't even rate as an earthworm!

Secondly I am camped near large groups of RVers hitting the Quartzsite scene in January. It is truly amazing how serious and worried these people are about the microscopic practical details of their rigs. Don't they understand how easy and comfortable it has become?

But maybe there is a good reason for their constant and obsessive worrying: as a culture we are not so many generations removed from when travel was physically difficult and dangerous. So the tradition lives on...

At least one commenter on this blog would argue that we should just put physical adventure aside, as a thing of the past; and that we should move on to social, psychological, or aesthetic a…

Life Exists During the Christmas Shopping Season

It has been awhile since I offered extra credit points to the reader who can supply the right information: in this case, the name of the essay in which Thoreau said (more or less) that he had walked all the way across Manhattan and hadn't seen one person who was actually alive.

That is a useful thought to keep in mind if you find yourself in a busy shopping area in the USA near Christmas. There are softies out there who will tell me that that is not a "nice" thought. But it was actually...

I walked into a Walmart recently in an Arizona desert town, and the quote from Thoreau came to mind. But something I saw relieved this otherwise gloomy thought: a little dog was walking around next to a touring bicycle, fully loaded, and leaning against the side of the building.

Why wasn't the little dog on a leash? Where was the owner? I considered guarding the little dog, but maybe I too wasn't really alive. Instead, I continued into the store to do some routine shopping.

When I …

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. 

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 …

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…

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 th…

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 Ameri…

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.

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 t…

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!

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 wo…

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 re…

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…

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 , 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.  

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.

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.

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 co…

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…

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…

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 sc…

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 t…

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 tha…

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 bec…

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.

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 ce…

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 secre…

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.

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 Rei…

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 she…

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 cred…

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 bik…

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 win…

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 ge…