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The Solution to Winter Evenings when Camping

Long winter evenings have never been my favorite thing, when boondocking. All I could do was waste time on the internet or read books. Perhaps older eyes just don't like reading in the evening. Or maybe I have had my fill of reading by evening.

The result was boredom and glumness. This was a serious problem for me. My solution was to go to bed early.

Some solution! It results in poor quality sleep. And who can sleep for 12 hours per night?!



Lately I have been experimenting with organizing things in the evening. Consider all the photographs stored on your computer. They need to be organized and culled. This ends up being fun because it gives you a chance to reminisce over your travels.

You could argue that you just have too many photographs to tackle in this manner. Then why not just throw them out? You are never going to look at them again, anyway.

Organizing is needed for the file structure on the laptop and the smartphone, as well.

There are physical things that need to be organized,…

How Not to Shut Down So Early at Night

It has only been a couple weeks since I stopped my incessant whining about hot sunlight and dry air. And now I am already whining about too many hours of darkness, and getting cabin fever during rainy days.

There is something to learn from the campers who wear headlamps at night. They continue to do useful things at night, instead of limiting themselves to boob toob, yoob toob, or miserable books.

In fact modern headlamps having gotten ridiculously good. No longer are you allocating one hand to carry things, while trying to get things done with the other hand. Have you ever tried to operate a zipper with one hand? A camper spends most of the day fighting zippers, especially in winter.



The other day somebody went mountain biking by me at night. I couldn't believe how bright his headlamp was. I am still not motivated to ride at night, but it would sure be great to stay active in the evening with daily chores.

Ahh, but there's the battery, the weak link in any of these electrical gad…

Best Fall Color Experience Ever

A new reader to this blog might expect a photo-dump after a title like that. But I didn't even bring my Canon digital camera. (I did bring the smart phone, but just don't take it seriously as a camera. Maybe I should.)

My friend and I were mountain biking down a trail along a "draw" in the Gunnison CO area. Despite the anti-scenery slant on this blog, I just had to stop and ogle what was there: about 20 aspens, blazing yellow of course, that were pinned between the cliff and the dry creek. 

It was really sagebrush country, but the small aspens had managed to survive in their chosen niche. There was a drama to their tenuous existence. Also, it had rained a little recently, and the tiniest bit of moisture seems miraculous to me, after this summer! 

The autumnal morning's sun was just clearing the cliff, so that it illuminated the tops of the stunted aspens. The rest of the area was dry sagebrush, in all its glorious austerity. What a contrast!

This was a powerful examp…

The Annual Lump in the Throat

Every year at this time, I think about the same thing: the most important change-of-seasons. It was made more memorable by what my dog and I were doing: having one of our best mountain bike rides of the year, and in one of our favorite places. (How many untouristy areas can still be found in a place like Colorado?!) This summer has made me sick and tired of hot sun, so it was no small miracle that the day seemed glorious despite being sunny! 

It was getting on to mid or even late morning, but there was still a chill in the air. She and I pretty much like the same temperatures.


I notice the seasonal transitions at other times of the year, but somehow, they don't affect me in the same way that the onset of autumn does. There is no lump in the throat, as there is now. Perhaps that's because it is so great to get rid of another summer. Summer is just a long disease that one must submit to, stoically. Or maybe it's because I start migrating more as cooler weather comes in.

Perhaps…

There is "the Cloud", and There Is the Real Thing

Have you noticed how tourism/travel literature always shows blue skies in its postcards?

Who the hell wants blue skies all the time! It is that time of year again, when aridity and blue skies and sunlight become oppressive.  

But this morning there were clouds, merciful clouds. Granted they were not the picturesque clouds that the Southwest gets during the summer monsoon season.




But don't think I'm complaining. It is worth suffering through the wildfire season, when your skin and fingernails slough off your body, and your hair turns to dry straw, just to experience the bliss of the monsoons.


Strictly speaking, it wasn't the clouds that were so glorious, it was the shade. In June I would rhapsodize over shade caused by anything.

Dogs agree with this opinion!

Cooling Medicine in the Outdoors

On my first day away from the thermal hell-hole of southwestern Arizona, my dog and I "had coffee" with the famous coffee shop dogs of Patagonia. Then we went for a walk along a rail-to-trail. 



Even though it was late in the morning, it was still cool, thanks to the altitude of 4000 feet and some high clouds. I deliberately under-dressed because I was desperate to be cool.

It worked. I imagined my skin being bathed in a slow-moving miasma with healing properties. And somebody else was miraculously cured as well: my dog, Coffee Girl, had developed a limp back in the desert. I couldn't tell what the cause was. When she hit the dirt trail she was her old self, running along jauntily. 

Perhaps it was the sharp rubble back in the desert. Or the Evil Ones.

I too was getting sick of feeling rubble underneath my feet with every other step taken. 

Soon the sun burned through the high clouds. I actually felt happy to have the sun hit my face. That is the ultimate proof of restored heal…

The Desert Winter is Over

We can all admire people who suffer in silence -- but only if the suffering is unavoidable. When a snowbird/camper is too warm in Arizona in mid-winter, it is because they are following the calendar, rather than the thermometer. But I'm proud of myself for surviving through January.


Fare ye well, Desert. It's off to grassland and oaks for me.

There may be a smart-a&& commenter who wonders how this agrees with my praise of Suffering, when camping. Remember that there are two distinct types of suffering: 1) noble and voluntary suffering, and 2) the merely disgusting kind. 

Type 1 ennobles Man. He can visualize it in a way that inspires him to crawl out of the banal routines of daily existence. Type 2 is meaningless. And I would put Heat in the second kind.

Finally, Finding Hope in Moab

I have been struggling to make 'lemonade from the lemons' of Moab. The pressure was made worse by a Utah school holiday coming up. But I'm glad I didn't give-in to defeatism. 

Surprisingly good results can come from remembering that 'the early bird gets the worm.' There is a jeep/ATV road that is easy to see from my campsite. It looked quite appealing to mountain bike on. Should I be so foolishly naive as to try?

I started a few minutes after sunrise, when it was still chilly. For the first hour and a half, not a single motorized device passed me, despite this trail being well-signed and well-known. Then I popped out on a dirt road and had a nice conversation with a young couple who was taking their niece on a walk. My dog loves children, and vice versa.

It is not surprising that this worked, but it is that it worked so well, and in Moab! There is probably quite a wind chill factor when 'four wheeling' in an open jeep, ATV, or Texas wheelchair ('side b…

A Heart-breaking Song in Sagebrush Hills

I wrote the last post after being so affected by the contrast between holiday tourist traffic and the total isolation I had just enjoyed on a mountain bike ride, earlier in the morning. If uncrowdedness were so great, why doesn't everybody avail themselves of it?

I suppose it is just human nature to go where everybody else does, by chasing brown signs put up by the forest service, park service, and BLM. It seems undesirable to think for themselves.

But the mass-tourist would probably not agree with that. They would argue that crowded places are crowded because they are more beautiful than the average place.If you then asked him, "What is beauty?', he would think you are being silly or argumentative, since beauty is "obvious." He means anything that is BIG, vertical, or freakish.

Although few tourists would consider the location of my morning mountain bike ride to be ugly, they would think it less entertaining than where they were.

But I was quite entertained, I assu…

Watching the Summer Tide Drive Home

Unaccustomed as we are to wasting time and money at coffee shops, Coffee Girl and I were sitting in the cool September shade outside a coffee shop in Gunnison, CO. We had just finished a satisfying mountain bike ride up steep sagebrush hills.

Just think: it was Labor Day weekend, and we didn't run into a single person out there. Not even any "Texas wheelchairs!" Great views and land, and pretty good dirt roads. But it wasn't a "brand name" location. (And if you don't learn anything else from this blog, Grasshopper...)

Looking at the stream of gigantic vehicles drive by (mostly from Crested Butte), I was at a loss for the right word to describe my feelings. Earlier in life, when I was a hothead, I might have looked at this tidal flow with disdain. A few years later, I would have rolled my eyes. But what about now?

'Perspicacity' comes to mind. Normally that word seems right for high altitude, when looking down towards all the little scurrying ants i…

Maybe Autumn Will Always be Magic

Once again it's here. My favorite time of year. Every year I am amazed to be so affected by the coming-on of cool weather. Some years I have been interested in analyzing this remarkable longevity. But this year, I just want to feel good about it and hope it keeps going year after year -- like my van!

In a similar vein, I love camping at tree islands in the Gunnison area, year after year. Last year I was in the mood for deconstructing the romanticism of this. But this year, it suffices to bask in it. Perhaps there is a natural dialectic going on here. One year I reconstruct the visualization that I deconstructed the previous year. Let's hope that the new version is better in some way than the earlier one.

There is something symbolic about tree islands -- something that is different than other features that people go ga-ga over. Oh sure, I am probably prone to some anti-tourist snobbery. But a natural feature ceases to have an effect on you when somebody sticks a bar-code on it. T…

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.

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.

What Nomadism Really Means

Mid-February was so warm that I said goodbye to the hiking season and hello to the mountain biking season for the next 10 months or so. I was biking down a dirt/gravel road in southeastern Arizona. Suddenly I felt misty-eyed.


How strange! I am not one of those modern 'sensitive' men who acts weepie and huggie because he has been told to do so. In fact, in all the years (19) that I've been in this racket, this is the first time this happened.

(Long-suffering readers of this blog know the formula by now: observe something odd or experience something unusually affecting, and then try to explain it by walking my way to the general and timeless.)

Perhaps I was affected by southeastern Arizona having some of my favorite balanced scenery, that is, grasslands in the foreground and mountains in the background. Andoak trees! In contrast I have little interest in the pine monocultures that cover most of the mountains in the West.

Or maybe it was the realization that I come here every yea…

Taking Sensual Pleasures to a Higher Level

The other day, I sat out on the porch of the "Chatterbox" cafe. It was noon on an unseasonably warm day. Already I felt a mild dread about warm weather returning, and on top of that, I was drinking hot coffee.  But the porch was shaded. The gentle breeze felt so cool and reassuring.

Wasn't it just a few weeks ago that I would pop my insulated bib overalls on and lie out on the 'patio' (ramp) of my cargo trailer, with it facing the still-valid Arizona sun. Then, I was asking relief from the wintry air. 

These two experiences were as pleasant as they could be. They were mirror images of each other. Today's pleasure was even more piquant because of the contrast with the oh-so-recent mirror image.

But the pleasure didn't stop there. Recently I posted about the visual metaphor from "The Creature from the Black Lagoon," with the ugly Creature swimming upside down while stalking the beautiful girl swimming on top of the water, with the sunlight rippling t…

Pascal's Winter Cabin

Winter is not just a season of climate, but is also a phase in a person's mind. In 18th and 19th century novels, the rural gentry conventionally retired to London in winter. Can you blame them? It wasn't just the darkness and weather, it was the muddy roads. People living in "normal" places in the modern world forget how frustrating muddy roads can be.

Every now and then I run into an Alaskan in the Arizona desert in the winter. They usually curse the darkness in the North more than the cold. Easy to believe.

I suppose there is a correlation between northern latitudes and alcoholism. Some of that might be the lack of grapes, and the northern grains lending themselves to hard alcohol. But surely some of it is due to the darkness and isolation.

There is something about sinking into the reality of winter-camping that brings a piquancy to a famous quote from Blaise Pascal in his Pensées, probably the only work of his still read today:
When I have occasionally set myself to c…

The Second-best Sensual Pleasure Outdoors

Sometimes you just have to slow down and soak it up.  My campsite was broadside to the west wind, coming off a large sagebrush flat near Cuba, NM. It was the hottest time indoors, 4 o'clock. But soon the shade from one large ponderosa pine would cool off my trailer. This was proof of how few trees a summer camper really needs.

I hardly ever sit outside in a chair, therefore I was paying Mother Nature a genuine honor to move a chair into the shade of that lone ponderosa, and do absolutely nothing. Normally it is more comfortable and useful to be inside my little igloo on wheels. Usually people don't use 'windy' as a compliment, but they should: not only does it cool you, but it keeps the bugs off.

But this afternoon I just sat there, indolently and contentedly, in the shade of that lone ponderosa, and took a wind-bath in la brisa fresca from the west. Since I dislike heat, and this was the hottest day since February in Yuma, it was easy to appreciate the cool breeze almo…

Cabin Fever of the Mind

In an earlier post I played at visualizing cold wet weather and mud as medicine. Not only does it postpone the wildfire season later into June, when the monsoons are only a couple weeks away, but it also rebuilds a healthy appreciation for sunshine in your own mind.  Depending on where you live, you might not need any help in appreciating sunshine; but a gringo in the arid western states certainly needs help.

And Mother Nature is at it again. When cabin fever reaches a crescendo, you can fight back, but don't fight back too soon: there is an art to enjoying a miserable day. Your rebound is robbed of its glory if it isn't prepared by a nadir. Artificial aids are permitted: consider watching the first five minutes of the latest "Jane Eyre" movie, the one with the faint lighting and the haunting score by Dario Marianelli.

It is quite amazing how tuned in you can get to the amperage and voltage of your solar controller. Even doing pushups on a muddy trailer floor brings in…

The Healthiness of Being Stuck in the Muck...

...as 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 mo…

A Snowbird Searches for the Right Myth

My bio-rhythms have been so screwed up with the 90 degree heat in Yuma -- in February! Soon I was in Patagonia AZ at over 4000 feet of elevation. It felt so good to sleep in a chilly bed again; to get out of bed in the morning and walk while trying to keep my toes from touching the 40 F floor; to put on a jacket and walk downtown Patagonia. Ahh, cool air and warm sun.

Over the winter in Yuma, things that seemed like luxuries at the beginning began to bore me. Even my dog got bored: we walked in a beautiful desert at sunrise and sunset, but there was no game there. Just rubble. Eventually a snowbird can't or won't apply the mental discipline needed to ignore the overcrowding.   

The tipping point came when my attitude changed about my road cycling club, the main reason why I was there in the first place. The high speed riding by 70-year-olds seemed so admirable at the beginning of winter. By the end, my loyalty to living at the point-of-diminishing-returns reasserted itsel…

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 …