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Showing posts with the label lifestyle

Opening Up to the Charm of Other People

Learning to appreciate a variety of things is important for what I call an independent lifestyle, that is, one in which sheer busyness, phony pragmatism, and chasing after toys and status symbols is not the 'meaning of life.'

I had a couple examples of appreciation that were new to me, recently. My dog and I were returning on a mountain bike ride. Therefore we were cruising downhill. Another dirt road 'teed' into ours. Coming down this road were a half dozen large beautiful horses, with riders. I guessed that the horsewoman who led the troupe was the employee of a nearby (dude) guest ranch. 

I asked and she confirmed it, in four or five words.  That's all it took for me to bike away, cooing, and fluttering my eyelashes at the sheer prettiness of her voice. This effect was so exaggerated that I had to wonder about it.

Was it just the usual joy juice in my blood that comes from mountain biking? This has happened so many times. Sometimes it almost scares me. Certainly, t…

What If I Were a Car Camper?

Every day I travel by a solitary car camper. Sometimes I feel like walking up and introducing myself. But I never have.

Is this just bourgeois prejudice, looking at somebody who appears to be a low-life? It could be, but it could also be reasonable caution. How am I supposed to know which topic lights the guy up like a firecracker? And how will I escape his rant, gracefully?

Another motive is self-protection. His situation seems sad, and I don't really want to wallow in it. The other day was a big day for him. I saw him walking around his car a little bit. At one point, he bent down and tied his shoes. That is the most action he has had in a week. The rest of the day, he just sits in his car and looks out the windshield.

There could be some genuine drama happening in that car. But who would know? Who could be affected by it vicariously, if everybody is afraid of him?

I always feel ashamed of myself when I go by him. Are he and I in the same category -- desert rat boondockers?

A Different Kind of Colorado Postcard

When embarking on any new project, the most important precaution is to keep expectations quite a bit lower than what seems 'fair.' Give the world a chance to surprise you on the upside. This is what I tried to do in the first post on campground hosting.

Some of the campers did just that. One fellow -- and I swear he was the one who initiated the topic -- ranted about how much he preferred semi-open land to thick-as-dog-hair forests. What a relief it was to hear somebody more fanatical than me, on that topic!

Actually, in five days, I have had more quality conversations than in five years of solitary camping. 

The trick is to encourage compliance with the campground rules without becoming officious; to be briefly friendly without being intrusive; and to resist my entrenched habit of steering the conversation in the direction I want, the excuse being that the other person is too much of a blockhead to talk about anything other than 'so where you from?' 

I also need to stop …

Selling Out to the (Camping) Establishment

What can you say about a camper who sells out to the Establishment, by flushing his principles and ideals down the toilet -- and a vault toilet at that!  Yes, reader, the unthinkable has happened: this old boy has become a campground host. I feel compelled to justify aberrant behavior of this type. 

If there is a better way to finish off a life than achieving Moral Perfection, go ahead and tell me what it is. Good ol' Ben (Franklin) would not have approved of this project if it were just a sterile sentimentalism. In order for Moral Perfection to be real and solid, there must be some way of objectifying and validating it.  Otherwise, a person would just fool themselves with feelings that bounce around in the echo chamber of their own skull.

One way of validating this project is to look at the effect we have on other people. That is why solitary camping needs to be abandoned.

In the tab at the top of the screen, entitled "Summiting: Ideals and Suffering," there are many juicy…

Should Camping Tough Guys Have Satellite Television and Internet?

Let no one confuse a retro-grouch with a human fossil. This retro-grouch made a giant leap forward when I bravely submitted to my first demonstration of Facebook. The fellow who gave the tutorial was quite good at giving demonstrations.

Actually, I was impressed with Facebook as a platform. It seemed useful for certain types of groups. It seemed well integrated with other platforms on the internet.

So then, if I was so impressed with it, why haven't I opened up an account? Two things are stopping me.

1. Won't I lose control of ad-blocking on Facebook? Please don't tell me that ads are not too obtrusive, so far. On an internet browser such as Firefox, you can use a free ad-blocking program that works 98% of the time. I am suspicious that most of the bandwagon towards smartphones and Facebook is ultimately motivated by the desire to get people addicted to a platform first, and then bury them under ads that they can't do anything about.

2. Thoreau's classic wise-crack abo…

Why Not Be Good at Being a Consumer?

In January of this yearI posted several times about a curious question: why didn't more people work harder at being good conversationalists, considering the benefits of improvement and its feasibility? It is in the reach of just about everybody. For the most part, it just involves overcoming a small set of bad habits.

The same question comes up in a different setting: why don't more people work harder at being good consumers, considering the benefits of doing so, and its feasibility? Is it a lack of knowledge? Or just the sheep-like behavior of the herd who sees too many commercials?

What caused me to think about this was the experience of screwing up on the purchase of an external keyboard for a computer which works fine but has a defective keyboard. How could I not notice that the 'enter' key and right hand shift keys were half size? This is the very reason why I avoided 10 inch netbooks when they were the rage a few years ago. Same for 10" tablet keyboards.

And ho…

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…

A Newbie Couple Camps With an Ol' Desert Rat

There are some disparities that are made to poke fun at: men versus women, old versus young, northern Europeans versus Mediterraneans, city slickers versus rural hayseeds, and even newbie campers versus grizzled old "mountain men."

A long term bicycle club friend of mine visited my camp recently. She and her significant-other were embarked on their maiden voyage in a converted van. They don't know of my blog. So hopefully I can write about their experience with candor. Although it may seem like I am poking fun at them, their foibles and mistakes are no different than any other newbie, including myself at one time in history. They both have a lot of practical skills, and I suspect that their RV careers will be a great success if they keep with it.

The idea here is to describe a newbie's ideas, habits, and mistakes, in order to let the reader flush out the principles and draw their own conclusions. I will try to suppress my own shop-worn sermons.

They reminded me how diff…

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…

Nibbling Away at Moral 'Perfection'

I have an ON again/OFF again involvement with achieving moral perfection. Mostly off. Even though I am getting started 40 years later than Benjamin Franklin, it still 'counts'.

And it isn't as silly as it sounds. What should a person work on as they get older? Sleeping 8 hours per night, without waking once? Growing lush dark hair on their head? Running a 4 minute mile? Living the dissolute life of an international playboy? Good luck with all that.

The fact is that wisdom about the conduct of life, self-control over our own behavior, and having a broader perspective on the human condition are just about the only things that we can improve at, with age. And that is good news! These are the things we should have been emphasizing our whole lives, instead of running around, taking care of frantic busywork.

So how does one proceed on this noble quest? There is something to be said for a 'bottom up' approach, quite the opposite of the approach of long-winded philosophers. I…

Benefits of Getting Outside the Comfort Zone

There probably aren't many readers who are interested in bicycling. Nevertheless I will write about a certain kind of bicycling as an example of a principle that applies broadly and beneficially to early retirement and full-time travel.

Lately I have given advertisements for adapting to steep land by pushing the mountain bike up the hills and coasting down. This makes me uncomfortable, more so psychologically than physically. It helped to consider the history of mountain biking: it originated by using cars or ski-lifts to get up the hill, and then they would ride the bike down.

But I overlooked the examples of other "one-way" sports, such as river canoeing or kayaking, downhill skiing, hang gliding, and parachuting. None of these practitioners think that their sport is ruined by "one-wayness." They would probably have a hard time imagining it any other way. 

The "push up/coast down" style of mountain biking is somewhat similar to a surfer, who drops t…

Can Old People Still Learn?

It is funny how a somewhat vague idea can grab you sometimes. But you suspect that there is something valuable hiding in that vagueness, so you wrestle with it on a blog. It might be one of the better reasons for blogging.

Currently I'm on a 'learning counter-intuitive habits' kick. I am beginning to see the development of new habits and capabilities as an example of learning at its best. Think how far it is above the learning of a mere factoid.

But this is not a sermon for developing sheer willpower, like some crazed Puritan, and forcing yourself to develop a new habit which actually repels you, but which you have come to believe is 'good for you.'

Rather, it is about the exquisite tipping point, half-way from habit A to habit B, as if you were trapped in a Escher print.  


Wasn't it Edward Abbey's "Desert Solitaire" that described the transition of Arches National Park into an over-improved tourist trap, replete …

Developing Counter-intuitive Habits When Camping

I just got back from an unusual mountain bike ride, that is, one in which I was successfully miserable. It started going downhill. Oh what a sinking feeling that is, literally and figuratively! It is so easy to dig a hole for yourself so deep that digging out of it will be pure misery. The same could be said of hiking down into a canyon at the beginning of a hike.

Consider for a moment how unnatural it is: when you were a child, your mother trained you to finish off your carrots and peas first -- bleah! -- before you earned dessert. That is the feeling you get starting a mountain bike uphill. You can get so addicted to the rhythm of depleting yourself on the ascent and to the smug satisfaction of resting at a scenic high spot, before turning around and whooping it up on the descent.

Now consider the opposite: descending at the beginning, and being chilly. When you turnaround now, it is later in the morning, and you are digging out of your hole in warmer air. That is just plain perverted…

Calming the Beast in the Cabin

I'm weakening. I hate camping underneath a thunderstorm. But the mud will dry up tomorrow.

There must be readers who are sick of my praise for wet snow and cold mud in May in the American Southwest. They are probably thinking, "Put up or shut up. Move to Puget Sound if you think wetness is so great."

My sermons are an echo of the ones from William James, presented in the page-tab at the top of your screen, Summiting: Ideals and Suffering. In trying to benefit from suffering, the key word is 'non-routine.' Over the long run, suffering loses its charm. In order to be stimulated, you must somehow idealize it, and that is hard to do to something routine. The weather the Southwest is having right now is definitely non-routine.

I'm not just opining and theorizing. My bouts with cabin fever have done me some good, and hopefully for the long term.

I was forced to do things that are easy to neglect: a book that was supposed to be re-read, but somehow wasn't; cleaning …

Are Extreme Sports an Answer to Shackleton?

Is it crazy to read about Ernest Shackleton's adventures when our modern world lacks real adventure? Everything on earth has been seen. If you were to sign up for XYZ Adventure Tours, they would have you sign legal disclaimers, despite nothing genuinely dangerous being permitted. And you would be encased in safety equipment.

In the world of travel, people who might see themselves as "adventurers" are actually like a lazy student who looks up the answers in the back of the book, rather than attempting to work the problem out on his own. With Benchmark and DeLorme atlases, Wikipedia, websites, blogs, and Google Earth, everything is known.

So are we just looking back at the good old days of Shackleton, when men were made of iron and ships were made of wood, with romantic nostalgia?

But there is still this thing called extreme sports in the modern world; marathon running, peak bagging, bicycle racing, etc. These don't offer the glamor of the unknown, nor are they particular…

Part II, Ascetics as Athletes of the Will

It is rare for me to enjoy a biography. That is one reason why I am bothering to write about Ramachandra Guha's "Gandhi Before India." Last post I credited it with being a non-hagiography.

Over the course of the book I came to the same conclusion as the author at the close of his book (page 546/672):
But let us not win the argument ... through hindsight, but rather try and see Gandhi's own experiments as he saw them, as steps to a purer, more meaningful life. To simplify his diet, to reduce his dependence on medicines and doctors, to embrace brahmacharya, were all for him ways of strengthening his will and his resolve. By conquering the need to be stimulated by sex and rich food -- the 'basal passions' according to his teacher Tolstoy -- Gandhi was preparing himself for a life lived for other people and for higher values.

If he ate little, and that merely fruits and vegetables, without salt, sugar and spices, if he didn't care how often (or if at all) he had…

Admiring Ascetics as Athletes of the Will

It is so easy to poke fun at ascetics -- or moral posturers of any type -- that I usually give in to the temptation. Their philosophy does not agree with the Prime Directive of this blog: living at the point of diminishing returns.

I have no interest in renouncing the Prime Directive since I am thoroughly convinced that it is sane, prudent, rational, and adult. If I were acting as if I were going to renounce it, the readers should be suspicious of an April Fool's joke. That sort of thing does not appeal to me.

Rather than renounce a good principle, it is better to think of 'exceptions that prove the rule.'  Any essay on asceticism fits in with the tradition of New Year's resolutions. It also coincides with the biography I have just finished, "Gandhi Before India," by Ramachandra Guha.

Before talking about asceticism I would like to praise biographies of a certain type. This biography was about a man, not a "Mahatma." Those of you who have seen the well…

In the World, but Not Of It

In contrast to the solitary traveling and mountain biking that I do the rest of the year, midwinter is the season for non-traveling and sociable road cycling with an excellent club in Yuma. I love having a library card and the public library to use it at. But there is an even more radical lifestyle-adjustment: I bought a television antenna so I can watch football. They actually have broadcast stations here.

In watching television, and especially the commercials, I get the profound satisfaction of feeling that "I am in this country and culture, but am not of it." That is an old saying in various religions [*]. I suppose it is usually a mere platitude for them, but no doubt some religious people really mean it. In any case I would like to apply this platitude to the internet, as well. 

Yes, I use the phrase 'profound satisfaction' too often. But it really is true that, at times, you need to slow down and let the sweetness and significance soak in.

The internet is not the…

Seasons Can Be "Complementary Lifestyle Modules"

Once again I am in Yuma, wondering if there is a business where I can put my brain into cold storage for the winter. 

And why not, I ain't got no use for it, anyhow -- at least not for the next couple months. In fact the intellect is over-rated, as my winter lifestyle will prove. My enjoyment of life will be physiological and anthropological: I will be roadie-cycling with the single best cycling club in the Southwestern winter.

As you can tell, I just finished my first club ride, came home and took a navy-style shower, popped "The Big Country"  into the DVD player, and took a deep sag in front of it. (Notice I did not say 'nap.')

There is a real satisfaction that comes from changing your lifestyle in the winter, rather than merely changing your geographical location. What is the marginal utility of one more location to an RVer after 50 locations, the rest of the year? [*]

But if he can spot some deficiency in his lifestyle the rest of the year, and if he can somehow…