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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…

Doing Serious Things In an Un-Serious Way

Wasn't there a best-selling book of the 'self help' type, several years ago, with a title like "Everything I needed to know, I learned in kindergarten?" I never read it. Perhaps it referred to the fact that most people agree with many of the general principles and proverbs that are supposed to guide you in living your life. But the trouble is in the applications...

...or rather, putting the moral platitudes into practice. I don't think the main problem is intellectual; rather, it is the inability of a cliché to engage our imaginations and to motivate us to alter our behavior. That is why I was excited about the consequences of failing at reading Dostoevsky for the umpteenth time: for the first time in my life I became wildly appreciative of the principle of doing serious things in a not-so-serious way.

This is not a new idea of course. Essentially it is equivalent to Walt Disney's "whistle while you work" song in one of his animated classics. But …

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…

Lust in the Dust

No doubt the reader is expecting some soft-core porn about mountain bikes of the "+ or plus" type, that is, ones that can use 3" tires. But actually, the lust I had in mind is more vile and swinish.

Camping in the desert doesn't seem like the likeliest place for an episode of earthly lust (unless you are a geologist.) And yet it happened twice on the same day. Odd things like that always make me want to explain them and blog about them.

It's not that the two experiences were unpleasant. In fact, it was almost a relief. But it was difficult comporting myself with dignity. When an old boy talks to a pleasant-looking woman thirty years younger than himself, it is hard to look into her eyes and not feel transparent, which then turns into a type of embarrassment.

She has a powerful effect on me, but I don't want her to know it. If she did, she might walk away, sniggering and mocking me with, "Well, I have made a new conquest...", such as the formerly blind…

The Ultimate Heater for Winter Camping

Winter campers might argue about what the best kind of heater is, but frankly, I don't like using a heater at all -- for the obvious reasons of fuel cost, safety, and condensation. Besides, it seems wimpy.

There is another approach to winter heating. I owe this success to a camping neighbor. He doesn't buy expensive leather outfits for riding his Harley, but instead wears insulated bib overalls from Walmart. Well of course, that is what mechanics, construction workers, and oilfield workers wear in the winter. 

(I love having useful conversations with camping neighbors. Especially when they mention some trick-of-the-trade that I have overlooked. These conversations are so much more valuable than the usual small talk, long-winded stories about the past, personality salesmanship, etc.)

I have never owned bib overalls. But I took his advice and bought a pair of Walls brand from Walmart for $70. The insulation is not really thick, but they aren't supposed to be a snowmobile sui…

Resurrecting a Tired Old Figure of Speech

A multi-fingered canyon system is just as interesting to explore at the top as at the bottom.

You can walk out on the peninsulas to the point where two canyon fingers join. But you can get a bit nervous with these mudstone (?) walls:

I keep a safe distance between myself and the cliff. But how can I know what that distance is?

One day I looked across the canyon and saw a crumbling isthmus on the adjacent peninsula. (The peninsula widened out again as you passed over the isthmus.) I became obsessed with knowing whether the isthmus was continuous and walkable. But I am always developing these little obsessions.

It turned out to be not quite continuous, but still walkable. You are on a narrow finger of mesa cap-rock that separates two separate fingers of the canyon system. So you must step carefully.

Talk about the 'slippery slope' metaphor/cliche made real and fresh! When I walk along places like this I wonder how far off the high spot you could step before you slide on crumbling mud…

Being a Geo-political Strategist is Tough

(Must I add that the title is meant tongue in cheek?)

As I read an interesting book on geo-politics, I am struck by a couple things:
1. How incompetent politicians and diplomats are at avoiding war. (Perhaps because they don't want to avoid it.)
2. How naive and easily deceived the masses are. They will believe anything. Immediately the war drums are being beaten. Preachers are talking about their War God from their pulpits. And how useful the Media is in starting a war.
3. How powerful hindsight is.
4. How poor I am at looking at international crises today, determining who is really behind it, what they hope to gain, and what is likely to happen.

In fact, #4 is so strong that I sometimes think that reading history is a waste of time. For instance I was surprised by Russia's military involvement in the current Syrian crisis. Then I was surprised by the recklessness of the War Party in Washington DC in wanting to send American planes and troops to Syria, despite the risk of an incide…

The Ultimate Cliff Dwelling

Last episode I talked about camping near a pseudo-cliff-dwelling. Imagine finding a perfect one! The opening would face southeast, I guess. In the winter the low angle of the sun would warm up your mornings. In the summer you would stay cool. And you would be sheltered from the northwest wind in the winter.

But wait -- don't I already have a cliff dwelling? One that can be repositioned as required? One could argue that that is the ultimate cliff dwelling.

Here is my improved version:

Granted, the cargo trailer was notsacred to the Native Americans. But it has everything else going for it. Laying down on the bed, my body is being warmed by the sun, but my face is shielded from direct sunlight. The west and northwest wind can't hurt me. There are screens across the entire back of the trailer, but you hardly need them at this time of year.

It is almost embarrassing to me how much pleasure I get from this. How can this be explained? Long-suffering readers are used to me praising the s…

Immortality in a Threatening Wind

What a nice morning it had been: moderately cool, calm, and sunny. Coffee Girl and I had just finished a mountain bike ride up an arroyo where, at the beginning of my travel career, I had stumbled onto a "cliff dwelling." Not an official one, of course. But it was possible to imagine turning it into a cliff dwelling or emergency shelter. Back then I took a chance in dragging my trailer upstream in the gravel arroyo, with only my rear wheel drive van. And I camped there that night, and made a fire in the little cliff dwelling, and amused myself with making shadows on the ceiling. (Plato would have been impressed.)

Alas, the cliff dwelling seemed less romantic today than it did way-back-when. This stung. Did it mean that my travel lifestyle had become too predictable and tame?

We laid down for the usual post-ride siesta, relaxing to a movie with a good musical score. But it became difficult to hear the movie because of the howling wind. What the hell was going on, out there!? Si…

Dealing with a Difficult Writer

For the umpteenth time I have started some Dostoevsky novels and short stories, only to surrender 50 pages in. Yes I know, it seems like common sense to be a good sport about this, to shrug it off, and to move on to a different writer. But it is worth giving the benefit of the doubt to a writer who has a high reputation. On the other hand, I should dismiss the opinion of the "experts" if it doesn't agree with my own experience.

Perhaps the best reason for not giving up on Dostoevsky too soon is that something might be gained by trying to explain why reading him just doesn't work for me. I used to think that his books had too much religious guilt and physical suffering in them for my tastes. Russians are pretty good at suffering, but I am not.

The more I thought about it, this time around, the more the blame went to his unsympathetic characters. I simply don't care what happens to his characters, and therefore, have no interest in the story. Don't think that I a…

A Belvedere Over Windy Badlands

I won't apologize for my long-standing fascination with desert arroyos, especially when they develop into small canyons. Of course, readers should be warned that you should begin by hiking 'upstream', with the main branch resembling a forearm, which then subdivides into fingers, which further split into sub-fingers. At some point, you turn around and return to your starting point. It is mathematically (topologically) impossible to get lost.

Ahh, but what if you are camped on a mesa that lords over eroded badlands? Then you start walking downstream. A mistake.

Normally I feel an urge to dismantle rock cairns. What gives people the right to rob a route of its mystique and aura? But in this case, I was happy to see two cairns, at the first important junction on my first downstream walk. After all, I was out of practice.

The technique that works for me is to renounce the mindset of a tourist. Stop calling things 'beautiful' just because they are freakishly large and ve…

Will Post-Attack France Be as Unwise as America?

Will the French be as stupid after the Paris attacks on Friday the 13th as America was after 9-11? For their sakes I hope not. But there are always those who seize on terrorist attacks to implement their own agenda, an agenda decided-on long before any attacks.

The two best editorials I've run across on the recent Paris attacks are described now: The first was by Andrew Bacevich. This isn't the first time I've been impressed by one of his editorials.

The second recommendation appealed, in part, because I am a sucker for analogies. Bret Weinstein wrote in Salon that:
But to the nation as a whole that level of damage [from the 9-11 attacks] was about as dangerous as a bee sting.You may find that analogy suspect because bee stings are deadly to those with an allergy. But what kills people is not the sting itself. It is their own massive overreaction to an otherwise tiny threat, that fatally disrupts the functional systems of the body. And that is exactly what terrorists hop…

The Benefits of Enjoying a Not-So-Great Movie

Last episode I went boldly into the present by buying my first Blu-Ray disc. Disappointed as I was by the technology itself, I at least had the pleasure of seeing a pretty good movie, "Rio Bravo" (1959), directed by Howard Hawks, and starring Dean Martin, John Wayne, Walter Brennan, and Angie Dickinson.

As usual John Wayne did not interest me. The Dmitri Tiomkin score was a disappointment. But Dean Martin's acting was surprisingly good! Then of course, there was the wonderful Walter Brennan. I think he is my role model as a cranky tough old goat. Give me a couple more years.

Male sexist pigs will be able to tolerate Angie Dickinson, then in her twenties. Next to Brennan, she was my favorite character. Here is a photo as she appeared in character, at the end of the movie:

It was so refreshing to see a beautiful female character who doesn't take herself so seriously. She was no fool; she knew the effect she had on men. But she had a nonchalant senseofhumor about it. Norma…

A Retro-Grouch's Bold Leap Forward

Who says there is no drama in the life of a retro-grouch? Every now and then, the retro-grouch finally decides to give in on something that 99% of the population gave in on, years ago. There is a gravitas and honour to this ritual.

How many years has it been (?) since Sony tried suckering the world into more expensive Blu-Ray discs, rather than perfectly adequate DVD discs, which are excellent when played in an up-converting DVD player.

It was probably ye olde "Give 'em the razor -- sell 'em the blades" business model. Oddly enough, many of the customers resisted this trap. Why pay twice as much for a Blu-Ray disc, when up-converting DVD players and HDMI televisions produced excellent results?

But over the last decade, DVD players became cheap throw-aways. They are as noisy as a lawnmower, to the point of distracting the viewer from the movie. Also, Walmart started putting inexpensive Blu-Ray discs in a bin. I reasoned that Blue-Ray players must be built to better toler…