Monday, January 19, 2015

RVs, Tarps, and Us: Entering California and Slab City to Sleep (Day 15)

The goal today was no more than to get into California, which was accomplished with little fanfare. This area is rife with huge RVs. Snowbirds from everywhere converge near the border. Rich people have RVs and poor people have packs, or sometimes just a sandy blanket. Anybody who is mobile and dissatisfied with a temperature anywhere else is drawn here.

As always, I feel like I'm filling out a bizarre, rare, and overlooked middle ground. RVs don't hide, and real bums don't bother, but the vandwellers and car-sleepers excel at invisibility. RV people talk about tanks and house batteries, vandwellers share strategies of stealth, and the homeless wanderers generally stick to loose change and Steel Reserve.

I have an affinity for a certain style of bumming around, but I'm not willing to assume the duties of a sunburnt corpse. I enjoy a crafty low-level affordable comfort. I like to walk the thin line of feeling like I'm getting away with something. For the sake of America's GDP, plenty of people would appreciate it if I was willing to pay a little bit more for everything. To anybody who is an active cog in the system of lousy expenses: two middle fingers. If I'm not fancy enough, then you're asking too much. There are certain rules and norms that I take great pleasure in pissing all over. I wish I had more piss and a louder guffaw, because I could spread my opinions much further still.

We stopped to recharge in El Centro, where I could take a closer look at the totem pole and see where we fit on it. We plugged in everything we own at a Starbucks and proceeded to put up our feet and type on tiny screens. We gave our tiny dog some free water, and out of pride and fanciness, she refused to lay down on pavement. She's too good. She will choose a purse, or request a seat at the table.

Across the parking lot was a guy who looked like he dipped his head in the fryer. He held a Steel Reserve at his side, and he was an absolute presence. I had to make an effort not to write a whole book about him.

Littered everywhere are huge RVs, and this is a circumstance where beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I want nothing to do with something that can't sneak around. Sure, the kitchen and bathroom might be nice, but most folks driving their kitchen around also seem satisfied to pay a hotel rate to park it.

Who the fuck are we? I like who we are. We're rattling around in a $600 car. We have a camp stove, and we purchase coffee in exchange for services. Our home on the road is sturdier than a tarp without the responsibilities of steering a boat around on pavement. Maybe everyone is just comfortable with what they can afford. I'd like to believe that I have logical values, but give me more money, and I'm afraid of what I might buy. This is why I'm trying to hide money from myself inside of a Roth IRA. That way, if I buy something stupid, at least I'm not a total dummy.

Slab City

According to our custom, we arrived in Slab City just as it was getting hard to see. Without the benefit of proper sunlight, we took a bad spot near where dogs bark and people drive, and we set up the tent in headlights. Still, the night sky was beautiful, there was no thought of snow, and we slumbered comfortably.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Magic in the Desert (Day 14)

From Las Cruces New Mexico, we headed... West.

I've developed a pattern. Every night is a scramble. I transform into a flummoxed bummer, and try to figure out exactly where I thought we might be sleeping. As the sun disappears, I feel like a tired idiot in a game of musical chairs. As the light recedes, the efficacy of my efforts wanes as well. In darkness, I might be camping next to a rhinoceros or underneath somebody's front porch. I wouldn't know.

Daylight is my friend, but planning is an abstract concept. What I need to do each morning is figure out where I want to end up at night. I need to learn to use the hours when my brain is sputtering usefully to plan for the later hours when it absolutely threatens to stall out. Also: if you can't find a good place to camp in the desert, then there's something really mentally wrong with you. Realizing this fact and taking it to heart has given me motivation to raise myself up below the lowest possible rung.

I found a place to camp in the Sonoran Desert. I could have set us up almost anywhere, because there are no people there whatsoever. "FreeCampsites.net" provided an excellent suggestion off a small side road. Toward evening, I flummoxed the pedal to the floor as the sun began to hide behind the peak of an upcoming mountain. Nervous but determined, we managed to find the best spot ever right as the sun disappeared in a highly attractive and photogenic way.

Finally, we had occasion to set up the tent. It's a monster. We brought a 4-person Coleman tent; a behemoth for a backpacker, but an absolute mansion for dirty nerds whose other option is to sleep in a Festiva.

As the sun set and a billion stars took over, we listened to reasonable radio signals from Phoenix to the east. We have a yellow hand-crank radio which works better than I can imagine. This thing works on established facts of science and design, but I can't help believing that magic is also responsible. Music comes out with one single crank, and the speaker is a little bit too good for its size. It should sound a little bit worse, I think, or else it'll blow its cover...

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Carlsbad Caverns to Las Cruces, NM (Day 13)

Carlsbad Caverns is a huge cave. There is almost certainly a Wikipedia page that can say a lot more. For my part, I can tell you it's probably better than you'd think; certainly worth the trip as long as you're just horsing around anyway.

We dropped the 750 feet inside a mountain to arrive in a cool, comfortable, and enormous cavern. As the elevator drops, you see sheer rock instead of metal or flashes of light from each floor of a high rise. The cavern is dimly lit, with natural features illuminated somewhat artistically. Good job, folks.

Kristin and I took the longer route, which was a 1.4 mile path weaving through the entire part of the cave that is open to the public. The only thing that could make this better would be roller skates and having the place to yourself. As it was, I ended up glad we went. I saw the cavern when I was a much smaller human, but that made it no less awesome this round.

After the cave we were back in the desert. There's not a lot to look at - specifically, anyway - but the drive is a beautiful one in its own right. We weaved through the Guadalupe Mountains, and the Festiva continued to operate just fine. No complaints from this car or driver. Aside from needing to downshift more than I would expect, all is well. I would think that driving at 55-65 would be a little hairy on roads with a speed limit of 75, but that has not been the case. I get passed a lot, but I also have plenty of company in my preferred speed range. Notta prollem.

We ended up at a hotel. Amazingly, a hotel every few nights or so is well within the budget. I cannot believe that I just said that, but it seems to be the case. These are good times, and I'm working passively on a real live suntan. Good times indeed.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Van Dwellings: A Planned Intentional Community.

Once I find a place and a way to make the payment, I am going to create "The Van Dwellings." If you don't already understand, it's like cave dwellings, but with vans. "Vandwelling" already means to live in a van, usually nomadically, but not in this case: In this case, the vans are stationary. "The Van Dwellings" will be a planned intentional community. Decisions will be made using the consensus method, with each person attending a workshop to be trained on how this method works as a prerequisite to joining the community and having a vote at meetings.

There will be part-time folks and full time folks, but all of the dwellings themselves will be full time. Visitors with vans will be welcomed to park on an absolutely non-permanent basis. A sense of community pride and an agreed upon aesthetic will reign. Wacky-but-tidy, I think, hits the nail on the head. Colorful: in all senses of the word.

There comes a time in a van's life when the cost of repair exceeds a logical limit. Those are the vans we want. Vans which look great, but are no longer roadworthy. Once they reach this point, we will acquire them inexpensively, and drag them to The Dwellings, where they will begin a new chapter. First, they will be assigned an area and supported on a foundation of cement pillars, and bolted down - perfectly level and sturdy, a couple feet or more off the ground. The interiors will be completely gutted. All the seats, including the driver's and passenger's seats will be removed. Wall-to-wall wood flooring or carpet will be installed.

The interior layout and design will be up to each owner. Personally, I'd insulate mine pretty well and install some big casement windows on the side. Big casement windows might not be a good choice for the road, but that's not where the van is anymore. See where this is going? The goal is to create a dwelling that uses the skeleton of a van-based vehicle, but is not constrained by the need to remain road-legal. Mine? I am going to cut a hole about the size of the entire roof, and build a big wooden upstairs area with more windows and storage. The raised roof will overhang the sides, and the additional headroom will make the interior feel much more spacious. You will clearly see that it started out as a van, but now it is really something else altogether - windows popped out the side, a big roof, no seats clogging up the living area. A bigger structure is possible by splicing together two vehicles, or using more wood framing. But it's always van-based at the core.

"The Van Dwellings" will have an onsite drive-in movie theater with permanent car seating. Old cars will be raised on dirt mounds and cement pillars facing the screen. The interiors will be rehabbed, and the seating improved. The speakers will be hooked up directly to play the audio track of the movie - there will be direct wiring for speakers and lights in each vehicle. And an ashtray full of doobies, to be sure.

Making a Van Dwelling is similar in spirit to building a Pinewood Derby car. Each scout is given the same block of wood, but the final cars are as different as each builder's skills and imagination allow. The Van Dwellings work on the same principle. The only vehicles allowed will be based on a van chassis. The classic vans we think of first definitely fit the bill. You will also be allowed to use a box truck with a van body, like the Ford E-350 U-Hauls, etc. Many decommissioned shuttle buses are built on a van chassis, and some of them can be plenty spacious with lots of windows. Finally, a step van can be used - like an old bread truck or ice cream truck. RVs based on a van chassis may also apply, but no 40 foot busses, or big trailers, or large body trucks - there will be a single common denominator, and that is that each dwelling will be based on what was formerly a van. No stretching the rules on this point. Everybody gets an equal ball of clay to work with. Friendly competition and camaraderie, I imagine, will lead to increasingly innovative and interesting designs.

The Van Dwellings will have a common area in a large, centrally-located vehicle conversion. The common house will be constructed of several box trucks spliced together side-to-side, with all the pop-outs and raised roof areas we can muster. It'll have couches and a larger kitchen area capable of cooking meals for a larger number of people. Next to the common house will be the only building that might not be a van - a shared bathroom and shower area which will resemble a nicer and cleaner version of what you would expect to find at a KOA or campground. Everyone is welcome to install a personal off-grid bathroom and shower setup in their own private van dwelling, but there will also be this shared-use one, where proper showers and flushing toilets exist. Personally, I'd have a Dry Flush in my van, but I'd use the shared bathroom most of the time. Clean, well lit, private showers.

How will you zone this? Let me handle that. It'll be zoned similar to a trailer park, or a campground with cabins. If we are right with the Earth, and friendly with the public, then the chips will fall in our favor.

Do you want to move to The Van Dwellings? Let me know all about it, and I'll save you a spot.

I'm here: chrisharne(at)gmail.com

Talk to you soon,
Chris

... and Northward... to Carlsbad, New Mexico! (Day 12)

Del Rio Texas is located right up against Mexico. If you head left, you're in Mexico. So if you don't want to do that, you have to go back north. Over coffee and fifteen types of breakfast meat, I laid my enormous new Road Atlas in front of me, and wondered what the fuck I was doing in Del Rio.

Car-ikey. That's how I say "crikey," which is Australian for "Pete's sake." I make sure to say the "car," because that's what I am driving when our destination is a miss.

Caves, bro! There's caves! For no great reason, we decided to go straight north toward Carlsbad Caverns. I wanted to suspend our relationship with Texas, and it seemed like crossing a fake line in a desert might help turn a page - where the same paragraph would be continued, and the story would go on. Double spaced or single, the story is the same, and the only thing at the border is a colorful sign. I'm not saying you don't point to the sign and read it aloud with an air of excitement - you do - I'm just making more fun of humans and myself, and trying to point out how absolutely silly almost every single thing we do is. The only danger is in taking anything seriously, or acting upon the wishes or momentum set forth by any unfortunately serious humans who came before us. Sometimes it's hard to keep all of this straight. That's why I keep taking these notes.

Just before reaching Sanderson Texas, Kristin relayed the sad news from her phone that all the flappy bats had already headed to Mexico for the winter. Sounds nice. They don't need passports. (This will change by 2025, when we finally install nets on top of a big stupid wall.)

We continued toward Carlsbad anyway, because at least there's still a big cave to tromp around in. 

Sanderson Texas is great. The charm whacks you over the head out of nowhere. We went to about three places there, and everybody kept getting nicer as we went. Now I need to send more Christmas cards. The guy at the gift shop was so friendly that I felt compelled to buy a giant rainbow-colored sock monkey. He countered by throwing in a free poster, which I was friendly enough to accept with a smile, knowing fully that I'd have to toss it as soon as we got out of town.

Sanderson Texas. They have friendly people... and snakes. It is among the prettiest places I've seen, which might be helped along because I'm sorta color blind. But even for people who can see the whole normal human spectrum of colors, this place has gotta look great. Snake hunters love it, too, and they're definitely completely normal and trustable. If you can't trust my judgement, at least you can trust a snakeman's.

The desert kept being sunny. I find it astounding that the temperature is creeping into the 60's at best, but inside the car feels like I'm getting roasted. A spare square of dark window tint material has been mitigating this circumstance nicely. I recommend it.

Evening arrived as we got closer to Carlsbad. I know this because the sun started losing its heat, and I started mumbling about the fucked up nature of simple human truths. That I can't camp wherever I want and everything is expensive becomes increasingly frustrating toward nighttime. If I didn't eventually pass out, I'd end up kicking something pretty hard.

Everything works out. I cussed around about camping and idiots until Kristin found a drive-in movie and I found an absolutely fantastic place to park underneath trillions of stars. Why do I forget that I am fully invincible? Why is it a daily ritual to decry the exact way everything just plain is? I'll have to examine this while I practice: Shutting. The. Fuck. Up.

To be serious, though, we slept in one hell of a beautiful spot. It was a few miles off the highway in the "Cottonwood Day Use Area." Signs claimed "no camping," but that must have been a mistake. There was definitely camping there - no problem - and I think somebody should fix the sign.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Traversing Texas from Austin to Del Rio (Day 11)

We spent the morning finishing up our business in Austin. The sun returned with no undue obstructions, and I felt prematurely antsy to continue any vehicular trajectory. So far we've had the benefit of solid destinations. There has been a short list of places to definitely be. The list contains more, but there is a great distance to cover before we get to them. We have a wide desert to traverse.

We said our goodbyes, probably a day too soon, and headed west. Breakfast tacos are everywhere, and moods and excitement soared as we set out to... something.

With no particular goals or plans, we went west and south in the general direction of California, but also Mexico, and a whole long stretch of empty roads, dirt, and Texas. Toward evening I needed gas, which is about the most exciting thing to happen since meeting the cute little bunnies this morning back in Austin. (There was a farm with bunnies next door.)

We ended up needing somewhere to sleep, and having no idea where to do that. This was to become a recurring theme. But humans don't stay awake forever - naturally you just get more tired and start to care less and less where you sleep or who might notice.

Late into the night, I took a right turn where a sign claimed a boat ramp was. Good enough. I cruised down the road toward less and less of anything, and we ended up where there was almost nothing. We ended in an empty parking lot next to a nearly empty lake. Not a hot attraction this time of year, I guess. Perfect for us.

Everything out; everything in. Supercar entered sleepmode for another night of reasonably decent slumber. We woke up as soon as the sun brought the temperature back above forty degrees. We looked around ourselves on a map, and found an IHOP and a gas station in the sprawling question mark of Del Rio, Texas.

That'll do.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Austin Texas (Day 10)

The weather must be the number one variable deciding whether I am happy or sad. It must be. With sun, anything seems possible. With gray overhead, despair creeps through the caulking.

The sky remained gray, and a cold misty day permeated. I stepped on Kristin's feelings, and it made more difficulty than anything is ever worth. Arguments at these times are pointless. There is nothing to be resolved, because everything is almost exactly perfect. Further, discontent is a predictable ingredient in everybody's life, and I think it should be ignored and abhorred if the fundamentals are tidy and in place. You can assume my foot is in my mouth and I'm kicking my own teeth. Let me smolder of my own accord, and by the time I get back from the library, the fire will be out.

By the time I returned from the library, the sun had set, and the misty day was in the past. Toward evening we all convened at George's. I suspect George is calm and well mannered at all times. I can't picture him raising a voice or a hand. He sits on a low pedestal; a humble archetype. Future humans should take notes, and everything will be okay.

I think highly of him.

In every square foot of living space, I see something that demands an answer. For example, I have twenty six questions about the sliding doors. I understand the inline skate wheels, but why isn't there a track on the floor? You don't need one? How did you know that? And the angle iron up top is enough to keep it all in place? How the F did you know that?

The house is better than anything I've seen on the TinyHouseBlog. If HGTV finds out, they're going to offer him a show.

Above everything, and most important, I'm relieved to have George's number. He's a friend, resource, and inspiration. I love his boyfriend, who reminds me a little bit of myself at 26, and a lot of Kristin circa now. We have strangely symmetrical relationships, in fact. Bizarrely. I peppered George with too few questions and talked on about bicycles while Kristin chatted up Matt about acrylic nails and/or app games or some such nonsense.

I had a lovely evening, and another fine night in the four-cylinder Automate Stepvan which I researched immediately upon entering the library. (It's the ultimate vehicle. How did he do that?)

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Getting into Austin Texas (Day 9)

We woke up at a HoJo's a couple hundred miles closer to Texas. Gray skies, and a whole lotta fuggit. I tried to repair a damaged morning by pulling over to gawk at some five-pound gummy bears. We got some late-morning candy and tried to wait calmly for conditions to improve.

Westward. Texas next. We entered the battered dusty roads and asserted our right to drive amongst trucks. A big road gave way to a smaller one, and toward evening we had that road mostly to ourselves. The situation was improved, and soon it got many times better.

I've been typing back and forth to George ever since I moved to Key West in a box truck. I don't know how he found out I exist, but my self-published log of activities garnered his notice. He's been kind enough to wave his hand and confirm that similar minds exist. Over the last years he has checked in on occasion. I'm always happy to get word - our lives are following a similar path, and I am lucky to share thoughts with someone who has a knack for validating my existence and putting my heart in a calmer state of ease. George is one of the good people who confirmed to me that people are great. Even as I gain cynicism with age, I am relieved to share the Earth with him. He is one of my people. I'm glad I looked, and most gladdest we finally had occasion to meet.

Big hugs! Okay, a somewhat tentative greeting squeeze. The first order is to reconcile the human with the paragraphs you've shared. Pretty quickly, I saw that he was who he said he was, and I was happy to get the opportunity to solidify our knowledge of one another.

George built a tiny house. He built a sauna. He built other structures, and a satellite dish is used as a roof on more than half of them. I forgot to mention that he is a genius.

We were invited to sauna with some Austin weirdos. I've never been in a room so hot. A dim strip of LEDs greet you as you enter through a round door into a cylinder that will cook you. Pallet wood feeds a stove with a pipe glowing red hot. When you can't take any more, you fall back out the door and rinse off under the outdoor shower. You start again. And repeat.

Me and Kristin sauna'd with folks and I felt cleaner than if I'd been gone over with a pressure washer. Egad, I need a sauna like that.

Me and my girls slept in George's truck. I could talk about this truck forever, but instead I'll just say it had a bed. And also everything else you might ever need. He's lived in it for more than ten years... (!?!) Well, now he owns a house in Austin that he rents out, and has a tiny house in the backyard that he built, and lives in, and the truck has a docking port to connect to the house as an extension, and you can move seamlessly between the two, and holy cow is it awesome.

What does this guy find interesting about me? Everything I aspire to, he's already accomplished with aplomb. Maybe I'm like the bumbly younger brother and he's just hoping for the best. I slept great in the truck I've known about for years. I got a comfortable sleep in a step van, connected to a tiny house, next door to a sauna, sharing a yard with other eclectic and artistic structures built by a guy who lives simply and only works at will.

Not shabby at all. I have some work to do.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Horsing Around in New Orleans (Day 8)

We woke up in our pricey rented tent, and began the long process of getting everything back into a car. Loading snakes back in the can. There is a lot to see in this city, and it wasn't terribly clear where to start. I'm not a Professor of Tourist Destinations, so we decided to get on some bikes and just see what happens.

Cruising around with a dog is always nearly an issue, but a real problem has not yet developed. We didn't plan ahead for any way to get Daisy to join us on bicycles, but I managed to work it out with no great difficulty. I have a pannier along. I stuffed a sleeping bag and jacket in the bottom, and Daisy was able to peer out the top. We rigged up a system of straps and a binder clip, and we were on our way to town with a tiny dog riding sidecar.

People write whole books about what to do in New Orleans. I didn't write any of those books, and I didn't read one either. It's more my style to just show up and loaf around a bit. Walk in some circles and peer around corners. Maybe turn over a stone in the process.

Finally, the temperature was rising. My winter-addled attitude began to improve in earnest. Cruising at nine miles an hour with my girls - a waft of air billowed memories of Key West into my nozzle, and I felt genuinely happier and more at ease than I can remember. Here I am. I'm on vacation and I'm getting away with something. I'm late to work, or I quit my job. I'm skipping school, and I snuck into the movie theater. I don't need to be anywhere at any time. My life philosophy is to aim for an existence of wasting time with impunity. For this moment I've attained it. I'm wearing shorts. Everything is a-ok.

We got beignets at the famous place that sells them. We walked around the ancient crumbly cemetery, and watched some great busking feat. three trombones, a banjo, a sousaphone (thank god) and at least a guitar or two. A repertoire of predictable classics, served saucy and loose. Tons of people want your money. Every other person in New Orleans wants to get your dollar bill. Some people want to buy booze, and others promise they won't. Some claim hunger, and others seek compensation for performance. It's all great. It's all good enough.

I could move here easy - I could see myself quitting the north and posting up here with cheap rent and loud music. To call the atmosphere relaxed doesn't quite cover it.

I could stay forever, or continue down the road. We made a half-hearted attempt to find a couch to surf on, but ultimately decided to revisit this place another time. Cooler temperatures were forecast, and the road to California is a long one. We have business to attend to. Matters of the highway...

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Tuskegee to New Orleans. (Day 7)

I could have been warmer last night, but I've slept a lot worse. With practice, I could adapt. In the present tense, sleeping in the car felt like an experiment, and we got a passing grade. We packed up again as the sun began to rise.

Sneaking a dog into the Waffle House. She must have been thinking this one up in advance, because "it was my phone" was quick to Kristin's lips when a sharp woof came out of her big funny purse. Luckily, there were no further woofs or questions.

New Orleans!

We got an Air BnB that you'd have to see to believe. Someone in the Bywater section - two miles from the French Quarter - is renting out a backyard tent for $30 per night. Thirty bucks for a tent seemed to be pushing it, but throw in a shower and a yard to keep a dog, and it was in the right neighborhood in both price and location. An orange extension cord wound through the yard and into the tent. Okay, fine, it's a deal. Oh, wait... a $9 cleaning fee? Fuck it. Just charge me and let's get this over with.

Me and Kristin had a great time. We wandered around the French Quarter, loafed around on Bourbon Street, and ended up sharing one hell of a dressed up hot dog. Let me tell you, there was a whole slice of pickle laid down under the hot dog, and yes I'd eat one again.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Waynesville NC to Tuskegee Alabama. (Day 6)

We were in this town just long enough. We wanted to strike out before comfort made us permanent citizens.

Our experiment to work while traveling worked just well enough. 
1) I forgot the Macbook charger. 
2) A fucked up battery in the suitcase scale threw a second wrench into the works. 

I'm glad our pre-trip efforts continue to earn an eye-opening yield, but I'm more gladder that our way will be paid whether we decide to work more or not at all. We're golden.

I discovered that my hiking pack plan is not as good as I thought. A shame, because one bag each sounded so smart. In practice, however, our packs are the size of the front seats. They are much less jam-to-the-side-able than in my imagination. Tape measures and trial runs are better tools of discovery, but I've been blessed with a brain that runs out in first gear. HIKING PAAACKS! WE'LL BE INVINCIBLE GENIUSES!!!

We have a dozen of those cheap re-useable shopping bags along with us. To carry books. I shifted my luggage to a few of those, and the load is so much more manageable I had no choice but to feel sheepish. Smaller bags open up much better stuffing opportunities when the car is in sleepmode. You can't jam a pack the size of bigfoot's torso down by the pedals - but two soft bags of clothes will fit right in. Better system. Much better.

After what felt like hours, we managed to extract ourselves 'n' stuff from Evan's family's beautiful home, and squeeze back into Supercar to crawl back down the road. We stopped at a library to print shipping labels, and a UPS drop point to unload two medium boxes of books. Then south.

Mountains became gentle, and soon Alabama was upon us. 

The most exciting thing to happen on the road was an Iron Skillet. If you're not in the know, "Iron" is pronounced "Arn," much like the "Harne" in "Chrisharne." It's a truck stop restaurant. You get a coffee, and it comes with a little refill carafe. They didn't read your mind - they do that for everyone. Then what you do is walk up to the food pile. They have little iron plates with skillet handles, and you make a vertical mess of chicken, pork, potatoes and gravy. You add the cornbread as a fluffy sort of ballast for the trip back to your seat.

If I didn't have a blog, I'd keep my mouth well shut about the Iron Skillet. It feels like a shameful pleasure, but I love the place. I love that there's a reserved area for truck drivers. Us car people are quarantined to the perimeter, and there is a special paddock for the big guys. They sit twenty feet closer to the pile and jaw about matters of the highway. For my part, I gaze out at a Shell station or similar. The sun sets, and it's not so beautiful as it is just plain different. My heart fills with reverence and satisfaction. For dessert there's pudding, and also mousse which is actually just another pudding. I could go on...

The Tuskegee National Forest is where we were headed. The government owns some trees almost exactly halfway between where we woke up and where we'd like to be. I found a chart of GPS coordinates for free camping sites there. 

Finding a camping spot at night sucks. The main reason for this is that humans can't see in the fucking dark. A personal sub-reason is that I get more irritable after dark whenever I'm pressed to actually let my dull senses communicate with my brain. The electrical synapses slow down. Sensory inputs weave curiously about like a scuba diver in potato soup. Questions get capitalized. WHERE? and WHAT?? and especially the ever-present WHY??? 

The temperature dropped to 25 degrees. We pulled onto some dirt doubletrack. Soon, I had to weave around soft spots to keep from bottoming out. I wanted to avoid the potentially murderous hillbillies in pickups, of which there were several, and eventually I just found some grass to drive onto. Everything out; everything in. We switched Supercar to sleepmode, and at the end of musical chairs, the only guy left out was Kristin's hiking pack. I tossed it on the roof while we slept. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Asheville, NC: something to see. (Day 5)

Today, we went to Asheville, about 30 minutes up the road. Asheville gets good grades for being a place that people like to be. There is youth and activity. Culture and hippie type people. Cool folks in affordable housing.

The Winters of My Discontent: 

I'm always thinking about where to end up, because I have a constant sneaking feeling that I should try to do better than southeast Pennsylvania. My friends and family are in PA, but my people are spread out everywhere in a thin layer, and I haven't met them all yet.

I'd live forever in Pennsylvania if not for the goddamn winter. The humidity in the summer is no prize, but it's the winter's balls I'd really like to step on. I'd like to stay close to family and see my nephew increase in size and start saying more and more words and sentences. When known friends do something, I'd like to be able to join in. But the cold. It has me sad, and I'm always thinking about how the sun shines in other places. While Pennsylvania is getting snowed on from a vast impermeable blanket, other sections of these same United States are getting absolutely battered by sunlight. Other areas have so much sun it seems selfish. And the kicker, to me, is that when I visit these places, the people are happier and friendlier as well. Aside from not being born there, those places are better.

I think humans are almost certainly insane to stay somewhere worse with anything less than iron cuffs keeping them in place. I hate wearing invisible shackles, and it depresses me when I lose the motivation to at least thrash around furiously.

I have a list of better places in mind, and I'd like to figure out if I should move somewhere or toss the list. Maybe it would be better to just travel for the winter. Maybe I should just go on anti-depressants for a few months every year. I almost wish for fewer options, because the wealth of opportunity and possibility make my mind feel drawn and quartered.

Asheville is a nice place with affordable rent, but it's not warm enough. It's not quite good enough to give up on Pennsylvania. We visited at a particularly cold time, today, and it put a damper on my willingness to wander around. I'd say we got an essence of Asheville. I'd like to return during a warmer month, but I doubt this is where I will stake my flag. 

The Asheville Pinball Museum: 

The Pinball Museum was fun. I'm not a pinball guy, but I like looking at stuff, and I can be entertained adequately by pushing a button. We paid $10 for unlimited play. The machines are all rigged with a start button, so once you pay to get in, all the flippering is free. Good thing, too. My quarter would not go a long way, since pinball - I am ashamed to admit - actually confuses me about as much as school and everything else since. But like everything else, pinball doesn't matter much, and I was especially amused by the giant machine that uses an 8-Ball and has giant clicky flippers to match the larger scale. I like the art and the flashing lights. I couldn't tell you a damn thing about scoring norms or what to do besides just try to swat at the ball. In that way, it's a lot like sports.

Asheville? Looks pretty good, and you can definitely ride a bike there. I left off one star for still being so goddamn cold. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Day 4: Waynesville Again

You never see it coming. I haven't forgotten a can of soda in the freezer since I was a kid. I am only vaguely aware of the consequences, and never on the lookout.

BOOM BOOM BOOM!

The temperature dropped to a single degree last night. While we were inside by a fire, three cans of pop split open and went everywhere. I had them spread out in every possible section of the car. Once the aftermath was discovered, it took about a half hour off of my life. Everything out; everything in. I used an ice scraper inside the car to shovel frozen bits around. "Good enough."

Aside from Soda-Debacle 2015, it was a fairly lazy day. Evan went to work - snowboard instructing - and Kristin and I got moving some time in the afternoon. We hit the thrift stores in town and came back with some books. Easy.

Our plan is to buy books while we're traveling and ship them in to our account along the way. That's the plan, but we really don't have to. Our sales accounts are going like gangbusters, and we could probably pay for this whole trip twice by now. I'm not bragging about having money - that sort of thing goes in waves - but for the first time in a long time, I don't feel like the bottom might fall out of the bag.

I'm keeping an eye on the United States, and the story is the same for a great distance in every direction. Cold. New Orleans looks manageable, and the sparse expanses of southeastern California desert seem to reach the 70's consistently. Soon we will go there. I am ready to don some shorts and scrape my kicks through dirty sand.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Day 3: Waynesville, North Carolina

I found out I am no longer strong. I layered my clothing appropriately, and prepared to ride with Evan to the top of the mountain on which his parents' home sits. The steepness and elevation reduced me to paste. Almost immediately my feet returned to the pavement. Leaning on handlebars, I practically crawled forward. Evan's feet stayed planted on pedals, and he kept pulling wheelies and bouncing around me as I suffered. I returned to the saddle only for short bouts and made it to the summit only because quitting would be worse.

The top! We reached the top, and the cold air froze me. The wind managed to worsen the sting, and my mind drifted ahead to climes further south. Fast! Descending was easy. My windbreaker flapped like a helicopter, and moisture pressed to the corners of my eyes as I squinted and squeezed the brakes. For his part, Evan left the pavement abruptly and bombed across an open grassy field to reconnect to pavement 600 feet lower. I honked on my brakes the whole way down and felt far from stellar upon arrival. This felt much different than dropping off the back of the Rocky Mountains years ago. This time the mountains put me in my place, and I could not pretend it was the other way around.

Evan's mother is a fantastic example of a happy human with her ducks in a row. She welcomed us warmly to her home. Large comfortable chairs are arranged around a centrally-located fireplace, and a wall of windows overlooks the valley and Waynesville below. Healthy food and a large pot of coffee round out the mountain atmosphere. Many aspects of decor are handcarved and homemade by generations of this crafty and capable family. If this wasn't enough, there is a tiny chihuahua here, so we don't need to excuse any aspect of Daisy's doggish nature. This home is calm and complete.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Horseabout '15 Day Two: Arlington, VA to Waynesville, NC

We woke to snow and children. Papa Smith was inside the beltway by 7am, but for Kristin's nieces the day held play and leisure. Good kids. They LOVE Daisy! I had two slow coffees and calmly marveled at the wide couch which found its way underneath me. None of this was in the plan, and I took great pleasure in letting events unfold without any prodding or manipulation on my part. I stretched and soaked it in until our early afternoon departure. 

We swept two inches of snow from the car and said goodbye to the girls. It was time to make space between our adventure and the continued congestion of the northern half of the east coast. 

Errands. We had to stop to get a sketchpad for Kristin. It is vitally important to have any art materials she fancies. If there is a comic or a drawing inside of her mind, I want to do everything in my power to facilitate its emergence on paper or a screen. Then we were hungry.

Daisy is a four-point-eight pound chihuahua-poodle mix. She is a tiny orange dog with straight wiry hairs, energy, and confusion. She can remain in nap-mode for a very long stretch, but is ready to rise when a destination is met: friendly and curious. She is the best dog. Her strength is being adorable, and it amazes me from time to time that the mileage she gets from this seems infinite. Sometimes she seems feeble and unaware, but other times I suspect she is a master of manipulation. 

A tiny dog is a probable inconvenience when the mission is to adventure in a sub-compact car. When time is infinite and home is a car, it is preferable to spend many hours in public spaces which may not permit dogs. Stealth to the rescue. We have a dog-carrying bag the size of a large purse. It has stiff sides, and a glossy interior which is easy to clean. There is a window of mesh at each end, and a long thin zippered top. It can be used as a convertible with a tiny dog head popping out the top, or it can be used stealthily with a fully enclosed dog. 

We could have brought burritos back to the car, but instead we decided to experiment with stealth mode. With Daisy comfortably resting on a fleece blanket inside an enclosed dog bag, we entered Chipotle. I took a booth toward the back, and we had a pleasant lunch with a well behaved dog sitting silently with us inside a restaurant. This looks promising.

Afternoon threatened to rush into evening, and I was anxious to tick down the many hours of driving ahead. Back on the highway, I took 10mg of Adderall, and for at least five hours I was a happy machine at the controls. 

Our small 1.3L engine bogged down on the long mountain ascents of Virginia and North Carolina. We reached 65 and 70 miles per hour downhill, but got stuck as low as 45 going up. I followed mostly behind trucks in the right lane, and together we kept a special pace - us for lack of power, they for the great weight of cargo in transit. 

I love my Festiva. It is as bare bones as a car can be. It does not have a single feature, save for one: cruise control. Not even a hubcap was provided when the car was brand new. This Festiva was designed by Mazda, and built by KIA in South Korea. It was then shipped to the United States and stamped "Ford." It is the first car made by KIA for the US market, and it has a reputation as a can-do vehicle. Proud owners boast of half a million miles with no major repairs. My car has just over 87,000 miles, and a long list of new parts installed by my mechanic friend and spiritual adviser, Gary, whose temperament and values I greatly admire.

This is not luxury. The ride is loud. There is a radio, but no aux jack, and not even a tape deck. Two tiny tired 4" speakers can blast barely above the din. Listening to a podcast through a small portable speaker is possible if the levels were set high when the program was produced. If not, you strain to listen. This is not luxury, but I am confident that we can go anywhere. The aim is for shorter distances and more time to explore and absorb. 

It got late. Google Maps on my phone projected an arrival time of midnight, and I informed our friend Evan up ahead. He is in Waynesville, a short toss past Asheville, and we are welcome, he says, to stay as long as we want. At 12:30am, we left the highway and reached a true mountain climb. I pulled the stick back to second as we crawled slowly upward. We arrived at an absolute chateau overlooking the lights of downtown Waynesville. The night was crisp and cold in the neighborhood of 25 degrees. Two texts, a call, and some light taps on the front door produced no results. 

To avoid any possibility of rudeness or the untoward, I suggested we arrange the Festiva in sleepmode. We would need to test these waters soon, and a clear driveway in the mountains seemed to me the perfect proving grounds. Everything out; everything in. I removed our bags, and arranged our bed-plywood over the stiffener T's which rest on the fully-reclined seats. I tossed in two lengths of memory foam, and poked our luggage and belongings anywhere they would go. Next came the sleeping bags, and following that, us. We were snuggled and comfortable - what a relief - when a light tapping got our attention twenty minutes later.

Evan! He fell asleep on the couch, as I suspected, and apologized far too many times. We shifted inside to a guestroom and stayed up for another hour chatting excitedly and catching up on what's going on.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Winter Horseabout '15 Day One: Kennett Square to Arlington Virginia

And so it begins. 

Procrastination pushed back departure, but now we are squarely on the road. Two people and a tiny dog. Toward California by way of Asheville, New Orleans, Austin, and wherever else. The plan is to sleep in my car, or in a tent. The goal is to escape the coldest section of winter.

The past three days have been filled with preparation that would have been easier spread over the course of a month. I applied dark tint film on the hatch window and the back side windows of the Festiva. The tint is as dark as commercially available, and of a removable variety. The film attaches by static electricity, and my installation was careful and satisfying. You can't see much through the tinted windows, and it would be very illegal and dangerous to apply it to the front two windows or windshield. I cut another section of tint film to fit the passenger front window, but that piece will only be applied when we're in stealth sleep mode. I used scraps to apply a long strip along the top of the windshield, and toward evening it proved a great boon. Life rules.

We packed our final bags, and finally we began to pack the car. Kristin and I each have a hiking pack with our personal clothes and belongings. Additionally, we have a bicycle pannier with our kitchen and tools. Another small box contains our book buying equipment and electronics - carefully protected by sections cut from USPS Priority Mail bubble envelopes. Our label printer and bluetooth barcode scanners are snug as a bug. Two bicycles hang off the back, working to make the Festiva look even smaller. Heaven.

Ma and Pa Harne saw us off with hugs and a couple 'before' photos in the driveway. The last member of the expedition, Daisy, joined us in her fancy little dog bag, and we were off. Our 12" wheels rolled past the crack separating the driveway from reality. I shifted to second, and in a moment to third, and we were off. The clock is running on our horseabout, and for now I only want to let it run forever. We will be back, but I feel no pressure to make it soon. Each mile south and west is another separating us from the jaws of winter malaise. We are cruising toward a better type of questionmark; into a misty realm I much prefer.

But we weren't in the right direction yet. First, we were to swoop into Philadelphia and emerge with favors. We will be staying with friends in Asheville, two days hence, and with us we will bring dried mushrooms and a bicycle pump. We took time to chat with my friend in Philadelphia. He is renovating a house in deep West Philly and growing mushrooms on the side. I am happy to fill a request and catch up with a buddy. And now we are truly off...

... Miles pass beneath us, but not until we are south of where we live do I let the progress feel earned. The sun was replaced by a giant blood moon, and in the cold night I became a robotic shepherd over the controls. 

I don't know how we're going to sleep in this car. At a glance, the smart money would bet against it. Packs and bags and even a box or two... they all seem so much softer and smaller in my pre-trip imagination. There's no good reason we didn't test this a month ago. C'est la vie - it's just not how we be. 

At about 10:30pm I could have driven all night, but thought it much more inviting to pull over somewhere for sleep mode. As it turned out, we were only 20 minutes from Kristin's sister's house outside of D.C. - so we went there instead.

"Sorry we're a couple of weirdos," Kristin said; hugging Susie, who as luck would have it did not yet go to sleep. A guest room was waiting before we even asked, and we'll know what happens next tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Goodbye 2014

We're leaving soon. A few days to tie up loose ends should be all that's needed. I'll get my two backpacking packs out, and we'll fill them with a little bit of clothing and a few provisions. We'll invite the tiny dog to hop in the car with us, and we'll be outta here. Good riddance to the cold underbelly of the northeastern United States, and good riddance to 2014.

2014 was a necessary year. I view it as a stepping stone to better years ahead, and with that mindset I'm right on track. I built a house. Not the best one, but I'm looking at it right now, and I'm pleased. It's more of a toasty little hangout fort, and if you think of it that way, the whole project was a huge success. So I'll look at it that way. I'd say I got engaged, but that was actually 2013. In 2014, I had mental battles. My cynicism has cranked up a notch, and I continue to struggle with knowing where my place is on Earth. As my personal philosophies twist and cant, I recognize that my fears and frustrations are tailor made for my age. Once again, I'm right on track.

Business is good. As I reported on November 7th, a period of low output led us to a disappointing income. We ramped up our efforts considerably, and that situation seems to be greatly improved. I can't predict the future 100%, but I'd say we're in a good position to drive around with little aim for a couple months. I'm ready to begin.

2015 will begin with an adventure. Following that will be a marriage. Kristin and Daisy and I will also move out of Kennett Square and begin to work toward new future goals.

3...2...1...

Friday, November 7, 2014

Departure Date vs. Money

This next Amazon payout looks like it's going to suck. Our payouts haven't gone below $1,000 for awhile now. We've been getting about $1,200 to $1,500 every two weeks pretty consistently. That's what we're grossing before expenses. It's been good, but not great. Part of our comfort at this income level is because we aren't paying rent, and we will hopefully never have car payments. Well. The next payment is scheduled for the 8th, and it's just creeping over $600. Not so good.

We might push back our unscheduled-anyway departure date to save some more money. I have some meager savings, but I'm also trying to feed my Roth IRA, and I don't want to rob my own coffee can to pay for gas and food. I also have my van up for sale on Craigslist, and it would be nice to get that dealt with before leaving. (Anybody need a van for $900?)

I got an email from George, who has been reading this blog sometimes ever since the first time I went to Key West and was living in the aforementioned van. He said he's headed down to Austin TX soon and we're welcome to visit him at the living structure he's built that has a docking port for the step van that he's been living in for years. (Did I mention that this man is awesome?) Well, I don't have much of a clue what I'm doing on this trip I keep talking about, so stopping by Austin on our way to California sounds like a concrete idea. After exchanging some emails throughout time, it'd be great to finally meet more good humans and see what they're horsing around with.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Preparation for Ford Festiva Winter Adventure 2014-2015.

The time to leave is getting near. The Ford Festiva will pull away from PA, and we'll be off exploring and wasting time. There is still preparation to be done before we leave, and procrastination has left a to-do list with too few checkmarks. As our departure draws near, I'm happy to report that a couple items can now be removed from the list.

Item number one: seatbelts. When I bought the Festiva, the passenger side shoulder belt was missing the clip that attaches the webbing to the track for the automatic seatbelt. I called junkyards and checked with online auto part finder services. The part was not nearly as easy to find as I anticipated. After posting for the second time on the fordfestiva.com forums, somebody was kind enough to send me the clip. For free. It showed up in an empty cigarette box stuffed in an envelope. Sometimes life is awesome.

So I got the clip. Today, I found somebody to sew it back onto the webbing. I learned from the internet that shoe repair shops have the necessary heavy duty sewing machines for the job. Also, auto upholstery shops may be able to help. I called some places. Some would take over a week, and another couldn't offer an estimate over the phone. "I just want a ballpark," I said. "$5 or $500?" He couldn't guess within $100, so I decided that an hour round trip drive was not in the works. I called another number, and a friendly hometown Mexican guy told me that his shop was now closed, but he had the sewing machine in his house. He could meet me at the Italian American club in five minutes. I drove over. I showed him the seatbelts, which I'd unbolted from the Festiva, and he said he could have them ready in a few hours. Sure enough, a few hours later I had the sewn-up seatbelts bolted back in place. $20. Sometimes life is awesome.


One bolt to remove and install. Simple.

Item number two: sleeping arrangements. Previously, I had what I thought was a good sleeping system. With the back seat removed, and a platform built in the cargo area, I laid out some memory foam and thought I had a comfortable scenario. When I tested it for a night of sleep, I found it was not as good as I thought. My body sank into the seat too much, which left me feeling like I was tilted uphill too much. My top half rested on a table, as my lower half bent down at an angle. I made it through the night, but it would be hard to get used to this.

Today, I cut some 2x3's and 3/8" plywood to make a platform extension which fits over the front seats when they are fully reclined. Much, much, better. The seat platforms are fairly even and level with the cargo area platform, and when I tested it out, it felt truly flat and level. Comfortable, in fact. Kristin and I both laid down in the car, and Daisy joined us. Yes - I believe the two of us and our tiny dog will sleep fairly comfortably in a Ford Festiva.

I still need to prepare a few things. I would like to add cheap window tint, and get a windshield cover for added privacy. A system of curtains may also be in order.

The looming to-do's are being tackled, and soon we will leave. I am hoping for the best. An adventure to remember.


2x3 support cross; toe nailed joint (drywall screws)

3/8" plywood

Memory foam over all that.

Level surface for happy sleeping. Kaboom.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Certain Improvement of Circumstance

I started taking another pill. It's supposed to help with Seasonal Affective Disorder. I've always hesitated to take any medication for anything. A headache would have to be pretty bad before I'd consider an Aspirin for it. None of that stopped me from fairly heavy drinking throughout my 20's, which ironically was largely about self-medication of all the underlying unrest that I was so hesitant to take meds for. That's how I've come to see it anyway. That's my current mental framework.

Anxiety, ADHD, Seasonal Affective Disorder. It's a lot to overcome for a guy whose self image is that of a happy-happy goofball. I used to handle all those brain issues better before I was an adult. Before I was 18, I couldn't very well move to escape the malaise and discontent brought on by winter. ADHD was no problem, because I could easily scrape by in school. My aim was only to get my diploma, and I could do that in my sleep. I basically did. With my life laid out in front of me, and little choice about where to live or work, the anxiety issues were not as pronounced as they would later become.

In my 20's I began to have choices. ADHD is absolute hell when you have an office job. It is absolute hell to be employed doing anything I do not have a personal stake in. Seasonal Affective Disorder raised questions - like WHY AM I STILL HERE THEN? Meanwhile, I drank and drank and drank. I told myself I was young, and young men drink. I always knew it was bad practice, and I often thought I would have trouble hitting the brakes. At 29, I quit. Three years have passed.

I used to think humans were good. In aggregate, I thought there was more natural good, and that time and science would lead humans to repairing the damage that we do to each other and to the Earth. I no longer believe this. I think that view is naive. It's a nice story that we all use to justify our existence and make ourselves feel better. The truth, I believe now, is not uplifting. Humans are an invasive species. We are the greatest threat to our own planet, and almost every activity we engage in feeds a system of greater overwhelming destruction. I believe this, and somehow I have to be okay with this.

The sun is setting earlier every day. The fall weather is beautiful, and still I feel the deep rattle of uncertainty creeping over me. People take drugs for this. As I said in my opening, I've always been resistant to those medications, but now I am ready to reevaluate. I started taking something for Seasonal Affective Disorder, and so far it's a success. I feel like myself. Everything will be fine. I don't have to do a damn thing in life, I am basically powerless to fix our species' greatest problems, and for the moment that's okay. I can sit on the sidelines for a minute and think.

I want to take time out to research more philosophy. People have had all sorts of disturbing thoughts and theories about the Big Questions of life. I'm ignorant of the bulk of philosophical thought, and I think I have a lot to gain by exploring the questions and theories of the smarter people before me. I need to take time to sort my own life out before I can help others the way I have always wanted to. Somehow.

My views on life and Earth and god and humans have been evolving rapidly over the past three or four years. I've spent too much time rolling my eyes at myself. I've felt too disappointed that my species isn't as great as I used to believe it might be. None of that is the critical matter at hand. I have to continue in a straight line forward through time. Time will not speed up or slow down, so I am tasked with the mission of learning how I can pass my time with the smallest amount of suffering. I am better when I am positive. Happiness and positive thinking is healthy for me from a selfish perspective, but that same positive attitude is a necessary platform if I ever want to help others. I want to be the buoy; not the anchor.

Today, I am well. The leaves are half fallen, and the leaves remaining on the trees create a beautiful filter for the gentle fall sun. I have every ingredient I need for a satisfied life, and most of the work is either complete or under way. Everything is fine, and the future holds an almost certain improvement of circumstance.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

5,000 Miles on a 3-Speed. (Why not?)

I made a personal goal, and I'm posting this post to hold myself publicly accountable.

The Goal:
I will ride my 3-Speed equipped road bicycle 5,000 miles by the time I turn 35.

The Purpose:
To stave off general lethargy with positive activity.

Difficulty Level:
Easy!*

Associated Blog:
5ksa.wordpress.com**

*But much harder if procrastination becomes a factor, which it almost definitely will.
**Because I need a dedicated blog for every aspect and detail of my life.

p.s.: I'm about to turn 32 on November 1st.