Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Bumper To Spike

Today we parked near a cactus. Not notable aside from the height, majesty, and type. I went nearly bumper-to-spike with a tall saguaro cactus that would have done the Looney Tunes proud.



Monday, May 23, 2016

Prescott Arizona

Prescott Arizona has a scenic and shaded town square. The blocks which surround it are the typical niche and kitsch. Everyone wants to out-cute each other in a bid to end up with your money. I don't have the space-time to continue'em.

Special olive oils, ice creams, and a lot of cowboy pow-pow. Not now. I sat on two benches while Kristin brought me an iced cream and an espresso to cheer me up. The first bench was in the shade - I practically froze to death. My book and I then moved into the sunlight, where the blood beneath my skin practically boiled.

After a rest n' read, I was prepared to proceed. We drove five miles in fifteen minutes, and ended up on top of a mountain. We put the van in park on a rare spot of flat land. We had privacy, and a place to watch the sun disappear.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

What a lucky pack we are.

FreeCampsites.net   ---   It keeps working.

You might as well drop what you're doing, because living in a van is better than your house. Well, there is of course the whole pooping at McDonalds aspect, but oh! the views!

We went to sleep in a parking lot for a trailhead in the desert. Ten minutes from downtown Sedona, and twenty minutes after parking the van, we watched the sun drop below a distant mountain.

I lost all my travel notes - which made me absolutely apoplectic - so I am writing this down from memory. I'm regaling with tales from what I remember.

Oh! I sit here in my folding chair with a Chelada Bud practically freezing my hand off. Kristin is cooking spaghetti, and we giggle at our inside jokes. The dogs are grinning. We all know what a lucky pack we are.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Sedona AZ.

We left the pondersa pines, and went into town. I went into the library where I bought two large bags of books. I love this job. Actually, I love this part of the job. Looking at books for hidden gold - which we regularly find - is interesting and rewarding. I find books for me. I found some books about learning Arabic to sell, and a book about what Peace Pilgrim was all about for me to read... and then sell. 

I did due enough diligence, and then we headed to REI. They're having a huge sale, and there is a lot of gear that I want. I looked at many tempting items, but ultimately decided that all I needed was a fork. 75¢. Even with discounts stacked on savings, I am ultimately a frugal dude who doesn't like new items, and would rather build it myself. So no bikes, no bike racks, no cookware, and no chairs that fold into a matchbox. We'll keep rolling with the same crumbs and sand.

I could stay in the woods outside of Flagstaff for another week. The nights are cool, and the pine trees smell like a better version of home. I believe we will be back soon - stay tuned - so we decided to roll south to Sedona.

Sedona! The views keep getting better. Our van keeps being the best. The signs at the lot for free parking tell RVs to go elsewhere. Traveling the country must be hard times behind the wheel of a bus. I am constantly pleased to pull into a standard parking space. Often, we are the biggest thing in the lot - but always we fit.

We opened all four vents - two in the roof, and the two side windows up top. After some testing at all temperatures, I am happy to find that in anything but the most extreme heat, the dogs are cool and comfortable inside the van. And so are we. My worst fear was that the van would be stuffy or stifling, and we would always need to bring the dogs along. Not so - we can wander awhile, and the dogs will be fine. Judy Dog takes the bed, and Daisy falls asleep on whatever happens to be the tallest and softest perch. 

Friday, May 20, 2016

Loafing around on public land. Flagstaff AZ.

None of our pack had much of an agenda today. The keys would not have touched the ignition if our jugs contained enough water. I pooped in a hole that I dug, forestalling the need for a town or toilet.

The slim pine trees are spaced perfectly for hammocks, so I dug mine out from behind some pants. The wind was steady, and the hammock provided a perfect protective break. I could modulate the cool air by increasing or decreasing the size of the opening in my cocoon. 

I read "Mostly Mississippi" - an account of a newlywed couple who travels by shanty boat down the Mississippi River in 1925. Good subject. I alternated between reading and falling asleep.

Eventually, we needed water. Eventually, we wanted supplies.

I turned the key and cruised back to town for dinner ingredients and cheap wine. An hour later, we were right back where we started. Not soon enough.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

BLM land outside of Flagstaff AZ.

Back in BLM territory. Free land to park and sleep. We are parked in the largest continuous ponderosa pine forest in the USA. Judy Dog celebrates this with many fast circles. She follows up by digging a sanctioned hole.

Other vans, trucks, and campers are dispersed in the area. Nobody needs to be parked close to anybody else. Space is abundant. Officially, this is called "dispersed camping" and the name fits. Dispersed camping happens on BLM land where there are no amenities - no picnic tables, no trash cans, no toilets, no fees. You can park somewhere along the winding dirt road - wherever looks good.

We drove down a dirt road slowly. The big van has proven itself. The potholes and washboard sections were nothing compared to what we rolled over outside of Durango. We pulled over when we saw a flat spot, and parked right next to a few trees.

There are supplies nearby. We are two miles from the interstate, and ten minutes from a Walmart downtown. Looking around, you would never know it. Like most BLM land, you can park officially for 14 days.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Free hot shower! Free hot shower!

Free hot shower! Free hot shower!

We are parked six miles west of Holbrook Arizona at a truck stop. The cool night air feels crisp against my damp skin and hair. I pulled open the side door and poked my head in quickly, alerting all occupants.

Judy Dog thinks hot showers are very interesting. Judy is a dog with many interests. Most of what I say is riveting and cause for great excitement!

"If you want a shower, put on your shoes and follow me!"

The sun had set an hour earlier in glorious fashion. We watched the colors change above the desert horizon, between an enormous Popeye's Chicken sign, and the embankment surrounding a truck parking area large enough for big rigs to do a figure 8. We were parked to a far corner of the "cars" area, which is far smaller and completely paved.

Since sunset, I'd been inside several times to survey the scenery. The condiment packets were all by Heinz. The on-site deli's version of a Philly Cheesesteak was discounted by 50% to only three dollars. They should make you sign a waiver. I consumed an ice-brewed can of malarkey, and was now back inside for the restroom.

The restroom was closed now for maintenance, but the nice lady with the cleaning cart told me that the ladies' shower rooms were available for use. It appears they open these as auxiliary restrooms while the main ones are being overhauled. I entered a private bathroom. The lock turned a sign to "occupied" above the doorknob outside. A huge roll of paper towels sat next to various soaps on the sink. Around a corner was a concave section of floor with a shower head above, and a drain below.

I took advantage of this immediately, and then I dried off with a long continuous section of paper towel. I walked out slowly; casually. Crisp and fresh.

I poked my head in the van, and encouraged Kristin to move briskly while the window of opportunity remained open. Kristin got her hot shower too.


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Western Arizona; Navajo Country.

Mesa Verde was worth the ten bucks - take it from a guy who knows the value of a tenner. Take it from a guy who likes to make rice. Mesa Verde? Don't think twice.

I won't go into a history lesson, but I got a good one - take it from a guy who is well versed in shrugging.

After leaving the park, we headed south along smaller roads. All of the roads here are relatively small. Take it from the guy who dealt us legal pot in Durango. His statistic was that Durango has one of the biggest populations of anywhere so distant from any interstate. I don't have hard numbers, but the area is tucked away. This is clear on any map.

We continued south into Arizona. We entered Navajo territory, where the landscape becomes wide in all directions, and cows and horses go wherever they want. Cattle guards span every side road, and the mini marts do not have beer. Dust blows. Trailers and cobbled structures dot the desert; placed as though at random - intriguing but uninviting. The gas station featured a pump with no credit card slot. I do not know why every roof is covered in tires.

The land was vast, and I tired of driving. I slogged the end of our wine, as Kristin took a pull at the wheel. So much space, and we ended up sleeping in a dirt lot adjacent to a Burger King. Local dogs roamed leashless, with no owners in sight. The same was true at the last Burger King, an hour up the road. We were not traveling in circles, but it was late, and it was time to sleep.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Boondocked across from Mesa Verde National Park.

Bureau of Land Management. BLM.

Government owned land is abundant in the west, and dirt roads crisscross and meander through undeveloped territory. Cell service is hit-or-miss, but the views! Oh!

A few days ago, we parked at the top of a mountain. After sunset, the valley turned on its lights, and we admired a view of Christmas in a long dish; twinkling through the Aspens. Another couple arrived, and we stood for ten minutes talking about parking and finding a few reasons to laugh.

Today, we ended again at another patch of dirt. No neighbors. In every direction, there are a dozen RV parks and hotels. People don't gravitate to free parking off a spur along the side of a dirt road. I am baffled at how secret some of these places seem. There is an app for this! There is no fee! Come, be merry, and cook your pot of beans!

Again, Judy Dog gets to sprint in circles with no leash. She can sniff every footprint and tree. No cars and no humans for miles. Again, a small camp stove makes dinner. The volume knob features unrestricted twisting on our tape-deck radio.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

To the sound of the creek, we slept.

Me and Kristin spent most of the day being mad at each other. We ignored opportunities to reconcile until early evening. Rain fell, and then hail. Dirt became mud, and soon Kristin fell too. Dog paws became moccasins of mud, and were wiped on every surface.

I saw a rattlesnake at the same time as Judy Dog, but was too late to keep her from poking it with her nose. In shock, I pulled her back and away, just in time to see that the snake had already had its guts blasted out all over the path before me. Dead snake. That could have gone differently, I thought, as my heart returned to a resting rate.

Van life is perfect according to my Instagram feed. All I see are happy feet photographed out the back of a van with extraordinary scenery in every shot. Malarkey. The other half of the story remains untold. Arguments about cooking or cleaning remain undocumented. Everything isn't always easy. Everything is always, however, better than it was. I feel like moving forward.

Eventually, we agreed to agree. We were in love again, and we were sorry to act like a dick.

Having spent several nights in a parking lot, we decided to mix it up. We checked the FreeCampsites.net app, and located BLM land twenty minutes from town. At the end of a long dirt road, we came to a gate that was slightly wider than the van. The road was no longer maintained, and seemed appropriate for a four wheeler or Jeep. Unwilling to be deterred, I inched our airport-handicap-shuttle-house forward. I steered carefully around craters, and aimed for the obstructions and holes least likely to get us stuck in mud. After half a mile, we arrived at another gate - chained, but not locked. No signs told us not to, so we opened the gate, closed it behind us, and continued. After the roughest section of road yet, we came to a clearing. A small clear creek flowed next to a wide patch of dirt, and I was able to park the van level.

Side doors opened to the creek. Folding chairs were placed beside the soot-covered rocks of a disused fire ring. Judy chased big sticks while I rinsed a few of our muddiest articles in the cold swift water. I climbed a steep hillside to feel the final minutes of sun on my face and skin.

Spaghetti is good. Our marriage is strong. We lifted the curtains and laid down in our home in the woods; ensconced between two steep ridges. To the sound of the creek, we slept.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Justice in the USA.

We've been in Durango for days, and haven't scratched the surface. We've been parked at Walmart amongst a handful of other liveaboard rigs. There are old hammered campers, a minivan with many curtains, and a couple stealth cargo van setups. A bottle of wine is three dollars, and avocados are down to thirty cents. We can have the doors open and the music up.

This isn't the level of decorum that some other van people recommend. But there's a time and place for everything, and those are ours. We're blowing smoke out the roof vent, and I haven't been handcuffed in years. This is our time, folks. We've hacked together a plan, and we're floating on accidental justice in the USA.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Vandwelling logistics: dishes, showers, clothing, dirt.

Listen: Move Into a Van Now.

When you first move into your van - my brother, my sister - there are aspects you will soon embrace. That is a certain fact. You will not be clean like a baby in a commercial for soap. Nope. Here's how me and Kristin deal with dirt.

Washing dishes:


Usually we wipe out the cooking vessel with one paper towel as soon as we're done. After boiling water or heating soup, one paper towel does a fine job. Get it while it's still warm. Oils and sauces take another paper towel or two. I wipe out most of the residue, and then give the dogs a run at the pot. Once they're done, it's spotless. Then I spray on a solution of Dr. Bronners soap mixed with water, and wipe it clean with one more paper towel. Clean enough to feed the Queen.

I drag out one paper towel for all it's worth, but what we save in water, we use in paper towels. I estimate that this method is still less net-wasteful than dishwashers, running water, and ten-thousand forks.

We have a powerful spray bottle from an auto parts store. Our soap solution is Dr. Bronners diluted heavily. You could drink Dr. Bronners straight, and it's certainly safe to pour trace amounts on the ground. Once we wipe it off our dishes, the job is finished.

Vandwelling showers: not a daily habit.

It's been ten days since we last showered. Hardly a tragedy; nobody knows. You can wipe off with damp paper towels or a wet wipe. Sometimes I help Kristin wash her hair by slowly pouring three liters of water over her head. She has some shampoo that contains no poison, and it's acceptable to not rinse out every trace.

I used to go swimming in a lake or a river to clean off. It's been cold out, so I'm not focused on swimming. Ten days is a stretch, so I'm probably going to get a shower at a KOA. These "kampgrounds" are everywhere, but they are expensive, so I would never actually stay. I drive in, find the shower building, and go in for a hot shower. Some people call this "stealing" but I don't care. Another tree falls in the forest.

Clothing:

I like clothes that excel at being worn many times. I like wool, and other clothing made for hiking and sweat. I like shirts that dry quickly and pack small. Cotton t-shirts begin to stink quickly, so I don't wear standard t-shirts often. I prefer shirts that feel soft like cotton, but claim to "wick" and tout an SPF. I have a shirt by North Face and another by Under Armour. I don't support specific brands, but that's who made what I eventually found for cheap. You can wash them successfully in a sink or a frying pan if that's where you get.

When it's hot outside, I march around in a big blue bathing suit with the netting cut out. It's an old Nike number that I got for a buck. It still had the tags attached.

I wear socks by Wigwam and Darn Tough. I wear these socks over and over and over. You can wash them in a sink: hand soap and squeeze. You can wash them in a river: dunk and wring. Like new.

Thin wool underwear is fantastic, but you can practically go bankrupt just thinking about it.

Dirt:

We have dirt on the floor. We have sand in the carpet. Muddy dogs have touched all of our precious junk. Eventually we will clean everything well. Once every six months, we will hit everything with a firehose or flamethrower.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Skafuggit.

The library in Durango is among the best I've seen. Spacious, quiet, and full of outlets. Full of chairs. Comfortable chairs face the river and the mountains. Tables are available too, if you want to work on those.

I set up my Big Ol' Laptop, and set out to catch up on work. Repricing inventory is tedious, and I've been letting our pricing get stale. I spent four hours in the library clicking tiny links and typing in updates. My fingers became frozen in copy-paste mode. $9.95 / $8.95 / $6.95 / TAKEIT.

Mentally exhausted from a mere four hours of work, I set out on foot. I walked to downtown toward the $2 Colorado drafts. It took longer than expected for Kristin to meet me. I sat at the counter, and it went like this: Ska, Ska, Fat Tire, Ska, Ska, aaaaaand Skafuggit.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Kristin's Day!

This is Kristin's birthday. She turned 31. We went out to breakfast, and napped next to a patch of grass. We looked in the shops downtown, and bought almost nothing.

I tried to find a promised spot on BLM land outside of town, but was only able to chip the windshield and punch the steering wheel instead.

Back to Walmart. There's nothing wrong with Walmart, and you're free to drink a lot of wine. You're free to smoke your choice from three kinds of pot you bought downtown. You're free to dance in the van, and so far I haven't found anybody to stop me.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Our Vanlife Plans

I've been a Nervous Nelly about work. Our plans require us to make money.

Our Plans:

I don't dare to say where we will be in one year. I barely dare to think ahead to next week. But right now, I want to live in a van. Kristin wants to live in a van. Our plan is to dwell in our home for as long as we can roll. As long as we want to.

We left Pennsylvania one month ago. The plan was open-ended then, and I downplayed how long I wanted to be gone. I claimed months, while in my heart I want years. I want to live in a van for years at the least. I want to visit home, but live on the road.

The thought of settling down in southeastern Pennsylvania made me nervous. Kristin asked what would help, and I told her she probably didn't want to hear about it. Living in a van. That's when I was happiest, and that's what I want to do.

"Let's do that then," she said. It was as easy as that.

With the decision made, the planning began. I pushed to make more money, and by the end of January we'd made more than I could have hoped for. I found the perfect van on Craigslist, in the middle of nowhere, and paid $2,300 cash in hundred dollar bills. I would have paid twice as much, but I kept that fact to myself.

The building phase began, ended, and then the rubber hit the road. Today, we're in Durango.

Making Money:

Doing anything for the first time is hard. Everything takes practice. I know how to make money from home, but we need to translate our business to the road. I'm slow to take action. Today we acted.

We've been buying books, and they've been filling up the van. I need to lift bags and boxes into the passenger compartment when we sleep. It is tedious, and it doesn't make money or sense.

Today, we found wifi behind a hotel, but the connection was ultimately too slow. And a guy with a weedwhacker wanted to know when we'd be gone. We had books in organized stacks, and we had to backtrack and put them back in bags to change location. At the second hotel, we were able to use wifi to process the books in the van, but I was unable to print shipping labels. We had to bag up the books once more - keeping them all in order - and move again. I was able to use the printer at the library - god bless libraries - and for sixty cents we had all of our labels printed.

What would take two lazy hours at home, took most of the day.

Learning Lessons:

Everything takes practice. Those who survive are those who adapt. We need to work in smaller batches and ship in smaller boxes. A wifi antenna seems now like a necessary tool. After today's lessons, I feel better prepared to have a more successful workday next time.

Will we have enough money? How much is enough? Some day I will take a minute to figure that out.

Monday, May 9, 2016

To Durango by way of Pagosa Springs, CO.

Northern New Mexico is a vast, open, and beautiful place. But once again, entering Colorado is like snapping awake from the foggy aftermath of a nap. Trees and green enter the mix quickly, as though they know the location of the state border. Sneaking in from below, we are entering Colorado from behind the front range. We are west of anything populous. We are headed to Durango.

We stopped in Pagosa Springs for a walk and gawk. Hot springs run below main street, and empty into pools near the center of town. A river runs through it. This is near to heaven, but the elevation is earthly at seven-thousand feet.

My anxiety was at work when we entered town, but by the time we drove away, I was relaxed. We stopped at Chimney Rock. CLOSED. The government owns everything, and then they close it most of the time. We parked and slept by the gate. We woke up and walked dogs on the locked side, and the landscape was ours.

By the time we reached Durango, most of the day was gone. I looked for parking in town, but decided a retreat to Walmart was the surest bet. We cooked a dinner and listened to songs.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Say "yes" to strangers who you meet in a bar.

Four nights at Walmart. Conventional wisdom holds that's a stretch. With the decision made to go north, all that was left was to turn the key.

We crossed more of New Mexico, as the distance to any interstate grew. We stayed on smaller two lane roads as the scenery became vast, and the traffic sparse.

By the time we reached Chama, the sun had been extinguished by a blanket of gray. I put on a sweatshirt, and switched to real shoes for the first time since before Key West. As a light sleet began to blow sideways, I wondered if perhaps Madrid was a better choice.

We went to the bar, and decided a few Buds would help us find a place to park and sleep. Two others were in the bar - one lady was eating, and the other was serving drinks. I thought the other patron was there for a burrito and some water, but it turned out that she had been drinking all day. She was from there. She hadn't returned in many years, but she was back today with a hint of trepidation. My word not hers. She is a fierce individual. She is stubborn, forceful, and today she felt alone.

I joined her outside. I took my green-chilli-smothered burrito and my newest pint, and we talked while she worked on a Jager Coke and a fresh cigarette. We each had time to say what we were thinking, and we didn't dwell on the weather for long. In fact, the precipitation stopped and the sun got one more chance before setting early behind a distant peak.

As I returned from the bathroom, our new friend was explaining to Kristin that we would be welcome in her home. I like to answer yes. I won't ask, but I like to go along. Better to accept an invitation than wonder. We were offered tacos and a hot shower, and the calculus seemed easy.

We drove twenty minutes in the direction we came from, and turned off on a dirt road. The craters were deep, and our belongings jumped and swayed as we proceeded slowly past a ranch gate. We arrived at the home she had built herself. It was simple and secluded. Faced with compliments, she focused on flaws. Not a real foundation; steps are not to code. A split in the floor reached across the kitchen. I saw beams and sawmill lumber, and felt at ease. I could see that the structure was practical and strong. I could imagine myself swinging the hammer.

We drank more beer, and eventually had those tacos as well. The TV was left on, and wood was added to the stove preemptively as the house began to cook.

We had our own house outside, but thought a refusal of the guest room might be rude. We slept in blazing heat, and I woke up with a dry mouth and a headache before pissing off the unfinished deck. As unsteady as I was, I felt pristine next to the hangover our host was battling after a solid day spent drunk.

She never invited strangers home before, and wasn't exactly sure how it worked. I've been in homes and on roads many times, and I felt comfortable showing that her instincts were correct.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Meeting a friend; a color and spice.

Success on all levels.

I took a peek in the library a couple days ago, and arrived today ready to buy books. There is a small Friends of the Library store near the entrance, and they are happy to accommodate dealers and middlemen. I made a bigger purchase personally than their entire previous book sale, and I left with more than the material weighing down my cloth bags.

I had time to talk with the store volunteer, whose name is a color and spice. She is older than dirt, her words, and we each had the time to confide. By the time I left, we were close enough for sincere hugs and well wishes. We knew a little bit about each other, and where the other stood and slept. We know where we are from, what we've found, and what we are still looking for. She extolled the virtues of Madrid to the south, and Chama to the north. I introduced her to Kristin, who was working on comics at a table by the reference section.

I have a feeling we are headed north. I want to know what lies between the rocks on the map.

Friday, May 6, 2016

The pack walks upward; surveys the valley below.

Thank god for dirt and water. We walked through a canyon and got to the top of a rock. Wind reached us when the trees became sparse. Kristin opted for being fully submerged in chest deep water, as Judy dove in after many sticks. My feet got dirty, and my skin was slightly burned. We arrived back at the van thankful and practically asleep.

I bought some books at a thrift store, and some lucky finds reminded me that the threshold to survive is not so high.


Thursday, May 5, 2016

Time passes for all of us.

I have everything I dreamed of. I am immune to adversity. I am impervious to disaster. But sometimes us humans want more. Today I woke up, and I was already overwhelmed.

Dogs need to be walked, and books need to be bought. We need to maintain a moderate income, and a lack of on-foot exploration is practically abusive to the dogs and ourselves. We are awake and alive, and still I worry about more.

You can't drink wine at 7am, so you sit and stare while your heart beats harder; practically thunders under your smelly t-shirt. Plastic and cloth dangles and tangles the interior of the van. I can't take yes for an answer. I don't drink enough water, and it's a practical hassle to stand up.

We probably have about fifteen-hundred dollars in the bank, and some backup dollars in two more places. As we sell books, we get money from that too. But looking back, we bought and sold more books in 2015, and our sales have been slipping ever since.

I can't remember a better time and place. As far as money, there is enough. As far as a place, Santa Fe is great.

Deep breaths. Time passes for all of us.