Thursday, October 27, 2016

Mr. Buddy Heater and how hot it makes your pants.


I finished buying plenty of books. If I did this well regularly, I could work for less than ten days out of the month. It's been a long time since I've put forward a consistent effort. It's not really what I'm good at, but I'm relieved every day for having what I have.

I made a good effort two days in a row. But I felt lonely, cold, and bored. That doesn't say much great about the romanticized vision of "living in a van." Hopefully I'll be back to more golden times soon. For now, I'm floating around like a freeloader in a very comfortable safety net. All the white guilt and privilege makes me confused about how I'm supposed to feel.

I went back to Kennett in time to watch Jeopardy and help occupy the couch. There is a remote control for the fireplace, and us Harnes have been doing well with the clues.

Mr. Buddy is a good friend.

Most people who sleep in a van know this, and probably a lot who don't. The propane Mr. Buddy heater works. I have one in a box, but due to faulty electrical workings inside my brain, I forgot to bring that with me for last night. I've had the heater for two years, but haven't used it in a van. I had it as a backup in the tiny house, but our oversized vented heater there could keep everything at a toasty 96 degrees.

I screwed a one-pound Coleman propane can into Mr. Buddy, and marched it right outside. Cranked on low, it made the van a great place for white wine and downloaded shows.

  1. Click the heater on for five minutes, and off again for ten. 
  2. Crack a window, and never leave it on while you sleep. 

It's not exactly like indoor HVAC, but it gets the job done. I like watching the blue flames ripple for a few seconds before the ceramic plate starts to glow. Next I like how my pants get hot to the touch. Finally, my brow sprouts sweat, and I take off my hat.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Shackleton's men were cold. And I am not depressed.

I woke up on the floor of the van. I hate the cold. My sleeping bag was warm like summer, and emerging from it was an assault. It took hours to wake up and feel human. I hate the cold. I felt as gray inside as the sky above. An overpriced coffee gave me no joy. I used the toilet at Acme, and an old man pleaded at me through the door: he really had to go! 

"No," I thought. "This is not at all like being on a tropical island."

I managed to start my day. I managed to go to the places where books are sold. As far as doing what makes me money, I had a great day. The job is going well, but maybe my guts and brains are a little smashed up. Probably focusing on reading and crochet would be better than Yukon and friends. I know this. I'll make an adjustment.

But I am not depressed! I was at a party recently where the only rule was don't fall into the pool. Bands played, and cans were smashed on the floor.

I've been having a great time. I've been hanging out with friends, and I went to another party with fiddles and other traditional strings.

Back to this day, it had a slow start. The sun eventually pushed a few rays through the foliage, and I knew it was not cold. Shackleton's men were cold. This is merely autumn. I have a little bit of time still to plan and prepare my exit.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Bar tour of Bryn Mawr. Awake after the trail.

I'm back after ten days on the Appalachian Trail with Jonas. I can't say enough positive things about the trip, and I will be attempting to describe it all in an article I'm working on.

The woods give a person plenty of time to think. You walk along with nothing to do but think for hours at a time. The scenery is nice, though a bit repetitive, and it is easy to start poking around below the surface of the mush of your brain. After a few days, I was digging deep in the spaghetti, and I took a few truths to heart.

Obviously I thought about how I'm still married. That's a baloney subject. I'd need at least two computers to type that up for real. I guess somebody is going to have to do something about paperwork to get a divorce. I really hate being called mean, because I try so fucking hard to be nice that I've almost let it ruin my life a few times. So the whole situation has left me as a lonely guy with hurt feelings and an exploding head. It's not that bad - I know how to handle that. This ship is in well charted territory, and I know I'll get back to land.

The second obvious revelation was immediately actionable: I need to sew the fucking curtains for the van. I've been working on some blackout curtains for a century. Bunch of cloth in a bag is the point I was at. The day I got home, I had those curtains sewed up, and I patted myself on the back for the progress.

Another obvious realization about the van: I don't like the bed I made. I want to sleep on the floor. I've been seeing a lot of fancy #vanlife photos, and that's not where I'm at. I want a mattress on the floor that I can fold and shove out of the way when I need to. So I took out the bed, built another small storage unit where the bed used to be, and now I'm happy. Ready to roll.

With the new curtains and bed setup, I felt ready to get reacclimated to stealth parking. I knew it was time to get serious about purchasing more books, so that's what I aimed to do. I haven't visited most of my best sources for many months, so I had immediate success and many good finds. I operate mostly in the affluent suburbs to the west of Philly, and I have enough sources there to spend at least a few days. I spent the night stealth parked in Bryn Mawr to eliminate more than two hours of driving from my schedule.

It's cold. I'm lonely.

I finished up work for the day, found a parking spot, and immediately had difficulty imagining what to do for the next six hours. Usually, I might prefer doors wide open, beautiful vistas, and some music playing. It was cold and I couldn't think of any ocean or mountain views in Bryn Mawr. Instead I went to a slew of bars.

Bar tour of Bryn Mawr: 

First I went to The Grog. People in fancy shirts ate wings off of square white plates. Lager was $4 a pint. I was hoping the bartenders would be rude since Yelp practically promised poor treatment. Instead, they seemed preoccupied with being monochrome as I sat there bundled in two sweatshirts feeling aloof. Another beer? "No thanks. I gotta go."

I headed a few doors down to Erin Pub. There is no apostrophe 's'. So the pub itself is named Erin, and presumably no owner by that name exists. The doorknob has fallen apart, and you have to push the door hard. The interior is a time capsule, but the price of a pint went down by fifty cents. It was deserted. In spite of the first game of the World Series in progress, this pub was tuned to hockey. I had a second pint, and floated slowly out the door.

I continued further down the block to McCloskey's Tavern. Yelp said people like it there. Incredibly, they do not have Yuengling on tap, but fuggit, because Budweiser is a $3 pint. There were people at the bar, and they all seemed to know each other. Nobody seemed fancy, and the World Series was on the TV. I don't care much about baseball, except if I'm at a bar with twenty six drinks.

"Another pint and a shot of Yukon."

That's how it begins. I scan around behind the bar, see the Yukon Jack, and then get funny ideas. The place cleared out, and I found out why people like McCloskey's. They probably all had the same bartender. We talked for awhile about matters better than weather. I stayed warm and occupied until it was time to go for real. The youth shift arrived to play darts, and I exited the front. The door flew open, and the bartender appeared behind me with a raised arm.

"Goodnight, my friend!" He hurried over to the door only to say that? I returned the wave and wished him well. Maybe he wanted to make sure I was standing.

When I got back to the van, the night was colder than before. My plan has been to stay in Pennsylvania for another couple months, but the temperature had me mentally amending that idea. I sat on my mattress and wrapped myself in my sleeping bag like a cloak. I smoked a light dusting of the driest and oldest marijuana. I listened to the same two songs and fell asleep.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Future, The Future, and Right Now.

I'd say that except for having too much space, my new Dodge van is great. I think I'm about 85% ready to start trippin'. My curtains need some work. I want to work on the battery box and electrical. I doubt I'm going to get solar panels on there before I go. Brain's a little mushy for that.

My ability to self-motivate is total shit. That's not such a bad thing, it's just a long-term fact. I can surely bust my ass on whatever single project I am most interested in at any moment, but anything other than that, I can hardly lift a finger. The curtains I am working on are not a difficult project. Little bit of cutting and sewing. The battery box is easy too. But I feel like I have about 3-4 productive hours each day before my brain turns into a pancake. I've been using those hours to make myself sell books.

The Near Future:

I'm leaving on October 9th. Me and Jonas are going to hike the Appalachian Trail starting where we left off last year. Hopefully I'll write about that. Paradoxically, I most want to write about adventure and travel here, but that is what I tend to omit. I haven't been good at turning notes into posts. I let it all get backed up until writing all the posts seems like an overwhelming task. Then I don't do it. I also don't open my mail for six months at a stretch. Good. Plenty of room to improve.

The Slightly Farther Future:

I'm going to write this here to remind myself: I am going to drive south soon. I need to buy and sell a lot more books first. I need to do those things to the van. If I do it right, January sales will be enough to float me for a few months. I want to be in Key West by New Years. Hopefully I'll be comfortable there, and lord willing I'll meet some people. At bare minimum, I will have a bicycle and a warm island.

Right Now:

I'm getting ready to hit the road. It's slow and I don't see a lot of daily progress. I need to remind myself that's normal. I've been hanging out in the van. I've been watching Ice Road Truckers and trying to keep it to the right amount of wine. The nights are getting colder. I have a cheap old sleeping bag, and I am sleeping like a king.

My alarm is a phone, and it goes off at 9am. I made a schedule for myself, and sometimes it works. I let the alarm go off for about ten minutes before I finally get up to turn it off. If I hit snooze, I'll be hitting it forever. If I turn off the alarm, I will be getting up past 11.

I go inside and make coffee first. During the week, my dad leaves enough coffee in the pot for me to have a cup. On weekends, everybody here uses the Keurig. In the morning there is always TV. Morning shows: where they try to sell you shoes and make it look like news.

After my first coffee, I take an Adderall. Pretty soon, I take out a pan. Most of the time, I put in about a third of a can of beans. Sometimes discount ham. Once that's pretty hot, I crack two eggs on top. Thirty seconds later, I break the yolks. I've been mixing and flipping the eggs for months. I've tried every variable and heat setting. I started adding more pepper. Every time it's pretty much alright. Beans and eggs are good.

Around 11am, I have to get to work. I'm awake, and it's time to get started. This is the beginning of my 3-4 hour window when anything feels possible. I leverage this energy - usually, I try - into working on shipping out books. We all need money, which pretty much means a job. This is a good one. I'd rather keep on sleeping, but this isn't bad.

My brain becomes an idiot around 4pm. I could take a second Adderall at 2pm, but instead I am stockpiling pills for future use. I am prescribed two, and I take one. Soon I will have enough to last for months on the road. (On the road I will take less than one pill per day.) Getting Adderall while traveling feels like an almost insurmountable obstacle. Even though I have insurance. Expensive and compulsory insurance. [Fuck everyone. Fuck everything.]

I watch some more TV with my folks at night. Jeopardy for sure. Then shows about beating houses with a sledgehammer. The shows are all the same.

Then I go and spend the next twelve hours at home. A van beside a house.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Ice Road Truckers is great.

Shit's going great. I downloaded season 10 of Ice Road Truckers. Let me tell you about that.

There are no spoiler alerts possible for IRT. The show itself is one long tease where nothing... actually... ever... happens. I get a real bang out of it. I remember watching some of this show in 2008, and I was blown away to see that they're still doing it.

Ice Road Truckers.

They drive big rigs in the far north to get supplies to remote locations. To get there, they have to drive across frozen lakes. If the ice is too thin, a truck goes in - or at least that's what they promise. I haven't seen a truck go through the ice yet, so I checked with the internet. Turns out a truck has never gone through the ice. A spoiler is when you say what did happen. What do you call it when you point out that nothing really ever does? I didn't spoil anything. I'd blame the camera crew for getting zero footage of sinking trucks.

This might sound like I don't like Ice Road Truckers as a show. Not true. I think it's a gas. You just can't take it literally. The semi-scripted action is pure banality, and I am highly amused at how they try to spice it up. They talk all about how they're probably gonna go through the ice. It's quaint and theatrical. They're so ready to go through the ice. They open the door as they cross the ice slowly - one guy steers from the running board prepared to bail. They talk about how they could be stranded if they break down, but help is always there.

I'll tell you what a real show is: Highway Thru Hell. Not the American one. The Canadian one. That show follows a tow truck company that recovers crashed big rigs along a horrendous stretch of highway. Winter in Canada. It looks pretty miserable. Everybody takes themselves very seriously. I am greatly amused. The conflicts are exaggerated; people get pissed off. As angry as they ever get, they are still Canadian, so they can't help being weirdly polite.

I would hate to watch those shows with commercials, but that's what torrents are all about. I've got that VPN shit set up, so I'm safe. Until the VPN fails for a split second - then my folks get their nineteenth warning that their son is a crook, he's crooking around on their internet, and he downloaded HBO*

*all of it.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Look how awesome I can park.

Look at this!

I worked a half day at the bicycle shop today, and this is how I parked. If you want to know my secret, it's all about hitting both of those cars a few times.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Infinite bivy guarantee.

Outdoor Research is a company that makes camping stuff. I presume they wear lab coats when they hike. They've evidently gathered the right facts, because my bivy has been great thus far.

In 2007, I bought an expensive Gore-Tex bag in Montreal. I used it to sleep in some pretty weird places. Now the white coating on the floor is flaking off and getting white shit everywhere. And whatever seals the seams is turning yellow and falling apart. Fortunately there is an "infinite guarantee," so I investigated that.

I put that bag through its paces, and I understand that things wear out. Regardless, once I sent some photos, they said they'd help me out. If I send them back my bivy, they'll send me a brand new one. The problem is that it takes a long time. Fair is fair, but I'm going to be on the trail in a week.

I don't know. Either I'm going to send back the bivy, and hike around with a whole tent, or I'm going to delay the bivy return and wake up covered in flakes of white shit. Probably soon would be a good time to decide. There's this question and several more.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Trexlertown Bicycle Swap. (still one bicycle to ride.)

The bicycle swap meet at Trexlertown happens twice a year. Spring and Fall. People set up folding tables and lay out blankets all around the velodrome. They lay out bicycles, frames, wheels, and parts for every type of bicycle from every era of cycling. Spandex-y bicycle shops try to blow out last year's inventory. Greasy bicycle shops go to stock up on repair parts. I used to go to buy low and sell high. Now I go mostly for myself.

Arriving the night before is a ritual. People get there early and build a few fires - in the back of a field and beside the gravel part of the parking lot. It's a secluded location, so this kind of thing flies. Greasy enthusiasts drink beer and talk excitedly about bicycle touring. As close as I can tell, these folks are my people. If you give a slight allowance, I almost fit right in.

There was no party this year. The forecast was for cold and rain. I can't sit still before game day, so I drove up early and arrived as the sky became dark. Aside from an RV in the main parking lot, and a pickup truck parked in the grass, I was alone. I had a hoagie, a full charge on my laptop, and a fresh skein of yarn. I had 51 ounces of beer from Acme, and a tall pumpkin spiced coffee from the Wawa.

I had a nice little evening to myself. Watched a movie; practiced some crochet. I slept well. When I woke up at 6am, I knew I wouldn't get back to sleep. I rose up, put on some pants, and headed straight back to the Wawa a few miles away. I got another tall coffee - pumpkin spice again - and two breakfast sandwiches for now and later.

I took a new spot close to the side gate, and pretty soon people started to arrive. Shelly and Nielle showed up, and I helped set up a table and a tent. For that plus $15 I got a special wristband that let me on the track an hour early.

I had $1000 in my pocket. All 10's and 20's to make it easier to spend.

I've seen better swap meet turnouts. There was lots of empty space. I didn't bargain hard enough, and felt less invested than times in the past. The threat of rain never materialized, but I suspect it kept people away.

I made circle after circle, buying bread and butter parts. Square taper bottom brackets, discount derailleurs, old handlebars, and of course lots of cranks. I got a Holdsworth frame for $20 - big dent in the top tube, and also missing the fork. I never back down from a challenge. I don't always step up, but I don't back down much either. Show me a damaged frame-up project, and I'll show you twenty bucks. Yes, sir. I bought pedals. I got Dura Ace and Suntour. I got a Shimano Sante bottom bracket. I got a Specialized bottom bracket with a Hatta nutted spindle. I got a Dean seatpost, and Campy Record carbon ergo shifters. Everything was barely making sense.

I stuck around until the end, and had a little less than half of my money left. The bank envelope was thin and deteriorated. I ate the cold second sandwich. I loaded up and went home.

Some of these parts will be sold. Some of them will be used for my own experimental projects. But as I drove home from the swap, I felt a certain doubt that any of my projects are getting finished fast. In fact, I bought that new frame, so the incomplete bicycles are only adding up. I have a new personal rule to leave the Hoopty alone. I need at least one bicycle to actually ride some time.