A joy of getting older is accepting that nothing lasts forever; neither good nor bad. This pandemic will one day fade into history until something new rears its ugly head. We’d nearly forgotten the Spanish Influenza. All things considered, in comparison, we’re getting off easy this time. Approximately twenty-five million died then and that was without the aid of air travel. We’ve forgotten all the other deadly viruses we’ve endured since. Today one viral carrier can go anywhere in the world within twenty-four hours. More folks than ever take vacation cruises despite all the illness that has been spawned aboard those monster incubators. I am guessing that there are now more cruise ships on the planet than there used to be ocean liners. Perhaps we’ll get up to Covid 49 when the planet’s population is killing itself off with something like toxic flatulence, which might be a viral mutation spawned by all the plastic and genetically modified food we’ve ingested. Imagine those face masks and the bottom filters we’ll scurry to invent. Whoo! Then we’ll look back to the good old days. All they had to worry about was Covid 19.
All things pass. I’ve recently lamented about how dry our spring has been. As I write the rain hammers on the skylight above me. The gas fireplace is guttering away in an effort to displace the damp. Jack is wisely in his bed, in a deep state of dog zen, a skill I’m working to acquire. I’m getting there!
Mexico, which entered the early pandemic days with very low infection numbers is now raging with the virus, and of course, having to fend for itself. You can’t expect assistance from countries which can’t help themselves. Mexico already has huge social issues. With an insidious national presence of violent gangs, masses of corrupt bureaucrats and politicians, some days it seems to be all part of the same self-devouring monster. Journalists and sincere elected officials are regularly executed by one group or another and the poor masses of the country endure medieval miseries. But pandemics are great equalizers, respecting neither wealth or power, good or evil. Perhaps there are fairer days ahead.
I love that country, especially its rural areas and people. I look forward to being able to return there. Yes, it has plenty of violent crime but if you drive there through the US, where there is at least, on average, one hand gun in everyone’s sweatpants, purse or vehicle, you’ve beaten the odds. Just keep your one mouth shut and both your eyes and ears open. That’s a basic rule of survival anywhere and perhaps something our politicians should work out. Please, no more medical suggestions, if even in jest, about ingesting disinfectants.
The media does not give much press to Mexico, or Central and South America, Eastern Europe, Africa, the smaller countries of Asia; we hear little of smaller Asian nations and nothing of backwater China. There may be little news other than the pandemic and frankly who cares about them when we’re struggling to look after ourselves. Sadly, folks who need assistance most urgently, even in our society, are the last to get it. Life is never fair.
Everyone is tense enough without deliberate provocation. Store clerks are testy, others surly and insular. I get it and have to work at not being reactive. Near closing time in a local grocery store I was challenged by a cashier. “How’d you get in here?” I responded in kind and our interaction spiralled rapidly. I’ve since tried to imagine her workday and feel badly. I broke one of my trusty “Four Agreements,” the one about not taking things personally. And so we learn, over and over.
Some folks have become maniacal about hand washing. I have always been suspect of public washrooms and would rather not wash my hands if it involves touching soap dispensers, taps, or drying devices. Who’s messed with that? I go so far as to handle toilet seats, doors and handles by using my sleeve as protection. The other day I was admonished. “ Hey, ya dint wash yer hands!” I replied, “Where I come from, our mothers taught us not to pee on our fingers.”
“Wha dar muddle wi me?”
Don’t look down on anybody …unless you’re helping them up.
Friends report nasty weather in far away places wet and hot, wet and cold,depending where you are. Here on Vancouver Island the weather is superb for the beginning of August, exactly what one would expect. We’ve had a little rain now and then and there is a gentle breeze so the temperature rising through 28° C seemed perfect for a long-weekend Sunday morning. Without a boat, what was there to do but go for a drive? Driving a near 200-mile route in a circumnavigation of Southern Vancouver Island it was soon obvious that Paradise has been fully discovered and over-run.
The small town of Lake Cowichan lies inland on Vancouver Island at the east end of the lake from which it takes its name. The lake, and its sister named Nitinat, almost bisect Vancouver island into two halves before draining via the Cowichan River into Cowichan Bay. The two lakes drain in opposite directions. It is the short stretch of solid land, about eleven-hundred metres, between their head water streams which formally keeps Vancouver Island a single entity. The name Cowichan is an anglicized perversion of the original Coast Salish Quw’utsun which means “Warm valley.” It is lyrical and easy to remember, especially when used so often. The name is synonymous with fantastic handmade native woollen goods as well all the wine now produced throughout the area. I’ve joked that among some of the undulating vineyards here, you can almost imagine you are in Provence.
It was certainly a warm valley today with the truck thermometer peaking at 32°C (89.6ºF) while stuck in the crawling traffic on the main street of the little town. Stopping to photograph the chaos would have just added to the danger and chaos. Folks wandered everywhere and the sights were amazing. Bobbling mounds of human anatomy, apparently held together with stringy bits of clothing, looked absolutely out of place as folks in various states of undress wandered through the swollen traffic of a historic, rustic community. I am no prude, nor a letch, and I’ve long-ago accepted gay rights (I’ve yet to hear of a heterosexual rights parade) but geez people! Obese rights? Bummer!
Rafting down the Cowichan River from town is a summer tradition. You could have walked the river without wetting your feet. It was jammed with flimsy plastic donuts filled with squirming, squealing pink creatures of various shapes and sizes. I thought of spawning jellyfish. There was no place to stop and photograph the incongruous sight. Plastic debris in the planet’s waters is clearly an urgent situation even well inland. There is also probably a carpet of aluminum drink cans on the bottom of the river.
The drive was a frustration of strange driving habits. I coined several terms for the characters encountered along the way. ‘Dufus’ will do to cover them all. Is the plural, Dufi? For some reason, there were repeated near-head on collisions with motorcycles leaned hard over on the wrong side of the road’s curves. Have you ever noticed how folks tend to use a common driving quirk on any given day? Laws of random stupidity were clearly in effect. There is a paved logging road stretching between Lake Cowichan and Port Renfrew which is on the open outer coastline of the island. It can be a beautiful leisurely drive of about an hour. Yesterday’s little trip was not. There is no centre line painted and expecting the next WTF was soon an obvious requirement. It was impossible to drive and also admire the scenic splendour of the route. There was no relaxing. I took no photos.
Every spot providing any access to the clear forest streams was clotted with parked vehicles. Each tiny camping nook held at least one group, all campgrounds were seething with weekenders. It seemed impossible that the backwoods could be so overrun. Botanical Beach Park at Port Renfrew was so clotted with people and parked vehicles that creeping along the access road was a challenge. All this in the name of ‘getting away from it all.’ How I miss my boat! Finally hunkering down on a tiny bit of roadside beach, the Strait of Juan de Fuca was airlessly, flat calm. Very eerie indeed; this is a body of water known by many professional mariners as “Wanna Puke Ya Straight” in respect and dread of its often huge tormented seas, a product of days of usually strong winds against eternal massive tides.
Returning homeward along what were once back roads, one of which, after many decades of use is now blocked, was also hell. More WTF! New routes led through what was once a distinct suburb of Victoria. Langford is now a sprawling, faceless, soulless mess of grey boxes which folks call home and blurs into a megalopic sprawl. Where they’ve come from, and what all the people do here is a mystery to me. There is no fruit to pick, no more lumber to stack, few fish to pack. WHAT do they all do? It would seem that everyone must be hard at it building ever more houses for ever more of the inbound. I am reminded of all those dreary British row houses, but they at least have a bit of character, and a regular displacement of pubs. Here, it seems, the most common vendors of distractive substances are now marijuana dispensaries.
The final leg back to home is the gauntlet of the Vancouver Island’s highway. Even though I drive it often, there is always another new subdivision and even more shopping which has sprouted up like another patch of toadstools. The quaint charm which drew me to Vancouver Island seems lost. Perhaps I am simply jaded, but the swelling population on the south island has precluded what once was. I keep seeing something new and find myself asking, “Hey isn’t that where the old ……….. once was?” Victoria just feels like any other city now. The city’s inner harbour has been mutilated with a monster yuppie yacht marina. Folks in boats of less than fifty feet appear to be an endangered species. There is now a plan in place to ban the ubiquitous horse-drawn carriages. I suppose flowers will be next on the hit list. Or perhaps the Parliament Buildings; a great location for more condominiums. I admit I am a tiny part of the problem and this island is not much like the place it was when I arrived almost four decades ago.
A comment about our drinking water and how carelessly we consume it, I put it together after buying some bottled water to carry in my vehicle. I discovered the water had been bottled in Texas! Of all places! With its dusty aquifers, from where does Texas import water. Sudan? Well, (There’s a pun!) please give it a thumbs up if you like the video at all. I truly appreciate every bit of help.
With a tough enough time selling my own books I seldom flog someone else’s work. However, I have just finished devouring ‘The Devil’s Highway’ by Luis Alberto Urrea. The writing itself is tremendously artful, combining the subject of illegal walk-in immigrants trying to cross some of the most hostile deserts in the world, with the convoluted bumblings of politicians and bureaucrats in both the USA and Mexico. This book gave me a new understanding of the US Homeland Security effort and I am very sobered as someone who likes to walk in the desert. My jokes about ‘Homeland Insecurity’ will be subdued from now on, these folks have a thankless job and their efforts are as much about saving lives of those lost in the desert as about catching illegals. Even if you do not have a fascination with the area, or care anything about it, the work is an absorbing read and one of the best pieces of writing and research you’ll find in a long while. We gringos do tend to take so much for granted.
Today has become a glorious cloudless, hot, calm holiday Monday holiday afternoon. The local British Columbia Day fireworks had Jack the dog in a fury last night. Now all is placid. Traffic on Mad Max Way, aka the Island Highway, seems to be humming along nicely without, for the moment, any chorus of sirens. Is it time to get out there and become part of the problem?
“We forget that the water cycle and the life cycle are one.” Jacques Cousteau
Sell, sell, sell! I warned you that there’d be a little bit of marketing in my blogs. Now posting my images for sale online with Fine Art America.com I’ve just received an e-mail from those folks saying, that to kick-start business in July, they are offering a $100. wine gift certificate with Naked Wines.com. Apparently the offer is valid in the US only but the gift card comes with any purchase of artwork, no matter how small the order. So, for a $15 mug you get a $100. worth of wine. Now you know. Apologies to my fellow Canadians. Damn eh!
A month ago, four blogs back, I posted a blog titled “Goldfield Calling.” I wrote about Highway 50 being described as the loneliest highway in America. The route runs East-West across Nevada. Even telephone poles along its length are a rarity. As you drive its long miles you are in the wild wide open west. Now I believe I’ve found an even lonelier road. While listening online to Radio Goldfield I learned of a community in Nevada called Gabbs. The name “gabbed” me. I’ve looked it up on Google Earth. I don’t think there will be e-mails from anyone saying “Yeah, ‘bin there, know it well.”
I can’t explain why but I love lonely roads and I will certainly drive this way on my next trip south. Here’s the route: on Highway 50, a few miles east of a half-way mark between Austin Nevada and Reno is a pinprick on the map called Middlegate. I’m not sure there is even a gas station there. Don’t blink when you are getting close in case you go on by. Hopefully there is at least a road sign. The junction sits a few miles west of Bench Creek Wash and Cold Springs, location of the Pony Express Station which I have written about. I had already decided to go back there to explore and photograph that old outpost so I’m not going out of my way at all by swinging down toward Gabbs.
Turn south to Middlegate, you’ll now be on Highway 361. Gabbs is about 30 miles away. If you look this up on Google Map you’ll see bleak, brown, bare, dry desert in all directions. Actually, that kind of country supports an amazing ecosystem if you care to look. There is certainly a lot more than tumbleweed, rattlesnakes and coyotes. For me that is part of the magic of deserts. It is all a mystery to me. Well aware that I am an alien there, it thrills me to see how much is going on in an environment that at first appears bleak and hostile, just like the ocean but in an opposite sort of way. If you leave me on a remote beach here in the Pacific Northwest, with just a pocket knife and a lighter, I may not be happy but I’ll be OK. In the desert I’m not sure how I’d survive. It is a very different world to me.
Gabbs looks more like a camp than a town, the landmark there is a huge open pit magnesium mine, now closed. Wikipedia says the population was 269; it will not be higher now. It is now unincorporated but there is a description of infrastructure which among other things includes a jail; a sure sign of civilization.Folks who live in places like Gabbs are not there because of their high social yearnings. They did not seek out seclusionso they could befriend inquisitive strangers. There are bullet holes in nearly everything in the US Southwest. It’s a cultural statement best heeded. Let reclusive people demonstrate their desire to interact, at their inclination. I meet plenty of lovely folks down there, but I remain aware that I am the intruder. I’ve never felt at risk but then birds of a feather know when to flock off. In fact I always feel better whenever I go into remote areas. The desert leaves me with the same inner peace I know when far out at sea. Locals who choose to live in isolation operate on similar frequencies as me and I find an affirmation in meeting them. I might be nutters but I’m not alone. Cities leave me with a very opposite feeling. When surrounded by urban throngs I seldom feel at ease.
Gabbs was named for a paleontologist who was fascinated with the large number of fossils in the area. So, there’s something else that may be of interest. A few miles south of town, a gravel road, even more remote and primitive, angles off the pavement to the southeast where it eventually passes the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project. In the photo on Google Earth it looks like a massive sunflower comprised of solar panels and it alone appears to make that entire back road jaunt look worthwhile. I’ll let you know.
There is another route, which is a paved road, but either way will eventually take you to Tonapah, civilization at last. Just look for the road signs if they are not too shot-up to read. Tonopah has several fast food joints, each of which will have wifi… so I can post a blog with photos describing my adventure realizing yet another little dream. This past winter I sat in the MacDonalds there trying to do exactly that. Other patrons stared me down for the stranger I was. Clearly, using a laptop there was a suspicious activity. At the table next two me, two bewhiskered old codgers loudly reminisced over their boyhood glory days in the South Pacific during WWII. Clearly, it had been the pinnacle of their life still worth reliving over seventy years later to anyone within earshot. Meanwhile, across the restaurant a near-deaf, geriatric couple shouted insults at each other. I recall deciding to do my work elsewhere. There is, by the way, another Tonopah. But that one is in Arizona, another place and part of another story.
The Nevada town’s name of Tonopah is an old Shoshone word meaning “hidden spring.” One of my joys in the US Southwest are those place names. They are lyrical, whimsical, even romantic. An illustrious place-name may now prove to be just more empty desert with little or no sign of human presence ever. What was once someone’s centre of the universe is now gone. Why it was ever there may be a profound mystery.
Google Map shows many funky little communities, or place names at least, spaced all over the desert including the perimeters of Area 51 and Nellis AFB, only a few minutes to the east by supersonic fighter jet and alleged home to strange events, including alien sightings and encounters. There are other remote but well-developed, large airfields which have no names, all very strange indeed. I’ve met people who describe themselves as “Aviation Archeologists.” They go out into the desert in hot rod offroad vehicles looking for the remains of crashed airplanes. The Southwest has long been a military aviation training region and there are wrecks littered all over the landscape. What a great excuse if you want to roar around the outback drinking, shooting and generally being a yahoo.
Whenever you travel in desolate areas it is wise to carry extra gas and you can never have too much water, the latter preferably in bottles so that any leak is confined to one small container. Not only is carrying a few basic supplies a good idea for your own needs, you never know when you might come across someone who needs a little help. In the desert, like any remote area, a simple mishap, like a simple vehicle breakdown, can easily become a matter of life and death. You must look after other folks in distress. It is the code of pay back and pay ahead, especially when there may be no-one else to come along for a very long time.
Top up with gas whenever you can, never assume you will find more before you run out. The gas station promised miles ahead may be closed. If you must pay a little more to fill up before you venture on, think of much you’d be happy to pay if you were to run out. Living in remote areas much of my life, I’ve learned that leaving town with a full fuel tank in a vehicle is like having money in your pocket. Spend wisely and keep some cash on hand; some places do not accept credit cards.“Failing to plan, is planning to fail.”
And..there are infinite miles of other back roads to explore as well. Looking at the vastness of the American Southwest, it is hard to grasp that, despite its emptiness, there is not one square inch that has not been explored. Every stone must have been turned over, at least once, in a quest for the mineral riches hidden among all that rock and dirt. I marvel constantly at mine locations. Profitable or not it is amazing how someone found, then extracted, that vein of ore exactly where they did. Their tenacity, both physical and mental, was huge. There were no roads, no automobiles, minimal technology, only deprivation, grit and single-mindedness. Even with modern technology, we cannot duplicate that spirit of endeavour.
Meanwhile my summer is passing on what proves to be a far lonelier and dustier road than any I’ll find in any desert. Sometimes the road of life offers barren distances which you must travel to get to greener places. I’m finding life without ‘Seafire’ an absolute dreary hell. I am now among billions of others who are landlubbers. The difference is that, unlike most, I know what I’m missing. “It is better to have loved and lost…” I know, I know. Bullshit I say, bullshit!
Nothing lasts forever, this dreary time shall pass, but I am restless and eager to move forward. No matter what one’s circumstances, you can only live one day at the time. I find myself trying to ponder good things to come. Fortunately, I can spend hours contentedly travelling virtually on Google Earth. What a wonderful technology! A daydream machine! This from a guy who often laments his cyber ineptitude! Now for the moment, I’m back from my desert musings.
Here on Vancouver Island we are having what is deemed by many to be an unusual summer. It is a slightly rainy July, which is not extraordinary. I recall that most years here we have a wet July. We certainly need all the moisture that comes. Every year folks seem to forget the previous summer. Most people complain no matter what the weather is doing, too wet, too cool, too hot, too smokey, too windy. Other reports from the Northern Hemisphere describe muggy summer heat beside the Great Lakes and on the East coast friends describe constant cold.
So we’re doing just fine on our island, a wonderland of moderate climate and gentle yet dramatic natural beauty. People come from around the planet to see it. Jack takes me on spectacular walks within a radius of a few miles of home. Some days I am able to actually see it all and marvel that I live here. This morning I napped peacefully on the banks of The Nanaimo River while its crystal laughing waters sang happily on their way to the sea. Jack snuffled and plunked around, chasing waterbugs and digging in patches of soft sand. He drank from the clear water and then chased more bugs before falling asleep in the sun-warmed ground. A deer wandered out of the forest a little way upstream to drink in the river. Flowers swayed in the breeze while birds twittered and flitted. I have no idea what the poor people were doing.
There are three kinds of people in the world:
The living, the dead, and those who go to sea …Aristotle
In the American Southwest all roads seem to funnel through Las Vegas. There is also another place which my travels invariably take me to when travelling the breadths of Nevada. That place is Austin. It is an old mining town. Like many ghostly communities in that state, it is perched high on a mountain-side overlooking a broad valley. The population is sparse. I’ve driven through it twice already this year. While returning from Mexico, I was there again, now on a vicious winter evening. Snow was blowing along the main street. I came face to face with a herd of approximately eighteen white-tailed deer. They seemed to have no concern about the weather or me. I stopped and let them cross the highway.
The Austin campground, run by the local Baptist church, was closed. It was where I had planned to spend the night. All the side roads were solidly drifted-in. I could find no place to pull in for the night so I drove on westward. Down across the valley I travelled into the gathering darkness for more countless weary miles. Highway 50 is called America’s loneliest highway. It certainly was that night. Finally there was a spot sufficiently off the road at an old Pony Express historic site. In the morning I read the narrative signs and took my photos.
I vividly recall how the history of that epic venture was described. A dismal financial failure from the beginning, after a few short years, the Pony Express was decimated by the then-new telegraph system. As I drive through that vast country I often think of someone on a horse pelting across the untamed wilderness. Even in a vehicle, you can drive for days across bleak and beautiful land that leaves one wondering about that romanticized era. What has not been glorified was the desperate lives of the station keepers of the express service. They were the backbone of the fabled trek. Horses had to be changed regularly, every few hours, and that meant there had to be stables with fresh horses all along the route. Not only did the folks at these places get no glory, they endured multiple deprivations of hunger, cold, heat, illness, loneliness and frequent native attacks all for a meagre income. It must not have been at all romantic.
Sadly, that day, the data memory card in my camera came adrift. I have no photos of that dramatic place but I will not forget that stop at aptly named ‘Cold Springs.’ On my homeward trek this was yet another night of bitter cold when the plumbing in my van froze up. By then, on that wintry drive, I had learned to fill my morning kettle the night before. Thanks be that my trusty propane furnace did not ever let me down but there was never a happier sound in the morning than when that old engine fired up! The came the whistle of the kettle and the first sip of hot, black coffee which I drank as the front heater began to produce more warmth. I’m not so sure I would have done well as a Pony Express employee.
This all came to mind recently as I uploaded my best photos from that trip to Shutterstock.com. That is a website which heavily screens and files a photographer’s work then sells quality images as selected by a global clientele. On occasion I actually get paid a few coins for some of my efforts. Editing and submitting those images took my memory back to an intriguing old mining town in Nevada called Goldfield. Southbound, somewhere near here, is the latitude where one first sees Yucca trees growing wild in the desert. I’ve previously described the village as a full-time Burning Man event. There are funky relics, buildings and some interesting people. Like all the other old communities, it has a distinct personality.
One notable point is a wonderful volunteer FM radio station located on main street but also streams its programs live online. “Voice of the Wild, Wild West.” I’m listening as I write. There’s some Harry Chapin on, “The Cat’s In The Cradle.” If you know the song, you’ve dated yourself! Next is an old, old recording of Paul Harvey delivering an essay called “And God made a farmer.” Then comes Dylan with “Tweeter And The Monkey Man.” I love this station. Now I’m listening to the theme song for the ancient TV show, “Mr. Ed.”Then comes some Ian Tyson. “Cain’t beat it with a stick!”
Here is the link: https://tunein.com/radio/Radio-Goldfield-891-s137238/ Not only is the music earthy and pleasant, it takes me back to that town. It instills a deep yearning to return and linger. An outback humour is shared among it’s hosts who all joke about an imaginary station mascot. This burro, named ‘Tumbleweed,’ loves to drink thirteen beer at a sitting in the local saloon. There are of course many other backcountry radio stations out there which remain undiscovered to me. Check out KGFN Goldfield for some rustic comfort. Listening to local stations as they come within range and then fade behind me as I drive along is one of my travelling joys. Unfortunately that desert peace fades for me once I descend into Las Vegas.
Friends have now discovered a route which allows one to sneak around Las Vegas (Spanish for the plains or lowlands) on its east side. I will certainly try to find it next time. All other roads force one to descend into the bowels of this horrible place. Real plastic! I don’t like greed, glitz, din, facades or pretentiousness which seems to be all that Vegas is about. Real plastic! Real plastic! World famous! World famous! The notion of gambling and all the maggots who feed on that industry has always wilted my biscuit. In Vegas even the churches look like casinos. There are flashing lights everywhere. Apparently casino chips are welcome in the collection plates! Enough said! Meanwhile, the desperately poor are apparently invisible within the shining throb and flash of all that shallow fantasy.
In the midst of my present woes I just received an e-mail from a boat owner. He has an Albin 27 on which I left my card last year saying “If you ever want to sell…” Now he does. It would be a perfect little displacement cruiser for me, tough enough to take to Mexico and very practical to own. Albins have been long-loved by me, simple and tough is my kind of sexy when it comes to boats. It could be a great summer home on this coast. Bugga!
I continue to look for a way to hook my dream. I have a very hard time being hove-to and waiting for the storm to pass. They always do. Possessing a manic need for my hands and brain to always be busy, sitting day after day waiting to see which way the pickle squirts is damned hard. I know nothing happens until you do something but sometimes you just have to be cool; even when it’s hot. Speaking of heat, the thermometer here this afternoon rose to 32°C. For fun, I checked the temperature in Goldfield, 29°C. Go figure!
After a long wet winter we’ve had a very dry spring. Streams are dry, some trees are beginning to wither. A long summer lays ahead. We will either dry up, turn to dust and blow away or burn, or…it will rain the whole season. One way or the other, this island is still paradise. Here is a link to my latest video-making effort. In three minutes you can get a sense of one facet of life on this island.
When I think of all the places on this planet where millions are born, live and die who may never see a real tree or can image unlimited amounts of fresh water… and the health and plenty and peace we take for granted I can only be thankful to live here.
“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” –Robert Louis Stevenson
As noted in my previous blog, a week ago Jack and I were in a campsite on Sproat Lake just west of Port Alberni. It was a nice enough place although a bit too civilized for me. Yet I found myself in bliss because the trailer was proving itself as a close-to-perfect unit for my needs. This would be my mobile home for months on end so I could take exquisite photographs and make inspiring videos and write. It would be this old fartist’s (not a typo) studio and make for a healthy, affordable retirement. With that lifestyle in mind, I know my state of being and longevity will improve. I was fantasizing about sitting beside the trailer under a brilliant starry desert night sky, with a gently flickering mesquite campfire. Coyotes yipped and howled in the distance. My plan was to come home and repair the delamination in the front of the trailer. It would be an easy job for an old boat re-builder guy like me. The trailer would then be ready for adventures south. It is supposed to be a light-weight trailer. It thought it felt a bit heavier than it should, sort of like driving a loaded logging truck. I was essentially correct. The damned thing was water-logged throughout, top to bottom, front to back.
Today I’ve just removed all my personal effects from the trailer which is now proven to be a hopeless rotted-out wreck. The more structure I opened up, the worse it got. I can see now that there were obvious signs of water damage but this arrogant Mr boat-fixer guy, with decades of marine experience, was too smart to get a seasoned RV person to come and have a look before I bought it. I’ve seen the same thing happen to knowledgeable mariners who decided they did not need a third party to survey the vessel they were buying in a fit of nautical lust. Now it is my turn to affirm that you cannot see objectively to pick out obvious signs when you are in a passionate state for a thing or a person. That is why so many marriages fail. Now I have nothing but a trailer frame and floor with working appliances. Worst of all, it was purchased with precious funds from the sale of my beloved ‘Seafire’.
Despite plenty of tough times in my life I have never lost something so important so quickly. A dream one minute, a disaster the next. Now I can understand the vacant look in the eyes of those who have endured a flood, or fire, invasion or earthquake or… well, there are plenty of ways your life can change instantly. Just a quick drive to the corner store can become a life-shattering experience, or perhaps a slip in the bath tub.
This problem is not life and death, it just feels that way. Suddenly, in this moment, my dream is dashed and all looks hopeless. I know sailors who have put their boat and their whole life on a reef and considered themselves lucky to have survived the swim ashore in shark-infested waters to some distant foreign country, without water, money or passport. A while later, they had rebuilt their life and continued on, somewhat the better for their adventure. I am left wondering how to turn this into an adventure instead of an ordeal. There is a way. I will find it.
Self-produced videos online are testimonials to what a wonderful trailer a ‘Fun Finder’ is. I interviewed owners who could not offer enough praise and love for their Fun Finder. So I bought this trailer because several points of research told me the product was built with an aluminum frame and was a rugged, off- pavement capable trailer. Check out their website https://www.cruiserrv.com/travel-trailers/fun-finder.html There is, in fact, no aluminum in the structure anywhere. Perhaps my trailer, built in 2006, was before these people began using metal superstructures. I am not claiming the product was misrepresented and admit that clearly, my research did not go deep enough. I know that I did not buy a new product. That aside, the workmanship I have found points to a shabbily-built product which would have begun self-destructing as soon as it was pushed out of the factory into the weather. That is where I find an outrage. So let me suggest:
-DO NOT buy anything called a “Fun Finder” or “Shadow Cruiser” or “Cruiser RV”.
-If there is any evidence on a used RV of re-caulking anywhere, run like hell.
-A simple test for water damage (I’ve now learned) is to pull aside the insert strip in corner mouldings and remove a screw or two in the lower part of that seam. If the screw is rusty, or spins freely without backing out, the wood beneath is rotten, run like hell.
-If the vendor objects to an inspection, run like hell.
-If any interior covering such as wall paper is even slightly wrinkled, that’s water damage, run like hell.
– DO NOT but anything susceptible to the ravages of time and weather without the second opinion of somebody intimately familiar with that specific product.
I will be producing and posting a video of the damage. It will be on You Tube alongside all the accolades for the same product. It has been suggested that I park my wheeled hulk on the side of the highway with a sign saying “I’ll never buy a Fun Finder again.”
I did give the trailer an interior sniff test, like all old boaters know how to do. It is actually a very good test for rot detection to the experienced nose. It seemed fine. I thumped and bumped all over and except for the “delamination” it appeared, to my unknowing eye, to be dandy. I’d researched that rippled front skin. Videos on YouTube show how to fix it easily. The vendor was a very nice fellow, who passed my street-smart tests for honesty and integrity. I truly believe that he was unaware of any problems behind the “delamination” which he pointed out absolutely up front. I thought I had bought myself a bargain and after a little work, I would be off to see the world. Since my dark discovery I have noticed several trailers and RVs with similar exterior signs of water ingress and clearly there are a lot of products out there in varying stages of self-destruction. Those signs are glaringly obvious now. They are out there as I write, hurtling down the roads of this long-weekend oblivious to the horror that awaits them. So, what they don’t know won’t hurt them.
After a few troubled night’s sleep, I’ve determined there is only one route which is forward. I’ve some debt to clear up, no money, no workplace and can easily fall into a state of utter hopelessness. (It’s that old manic depressive thing) I know it’s just a tiny trailer, but it represents the rest of my days. So I’ll sing the old lemonade song and get to work. Creative busyness is, for me, the best distraction. So I go.
So Caveat Emptor, there’s no fool like an old fool.
“We should be taught not to wait for inspiration to start a thing. Action always generates inspiration. Inspiration seldom generates action.”…Frank Tibolt
I left Baker in mid-morning after editing photos and posting a blog. It always feel good to be caught up. This trip has been a breathless rush of events, people and images which I feel are truly worth sharing. Reader’s comments confirm that. I began the day’s travels by visiting a local archaeological site. It was wonderful. I had it all to myself to speculate on the wonders of mud ruins, apparently seven-hundred years old. The wind was keen and shrill and cold. I wore no hat and soon had an ice-cream headache. My hands throbbed painfully. I am just not nineteen anymore!
Turning west onto Highway 50 (Called the loneliest highway in America) I again climbed and descended several mountain passes and traversed more wonderful valleys. I stopped to absorb the wonder of a huge wind farm in a place called Spring Valley. The wind was increasing and it was obvious that a storm was coming. I reckoned I could make it to Ely (Pronounced eely) and hunker down somewhere if the weather was indeed as serious as it seemed. The snow blew and thickened. When I finally arrived I passed an RV Park that looked so dismal in the deepening snow I could not bring myself to stop. I filled up with gas at a “Loves” truck stop and then decided that in consideration of the weather I should stuff up my own tank. The truck stop is adjoined to a sort-of casino and a Carl’s Jr. Fast burger joint. I know better. I still have a souvenir of that joint riding in my belly over a day later.
All the employees there, mostly chunky ladies who looked like the Michelin Sisters wore company T-shorts with “Beyond Meat” emblazoned on their chests. The irony did not escape me. Clearly the management has an all-you-can eat policy for its employees. There’s an old country song that says, “I love the way you fill out your skin-tight blue jeans.” Not! What rhymes with sweat pants? I suppose it may be cheaper than a retirement program, but pity the pallbearers! My ubiquitous gang of Asian tourists arrived, looking completely bewildered. Their patriarch, an aged, shuffling fellow was dressed incongruously in a Russian fur helmet, a pair of John Lennon sun glasses, camouflage trousers and open toe sandals with bright pink socks. And I thought I was a snappy dresser! While we snacked on our gristle burgers, a full blizzard descended with swirling fury.
I am a former great white north guy and reasoned that if I could make it to the other side of the mountains, conditions would ease and the storm could heap as much snow as it wanted…behind me. Hell, I’ve driven in everything. Fool! My photos attest to that. However, the most weirdly wonderful thing happened as I set out on that trek. I could smell coal smoke and put it down to an over-reaction to my lunch or perhaps my angst about the weather. Then I saw it! Had I also begun to hallucinate? I leapt out into the wintry blast with my mobile phone. (My serious cameras were not going to be taken out into the driving snow.) There, in that raging blizzard, was a steam locomotive backing an antique work train onto a siding. I could not have been more amazed had I been looking at the ‘Queen Mary’. I’ve reviewed my short video and photos repeatedly to confirm what I saw. It is still hard to believe. You can google up information on the railway museum in Ely) Go closer to spring. I drove on westward into that storm; sometimes my speed was down to fifteen mph. I had to stop repeatedly to clear the ice from my windshield and wipers.
I was right. The snow eased and visibility improved and I arrived in Eureka Nevada. It was winter-bound and the RV park I saw looked closed. After a short stretch and breathe and shoot- up with my camera, I drove on west into the now-brilliant sunset hoping to find a place to stop for the night in Austin. Everything there was wintered out as well. After almost colliding with a large herd of mule deer on the main street I drove on down the mountain into the darkness. I looked back and saw that Stokes Castle was cleverly lit with golden light. Every time I drive across Nevada, Austin is on my route. This time I closed a loop of my south-bound leg to San Carlos. I hate looking for a spot to spend the night in the dark when I’m not sure where I am. Eventually I found a safe turn-out which proved to be the former site of a Pony Express station called ‘Cold Spring.’
In the morning I took photos of the surrounds and also ruins of a former telegraph station. Later, in perfect light, I came upon an archaeological site with loads of ancient and beautiful pictographs near Grimes Point, looking down on the Fallon Naval Air Base. Yep, right there in the desert! Tonight, I discovered I’d done something wrong and have no images to download from the day. Swear words! My water pump had again frozen last night. Later in the day as it thawed, a hose came loose and the water tank under the bed emptied itself inside the van. Grit! You’ve gotta have grit!
It was fortunate that I made a decision to put my head down and just drive, ignoring some great images along the way, (which I would have lost as it turned out.) I drove through Reno (Eeeech) and then north, heading for Susanville California. Then I chose to head for low ground and put the last mountain passes behind me. Eventually I arrived in Red Bluff a few thousand feet ASL lower. In the wake of last year’s horrific wild fires, there is no space available in this area for the likes of me. Many of those displaced folks are living in RV Parks all over the interior of Northern California. So with no wifi again, no blogs will be posted tonight. I am in some very beautiful countryside, about one-hundred miles from the coast, parked on the side of the road once more. Think of the money I’m saving in fees. There is a gentle steady rain falling which, I know, is more snow in the mountains behind me.
Hard winter conditions have pursued me for the past week. I’m frustrated in not finding the rest and reboot I sought. I am in fact, exhausted. Meanwhile, at home, snow is piling up with more to come. Folks are emptying the grocery stores in anticipation of continuing harsh weather. I try not to feel guilty about being out here on the lam. Silly bugger!
“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” … Scott Adams.
Bob Marley and other Reggae musicians often sing about Zion. So, I’ve been there, I want to go back and spend time working with the changing light. I’ll need some sort of motorcycle so I can park easily along the roadside wherever I need to stop.Finding a pull-out is a challenge. For the moment I have to go home and reload. Just west of the park I came upon a fabulous place(They claim a 5 Star rating) and I enjoyed my stay in the poshest RV Park ever. In the morning I discovered the park is located on the banks of the Zion River where it flows through Virgin Utah. How did folks name their towns? By the way, I met a lady while there who makes hand-made high-top moccasins. They are beautiful. Her website is Moccasin Lady.com. Check it out.
As I drove northwest the skies became duller, snow began to fly and I speculated that I may have to find a niche to wait out the storm. North of a community called Cedar City I found the highway that would take me across the Utah border. I arrived in Baker, Nevada shortly before sundown at a lovely RV Park. Their water supply was frozen up. Fine!
My trip for the day encompassed traversing several mountain passes and broad, wonderfully dramatic valleys. The light there reminded me of Scotland in the way it constantly changed as the shadows raced across the broad plains of the wide valleys. What a wonderful journey! Again, my photographic efforts seemed pale against the task of capturing the feeling of that vastness.
“We do not really know what draws a human being out into the world. Is it curiosity?A hunger for experience? An addiction to wonderment? The man who ceases to be astonished is hollow, possessed of an extinguished heart. If he believes everything has already happened, that he has seen it all, then something most precious has died within him … the delight in life.”
I’ve described arriving in Page, Arizona. It was a time to buy provisions, do laundry and purposely begin heading in a vague direction toward home. It is amazing what can happen in one day. The next two blogs will be pictorial accounts of an amazing and ongoing trek.
“All I’ve ever wanted was an honest week’s pay for an honest day’s work.”
(Remember that images can be enlarged by clicking on them)
I am determined to journey homeward in a meandering fashion, with no particular route planned. The journey, after all, is its own reward. After all the repairs and expenses I knew I dare drift no further eastward, away from the general direction of home on Vancouver Island. I arrived in Flagstaff, where it was cold, snowy and blowing. I found a McDonalds and checked my e-mail and the weather. With more real winter to come, I checked for an RV Park then entered the data into my dash-mounted GPS. It lead me for miles in all directions and finally in the gathering darkness, I fired the miserable little box. The Grand Canyon was in my sights so I headed westward, where I would turn on to Highway 64 and find any old place to camp.
The night was crackling cold. I piled on all my blankets and thanked the Gods for my propane furnace. The stars were amazing. By morning the potable water pump had frozen. I was worried about split plumbing but all’s well that ends. I arrived at the Park Gate, paid the horrific fee, and found my way to the snowy parking lot. I’ve seen thousands of photos and films of this incredible hole in the planet, but nothing can prepare a person for the moment when you first look upon the Grand Canyon. If you are not rendered speechless, then you are a sad creature indeed. My photos can only confirm that I was there; they cannot do justice to the expansive and overwhelming feeling of the place.
Unfortunately the price of being able to easily attend one of the world’s greatest marvels is that there are people, bus loads of them, steadily arriving in an endless convoy. They overwhelmed the place, with hordes pushing, shouting, being rude in every possible way and seemed oblivious to any sanctity or wonder. They’d come half-way around the planet to take selfies on their mobile phones and absolutely nothing else seemed to matter. I really do try to love all of God’s creatures and I hate categorization and racism so all I’ll say is that it is holiday time in celebration of Chinese New Year. “Gong Xi Fa Cai” with all due respect! These tourists were everywhere, I mean every-bloody where I was to go in the following days. Their behaviour was consistently rude and arrogant. Shop keepers and vendors expressed dread at their invasion. I’ve been in China, the folks there are charming and considerate. I cannot explain beyond my personal observation of what happens when they are visiting here. I should quickly add that I’ve found other cuacasion cultural groups just as abominable when on their vacation. People!
With the fabulous shifting light, I could have stayed, but after having actually been shouldered aside a few times, I decided to proceed forthwith. My plan was to drive on to a place called Cameron, where I could consider my options, but the road had been closed due to wintry conditions. Swearwords indeed! Why the hell could the National Parks folks not have made the closure clearly noticeable beforehand?
Frustrasted, with no other option, I headed the sixty miles back to Flagstaff, fortunately in part, on a different route. I ended my day in Page, Arizona on the shores of the great man-made Powell Lake where the Colorado River was dammed, and damned. Incredible scenery was sacrificed to make a huge recreational waterway. I had no interest in seeing it and headed off to see other wonders. Everywhere I go, I am boggled by what I see. The grandeur and vastness is too much to comprehend. I want to come back and slowly sponge it in and so the bottom is blown out of my bucket list. I am bemused that nearly all the best views are smudged by power lines. Or on clear days, by an endless parade of jet contrails streaking in all directions. I wonder repeatedly at how the world must have looked before it was “Settled” and how we have altered it so drastically and so quickly. Small wonder at the disenchantment of the First Nations People.
Finally arriving at the Arizona/Utah border I had to choose a route that lead approximately northwest. With a simple choice at a crossroads I left the natural wonder of the scenery of Kanab Utah behind and drove over yet another snowy pass into the wonderland of Zion National Park. I had barely heard of this place and can only describe it, inadequately, with photographs. I caught an incredible afternoon light and realized that everything was happening in a serendipitous order that makes perfect sense in retrospect, including some very wonderful people I meet along the way.
Light jazz was playing on the local radio station. Saxophone, piano and pan flute. Then came a crash and a flash of light. For a moment I thought I was back in Ajo with yet another sonic boom. It was thunder and lightening. Thick rain and snow pellets rattled down on the van.
It is hard to comprehend that only this morning I was among the palms and cacti of the broad Ajo Valley. On the way, I missed a turn and drove miles out of my way and then had to drive through the heart of Phoenix. It’s no place for the likes of me and I’m glad to have that gauntlet behind me. Now I am at 6000’ASL in the boulder-tumbled mountains above Prescott, southwest of Flagstaff Arizona. I drove up from the valley east of Phoenix into the clouds and onto a high plateau which rapidly became a jumbled rocky forest and a winding, snaking road that crawled through it. The radio station is from nearby Prescott, the local forecast is for up to three inches of snow tonight. The countryside and forest are fantastic, entirely new to me. That’s why I came. As promised I’m meandering homeward but palm trees to snow in one day, that was not within my foresight.
I am determined to take some gorgeous photos of my own in the Sedona region and then meander on northward on routes which are new to me. All the repairs I’ve had to make on the van have gobbled up my already tight budget. So there is a stress factor but I am determined to return home refreshed and recharged. Old aviation clichés about wings and prayers and groping through the murk with dusty gas tanks are coming to mind. Well, ordeal or adventure, that it is up to me. I have had some wonderful moments, making wonderful new friends and seeing amazing things. And, the grandest times of my life have been when I didn’t have the proverbial pot. No, not the one you smoke!
Tonight I’m snug in a National Forest Service campground, parked on a level asphalt pad with a lighted outhouse only a few long paces away. The fee is a modest $5. The forest around is open, a mix of Ponderosa Pine and Juniper. There are punctuations of clear rushing streams among jumbles of smooth, large boulders. It is the sort of woodland where I could wander blissfully for days. Look there’s another deer! I am warm, dry, fat and happy inside the van. As I edit my day’s photos the radio station KAHM, Prescott Arizona, 102.7 continues to play a lovely mix of music. It will be a long dark night and it sure beats sleeping in a ditch. I realize that, for the moment, I don’t want to be anywhere else. That’s a grand feeling! G’night.
Over the pass and down through the funky old mining town of Jerome I descended to the broad, undulating valley below and began tacking and gybing across the country like a good sailor should. The suddenly I found myself in Sedona. The natural scenery is stunning and beyond description. The whole town has been designed to blend in with that natural wonder. Despite the reek of money and the glossy architecture it is elegant and makes this town, in my opinion one of the most beautiful inland communities I have ever seen. Even in February, the sightseers were everywhere. I can only imagine how it is in the peak seasons.
I know those devastating numbers of people need to be controlled but it gets frustrating. No matter where I wanted to stop for more photos there is a plethora of signs and concrete preventers of some description. You are expected to display a permit but there is no indication of where to purchase one. Other places one is able to stop will not accept the day permit from the last place. Travelling north from Sedona along incredibly beautiful Oak Creek there is no place to pull over and work your camera. I finally emerged out of the spectacular scenery, miffed about all the photo opportunities I had to pass by. It is cold and snowy and blowing. I am sitting in the van tonight somewhere west of Flagstaff apparently on a road to the Grand Canyon. It will be beautiful with all this snow. Yesterday I was in Ajo. It is a long way away now. Was I ever really there?
“Part of being sane is being a little bit crazy.” …Janet Long