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Friday, March 24, 2017

Grumpy, Dopey, Sneezy, and Sleepy...On Travel, and Winding Down in "The Circumference of Home"

This update comes to you from a low bandwidth boondock camp on the westward side of Utah's Abajo Mountains, 7500 feet above sea level, deep in a forest of aromatic ponderosa. Finally, we outrun the stubborn dome of high pressure and resulting record-setting heat, and are able to go about our walks, hikes, and bike rides in coolness of body, mind, and spirit.  #heatsucks!

Either Bobbie and I are overdosed on our hypothyroidism meds or global warming is real and upon us. This "new normal" messes with the "comfort level" of my beloved southwest Sonoran Desert playground, and threatens to rein in future wintertime Rv sojourns.

Checking southern Arizona's forecasted "Highs" between December and March should not be an exercise in "fear and loathing." If this really is the "new normal," it climbs beyond the upper limit of acceptable temps required for long days of desert play. At least when it's too cold I can add another layer of clothing. But when it's too hot, well, there's only so much I can take off without offending prudish gang members :). Adding carbon-based fuel to that fire, our Rv "style" is primarily Boondocking, which means no plugins for Goldie's energy-sucking air conditioner. (FYI: When you find yourself loitering in the frozen food section of supermarket's, clutching bags of frozen peas to underarms and back of neck, it's time to  engage the "wheels" of your Rv and vamoose).  Au revoir, Tucson; farewell, Phoenix; Box Canyon out, and headed north to higher ground in search of lower temps.

The southwest's upward trend in temperatures over the past decade is truly noticeable out on "the trail." I grew up in Arizona during the 50's, lived in under-insulated tin-can trailers of one sort or another from suburban Phoenix to a sprawling grassland ranch down south on Meh-hee-co's border. It was the good ole days, when a mere three-strand barbed wire fence was good enough to separate "them" from "us." And by-the-way, that ranch couldn't have survived without a fence-hopping workforce.

I recall some of the years we lived in Phoenix when temps didn't reach 90 till May. And in June, July, and August, when temps routinely topped 110, we somehow managed to survive with only a single evaporative cooler on our hot-box trailer de jour. We even got along without AC in our vehicles until 1960. Imagine pulling that off nowadays in temps that nudge 120.

Anyway, last week we found our comfort zone—the middle 70's—on south-central Utah's Cedar Mesa. We set a boondock camp five miles off the pavement on a rutted "slippery-when-wet" sinkhole of a road on top of Comb's Ridge, offering prayers to the Weather Gods that it wouldn't rain. An hour later, friends Erik and Maureen rolled in pulling their new high-clearance travel trailer, and joined our camp. It was a spur-of-the-moment meet up, the kind where the designated rendezvous point remained in flux till the last second. That evening we aligned a row of camp chairs on bluff's edge, sipped Lagunitas, and toasted a fiery sunset.

About this time every spring, the realization of another winter's passing begins to sink in. I reflect on the miles traveled, friends reacquainted, happy-hour conversations, and the thousand miles hiked and biked. Hours spun into days, days into weeks, weeks into months, and, "Poof," an entire season of people, places, and landscapes evaporates into the haze of past tense. We are appreciative of being granted another chapter in our book, another line in our third act, another brick in our wall. 

But now, like a speck of dust borne on the dying winds of a desert haboob, I must fall back to earth and face the stationary reality within my "circumference of home." Strangely, I'm ready, eager even, to not travel, to not dump, to not camp, especially in noisy campgrounds or formerly "private boondocks" that are seemingly now known to the entire Rv world. I'm ready to not contend with the gridlock of endless road construction projects. I'm done with neanderthal tourists in "Cruise America" campers, who, in a million acre plot of vacant Govie land, choose to camp 20 feet from our open windows and run their freaking generator at all hours of the day and night while simultaneously screaming gibberish at the top of their lungs in an effort to hold a conversation over the clamor of, yes, you guessed it, their freaking generator! 

No. Lord. I'm ready to rest these tired eyes on familiar beauty, fill my lungs with brisk, clean, exhaust-free air and revel in the luxury of space... like a full-size bathroom that doesn't require contortionist maneuvers for someone my size to take a shit, a place that doesn't reek with the malodorous funk of a week's worth of pee and defecation. Ready... at least until the next haboob of discontent plucks me from the nest of routine and drops me on the road again.  

I'm gravitating to the belief that wanderers need an occasional rest stop from travels and exploration—a circumference of home—if for no other reason than to "digest" where they've gone, what they did, and whom they met. Maybe then we could write more from a point of reflection and perspective, instead of a rush of in-the-moment "puppy love" like some redolent newbie full-time Rv cheerleader. Yeah, Grumpy. 

People change. All too soon new becomes old and tired, including travelers. I almost feel sorry for aspiring full-time Rv'ers/boondockers because, from my perspective, the Golden Age has passed. The internet has whored nearly every unknown, untracked, and secluded campsite (preaching to choir here) and guided hoards of  to the exact GPS crosshairs. Even National Parks, our supposed last refuges of nature? Hell, there's shorter lines at Disney World, where the food's cheaper and frustration less.       

Still, I never return home quite the same person as before leaving, and this is good. Travelers are, to varying degrees, irrevocably altered by exposure to new and different landscapes, cultures, and people, even those that aren't "worlds away." Likewise, "home" is never quite the same upon return. Someone is born, someone dies. A new house goes up next door, blocking the view of Mount Abram (sigh). A newly renovated Hot Springs Pool awaits testing, as does a new restaurant. Best of all, winter's snow is all but be melted... at least in town. I'm reminded of T. S. Eliot's verse:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time
In my current read, "The Circumference of Home," Kurt Hoelting writes about "living locally" on Washington's picturesque Whidbey Island. In the book he quote's from Richard Nelson's "The Island Within," and I thought an Rv audience might appreciate a little "home" cooked food for thought:  "What makes a place special is the way it buries itself inside the heart, not whether it's flat or rugged, rich or austere, wet or arid, gentle or harsh, warm or cold, wild or tame. Every place, like every person, is elevated by the love and respect shown toward it, and by the way in which its bounty is received."

Later, Hoelting reaches deeper, questioning our motives for travel: "There is nothing so human as the desire to explore our world, to cross the horizon, to see a different night sky, fresh landscapes, other ways of being human... Yet travel, if we let it become an end in itself, can be a way of actually running from our lives, in the vain hope that we will eventually find ourselves in the guise of other places... just another addiction, which only separates us further from the actual life we have been given." 

I had to "chew" on that one for a while. What am I running from???

Be it spokes, paddles, boots, or plain ole sneakers, the BCB tries to convey the importance and meaningfulness of self-propelled movement in the outdoors. Listen to how Hoelting expresses this sentiment: "There is a greater wholeness to the fabric of a landscape we have walked through, a more considerate quality of approach, that makes both the path and the destination feel more alive... and we don't experience the same separation between where we are and what we are." I will leave you with that thought... 

I realize much has been left unpublished regarding this winter's travels... I'm still working on the reasons why. Perhaps this interminably long post will partially make up for my truancy and give you something to "chew" on.

Till next time, Love and Cheer to all,
mark and bobbie... winding down within our "circumference of home."


  1. I think you just described my first real case of "Full-timer's Ennui."

  2. Excellent writing, Mark. In the mid-70s to mid-80s I lived in Tucson and walked or rode the bike everywhere. My pickup did not have air conditioning because I was too poor to have the coolant recharged. It was hot, but it was tolerable. I think those days are gone.

  3. Amen, Amen and Amen to your first paragraph. Aromatic Ponderosas – SWOON! Heat sucks – INDEED! And a BIG amen to coolness of body, mind and spirit.

    Fabulous post. I too feel the golden age of RVing is past. There really is no where now to escape and be ALONE without the sounds and sights of others all around you. Boondocking isn’t the boonies any more. And the National Parks – I’ve always avoided summer but if you have to avoid everything but dead winter in order not to be inundated well…………

    Love Richard Nelson’s work and especially the Island Within. Thanks for the new recommendation. From it, you’ve left me with a thought that has been on my mind a lot, though not so eloquently, as I find myself doing much more hiking and kayaking than biking for the slower pace and closeness of experience. Thanks for a great and thoughtful read.

  4. The number of RVers I encounter on the road now is at least double that of three years ago. An example is Big Bend NP. It very seldom had full campgrounds. I just drove in whenever I wanted chose a site and set up. This year starting in early Jan they were packed full every night until a week ago. It set new attendance records for the park by over double according to one ranger I talked to. We are in a new era of RVing. And it is not an improvement.

  5. It's been three years since we stopped - we had many good years living in our rv. Used to be we could just show up at Catalina SP and find a site. In Big Bend there were hardly any people except at La Kiva during spring break. In Moab we could just find a campsite at Goose Island and self pay. What was great was the fact we did not have to make plans. Spontaneity ruled our travels (in your book, Mark-Serendipity). I love the TS Eliot quote.... We shall not cease. -Scamp

  6. It's been three years since we stopped - we had many good years living in our rv. Used to be we could just show up at Catalina SP and find a site. In Big Bend there were hardly any people except at La Kiva during spring break. In Moab we could just find a campsite at Goose Island and self pay. What was great was the fact we did not have to make plans. Spontaneity ruled our travels (in your book, Mark-Serendipity). I love the TS Eliot quote.... We shall not cease. -Scamp

  7. It's been three years since we stopped - we had many good years living in our rv. Used to be we could just show up at Catalina SP and find a site. In Big Bend there were hardly any people except at La Kiva during spring break. In Moab we could just find a campsite at Goose Island and self pay. What was great was the fact we did not have to make plans. Spontaneity ruled our travels (in your book, Mark-Serendipity). I love the TS Eliot quote.... We shall not cease. -Scamp

  8. Have you visited Whidbey Island lately?...Private wells are no longer potable due to fire-fighting chemicals. The A-6's have been replaced with F-18's; the new folks who have built houses close to the bases are bitchn' about the noise..
    Sure glad I'm not just starting out exploring...Is was swell..

  9. Mark - you forgot about Alaska and Yukon and NW Territories.

  10. I'm trying to reconcile these comments with our observations this winter at The Slabs, Quartzite,AZ and Ehrenberg, AZ. The numbers of RVers seemed down everywhere we went (not that we would ever complain about that!). I asked a gal at the RV parts & service place and she said that somebody from the BLM told her that their numbers alone were down 100,000 for the season. There has been some speculation that the unfavorable Canadian exchange rate was part of it. My personal theory is that our newest armchair warrior has a lot of people in hiding. I share your disgust with boneheads who mindlessly run their gensets after dark . . . I keep thinking there better be somebody in there on life support!

    1. Regarding less people at the "Slabs," and Quartzite, for that matter... the downward trend is understandable. After going to the Q our first year out, I didn't get the joy of camping alongside hundreds of thousands of other people... with cars and buggies and ATVs zooming dust clouds... the steady drone of generators, and the circus tent charlatans hawking their wares. Once was enough, twice too much.
      Thanks for your comment Jim...

  11. Once again you've written eloquently about some of the many things going through my head as we travel. Not only are boondocking sites overrun these days, all the campgrounds and RV parks are full, or fuller, than they've been in years past. Don't even get me started on the heat...

    We are looking forward to finding our new "circumference of home" in the next year or so. A sanctuary, a nest, a place to decompress fully, with occasional forays out for exploration.

    Love your writing Mark. Though there are fewer posts, I appreciate the wisdom and thought that goes into everything you write.

  12. Admittedly, we are newbies as full-timers. But NOT newbies as RVers. We're coming up on our first anniversary as full-timers, having traveled SLOWLY from So-Cal to Glacier National Park, then west where we spent a month on Whidbey Island. At present, we are winding up 2 1/2 months in Quartzite, half of which was free BLM camping. We have loved nearly every minute, regardless of locale. We avoid crowded campsites, and not everyone we have met is to our liking, nor us to their liking. We can live with that. As for uncrowded boondocking spots, they still exist. All one need do is some research. Info is everywhere. The Internet and Google are wonderful tools.

    So.....perhaps some of us have become jaded. Obviously, national parks are going to be crowded. If you must go, go in the off season. We were in Zion in December. It was wonderful. We were also in Capital Reef and Flaming Gorge in November. We were the only ones in either campground. There are myriads of boondocking spots. Go find them. As for weather and climate, DUH!, if it's too warm, head north. And quit bitching. :)

  13. Everything that's not in front of us is past.From the beginning of Four Quartets: Time present and time past
    Are both perhaps present in time future
    And time future contained in time past.
    If all time is eternally present
    All time is unredeemable.
    What might have been is an abstraction
    Remaining a perpetual possibility
    Only in a world of speculation.
    What might have been and what has been
    Point to one end, which is always present.

  14. Oh, I can relate to what you're talking about. We full-timed for 2 years before it became apparent to me that I also yearned to have an occasional "return to" place, not to nest but as you put it to "digest". So for the moment, we're out there some of the time!
    You've described it so well in this post, plus I've added a few books to my reading list - Imkelina

  15. I'm glad we've had these past few years to "dream" of full time rv'ing, our situation now is changing and it looks as if we will be keeping our home base after all. Most likely we will go on a series of long trips instead, and probably that is best as I was concerned about burn-out. Nice to have someplace to come home to sometimes! And now you can see how far behind I am in my reading...


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