Archive for November, 2008

Random photos, part I

Saturday, November 29th, 2008

Writing this new, randomly-posted blog instead of my daily Tour of America blog has caused several curious dilemmas for me.  One, for example, is that when I don’t write every day, a week later I often can’t remember what I did.  With the old blog, I could just look it up, but now days disappear from time to time. I seem to have a choice: write daily or accept that some days will blur into the past.

Another dilemma is that photos are piling up on my computer.  Taken with intent, but unused, some of them deserve a better fate than to sit on a hard drive awaiting the rare possibility that I might need them for an article in the future.

To resolve this, I have decided that every few weeks or months, I’ll pull out a few of my favorite images and run them all together as “Random photos.”  Not only will I be able to share a few possibly interesting images, but I can document a few small events that otherwise might not have made the record.

Here’s the first installment. (All photos are by me unless otherwise noted.)  Click any photo to enlarge it.

Air Force jet

af-jet.jpg I was at March Field with Terry and Marie last month, touring the aviation museum, when this large jet began practicing touch-and-go landings.  At some points the jet was close enough that with a 200mm lens it felt like I could reach out and touch it.  I haven’t bothered to research the model of the aircraft; perhaps a reader will identify it for us.

Home invasion

home-invasion-cat.jpg We don’t have a cat, but this one has been showing up in the backyard occasionally.   That’s a neat trick considering our backyard is entirely surrounded by 5-7 foot walls.  Eleanor, being a major softie for cats (but allergic to them), left the window open with the hope that the critter would visit.

The cat thought she was being clever, but I caught her in the act.  Once she saw my camera, she ran like a Hollywood starlet spotted in Wal-Mart.

New cushion fabric

as-new-cushions.jpg recycled-beach-club-fabric.jpg The blue-and-cream “Beach Club” fabric that came with our Airstream turned out to be wholly impractical. Not only did it immediately start to darken with dirt, but it seemed that there was no stain which could be cleaned off it.  After three years of spaghetti sauce, kid feet, and several unsuccessful attempts to wash it, we finally gave up and asked our friend Greg to make covers for us from a more kid-proof fabric.  The result is the brown Southwestern themed cushions you see in the photo.

And what did we do with the old “Beach Club” fabric?   Why, we gave it to the guys pictured at right.  They managed to get it clean and make nice chairs out of it.  (Not my photo.)

By the way, Greg says if anyone comes to Tucson to visit us and stays for at least a few days, he’d be willing to make a set for them while they wait.   We’re probably going to ask him to recover the rest of the dinette as well.

Turkey slicing

turkey-cutting.jpg chef-martin.jpgSince I’m usually behind the camera, this is a rare photo.  You can see how I dressed up and got my hair coiffed for Thanksgiving.  Emma is peering over anxiously to make sure I cut plenty of dark meat for her. Later, when she’s a teenager and utterly rejecting us for our meat-eating barbarism, this photo will be useful blackmail material.  On the wall between us is a black-and-white photo of Eleanor’s grandfather, Martin Manzonetta, during his reign as Head Chef at Boston’s famous Locke-Ober restaurant. You can see him at right in a scanned image from a magazine article, showing his famous dish Lobster Savannah (still served at the Locke-Ober today).

Rainbow palm

rainbow-palm.jpgTucson is not a place known for thunderstorms in November, but we had a few beauties around Thanksgiving, and one of them resulted in a spectacular rainbow just to the north of our house.  Emma spotted it and I got a few great shots.  In Hawaii, a rainbow over a palm tree is a common sight, but here in Tucson it’s more like getting snow at Christmastime.

To my mind, it’s better than snow at Christmastime.  A palm tree swaying in a gentle warm breeze is exactly the symbol I want to remember this Thanksgiving.

Building a new Thanksgiving tradition

Thursday, November 27th, 2008

It is Thanksgiving Day, and for the first time in three years, we are not in our Airstream.  We’re in a house, trying to build a new tradition.

With fuel prices collapsing below any level we saw during our full-timing years ($1.75 a gallon for unleaded is easy to find here in Tucson), it seems a lost opportunity not to be wandering off for Thanksgiving.  The Airstream is completely packed and ready to go at any time, but for some reason we don’t feel compelled to go anywhere.  Our preceding three holidays are all easily remembered for their differing locations: one in the California redwoods, one with a group of similarly homeless Airstreamers in Tampa, the last in Riverside CA with an old friend.  This one will be remembered for being the first in our Tucson home.

Along with building new family traditions, we are preparing for the desert winter.  As you might guess, there’s not much preparation needed.  I won’t be mounting a snow plow to my truck or stocking up on home heating oil.  Our preparations involve trying to get this completely uninsulated house to be a little warmer.  The house is basically a stack of adobe bricks on a concrete slab, with a flat roof.  It’s wonderfully cool even on 100 degree days, but in the 40s, 50s, and 60-degree days we get in December and January, it is completely unheatable.

silver-travel-trailer-slippers-from-front.jpgBeing Tucson, where nobody wants to invest much in heating, the heating system uses the same ceiling-height air ducts as the air conditioning.  So when we turn on the heat, we get a blast of hot air up around the ceiling while the floor remains chilled to the ideal comfort level of penguins.  I did not think when we moved southwest that I’d still need my Airstream slippers in the winter.

Our fireplace in particular is a disaster, from a heating perspective.  It is pleasant to look at and practically in new condition (the first owners of the house never used it in over 40 years of ownership), but as Shakespeare wrote, when lit with a raging fire it provides “sound and fury, signifying nothing,” especially not heat.

There are various home improvements we could install (ceiling fans, better windows, fireplace insert, etc) but for now we are being cheap about it and simply buying a few rugs and extra blankets.  It’s a good excuse to pick up a couple of the Pendletons we’ve been eyeing. (On eBay you can often find bargains on them.)  I’m not particularly motivated to start piling more money into this house.  If things go as planned, we won’t even be here in January.

The other winter preparation, if you can call it that, will be to pick the grapefruit. I have been reading about citrus cultivation and care for the past few weeks, because later I hope to install one or two more citrus when we finally get to re-designing the back yard.  The one grapefruit tree we have has responded nicely to the emergency care I gave it last year, and has rewarded us with a heavy load of over 90 fruit. They’ll be ready for picking in December.  I may wait until we get a freeze because people say the fruit sweetens after a light freeze.  It never freezes here for more than a few hours, but there’s a good chance we’ll get a short one overnight in late December.

Looking forward to next summer, I’m also working on plans to get our 1968 Caravel back on the road, if not entirely restored.  Those of you who read the Tour of America blog might recall that last July I built most of the interior furniture and delivered it up to GSM Vehicles in Plattsburgh NY for storage and eventual installation.  The list of things the Caravel needs seems to be getting longer rather than shorter as I approach the supposed end of the project.  Last night I was tipped off to a good deal on a replacement refrigerator on eBay (a slightly scratched unit being sold off by Airstream), so that was purchased and will soon be freighted up to GSM Vehicles as well.

With the refrigerator in place, we can finalize the kitchen cabinetry and start installing.  I’ll get back up to Vermont in July and finish the remaining interior parts before it’s time for the Vintage Trailer Jam.  I may start a mini-blog just on that topic later, to document the last phases of the Caravel’s restoration project.  By the way, the Vintage Trailer Jam 2009 is likely to happen in August — bigger & better –  but we are currently negotiating with venues, so an official announcement is still several weeks away.

That’s all far away stuff.  Right now our consideration is simply Thanksgiving Day, but looking at all these things I see that we have much to be thankful for. We still have the freedom to travel, happy things coming in the near future, a fun place to live, good family life, health, and even a few interesting challenges to solve.  The concerns we have can be shelved today, and the things we might view as negative can be turned into positives.

thanksgiving-cooking.jpgIn addition to being the first in this house, this Thanksgiving may also be notable for the thunderstorms.  All night it poured hard, a rare event in southern Arizona this time of year.  The humidity this morning is an astounding 89%.  All the dust has been washed away, and for one day it feels like we are in Houston.  It’s a novelty here, since we have not seen anything but sunshine in the last six weeks.

Eleanor’s major goal today is to make the house feel like a home by spending the entire day cooking a massive meal for six people.  We are not expecting any guests, so that means we’ll be having Thanksgiving for two days.  Emma has been recruited to help on the pie.  My job is technical support, which means making appropriate playlists for the iPod (you need a certain type of music to cook by, says Eleanor), looking up technical turkey details on the Internet, hauling off vegetable scraps to the compost bin, and answering the phone on Eleanor’s behalf while her hands are deep in various mixtures.

I had thought that ideally we would have hosted some guests for Thanksgiving, as we usually did when we lived in a house in Vermont.  Eleanor loves cooking for large groups, especially when they are known “eaters,” meaning people who will appreciate everything she puts on the table.  But as Thanksgiving approached it became clear that we wanted to just be together.  Friends would have been welcome, but being new to this house and this town, we are just as happy to spend the time with just each other.

Together we can live completely in this moment and think of nothing else.  That’s where the most memorable days come from, when you are completely absorbed in the moment and letting all the other things go.  To my mind, Thanksgiving is not a day of obligation but a day for self.  The outside world has gone away.  It can come back some other time.

Wally and the spammers

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

Last year, when people were talking about putting together a 50th anniversary Cape Town to Cairo Airstream caravan for 2009, somebody also came up with the idea of reprinting Wally Byam’s book “Trailer Travel Here and Abroad.”  Published in 1960, the book has long been out of print and copies are very difficult to find.  As with almost everything written from the glory days of Airstream in the 1950s and 1960s, that book is considered highly desirable by Airstream aficionados.

One of the organizers approached me to see if I could help.  He would donate a sacrificial copy of the book if I could work out how to scan it, reprint it in limited quantities, and distribute it to all of the caravan members.  I say “sacrificial” because in the process of scanning it, the book would likely be severely damaged or even cut to individual pages.

The problem with this idea was that there really is no good way to reproduce old books.  You can copy the pages and reprint them exactly as they appeared (smudges, tears, and all), but this generally results in something fairly crummy looking.  It also forces you to use exactly the same page proportions as the original.

Another method is simply to have a person re-type every word of the book.  That process is so expensive that it usually doesn’t make economic sense for purposes of reprinting an old book in small quantities.

Or, you can try Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to try to turn the printed words into a word-processing document, which can then be edited and reformatted.  But this also doesn’t work well, since the state of OCR technology is far from perfect.  Error rates are often high, which means a human being must go over every word to fix all the errors, and that can be just as bad as re-typing the whole book.

Interestingly, the wizards at Carnegie-Mellon University have found a great solution.  They’re getting you to help with the OCR process.  And they’ve gotten me to do it.  And millions of other people have been recruited as well. In fact, so many of us are helping that up to 150,000 hours of work can be contributed to the project every day.

captcha.jpg

You know those little text puzzles you have to solve before you can post comments on a blog, like the one above? They are called “captchas.”  The Carnegie-Mellon kids are using them to digitize old books and newspapers. One word in the puzzle is known to the computer, the other one is a word from an old book that the OCR software couldn’t recognize.  When you type the correct answer to the “known” word, the computer assumes your answer to the other word is also correct. Then it checks your answer against other people’s answers.  When enough people confirm the word, it gets added to the digitized version of the book.

Distributed computing projects like the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) have been commonplace for years.  Those projects rely on thousands of people allowing their personal computers to be used to solve tiny bits of very large mathematical problems.  But this is a new sort of distribution: Instead of computers being recruited to do the work, it is being distributed across millions of humans, most of whom have no idea that they’re working on a greater project.

What incredible irony.  We’ve developed a massive computing network that spans the globe, linking billions of people and enabling incredible capabilities, and we’re using it to facilitate a job that only humans can do.  When you solve the captcha, you’re becoming the ultimate worker bee, working toward the greater good but ignorant of the exact nature of the final project. You have to wonder, are the computers working for us, or are we working for the computers?

I suppose another way to look at it is that we are all contributing a tiny bit to eliminate the need for good typists. Thirty years ago, the job of re-setting the book would have been handed to a bunch of typesetters (a job title that no longer exists in the modern age).  But instead of hiring them, we are getting the job done for free by using the Internet to make use out of what would otherwise be wasted effort.

Another irony is that this wouldn’t be possible if the spammers hadn’t forced the need for captchas in the first place.  By relentlessly harassing websites, spammers have enabled this book digitization project.  Next time you encounter a spammer online, remember that someday Wally’s books will be available in print again and it might be thanks to them.

De-regulated toilet paper

Monday, November 24th, 2008

We had the first visitors to stay in the Airstream in its new role as occasional guest house. A family of five came down from Vermont on a bargain airfare and four of them inhabited the Airstream for a long weekend.  Being in the Airstream as it sits in the dark carport is not nearly as interesting as camping somewhere scenic, but it does have certain advantages for both hosts and guests.

I know this because the visit was successful despite four small children.  I generally am leery of situations where the children are equal or greater in number than the adults (you never know when they might band together and take over), but these were good kids.  Giving them their own space in the Airstream was instrumental to my perception, I’m sure, since they were out of sight and mind late at night and early in the morning.  Regardless, a good time was had.  In gratitude, they left Emma with the traditional Vermonter’s present: a cold.

So Emma is sniffling and honking all over the house now.  I’m trying to avoid that cold because I have to fly next week to the major RV industry trade show in Louisville KY.  If I get a cold, I can’t fly. In this case, I am somewhat split on the prospect.  If I get the cold, I miss an important opportunity to sell advertising and meet our current clients.  On the other hand, if I get the cold, I don’t have to go to Louisville in December.  (“First Prize: A Trip To Louisville in December!  Second Prize: You Get to Stay Home!”)

I don’t have anything against Louisville per se, but I do hate flying this time of year.  Flights tend to be crowded, winter storms are always a threat, and if I don’t get a cold from some visiting Vermont child I can be virtually guaranteed of getting one from a sneezing Rhinovirus Ronald on the airplane.

Plus there’s that oh-so-fun airline service.  Susan and Adam flew home for the holidays yesterday, and their report from that experience reminded me of the travails of traveling by air these days.  I’ll let Susan’s email speak for itself:

Our tickets to Portland, Maine, via Charlotte, North Carolina, cost $300 apiece.  Leaving Tucson, we asked to check bags to Charlotte where we planned to spend a few days, then go on to Newark.  “Can do,” says [name withheld], and it will cost another $500 apiece to do so.  Despite Charlotte’s closer proximity to Tucson, it costs more to get there.  Or costs more to get our one bag there because we could just get off the plane…

Okay, so Portland it is and that costs us another $15 to check the bag.  For passengers traveling with large overstuffed roller bags and bulging knapsacks and who carry all this stuff on board, luggage is free!

On board there are no services and nothing is free.  No free coke, tea.  Water costs $2.  Flight attendants are now in retail, hawking drinks and snacks at price points ranging from $1 to $7.  Do they get bonused on sales?  Other than than, they don’t seem to have any duties connected with making us feel comfortable and loved.

Oh there is one other duty to perform.  In the last 20 minutes of the flight, we’re subject to a commercial announcement, offering us a great deal on the US Air credit card with Bank of America that earns us great freebies on this self-service airline.  Who says that credit is tightening?  I’m able to obtain it as I’m sitting on a jetliner on its final approach to Charlotte.

I long ago gave up expecting anything but basic transportation from the airlines, but things have sunk below even my low expectations.  I’m usually content when they just leave me alone, but that is too much to ask on many airlines that insist on bombarding me with loud audio-visual messages hawking their junk.  Ever notice how the intrusive announcements always start right when you are drifting off to sleep after takeoff?

But what should I expect?  Today’s domestic air carriers are what you get when government agencies (TSA, FAA, NTSB) intersect with accountants.  Those are the people who really run things now.  The pilots and flight attendants are (excuse the pun) just along for the ride.  I think a few airlines could do better hiring psychologists and Disney “imagineers” to redesign their procedures and policies.  Then they might realize that blaring obnoxious messages above my head, on speakers than cannot be silenced, is what really forms my opinion of the experience of flying their jets.

I don’t care if they serve blue chips or pretzels, Coke or Pepsi.  I just want to get there with a minimum of fuss and a maximum of relaxation.  Leave me alone to read my book.  Tell me how to buckle my seatbelt if you really must, but otherwise please sit down.  They won’t do that, so I bring an arsenal of counter-annoyance equipment:  ear plugs, eye shades, snacks of my own, a distracting book, bottled water.  (An airline that offers complete sedation during the flight, like dentists, might be popular someday.)  For this trip, maybe I’ll add a surgical mask to the kit in case they seat me next to Ronald.

The airline business is just one of many things I don’t understand. Here’s an example of something that should be dead simple, but isn’t: Toilet paper doesn’t come in a standard roll size.

nonstandard-toilet-paper.jpgI’m serious.  On our big trip to IKEA last month, Eleanor bought a pair of SAGAN toilet paper roll holders.  Then she discovered that the Scott’s Single-Ply paper we used successfully for three years in our Airstream (because it dissolves nicely in the black tank, don’t ask how we know) doesn’t fit on the roller.  It’s just a tiny bit too wide.

But another version of toilet paper fits just fine.  This was a clear indication that we needed to Google “toilet paper roll size” and find out the story.  Turns out there’s no such thing as a standard toilet paper roll width. It commonly runs from 3.9 inches to 4.5 inches.  Buyer beware.

This is probably because we’re not as big on standards and regulations in the US as they are in other parts of the world.  I’d bet the European Union has very specific guidelines for toilet paper rolls, but here in the US we like to let the free market decide. That’s why wireless LAN technology languished for a decade before manufacturers finally agreed to let their equipment interoperate with other brands.  That’s why Europe had, for many years, a far superior cellular phone system (despite the fact that cell phones were invented here).  That’s why Alan Greenspan had to eat crow in October.  And that’s why we are paying $15 for checked bags and $2 for water after we pay for airline tickets.

I like free markets too, but it sure would be nice if my toilet paper fit and my retirement fund was still intact.  A few boundaries and guidelines are not necessarily a bad thing.  Maybe we could work up one that prohibits hawking credit cards above 10,000 feet, too.

Looking for diamonds

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

Yesterday I was having lunch at Zivaz (my new favorite Mexican restaurant in Tucson) with Adam and Susan.  They’re back from Los Angeles with their Airstream, and eager to talk about all things new and interesting, which is part of why  the lunch went on for nearly three hours.

Sometime after the plates were cleared, our conversation turned to the incredible array of Internet-based communications technologies that people have adopted lately.  We were specifically fascinated by the options for self-promotion: blogs, forums, Facebook, MySpace, etc.  I was interested in how those technologies might merge with other Internet communications like Skype, instant messaging, video conferencing, and with communities like online forums, Yahoo Groups, Gather, and LinkedIn.  It feels like an important evolution is in the wind.

glass-brain.jpgIt feels this way partly because there are so many overlapping offerings, and partly because the speed of self-promotion has accelerated.  Blogs allow you to post your thoughts every day or even every hour if you care to.  With micro-blog sites like Twitter, you can now keep the world abreast of your activities on a minute-by-minute basis.  “I’m having lunch with friends at Zivaz,” my Twitter post might say, and later, “I’m shopping for hiking boots on the east side.”  People can subscribe to your Twitter stream and keep up with your updates via mobile phone, if they want.

Amazingly, people do. To  me, posting every turn on the road and every snack you eat on the Internet seems narcissistic, and this is coming from a guy who posted his daily activities on a blog for three years.  But people do it, and on that basis alone I have to study the phenomenon to understand why they do it.  The trivialities of another person’s life can be very relevant if that’s someone you care about.  There is value to almost any information, for someone, even if it doesn’t work for me.  (I imagine myself trying to keep up with my hourly activities and it feels like something you can only maintain with extreme diligence or an abundance of ego.)

The other reason I am watching new communications and networking technologies is because they are surprisingly relevant to publishing a magazine.  Being a publisher means you need to take an interest in all things, and being a print publisher means you are selling horses in a Model T world, so you’d better be looking carefully at The Next Big Thing.  I don’t want to end up like the guy who sold typewriters, telegraphs, or film cameras.

zoltar-speaks.jpgBack in a former career I was charged with sitting around my office and thinking about things like this.  It was a great job, because I got to dig into technology and sociology subjects that I found interesting, and then do a ZOLTAR act, presenting my best guess as to what the future held.  People paid well for this, because I was part of a tight little team that usually got it right.  (A few of my minor blatherings live on in the Internet as archived columns and press releases.  The things that survive that period are not necessarily representative of my best work, but the Internet answers to no one.)

Now in the publishing business, I find myself spending a lot of time doing the same work.  I’m not in the paper business, I’m in the information business, and so there will inevitably come a time when I need to disseminate my information in a different way.  The only questions are:  when, and how?

Everyone loves a crystal ball, even if it’s not always 100% spot on, because any hint of what’s coming helps ease our collective anxiety. It’s useful to me to build  forecasts of the future so I can plan ahead, since Airstream Life is a quarterly with very long lead times.  The changes I want to make next summer and fall have to be planned today.

The trick is simply to listen critically, a skill not taught in most schools.  I trust my analytic skills but I’m not so vain as to think I know it all, so I listen.  I also don’t trust any single media outlet to be unbiased and accurate, so I criticize.  The media like to base their views on “consensus” of analysts, but having been in that industry I can tell you that the entire analytical field can be dead wrong and often is.  Just because a lot of people in the industry think (or want to believe) something is going to happen, doesn’t have anything to do with whether it does.  If you projected the accuracy rate of most analysts as a percentage, you’d find that weathermen do a lot better.

I’ll teach you how to be an analyst.  It’s like making jewelry.  You don’t start with a design in mind.  You start by digging through millions of tons of muck (perspectives of other people) trying to find a few diamonds in the rough (good ideas).  Then you clean up each diamond, check it for flaws (fact-checking), and if it meets your standard, you trim it up into something better.

Each diamond directs you to the ultimate jewelry that it should be.  Once you’ve got enough diamonds, you’ll see the finished pattern, and you can assemble your piece into a beautiful theory.  As long as you don’t force the process, it almost always works.

The failing of this process is when the underlying assumptions of the entire world are wrong.  You’d be amazed at how often that happens.  When the underlying assumptions are wrong, everyone’s theories are wrong by default.  For example, imagine all the weathermen predicting tomorrow’s high temperature.  If the sun goes nova, they’re all going to be wrong, aren’t they?

Analysts and academics excuse their errors in this regard by blaming “disruptive technology,” “quantum leaps,”  “hidden factors,” and a whole host of other terms.  What they mean is, “We didn’t see that coming.”  Technology people love this, because it always sounds good for them to call their latest invention “disruptive” or “game-changing” even if it isn’t.  It helps with raising money.  But a good analyst should never fall in love with their theories to the point that they forget to consider that all the underlying assumptions are dead wrong.

This explains why I like looking at our self-absorbed, noisy, and wildly diverse opinions. Sure, we may be becoming a nation of narcissists who post rants and idiotic opinions in public forums, but we are also a nation of people with ideas. Those ideas are going to form the basis of our future.  I want to know what those ideas are.

This is also why I am a rabid First Amendment supporter.  Some ideas are bad ideas, but quashing ideas is  never good.  Once in a while I get a letter from someone “disappointed and disgusted” in the magazine for something I allowed to reach print.  Once it was a cartoon that was perceived as sexist, another time it was a photo considered racist.  Once I said something about a campground in a blog and a couple of people told me I shouldn’t criticize.  All of these people ran to what I call “the free market defense,” threatening to cancel their subscriptions.

I encourage that.  My opinion is that someone who thinks only their ideas and perspectives should be allowed in print, doesn’t deserve the benefits of a free press.  Those who are so inured to conflicting opinions or standards that they must refuse to accept a harmless travel magazine should probably stay home with the shades drawn.  So my approach is to politely share my view on the offending item, and then invite them to cancel if they can’t see their way to continuing to support the magazine.  I have never caved in to pressure of this type and I never will.

paul-winer.jpgI think the magazine’s readers are generally tolerant people.  In four years of publishing I’ve gotten four or five hate letters.  Mostly the letters seem to come from unhappy people who feel victimized about all sorts of things. The rest of the bunch put up with whatever I produce.  I’m curious, however, to see if I get any reaction to the photo on page 44 of the new Winter 2008 issue (in the mail now).

We live in communities of people bound together by ideas and commonalities.  The magazine represents the centerpiece of American freedom and a centuries-old publishing tradition that helps hold communities together.  Somewhere down the road — soon, I hope — we will expand the role of the magazine to encompass the fascinating Internet technologies that are developing and integrating right now.  If we do it right, we’ll grow stronger (both as a business and as a community), and have more fun. I’m looking forward to that.

It’s the end of the mall as we know it

Saturday, November 15th, 2008

The economy is collapsing and it’s partially my fault.

You see, for the past three years I wrote about how happy we were in the Airstream, traveling full-time and living cheap. We didn’t buy much, we didn’t throw much away, and we were happy with less stuff in our lives.  We were free of the trap of consumerism, having less and enjoying life more.  And this was bad.

Bad because apparently, other people listened.  They listened to me, and to Reverend Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping, and the people who advocate “Buy nothing day” the day after Thanksgiving.  They listened to newspapers and TV stations too, who told them that we were all going to consumer hell this year, and consequently people slowed down their shopping and now we’re all in economic quicksand.

I will admit that I was happy during our three years of minimalist living.  Heck, it took that long just to get rid of the surplus stuff we’d acquired during a dozen years of homeownership.  (We’re still using up the last of the hotel soap collection.) In those three years we had less each year than the year before, and we liked it.  Life was simpler, we didn’t have to worry about money nearly as much, and we didn’t waste energy coveting or caring for expensive things.

img_2241crop.JPGBut now my frugal message has come back to haunt me.  Earlier this year people started to think twice before buying big-ticket items, and the toys went first.  That meant RV sales slowed down.  Manufacturers of RVs started dying (Nu-Wa, National RV, Western RV, Alfa Leisure, Weekend Warrior, Pilgrim International, Travel Supreme, Ameri-Camp).  All the rest have cut back production and laid off staff.

Then the OEMs who supply parts to the RV industry slowed down — things like vent fans and hitches.  And so all the OEMs called me up and said, “Sorry, but things are slow, so we’re canceling our advertising program.”

Ouch. We just lost another one this morning.  It’s very frustrating when you lose customers, even more so when they are long-term customers who love your product but are just hitting hard times.  It’s downright scary when you realize that if too many more of them bail out, you will be next.

So I take it back.  I didn’t mean it.  Buying stuff is really fun, it’s educational, it will make you sexier and improve your skin quality.  Especially if you buy things for your RV.   You need stuff.  Stuff makes the world go round.

Perhaps it’s not all my fault, however.  It’s very popular to blame “the housing market,” as if the houses themselves were somehow at fault.  Apparently those houses were building themselves into a frenzy, and they told people to buy them for ridiculous prices on speculation, and encouraged people to take out huge loans against theoretical value.  Then those darned houses decided not to perform anymore and tipped over the world economy.  At least, that’s what the Administration is claiming.  The banks, the mortgage companies, the developers, the speculators, and all the regulators from the local to federal levels were just victims of this terrible, house-instigated tragedy.  As were those of us who took out huge HELOCs to buy even bigger flat-screen TVs.  At least, that’s the theory.

I have a little trouble buying that, because in many ways the decline of consumerism has been forecastable for a while. “Is the mall dead?” asks Newsweek, citing the fact that 2007 was the first time in 50 years that a new indoor mall didn’t open somewhere in the country.  It’s one of many signs that our society has peaked in its interest in buying stuff.

The idea that we could just endlessly increase our consumption to drive the economy was fun for a while, but in the end it is just another Ponzi scheme doomed to collapse eventually.  In addition to selling stuff, you’ve got to build value, not just keep landfills busy.  Besides, economics aren’t just numbers, they are the result of human behavior, and in this case we have a huge wave of people called Baby Boomers who are changing the entire world with their economic clout.  Right now they are retiring, which means they don’t buy big houses as much.

But they are interested in RVs, thankfully, and Boomers drove an enormous wave of RV industry growth from 2001 through 2007.   In total self-interest, I hope that they will resume their profligate RV-buying ways very soon.  We don’t have to worry about RV speculation becoming a plague on the economy later.  Everyone who buys an RV accepts up-front that it will depreciate like a car, and they don’t harbor hopes of selling it at a killer profit next year or taking out a second loan on it to buy a house.  It actually makes a weird kind of sense for Boomers to crack that piggy bank 401-K and go shopping for the travel trailer of their dreams.

Incidentally, I suggest an Airstream. Not only are dealers hungry to sell, but each new Airstream comes with a free one-year subscription to Airstream Life magazine.  See, you’ve already saved $16.  Everyone knows that in America it’s not how much you spent, it’s how much you saved.  So go out there and do me a favor: save me.

Even though you’ll be buying something, in the end your Airstream will return more on your investment than any other thing I can imagine.  You’ll find quality of life that is independent of how much stuff you have.  You’ll discover the joy of simplicity and less obligations.  Like us, you’ll find that once you’re out there on the road, less is more.

But this time, let’s just keep that a secret.

Happy little bacteria

Thursday, November 13th, 2008

When we lived in Vermont we had a black compost bin behind the house.  Into it we tossed nearly all the food waste (everything but meat, bones, and fish) from our kitchen, as well as regular supplements of grass trimmings, leaves, and sticks.  For six years we put stuff in that bin, and yet it never filled.  The stuff just broke down naturally and decreased in volume as it did.

Once a year I’d open up a little hatch near the bottom of the bin and pull out half a dozen shovels full of rich brown compost.  I’d toss it on the garden in the spring, and as a result we never needed fertilizer.  Between composting and recycling, we also hardly had trash to throw out.  It was a great system.

We became big advocates of composting. I even had a little book that I’d share with people who asked about it.  But you don’t need a book to start composting.  All you have to do is buy or make a bin, and start tossing the biodegradable stuff in it.  You can get fancy and think about layering the materials or worrying about nitrogen levels, or adding moisture, but I never really put any effort into it and still everything broke down just like Mother Nature intended.

While traveling in the Airstream, composting became an impossibility.  You need a certain “critical mass” to get the bacterial process going, and a little jar in the trailer wasn’t going to cut it.  Being compost loonies, we actually looked forward to the day when we’d once again get a pile started in our backyard.

Last weekend Eleanor bought a bin locally from Tucson Organic Gardeners.  They usually cost about $80 but if you hunt around you can often find discount deals through the local municipality or a gardening club.  We paid $40 for ours because it was essentially a recycled plastic trash can, turned upside down and drilled full of holes.  (The Tucson Organic Gardeners call it a “zero carbon footprint” compost bin.)

Installation is easy.  Just plunk it down on earth (not pavement) somewhere convenient, at least ten feet from the house.  Scrape up the soil a bit.  Kick-start it with something yummy.

I’ve started ours with a mixture of Halloween pumpkins and palm fronds.  The fronds provide the “brown” (dry carbon-rich stuff) and the pumpkins provide the “green” (damp nitrogen-rich stuff).  Keep the mix to about 50-50 and your pile should be self-sufficient once it gets big enough.  Being in Arid-zona I might have to add a little moisture to our composter once in a while, but other than that the process is the same.  The bin and the bacteria do all the work. The bin keeps the pile moist while letting in a little oxygen, and the happy little bacteria get busy eating up everything.  As they say, “Compost Happens.”

teva-hangar.jpgWell, most of the time.  Eleanor showed me a clothes hanger that came with a Teva product.  The hanger advertised itself as being “BIODEGRADABLE  polylactide polymer,” and a “compostable corn-based plastic hanger.”  Well, doesn’t that feel nice and green?  Too bad it’s just window dressing.  The hanger won’t go into our heap, because in fact it won’t biodegrade under the conditions found in typical backyard compost. It needs extraordinarily high temperatures, found only in a handful of commercial composting operations nationwide.  So it will end up in the same place as a petroleum-based plastic hanger — the landfill.  There’s a lot of stuff out there pretending to be “green.”

Emma says that composting means “there’s fewer trash heaps in the world.”  (She already gets it, even before we have the homeschooling lessons on bacterial decay.)  But besides doing a small thing to help make our ecology more sustainable, there’s a reward at the end: soft, sweet-smelling brown soil that will go into next year’s garden and help grow tomatoes and herbs for Eleanor’s kitchen.

Eleanor collects her food scraps in a plastic tub under the kitchen sink.  Every 2-3 days, we walk out to the composter and toss ‘em in.  This works very well for us, but people sometimes tell me that they don’t want to do this because they are concerned about attracting insects or creating odors in the kitchen.  We’ve never had such problems, probably because we keep the tub sealed, and because we are religious about dumping it regularly.  It’s easier than emptying the trash can.

Since we stopped living in the Airstream, our impact on the earth has gone up.  We use more water, generate more trash, buy more things, and use more electricity. It’s a difficult-to-avoid consequence of being in a house.  Diverting our food scraps, leaves, clippings, and even dryer lint to a closed cycle that turns eventually into more food, is not only a way to compensate for our increased impact, but kind of fun.  It’s not often that we find something that is free, rewarding, green, results in a valuable product (fertilizer), and provides a home science lesson all at once. Give it a try, and let me know how it goes.

Top 12 mistakes of full-timers

Tuesday, November 11th, 2008

In the past year, I’ve been getting a lot of requests from people for information about the full-time lifestyle.  Most of our lessons are covered in the Tour of America blog archives, but since not everyone wants to read through all 800+ blog entries, I’m going to summarize “The Top Twelve Mistakes Made By Full-Timers” here.   Hopefully this list will help a few prospective travelers to start off on the right foot.  In no particular order, here they are:

1.  Driving too much.  Everyone starts out with a bang — rushing away from home base to get to the first great destination.  Over the first few months, new full-timers seem to cover thousands of miles per month, and then gradually they calm down and begin to stop at all the great little things that they’ve been passing by.  That’s when they get into the rhythm of full-timing, and inevitably start to enjoy their travels more.

Tip: Slow down!  Stay longer, talk more, meet more people, explore the small stuff — and save money by traveling less and getting weekly rates at campgrounds.  Set a limit, like no more than 100 or 150 miles on driving days, and no more than two or three travel days each week.

2.  Keeping too much in storage.  This is a classic.  Ask any full-timer who has been traveling for more than a year, and you’ll get a story about how much stuff they left behind in storage, and how much they’ve come to regret it. Storage is expensive, but worse than that is the shock you’ll get when you come back and find all the stuff you paid to store that you didn’t even remember owning (or no longer want!)

Tip: If you plan to be out for more than a year, be aggressive about getting rid of the marginal items.  Sure, it’s still useful, but will you be happy to pay $10 to store a $5 item for a year?  Better to get rid of it and buy another one when you get back. Try your local Freecycle (on Yahoo! Groups) to get rid of low-value but useful items.

3.  Trying to keep a rigid schedule, OR not allowing enough time to explore.  Isn’t the point of full-timing that you can explore without a schedule?  Yet I have met many newbie full-timers who are rushing to keep up with their schedule, just like they did when they had jobs or kids in school.  When you hit a good spot you’ll nearly always find you want to stay longer than you thought, so if you must make plans, leave yourself lots of time and plenty of options.

Tip: Don’t make reservations unless absolutely necessary.  Remember, you’re a full-timer — you can wait until a space opens up. The exceptions are airline tickets (where prices go up if you wait), and really popular things that must be reserved months in advance.

4.  Being afraid to camp without hookups.  You can only see the country if you’re willing to get off the beaten path once in a while. Boondocking terrifies some people, but it’s actually fun, easy, and economical.  It’s in those rustic national park, state park, Bureau of Land Management, National Forest, and Corps of Engineers campgrounds that you’ll find some of the most memorable outdoor experiences in the USA.

Tip: Get to know the capacities of your holding tanks, and how long they will last.  This takes practice.  The best way to learn to boondock is to just do it.

5. Not carrying water.  This one amazes me.  People will advise you to carry less water in order to improve your fuel economy.  It’s a myth, at least for our rig.  If you are not climbing a mountain, 200 lbs of water (25 gallons) isn’t going to impact your fuel economy much.  With travel trailers and motorhomes on relatively flat land, aerodynamics play a larger role than weight. (But see Tip #7 before you decide.)

Not having water means you must go where the water hookups are, and you can’t stop spontaneously at a delightful spot along the way.  It also means that if you have a problem and can’t reach your intended destination, you’re out of luck for showers, cooking, and toilet.  Yet I constantly hear from other travelers that they recommend leaving the water tank empty and filling up only when they arrive.  That’s like leaving your gas tank on 1/4 all the time and hoping there’s a gas station every 50 miles.

Tip:  If you’re concerned about weight, just carry 10-15 gallons.  That’s enough to get you through a night with careful conservation.

6. Using the wrong mail forwarding service.  When we were looking for a new mail forwarding service, people advised us to “just use any UPS Store.”  Bad idea.  What if that little shop in the strip mall closes?  It just happened to a friend and fellow full-timer a few months ago, and he had a heck of a time moving everything to another address.

I recommend looking for an established mail forwarding specialist that has a succession plan in place in case the owners retire or the business has to move.  Also, look for a service that will give you excellent personal attention via phone and email.  It can work to have a friend or relative forward your mail, but ask yourself if that person will keep doing it reliably and regularly for a year or more.

Tip:  We use and recommend St. Brendan’s Isle.  Others use Escapees mail forwarding.  There are a lot of other services that specialize in RV’ers, too.  Do a Google search to find them.  USPS “change of address notifications”  are not a good choice — temporary mail forwarding is unreliable and lasts only for six months.  The USPS Premium mail forward service is better but too expensive.

Try to reduce the volume of mail you receive by using e-billing (see Tip #11), asking to be removed from mailing lists, and closing unnecessary accounts.  Ideally you should just get a few pieces of mail each week, so you can spend most of your time enjoying the travel experience.

Make sure whatever service you choose will forward your periodicals (magazines) — we get a lot of complaints from subscribers who paid for the cheapest service they could get and found out later that their magazines were getting tossed.  Ask if they will deliver urgent mail by FedEx if needed (at your expense).  Also, make sure you get a physical address, not a PO Box, or you may have trouble with banks and drivers licenses later.

7. Traveling overweight.  I don’t mean you, I mean your RV!  Hardly anyone ever weighs their rig, and yet everyone should.  Overweight travel means tire problems, premature brake wear, handling problems, hitching problems, and DANGER!  Don’t do it.

Tip:  Drop in on a CAT Scale (located at truck stops all over the country) and get weighed!  It costs just $8.  If your rig is approaching or over the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating on the serial number plate, start culling out the heavy stuff.  Traveling overweight is asking for trouble, and it’s the most easily prevented cause of accidents.

8. Deferring maintenance.  Oh yeah, we all do it.  But still, for a full-timer or long-distance traveler, it’s crazy.  You’re putting extra miles and wear on every system, and that means you need to think about maintenance as a preventative step, not as a response only when something breaks.

Tip:  Start at the bottom and work up. Think about brakes, tires, wheel bearings, axles, shocks, and hitch parts.  Then look at other things that can kill you, and the systems that control them.  Check for propane leaks, faulty appliances, batteries in smoke and CO detectors, date on the fire extinguisher, signals, tight bolts, lubricated parts, etc.

Everything in your rig came with an Owners Manual.  Pull ‘em all out and look for the parts that say “DANGER” or “CAUTION,” then act accordingly.  Then maintain the heck out of everything you own at least annually.  If you don’t want to do it or don’t know how, find a really good service center and plan on spending 4-5 days there every year.

9. Not understanding the rig.  If you go out on the road assured by the dealer that “you’re all set,” you’re going to have a nasty surprise someday.  A hitch part might break, a tire will go flat, an appliance will stop working, etc., and if you don’t really understand the systems, you’ll be at the mercy of whoever you meet who claims to.  AAA membership is not a substitute for having a spare and knowing how to use it.

Tip: (Shameless self-promotion here)  Get a copy of The Newbies Guide to Airstreaming.  For about $10, it’s the quickest, most reliable way to get up to speed quickly.  You can also get it from Amazon.com.   Or, you can spend six months reading contradictory and often uninformed opinions on Internet forums.

In general, try to learn how to change a tire, jump a flat battery, grease the hitch, find and replace the fuses (all of them including truck and trailer), lubricate the locks, check the tires, test for gas leaks, winterize, and logically troubleshoot other problems.  As Robert Heinlein said, “specialization is for insects.”

10.  Choosing the wrong state of residence.  Some states have lower income taxes than others, some have punitive residency requirements, some are very expensive for vehicle registrations, and a few have perks (like discounted state resident rates for theme parks).  Think three times before you choose a state of residence.  It’s easiest if it matches your mailing address, but that’s not always necessary.

Tip:  Look at the cost of vehicle registrations, income taxes, health insurance rates, vehicle insurance rates, and residency requirements.  Once you’ve got a state picked out, move all your accounts to your mailing address, and get a passport too.

11. Not using online banking.   A lot of people just love paper statements, but you’ll find that if you don’t use e-billing to get your bills, you’ll often get hit with late charges on your credit cards and other bills.  That adds up fast, and can affect your credit rating.  These days banks are narrowing the gap between when they send your bill and when it must be paid.

Tip: Get every credit card, utility, bank, and other recurring relationship to send you an e-bill, or get rid of that vendor Have all your small recurring bills (cell phone, etc) billed automatically to your credit or debit card, to reduce the number of bills you get. Save copies of the e-bills on your computer as PDFs so you can refer to them if you need to.  Use online banking to simplify your bill paying. It’s generally free and easy to use.

12. Relying too heavily on the GPS.  GPS is a great tool and we love it, but it is no substitute for a good map, or common sense.  The GPS database won’t tell you about all the things you’d like to see, either.  But it will send you down a one-lane (or non-existent) back road to save 10 feet on the route.

Tip:  Use the GPS as just one of several tools.  Keep and use a good road atlas.  Research things to do on the Internet and through local brochures before you plan your route.  When traveling in the west always have a supply of drinking water in the truck, and be sure to ask locally for information before going on any dirt road.  When approaching state or national parks, always follow the official brown signs rather than the shortcut your GPS is advising.

California road trip

Saturday, November 8th, 2008

I have trouble staying in one place for more than a month.  The southwest is delightful this time of year, with dry and warm days and crisp evenings filled with stars.  Tucson has been just fine in all respects, but with the Airstream sitting in the carport, it seems a shame to miss the opportunity to explore a little more.

Early on Thursday morning I pulled the Airstream out of the carport and headed west.  Eleanor and Emma stayed home to take care of other things, so I was alone to think and observe as the desert scenery drifted by.  Even though our hiatus has not been long, it was a strange feeling being back on the road, both invigorating and yet uncertain.  I’m so used to traveling with my two companions that towing the Airstream alone is always a little uncomfortable.  Why am I doing this?  Where am I going?  But the little things in the desert soon steal my attention, and then I’m looking at every ordinary thing (tractors, dead motels, billboards, farms, dusty roads) and wondering what story lies behind it.  Each thing invites exploration, so the road is never dull even though I’ve traveled it before.

The iPod played a nice medley of music, and each song reminded me of a different place.  I hear Barenaked Ladies and I think of a week we spent in Victor, ID with our friend Rich C.  I hear Squeeze and I’m thinking of humid nights driving across I-10 through the swamps between Baton Rouge and Lafayette.  I hear Blink182 and I’m thinking of a particular week in Tampa.  Some songs lead me to Vermont, others to Mexico, and one particular album always reminds me of a dark early morning when we went to catch a snorkel boat in Maui.  I like having music that reminds me of these places, it’s like an alternate form of memory.

airstream-new-axle.jpgThe reason I’m on the road is to get the Airstream a pair of new axles.  It has been sagging a little lately, and that has made it hard to hitch up properly.  A heavy trailer like ours needs to distribute its tongue weight across both axles of the tow vehicle (in this case, our Nissan Armada), and lately that weight distribution hasn’t been what it should be.  I can tell by the way the Armada is starting to sag in the rear.  When the axles on the trailer sag, it messes up the geometry that makes weight distribution work.  It also means the trailer is getting a rougher ride, which is bad for longevity.

In Corona, CA, 458 miles from our home, a business called Inland RV specializes in Airstream axles.  I could have gotten the axles replaced locally, but Inland RV really knows the axle business and they support the magazine with their advertising dollars, which means a lot to me in this economy.  Besides, our two good friends Terry and Marie have recently relocated to work at Inland and I wanted to see them as well.  Terry is a super mechanic and I wanted him to see the condition of all the trailer’s running gear (bearings, brakes, tires, axles) and check for other problems.

We had a mystery squeak coming from the brakes and I wanted him to take a look at that too.  Terry correctly diagnosed the squeak problem before I even arrived, just from the description.  It was caused by a prior service center not peening over little tabs on the outer brake pads, and easily fixed.  Stuff like that makes me crazy — why can’t the first guys do it right?  I’ll drive my Airstream hundreds of miles to find someone who can do the job right the first time, and often I have to.

airstream-at-inlandrv.jpgThe service work went well on Friday, but I hung around for another night to visit a little more.  The shop has extended me the courtesy of parking in the service bay, which is a peculiar experience.  We did this once before, at Roger Williams Airstream in Weatherford, TX.  Being indoors means that “day” and “night” lose meaning.  It is sunset when the shop closes, the doors lock, and the big fluorescent shop lights are switched off.  There is no dawn until someone comes in.  I awoke in the pitch black wondering what time it was.  It was like a winter morning in the far north, when the sun doesn’t rise for hours after the people do, except that the temperature never changed regardless of what was going on outside.

march-afb-air-museum.jpg

A trip like this has to include at least a little tourism, so we took Saturday to check out the March Field Air Museum.  It’s like Tucson’s Pima Air & Space Museum, but smaller.

Eleanor packed the Airstream with enough food for me to live for a week, and it has hardly been touched because everyone else keeps feeding me.  I’m well-stocked to wander around southern California for a long time.  There’s some temptation to do that, but it’s not the same when I know E&E are waiting for me to return to Tucson.  Aimless wandering is best done as a family.  I’ll go home on Sunday, and instead plan the next big trip, which I suspect will happen — based on prior history — in just a few weeks.

The secret to successfully staying home

Sunday, November 2nd, 2008

 Adam and Susan have been visiting Tucson in their Airstream for the past week.  They are becoming, with our constant encouragement, full-timers in spirit.  They arrived here without a rigid schedule and have been just taking every day as it comes.   That’s the right frame of mind — just “be” in the moment and don’t worry about tomorrow.

Since I was between issues of the magazine without a lot else going on, I took a few days to go hiking with them.  I’m trying to retain some of the lessons I learned while full-timing, and one of them is to take the vacation opportunities whenever you can.  We hiked the Sabino Canyon Trail up to Hutch’s Pond (8 miles roundtrip), a little of the Mt Lemmon Trail at the height of the Santa Catalina Mountains (about two miles), and a little of the Romero Canyon Trail from Catalina State Park (about three miles).

Our choice of trails wasn’t random; I’ve been scouting various route ends in the Santa Catalina mountains so that we can put together a long day hike from the peak of Mt Lemmon at 8600 feet to Tucson’s base elevation of about 2400 feet.  The total hike will be about 14.5 miles, all downhill.

There’s a hidden goal in this hike.  We are planning a rim-to-rim Grand Canyon hike with Adam and Susan next fall.  Starting from the north rim, we’ll hike from about 8200 feet elevation to the canyon floor, and then back up the south rim.  It just happens that hiking down from Mt Lemmon to Tucson almost exactly duplicates the weather conditions, distance, and geography of a hike down from the Grand Canyon’s north rim.  Then we’ll hike up another trail (on another day) to simulate the steep hike back up the south rim.  This will help us test our gear, stamina, and mental gumption before we get to the real thing.

emma-wizard.jpgWe’re also thinking about other roadtrips.  We are definitely going out to California after Christmas, and the only question is how long we’ll be out.  Eleanor is already talking about “a month or so.”  She wants to visit Death Valley, and I’ve already scheduled four stops in southern California.  I can also see stops in Las Vegas and Quartzsite. We clearly aren’t ready to just “settle down” and stay home.

I don’t know why, exactly.  Life at home has been very pleasant.  The “fall” weather in Tucson is amazingly nice.  The house is comfortable, and Tucson has provided us with all the diversions you can expect from a mid-sized city.  We’ve met people.  Halloween was a great success (30-odd kids at the door, good trick-or-treating for Emma in her wizard costume).  But undeniably we still like life with a regular mix of new scenery.

Adam and Susan have left for California and won’t be back for a few weeks.  In the meantime, I may haul the Airstream off to the Los Angeles area to have an axle issue dealt with.  It’s a good excuse to check out a few spots in California that I’ve been meaning to visit. And being recent “homebodies,” any excuse to travel is a good one.

Planning trips is part of the same pathology.  I hate not having a trip in mind, even if it is only a rough plan.  So without even meaning to, I’ve sketched out the next year of travel, much like I have sketched out the next year of Airstream Life magazine.  Most of it is entirely speculative, but it’s fun to consider nonetheless.

The Grand Canyon rim-to-rim hike is logistically challenging.  Our hike will be about 24 miles, but the drive from one rim to the other is about 250 miles.  That means we need overnight lodging at both ends of the hike, as well as tenting in the middle while we are in the canyon.  The temperatures will range from near-freezing at the north rim when we start hiking, to mid-90s at the bottom of the canyon in the afternoon.  Reservations are needed far in advance for lodges, campground, the hiker shuttle from one rim to the other, a backcountry camping permit, meals at Phantom Ranch, and “duffle service” (mules can be hired to haul your pack up the south rim).

We’re also working on getting our gear in order, like new hiking boots for everyone.  They’ve got to be well broken-in before we hike 24 miles, so there’s another reason to find some local hikes.  It all works, and it makes the little things we do to fill the time into really meaningful things.  I like the complexity of the rim-to-rim plan because it keeps me occupied when we are not traveling.  Everything we do now helps get us closer to the big event.  So it turns out that the secret to successfully staying home may be in the planning and preparation we do in anticipation of the next time we go away.

About the Author

Editor & Publisher of Airstream Life magazine