Archive for June, 2010

Palm Springs, CA

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

Our business in Palm Springs was conveniently concluded by noon, which left us a good (and hot) chunk of the day to explore Palm Springs.  As I noted earlier, there’s not a lot happening in the summer, but the heat of summer presents a terrific opportunity to ride up to Mt San Jacinto on the famous Palm Springs Aerial Tramway.

Down in the valley it was about 108 degrees, but the Tramway hauls you up to 8,500 feet in about 10 minutes where the air is cool and the pine trees are tall.  Best of all, the tram cars have been updated in the past few years, and now the floor rotates as you go up. Think about that for a second:  you’re floating up diagonally as steeply as 42 degrees over craggy rocks and impossible canyons, swaying as the tram car passes over towers, and slowly rotating all at the same time.  It’s an amazing sensation.

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It’s also a disconcerting sensation at first, so I quickly put the camera down and focused on just acclimating to the ride.  There’s a lot to see and the 10 minutes passes quickly.

With the windows open at two opposite points of the round cars, everyone gets a chance to feel the air changing from a blow-drier to a cool air conditioned breeze. It’s a bit of work for some folks (like me) to equalize their ears all the way up and down, but well worth it for the spectacular view.

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Atop the mountain, there’s a large station with a movie, restaurant, gift shop, etc., but we took a hike along the 1.5 mile Desert View Trail to explore and get more views of Palm Springs far below.  It was impossible not to be seduced by the sweet smelling mountain air, the songs of the birds, the towering trees, and the clear little stream that flows with chilly water.  The views were predictably amazing, showing Palm Springs as if it were just a big map at our feet.  We easily spotted the Palm Springs airport, the huge wind farms, golf courses, and all the major roads.

Brett and I spent a couple of hours atop the mountain and left only at sunset.  When the sun dipped behind the mountains to the west, we started feeling a bit cold. Not a problem, because 10 minutes after boarding the tram car we were once again in the oven of the valley.

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Next stop was dinner, and we decided it would best be found by walking five blocks of downtown.  This gave us the opportunity to explore at a slow pace.  The big find of the day is pictured at left.  Like Hollywood, Palm Springs has a walk of famous residents, along Palm Canyon Drive.  Here I am with Adam West’s star.  You may know him as Batman from the campy old TV series, which I grew up watching.  Somehow this particular star struck me when all of the others didn’t, so we captured the classic tourist shot. I hardly ever do stuff like this.

Next stop on the roadtrip: Phoenix area.  We’ve packed up and are heading out again …

Business trip

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

OK, fun’s over.  No more playing around on mountains.  We are on the trail of business now. Brett and I have taken the little Honda Fit out to cruise the highways in search of new ventures.  It’s a roadtrip!

coconino-cabins.jpgOur route on this trip starts with a run up I-17 to northern Arizona, in the Coconino National Forest, not far from Flagstaff.   This is an ideal place to go in the summer, because the 7,000 foot elevation means cool nights and comfortable days among towering Ponderosa pine trees.  We snagged a pair of rustic-looking cabins for our night here, thanks to our business hosts.

I set up mine as the temporary World Headquarters of Airstream Life, as usual. Normally I am setting up in the Airstream, but I appreciated the interesting change to a motel-style table beside open windows to the pine forest. It made for a great working environment. Unlike the northeastern rustic locations I have known, there were few bugs and nothing biting, which was nice since the cabin needed a little airing out when I arrived.  I just opened the front door and the back windows, and tapped away on my keyboard while the sweet smell of evergreen trees flowed through.

For whatever reason, I woke up at midnight feeling like I would never need to sleep again.  The fan was running and the windows were open to the night breeze, the forest was quiet, and the air was comfortably dry.  There was enough moonlight to let a shaft of silver light in the window. I lay there and considered what a nice night it was, and how if I had any sense I’d be sleeping through it.  That didn’t seem likely, so I conceded that it was also a nice night to catch up on a few emails and read one of the books I’d brought.

A few hours later I did finally manage to get back to sleep, until it was time to regroup at 7:30 a.m. for the morning’s business meetings.  In a setting like this, almost any business is fun.  We sat in the lodge’s restaurant and chatted with the General Manager, then toured the entire facility before packing up for our next stop.  A long roadtrip lay ahead: 375 miles to Palm Springs, CA, all the way from our 7,000 foot perch in the piney mountains down to sea level in Palm Springs.

Talk about a change of environment — our route took us to Flagstaff, then west along I-40 (which is Route 66 territory), and down Rt 95 and 62 into the desert to I-10 and finally Palm Springs.  Counting our start in Tucson, we traveled through a wide range of ecosystems, from the Saguaro cactus of the low Sonoran, to the Ponderosa pine of the Coconino National Forest above the famous Mogollon Rim, through high desert along I-40 in northern AZ, and then down below sea level in California’s Mojave.  This is why roadtrips can be much more fun than flying.  If we’d flown we would have seen a lot of airport departure gates and look-alike food courts, but we saw the country instead.

Of course there’s still the curse of road food.  Our first dinner of the trip was at an excellent steakhouse run by our hosts, where I had an amazingly good brisket (and Brett had a melt-in-your-mouth filet mignon). But then there was the rushed breakfast, the so-so burger in Kingman AZ, and the car snacks. By the time we got to Palm Springs we were looking for something light.

Palm Springs in June is a fairly quiet place.   Temperatures of 109 to 113 (this week) will do that.  We’ve been told the hotels will fill up on the weekends with Los Angelenos looking for an escape from the “June gloom,” but on Monday night we had the downtown to ourselves.  We wandered past a fairly swanky restaurant on Palm Canyon Drive, the type of place where the waiter puts the cloth napkin on your lap for you (as if I had somehow lost the ability to do it myself), and we were the only customers at 7 p.m.

Being not particularly hungry, we ordered from the salad menu only.  I ordered a “salmon salad” and Brett ordered a Caesar salad with chicken, about $9 each.  With four staff members in the front of the house, we felt a bit conspicuous ordering only salads (the profit would not even cover the cost of running the outdoor air misters while we were there), so Brett tacked on a glass of wine for himself.  That glass cost almost as much as the meal, so maybe he overcompensated a little.

My salad turned out to be a fine green salad with homemade dressing plus a large slab of perfectly cooked salmon covering the entire thing.  It was a rather substantial meal despite my intention to have a small one. I can only imagine what I might have gotten if I had seriously regarded this as the prelude to a entree.

Dessert, a single scoop waffle cone with “coconut Macadamia caramel” ice cream, purchased a few blocks down the street, was $5.  The ice cream was excellent but I was reminded of the line from Pulp Fiction about the five dollar milkshake.  I’ll remember that for a while.  It’s not the big miles but rather the little details that make a roadtrip memorable.

Mt Wrightson hike

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

When we bought our house in Tucson while we were still full-timing in the Airstream, I explained to everyone that we never intended to spend summers here.  Now, three years later, here I am in ARIDzona in June, when daytime relative humidity runs in the single digits and every day is 100 degrees or hotter.

But I really don’t mind, as it turns out. Yes, it’s hot, but I don’t spend my days standing in the direct sunlight.  And in Arizona there’s always a cool respite at the top of a nearby Sky Island, high above the desert floor.

Brett is in town for a few days.  We have to head out for business this week, but it is traditional that when he comes to town I abuse him as much as possible by taking him on a tough hike.  He lives in Florida you see, and as such he is altitude-deprived.  No mountains.  Last year I took him up Picacho Peak, which is a short (2 mile) but challenging trail, especially when the temperature is above 100 during the hike, as it was that day.

He survived that and came back again, so this time I brought out the big guns.  I’ve wanted to hike Mt Wrightson ever since I first read about the trail to the summit.   It’s about 30 miles south of Tucson, not far from Green Valley.  The hike starts at 5,400 feet and ascends rather steeply and steadily up to 9,453 feet.  In addition to being a hike that “everyone should do once,” according to one hiking guide, it would also be the first time I’ve climbed a mountain over 6,000 feet.  Brett, for his part, was game for anything.

Being at relatively high elevation, the temperature at the trailhead was only about 80 degrees when we started, and for the rest of the hike things never got much hotter, since we were ascending most of the day.  That was the good news.  The bad news was that the dryness of the air only gets worse as you go up.  We both consumed about 100 ounces of water, and ran out about halfway during the descent.  All of that water went out through the pores and we were never sweaty, thanks to immediate evaporation.

Mt Wrightson was almost my undoing.  I haven’t spent much time at altitude lately, and I haven’t been hiking much lately.  At about 8,500 feet I started to hit the wall, and the problem was simply that I couldn’t get enough oxygen.  My rest breaks become more and more frequent.  Suddenly, I felt rather old, and it didn’t get better when the 20-something hardbodies from the local university started passing us like we were geezers.  It worse when, during a gasping break around 9,000 feet, a woman passed us on her second complete ascent of the day.  Now that’s just wrong.

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As people always say at the end of a brutal hike, “the view was worth it.”   But I’ll be honest with you.  The view was spectacular in every direction, but it wasn’t worth it.  What made the strenuous 10.6 mile hike worth doing was simply the feeling of achievement.  Now I’ve hiked to nearly 10,000 feet.  Now I’ve seen a hundred-mile panorama from the tiny summit of Mt Wrightson: Tucson to the north, Patagonia and Sonoita to the east, Green Valley and the copper mines to the west, and the mountains of Mexico to the south.  Now I don’t ever have to do it again.

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Hiking down again, of course, is much easier.  But I could have done without running into the woman who was on her way back up for a third complete ascent in one day.  At that point Brett and I were both feeling every bit of the late-40s man, complete with twinges in the knees and muscles begging for Advil. The uber-hiker woman didn’t look too happy either, on her way back up again, but she at least had the excuse of being (A) about 22 miles into it; and (B) obviously, completely insane.

When we landed back in Tucson, it was about 102 degrees but we were told we missed the real heat of 109 earlier in the day.  So I guessed we picked the right place to be on Saturday.  The rest of the evening was recovery: showers, re-hydrating, a quick trip to Bookman’s for cheezy paperback sci-fi novels to read during evenings of our business trip,  a pair of burritos from Nico’s Taco Shop, and a really early bedtime.

Take a walk in the sun

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

I once read in National Geographic of an experiment involving a French scientist and a deep cave.   He was left in there with all the comforts of home, except for a clock.  He found that without the natural signals of daylight and night to cue him, he gradually evolved to very long periods of being awake, followed by proportionally long sleeping periods.  Basically, he worked like a crazed squirrel and got a little loony in the process.

This is exactly what I’m trying to avoid.

I came back to Tucson alone with the primary goal of getting a lot of work done, and that part is going well.  Every day I wake up about 5:30 or 6:00 a.m. (trying to stay close to Eastern Time, for convenience) and air out the house for an hour or so while the morning temperatures are in the low 70s.  Work starts immediately, even before I dress or eat. I work steadily through about 3 or 4 p.m., mixing in a little housework just so I’m not at the computer all day.  If things are busy, I’ll work right until 6 p.m., four hours after the east coast has left the office.  I drink a lot of water to combat the very dry air (typically single-digit percentages of relative humidity), and eat very little.

The problem is that I’m in the house alone all day.  So each day I also build in a little time to go do something, anything, that get me out into the Tucson sunshine.  This is probably why I don’t mind the intense heat of the day.  Every day this week it has been between 100 and 105 in the afternoon, and I like how walking around in the sun recharges my mental batteries.  Of course, minding Bill Doyle’s admonitions about sun safety, I wear my broad-brimmed hat and light colored clothing, and slather plenty of sunscreen on the exposed parts. (I only go out in my full-coverage hero costume if heroic measures are required.)

On the other hand, it is turning out to be a pretty fun arrangement for me.  Eleanor and Emma are with me via telephone and occasionally video chat on the computer, so although I miss them I get to see them regularly.  The rest of the time I’m free to do whatever I want.  For example, yesterday I broke free of work at 3:30 to go shopping at the local hiking store and then see a screening of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (very well done, intense, thriller, foreign language with subtitles). It’s amazing to experience the complete freedom of Temporary Bachelorhood: no consideration of other people at all, no worries about schedules, eat when I want, sleep when I want, etc.

In other words, the good and the bad of this situation are the same: solitude.  I still wake up at night looking for Eleanor in bed.  There are times that the house is too quiet.  And there are times when in a moment of boredom I find myself doing things I wouldn’t normally do, like shopping.

man-in-the-maze-pendleton.jpgThe shopping in particular can be dangerous to one’s wallet.  Normally I’m fairly immune, but lately I feel rather vulnerable to suggestion.  On Sunday Fred sent over a link to a limited edition Pendleton blanket featuring what we call The Man In The Maze icon, and the next thing I knew, I’d bought it.

The symbol is properly known as the I’itoi Ki, the sacred symbol of the Tohono O’odham, who live near here in the southwestern Arizona desert.  The blanket can only be purchased through the Tohono O’odham (they have outlets in Tubac, AZ and Sells, AZ).  I love the blanket and it will definitely travel with us in the Airstream next winter, but I think I should probably try to avoid eBay for the next few weeks.

I did don my TBM costume to do a few minor manly tasks.  I dealt with the weeds in the yard, swept off the back patio, cleaned the bathroom (in a very manly way, I assure you), etc. The dishwasher had a sort of residual stink after washing the three moldy plates that had been “stored” in there since early May, but I resolved that in a classic TBM way: I ran it again. Problem solved.

Since Brett is coming here on Thursday, and he is planning to sleep in the Caravel in the carport, I plugged it into 30 amp power and fired up the air conditioner for a test.  That AC unit hasn’t been run since 2004, so there was a legitimate question of whether it would work.  It did, so well in fact that the interior of the trailer was soon meatlocker-cold despite outside air temperatures of 99 degrees at the time. (Of course, that was in the shade of the carport; it wouldn’t do so well in full sun.)

It is still a challenge to have a list of things to do outside the house, so that when I’m ready to break from work I have something to do in mind.  I take about half an hour each day to browse the local Events calendars and collect possibilities. There’s a certain discipline involved in not becoming a shut-in.  A computer is a great communications tool, but eventually you have to go outside and walk in the sun, too.

Temporary Bachelor Man!

Saturday, June 19th, 2010

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There’s a new superhero in town …

… a superhero for modern times …

He’s TBM!  (Temporary Bachelor Man)

Superpowers include the ability to make manly fires, type 100 words per minute, and hike tall mountains slowly.  Note the details of his costume:  A torch symbolizing his ever-readiness to do “guy stuff”; Wrist protectors look cool and guard against Carpal Tunnel Syndrome; Yin-yang symbol indicates his constant quest to balance work and play;  Sunglasses protect against desert sun (shade hat not shown); Khaki jeans hide dust and sand; Hiking boots protect feet on long trails; Belt with the symbol “T”.

Yes, this is what a superhero looks like at age 46.  (Actually, his musculature and hairstyle are just slightly exaggerated.)  If I don’t look like this in photos from Alumapalooza, because I normally hide in my secret identity as a mild-mannered magazine publisher.

Although I am separated from Eleanor and Emma, there is plenty of sunshine and heat to keep me energized, and lots of stuff to do.  In fact, my “to do” list is so long I wonder if I’ll work through it before Eleanor arrives in 19 days (noooooo, I’m not counting).  I have house stuff to do, light yard work, and tons of magazine work.   I also have a new bike that is just begging to be ridden in the cool early mornings, so I’ll try to stay on Eastern Time and get up at 5 a.m. with the dawn. It’s reliably 69 or 70 degrees every morning, and stays cool until about 8 a.m., so the cycling is primo for early risers.

Tucson is just loaded with interesting things for a TBM to do.  One great perk of being here is that we have Saguaro National Park just 15 minutes away.  When we are traveling we always gravitate to the National Parks, so why not visit them when they are right in our front yard? Last night a volunteer was leading a night hike through the park, which is a relatively rare offering. A small group met in the Visitor Center and then walked down one of the popular loop trails as the sun set.

If you’ve never done a sunset hike in the Sonoran Desert, this might seem sort of crazy.  After all, it was still 100 degrees at 7 p.m. last night, and all the critters come out at night (scorpions, snakes, gila monsters, bats, etc.)  But that’s exactly what we were hoping for.  Our group was equipped with water bottles and flashlights — even a few blacklights to spot scorpions, since they fluoresce under black light.  Also, the views from Saguaro National Park at sunset are absolutely stunning.  The Rincon Mountains turn pink, then purple as the sun goes down.  The saguaros make fantastic silhouettes against the twilight glow.  A sunset walk in the desert is one of the “must do” activities when you’re out here.

We heard fledgling elf owls calling to each other from their nests inside tall saguaro cactus.  We saw numerous bats flitting over our heads.  We saw a pair of Lesser Nighthawks chasing each other.  We talked about the traces of ground squirrel activity, and packrat houses along the trail.  The two-hour adventure went very quickly.  It was a shame we didn’t spot any snakes and found only one scorpion, but it’s still early in the season. As the monsoon gears up in July and August, the tarantulas will start to get active, too.  There are a lot of interesting creatures that live here, and believe it or not, it is rather rare to see them (except scorpions, which get into people’s houses in rural areas).

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According the the weather service, it is going to get hot by Wednesday.  Since our back porch thermometer indicated 104.7 yesterday, I am not sure how only Wednesday gets the designation of Hot, but perhaps the delineation is at 105 degrees.  Those three-tenths of a degree might make all the difference.  But the difference I’ll feel is probably in the overnight lows, rising to mid-70s.  That means no more cool mornings to open the windows and chill the house.

In cases like this, TBM seeks higher ground.  I’ve got a hike planned for Friday or Saturday, starting at about 5,400 feet and ending just below 10,000 feet.  The “Sky Islands” of southern Arizona always provide a cool getaway when you need it.

But in the meantime, I’ve got to don my costume and grab my torch.  It’s time for TBM to do manly errands around town.  Adventure awaits!

The Bachelor Zone

Friday, June 18th, 2010

… episode #1

Imagine, if you will, a man, torn from his beloved family and Airstream and sent to a strange land where nothing is as it used to be.  Food no longer magically appears on the table, ready to eat.  Uninterrupted naps are possible at any time of day.  Things left out, stay out.  Working by day in one’s underwear, and venturing by night to the local art cinema, become the norm.  You’ve entered … the Bachelor Zone.

I have never been separated from Eleanor and Emma for the length of time that now lies ahead of me.  Three weeks of complete bachelor-hood is the program for June, as I live in the Tucson house while they spend the summer in New England.  I will survive only by my own skills (and those of Eleanor’s via telephone link, more on that later).  I will pace the house wondering why it’s so quiet.  I will buy my own groceries.  I may get to a level of loneliness experienced only by prison inmates on remote desert islands in French novels, and end up giving names to the cockroaches.  But I will persevere, because this is all part of the grand adventure of Temporary Bachelor Man.

On Wednesday Eleanor and I drove down to Manchester NH for a night in a hotel, so that I could catch the 6:20 a.m. flight to Tucson this morning.  It was cool and damp in Manchester, the way June has been consistently in the northeast this year.  Two easy hops, and by 10 a.m. local time I was stepping out in the morning sunshine of Tucson, with the temperature at 86 degrees and rising rapidly toward 103.  Even without the three hour time change, the change was disconcerting.  I had left Manchester wearing warm socks and a fleece, feeling like mold was going to grow on my skin from the relentless humidity, amidst the gray industrial/commercial wilderness that is so common in the northeast.  Back at home base, I had the strange sensation of having never left, because out here in the desert the seasons are subtle and things always seem to look approximately the same.  It was just like the day we pulled the Airstream out, back in May, except hotter.

The house has survived well without us.  A thin layer of dust covers everything outside, of course, since it hasn’t rained in a long time.  Inside, a few plants died and there was the unfortunate discovery of three dirty plates in the dishwasher, but otherwise the house just seemed empty.  (The food on the plates has baked on in the sealed environment of the dishwasher, and the smell is … unpleasant.  Fortunately,Temporary Bachelor Man — TBM — knows how to turn on a dishwasher.)

Despite being seriously jet-lagged, I attacked my first task — groceries — almost immediately.  Right off the bat I needed Eleanor’s guidance.  She left the freezer packed full of pre-cooked dinners for me, but I had no idea of what the house might be missing for my other meals.  As it turned out, the house had been mostly stripped of the really useful food items, e.g., those which can be prepared easily and quickly.  All the good stuff was in the Airstream, 2000 miles away.  We consulted on the phone for a few minutes (the first of many telephonic consultations), and with a short shopping list in hand, I headed off to the grocery store.

But let’s not get our priorities mixed up.  A car left outdoors in Tucson quickly becomes unconscionably dusty.  It wouldn’t do for TBM to be seen in a filthy car, so I hit the local car wash first.  Once the car was appropriately shiny again, I felt it was safe to attempt the grocery store.

There are mostly two types of people in a Tucson grocery store on a 100 degree afternoon on a weekday:  Moms, and old folks.  And me.  I felt a bit out of place, but then it wasn’t a comfortable geek-land like Best Buy.  This was a place full of mysterious packaged items, none of which plugged into anything.  I was definitely out of my element.

Although I had been in that particular store many times, it was still a battle to find the Bachelor Essentials, such as prepared guacamole and salsa. I never paid attention to where things were, before.  Eleanor was not answering her phone at that time for some reason, so your hero was left to his own devices, but I maintained my composure and came out with everything I went in for … plus a few things that seemed critical to bachelorhood once I saw them on the shelves.

Ask Eleanor the definition of an “ingredient,” and she might mention examples like paprika, eggs, and butter.  My view is that the ultimate bachelor ingredient is the “Spice Packet,” as mentioned on the side of a box.  (“Empty contents of Spice Packet into bowl with 2 cups water and contents of box…”)  Ah, the miraculous Spice Packet.  It’s right up there with the amazing Sauce Packet used to complete the premium-type macaroni and cheese.  Who knows what’s in it?  It doesn’t matter, it’s darned convenient.  When the Spice Packet is around, a pair of scissors are the only cooking implements needed.

My first cooking attempt went well, involving two microwaving experiences and one Spice Packet.  Sure, it was easy, but it’s best to ease into new routines.  I also made a salad, although “made” is sort of hyperbole when the process involves a pre-mixed tray of salad greens into which I sliced a couple of mushrooms.

Once these domesticities were completed, I realized two fatal mistakes:  (1) No entertainment; (2) No ice cream.  See, the house lacks a TV.  When we are here in the winter, we watch movies on the laptops (streaming them over the Internet via Netflix or on DVD).  We don’t have cable or satellite.  If we want a larger screen, I unhook the Airstream’s TV and haul it in to the living room.  But the DVDs and TV were still in the Airstream back in Vermont, and I had forgotten to remove the vacation hold on the house’s Internet.  Mindless video entertainment is a staple of bachelorhood, but for one night I was happy to make an exception and continue re-reading “The Count of Monte Cristo” on the Kindle.

The ice cream problem was more solvable. There are three large grocery stores within 3 miles of the house.  So I’m now set for the next hot quiet evening with Klondike bars and fruit pops, streaming Internet videos and, once the mail arrives, DVDs from Netflix.  Already the house feels more bachelor-like.  By the time Eleanor gets back here, I might have fully converted it …

Notes from the camera

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

Quite often as we go, I use the camera as a notepad, snapping shots of things we see so that later when I’m writing the blog I’ll remember the little things that happened during the day.  This works well except when I borrow Eleanor’s camera and then forget to download the photos that evening.  By the time I remember, the blog has been written and the photos are obsolete.

But sometimes they are just a little too interesting to toss away.  So today I present to you a little compendium of misplaced images from the past couple of weeks, as retrieved from Eleanor’s point-and-shoot digital camera today. These are the “little moments” that made up our days.

i-90-lsd-diesel.jpg Item #1.   You can still buy the wrong diesel fuel if you’re not careful.  It is commonly believed that all diesel fuel now sold is the newer “Ultra-Low Sulphur Diesel,” (ULSD) which is required to protect the emissions systems of 2007 and later engines. In California that is true, but other parts of the country still have until this fall to switch over.

i-90-lsd-diesel-closeup.jpgPutting the wrong fuel, confusingly named “Low Sulphur Diesel,” (LSD) in a late-model diesel such as ours can be an expensive mistake.  We recently found the LSD stuff at a highway rest area along I-90 in New York. There’s always a label disclosing it, but you have to look closely.

Another tip-off:  LSD is about 5-10 cents cheaper than the going price for ULSD, so it looks like a great deal, double-check that it’s the right stuff.  This station didn’t sell ULSD, so we had to go elsewhere.  Diesel owners beware!

alumapalooza-flying-slade.jpgItem #2:  yogaFLIGHT can be good for your health.  We were stressed out, sweaty, hungry, and grumpy after Day 2 of Alumapalooza.  I had just spent most of the day parking trailers in the hot sun, between thunderstorms that threatened to send us all to the Land of Oz.  And then slaDE insisted we go do their yogaFLIGHT deal, which was the last thing I wanted to do at that moment.

But then it occurred to me:  what better test for yoga than to try it when you feel at your worst?  So I emptied my pockets, took off my shoes, and let slaDE do his thing.  Suddenly I was floating in the air, listening to his incredibly calming voice, feeling completely safe and wishing it wouldn’t end.  Stress gone.  I’ll be joining their yoga class next year when we do Alumapalooza again.

I am hoping we can cross paths later so that they can teach us their style of partner yoga in a private session.  Maybe in Tucson this winter.

the-spot-photo-setup.jpgItem #3: Three genuises are better than one.   This image demonstrates guys doing guy stuff.  In this case, meticulously setting up a camera for a group shot outside The Spot To Eat diner in downtown Sidney, Ohio.  slaDE offers useful advice, I scrutinize, and Sean does the positioning.  It took less than five minutes for our combined Dream Team to set up this shot atop a newspaper box, without benefit of a tripod.  Ladies, keep in mind how useful we are.

garmin-booboo.jpgItem #4: Your GPS doesn’t know everything.  I’ve mentioned in prior blogs how you can’t trust the GPS when towing — especially when you get close to state parks!  Follow the official brown signs instead.

This shot shows our Garmin advising us to get back to Route 8 in the Adirondacks.  According to it, we were wandering around in the forest somewhere.

Fortunately, we made it back to Route 8 quickly, as evidenced by our current speed.  Note that the GPS has us traveling at 554 miles per hour.   I don’t normally tow the Airstream that fast, but we were in a hurry.

rhubarb-bread-pudding.jpgItem #5:  Eleanor continues to cook.  No shocker here, but since she hasn’t done a video lately I thought you might want to know that we are still benefiting from Eleanor’s culinary treats.  The latest is a rhubarb-raspberry bread pudding, seen here.  Lou gave us a bunch of cut rhubarb from their patch last week.  We used to have a rhubarb patch of our own, and have missed it over the years.

Normally she makes a rhubarb crisp or pie, but there wasn’t quite enough so she came up with the idea of a bread pudding.  We happened to be in the Christmas Tree Shop over the weekend and Eleanor picked up a few things to make the pudding interesting.  The rhubarb sauce was the kicker: pour it over the pudding and … well, I shouldn’t say too much because it’s too late for you to try ours.  But trust me, it was a very successful experiment.

Paused in Vermont

Sunday, June 13th, 2010

Eleanor and I have completed our childless travels and arrived at summer home base in Vermont, and are once again reunited with Emma.

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On Thursday Eleanor and I drove the final leg from the Syracuse NY area east to the Adirondack State Park, and spent the day peacefully zigging and zagging along the quiet tree-lined roads through this mountainous area.  You can’t go terribly fast in the Adirondacks, but were happy to tow the Airstream at about 45-50 MPH and stop at some of the many pull-outs along the way.  With just the two of us in the trailer, we could even stop and have a light lunch and a nap, with a beautiful river flowing past our bedroom window, before proceeding along the way.

adk-river-view.jpgThe weather steadily declined — as it often seems to do when we approach Vermont (a coincidence, I’m sure).  By the time we arrived, there was a heavy downpour.  We ditched the Airstream halfway parked in the driveway and went inside my parents’ house to have dinner.  After dinner the rain abated enough for us to go out and establish our summer parking site.  As usual, a few of the large mature cedar trees lining the driveway needed to be trimmed back to allow the Airstream to fit. The Airstream will spend the next two months parked here.

On the other hand, I will be moving on shortly.  It’s difficult for me to get serious work done in this location, because of cell phone and Internet connectivity problems.  On Friday and for the next few days I have a borrowed office at another location to use, but this is only a temporary solution.  My visit to Vermont will be brief, just long enough to see everyone, especially Emma.  I’ll be flying back to Tucson later this week, and spending the next six weeks there.

Some of you may be wondering why I would exchange a cool and pleasant summer at the lake in Vermont for the scorching heat of Tucson.  I’m actually looking forward to it.  Alone at home in Tucson I’ll have the ideal environment for working: privacy, few distractions, high-speed Internet, reliable phone, no need to get dressed before noon, etc.  Much work has to be completed over the next few weeks, including preparation for Alumapalooza 2011, another top-secret event we hope to announce later this summer (you’ll be the first to know), two more book projects, the new magazine (due out in November), and of course the Fall issue of Airstream Life.  It’s time to get seriously glued to the desk for a few weeks.  I’ll crank up the 5-ton air conditioner and probably pay an enormous power bill this summer, but I’ll have the experience of the annual summer monsoon in Tucson, which I’ve never seen.  Some evening I may even get out for some lightning photography.  It will be an interesting change.

I won’t actually be alone the entire time. Eleanor will fly out to meet me for a few weeks, later in the summer, and I also expect Brett for a week.  There will be travel involved, perhaps quite a lot, but it will be in the Honda Fit with a tent in the back, and occasionally hotels.  So I’ll keep the blog going with The Continuing Adventures of TBM (Temporary Bachelor Man) right here.  One thing we will discover is whether the Honda’s tiny air conditioner can handle 100+ degree days.  The Mercedes can chill a fevered antelope on a 100 degree day with no problem, but I am less confident in the Honda’s ability as we cruise down I-10 in full sun in the low desert during July…

While I am gone, Eleanor and Emma have their own plans.  Emma is signed up for a pile of day camps, including topics such as digital camera photography and Photoshop (which means she’ll be looking for her own laptop soon).  She’s also got swimming lessons at the local pool and sailing lessons on the lake courtesy of Uncle Steve and other friends.  Eleanor has arranged several trips to see old friends.  Nobody will be bored this summer.

Airstream travel will resume in August sometime.  Until then, Eleanor and Emma have to get two months out of an 18-gallon black tank.  There is no way to dump sewage here, and Eleanor is not going to haul the Airstream to the nearest RV dump 15 miles away.  (That’s a complex process that involves a very tricky backing maneuver to get it into the driveway again.)  That means they will have to use the bathroom in the house almost exclusively, which is fine except when you’re feeling your way in the dark across the driveway and up the patio steps in the middle of the night.

They will also contend with no air conditioning on those frequent hot and humid days (the voltage is too low to run the air conditioner), and limited water (we can’t leave the hose connected across the driveway).  Eleanor’s phone will work only intermittently here.  I am not sure that I am getting the short end of the stick, at least regarding conveniences, by going to Tucson.  I only wish I had a spare tow vehicle out there, so I could take the Caravel out for a few days in Arizona’s White Mountains, but perhaps that problem will be solved at another time.

A stinky mystery

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

When you are on the road and just zooming along the highway, the little events sometimes become the big events.  That’s something to be grateful for.  It means that your wheels are still rolling, your engine is still running, and life is good.

Our trip from Ohio yesterday was completely ordinary.  Concrete highway beneath the wheels, broken up by the occasional toll booth on I-90, a few rest stops (they have Tim Horton’s along the tollway rest areas, so Eleanor bought some coffee), a slight pattering of rain on the windshield, and lots of farms and fields flying by.  By dinnertime we were settled in a parking lot, and by 10 p.m. we were video-streaming an episode of The Tonight Show on the laptop (via Hulu).

Around this time Eleanor noticed a smell like propane gas. We started sniffing around in the bedroom, but it was elusive; sometimes we could smell it, sometimes we couldn’t. To me, it was reminiscent of the odorant in propane, but not quite the same.  I tried to reassure Eleanor that whatever it was, it wasn’t dangerous, but she was nervous.

Now, I wasn’t concerned because I know a few things about propane.  First, all the propane lines in an Airstream run outside and beneath the trailer.  So there are no lines in the bedroom to leak.  Second, propane is heavier than air,  so a leak in any of the outside lines would settle to the ground or blow away, not float up inside the bedroom.  The only real concern would be the few points at which propane lines come into the trailer and those are all in the kitchen area (where our stove/oven, water heater, and refrigerator are located).

Since the mystery odor was in the bedroom only — very close to the bed — I was sure we didn’t have an explosive situation and was prepared to go to sleep, but sometimes logic is trumped by wifely concern.  Eventually I found myself standing outside the trailer in the light rain, wearing pajamas, and sniffing around the propane tanks to show her that we didn’t have a leak outside.  Nor was there any smell whatsoever on the breeze.

But that left us with a stinky mystery.  When I came back inside the trailer I could still get occasional whiffs of …. something … and so could Eleanor.  It was like propane, but it wasn’t.  We turned over pillows, slid the mattress to the side, checked each other’s clothing and even our own breath.  Nothing.  And yet, there it was again.

Suddenly Eleanor broke up laughing.  “I know what it is!” she exclaimed as she leapt from the bed.  She dug around in that heap of “overflow” groceries that she stores by her side of the bed during travel, and came up with two bags of garlic naan that she’d bought from Trader Joe’s the day before.

Well, let me tell you, even in a plastic bag, garlic naan can put out quite a stink. So that’s your Airstreaming tip for the day: don’t store the garlic naan in your bedroom.  You probably didn’t need that tip, but there it is anyway.

And knowing that the worst thing to happen to us all day was the Mystery Smell made me feel good, and we went to sleep.

Roaming east

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

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(Photo by Alison Turner, official Alumapalooza photographer)

Our final post-‘palooza tasks completed, we are at long last moving east again.  It was touch-and-go for a while there, since we kept thinking of things we needed to do before leaving the Airstream factory.  We don’t expect to be back there for a year, and I’m always careful to consider any possible trailer maintenance that needs doing, before I drive away from a competent repair facility.

We seemed to be ready to go, but as I was hitching up there was a snag with one of the two jacks associated with the Hensley hitch.  They had been getting progressively more difficult to turn over the past few weeks, so I had lubricated them with silicone spray when we moved to the Terra Port.  I noticed that a fair bit of rusty lube dripped out of the driver’s side jack as I ran it up and down, and it still seemed to be binding a little.

When I went to hitch up yesterday, the jack got about 3/4 tight, then slipped. It acts as if the internal gear is stripped at one point, and no longer can be tightened to full operating tension, which means that one of the two weight distribution bars couldn’t be adjusted properly for travel.  Another delay.  Airstream doesn’t stock Hensley parts, so I got on the phone with the company HQ in Michigan and ordered a new one.  Problem is, with ground shipping it won’t arrive for four days, so we had to come up with a work-around.

The work-around was to tighten the jack as much as it would allow, then move the connecting pin at the bottom down two holes (thus shortening the jack) to compensate for the rest of the distance it needed. Normally this isn’t recommended but I was assured it is OK for a temporary fix.  We towed uneventfully for three hours to our destination at Lou & Larry’s home near Cleveland.

Well, I shouldn’t say “uneventfully.”  Our new friends sKY and slaDE (I keep thinking of them as “Kentucky and Delaware”) were delayed for their own reasons, and wouldn’t be able to get to their destination 7 hours east in Pennsylvania, so I invited them to caravan with us for a night of hospitality with Lou and Larry.  They immediately accepted and so we had a fun drive across Ohio on Route 30, making jokes on the walkie-talkies.

lou-larry-driveway-camping.jpgSo now we are parked in the driveway, our rigs nose-to-tail, each with water and electric hookup, and just a few steps from the backyard with its little fire ring.  About a dozen Airstreamers were here last night for dinner on the lawn, most of them from the local area.   We’ve stayed here many times, and it always is a very relaxing experience.

Since the weather is fine and I have a huge backlog of work, we are going to spend another day parked in the driveway.  Eleanor went out this morning with Lou, sKY, and Loren to stock up at Trader Joe’s, while slaDE hung back and enjoyed some solitude in his trailer, and I tried to catch up on the 78 emails still unanswered in my Inbox.

Tomorrow we expect thunderstorms again, but we’ll spend most of the day driving so it won’t matter.  I prefer to work on the sunny days because I can open the windows and have sunshine filling the trailer, which is inspiring; I prefer to drive on the mucky days and enjoy the scenery, which is comforting. And since Eleanor and I will be alone in the car as we go, it will be a great opportunity to talk about anything that comes to mind.

About the Author

Editor & Publisher of Airstream Life magazine