Strolling Amok

Pops goes on tour.

Archive for the category “Navel Gazing”

The Nature of God – Part 1

Oh no! Look at that title! Not a post about religion! Not another gag-inducing diatribe from somebody trying to shove their beliefs down my throat! I’m not gonna read it!

Relax. You don’t have to. You’re free to stop right here and go on your merry way. It’s called “free will”, and I’m all for it. Whenever I find something else that’s interesting to write about, those articles will be right here as always, posted scattershot as usual. This post is one piece of a lengthy series, each part of which will be added now and then.

But why would I even bother posting a series about my personal beliefs here on a travel blog, when the topic itself has selectively become a pariah in our culture, and merely sharing one’s faith is often now viewed the same as force-feeding? Even Dr. Francis Schaeffer, an influential 20th century theologian, noted, “Non-Christians don’t care what you believe.” I suspect that he’s right. After all, people come to this blog merely to find out how just one more ordinary guy is exploring a somewhat unconventional mobile lifestyle, and to find out what he’s seeing or discovering or thinking about along the way: information, quasi-adventures, mishaps, outlooks, and little victories. Why louse up a good thing?

The answer to that is easy. First, I won’t actually be rummaging through my beliefs as such, the doctrine and dogma of some denomination within the Christian church. That’s not what this series is for. What I personally find interesting are people’s stories – the why and what that happened in their lives to put them where they are now. When they share, I don’t necessarily want them to do nothing but recite the pithy points of their current outlook to me, but instead to describe the why of that outlook – what they observed and felt as each event unfolded and how their reaction to it shaped them. What were their thoughts, and what did they walk away with? Different people react differently to the same circumstantial blessings and hardships. It’s only then that I can properly understand any outlook that someone may present. What you’ll get in this series is as close to the “what happened” as I can muster, with my takeaways from those experiences – brilliant or faulty.

Second, the story that is behind what I believe has been shaped by my experiences, and this blog has from the start included those as well as my own reflections upon them. Just like the rest of it, this is part of what I’ve discovered along the way. After all, this hasn’t really been Read more…

Risk Management Rebooted

Here’s something to consider. I found the two videos below to be supremely interesting despite their titles. That’s because “Survival Planning” is a fooler for us Norte Amerikahnskis. The interviewee, Mac Mackenney, is not a survivalist in the hopeless gloom-and-doom apocalyptic zombie warfare sense that we gravitate toward. He is a genuine adventurer who makes it his business to manage risk in inordinately risky conditions. In that way, I found his approach, his simple way of recognizing risks, sorting through them, prioritizing them, and addressing them as helpful in an everyday sense for anyone who boondocks. Technically, anyone who hits the Interstate for a decent trip might benefit as well. There are three parts to this set from Andrew White, but I have included only the two most pertinent. Each is 25-30 minutes long, so if you have limited cellular data or an overactive bladder, this might be an issue. If you could hardly care less about simple ways of looking at risk and survival, but do enjoy rather impressive campfire stories, these are also for you.

I present these to you principally because first, they helped me recognize how what I choose to do and how I go about it affects my safety, and how simple changes can decrease exposure to risk. Second, because it is easy to go on assumptions and fail to recognize the inherent risks within our choices, it is easy (at least in the Great Southwest) to wind up in what are potentially very serious situations, without realizing it. I keep stumbling over accounts of everyday people caught by surprise and unprepared for what is around them. Sometimes they get aided or rescued, and sometimes they do not. The videos below are not a “how to” so much as a wake up call to recognize potential risks in your rig setup choices as well as how you camp, and prioritize them so that the most effective  and influential solutions come first. None of this is miracle-level brilliance – it simply clears away the chaff and helps you recognize your most important needs first. If you can only see one, the meat of it is in Part 2.

Part 2:

The Americanization of Overlanding

Like a modern-day Norman Rockwell painting, this photo has every possible “Adventuring” cliche packed in. Photo Source: Expedition Portal

Travel has always been popular, but ever since the 1920s and 1930s, world travel picked up as the thing to do, if you had the funds. Hollywood glamorized it as a way that sophisticated people could take in other interesting cultures in exotic locales. Whether by ship, by train or even by aircraft in the later years, travel and stories of travel and adventure held a fascination for people unable or unwilling to take on the very considerable challenges that world travel could sometimes impose. Modified cars and trucks tended to be used only for well-funded “expeditions”.

World travel tends to be very different today, because the world is very different. One has to look hard for areas that have not been heavily Westernized such that such that the original dress, diet and culture that were once so alluring have been largely erased. With business, political, and military interests driving colonialism and the forced installation of accommodating governments, conditional foreign aid payments or covert operations where direct force would appear a little too obvious, a sense of moral and even racial superiority, plus tourism itself, where the clientele expect Western accommodations, diet and conveniences after they’ve viewed what they came to see, and individual corporations striving to change the local culture enough to accommodate them – these have all taken their toll over the years. In the end, many of the culturally-based things that people go to see are now recreations maintained just for the sake of the local tourism industry. Once authentic, they are now museum performances. Any authentic vestiges of the culture are often only viewable by making the effort to get away from the areas of even moderate development.

World travel today isn’t so much “travel” as “arrival”. Whatever romance or inconveniences the slower mode of travel included, those are gone.

World travel in the twentieth century has always been principally based on mass transportation. It still is today. You use it to get to a destination directly, then depart it, explore, and experience. What is today called overlanding is a branch of world travel that dispenses with mass transportation and substitutes getting yourself across the landscape to Point B by way of a personal vehicle. Classical overlanding is planned vehicle-based travel, typically including border crossing(s), making or providing one’s own shelter, and carrying enough food, water and fuel to be able to reach various supply points along the planned route. This not being a jaunt from motel and restaurant to motel and restaurant, self-reliance is required for both Read more…

Action Trumps Sentiments

Last evening, I was watching Expedition Overland’s set of videos about touring down into Central America (Season 2). I had downloaded them earlier on my DSL Internet service at Rancho Begley, to watch later. This is a bunch of guys who know how to get sponsors for their overland voyages, let me tell you! They got contacts! I had seen them at Overland Expo West last year, but didn’t know much about them except that they were working hard to produce and promote videos of their travels. The first couple of episodes are little but gushing praise for the various sponsors who donated equipment and installation services, but along the way there is also some insight as to what true overlanding involves, as opposed to Campsploring, which is what I do.

At any rate, I hit Episode 6 of the series, and the tenor changed from antics and coughing up tainted food to Read more…

It’s Past That Time of Year Again!

Just looking at this image makes me wince! Subtract one or the other item, and it’s all okay – energizing, even. Too many project deadlines in my past, I guess, with the vast majority being arbitrary.

This year, March 5-7 was National Procrastination Week! Naturally, right about now is the proper time for actual observance, in the spirit under which it was founded: humor. Take a human weakness, and celebrate it as if it were a good thing. If you have to force it to mean something, National Procrastination Week is really not a time for putting off essentials, but about setting aside the busywork that doesn’t count for much in the end, and reminding ourselves what’s really of value, and paying attention to that. I don’t know about you, but I tend to be captivated by the inconsequential…like National Procrastination Week. Its reminder to me is to take a little time to reflect upon what kinds of things I tend to put off, and why I choose those things. Plus, it also tends to evoke thoughts about priorities and time management. Things are set aside for a reason, not because they are crowded out by unreasoned chaos.

But there is unhappy news to report this year as well. In the past, the observance been criticized by humor-challenged control freaks who rarely pick up on either sarcasm or wit, and who assume that people are actually being encouraged to procrastinate. Seriously. But that’s to be expected by the few who just don’t get such things, and that’s okay. You just kind of ignore the Read more…

When a Photograph Leads The Way

D. McCall White, prominent automotive engineer, circa 1920. (The limitations of the photographic film most widely used at this time included an inability to capture blue eyes well.)

D. McCall White, prominent automotive engineer, in a marketing shot for his new Lafayette automobile for 1920. Clicking on the picture will allow view of a larger image. (The limitations of the photographic film most widely used at this time included an inability to capture blue eyes well.)

While I anticipated being carved up like a hapless captive at a Mayan religious offering last summer, I found the above photograph heading up an article in Traces, a magazine published by the Indiana Historical Society. They culled it from the photographic collection of one Robert Hamilton Scrogin, who was the principle driver of The Hoosier Motorist, a publication of the Hoosier Motor Club. Scrogins’ name was somewhere on that publication’s masthead from before 1919 to 1952. At that time, the rag served up club news, hotel and garage directories, trade news and travel articles.

Traces notes that the Hoosier Club’s origins evolved from a group that called themselves the Flat Tire Club, a collection of “automobile enthusiasts” in Indianapolis. This was an apt club name in that era, since the club formed in 1902, when the horseless carriage was an adventurous hobby for members of the upper class. (In those days, wealth alone didn’t cut it. You had to be considered to be of good breeding, the standards for which were judged by those of…good breeding.) 1902 was a bit of a milestone year for horseless carriages. Ransom E. Olds was the first to build his almost-affordable and very successful Oldsmobile Runabout on an assembly line, no doubt noticed by Henry Ford, who was still struggling unsuccessfully to build and market more upscale vehicles. Prior to that, these conveyances were built one at a time, on one spot on the floor that was surrounded by parts bins. It might be rolled closer to other bins along the way, but that was about it. This earlier method was hardly crude, since the market for automobiles was exclusive to Read more…

Trip Routing




This post is definitely more about describing how I work out where to go and where to stop than it is about how you should do so. There is a right way to do things, and then there’s my way. I’m now seriously behind in routing my trip for the upcoming commute/touring season of seven or so months, but that won’t stop me from delaying that task further with this post. Procrastination comes in many forms and with many faces.

Assuming – and that’s a big, pending assumption – that the local medicos do not seriously interfere with my departure schedule or make it necessary to closely monitor dosage results in a way that is incompatible with living on the road, I should be able to clear out of here somewhere in the last half of March, when the temperatures ramp up.

The primary goals are just two: get to Illinois in time to plague family and show up for pre-scheduled annual appointments in that area, and hunt for cooler high-altitude air along the way, at least until the true long-distance commute begins. Secondary goals are to visit the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson, and then steer counter-productively back northwest to Prescott to see about installing rear air lifts on the Mighty Furdster. Then, according to plan, I hope to attend the Overland Expo West once again this year, not so much because Read more…

Politics as Theater

My daughter-in-law recently posted the video at the very bottom of this post on her Facebook page, which surprised me – but shouldn’t have. She is a thoughtful person who supported Progressive Bernie Sanders in his bid for the Democratic nomination, and she justifiably felt betrayed and outraged when Hillary Clinton conspired with the media to engineer him out of her way in a move that would have made Richard Nixon beam with pride. Then to try to bring the disaffected back into the herd, Hillary confidently assured them that her pick for VP was a True Progressive, which I was surprised didn’t make her nose grow to yardstick proportions. To ensure her success, the press understandably avoided checking this claim or bringing up any contradictions it presented.

What caught my attention in the first wave of protests in DC and in Portlandia was that Read more…

The Corvette Returns

Oh, the adoration just blooms in this 1974 photo.

Oh, the adoration just blooms in this 1974 photo. “I can’t believe I OWN this car!!!”

Awhile back, I wrote a post about the unhappy days I had with my special-ordered 1974 Corvette Sting Ray. It was a mix of wonderment and poor labor practices all rolled into one. It was the last of the all-fiberglass bodied ‘Vettes, the last of the 454 V8s, and the next to last year for convertibles (of that era). It was one of the last Corvettes to come off the 1974 production line. You can read about its checkered past in Listening to the Inner Idiot. I loved that car, and also loved getting rid of it in 1976.

Turns out that the “poor bastard” who then bought that car recently contacted me, not to curse me but to Read more…

Moments of Quiet Deflection

Living a carefree life may include a few contradictions, or at least a little irony.

Living a carefree life may include a few contradictions, or at least a little irony.

The above photo was taken in late 2012 in Quartzsite, Arizona, on the Defiant’s maiden voyage, when I first hit the road. One of the trailer’s wheel bearings went rogue. Five months later, another wheel bearing went away. But as business gurus like to chant, there are no problems, only opportunities. It’s generally good to keep a broad shovel handy when you take advice from business gurus, just as from lifestyle gurus. but their upbeat and motivational phrases and quotes are intended to help us find the little nugget of gold within the pile of simplistic bovine waste matter.

There are opportunities to learn within mishaps and misfortune, miserable or confusing as the experiences might be. Like many other folks, I’ve had my fair share. I’ve had competent counselors throw up their hands at my various situations along my own way through life’s trevails, with one friend declaring with astonishment that I was the “unluckiest” soul he’d ever come across. But I discovered that to a hearty degree, we often make our own luck by our unfortunate decisions, which then channel circumstances that become likely to follow in their wake. I’ve naively or unknowingly signed up for many of mine, but the plus point is that with recognition, comes wisdom. Wisdom is like Applied Knowledge, while knowledge consists of mere lessons still waiting to be learned. Bend enough nails or hit yourself with a hammer often enough, and you may eventually learn to change your approach to handling one.

I’ve recently been looking through thousands of photos in order to pick out a few of the more remarkable ones that reflect not this year’s abbreviated travels, but a sampling of the many, many things I’ve seen and experienced over the last four years. That little project quickly became overwhelming, because I could not pick out some and leave others. Too many remarkable sights, and too many notable experiences. And, some opportunities to learn. It seemed duplicative anyway, since nearly all are well covered in earlier posts. Even using the mini-calendar at the bottom right of this page, it’s still an ordeal to saw back in time, but they’re there. So, all you get is this hurriedly-improvised post instead of a look back at 2016 in review. I’m deflecting the issue, since the benefits of hindsight are still percolating in my mind, such as one may choose to define that. Having realizations is not the same as sorting through them and, as a result, adjusting or holding course or priorities. Besides, I have a positive talent for procrastination.

So, I’ll mention the simple thoughts that came to mind when I found the above picture among those much more notable, beautiful, or inspiring. The inconvenience of a disabling wheel bearing failure on my travel trailer, especially at the start of my travels, seemed to epitomize the uncertainties of radically changing one’s lifestyle. It’s painted one way by those trying to promote it, and those benefits are real. But left unmentioned are many of the practical realities. It helps not to dwell on them, but to learn from them, if possible.

So, what of this particular, comparatively minor mishap, stranding though it might be? What was learned, besides the need to keep one’s wallet handy in this new and carefree lifestyle?

  • I learned that I can tell when a trailer’s wheel bearing has disintegrated by two things: the wheel and tire looking off-tilt (no longer vertical), and perhaps dark grease thrown in streaks over the spinning steel wheel. This is caused by severely overheating the grease. You won’t be able to hear the screaming noise typically made by bearings going bad on cars or trucks.
  • I learned that having the bearings greased at an RV shop, as I had done before the start of my adventure, does not reveal overall wheel bearing condition, nor assurances of same by mechanics. Neither does it guarantee competency in the use of the proper selection of grease or wheel bearing adjustment. An ounce of prevention is helpful, but does not always work.
  • I learned that frequently checking the hub temperatures by touch on long trips is helpful to try to “catch” a failing bearing, but that they can also fail within a three-hour window and not be detected in time. How frequent one’s gas and potty stops are, matters.
  • I learned that when wheel bearings go, they go big, and can allow the rather expensive brake hub to quickly be damaged beyond repair, let alone prevent field repairs because the damaged hub might not be able to be removed by mere mortals with hand tools.
  • I learned that removing the wheel on a dual-axle trailer in order to take weight off the blown bearing (for towing) does no good, since the bare hub will merely drag on the pavement. This is the drawback of having what’s called an equalizer to smooth the ride on a dual-axle suspension. Success here would be of limited value anyway, since the remaining healthy tire (and bearing) on that side would be badly overloaded and likely to fail during anything but short, slow trips to a shop.
  • I learned that towing services are not generally equipped to deal with a failed wheel bearing, and so are relegated to towing the trailer as-is over whatever distance it may be to the nearest repair facility, with the bad wheel still under full weight. If the towing distance is significant, this can escalate damage and repair costs significantly.
Deja vu!

Deja vu! Those wheels are supposed to stay parallel to each other.

  • When a second bearing failed just five months later on the short commute to Wickenburg, I learned once again that a complete re-greasing of all bearings will not stave off disaster, and that it may be best to bite the bullet and just go ahead and replace all the wheel bearings on any older trailer (1994) right at the get-go, as a precaution. It may hurt financially, but it’s less than the pain and added costs of dealing with sporadic failures one at a time in the boondocks.
  • I learned that it is best to learn to properly replace, grease and adjust wheel bearings yourself, if possible. Removing, lubing and adjusting is actually a very straightforward task. It’s the arduous difficulty of getting dropped axles on a heavy trailer into the air that poses the challenge. If the jack can’t get under the dropped axle, you’ll be laying in the dust digging holes with putty knives or whatever you can press into service. There must be the working space available to swing the jack’s handle for lift too, which is a challenge in itself. It’s cramped under there, especially with a low trailer. Dropped axles are the kind where the axle connecting the two wheels is bent down to be much lower to the ground than a simple straight axle. This allows the trailer to ride a few inches lower to the ground. That’s good for RV park touring, but bad for off-road boondocking and jacking up wheels to change tires or do hub work. There are gizmos to get around this, related to changing flat tires, but as with anything, not taking on an inherent drawback is the better approach. Fortunately for you, dropped axles are rare these days, but if you buy an older trailer, take a look underneath. You want straight axles. Seriously.
  • I learned that the lifting power rating of jacks does not equate to real-world use. Scissors jacks are the worst offenders since, in practice, their rating only applies to the very top of their range of motion. Anywhere below that, and you’ll need to be Godzilla on Jolt Cola laced with crystal meth to rotate the undersized handle. Hydraulic jacks are okay, but unless you buy stronger models than you think are warranted, you may find that poor working space to put body weight on the handle will prevent your putting any power into it. A stronger jack will normally lift more weight with the same handle effort on your part. Again, dropped axles may limit your jack choices: stronger jacks usually can’t go as low as weaker ones. Using a jack set on top of dirt or sand is an issue all by itself. Shifting and tilt are the problem, and it’s fairly easy to end with a bent or deformed jack, if not a dropped trailer. Me, I packed a 2-ton (4,000-pound rated) hydraulic jack to lift one wheel on a 7,000-pound trailer, figuring that all I needed was to be able to lift up 1,750-2,000 pounds max. Result: an expanded vocabulary, and a bent jack.
  • Out in the wastelands especially, not everyone who works on your trailer will be experienced in the nuances of bearing lubrication and adjustment. Same with electricals. You’d think that greasing and adjusting a bearing would be a no-brainer, right? The problem stems from the fact that TT axles are always selected for cost, so they always run very close to their maximum load rating in actual use. That leaves no fat for safety margin, and everything needs to approach perfection if the bearing is to live a reasonably long service life. An insufficient quantity of mixed grease types, with or without a careless adjustment, will introduce enough imperfection to tilt the scales. Repair shops range from customer-sponsored experimentation to rock-solid competency. The challenge is to be able to discern the difference beforehand. Sometimes, there isn’t much choice, and you just have to roll with it. But there’s nothing quite like getting a repair done in a timely way and having no more trouble with it until its natural lifespan is over. My own experience has been that there’s little that’s quite so expensive as a cheap repair on things that matter. Your mileage may vary.

So ends my learning curve for today! What’s your story?

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