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Saturday, March 31, 2018

Tools and Projects



I did not think it possible, but it's happened. I've actually started to miss home construction products. There aren't enough tools and materials in the van to keep me occupied. There's a lot of stuff to do back home: water heater, deck, flooring, furnace repair, chimney cleaning -and so on and so on. There's a broken buried water line that needs attending. The trail to the beach needs to be totally redone, maybe even rerouted. I'm going to make some trips to the dump and haul a lot of stuff away. Over the last few months my lovely wife and I have put together quite a list.

There are also a lot of boat upgrades I want to do. Last year I started to race the snow to get my boat trailer repaired. As it turned out, we decided not to trailer the boat this winter. All that last minute hustle wasn't necessary. On the bright side, that's one less thing for me to deal with.

Of course, we are still actively looking for a bigger trailer sailor. If we buy one, no doubt there will be things that need repair and upgrades. Even new boats have issues. Older ones, ones in my price range, certainly do.

Then there's a 1974 KZ-900 motorcycle sitting in my basement in pieces. I've all the parts I need to put it back together. The project came to a screeching halt when my leg got injured.

With so much on my “to do” list, I'd better hit the ground running when we get home. It sure will feel good to put some of those projects behind me. Vacation has been fun, but fixing and building stuff is fun too.

Then we've got to find some time to play. All work and no play makes Sixbears a dull lad.

-Sixbears

Friday, March 30, 2018

Hotspot Usage



A dedicated hotspot is a fairly expensive way to get connected to the Internet. This trip I've been using a Straight Talk Hotspot. It can be a bit convoluted to set up, but if you follow the instructions it gets done. It's worth getting their phone app as it's free and recently improved. It had been nearly useless.

So what has it cost me in real world usage? Between $120 and $150 month. That allows me to keep in touch using e-mail and Facebook. My blog gets posted most days. Bills get paid on-line. We do a lot of campground research and trip planning using the various campground booking sites. I check the weather and news.

What we don't do is watch very many YouTube videos. I miss them. Netflix is right out of the question.

In addition to using a hotspot, we sometimes connect using campground wifi. Other times we'll connect at a McDonald's or a Panera Bread. While the wifi might be free, we end up buying meals there. One time we had excellent wifi service at a laundromat, of all places.

My lovely wife suggested before we left that maybe we could get by without a hotspot this year. She thought that we could connect at libraries, restaurants and other places often enough to get by. It is possible to connect through my phone, but my phone plan has very limited data.

Even though it's been fairly expensive, I'm glad we got the hotspot. We've often camped way out in the woods. Right now it's about 7 miles to a library that has Internet access. Campgrounds with free Internet sometimes have terrible service or service limited to a tiny area. Often I do my computer stuff in the evening, when libraries are closed. A lot of time and fuel is saved by not driving all over the place looking for an open wifi connection.

Then there is the convenience factor. It's nice to be able to do things right from the comfort of the van.

The most surprsing thing about the Straight Talk Hotspot is how well it works. We've gotten service in the wilds of the Ocala and rural East Texas. There have been times when my phone had no connection but the hotspot did. My phone can make calls using wifi, so we were able to stay in touch. Where we are right now at Juniper Springs, a lot of people have no cell connection, but the hotspot does just fine.

I guess I can accept the cost because it has allowed us to stay connected and do business. When we get home we'll go back to our normal Internet provider. The hotspot will get tossed in a drawer until the next time we travel.

-Sixbears

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Navigation



The GPS on my phone has been getting pretty wonky at times. There are been a number of puzzling errors. One time it let me drive past my street. Then it had me take the next exit, where it literally sent me around in circles. There are a number of things that can cause GPS glitches, everything from the military detuning it, to solar storms, to problems with the device itself.

Even with its limitations, GPS is a useful tool. It's a lot easier to find everything you need on the road. I'm also a huge fan of paper maps, just in case.

One the more useful tools for mariners has been Active Captain. Their website has charts, maps and satellite views. That's nice, but its most useful feature is all the crowd sourced information. There are icons all over the charts noting things like marinas, channels, boat launches, hazards, anchorages -a cornucopia of navigation aids. A number of different apps use the Active Captain overlays.

A major concern is that about a year ago the service was sold to Garmin. Many of Garmin's competitors use Active Captain. Right now there are some apps that no longer function. Garmin has been pretty silent about users concerns. There are rumors that they've run afoul of European rules and are working to fix that. It would be nice if Garmin keep its users up to date. The real value of the service is the thousands of comments and reviews that uses have contributed to the site. A lot of those users are now uneasy, not knowing what will happen to the service.

While I still will use GPS, both terrestrial and marine, I'm going to trust it a lot less. The same goes for Active Captain. Because of that I'm getting more chart books, keeping my compasses in good order, using my binoculars and night sailing a lot less.

-Sixbears

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Campground Rules



Camping rules vary by campground. Even here in the Ocala National Forest, the campgrounds are not run all the same. They aren't even run by the same private vendor. Personally, I think they should all be run by rangers instead of contractors, but I'm not in charge.

A lot of the “rules” are the same, on paper anyway. In reality, there's a huge difference on how they are enforced. For example, no campground in the Ocala allows dogs in the swimming areas. One campground we stayed at never enforced that rule, so there were always dogs at the beach. That's just one example.

Another good one is the rules concerning how long you can stay at a particular campground. The official rules may differ between campgrounds, but the unwritten rules differ even more. Some places will basically let you camp for as long as you want -unless someone complains. These rules and the enforcement of them are always in flux.

There are people who basically live in campgrounds. Campground rules and their enforcement are major issues in their lives. It's not like they can just pack up and go home. Home is where they park it. The vast majority of these people are on limited income. They also belong to one of the programs where they can camp in Federal campgrounds for half price.

In past years we barely noticed the long term campers. Sure, we knew they were there, but we usually spent only a few days a campground before moving on. This year we've been staying at campgrounds longer. That cuts down on a lot of travel time and burned fuel. We are also watching the budget more this year. With that in mind we are taking advantage of my lovely wife's Access Pass that gives us Federal camping discounts. Because of that, we've had more opportunity to get to know the long term campers.

Some of these campers are super invested in the places they are staying. They get involved with the campground management. They suck up every bit of news and rumors. Close attention is paid to management and rule changes. It causes a fair amount of stress in their lives. Sometimes there are serious personal conflicts. Campers have gotten campground managers fired. Campers have also been thrown out of campgrounds. Such drama!

Personally, I know I'm going to be moving on. While camping, I'm enjoying the natural wonders the different places have to offer. If a campground starts to have a weird vibe, we fire up the van and move on down the road. There is also some comfort in having an actual home to go back to. We don't even know for sure what we'll be doing next winter. Maybe we'll be living on a boat and won't even spend a single night at any of these campgrounds.

-Sixbears

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Off Road Camping



Over the weekend the campground filled up with a group of off-road 4X4 enthusiasts. They had some pretty serious Jeeps and similar vehicles. Most towed trailers with high ground clearances. Some of those trailer rigs were tear drop campers or had tents built in. A lot of vehicles had tent rigs mounted on the roof. All it all, it a pretty amazing collection of off-road equipment.

Of course, they were staying in a campground that you could access in a Prius.

They did run some backwoods roads and even found mud to play in. The roof mounted tent rigs caused some problems as they got hung up on low hanging branches. I couldn't help but wonder how far and for how long they actually camp in the real backwoods.

Of course, for all their technology, they can't access places a humble backpacker can get into. The backpacker will have a lot less gear, but won't lack for the essentials. He also won't have to get a second mortgage on the house to purchase his stuff.

All those off-road vehicles and camping rigs look amazing. That might be half the attraction. They have a vibe that's a cross between military and Mad Max. I suppose there are worse hobbies out there. While it was neat to check out their gear, it's not something I'd want to invest my time, money and energy in.

-Sixbears

Monday, March 26, 2018

Dead Car Batteries



This campground has no grid power. Some people bring generators. Others use solar panels. A few use a combination of both. For quite a few people they just use the electricity from their cars.

A lot of people don't realize that car batteries are a poor choice to power things. Car batteries have one job, to start a car engine. The are designed to give a quick burst of power to turn the engine over. Once the engine is running, the battery is quickly charged up again. Batteries designed to start vehicles have thin plates. Batteries designed to power things, like trolling motor batteries, have thicker plates. They are designed to discharge smaller amounts of power over a longer period of time.

The woman camping across from me left the hatch up on her van all night. The hatch light, over time, killed the battery stone cold dead. The park workers are used to jumping cars, as people kill their starting batteries all the time in this park. He was unable to start her car with his jumper.

I carry a 700 amp jumper battery and that usually starts up just about anything. It was fully charged, but couldn't do the job. The addition of one of my big deep discharge batteries was able to do the trick. My guess is that the battery in her car is on its last legs.

Up in the frozen north, car batteries are changed fairly often. It takes a battery in good condition to start a car on a cold morning. People don't mess around with half dead batteries. Here in the warm south it's different. Because it's warm, even half dead batteries on their last legs can start a car. Don't expect those batteries to do anything extra, as they can barely do their main job.

If you plan on bugging out, make sure your car battery is in top condition. The same goes for the whole charging system. It's a common failure point in vehicles. Nothing worse than a dead battery as you try to escape from the zombie hordes.

-Sixbears

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Weekend Camping



The campgrounds fill up on the weekends. All the locals come out to play. That's nice in a way. I get tired of seeing only retired people. A lot of folks take the kids camping and that's a great way to build memories. My parents took me camping when I was little and my lovely wife and I did the same with out kids.

One the downside, the campgrounds fill right up. We were unable to book the weekend here are Juniper Springs. However, there's a trick to that too. While we couldn't get in for Saturday, we did have reservations that included Friday. Saturday morning we hustled right up to the office and put our name in for any openings. They were able to squeeze us in on a different site.

As luck would have it, we are in exactly the same campsite that we stayed at back in January. It's like coming home.

I drove my lovely wife into the big city of Ocala. She was running low on crafting supplies. Can't let that happen. When in the “big” city, we had a late lunch at Panera Bread. My lovely wife did a lot of searching on the 'net, planning our next camping adventures. We are looking into staying at different places on the way north. We'll probably stay in Florida the rest of the month though. No matter what the calendar says, it's still winter in northern New Hampshire.

-Sixbears

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Hot Showers



One of the best things about camping in an actual campground is hot showers. The Federal campgrounds we've been staying in the Ocala don't have a lot of things, but they have decent bath houses. For me, that makes it worth the price of admission.

Sure, the picnic tables and fire rings are nice too. The lantern hooks are handy. Having water within easy waking distance is nice. If, however, I had none of things and hot showers, I'd be pretty content. In fact, one campground we stayed at had noting at all in the primitive sites, but did have hot showers.

It's not that hard to hook up solar hot showers if camping way in the back country. More water has to be packed and it's one more thing to deal with. I haven't bothered with it this trip.

Getting by without grid power hasn't been too hard. The new refrigerator/cooler makes it even easier. It's nice to have cold stuff without hunting for ice all the time. We've stayed places without picnic tables but we've good folding chairs. I've even used to tailgate of the van as a seat while cooking on top of a wooden storage box. No problem.

There are times we've had to make do without showers or much water. Unscented baby wipes are a pretty good stop gap measure. At least I'm not afraid to be in public after a good wipe down. Still, a good hot shower is hard to beat.

-Sixbears

Friday, March 23, 2018

Medical Miscalculation



Okay, I can admit when I'm wrong. I thought this whole healthcare mess would be straightened out by now.

Sure, Obamacare was a mess. New legislation usually is. Over time things get sorted out. The obviously bad stuff gets tossed out. Improvements are made. That's how it works in a functioning democracy. I thought that something as important as healthcare would force Republicans and Democrats to work together. Legislation that affected just about everybody in major ways should have demanded serious attention.

I was wrong. My first bad assumption was that something affecting everybody would be important to legislators. Nope. Insurance companies and the pharmaceutical industry have more clout. By the way, politicians have really good healthcare. It's not their problem. Money and political influence are more important that the life and death of Joe Public.

Don't believe me? Just look at the opioid epidemic. It was started by pharmaceutical companies pushing drugs, doctors writing prescriptions, and insurance companies paying for them. We can't blame the shady guys in back alleys. Nope, it's people in lab coats and those in nice suits in shiny buildings. The system did not protect patients. It endangered and killed them. It's still going on, in spite of some minor cosmetic changes and lip service.

When Obamacare first started I bought insurance through the program. I hadn't had any insurance for a few years as prices had gotten out of hand. Obamacare prices were about half of what I had been paying. By year three, however, insurance had once again become unaffordable. I had to drop it once again.

There's obviously no interest in fixing the system. Sure, there's still political posturing, but no one is rolling up their sleeves and getting serious work done.

Like many Americans, I'm living uninsured. That's not as scary to me as it should be. If something major happened to me, I would be bankrupted. However, that happened to my parents and they had what was considered good insurance. It does make me more responsible for my own healthcare. I can't rely on the system to watch over me. I'm not really in the system, and it doesn't always work for patients best interests anyway.

-Sixbears

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Living Space



It's funny. Back home my lovely wife and I share a fairly good sized house. It was the right size when we were raising three daughters. Now, it seems a bit excessive. It's kinda a relief that my niece will be moving in with us when we get back. The house won't seem so empty. There are times when I think I just have all those rooms so I can keep my books in them.

For a few months now my lovely wife and I have been living in a converted ambulance. It's basically just a bed on wheels. I'm got a bit more space by using my old cooler as a seat. There is enough room for our basic needs. Living on our last sailboat was similar to living in the van. We've been blessed with a lot of good weather, so a lot of our living is done outside.

When my lovely wife and I first got together, we did a lot of backpacking. Everything since has seemed like an upgrade. Even canoe camping seemed posh, as we brought bigger tents and extras like folding chairs. Car camping was another upgrade. You could drive right up to your campsite. Luxury. In fact, even though we've got this perfectly comfortable camper van, we still occasionally tent camp.

I understand the tiny house movement. There's something to be said for having just enough space to meet your needs and no more. As some point we don't own things; things own us. If we were building a place to live in now we'd probably live in a 20 foot diameter yurt. That's big enough to do everything that needs to be done.

Of course, you've really got to love the person you are with to be able to live so close.

-Sixbears


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Storms and Tornadoes



We had a mostly quiet day at the campground. There were high winds, thunderstorm and tornado warnings. All we got was light rain and a little more wind. The worse of the storms passed on either side of us. We were on constant watch, but had we been ignorant of the danger the result would have been the same.

Once the danger was past my lovely wife and I drove into town for dinner. Afterwards we drove around the waterfront, checking out marinas and boats.

We have some days booked back in the Ocala. I love camping at those natural springs. The weather is supposed to be cooler but sunny. Of course, cooler is relative. Temperatures in the 60s beats the heck out of snowstorms back home.

The fourth Northeaster of the month has moved in. Travel up I-95 looks horrible. Good thing we don't have to be back there right now. Easter is on April Fools Day this year. That's not good. I guess we'd have to be fools to go home for Easter.

After our stint in the Ocala, we aren't sure where we'll be. Maybe we'll extend our stay out in the woods. That helps the budget as Federal campgrounds are less expensive. There's also the fact that there's not much to spend money on out there.

The new DC cooler/refrigerator seems to be working fine. Right now we are running mostly on grid power. It's handled a couple days off-grid. The real test of its efficiency will be when we are in the Federal campgrounds without grip power for a longer period of time.

All in all, things continue to go well. I'm glad my lovely wife has fully recovered from whatever it was that ailed her.

-Sixbears

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Back on Track



My lovely wife is pretty much back to her old self. That seems to indicate to me it was probably something she ate. Glad to see it wasn't the flu. The flu season has been nasty this winter.

There's always something to do. In this case it was laundry. We've also been reorganizing the van. Now and then we sit down and figure out what's working for us and what isn't. For example, I've moved the new refrigerator/cooler to a more easily accessible location. While it fit fine where I first had it, getting into it was more awkward than I'd hoped.

This part of Florida is now getting some much needed rain. Fortunately, the rain came after we were done with our beach time. We have access to grid power at this campground. The big difference with having grid power is that I use the microwave more. It's perfect for heating leftovers. Occasionally we indulge in a bag of microwave popcorn. While on grid power I make sure my deep discharge batteries are fully topped off. Nothing shortens the life of lead acid batteries like keeping them with a low charge for a long period of time.

We keep meeting a lot of people from New England. People who normally would not have come down decided they had enough of the endless snowstorms. Can't say I blame them. My house is so buried in snow right now that it'll take a good long warm spell before I can get back to it.

In the mean time, there's always beach days.

-Sixbears

Monday, March 19, 2018

Sixbears at the Beach



We are back to the East Coast. Here I am wadding in the surf at Anastasia Island.


My lovely wife is doing a lot better. Still not 100%, but she's on the mend.

While walking to to beach I got a call on the cell phone. One of my lovely wife's friends from back home was calling. She said it was -6, which is not exactly beach weather. She told my lovely wife that the snowplow got stuck and he had to get a bucket loader to free him from the snow. That doesn't sound like a good time.

The campgrounds are still full of northern folk fleeing the cold and snow. Personally, I think I need some more Florida time.

-Sixbears

Sunday, March 18, 2018

One Extreme to the Other



You never know what you'll get booking campsites on-line. We knew the place was remote, but we didn't know how remote. The park gate houses were unmanned. The road in looked so sketchy that we turned around.

My lovely wife spent 45 minutes trying to get hold of a human being who could tell us the road conditions. We were not even sure we were on the right road. It didn't help that the website said not to follow the GPS in certain areas of the park. Eventually, I decided to see if we could make it.

The road was rough in places, narrow, overgrown, and spots with deep soft sand. We made it to the campsite. It was out there. It had a large composting toilet and no showers. We've camped in worse areas. This site had a picnic table, raised tent area, graveled parking, and a fire ring. There was plenty of dry firewood lying around.

We were booked in for two nights. Unfortunately, my lovely wife woke up feeling ill. She suspects she might have gotten something bad at the restaurant we ate at the day before. Being sick out in the deep forest is not a fun thing. I made the command decision to book us into a hotel. The road out was worse than the road in. Good think I grew up driving on dirt roads. The van has good ground clearance and I needed every inch.

A little over an hour later we were booked into a decent hotel. My lovely wife took some meds and I tucked her into bed. Hopefully, she'll be feeling better in the morning.

-Sixbears

Friday, March 16, 2018

Somewhere Near Tallahassee



We are spending Thursday night somewhere near Tallahassee Florida. Another night of parking lot camping. Wednesday night we stayed at the rest area off Rt. 10 in Mississippi near Louisiana. The security guard directed us to a nice area “reserved” for RV parking. That was great, but sometime in the night tractor trailer rigs moved in all around us. We woke to the sound of their diesels running all night.

I don't really blame them. They have to spend the night somewhere. Long distance trucking keeps the country running, but drivers are under appreciated. It's a hard and lonely life on the road.

Thursday I stopped into a sporting goods store and got a 100 count container of soft disposable ear plugs. Those diesels aren't going to keep me awake another night.

Friday and Saturday night we are booked into a State Forest near Jacksonville Florida. We've never been there before. There aren't a lot of reviews on the campground, but cell phone service is supposed to be bad. If I don't post for a couple days it's probably due to lack of service. Sunday night we'll be in a different place, one that wifi service near the office.

Recently I turned 60 while on the road. It's just a number . . . a pretty big number. While I feel pretty good, it's a reminder that the clock is running. There are so many adventures to have yet, so I'd better not put them off much longer.

Life is good.

-Sixbears

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Breaking Points



The Northeast is getting hit with blizzard conditions. That will probably take down power for a lot of people. At the same time there's a solar storm going on that could affect power and communications in the higher latitudes.

That got me thinking. It's often a combination of things that take down a civilization. Robust societies can handle more disruptions than fragile ones. It also matters how many problems and how often they arrive that stresses a population.

Scientists try to figure out what caused ancient civilizations to collapse. For example: an area may be prone to drought, but the civilization survives any number of them with no problems. Then one day a drought comes along and everything falls apart. What's the difference? It could be a number of things.

There may be some political unrest going on at the same time. Infrastructure that normally would lessen the impact of the drought (cisterns, canals, reservoirs, etc.) are not properly maintained. Maybe a recent disease outbreak caused problems. While normally any one of those problems could be dealt with, the added effects of them working together proves to be too much.

Now I don't expect any such disaster from a simple winter storm and a somewhat more energetic sun. Any solar caused outages would mostly like be dwarfed by snow storm effects. Of course, that's just two things, and not all that uncommon at that. Add in something like Yellowstone having a massive eruption, an EMP device denotation, plague, and that might do it. It might take less than that, or it might take more. Who knows? This is not an exact science.

So what's a civilization to do? There are plenty of things that cannot be done. We don't exactly have any control over the sun. However, by staying on top of what we can fix, we are in a better state to survive the stuff we have no control over.

-Sixbears

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Money Trip



So how has the budget been working out while on the road?

Overall, it's been pretty good. January was a stretch as we'd just had Christmas, plus some unexpected expenses. Also,we were traveling, spending money on fuel and eating in restaurants. We didn't feel like cooking at rest areas when the temperature was below freezing and the wind howling. January was also when we went down to the Florida Keys -not the cheapest place to stay. To top it all off, my lovely wife's medications had a huge deductible that had to be paid.

Even so, we didn't too badly. Time spent in low cost Federal Campgrounds helped the budget. February was the month when we started to pay down debt. Even though we never felt a budgetary pinch, we spent a lot less than we took in.

Halfway though March we are doing well. Our side trip to Texas hurt the fuel budget, but we made up for it in other areas. Camping expenses haven't been bad, plus we've spent less eating out. I've paid down more debt this month. The month is only half over, so anything could happen.

Of course, something like a major mechanical breakdown on the van would be a strain, but vehicle problems happen anywhere. Driving in the cold and snow is rough on cars too. I've also been pretty healthy this winter. It's hard to put a price tag on that.

-Sixbears

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Travel Trash



One of the unreported issues with travel is taking out the trash. It can be an issue. Okay, for some people it's no problem. They toss their junk out on the side of the road or behind their campsite. Pretty disgusting, in my opinion.

For the rest of us, we have to deal with the trash we generate. Of course, the best way to limit the trash problem is avoid items with a lot of packaging in the first place. That's nice when you can do it. Another way is to bring along canvas bags for your groceries. I don't care if people think it's dorky. It reduces plastic litter and those canvas bags have a thousand other uses.

Even the most environmentally conscious people are going to generate at least some trash. It seems every campground has a different way of disposing of it. Many have a few central dumpsters and you have to learn where they are. Others have smaller barrels scattered all over the place. One campground even had daily pick up right from your site. The presence of bears makes a difference too, as trash in bear country has to be locked down. Usually their dumpsters are well latched and there are bear proof trash cans around.

We've even been camping places that have no trash containers at all. They seem to have the worse littering problems.

One way to keep trash from piling up while traveling is to use the trash containers at gas stations when fueling up. Even small items add up over time, so dumping that handful of junk when you can makes a difference.

Recycling is another thing entirely. We've noticed a lot of places don't deal with it. My lovely wife and I will hold onto our recyclables until we come to a place that recycles. We've been keeping them in a sealed bucket so they don't attract bugs.

There are two types of people out there. One group is concerned about the common good and takes care of public spaces. Others feel that common areas aren't their personal space so it doesn't matter what happens to it. I feel that those who litter probably have other personal faults, like a general disregard for their fellow man.

-Sixbears

Monday, March 12, 2018

The Next 900 miles



My lovely wife and I will soon be planning our next 900 miles. We have some time booked in a campground in St. Augustine. We love that old city. How we get there could be interesting. Sure, we could drive straight through and be there in less than 24 hours. I've done that before.

The problem with a marathon drive is that I'm a zombie for the next day or two. Rather than enjoying our time in a nice area, I'd want to do nothing but sleep. So with that in mind we'll break the trip up into more manageable chunks. There are a lot of places to stop along that way -almost too many to choose from. However, we have a budget to consider, so our options are not unlimited. Finding places to stay can be surprisingly time consuming. It also eats up a lot of Internet data time. However, it's worth the effort.

This trip to Texas has given us a chance to connect with my lovely wife's family. I was able to sort out some other nagging issues. A big one was getting the 12 volt refrigerator/freezer. That should help us camp in a bit more comfort. Another issue was dealing with computer problems. Unfortunately, my little notebook computer cannot be easily converted over to Linux. That was a disappointment. Fortunately, I was able to resolve most of the problems that made Windows such a pain to use. Also picked up some memory sticks to back up the computer's memory.

In a few more days we should be resupplied and ready to hit the road.

-Sixbears

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Lack of News



I truly regret the death of hard news. It's not dying, it's dead. Heck, it was in pretty rough shape back in the 90s. That's when I trained as journalist and got my degree in that lost art.

Back then you could take a “respected” newspaper, like the Washington Post or the NY Times. Yes, they used to be respected. Strip out all the opinion pieces. Cut away all the company press releases disguised as news. Take out the fluff stories that may make you feel good, but aren't news. Ignore the stories designed just for product placement. Cut out the articles designed to suck up to the rich and powerful.

What's left might actually be real news. Worse, the “real” news might just be a follow up story to something that happened earlier. If the follow up doesn't introduce anything new, it's not really news either.

That was back in the 90s and in newspapers, back when they still had robust news departments. Now it's 2018. There are no news departments, and most people tune into cable “news,” which always had a very low hard news ratio.

So now most news has very little information value. You still need information to make decisions. So what do you do?

First of all you keep your own eyes open. Learn some situational awareness towards the things around you. It could be anything from the sketchy new people down the block, to the sudden increase in the cost of tomato juice. The new neighbors may just coincide with the sudden disappearance of portable goods around the neighborhood. The increase in juice prices might be the forerunner to massive price inflation.

The Internet is good source of news, but not in the way most people think. Facebook is not a reliable news source, but it could alert you to problems. Same goes for all the major news sources. Heck, I check the Drudge Report most days, just to get a quick overview. Of course, it's always good to know the bias of the source.

If I want to find out what's going on in an area, I check blogs and vlogs. That's how I gathered information about Florida when making travel plans. While I did decide to go to Florida, I have no regrets leaving the sailboat home. The land based clean up and rebuild is going a lot faster than the water based.

For me, a huge amount of information comes from personal connections to people. I know folks who travel all over the world and people who live in different countries. It's hard to beat eyes on the ground for news.

If your main source of news is cable TV, you may be worse off than people who don't watch news at all.

-Sixbears

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Power Boats



Believe it or no, my lovely wife did not grow up in sailboats. She grew up on power boats. Her dad would sometimes crew on sailboats, but he only owned power. He liked the idea of being able get somewhere in a reasonable amount of time.

Believe it or not, I'm not totally against power boats. For some trips they make perfect sense. For example, sailboats are not great boats in which to do the Great Loop. (A round trip that goes through the Great Lakes, down the Mississippi, and back up the Atlantic Coast.) For much of that trip, sailboats have their mast setting on the deck. There are too many low bridges. Might as well start out in a power boat and forget the hassle.

There's a false belief that travel on a sailboat is free. It's not. Never mind that most sailboats also have some sort of engine. Even if they don't, sails are not cheap. Rigging, both fixed and standing, winches, and all that take maintenance. Eventually they need replacement. Where sailboats really shine is on long passages. If you are river or coastal boating, power boats can often be just as cheap or cheaper to run. Okay, let's not say cheap, but no more expensive.

When he moved down to Texas, my father-in-law took one of his powerboats with him on a good sized trailer. It's sat for 25 years in a pole barn. He had a good friend with a bigger boat already in the water. My lovely wife's dad rather burn someone else's fuel any day.

So now there's this nice power boat just sitting there. He's hinted he might want to sell it. Actually, my mother-in-law really wants to see it gone. Personally, I don't think I'd want it if the boat was given to me. While the hull is nice, the motor hasn't run in decades. Even if it could be turned over, all the hoses, belts, electrical stuff, pumps, and maybe even the transmission would need work. I bet the lights and bearings on the trailer are shot too. Time takes its toll.

Good think the Great Loop is not on my bucket list. I'd be tempted more than I should be by this old boat.

-Sixbears

Friday, March 9, 2018

New 12 Volt Cooler



Just got in an Alpicool C15 dc compressor cooler. The old thermoelectric cooler is going to land in the next dumpster I come across. Unlike the old cooler, this one is supposed to be a lot more efficient. I paid $199 on Amazon. Because I'm not sure about its long term durability, I spent a few dollars more and sprung for the four year warranty.

Actually, it's not just a 12 volt cooler. It runs on 24 volts too, plus comes with a regular 120 volt AC cord. My house solar electric battery bank is wired up for 24 volts, so I should be able to run it without using the inverter. That's a lot more efficient.

By the end of the month we'll be back to camping at campgrounds without electric power. The little cooler will get a good test then. On paper, my van's 100 watt solar electric system should run it just fine. It's fifteen liter sized. While that's not huge, it should be larger enough for some fresh veggies and meats. Unlike a normal ice chest cooler, all the space is usable as there's no ice crowding out the food.

Speaking of ice, it's not just a refrigerator. It can be turned down low enough to freeze. I was able to freeze a jug of water with it. Some people use these little machines with a normal ice chest. They freeze a block of ice and keep transferring it to the ice chest while keeping a few frozen foods too. Pretty clever, really.

One thing you should be prepared for is a poorly written manual. It's obviously written by someone with only a casual knowledge of English. Another problem for Americans is that everything is in metric, both manual instructions and the controls on the unit. I had to look up the conversion to figure out it needs about 8 inches of air clearance in the back and four inches on the side. Temperature settings on the cooler are in Centigrade. Just remember that zero is thirty-two in Fahrenheit and you'll know if you are setting it to freeze or cool.

The reviews I've been able to find have mostly been by people who've only tested it for a short while. I'm hoping to give a long term review after it gets a good field test.

-Sixbears

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Next Economic Collapse



It's inevitable. Economic collapse always happens. Here in the United States we haven't had a real collapse in most people's living memory. Sure, we've had downturns, but nothing like the Great Depression. Our little recessions, while tough on lots of people, hardly rises to the level of collapse.

Personally, I've been surprised we've gone this long. The oil shocks of the 70s could have done it. The stock market problems of '87 looked like the real thing. Later the tech collapse might have been the trigger. The 2008 real estate bubble looked like it could do it. One thing I've learned is to never underestimate the ability of the powers that be to kick the can down the road.

Eventually, collapse will happen. Right now it's all pretty much mathematically baked into the cake. One small example, the derivative market cannot be paid off with all the money in the world. It's highly unlikely that even something as simple as student loans can be made whole. Right now there's an increased risk of a trade war, and that could be a trigger. It doesn't help that regulations designed to keep financial institutions in check are being weakened and eliminated.

There are some tricks, like massive inflation, that can paper over the problems. However, at some point that becomes just another kind of collapse.

There are those who'll claim it will never happen. However, for the rest of us, it doesn't hurt to be prepared. No one can isolate themselves from the effects of full collapse. They can certainly reduce the negative effects. Focus on being able to provide for your basic needs: food, water, shelter, and security.

If you want some idea what collapse looks like, just check out the current situation in Venezuela. Collapse is here. It's just not evenly distributed . . . yet.

-Sixbears

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Keeping an Eye on the Weather



Just when I think it might be safe to head north early, a Northeaster storm moves in. Some years March is warm, but then the weather turns nasty in April.

I got fooled one year. My lovely wife and I went home during a warm March. We got home on a nice 60 degree day. That was the warmest day for the next six weeks or so. Not only did the lake stop thawing out, it refroze for a bit.

My daughter went over to my house to pick up a tool I had not had a chance to return to her husband. Felt a bit bad at that. She told me it looked like my house had been ransacked. Then, she said, she realized that's just how we left it. Thanks kid.

We left during nasty weather. Our water supply had frozen so for the last four days at home we had no cleaning water. That made everything harder. The house was not left in a neat and tidy manner. Frankly, we were glad to get out of there. It took four hours to start the diesel van.

On the bright side, the squirrels haven't moved in. That happened to us one year and they surely made a mess. They couldn't get into most of our food storage, but they ruined a lot of our spices.

I'm going to assume it's not going to be decent weather up north until sometime in April -not April first either, as I'm no fool.

-Sixbears

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Traveling with Tools



One of the guys camping next to us was in a small converted utility trailer pulled by his Jeep. That's where his girlfriend and him stayed. The trailer was a work in progress.

Next to the trailer was a good sized tent. That tent was packed with totes full of tools and materials. The guy was traveling with more tools and gear than most people have at their workshops at home. I knew that guy was going to be someone interesting to talk to. He certainly was. That man was always working on a big project.

I don't have anything like that tool collection with me, but I do have tools. Since I've been on the road I've been able to reconfigure a number of my van's systems. You can't do that with a single rusty screwdriver.

It's surprising how many people don't even have basic tools. They don't know how to change a light bulb in their taillight. Forget about having to replace a corroded wire or anything that needs screws and glue. Every time they have a problem the big RV goes into the shop.

Here's the dirty secret about RV dealerships. They have huge sales departments and tiny repair facilities. RVs don't have the same legal protections as cars. Each system has their own warranties. Those vehicles come with huge piles of paperwork. When something requires a lot of paperwork, it's never a good sign. Saying “Yep, we are going to cover everything,” doesn't require a lot of paper. That's only needed when companies are trying to avoid covering anything.

Generally, it takes long enough to get something fixed that the camping season is over. If you aren't prepared to do your own work, you are going to wait a long long time. Of course, since the warranties and repairs are so poor, you might just be ahead of the game building your own custom rig. At least you'll have tools and know how to fix it.

-Sixbears

Monday, March 5, 2018

The Road to Texas



It was a long strange road to Texas. Our highways are getting weirder out there.

We decided not to spend a second night at the Swannee music place. Then we were too late to check into the campground we hoped to stay at. Instead, we kept on driving. Spent the night at a truck stop, then drove to Texas the next day.

It took an hour to go five miles on the LA, TX border. Rt. 10 is a mess down there. As soon as we could, we set off cross country over county roads. Ended up at my in-laws two days early.

Still need a good long shower, the laundry has backed up, and computer problems need to be sorted out.

One thing I did right off was order an efficient compressor type cooler. Should be here in a couple days. We should be better off when it's time to head out.

-Sixbears

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Life at 60 knots



I always say life makes more sense at 6 knots -that's the speed of a smallish mono-hull sailboat. This winter we've been traveling at something more like 60 knots -down the highway in the van.

Last night we decided to “camp” at a truck stop. It actually worked out pretty well. I found a 12 volt fan for sale in the trucker's supply section. Being able to run a fan directly on 12 volts saved me from having to turn on the inverter. That conserved a fair amount of power.

Lots of people spend the night in truck stops, not just truckers. There was everything from some high end motor homes, to sedans, to a couple of hippy vans. It's all good. I actually slept better at the truck stop than at the last campground we were at.

Our spur of the moment travel brought us to the Swannee Fl state park where all the music festivals are held. I'm writing this in the afternoon. We'll be catching some live Southern Rock later this evening. I'd planned on driving about twice as far, but we saw the sign for the park and changed our minds. Our schedule has some leeway, just for such occurrences.

There was a nasty car accident on Rt. 75. I saw a huge plum of smoke way off in the distance. Soon after all traffic came to a halt. I didn't get a good look at the accident when we came along side. My attention was focused on getting through without causing another accident.

The driving appears to be getting worse over the years. Maybe I'm just getting old, or many it's that so many people are on their cell phones. All I know is that people are taking a lot more chances than they should. When I see a bad accident, it makes me want to be on the water.

-Sixbears

Friday, March 2, 2018

Traveler's Tales



One of the real hassles of our traveling is trying to get my lovely wife's medications filled. Every time it takes a fax or two from her home doctor. Considering we are often in poor cell phone areas, it's not fun. Then we have to try to estimate where we will be when it's time for a refill. She cannot get refills in advance.

It took a lot of back and forth on the phone, but we were able to sort it out today. Also, we drove over 150 miles. She did get her refill, so we are good for 30 days -on that med at least. By the time that was sorted, it was too late to get checked into a campground.

That's not a problem; we drove up the road and pulled into a truck stop. There was already a funky looking older RV in the parking lot. We may have found our people. The guy seems pretty friendly and loves our ambulance conversion.

The ambulance is always an attention getter. I'm hugely amused by that. Campers spend thousands and thousands of dollars on bran new RVs and nobody gives them a second look. They are just like all the other RVs out there. We pull in with an old ambulance conversion and loads of people have to check it out. Often it's people who wished they'd done something like that themselves. Instead, they went the conventional route. Their loss.

We are still having a good time, so what more could you want?

-Sixbears

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Moving on down the road



My lovely wife and I are slowly making our way towards Texas. This phase of our journey is even less planned than normal.

For example, today we just pulled into a random county park to see if they had any sites available. Ended up getting one of the last two. No worries. Worse come to worst we could always pull into a Walmart or a truck stop for the night. However, it is kinda neat to check out new places to camp.

I can't help reflect on all the infrastructure that makes a trip like this possible. Everything from the roads and fuel to having places to resupply and spend the night. There's a huge number of things that have to go right to have this amazing freedom of travel.

Never forget that security is a huge factor. In general people can travel around the country in relative safety. While I employ some basic precautions, we go to bed at night with a reasonable expectation of waking up in the morning. There are no barbarians at the gate trying to steal our water jug and last package of crackers. Not every part of that world has these blessed conditions. My lovely wife and I don't sleep in shifts while the other one is armed and on guard.

Sometimes we forget how fortunate we are. It's easy to take all this for granted, but I try not to. In many ways this is a unique time in history. Few realize how fragile this happy state of affairs actually is.

-Sixbears