Rolling Craps In Vegas

So, I made a mistake. After bombing down Nevada 95 from Death Valley to The Vegas, I got confused and headed north on the I-15 instead of south. (I blame North Vegas’ highway construction and infuriatingly slow stoplights.) I wanted to catch the I-40 so we could head towards the Grand Canyon and see the skybridge. As is usual for me, I didn’t realize my error until I was well into Utah, and. as is even more typical, I decided to keep going and see what happened rather than backtrack.

Ends up it was a pretty cool mistake to make. This part of the I-15 is gorgeous. It starts out as just more desert, then all of a sudden it looks like you’re headed straight for a canyon wall. At the last moment, the road swoops to the left and you slice into a narrow crevasse, just wide enough for the highway. The walls tower on both sides, like some forgotten gateway from Lord Of The Rings. And the wonders just keep coming. We then swung onto the I-70 eastbound, and it was just as good. Easily worth missing the Grand Canyon for. When everything was said and done, we covered the entire length of I-70, and it now ranks as one of the prettiest highways that I’ve driven on.

A few random notes on the experience:

  • Western Utah (on the I-15 and I-70), wow. Spectacular. Particularly going through Fishlake National Forest.
  • Eastern Utah, meh.
  • Western Colorado, better, but still just OK.
  • Central Colorado, wow. A twisty run of mountain roads through forests and ski resorts. Sunrise on the snow-covered red rocks above the Colorado River can (re)affirm that there is a God.
  • Vail Pass (10,666 feet) down to Denver is a serious rollercoaster. They had just re-opened the interstate right before we drove it, and there were a few icy spots. Nothing quite compares to hitting black ice on a 7% downhill grade at 70 per. I think that both Mayo and I have a few more gray hairs. At least you’re going fast enough that you’re over it and past before the car can get seriously sideways. Motorcycle nuts should not miss this thrill ride. But maybe not in February.
  • A rant: Utah has no clue what the phrase “rest stop” means. It definitely does not mean “a bathroom in a gas station 2 miles off the highway”. And each 200 miles of interstate should have more than, you know, one. If any of the curses I called down happen to come to pass, the Mormon Church will suffer worse plagues than Pharaoh ever knew. (Western Colorado made up for Utah’s sadistic joke with 4 rest stops within 10 miles of each other. Seriously. And they were, each and every one, different from the others and worth the stop.)
  • I didn’t take many pictures of all the geological eye candy. There are a few scenic stops, but most of them are overlooks of some canyon or other. Most of the really cool stuff can only be seen as you roll past it. Which is OK, in a way, as it is like riding through some Disney theme coaster writ large. Besides, pictures won’t do justice; you really need to drive there and see for yourself.
  • Another rant: I’m a fan of The Filthy Critic, who calls Arvada, CO his home. He makes it out to be some rundown mountain town, ala South Park. Ends up it’s really a sprawling suburb of Denver. And not even a little seedy. Well, maybe he lives in the part without Starbucks and Lowe’s.
Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Death Valley? Meh. From boredom, maybe.

We headed out from Chatsworth northeast to Lake Isabella and the Kern river, then onwards to Death Valley. I totally overprepared for the crossing–full tank of gas, lots of water, food, everything. We were halfway across the valley before I realized that we had arrived. The national park covers the east half, plus some mountains. I guess I can understand why the pioneers had such troubles with it: yet another blasted, arid xeriscape hemmed in by impossibly high mountains. Third or fourth in a series; cross them all! On the positive side, the park must own the world’s largest collection of “ELEVATION: SEA LEVEL” signs; they’re careful to point out each change below, above, and to the water line. I lost count after 25 elevation signs.

However, the roads into and out of the valley were a complete hoot. Apparently the engineers in charge of the grading concluded: “Switchbacks? We don’t need no steenkin’ switchbacks!” Pretty much straight up for 6,000 feet until the very top, then a few feeble attempts at curves. The boy scouts caravaning behind me were seriously wound by the 85-MPH scream to the valley floor.

Posted in chatsworth, death valley, lake isabella | Comments Off on Death Valley? Meh. From boredom, maybe.

Chatsworth, CA

I grew up in Chatsworth, CA. Nice place. Home to the porn video industry, a splash of aerospace, the late great Dennis Weaver, several of James T. Kirk’s alien-wrasslin’ scenes, an obscure nuclear plant meltdown, and the best bean dip and margies in town at Los Toros. The rockclimbers love it for Stoner’s (sorry, Stoney) Point, and the history buffs for the Pony Express trail (now mostly covered with pools and parking lots). Mayo got the chance to experience Chatsworth Park (pictured), where my buddies and I used to monkey around when I was a kid.

Posted in aerospace, california, chatsworth, dennis weaver, los toros, nuclear meltdown, porn, star trek | 2 Comments

Flagstaff or Grapevine?

I’ve had the opportunity to drive down both the I-17 South from Flagstaff to Phoenix and the I-5 North out of Los Angeles. Which is hairier? Honestly, though my Cali pride recoils from the thought, I have to give it to the I-17. The I-5 is steep and does the entire downhill grade in one endless brake-melting shot, and is thick with traffic. Semis going 35 dodge out of the far-right lane while caddies and beemers doing 110 weave through every lane. But that’s not enough to overcome I-17’s whoop-de-do mix of steep drops, rollercoaster hills, and poorly-canted curves. To add insult to injury, the northern Arizona scenery is much prettier. This round goes to SoCal’s easternmost suburb.

(My apologies for the lack of posts in a while and the lack of pictures with this one. But I’ve been stuck with little or no net access for a couple of weeks, and am making do with dialup today. There’s a lot of stuff stored up in my brain, and it’ll leak out over the next few postings. But for now, suffice it to say that visiting with folks has transitioned to rolling on the open road.)

Posted in arizona, california, flagstaff, i-17, i-5, interstate, los angeles, phoenix | Comments Off on Flagstaff or Grapevine?

So darn cute

The dashtop appliances from NESCO arrived today. They are so darn cute. And beyond retro, in the sense that they remain completely unchanged from their siblings of 30, perhaps even 40 years ago.

On display are the Home’n Away dual-power fry pan and the Travl-Toast single-slice toaster. The fry pan is cleverly constructed so that it can use either 120V AC or 12V DC power, and it has a cord for each source. The toaster is of a design that I haven’t seen for a long time. It’s shaped rather like a purse, complete with handle. The toast cage pulls out of the top, and the toast (or sandwich or fruit-filled tart) is inserted into the cage, then the cage is guided back down into the toaster body.

Don’t let their compact dimensions fool you. These are devices for the competent man-chef, not for the coddled nor easily distracted. You’ll find no frou-frou frills such as on-off switches, temperature sensors, or protective cladding. You plug them in, they get hot, the food cooks, end of story.

One of the puzzling things about these gadgets is who actually made them. It’s pretty clear that they were manufactured in Two Rivers, Wisconsin. But by which company? NESCO? EMPIRE? METAL WARE? I hesitate to even make a guess. Beyond that is the question of which product line they belong to. The Pot’n Pop saucepan / popper appears to be part of the TravlMates by EMPIRE line. Yet both it and the Travl-Toast are METAL WARE “GO” products. The fry pan is not clearly either a Travl Mate or a “GO” product. Quite the little enigmas.

Posted in EMPIRE, Home'n Away, METAL WARE, NESCO, Pot'n Pop, Travl Mate, Travl-Toast | 4 Comments

Your dog wants you to try it yourself first.

I added a twin-bed-sized foam mattress pad to the TentCot and it made a big difference; the TC feels luxurious now. Mayo snoozed in the TC last night, and acted only mildly put out, then started snoring. Today’s picture is a demo of the “Super Catcher” from Fellowlike Pet Products of Taiwan. Mayo informed me that she’d give a live demonstration of her claws and fangs if I even thought about ordering one.

That’s it. Mostly just wanted to put this picture up.

Posted in super catcher, taiwan, tentcot | Comments Off on Your dog wants you to try it yourself first.

First night in the TentCot

Well, I did a trial run of sleeping in the TentCot last night. Inside, in my apartment. Not too bad, but it is very firm and I need to find a pad of some sort. Also, it is a little like sleeping in a coffin, which I have yet to get used to. Mayo refused to stay in it for more than a moment, even though there was room for her at the foot. I think it might be because she didn’t have free access through the side opening. There’s another opening at the head, so tonight I’ll turn the TC around and let her have the open end. (The things I do for that dog.) Luckily, the ends are identical except that one end opens and the other end doesn’t. Oh, and the opening end also has the “skylight”. And the drink holder. I guess they’re not so identical. I am pretty impressed with the design of the TC overall. There are a lot of thoughtful touches and many storage crannies, just like a well-executed minivan. It is very solid and stable. Of course, it is also very heavy and bulky. I still haven’t figured out a good way to attach it to the outside of the Jeep, but it might be workable if I put the roof rack back on and strap the TC’s bag to the rack’s rear risers. We’ll see.

I did get a little cold in the middle of the night. But I didn’t turn on the apartment heater and was using fewer blankets than usual. I think that another blanket, the to-be-purchased pad, and a dog on my feet should help a lot. I’d guess that if I totally zip the TC up, it’ll be very warm in there, and pretty stuffy too.

The other thing I wanted to try was reading in bed and doing crossword puzzles. I nestled the fluourescent light next to my pillow, switched it to one-tube mode, and everything worked well. Even solving puzzles was doable.

Go Colts! Should be a great SuperBowl this year, da Bears and Indy. I can’t remember the last one I was excited about; probably all the way back when Brett and the boys were still seriously in the hunt.

Posted in bears, colts, superbowl, tent cot, tentcot | 1 Comment

Jeep? Not RV?

I first started out thinking that I would get an RV and tool around the country in that. I bought a lot of books on RVs, particularly on full-time RV’ing. Right now, I’m not so excited about getting an RV, as they don’t seem to be as great an idea as I first thought they might be. Here are a few of the tips I’ve picked up:



  • One book I read and found useful covered a retired couple’s year-long RV trip.
    • The couple was comfortably well off, so they had the luxury of choosing any RV that suited them. They opted for a small Class B RV (essentially a fancy and very expensive van conversion, or a van that’s been extended, had the roof raised enough so that you can stand inside it, and has compact versions of RV features like a generator, kitchenette, shower, and head).
    • They never said as much, but it was clear that by the end of their year, they were sick of the RV, sick of each other, and sticking it out just to say that they stuck it out for the entire year. Oh, and they golfed a lot, and spent probably a third their trip at resorts, a third visiting friends / family / doctors / mechanics, and a slim third doing actual RV’ing.
    • The book was very useful for planning. They really did a great job of covering the details of financial, legal, and medical prepwork for the trip, and for estimating the trip costs.
    • My impression was that they were both smart and dumb to pick a Class B:
      • These were people who were accustomed to a comfortable lifestyle, and they seriously cramped it by choosing a compact RV. They didn’t have enough space to take all the clothes they wanted, not to mention the various little things that would make their RV feel more like home.
      • Plus, they didn’t have enough space to get out of each others’ faces while on the road. They eventually resorted to separate jaunts when they stopped: one would go shopping or take the RV in for service while the other went walking around town, for example.
      • They actually didn’t save much over the price of a Class A. Their RV still cost $80,000, which is astounding to me. That’s a lot for a gussied up van.
      • But they were smart in that their RV didn’t take up much more space than a standard full-size van, and wasn’t woefully underpowered like most RVs. So they could go pretty much anywhere that the wanted to, including up steep grades, into small campgrounds, and crowded mall parking lots.
  • The other types of RVs are Class A, Class C, and various forms of trailers.
    • Class A is a “classic” RV, essentially a customized bus or heavy truck chassis with a house bolted to the top. Think of something 25 to 60 feet long and costing $100,000 and up. They’re wide, they’re tall, and they’re really heavy. They can go pretty much where semis can go, which limits them from a lot of rustic roads with low tunnels and old bridges.
    • Class C is the “minnie winnie”; it is a pickup truck or van cab and chassis with an apartment where the bed used to be, the RV for the rest of us.
    • The non-motorized RVs are travel trailers (Class A’s without an engine), fifth-wheel trailers (big travel trailers designed for easier towing), pop-up tent trailers, and hybrids between the three designs. And the old standby, the slide-in or camper-shell that goes into the bed of a pickup truck.
  • Motorized RVs suffer from all of the same problems as trucks, and all of the same problems as houses. Like all big trucks:
    • They’re really hard on engines, transmissions, and brakes.
    • They’re top-heavy. They’re prone to tipping over and to being squirrely in windy conditions and when passed by semi trucks.
    • They weigh a lot. Many weigh so much that they leave little allowance for people and cargo. A few weigh so much that they literally are overloaded as soon as the water and propane tanks are filled (never mind groceries, clothes, books, etc.).
    • They need balanced cargo; it must be loaded so that there isn’t too much on one side or the other, and isn’t too much behind the rear wheels. Forget putting your book collection on the shelf over the left window or just throwing everything into the back closet.
  • Like houses:
    • They have roofs. The roofs leak. This might not be visible, and can lead to mold and dry rot.
    • They settle onto their foundations, twist, flex, and sag.
    • They have plumbing, heaters, air conditioners, vents, electric wiring, etc. All of which can clog, die, smell, or just need a lot of TLC and money.
  • Towed RVs have all of the same problems. Except that they’re hard on the engine and brakes of the vehicle that’s towing them.
  • Jeep Wranglers like mine aren’t powerful enough, or, more importantly, long enough to safely pull much of anything beyond an ultralight (which I still don’t quite get the point of). So for me, it would be a motorized RV or nothing. Plus storage fees for the beast for when I’m not RV’ing, added insurance, etc.
  • Many federal and state parks have limits on maximum RV length, usually 25 feet. Sounds good to me, as I wouldn’t feel comfortable driving anything that long anyways, and could live without 8 MPG. Oddly enough, a lot of the real bargains in used RVs are for 30-footers and longer. Hmmm.
  • Another interesting book is by some full-time RV’ers. “Full-time” is one of those confusing phrases, as full-time RV’ing is something between living in your car, living in a trailer park, and living in a rolling resort, depending on your financial resources. The people who wrote this book used a fifth-wheel trailer RV. Partway through the book they admit to writing the book to keep their adventure going, as there aren’t many jobs besides “travel writer” that can be done from an RV.
  • Popular ways to save money while RV’ing for long periods include:
    • Boondocking in someplace that an RV can get to, aka parking for free in a WalMart or casino lot.
    • Long-term visits to RV-friendly destinations, aka spending a few months in a trailer park.
    • Living off the grid, aka investing in solar panels and wind generators, and staying in lovely places like Quartzite.
  • RVs aren’t the “insta-camp” convenience that they’re made out to be. When stopping for the night, some or all of the following must be done:
    • Unhitch the towed vehicle if driving a Class A. With a Class A, the “toad” is almost a requirement, as it’s the only realistic way to get around town.
    • Back into the camping spot, unless it’s a pull-through spot or a parking lot. Not a trivial or fun undertaking with something that’s both really valuable and 30 feet long.
    • Level the RV. This is needed so that the fridge can be turned on. And so that things don’t keep rolling off the table during meals and out of the bed at night. Without built-in power levellers, this can be a special joy involving jacks and combinations of boards under the wheels (which involves more jockeying of the RV).
    • Hook up the “shore power”, aka the AC electricity. Use a tester to check for miswiring or shorts before trusting your RV’s fancy electrical systems to Bert’s Kampin’ Fun Korner’s wiring and the Podunk grid. Dig out the adapter so that you can plug your 15-amp connector to their 30-amp outlet or vice versa. Run a couple of tests like turning on the microwave and/or air conditioner to see if that 30 amp service can really handle 30 amps of load.
    • Hook up the “fresh water” line. Hopefully that Podunk water is clean enough to wash dishes in. Drinking it might be a completely different question.
    • Hook up the “gray water” (sink and shower drain) and yucky “black water” (toilet drain) lines.
    • Hook up the cable TV line or align the satellite dish.
    • Hook up the telephone line for the computer modem or connect to the wireless network.
    • Undo all of the above and re-pack everything when you leave. Don’t forget to clean out the blackwater and graywater tanks and stop by the dump station if needed, ewwww.
  • It’s funny to note that both books and most RV websites advise keeping a day’s driving to a couple of hundred miles, then pulling in early. Mostly because it’ll take a while to do all of the setup chores, and they’re even less fun when attempted in the dark.
  • One thing I could have done to make the Jeep a bit more RV-ish was to add an inverter and possibly some “coach batteries”. The inverter takes in DC electricity from the car’s battery and puts out AC electricity. With an inverter, I could use standard appliances like a real microwave oven. But that whole option gets really complicated and expensive:
    • Most appliances use quite a bit of power. For example, a compact microwave that’s rated at 700 watts of cooking power likely requires 1000 watts of input power to run.
    • The inverter needs to put out at least as much AC as the biggest appliance needs. Plus a little headroom just to be safe. And it needs to handle the momentary surge that many appliances need at start-up, which might be double the run-time power. So, our 700 watt microwave needs a 1200 or 1500 watt inverter with a momentary capacity of 2500 watts.
    • Like chicken parts, watts is watts. But 1200 watts requires around 10 amps from 120 volt AC, but 100 amps from 12 volt DC. That’s a lot of amps!
    • Running that many amps from the car battery will discharge it pretty quickly.
    • Car batteries aren’t designed for being totally discharged like that. It damages them. So, a second (or more) deep-cycle “coach” battery is needed. This battery will need a vented yet protected place to live, and will need extra circuitry so that the car’s alternator can charge both the car battery and the coach battery.
    • Or the car needs to be running so that the appliance is powered by the car’s alternator. (That’s what I’m going to do anyways with my DC cooking appliances, just to be safe. In theory, I shouldn’t need to, but in reality I’m sure to leave something running for too long and will kill the battery.) But that microwave will need somewhere around 100 amps, which is uncomfortably close to the Jeep’s alternator’s 110 amp output.
    • And, of course, the Jeep is already going to be pretty full. I don’t think there will be room for a microwave. And a big inverter. And a deep-cycle battery (OK, to be honest, there is a spot under the hood for a second battery).

So, all in all, at this point, RV’ing is looking both expensive and far from hassle-free. And doing fancy camping out the the jeep is looking better all the time.

Posted in boondocking, casino camping, class a, class b, class c, fifth wheel, full-time, jeep, minnie winnie, rv, trailer park | 1 Comment

First entry, from Madison

Hola, folks,

We’re not yet on the road, but I figure that every journey starts with a first step, and every step starts with your feet both firmly planted on the ground. Well, that’s a first for me.

The current Big Plan is to RV around the country, except that I don’t have an RV, so I’ve bought a lot of stuff to simulate an RV, sort of. And it should all fit in or on the Jeep.

And of course, being a true patriotic American, my first step is shopping.

Yesterday, Mayo and I drove to the big Cabela’s just north of Milwaukee. Big is right, 160,000 square feet. And crowded. But they have just about every product that Cabela’s sells right out on the floor and easy to play with. Including some bulkier items like bass boats and big outfitter’s tents. The place felt like a Sears with a West Marine and a Gander Mountain attached to it, all done up in an urban log cabin theme. The aquarium was pretty neat, as it had several muskies and pike in it. Mayo wasn’t able to go inside, so she guarded the Jeep, aka curled up and snoozed. Overall, it was worth the drive.

I intended to buy a generic cot, or at least a oversized one so that there would be room enough on it for both Mayo and me. But instead, after trying out several different types, I bought a TentCot. Very clever design; it is essentially a cot with a tent permanently hooked to it. To set it up, you simply kick down the legs, and flop down the two ends, kind of like one of those portable aluminum chaise lounges. When you flop the ends over, they pull the tent part up along with them. Done! There are lots of little storage places inside for books and stuff, plus a drink holder.

I also bought a PETT toilet, and some Wag Bags. Just had to mention those. I wanted to get some sort of shower, too, but I couldn’t come up with something that was both portable and not a pain in the neck. So I guess showers will happen at motels and KOAs.

The TentCot is pretty bulky, and makes me think that we might need a different travelling arrangement in the Jeep. (Perhaps Mayo can sit on the passenger seat and I’ll pull out the rear seat where she normally lazes. Then the TentCot, the card table, and perhaps Mayo’s big crate can go in the back. And to give Mayo more space, some other stuff can fill the space in front of the passenger seat and give her more room to recline. Or maybe there will be a way to strap the TentCot to the back of the Jeep.)

In other words, the TentCot is a hassle to transport. But it is so easy to set up and so cozy and comfy that it makes up for it. At least, I think it does. I really like the idea that we can either do a quick stop and just set up the TentCot, or can do things upscale and set up everything; either way should work. We won’t really know until we’re on the road for a few days. We’ll do some apartment camping tonight and test things out a little. Then camp outside overnight sometime soon to test everything for real and see what I’ve forgotten.

So. So far, we have a ginormous tent that is supposedly very easy to set up (from monkeying with it inside my apartment, I’d guess that it is), a lantern (got it for $15 at Wallyworld), a cargo carrier to lug most of the junk behind the jeep, an organizer for the carrier, the CotTent to sleep in, a card table, a travel camera, and a laptop. The cooking stuff is on order from NESCO. (Yup, the same place that used to make those roaster ovens. They’re still around, and still making the ovens, Ron Popeil, eat your heart out.) I ordered a 12-volt toaster, skillet, and oversized hotpot. I was just going to get the toaster, but NESCO’s having a great sale, so I just got everything except the coffee maker.

I think we’ll have everything we need to live the high life on the road, like living in an RV, except no shower, and everything fits in the toad. It could be that it won’t even take much longer to set up, since we’ll trade the tent and TentCot setup for unhitching, parking, levelling, and hooking up. Cooking will look a lot like in my apartment, except with the microwave replaced by the skillet and hotpot. I think we’re just about ready to go!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment