June 18, 2013

Alabama Hills

Rolling over,  I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and looked out through the dust covered sliding window.  The stars were gone from the predawn sky save for a handful of planets and the crescent moon.   My bladder swelled against my jeans’ waist band, courtesy of a few Tecates the night before.  There was no point in putting it off any more.  Unzipping my sleeping bag I crawled out of the hinged door.  The cold Dip-N-Dots-sized rocks of the high desert stuck to my clammy feet as I walked towards an outcropping.   The splatter cut through the calm morning air; announcing my relief and the start of my day to a dozen or so slumbering lizards nestled away in cracks in the rocks.

The rest of our camp kept sleeping despite my yawns and the occasional groan when I stepped on a sharp rock with my bare feet.  The last memories of the fire from the night before glowed in tiny embers in our makeshift fire ring.   Pushing the coals together into a pile with one of the remaining logs, I sat down and watched the fire run its course.  Slowly the log started smoking.  Leaning forward, I took a breath of fresh air and blew on the coals.  Smoke gave way to small flames.   Other than the squeaking of a nearby Blue Jay,  camp was dead quiet.   I glanced at my watch. It was 5:51.

Hotsprings etiquette.

Smoked clams.

There’s a few week stretch each spring before the start of Day Light Saving time , when I feel like a morning person.  By most accounts, I wake up early, between 6:00 and 7:00.  Living in your car and spending the majority of your time outside shifts waking hours earlier.   During those few weeks before the clocks jump forward, I wake up at times that would make 70-year old retired man proud.  In high school  I woke up early and go skateboard at Burnside.  While living in New York, I’d go for runs during the quietest time of the day in my futile attempt to make it as a New Yorker.   Regardless of the place, there’s something about being up long before everyone wakes up and for the two weeks, it stays novel.  Part of you wants some company, but as soon as another person wakes up, the day starts, and that feeling of detached observation and introspection leaves.

Cowboy salad.

Hot springs shrapnel.

Jeff having some coffee.

Dan starting his day.

Outdoor Kitchen.

View from the bedroom.


Breakfast Supplies.

The search for a level place is an essential vanlife skill.

Hot springs walk way

Looking towards the east,  the sun flirted with the hills, accentuating its rolling saddles.  To the west,  the summit of 14,000 foot Mt. Whitney was already coated in pink light.  The sun tracked down the Sierras like a tractor tire on a runaway death course.  Watching it accelerate,  I sat by the fire, pocking at it with a hatchet.  The shadows had now retreated to the valley floor.  Any minute now, the sun would breach the hills,  casting light on our camp and waking up the rest of the crew.

Jeff’s door slid up with a hiss courtisoy of nearly a decade of heavy mountain and beach use.  ”AAyyy Fosterrr,”  Jeff whispered in a faux Australian accent.  ”Do you want some coffee?”

Here are some more links,

Out of Reception (Tumblr).

May 28, 2013

Matt and his Honda Trail 110

“Have you ever had your shit stolen?”

“Three times,” Matt said casually, as if discussing how many times per year he cuts his hair. “Last time I was in Mexico, banditos showed up in the middle of the night with assault rifles and took everything.”

“Even your passport?”

“No, they let us keep those,” Matt said,  grabbing his sleeping bag from a dry bag.

“Well at least they were considerate,” I joked. ”How has the ride down from BC been?”

“The CT’s been great.  Oregon and Washington were a little brutal,” Matt said in a thick Australian accent. “I drove through Oregon in a day and a half.”

To my untrained ear, it sounded like Irish.  That combined with his short stature reminded me uncontrovertibly of a leprechaun. “I’m sure,” I interjected.  ”I grew up in Portland.  I would have gotten the fuck out of there too.”

“Well I did.  The rain was crazy.”

“If you ever have the chance, you should check it out in late summer.  Its pretty special.”

Matt works in stints in construction or as a plumber back home in Australia.  When he gets fed up,  he travels and surfs until he runs out of money.   He’s been in this pattern for the last 15 years.  It’s taken him all over the world.  I first heard about Matt’s travels through my friend Cyrus Sutton.  A few years back, Cy and Matt went on a trip to Iceland.  Cy often speaks of Matt’s commitment to the traveling life and ability to make it with very little resources. Matt is a rare breed.

By most accounts, Cy’s and myself included, Matt’s travels are that of character from a Krackauer book.  He relinquishes the culture expectations yet has a deep seated trust in the people he meets.  Talking with him left me with the sense that I could be roughing it a lot more than I am.  My life in my camper felt safe and calculated compared to his travels on his Honda.

I wished him safe travels on his trip through Baja.  I told him that with any luck, he’ll catch that last Northern Hemisphere swell of the season.  A week later, I was in San Diego with Cyrus when we got word that he had everything stolen from by some banditos in Northern Baja.  I wasn’t surprised or scared for him.  Out of anyone I know, he could handle being trapped in the desert with nothing to his name.

Here are some more links,

A Few Sketchy Moments (Blog),

Matt is on Instagram too,

Matt Whitehead (Korduroy TV).

May 8, 2013

Not the First or Last

“Has anyone seen the shit shovel and TP?” I asked, hunting around our camp.

“Dan took it and the Lambo (Dan’s shitty mountain bike with Lamborghini badges) ten minutes ago and headed out for his morning routine.”

My small cup of freshly percolated coffee  was kicking in, bringing the mid morning stroll into the desert for a scenic shit from casual to imminent.

“Fuck.” This is not the answer I was hoping to hear. I scoured our camp of three tents, Dan’s Vanagon, Johnny’s pickup and a dozen or so surfboards for an unmolested roll of toilet paper.  Finding one by the camp fire, I left with purpose.

“Those fifteen tacos you ate yesterday coming back to haunt you?”

“Hardly dude,” I responding with wavering confidence , still believing the hubris that my stomach could support the onslaught of a dozen street tacos in Ensenada with no delayed after affects.

 My brisk walk turned in to a slow jog and eventual settled at a dead sprint down the dirt road leading towards the desert and undefined outhouse zone behind the row of camps.  Looking back, our camp and half a dozen other surfers slowly shrank behind me. “I can make it,” I groaned to myself. A hundred yards in front of me,  Dan crested the small hill walking his bike and holding the TP and shovel in one hand.  We moved with a different sense of urgency.

“Give me that fucking shovel,”  I yelled,  doing my best to mimic Usain Bolt at the Beijing Olympics.

“Oooooh, Taco Greed?”  Dan bent over laughing.  Holding the shovel out in his left hand,  I grabbed the baton and kept on my path.

My situation was quickly deteriorating. Perhaps if, I walked slowly I could control myself?  No time for that. The shovel would be used as a clean up operation not to dig a premeditated, shallow grave digging tool as I had hoped when I left camp a minute before.

Avoiding cactus and other foot fuckers that could compromise my chances of making it out of this unscathed and unsoiled,  I left the trail and set out over the hard ground of the Baja Desert.  Dan’s laughs faded as I crested the small hill.  Glancing behind me, Dan’s head was still visible but the camp behind him was blocked.

I spun around, dropping the shovel and TP in one motion. Frantically, I fidgeted with my belt.  Despite my sprinting and efforts, the dike broke as I unbuttoned my jeans.  Inches from the finish line, I crashed.

Nap time.

Home is where you park it!

Suiting up.

Restocking on produce at a local grocery store.

Local transportation.

Erin attending to the morning dishes.

Everything you need,  nothing you don’t.

Tide pool exploration.

Siesta Time.

Kitchen for six.

A luxury.

Shred sticks.

Halibut beware.

Right by the beach.

Let there be light.

Dan’s Subaru powered Vanagon.

Shred sleds.

Ryan heading out to shred a few.

Banana boat.


Changing room.

Going through the roll of toilet paper like a ten year old through Fruit Stripe Gum,  I  cleaned up the mess as well as I could.  Periodically, I paused to burn the mountain of paper collecting in front of me.  As the sun ross behind me,  the off shore wind picked up.  The swell, that we chased down from Santa Barbara two days before, was showing up.  Lines, groomed by the wind,  were bending in around the point.  A few of the old time Baja guys were already out on their fun boards catching the best ones, showing their hard earned knowledge of the finicky wave.

Removing my boxers, I put my jeans back on and started my bowlegged retreat back to camp.

My boxers flapped from my index finger like a flag of defeat.  I considered berrying the boxers along with the mountain of rejected tacos in a shallow grave.  Coyotees would get it in no time and leave them discarded along the beach and I opted to burn them.  Thankfully, the off shore wind kept the shit smell at bay.  I walked slowly,  watching the waves break a hundred yards out from our camp.

“I’m not the first person or the last one to shit myself in Baja,” I reassured to myself. “It’s a cost of doing business.”

Here are some more links,

Fun and Dusted (Korduroy TV),

Old Clothes (Johnny McCann).

April 29, 2013

Limited Space

Living in a camper forces you to prioritize your possessions.  You have to be selective.  A camper has thirty square feet,  mine has twenty five.  Everything  must have multiple uses.  This ethos attracted me away from my cluttered New York City apartment in the first place and is the same interest that inspired The Burning House Project.  After continuous tinkering here’s a list of things that are essential for my life on the road.

iPhone 5.  Want to find a place to eat?  Whats the weather doing?  How long does it take to get to Bishop from here?  It’s my connection to the world and spontaneity.  Mine is jailbroken and with the help of a handy  $20 tethering app, I can connect my laptop to the phone’s 3g modem.  Screw telephone companies and their price gouging ways.  (MyWi tether app)

LL Bean 20° Goose Down bag.  Few things are more essential to a nice camping experience than a good sleeping bag.   20° covers pretty much all of the temperatures I’ve come across in the last 60,000 miles.  After over 500 nights in the last two years,  my bag is still going strong. (LL Bean)

Poler Camera Bag.  I use this thing as a murse to hold headphones, iPhone Chargers and of course, my camera gear.   Remove your chatskis, and it doubles as a cooler for a six pack of your favorite beverage. (Poler)

Gerber Multitool. A solid pocketknife is a must.  It comes in handy in all sorts of situations. I’ve worked on my van,  cleaned fish and taken out a cactus spike in Mexico with it.  Plus it works when you need to open up a snack.  (Gerber Gear)

Casio F-91W watch. Back in the 90′s, a training camp in Afghanistan taught Al-Qaeda members to use this watch as a timer for bombs. Rumor has it that because of this,  the CIA has thrown Arabs into Gitmo and other godforsaken places simply because they wear the watch.  It also happens to be the most widely distributed watch in the world and costs $9 on Amazon.  The box claims that it’s water resistant but I’ve surfed with it dozens of times.  (amazon)

Dr. Bronner’s.  I don’t always shower, but when I do, I use Dr Bonner’s peppermint soap.  Me and every other NPR listener you’ve met raves about this stuff, but honestly its a must. You can wash dishes, clothes, your hands and even your teeth with this stuff. (amazon)

Short rubber boots by Tretorn.  When the weather gets shitty, you don’t want to have shoes.  These short boots have 90% of the upside of full-size rubber boots without the inconvenience.  I’ve worn them in the forest in British Columbia and on the beach in Mexico.  They have a faux-fur liner so your feet stay warm when it’s cold.  Don’t take this fur as invitation to not wear socks though, or they will start smelling like a DARPA-funded science project.  (Tretorn)

Down Jacket.  I wear this jacket 70% of the time.  It packs down into a travel pillow.  I take it everywhere.  Patagonia has a rock solid warranty so if it starts hemorrhaging feathers,  you can take it back. (Patagonia.com)

Backpacking Stove.  This thing packs into a box half the size of your fist and can cook a steak.  Need I say more?  It also has an auto lighting feature so you don’t need to fuck around with matches or a lighter,  things I’m always losing.  The tanks are easy to get your hands on and last a while.  (amazon)

John Wesley Twin Fin Pin Tail.  My friend Beamer turned me onto John and his Pin tail twin fins surfboards.  I’ve surfed them up and  down the coast and had a blast on them.  If I had to take one board with me on a trip, I’d take this one. (John’s blog)

Wrist Rocket. If I ever get around to it, I’d love to write a piece called Zen and the Art of the slingshot.  There are so many variables at play.  Rock size, distance from target, aiming technique.  It’s great for passing the time. (Amazon)

One of my favorite parts of living in a camper  is how it has shown me that I can be happy with very few things.  I’ve met a community of people on the road that take more pride in what they do than what they own.  These people have inspired me to think differently about my relationship to things.

Here are some more links,

Vanlife (Tumblr).