Pothole Point Trail

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Pothole Point in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park was the first trail The Lady of the House and I hiked on our epic road trip in Arizona and Utah. At just .6 mile, it was a good way to start.

Pothole Point Trail is named for the indentions in the rock which are known as “potholes.” After a rain, each pothole is an ecosystem of various snails, beetles, worms, and shrimp which have hatched from eggs or emerged from dormancy.  Each ecosystem is fragile, and visitors are encouraged to keep hands and feet out of the potholes. Even when the indentions are dry, eggs may be lingering in them, waiting for a rain so they can hatch. Other creatures may also be in the potholes, also waiting for rain to move into the next phase of their lifecycle. A hand or especially a foot in a pothole could crush delicate life.

We were lucky to see these potholes filled with water.

The Lady and I were really lucky; all the rain the night before had filled the potholes. We were both excited to see the potholes filled with water; they really stood out when wet.

The hike was mostly across bare rock. The trail was marked by cairns (pronunced \ ˈkern \) because there was no visible path of well-worn dirt or trampled vegetation as one might see in a forest or desert. All we could do to navigate was follow small piles of rocks. It was my first hike with only cairns to guide me.

A cairn marking the trail.

Visitors are asked not to build cairns of their own because too many cairns or cairns built in the wrong places can be confusing to hikers. Unfortunately there were many unofficial cairns along the trail. Fortunately, The Lady was really good at navigating and kept us on the trail. Had I been alone, I might still be wandering around from one pile of stones to another, never finding the way back to my van.

Not only does the trail take hikers across bare sandstone, there’s very little shade along the way. I was glad for my big hat and glad we were hiking on a spring morning. I would not have enjoyed this hike nearly as much had I been doing it at midday in the summer.

The Lady and I took frequent water breaks, thanks to her reminders.

The trail wasn’t crowded, probably because our visit occurred before the high tourist season of Memorial Day to Labor Day. I absolutely encourage anyone who can manage it to do their exploring of any tourist attraction during the off-season.

Pothole Point Trail is a loop, and I was glad to see my van when we circled back around. I enjoyed the scenery and the company, but I was glad to get out of the sun and take a little break while driving us to the second hike on our itinerary. Next stop: Cave Spring Trail.

Some of the scenery we saw while hiking Pothole Point Trail.

I took the photos in thie post.

Really?

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The Lady of the House and I arrived at the visitor center at the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park early in the day. We may have been the first visitors in after the doors were unlocked.

Two people were working at the information desk/checkout counter that morning, a young man with a beard and an older woman with straight grey hair. They talked to each other as The Lady and I looked at the souvenirs in the corner of the building that served as a gift shop.

We hadn’t been in the building long when another visitor came inside. I didn’t pay her much mind, but from what I saw out of the corner of my eye, she was old enough to be my mother and well-dressed. She made a beeline to the counter where the Park Service employees stood.

I have a question, she told them, but I’m going to wait until my husband gets in here.

I don’t know why she even started talking before her husband made his entrance. I guess she was excited.

The husband walked in within minutes and the question turned out to concern the Elephant Hill Road.

The couple had a rented four-wheel-drive vehicle, and they wanted to take it exploring on Elephant Hill Road.

According to information about Needles District trails and roads issued by Canyonlands National Park,

One of the most technical four-wheel-drive roads in Utah, Elephant Hill presents drivers with steep grades, loose rock, stair-step drops, tight turns and backing. Over the hill, equally challenging roads lead to various campsites and trailheads…

It would be ok to drive their rented vehicle there, wouldn’t it, the visitor woman asked confidentally.

I don’t recommend it, the Park Service employee with the straight grey hair said gravely.

Really? The tourist woman asked in a tone of voice that made it plain she couldn’t believe her plan to drive on Elephant Hill Road was being thwarted. It was obvious she thought the Park Service worker was wrong.

Does your vehicle have a wench? the Park Service employee asked the couple. Do you have the capability to self-rescue?

Oh no, the husband said. Nothing like that.

I don’t recommend it, the worker repeated. If you get stuck, the Park Service won’t tow you out, and you’ll have to pay $2,500 for a towing company to get you out.

The Park Service employee asked them what they hoped to see, then helped them decide to go partway down Elephant Hill Road, but turn around before the road became too rugged for their vehicle.

(Let me say here, every employee I’ve encountered doing his or her job at any of the National Parks I’ve visited has been absolutely friendly and helpful, even when a visitor has been asking for something ridiculous or impossible. Without exception, the employees of National Parks I’ve seen interacting with the public have been professional to a degree I find awe inspiring. I consider folks who work for the National Parks in a class above all service industry employees, save perhaps for those employed in some capacity by Mickey Mouse. )

When we got back in the van, I asked The Lady if she’d heard that tourist woman get thwarted.

Oh yeah, The Lady said. She seemed so sure of herself.

The Lady and I made up the following story about the tourist couple: The woman had her heart set on driving Elephant Hill Road and was trying to convince her husband that the vehicle they had rented could handle it. The husband was skeptical.

Fine! We could image the woman saying, We’ll ask at the visitor center.

The way she said, Really? made it clear she hadn’t expected to be told no.

The way she said, Really? made me think she hears the word “no” on a highly infrequent basis.

I took these photos in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park.

5 Best Breeds for Van’s Life (Guest Post)

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Last week Devan from the XsyntrikNomad blog shared everything she knows about sharing a van with a cat. This week Rebecca from Pawsome Kitty lets us in on the five best feline breeds for van life.

Van life is quite cool and thrilling, but it is not made for everyone and obviously not made for all breeds of cats. Many cat breeds are generally domesticated and prefer to stay indoors, but there are some of them that would be great company on your wild adventures. Make sure to find the perfect breed that can fit your unique and fun mobile lifestyle.

We’ve listed the 5 best cat breeds for sharing your van life. Check out the rundown below.

Chausie

# 1 Chausie The size of the Chausie often gives an impression that they are big, great, and wild. However, the truth is they are a very tame breed of cats that can enjoy playing outside and can be the perfect company for your next trip. This breed has a bony structure with strong muscles, broad chests, and long legs.

They are great hunters and are very active cats. They can easily cope up with your hunting activities and will accompany you on your adventures. The Chausie is a sweet cat, but they don’t like cuddling.

American Shorthair

#2 American Shorthair The American Shorthair is known to be a stocky, muscular, and well-built breed of cats. They can easily adapt to their environment which means they can be perfect for both indoor and outdoor activities. They are natural hunters and won’t need much maintenance, which makes it easier for you to provide for their needs while you are on the road. If they get nervous, you can always get a cat carrier for them.

Maine Coon

#3 Maine Coon The Maine Coon is known to be one of the largest breeds of domesticated cats. They have a solid, rectangular, and muscular structure. Despite having longer hair than most cats, they have a soft temperament and are known to be intelligent. You’ll love that they can easily withstand harsh weather and can accompany you on all kinds of adventures.

Birman

# 4 Birman Cats The Birman cats, on the other hand, have silky and semi-long hair and small ears that make them easier to recognize. Their size varies from medium to large, and they are a very curious breed. This breed is also very intelligent and can easily follow instructions while you are on the road. They have cool tempers that make it easier for you to bring them along with you on your trips and adventures.

Abyssinian

#5 Abyssinian Last is the Abyssinian. This breed of cats is known to be spirited, loyal, and inquisitive. They are medium-sized cats that have a muscular body. They are not really the indoor type of cats and love to stay outdoors and explore nature. They love playing and investigating the world around them. They are tough hunters and easier to train than other cats.

Van life is amazing, and many people are getting interested in living nomadically. Many will ride through the mountains, go hunting, or simply enjoy life on a beautiful terrain, while sharing these special moments with their feline fur babies.

Rebecca from Pawsome Kitty describes herself this way: Yes, I am that weird cat lady with 200 cats and live in the darkest corner of the city where no one dares to go! Joking! But I am a cat lover and have two tabby cats called Toby, he’s 8 years old and Dory, she’s 3 years old.

Photos provided by author.

 

Canyonlands National Park, The Needles District

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The Lady of the House and I woke up in Superbowl Campground to a beautiful view. It was difficult to believe any rock formation could be redder or more beautiful, but The Lady just smiled knowingly. She’d never visited The Needles District, but she’d been to Arches National Park and the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands the previous summer. She knew there was a lot more fantastic ahead of us.

After eating breakfast and cleaning up, we got on the road to the Needles District of Canyonlands. We showed The Lady’s Southeast Utah Parks Pass at the admission booth, then stopped at the visitor center to plan our day. We decided to drive the scenic loop, stopping at overlooks and going on two hikes—Pothole Point Trail and Cave Spring Trail. While these two hikes weren’t the longest or most strenuous in the Park, at .6 miles each, they were long enough for me. We also planned to do the very short (.3 mile) Roadside Ruin Trail on our way out of the Park.

I was in awe at the wondrous formations we could see from the visitor center. Again, The Lady indicated You ain’t seen nothing yet, and we set out on our driving tour.

I was in awe from the moment I got out of the van at the Needles District visitor center.

The first magnificent formation I saw didn’t even have a name.

This is Wooden Shoe Arch. It really looks like a wooden shoe! Nature is incredible.

What’s it called? I kept asking The Lady. Why doesn’t it have a name?

Certainly something this majestic deserved a name.

The first named formation we stopped to see was Wooden Shoe Arch. It was my first arch, and it really did look like a wooden shoe! Erosion is an amazing phenomenon.

Next we drove to the Confluence Overlook Trailhead, which was at the far end of the loop. We had no plans to hike the 10 mile trail, but we did walk around the area near where we had parked, and we looked out over the vast wonder of nature. It was scary to stand on the edge of a massive drop-off, but feeling like a tiny bug that could be swallowed by the earth does put the human experience into perspective.

The Lady stands on the edge. It may look as if she could step down to the next level of ground, but in reality she was way high up and the ground was way down below.

Both the Pothole Point Trail and The Cave Spring Trail were a bit strenuous for a couch potato like me, but I certainly enjoyed the sights I saw along both trails. (Each of these adventures warrants a future individual blog post.)

My first ladder.

My most memorable moment in The Needles District was descending my first trail ladder. This event occurred on The Cave Spring Trail. I tend to be clumsy, so I took things slow and made it down with no problem.

As planned, we walked the Roadside Ruin Trail on our way out of the Park. It was a short and easy trail, more of a stroll than a hike, and perfect for the end of the day. We dashed up, saw the relic,

one of the region’s many ancient granaries – used by various Native American cultures who cultivated corn, beans, and squash when the climate in the area was wetter,

according to the Modern Hiker website. The Lady and I agreed it was cool, but we were tired, hungry, and ready to go, so  we returned to the van for our drive to Moab.

The aforementioned Modern Hiker article says, “…this granary – built sometime between 1270 and 1295 CE – is particularly well-preserved (and is also unique in that it’s accessed via a door on top of the granary instead of the sides).”

I took all the photos in this post, except for the photo of myself. The Lady took that one.

Judgement

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When The Man picked me up from work on Friday afternoon, he was distressed because the needle on the van’s gas gauge was in the red. He was afraid we would run out of gas before we went back down the mountain in four days. I knew (from stressful experience) that even once the needle is in the red, I have enough gas to get down the mountain. I didn’t know if I had enough gas for us to drive the six miles back and forth to work for four days and make it down the mountain, so it looked like we would have to take an unplanned side trip to civilization.

There was gas on the mountain, 25 miles and 45 minutes away, in one pump behind a general store. We could have gone there, but once before my debit card hadn’t worked when I tried to pay at that pump. By the time I got off work, I didn’t know if the general store would be open when we got there. We’d be in big trouble if we drove 25 miles to find the card reader wouldn’t accept my card, the store was closed, and we couldn’t get gas.

We decided to drive down the mountain to our second gas option. After an hour of twisting mountain roads, we found ourselves in one of those small towns that’s a hub for outdoor tourism but doesn’t have much else going for it. If it weren’t for nearby camping and fishing and whitewater rafting, this town would probably shrivel up and blow away.

I knew by the time we drove an hour down the mountain, filled up the gas tank, and drove an hour back up the mountain, it would be dark and cold, and we’d be not just tired, but exhausted. I knew cooking dinner in our outdoor kitchen was going to be miserable, and I wanted no part of it. I knew the one grocery store in town had a hot deli, so we decided we’d grab our dinner there.

After spending $80 and not quite filling my gas tank, we found ourselves in front of the hot deli case looking at fried chicken, pizza strips containing pepperoni, and meaty lasagna. What were a couple of non-meat eaters to do? We opted for a pound of potato wedges and called it a night.

We had to get in the regular check-out line to pay for our potatoes. We were third in line.

A young couple was first in line. The young man looked like he was barely out of his teens; maybe he wasn’t. He had scraggly facial hair, baggy clothes over a scrawny body, and a warm beanie pulled down low against the late spring chill. The woman with him was young too, with either a deathly pallor to her face or makeup to make it seem that way. Her hair was dyed a light blue and pulled up and twisted into two little blue buns on the top of her head.

The ages of the next couple in line were more difficult to determine. The male half of the couple seemed to be in his mid-30s, but the female half seemed older. I wasn’t sure if she was his mother who’d birthed him at a very young age or if she was his wife who’d aged in a hard-life sort of way. The woman was plump, with perfectly straight, shoulder length hair, no bangs. She wore a tasteful, loose and flowy blouse and seemed like an ordinary middle age woman from a small town. The fellow was tall and had probably once been athletic, but his body was getting middle age soft. He had on unremarkable clothes, a ball cap, and tattoos on the arm I could see.

When we walked up to the line, the fellow wearing the ball cap was talking to customers waiting in the next check-out lane, something about a promotion he’d gotten. His conversation ended, and we all stood quietly for a moment against the bustle of the grocery store.

The fellow with the ball cap stood facing forward, and I heard him call out loudly enough to be heard by those standing immediately around him, but maybe not loudly enough to be heard by the object of his scorn, Hey! What’s wrong with your hair? He was of course talking to the young woman in line ahead of him. He had a good ol’ boy grin on his face, knowing he could most probably get away with saying whatever mean thing he wanted because the (boy)friend of the woman with the blue hair wasn’t likely to fight him.

I don’t know if the woman with the blue hair heard the rudeness. She never looked our way and her face never betrayed any feelings. The rude man’s lady companion did hear him. She gave him a nasty look and the tiniest shake of her head, but nothing more. Mother or wife, I’m sure she was all too familiar with his asshole antics.

The young man with the blue-haired woman heard the remark too. He glanced over with a stoner’s look of What? on his face. The mean man broadened his smile in a we’re all friends here gesture directed at the young man, who gave back the barest minimum of a smile. He, like me, knew we were not all friends here, but he must have realized flight was better than fight in this situation.

About that time, a cashier opened the register to our right and called for the next customer in line. I quickly ushered The Man over to the newly opened register. I Did. Not. Want. to stand next to the fellow with the ball cap any longer.

As I purchased our pound of potatoes, I could hear the fellow with the ball cap and the cashier (a young woman with her dark hair piled on top of her head and false eyelashes the size of caterpillars) discussing the woman’s blue hair, which had apparently made quite an impression on them.

I looked up and saw the fellow with the ball cap had tattoos on his other arm too, as well as the outline of the state of California tattooed on his neck. I’d have thought someone with multiple tattoos would have been a little more accepting of someone with an unnatural hair color, but in this case, I was wrong.

I kept my mouth shut, but I wanted to shout, Hey asshole! Let he without a stupid neck tattoo cast the first stone!

Traveling Van Cat? ( A Guest Post about Cats and Van Life)

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Basil, the author’s feline companion-in-van life. Photo provided by the author.

Have a cat and want to travel? No problem! With time and patience, most adult cats (and almost any kitten) will adjust to vanlife.

It will be harder to travel with a cat than it is to travel alone, and you will need to make accommodations for the cat’s needs and safety. There will be annoyances, inconveniences, and it will almost always require patience and a good sense of humor.  🙂  If you’re like me, it’s worth every challenge when you love your furbaby.

Know Thy Feline

Hi! My name is Devan Winters from the XsyntrikNomad blog. I am a vandweller and I have two cats. Freddie is a gregarious, hyper, and curious escape artist. He is 7 years old and kind of a doofus. (I say that with love). Basil is 8 years old and a bit of a scaredy-cat. He hisses at people who get near the van (even though they can’t see him through the tint).

Traveling with Freddie was great the first two days. He seemed relaxed and curious. On day three, an internal switch flipped, and he began to freak out. He suddenly wouldn’t leave me alone when I was driving. It was not safe.

After confining Freddie while I was behind the wheel, I quickly learned he was capable of howling for hours…nonstop. After a little more than a week, I knew he was going to struggle to adapt. Nothing I tried would calm him or keep him from desperately trying to get out of the van.  Lucky for me, my adult child is the proud parent of Freddie’s sister and was generous enough to take him in. Otherwise, he would be a very unhappy van cat.

Basil, on the other hand, freaked for the first three days, then settled in. He’s become a really awesome van cat.

After living and traveling with Basil in my van for a while, I’ve learned a few things. I hope they’ll help anyone else considering a feline companion in their van life travels.

LitterBox

Location:  I’ve found the best location is by a door-it allows easy access for cleaning. Basil’s litter box is in the front passenger floorboard. If I ever have a regular human passenger though, the box will move to a location near the side or rear doors.

Tip:  Placing the litter box as far away from where your head rests when you sleep at night is more convenient than you might think, especially if your feline is on a regular late night or early morning pooping schedule.  🙂

The Box:  Through the years I have preferred to use a plastic storage container, about the same length and width of a litterbox. You can grab a cheap one at Big Lots or WalMart. This is a particularly handy option when trying to find a size that fits in the space you have.

If you’re putting the box in the back (or think you ever will) hold on to the lid. You can create an awesome enclosed box by cutting a large opening on one end of the lid. In my experience, this eliminates kicked litter (when your cat covers his business) while minimizing tracking a bit too.

TIP:  If you do this instead of spending more money on a ‘normal’ litterbox, it’s important to make sure your container is big enough for your cat to turn around in comfortably. Pay extra attention to the height of the box if you plan to use the lid. Measure your cat’s height from the top of his head to the floor. Then add an inch or two to that measurement to determine the best height for the container you purchase. 

Litter and Tracking:  I currently use clumping clay litter, but a pellet is a good option to lessen tracking. (Basil was not a fan, unfortunately.) If you’re not using a pellet type litter, you can assume you’re going to have litter tracking issues. I have a mat by the litterbox that catches some of the litter, but I keep a hand broom right under the seat to sweep what’s tracked. Depending on your cat, you’ll find yourself doing this at least once a day.

Arm & Hammer RONEuY Double Duty Clumping Litter, 20 Pounds (Pack of 2)
Bonus:  If you use a 5-gallon bucket for your business, you and your feline friend can share the litter. I’ve switched to Arm & Hammer Double Duty Litter recently. The brand comes in many varieties, but this variety, in this brand, seems to clump better than my previous brand. I store it in a plastic container with a lid under my bed.   

Hairballs

Hairballs and puke happen. There is nothing worse than waking up to a puke covered blanket. Unless you wake up and step in warm puke. *gag* I have experienced the joy of both, and worse. I have nearly eliminated hairballs using SynergyLabs Richard’s Organics Flavored Hairball Remedy. It works great for Basil.

Food is a major factor in feline digestion. If your cat is throwing up more than a couple times a week, and you’re sure it isn’t a health issue, try experimenting with food. It can be costly, but I have found the premium brands are worth it for Basil. He actually eats less and his poop doesn’t smell quite as bad. I tried a few foods but found Natural Balance ( which can be purchased at most pet food stores) works for us. There are plenty of good quality brands you can buy between the cheap and expensive too.

TIP:  I keep two heavy flat twin sheets (purchased cheaply at Goodwill) in the van at all times . I can’t always wash my primary blanket right away if there is a puke situation. So whether I’m sleeping or out for the day, one of those sheets is always covering and protecting my primary blanket. (In the summer months, I use the sheet alone)  

Food and Water

This should be easy, but it wasn’t for me. Basil likes to tip his water. He’s done it for years. Depending on where you put the food and water bowls, a spill can cause quite a mess. I spoke to a vet and these are some things I learned:

Water Bowl Tipping:  In rare cases, some cats will be sensitive to taste and may not like the water you’re giving them. Try spring or filtered water instead.

The biggest cause of water tipping is this though:  If your cat puts his head in a water bowl and his whiskers touch the sides, he will often tip the bowl in an attempt to drink without scraping his sensitive whiskers.

Ethical Pet Products (Spot) DSO6932 Stoneware 4-Square Dog Dish, 5-Inch, Blue
TIP:  Buy a wide stone bowl like the one pictured.The 4-inch square shape is hard to tip, gives your cat a wide opening corner to corner, and the stone keeps the water cool.

Placement of Food and Water:  Put it where your cat can reach it easily, but not where you might step on it in the dark or when you’re in a rush. My vet also recommends keeping food and water away from the littler box.  (Who wants to eat where they go to the bathroom, right?)

TIP:  Cats actually don’t like their food and water together. By placing the bowls in separate locations, it fosters your cat’s natural foraging/hunting behavior. When you’re in a small space like a van, little things help keep your cat happy and content.

Food Storage:  As I will also be mentioning in the section on behaviors, most cats like to chew through bags. It would save space to keep a bag of cat food crammed in a corner somewhere, but I highly recommend a plastic container with a well-sealed lid (for freshness too). Trust me, it will save you a lot of frustration. Even if your cat doesn’t have this behavior now, the small space and potential feline boredom could create a bag-chewing monster.

Temperature Control

Location:  This is my first consideration, always. During summer months I stay in places like Flagstaff, AZ or San Diego, CA. My summer plans require quite a lot of research on weather in the desired area. I would do this anyway since I don’t like heat either, but it becomes way more important with a cat in tow. I look for places with low humidity and temps that stay below 90 degrees.

TIP:  Elevations of 7,000 feet or higher, the Northern CA coast, and the Pacific Northwest are also (usually) temperate options. US Climate Data and Accuweather are my go-to for historical weather data. 

Regulating the Temperature without Solar:  I have a passenger van so I have windows all around. I love my windows but the first thing I did was limo tint them. On most summer days in the mid to low 80’s (or below), if I open the back and side windows for a nice breeze, and put a sun shield on the front window, the van stays comfortable inside.

On hotter days, I put two sun shields in the front window and hang Reflectix from the top of the windows all the way around the van. I do not fasten it at the bottom so air can still flow. It keeps the van pretty comfortable. In fact, at floor level (specifically under the bed in the cubby hole Basil likes to hide in), it is noticeably cooler.  (Yes. I got on the floor and crawled under to see/feel)

Tip:  Spend several days in your van with your cat in different weather conditions and temperatures. Leave the windows and shades as you would if you weren’t there for the day.  Get a feel for what your cat is going to experience and watch them for signs of heat-related stress.   

Regulating the Temperature with Solar:  I have not installed solar or a roof vent yet so I can only speak from the experiences shared with me by others. According to those who have it, a working roof vent is great at regulating the temperature inside your van. If you can install two, one in the back and one in front, one drawing air out and one pulling air in, even better.

YI Dome Camera Pan/Tilt/Zoom Wireless IP Indoor Security Surveillance System 720p HD Night Vision, Motion Tracker, Auto-Cruise, Remote Monitor with iOS
Monitoring:  I installed a camera and the ThermoPro TP-50 Digital Temperature and Humidity Meter. Using wifi, the camera is accessible through an app installed on my phone. I can maneuver the camera in the van remotely, using the app, and keep an eye on the temperature (and Basil) inside the van. This is a new set-up and I LOVE it. I got the idea from this YouTube video if you want to check it out.

Behavior Issues & A Small Space

If your cat has issues in your current home, you might feel like they’re amplified in a van. In fact, you may discover issues you didn’t know your cat had. Practice patience with them while they adjust to their new normal.

Basil discovered he likes to chew bags. Doesn’t matter what’s in the bag, if it makes a cool crinkly sound, he’ll bite and chew on the corners. From wet wipes to potato chips, he is not particular. I accidentally discovered he will not do this to a baggie. So, as much as the tree hugger in me hates using them, I put everything I can in baggies of all sizes (and I re-use the heck out of them). Anything too big for a baggie goes in a Rubbermaid I use exclusively for this purpose.

Living in such a small space, I also find myself as a bouncing off (or on) point. To prevent lots of scratches, it’s more important than ever to keep those front claws trimmed. Otherwise, scratches happen a lot.

CLASSY KITTY Door Scratcher Hanging Carpet Post with Sisal (Colors may Vary)
It’s also a great idea to find a spot for a small scratching post or scratching board. Otherwise, your seats may fall prey to their natural desire to stretch those paws and dig in with those nails!

TIP:  I strongly recommend using a sisal rope scratcher. Your cat will enjoy the cardboard style scratchers, but they will make one heck of a mess in your van!

Modifying Behaviour:  If you’ve never had issues with your cat before or are new to feline parenthood, yelling at or smacking a cat is completely ineffective behavior control. You probably already know that, but it’s worth mentioning. Cats definitely require a unique approach to discipline.  Because, you know, cats.

TIP:  A Google search is a great place to get advice but make sure you’re taking advice from a reputable source such as a vet website, the ASPCA, an animal products website (like chewy.com), etc.  

Playtime

Don’t forget your cat still needs playtime to expend energy. This is necessary for both physical and mental health. In fact, in such a small confined space, they need it more than ever. Take time every day, multiple times a day if you can, to play with your cat. Throw a ball if they fetch, wiggle a string for them to stalk, roughhouse (if your cat enjoys it), treat them with catnip toys, etc.

Cat Fur and Dander

If you’ve lived with a cat in a regular house or apartment, you already know fur gets everywhere. It’s worse in a van. Keep sheets and blankets washed regularly and shake them out between washes when you can. Basil likes to lounge in the driver seat so hair tends to collect there. A good lint removal brush or roller is essential.

FRESHLAND Lint Roller, 90 Sheets, 5 Count, 450 Sheets Total and 100% Natural Air Purifying Bamboo Charcoal Bag (200G) for Lint Removal, Pet Hair Pickup, and for Keeping Air Clean & Fresh
TIP:  I recommend the Freshland Lint Roller. It’s economical, comes with a charcoal air purifier/deodorizer, and works great. I keep mine within reach from the driver seat.  When I get out of the van to go in somewhere, I can quickly spiff myself up.  

Cat Leash Training

I keep threatening to leash train Basil, but I haven’t really tried yet. I understand it takes time and a lot of patience, but there are awesome rewards. It is best to start training them as young as possible, but most adult cats are trainable. If you plan to spend a lot of time outdoors and in nature, your cat will love the opportunity to explore outside with you-safely!

Tip:  Microchip! You can get microchipping done for around $45 and it’s worth every penny. Even if your cat is leash trained or not prone to escape, there are still risks, such as an accident. If a window breaks out and there is a lot of commotion, your cat just might bolt at the first opportunity. Mine would. 

Confinement When Mobile

For safety reasons, most people strongly suggest confining your cat to a carrier when you’re mobile. In an accident, your cat is secure, safe, and less likely to get hurt or run off. You’re also less prone to distraction or to have your driving affected by your cat.

In reality, most of us do not participate in this practice. For me, there is no place to fit a carrier when not in use. Even if I found an easily storable/collapsible carrier, Basil has hiding spots I can’t get to, and he doesn’t come when called. Getting him in the carrier before I go anywhere would be a challenge in itself. That said, I still consider it a best practice if you can do it.

Health Care

Finding affordable medical care for your cat while on the road is a huge challenge. It’s best to do any preventative care before you leave. Once you’re on the road, if you decide to use a nationwide veterinary chain like Banfield (inside most PetSmart stores), you won’t have to keep records of everything with you. (You should always carry rabies vaccination paperwork.)

Banfield even offers pet insurance to cover some care, if you can afford (and want to pay) the monthly expense. There is also a line of credit called Care Credit you can take out specifically for veterinary costs.

Tip:  If you travel like me, often staying in one place for a couple months at a time, take time to research local vet options. Look at Yelp and Google reviews, call to inquire about general visit prices, etc. I always start my search with AAHA Accredited Vets. The standards and guidelines they have to meet for accreditation practically guarantee you’ll get a good vet.

Something I Forgot?

I’ve tried to think of everything I wanted to know when I started, while also including answers to questions I am often asked.  If I haven’t answered something you’d like to know about, or if you want more detail on anything, please reach out to me at xsyntriknomad.com.  I will be happy to help you find the answers you need.

**Please keep in mind these are my experiences and my opinions. I’m not always right, but I took extra care to make sure any information linked is true and accurate. I will always make an extra effort to steer you in the right direction when it comes to your animal companion.

Photos (other than the one of Basil) are Amazon affiliate links. If you click on any of those photos, you’ll be magically taken to Amazon.com. Anything you put in your cart and purchase after clicking one of those links will earn the Rubber Tramp Artist a small advertising fee at not cost to you.

Discomfort

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I knew immediately that my homelessness made the woman uncomfortable.

I wasn’t trying to make her uncomfortable. I was simply speaking my truth, sharing my reality.

She was probably a few years older than I was. Her clothing (tasteful but not ostentatious) and her speech (no slang, proper grammar) marked her as belonging to the educated middle class. She had come to walk with her daughter in the Nevada Desert Experience Sacred Peace Walk, and she seemed a little nervous, a little out of her element. Her daughter had wandered off, and the woman seemed to want to chat with someone so she wouldn’t feel awkward in her aloneness.

Women in my age group who think I’m of their social class seem to gravitate toward me when we’re in a group that makes them uncomfortable. I’m educated, and I speak proper, mostly unaccented English. My hair is streaked with grey and my tattoos and the gaps where my rotten teeth have been pulled are mostly invisible. I appear to be a “normal” older professional woman, and other “normal” older professional women seem to think I’m safe to interact with.

I don’t remember how this particular woman and I began chatting. I think she joined me at a table for a meal. Maybe she and I lingered after the other folks at the table left. In whatever way the conversation started, I could soon tell she thought we had similar lives.

I also don’t remember what question she asked me about myself, but my response was that I lived in my van. I immediately picked up on her discomfort. It wasn’t the first time I’d mentioned living in my van to a woman in my age group and immediately sensed her discomfort.

Maybe the conversation went like this: Maybe the woman asked me where I lived and I said I lived in my van. Maybe then she asked me why I lived in my van, and I gave her my stock/true answer that I’d been homeless before I started living in the van, so the van was a step up.

However the topic came up, I knew my talk of homelessness as a real part of my life made my table companion nervous.

I suspect when a woman thinks I’m like her but then finds out I’ve been really homeless and I’m currently living-in-a-van homeless, she gets a little bit freaked out because she’s identified with me. If I was/am homeless, and she and I are somehow alike, she realizes she could end up homeless too. I think it’s a very disconcerting realization for some women.

Upon hearing about my living situation, this particular woman launched into a story about how one night after eating at a restaurant, she gave her leftovers to a homeless man. I guess she wanted me to know she was down with and kind to homeless people. I resisted the urge to explain that street kids call asking folks for their leftovers “white boxing,” presumably because restaurants often pack up leftovers in white Styrofoam containers.

The story was long and detailed, and the woman’s nervousness was obvious. Our whole point of interaction had become about her trying to convey to me how ok she was with homeless people (and therefore ok with me). Suddenly I wasn’t an individual sitting in front of her, but a member of a group that caused her discomfort.

I wasn’t sure how to respond to this woman’s story. I think I managed, I’m sure the man appreciated the food, but how was I to know what the man thought of her offering?

I was almost sorry I’d mentioned living in my van. I hadn’t wanted to cause the woman distress. On the other hand, I wondered why I needed to hide my reality in order to save someone else from discomfort. I don’t have to be ashamed of having been totally homeless or of being living-in-a-van homeless. Being homeless isn’t a moral failure. Being homeless doesn’t make anyone a bad person.

The woman’s discomfort made me uncomfortable too. I felt like I had done something wrong, even though logically I knew I hadn’t. The woman rambled on with a story I didn’t really want to hear. I excused myself as soon as I could and left the table feeling alienated and awkward. I wished I could be as normal as people thought I was.

Purse

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She didn’t have much English.

What we see here? she asked when she approached the counter.

The guy with her didn’t seem to have any English. After I explained they’d see giant sequoias on the trail, she turned to the guy and translated. The language they spoke wasn’t one I recognized. The other store clerk insisted it must have been Portuguese (because she could recognize French, Italian, and Spanish), but I wasn’t convinced. I’ve been told Portuguese sounds like a mix of Spanish and Italian, but the language these customers spoke sounded like nothing I’d ever heard.

The woman’s entry into the mercantile’s guest book did nothing to solve the mystery. I’m sure the other clerk thought all would become clear when the woman accepted the offer to sing in, but I’m sure she wasn’t expecting the visitor to write “Torrance, CA” on the line.

The woman asked for directions to the closest national park. I explained in detail what roads to take and even pulled out a California road map so I could tell and show. The woman bought the map and asked if they should walk our trail before they left. I told them I’d get on the road immediately, as they still had a drive of several hours ahead of them.

The woman asked about restrooms, and I pointed to the building housing pit toilets on the other side of the driveway. She spoke to her fellow, and they both moved to the store’s door.

The woman had put her purse on the front counter during the examination of the map, and it was still sitting there. I thought she’d pick it up before she left the building, but she seemed to plan to go to the restroom without it.

Ma’am, your purse, I said as she got farther from the purse and closer to the door.

She waved her hand at me, as if to indicate, Oh, that old thing? I don’t need to take it with me. With her limited English, she communicated that they were only going to the restroom and would be right back.

Um, no.

You really should take it, I said sternly.

She took the steps back towards me and swept the purse off the counter.

I’m glad she thought I was honest. I am honest, but she had no way of knowing I wouldn’t riffle through her bag and pull out some choice items.

Also, how was I to know she wasn’t going to try to pull some scam on me? She could have come back from the restroom and insisted I’d taken a nonexistent wad of cash/iPhone/credit card.

What if other people had come into the store and someone had snatched her bag while I wasn’t looking? Would she have held me responsible for not keeping a closer watch on her belongings?

I was not willing to take responsibility for her things. I don’t know how it’s done in Torrance, CA, but where I come from, we don’t ask store clerks we don’t know to take care of our purses.

Photo courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/brown-leather-crossbody-bag-with-white-framed-sunglasses-167703/.

 

How to Save Money While Visiting Tourist Attractions

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If you live nomadically, you have more freedom to visit tourist attractions across the U.S.A. From Arcadia National Park on the coast of Maine to Disneyland in Southern California, nomads can spend their days basking in natural beauty and having fun in amusement parks and at roadside attractions. Since fun often comes at a price, and nomads aren’t the only people on a tight budget, today I offer tips on saving money while visiting tourist attractions. The tips are aimed at nomads, but will be helpful for anyone trying to save money while on vacation.

#1 Visit in the off-season, Peak tourist season is usually Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day Weekend  when lots of kids are out of school, but some places (I’m looking at you, Southern Arizona!) have the opposite peak season because of the ultra-hot summers and the mild winters. Some places (like Taos, NM) have two peak seasons—one during family vacation season in the summer and another during ski season in the winter. Do some research on the places you want to visit to find out when they’re less likely to be busy.

Not only are attractions less busy in the off-season, you may find nearby accommodations and activities deeply discounted.  Some amusement and theme parks offer better deals on admission during slow times.

#2 Sleep cheap. Find free or super cheap camping near the places you want to visit. You can save a bundle by camping instead of staying in a hotel or motel. I’ve found free camping close to several national parks (Arches, Canyonlands, Carlsbad Caverns) using the Free Campsites  and Campendium websites. On occasions when I couldn’t find a free campsite, I’ve found campgrounds listed on those sites (like the Super Bowl campground right outside the Needles District of Canyonlands) with a nightly fee under $10.

If you want to splurge on a night out of your rig, but don’t want to spend a wad of cash, look into staying at a hostel. Available in both mega cities (several in  NYC, three in San Francisco, and the Phoenix Hostel and Cultural Center in Phoenix, just to name a few) and in smaller towns near ski areas (the Lazy Lizard in Moab, UT; the SnowMansion northeast of Taos, NM; the Santa Fe International Hostel in Santa Fe, NM) hostels offer budget rates on a place to get a shower and a bed for the night. Cheapest accommodations are usually in dorms, but some hostels offer private rooms with private baths and cabins.

#3 Keep your food cost down. Bring your own snacks and drinks into the attraction if you can. Most national parks and monuments allow visitors to bring in food and beverages, so stock up before you arrive and don’t pay gift shop prices for granola bars and trail mix. Many amusement and theme parks do allow visitors to bring in a limited number of bottles of water, small snacks, and medically necessary food.

If possible, cook for yourself instead of eating out. If you’re boondocking or staying in a campground, cooking for yourself will probably be part of your normal rubber tramp routine. If you’re sleeping in a hostel, use of a community kitchen is often included in the nightly fee. If you do stay in a hotel or motel and the room includes a microwave, take advantage of it to make a simple meal. Also take advantage of any free breakfast the hotel/motel offers, as well as any free coffee or tea available to start your day.

Remember: food will usually cost less in supermarkets than in convenience stores or small grocery stores, so stock up on food before you hit the road or you might end up spending a lot of money on food in a remote location.

#4 Buy all your gear before you head to a tourist attraction. Similarly, supplies are going to cost more in remote locations. Avoid paying gift shop and small town prices for sunscreen, insect repellent, propane, fire starter, and batteries by planning ahead. Save money by getting supplies before you leave civilization.

You may also find better prices on fuel for your rig if you buy it in a place where several gas stations compete for business. If you can even find fuel in the middle of nowhere, you’re going to pay more for it. Top off your tank before you leave civilization.

#5 If you’re going to visit several attractions in one area, look for a bundle pass that offers access to multiple places for a one-time price.

When my host family visited Utah in the summer of 2017, they planned to visit Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Natural Bridges National Monument. Admission to each park costs $15 to $30 per vehicle, but the Southeast Utah Parks Pass was only $55 and allowed unlimited access to the three attractions the family wanted to visit, plus Hovenweep National Monument. Because the pass was valid for 12 months, The Lady of the House used it again in April 2018 to get us into those places during our epic Arizona-Utah road trip.

#6 If the price of admission allows you to enter the attraction for multiple days, take advantage of this option. Most national parks are expensive to visit, usually $25 to $35 per vehicle (and probably more in some places), but most national parks I’ve visited have allowed visitors to enter for five days to a week after paying the admission fee. Spending $35 to visit an attraction seven days in a row is a much better deal than spending $35 to stay in the place for just a few hours. Especially if you have a free or cheap camping spot nearby, slow down and get your money’s worth by exploring a place for as many days as your admission fee allows.

#7 Find out if the place you want to visit offers birthday discounts or freebies. Out of Africa wildlife park in Camp Verde, AZ charges between $18.95 (for kids 3-12) and $33.95 (for adults, with discounts for seniors and active duty members of the military and veterans) for admission, but offers folks free visits any day during their birth month. While such birthday gifts may not be typical, it’s worth checking into at privately owned attractions.

#8 If you’re eligible for a federal senior pass or access pass, get it! The access pass is available for free to U.S. citizens or permanent residents who are legally blind or permanently disabled. The senior pass is available to U.S. citizens or permanent residents 62 years or age or older. The senior pass now costs $80, but that’s a one-time fee, and the pass is valid for the pass holder’s lifetime.

Both of these passes admit the pass holder and passengers (in a private, noncommercial vehicle) to national parks and other federally managed lands. These passes also provide 50% off camping fees in many campgrounds on public land. Even at $80, the senior pass could pay for itself after only a couple of visits to national parks or a few nights in a campground.

#9 Participate in activities included in the price of admission. When my friend and I visited Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Southern Arizona, we found ranger-led van tours were included in the cost of admission. We rode in a passenger van driven by a ranger while another ranger told us about the desert scenes we saw through the windows. On another day we returned to the monument and went on a hike led by a ranger. The ranger drove a group of us to the trailhead and we hiked together while the expert shared information about the plants and animals we saw.

The visitor centers at most national parks and monuments—and at some state parks too—have educational exhibits and movies. These exhibits and movies are offered at no extra charge and allow visitors to learn about the area at their own pace.

The visitor center should also have information about upcoming ranger talks or ranger-led activities. The last time I was at Sequoia National Park, I attended a free ranger talk about woodpeckers. It lasted about half an hour and was fun and informative.

#10 If you must have souvenirs, buy small, less expensive items. At only 51 cents each, pressed pennies come for a price that’s hard to beat. At the Utah national parks and monument gift shops I visited, quarter-sized tokens depicting famous landmarks were going for 99 cents each. I also found strips of six postcards at the same gift shops for $1.99 and individual postcards for about the same cost per card at a supermarket in Moab. Not only were these items the least expensive souvenirs, they take up very little of the limited space in my van.

If you’re attracted to larger (and usually overpriced) souvenirs like sweatshirts, water bottles, and coffee table books, ask yourself these questions before you buy: Do I need it? Where am I going to put it? Will I really use it? Can I really afford it? What will I have to give up in order to bring this into my life?

#11 If you’re visiting with kids, set spending limits before you walk into a gift shop or step up to the snack shack.  Offer options within the set price range, such as You can spend $5 on lunch, which means you can have a slice of pizza or a hot dog and fries. or You can spend $10 on a souvenir. Do you want the flashlight or the Smokey Bear compass?

If you and the kids are visiting national parks, collect all the Junior Rangers freebies available and do your best to convince the children the free stuff is better than anything for sale in the gift shop.

Being on a budget does not have to stop you from having fun. By planning ahead and using skills you already have as a rubber tramp (such as knowing how to find free camping and cooking for yourself) you can have fun and see gorgeous places without breaking the bank.

Blaize Sun has been a rubber tramp for almost a decade, but has been a tightwad for a lot longer than that. Blaize comes from a long line of tightwads, including a grandma who could squeeze a nickel so tight the buffalo would groan. Blaize knows how to have a good time on the cheap and firmly believes if she can do it, you can too!

I took all the photos in this post.

Shrieking Shopper

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On Sunday night I did my duty as security guard for the mercantile. I pulled my van between the mercantile and the rentable yurt behind it. I hung my curtains immediately, and no one bothered me.

On Monday morning I woke up early and went into the mercantile before 6am. I used the WiFi to check Facebook and schedule a couple of short blog posts. While I was standing behind the counter messing around on my laptop, I glanced across the room, and under shelves holding t-shirts I saw a mouse butt disappearing into the shadow.

animal, apodemus sylvaticus, brownGet out of here! I shouted at the creature. You don’t live here!

I don’t know if my words influenced the rodent of if it was just the vibration of my yelling that sent it on its way. I didn’t really care why it left; I was glad to see it go.

On Tuesday morning The Big Boss Man handed me three boxes of rodent poison. I put on latex gloves, pulled the cover off each tray, then placed the trays full of poison pellets behind and under lockers and shelves.

The Man is really sad about killing the mice. I’m not too happy about the murder of mice myself, but I haven’t come up with a another effective solution.

Possible Solution #1: Let mice live in the mercantile.

Problems with Possible Solution #1: Mice will shit and piss everywhere. Having shit and piss all over the mercantile would be gross and unsanitary. Also, mice would chew merchandise and use clothing to make their nests.

Possible Solution #2: Catch mice in a live trap.

Problems with Possible Solution #2: Mice caught in a live trap must be released miles from their home, or they will soon return to the original location. I doubt The Big Boss Man is going to drive mice miles down the road looking for a place to release them humanely.

Possible Solution #3: Get one of those devices that (allegedly) emit high frequency sounds that (allegedly) drive rodents away.

Problems with Possible Solution #3: I’m not sure those devices even work. The devices need electricity to work, and one might use more electricity than the store’s solar panels transmit to battery storage. Such a device might cause the store’s generator to run at night, interfering with the quietude of nature and possibly annoying campers.

Possible Solution #4: Get a cat to live in the store.

Problems with Possible Solution #4: Some customers will be allergic to cats and have a bad reaction when they walk into the mercantile. The cat will sleep on stacks of shirts, leaving fur and allergens behind.

Later on Tuesday morning, an extended family from Missouri walked into the mercantile. The boy child was about six, and the girl child was probably ten. Both had blond hair and round checks. The mom and dad seemed wholesome and spoke to the children and each other calmly. This branch of the family—parents and kids—wore matching t-shirts in support of the girl’s friend who had cancer. The grandparents came in a little after the rest of the family.

Grandpa sported a mustache and wore a ball cap and a t-shirt from a Christian fishing event with a quote from the Bible on the back. (Of course, he had on pants too, but there was nothing remarkable about them.) Grandma had permed her thin brown hair and wore glasses and simple, casual clothes appropriate for a walk in the forest. I suppose I’m old because the grandparents seemed closer to my age group than the parents were.

The members of the family were lingering, seemingly looking at every single item in the mercantile. I stood behind the register and daydreamed while I waited for someone to bring up selections for me to ring up.

Suddenly Grandma screamed! It was a high-pitched, scared scream, not angry yelling. Probably a better word for the sound Grandma emitted is “shriek.”

Everyone in the store turned to look at her.

I’m sorry, she gasped. There was a mouse!

She said she’d picked up a t-shirt and as she lifted it, a mouse fell to the floor, then scurried away. She was apologetic, obviously embarrassed, and still terrified. She wouldn’t even go back to the side of the store where the mouse incident had occurred. She handed off the mousy t-shirt to the other clerk and picked out a shirt from a shelf as far away from her rodent encounter as possible.

I identified with her discomfort. I would have shrieked too if a mouse had fallen out of a t-shirt I was considering for purchase. I probably would have left the store and never returned.

I felt for the poor little mouse too. It had probably just eaten some poison and was looking for a softly comfortable place to die. Instead of finding a peaceful death, it was shrieked at and dropped to the floor. I hope my own passing is less eventful.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/animal-apodemus-sylvaticus-brown-button-eyes-208977/.