Monthly Archives: November 2018

10 Budgeting Tips for Long-Term Travel

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You have John and Jayme of Gnomad Home to thank for the article before you. Yes, it was writting by Lauren & Jesse of The Wandering Stus, but it was John and Jayme who suggested they reach out to me about writing a guest post. Since I’m always open to quality guest posts, I was excited to have Lauren and Jesse submit a piece. These two know what to do to save money in order to make long-term travel possible, and today they pass that knowledge on to you.

First, let us just tell you how FREAKING EXCITED we are that you are reading this! Why? Because it means you are toying with the idea or planning to hit the road to live that long-term travel life and that, our friend, is AMAZING! We’re here to guide you through budgeting tips for long-term travel.

What makes us qualified to give you information on budgeting tips for long-term travel?! Well, we did it. We quit our jobs and lived almost one year on what we saved. So, we know what  you are going through. As exciting as it is, it can be equally overwhelming. Well, that’s why we are here, to give you 10 budgeting tips for long-term travel. Dun dada, dun, Wandering Stus to the rescue!

#1 Set Your Daily Budget

First things first, you can’t budget for long-term travel if you don’t set a daily budget. You need to do two things:

  • Figure out what suits you. Can you get by with no aircon in the bedroom? Are you fine sharing a room with strangers? Do you need certain amenities? Basically, you need to determine what kind of traveler you are; a “shoestringer,” luxury inclined or somewhere in between?
  • Where are you going? The cost of living between continents and countries can vary, and sometimes there are big variances.

We were traveling to Southeast Asia and Nepal. We deemed ourselves “shoestringers” who would probably need to splurge every now and again. Based on the countries we were going to and what our needs were, we ended up budgeting $50 a day.

#2 Eat Cheap

A great way to save some cash is eating cheap. Street food is not only some of the tastiest food, but some of the cheapest you’ll find. Plus, the whole experience of eating street food will give you all the “local” feels.

Another way to eat cheap is going grocery shopping and making food yourself. If you have a place with a kitchen, awesome! Make enough food for a few meals. If you don’t have a kitchen, you can still make food – think peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, toast with Nutella, etc.

#3 Stay with Friends

It’s always cheaper to stay with friends. Think hostels. Learn from us, the folks who always thought staying in hostels in the shared rooms was the best and cheapest option to go with. While yes, it is cheaper than a hotel, it is not always the cheapest option. We actually found it cheaper to book a “private room” or “family room” than reserving a bed in a shared dorm. If you are traveling with two other people, take a look at some private room options. We think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

#4 Take Overnight Transportation

Taking overnight transportation may not always be the most comfortable or most restful experience you’ll have, but it will save you some cash. Think about it. If you travel during the day you 1) waste a day of exploring and 2) have to pay for accommodations once you arrive. If you take overnight transportation, the transportation is your accommodation for the night and you don’t miss any exploration time.

#5 Know What the Per Person Rate Is

If there is any sort of haggling tip you need to know to save some cash it’s never start a negotiation by asking for a group rate. Go in asking what the price is for one person FIRST. Once you know the per person rate, start your haggling.

If you know the per person rate, then you know the base they expect and you’ll be able to negotiate smarter for a better price. And when we say negotiate, we mean it! Go in low and be stern about it!  Also, do NOT be afraid to walk away. If there is one thing we’ve learned, walking away usually results in you getting the price you want.

#6 Take the Scenic Route

Okay, so since you have no deadline on when you are returning home, you essentially have “all the time in the world”, so why not take the scenic route when getting to a new destination? Any time you can take a bus, boat, train or hell, even walk… do it. Sure, it will take longer than flying but it’ll be cheaper. Plus, you’ll get to see some scenery you wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

#7 Book Your Accommodation with the Same Booking Site

We used Booking.com for a lot of our accommodations. We not only found it to be the cheapest of several booking sites, but we also were pleasantly surprised to find that if we booked enough through the site, we became a “Booking Geniuses” and got 10% off all bookings through the site. Pretty sweet.

Always shop around but consider booking through the same site if there are incentives to do so.

*Please note, we are not paid or sponsored through Booking.com – we’re just here to give helpful money-saving tips.

#8 Book Direct with Your Accommodation vs. Through a Booking Site

If you are okay with winging it and putting in a little extra work, going to hostels or homestays in person will save you a few extra bucks in accommodation costs. The booking sites take their cut of what you pay for your accommodation. If you book directly with the accommodation, you don’t have to pay those booking site fees.

Also, if you are staying for more than a few nights, ask for a better nightly rate and ALWAYS ask to have breakfast included in what you pay.

#9 Always Ask for a Better Price

If there is one thing to take away from this post it’s never be afraid to ask for a better price …. where applicable. Usually on food and drinks, the price quoted is pretty much the price, but on excursions, taxi/tuk tuk rides or trinkets, haggle away! Fight for that better price. It’ll be worth it in the long run if you save a few bucks everyday through haggling.

#10 Limit Your Alcohol Intake, Drug Use and Partying

If letting loose involves the three listed above, you’ll see your bank account dwindle at a faster rate. One of the most fun but expensive parts of travel is experiencing the nightlife of a place. We’re not saying don’t drink or party but if you can set a budget on how much you want to spend on beers and other fun in a week, it’ll help you stay on track.

Basically, try and budget where you can. Even a dollar or two a day will add up over time. If your main goal is to travel as long and as far as you can on what you saved, you’re going to have to make sacrifices along the way. However, just think, for every sacrifice you make, you allow yourself another day in paradise.

PIN IT FOR LATER!

About The Wandering Stus:

Hi! We’re Lauren & Jesse. A travel couple who quit our corporate jobs in 2016 in order to fulfill a dream of making time for ourselves, living in the now and exploring the beautiful people and places Mother Earth has to offer. You know, all that good stuff. We’re here to give you travel tips, epic itineraries & overall travel inspiration to help you plan your next adventure!

For more travel tips, guides and awesome travel shots, be sure to poke around our website and follow us on Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook.

Photos provided by the Wandering Stus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not a Hoarder

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Early in 2013 I lived in a large Texas city without a vehicle. I’d had a van, but it was gone. Friends from college let me live with them while I earned money to buy myself another van. I depended on Craigslist a lot in those days.

I’d responded to a Craigslist ad placed by an elderly psychiatrist looking for a house and dog sitter. I got that job, which led to a regular gig cooking and cleaning and doing yardwork for her. I supplemented that income by scouring Craigslist for one-time money-making opportunities. I participated in two studies at the local university, one of which required me to lie about my past drug use, one of which required me to run on a treadmill until I thought I would puke, and one of which required me to climb into MRI machine and lie without moving while the apparatus recorded my brain thinking.

One day I saw an ad seeking someone to help prepare for a garage sale. I emailed the woman who’d placed the ad; later we talked on the phone. She agreed to hire me and pay me $10 an hour to help her set up her sale.

On the morning of the day before the sale, my friend drove me to the woman’s house. She lived near the university in a spacious home with a huge backyard. She was moving, she explained, and she was trying to sell most of her belongings. I think she’d been living in that house a long time and had accumulated a lot of junk she didn’t want to haul across town, much less across the country. She hoped to make some extra money by selling what she no longer wanted.

She was setting up some items for sale in her living room, but most of the sale would take place in her backyard. My job was to sort the contents of large cardboard boxes piled in the backyard and artfully place like with like.

I sorted through a lot of clothing. Some items were hung on a saggy clothesline strung between two trees, but most of the items were folded and stacked on a tarp on the ground. The clothing was nothing special—no costumes or designer pieces. Mostly it was cheap stuff, garments most people would have dumped at a thrift store the moment they fell out of style.

Although I’d said nothing judgmental about the quantity or quality of the items for sale, several times throughout the day, the woman for whom I was working assured me she was not a hoarder. I didn’t really care if she was a hoarder or not. She was paying me for my time, and the working conditions weren’t horrendous. Besides, as I reassured her each time she brought up hoarding, having a garage sale probably meant she wasn’t a hoarder. Hoarders don’t have garage sales, right?

Then I found the Hammer pants. Remember MC Hammer? According to Wikipedia, he enjoyed the height of his popularity and commercial success from approximately 1988 to 1998 with hits such as “U Can’t Touch This” and “Pray.” Now he appears in commercials for Command hooks around Christmas time. I don’t know what MC Hammer wears now, but back in the day he wore Hammer pants, an article of clothing that another Wikipedia article describes as

customized/modified baggy pants tapered at the ankle with a sagging rise made suitable for hip-hop dancing…Hamer pants were popularized in the 1980s and 1990s by rapper MC Hammer who would entertain/dance in them…

This woman I was working for on a spring day in 2013 was going to try to sell a pair of Hammer pants!

I didn’t say anything. For once I kept my big mouth shut. This woman was paying me, and it wasn’t really my place to judge.  She probably wasn’t actually a hoarder with a psychological disorder, but holding onto a pair of Hammer pants at least fifteen years past their heyday seems like an irrational thing to do. Did she think they would come back into fashion? Did she think someone would pay top dollar for them? I didn’t even ask. I simply folded them and put them in a stack with the other pants.

Whistleblowers

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The most annoying items sold at the Mercantile were whistles.

The first season the store was open, we sold a plastic device consisting of a whistle, compass, thermometer, and fold-out magnifying glass. The whole deal was on a clip so it could be snapped onto a backpack or zipper pull. We displayed these items in a small basket on a low shelf. Sometimes little kids picked one up and blew into the whistle. Usually when this happened, the kids’ parents didn’t want to buy the whistle, and who could blame them? If I had a kid, I wouldn’t want it further annoying me by tweeting on a whistle for hours a day. If one of the other store clerks or I could intercept the blown whistle before it was tossed back into the basket, we’d squirt it with some Windex, wipe it with a paper towel, and call it clean enough to sell.

Late in the first season, the Mercantile received whistles carved to look like bears, owl, eagles, hummingbirds, and blue jays. Made in China, hung on long cords to be worn around the neck, and brightly painted, kids loved these. The problem was, if a kid blew a whistle and the parents wouldn’t buy it, it was difficult to clean. Can mouth germs on wood be killed without damaging the wood? We tried to solve the whistle problem in the Mercantile’s second season by hanging them out of the reach of little kids.

We thought we’d solved the problem. Turns out medium-size kids, big kids, and even adults like to blow whistles they have no intention of buying.

Personally, I would never go into a store and blow on a whistle because yuck! How many people before me had the same idea and already put their mouths on the whistle? Germy!

If the other clerks or I saw someone messing with the whistles, we told them if they blew a whistle, they would have to purchase it. Sometimes we even used cute little slogans we made up like You blow it, you buy it or You try it, you buy it. Some people got very defensive and told us they had no intention of blowing the whistle. You’d be surprised how many people do blow them, we told the defensive customers.

I was surprised by how many parents didn’t think it was gross to put back a whistle their kid had put in its mouth. One dad picked out whistles for his kids who were both under seven years old. He handed the whistles to the kids and let them blow on them for several minutes. Then the kids saw the other whistles and decided they’d rather have bears than eagles.

Can we switch these? the dad asked me.

I had to tell him no. Your kids already had their mouths on them, I explained while he looked perplexed. He just didn’t see the problem with selling something that had been in the mouth of his child to someone else. I’m not even a germophobe, but yuck!

Adults blew the whistles too, then didn’t want to buy them. At best, they just blew air through the whistle, then assured me they didn’t put their mouth on it when I called them on their action.

Hello, I wanted to say. You just blew your germs into that whistle!

They must be like my five year-old childhood neighbor who got downright pissed at the suggestion she had germs. I do NOT have germs! she howled before running home to her mother. I wasn’t taunting her, just telling her the facts.

Some adults full-on wrapped their lips around the whistles and blew. The other clerk had it out with a grown man one morning while working alone. He blew a whistle and she told him he had to buy it since she couldn’t sell it to anyone else. The guy moaned and groaned and complained about how he didn’t understand why he had to buy it. My coworker stood her ground despite her pounding heart. Even the guy’s friend told him he needed to buy the whistle. Finally the guy did pay for it, but left none too happy.

One Saturday afternoon in early August of my second season in the Mercantile, I almost lost my mind over whistles.

It started when three little boys came into the store unsupervised. The oldest was maybe ten, the middle kid eight or nine, and the littlest boy probably six. I was working the register, so I said to the other clerk, Unsupervised children.

I know, she said, but she didn’t walk over to keep an eye on them.

I saw the boys were near the whistles, but I was busy with a customer, so I didn’t say anything to the boys. Then I heard it: the unmistakable tweet! of a whistle being blown.

You’re going to have to buy that whistle now that you’ve blown it, I called out, and everyone in the store went silent.

When I looked over, the big boy and the little boy had stepped away, leaving the middle boy standing alone holding an eagle whistle. He’d gone pale beneath his freckles.

I can’t sell it now that you’ve had your mouth on it, I told the boy sternly.

Can’t you wash it? the big boy pleaded.

No, I said. It’s wood.

At that point the big and little boy left their friend behind and walked out the Mercantile’s door.

I don’t have any money, the whistleblower said, then I’m really sorry.

I figured getting his parents would be fruitless. Anyone who’d send three little boys into a store alone probably wasn’t going to pony up for a whistle the kid had blown. Besides, the kid’s apology had softened my heart. I think the kid really was sorry, at least that he’d been caught, at least that he was in trouble.

I held out my hand for the whistle, which the boy handed over. I accept your apology, I said, but next time you go into a store, you better think about where you put your mouth.

I thought surely I was done with the whistle drama for the day, but there was a little bit more right before I closed the store. The other clerk had gone home, so I had to deal with the drama alone.

The family came in about 15 minutes before closing time. Judging from the way the women were dress, I was confident they were Muslim. In addition to a mom and dad who were probably in their early 30s, a girl who was maybe nine, and a boy who was probably 12, the man pushed an old woman in a wheelchair.

The family stopped by the wooden whistles, and I thought I heard a tweet. I wasn’t sure, so I didn’t say anything. The family made their way slowly through the entire store before the man came up to the counter to make the purchase. He had a whistle in his small pile, so if someone in the party had blown it, at least he was buying it.

I thought the family would leave once the purchase was made, but no. All but the young boy went back to the whistle display. I couldn’t understand the language they were speaking to each other, so I figured they’d decided the family needed more whistles.

The younger woman took two whistles from their hooks, put her mouth on the business end of one, and blew. Tweet! She handed the whistle to her young daughter who followed her mother’s example. Tweet! The girl handed the whistle back to her mother who blew into the second whistle. Tweet! She handed the whistle to the girl who also blew it. Tweet!

The family was delighted by the mother/daughter whistle duo. I could see the delight on their faces. Mom was delighted. Daughter was delighted. Dad was delighted. Grandma sitting in her wheelchair was delighted. (The young boy was nowhere near the whistle fest, so I didn’t see his face, but maybe I would have seen embarrassment there instead of delight.)

I would have been delighted too, if they had brought the two whistles (each priced at $8.95) to the register for purchase. Instead any potential for delight I felt turned to chagrin when I saw Mom hand the whistles to Dad and Dad reach to rehang them on their hooks.

I’m sorry, I called out. I can’t sell those after you’ve had them in your mouths. I held out my hand so Dad could give them to me.

Every member of the family (except the boy, who I still couldn’t see) looked confused. Why can’t she sell the whistles now? their faces seemed to ask.

I just hoped they wouldn’t think I was being weird because they were Muslim. Of course, I would have reacted the same way if they were white or Latinx, African American or Asian, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, or Buddhist. The problem was not where they were from or the religion they practiced. The problem was that they were human, and humans got germs!

The next day, the other clerk and I decided the only solution was to put the whistles in the glass display gas with the knives, the hand sanitizer, and the Claritin. If even adults can’t resist blowing into a whistle they haven’t yet purchased, our only choice was to keep the enticing toys under lock and key.

Photo courtesy of https://pixabay.com/en/whistle-attention-warning-referee-2475470/.

 

 

Managing in the Mountains

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I love these mountains in Taos County, NM.

Most fulltime rubber tramps know that going up in elevation is the key to cool comfort in the heat of the summer. For every rise of 1,000 feet in altitude, the temperature falls about 3.6 degrees.  If, like me, you grew up a flatlander, you may not know the tricks to staying happy above sea level. You want to go up the mountain, but you may be a bit cautious about doing so. After spending the better part of the last five summers above 6,000 feet, I know a thing or two about mountain living, at least during the spring and summer months. Today I’ll share my tips for managing in the mountains.

#1 Know that altitude sickness is a real possibility. I’ve been very fortunate; I’ve never suffered one bit of altitude sickness, but some people get it bad.

According to a comprehensive Health Communities article about altitude sickness remedies,

acute mountain sickness (AMS), is the most common type of altitude sickness. It can occur at elevations as low as 5,000 feet, where it is likely to last only a day or so, but is more common above 8,000 feet. At elevations over 10,000 feet, three out of four people will have symptoms.

The article lists these symptoms of altitude sickness:

  • Increased rate of breathing
  • Headache
  • Lethargy
  • Fatigue and insomnia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dizziness and nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Shortness of breath and rapid heartbeat accompanying physical exertion
  • Impaired thinking.

The article also lists some precautions to you can take to acclimate to higher elevations.

  • Acclimatize and take it easy. Spend your first day at high altitudes relaxing…
  • Do not smoke and avoid drinking alcohol. Smoking and alcohol consumption increase the risk of dehydration and decrease respiration rate during sleep…
  • Drink extra water. Drink as much as you can to remain properly hydrated, at least three to four quarts. Your urine should be clear and copious…
  • Eat foods that are high in carbohydrates.
  • Get headache relief. Acetaminophen or an NSAID (such as ibuprofen) can be taken for headache.
  • Don’t go up until symptoms go down. If you start showing symptoms of moderate altitude sickness, don’t go any higher until they decrease—or descend a few hundred feet to a lower altitude.

I suggest you read this entire article and familiarize yourself with the symptoms of and remedies for altitude sickness before you start your ascent.

#2 In the mountains, it stays colder later in the year and gets colder sooner. Early May in Flagstaff brought a storm with a predicted high of 43 degrees and a chance for two inches of snow. The Man and I headed out before the storm to avoid the inclement weather, but we experienced chilly nights and mornings in the California Sierras until well into June. Memorial Day weekend gave us a foggy Saturday where temperatures in the Mercantile never climbed above 42 degrees. If you’re too hot in the flatlands in spring and decide to move on up, either find a camp in the middle elevations or be prepared for chilly morning and nights

Fall may come to the mountains before you expect it. It was never long after Labor Day on the mountain where I worked that I found myself sleeping under my down comforter and wearing a jacket the first few hours of every morning. You may want a decrease in elevation before the official beginning of autumn.

#3 The weather can change quickly in the mountains, so be prepared with appropriate gear. If you store your winter gear away from your rig, but sure to pack a warm hat, warm socks, and decent jacket before you go up the mountain, even in the heart of summer. Take sturdy shoes to protect your feet if the weather turns cold and/or wet. If you have room, it’s not a bad idea to pack your Mr. Buddy heater too.

At the Rio Grande Gorge outside of Taos, NM (elevation 6, 969 feet) I’ve literally seen the weather change from sunny and hot to cloudy with lightning and thunder to rain and hail to rainbows and sunshine, all accompanied by a temperature drop of 20 degrees in less than an hour. Of course, these are not usual weather conditions, but proof that such changes can happen fast.

I seldom got my speedometer above 25 mph on this curvy California mountain road.

#4 Get yourself a good paper map. Don’t depend on GPS or your vehicle’s navigation system which can be entirely useless in remote, high elevation locations. If you get your directions online, be sure you can access then if you lose phone service. Your best bet is mapping out your route on your paper map before heading up.

#5 You might not have cell phone service either. Be prepared to live without cell phone service. Make all your calls and send texts before you start heading up the mountain. Warn anyone who might worry about you that you might not have cell phone service for a while.

#6 If you’re not accustomed to driving on winding, curving, twisting, mountain roads, plan to drive slowly. It takes a lot longer to drive a mountain mile than it takes to drive a mile on a flat stretch of road. The first summer I worked as a camp host, I picked up my mail 25 miles from the campground where I lived. Google Maps said it would take me 45 minutes to drive there, but it took me at least an hour.

This road outside Santa Fe, NM takes folks up up up the mountain.

#7 If you look in your review mirror and see a line of cars and trucks behind you, pull off in the next turn out and let the other vehicles pass. Folks accustomed to driving in the mountains may be able to drive on those roads faster than you can. That’s ok, but save the people behind you lots of frustration by letting them leave you in the dust.

#8 Be aware of bears. While you don’t want to succumb to bearanoia, if you’re boondocking in areas bears are known to frequent, you should take precautions so you don’t attract them to your camp.

In the book Bear Aware, author Bill Schneider offers an entire chapter detailing camping in bear country. The most important tip is to check potential campsites for signs of bears before you set up camp.

If you can see fresh sign [of bears] move on to another site with no signs of bear activity.

The second most important tip is to separate your sleeping and cooking areas.

The sleeping area and the cooking area must be separated by at least 100 yards.

Also, be prepared to “hang everything that has any food smell” or store those items in bear canisters.

If you’re unsure if the area where you want to boondock has issues with bears, visit the local ranger station to find out about bear activity before you choose your camping spot.

#9 Watch out for other mountain critters too.  You probably won’t see a mountain lion, but be prepared to react appropriately if you do. The Mountain Lion Foundation says to do the following if you meet a mountain lion:

  • Seem as large as possible.
  • Make noise.
  • Act defiant, not afraid.
  • Slowly create distance.
  • Protect yourself.

Again, I recommend you read the entire article before you need the information.

Where I worked in the mountains, we were more likely to see a timber rattler than a bear. To prevent a nasty bite (and a trip to an emergency room that may be more than an hour away), watch where you put your hands and feet. Don’t put any body part in a crack or crevice or under anything without first visually inspecting the area. If you see any snake, give it a wide berth so it can escape without feeling like it has to go on the defensive. For more information on how to avoid a snakebite or what to do if a rattlesnake does strike you, see this article from Denver Health.

The Man and I saw these wild horses just off the highway in Colorado at about 8,000 feet.

The part of the National Forest where I worked is open range, so people driving there have to watch for half wild mountain cows. I don’t know how common open range is in other mountain locations, but city folks are often quite surprised when they see cows on the road on their way up the mountain. If you see cows on a mountain road you’re driving on, slow down and give them plenty of room; sometimes cows bolt when they get nervous. The same holds true for wild horses, deer, elk, and moose, so be alert for large animals hanging out along mountain roads.

#10 Stock up on food, supplies, and fuel for your rig before you head up the mountain. Many mountain towns are secluded, and may not have the supplies you need. On the mountain where I worked, there was no diesel, none of the special fuel tiny backpacking stoves require, and no fresh vegetables for nearly 40 miles. If you are able to find what you’re looking for, you are going to pay a premium for items that had to be trucked up thousands of feet. In mountain towns, I’ve paid too much for ice ($4 for a seven pound bag), one-pound propane canisters ($6.95 for what costs under $4 bucks at most any Wal-Mart), and water ($3-$4 a gallon). You’re better off getting everything you need while you’re still in civilization.

There’s no way to imagine or prepare for every situation one might find oneself in while at a high altitude. In life we run into situations that could lead to harm, whether we’re in the city or the wilderness. I hope these tips help you plan for your health and safety when you leave the flatlands and venture up to higher elevations.

Remember, Blaize Sun can’t prepare you for or protect you from every danger you might encounter in the mountains. You are responsible for our own self. Research the problems you might encounter in the area you plan to camp in before you get there. If applicable, call the Forest Service ranger station responsible for the place you want to camp and ask about hazards in the area. Think before you act. If something you’re about to do seems potentially dangerous, don’t do it!

I took the photos in this post.

Potato Chips

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During my second season as a clerk in the Mercantile, the most talked about products we sold were not the Smokey Bear souvenirs or the t-shirts or the plush birds that made authentic calls provided by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. No, the most talked about products in the Mercantile were the large bags of potato chips.

The bags of chips were purchased in the lowlands with an elevation of only 470 feet. They made the trip up the mountain with The Big Boss Man to our elevation of 6400 feet. According to the AZ  Central article “Nothing Says Fun Like a Bursting Bag of Potato Chips,”

The amount of air in a bag of chips is fixed. If the package was sealed at a lower elevation and carried to a higher elevation the air inside of the bag will swell against the reduced atmospheric pressure.

Kids and adult alike noticed the expanded bags. People often thought the bags were about to explode, but in the time I worked at the Mercantile, I never experienced a bag of chips spontaneously bursting.

Some people thought the bags were full of extra chips. I bet those folks were disappointed when they opened their bags and found them—like most every other bag of chips in the world—only half full of salty, greasy, potato-y goodness.

One man told his family the heat had expanded the bags. I almost started laughing. I’d never seen a bag of chips expand like that in the heat of the desert or the hot humidity of the Deep South. The man spoke with great conviction, even though he was wrong. Actually sir, I said, it’s because of the change in elevation from the valley where the chips are bought to up here.

The fellow looked skeptical, but he didn’t argue with me.

If everybody who talked about the bags of chips actually bought a bag of chips, we wouldn’t have been able to keep the bags on the shelves. Unfortunately, most people were content to talk and not buy.

Late one afternoon while I was working the entire day alone, an elderly man came into the Mercantile. He was a talker, but I was not keen on listening. One of the things I hated about working retail was being a captive audience. Any yahoo who came into the Mercantile could stand in front of me and talk, and I was compelled to listen. It’s amazing how many shirts needed folding when someone decided to talk my ear off on a topic other than giant sequoias or merchandise available for purchase.

The old man said, Those chips expanded because they’re packed at a lower elevation. He said it as if he were telling me something I couldn’t possibly know.

I smiled sweetly and said brightly, That’s right! There’s no potato chip factory on top of this mountain!

Of course they were packed at a lower elevation! Of course the elevation change is what made the bags expand!

We didn’t speak any further about the potato chips and their expanded bags. Perhaps the fellow realized I didn’t need him to school me.

My First Raccoon

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To be honest, it wasn’t the first raccoon I’d ever seen in real life, but it was the first raccoon I’d seen on the mountain.

The other raccoons I’d seen had been spotted in Texas. On several occasions, raccoons tried to break into a house animal, raccoon, whiskerswhere I was staying, and one time while sitting on the back patio of a coffee shop in a major city, I saw a lumbering raccoon bigger than the biggest cat I’d ever laid eyes on. That sucker was huge. I guess everything really is bigger in Texas!

In the first three seasons I’d worked in campgrounds on the mountain, I’d never seen a raccoon, never heard one break into the garbage cans, never received a complaint from a camper who’d been the victim of raccoon crime. I’d occasionally wondered about the lack of raccoons, but since I knew about their persistence in the acquisition of food, I certainly didn’t wish for any of these critters in the campgrounds where I stayed.

During my second summer as a camp host, I’d asked my coworker about the lack of raccoons. He’d lived in the area for nearly 20 years, so he was my main source of information about local flora and fauna. He postulated that a lack of water kept the creatures off the top of the mountain. That seemed like a logical explanation to me, but the next year was wetter with still no sign of raccoons.

The raccoon made its appearance during the last week of July of my fourth season on the mountain. It first showed up in the campground where the Mercantile is located. Sandra the camp host told me on the night it arrived, it went from campsite to campsite, scavenging. On site #1, the raccoon stole a cheeseburger off the table while the camping family sat there eating dinner. It was certainly a bold creature!

The Man had come back to work a part-time maintenance job which required no dealing with money, paperwork, or the general public. Of course, Jerico the dog had come back with him. We were all staying at the group campground together. Maybe a week after the cheeseburger incident, the raccoon made an appearance on our campsite.

We’d been to civilization that day and come back with plenty of supplies. The Man had loaded all his food into his minivan but hadn’t yet put away a 15 pound bag of dog food which was leaning on a stump outside the van.

The Man had come over to my rig but left Jerico in his van. It had grown dark while we lay in my bed talking. Suddenly from the other van we heard Jerico start barking, and he didn’t stop. There were campers on the other end of the campground, and I thought one of them had approached our camp.

When Jerico started barking, The Man jumped out of my van and went over to his to see what the commotion was about. In less than a minute, he was hollering, Honey! Honey! Bring me my headlamp!

There’d been a raccoon out there, and now it was in the tree! Jerico had treed a ‘coon from inside the minivan! What a hound!

The raccoon was still moving up the tree when I got outside, so I threw a couple of pine cones at the tree for good measure.

Don’t hurt it! The Man said, but I had no intention (or ability) to hit it. I just wanted it to find the environment of our campsite inhospitable.

It might have rabies! The Man said, which was possible, but unlikely if it was content to slowly climb a tree. I heard a terrifying story on This American Life once about a woman attacked by a rabid raccoon and that motherfucker was aggressively going after the woman, not trying to take refuge in a tree. Our raccoon was obviously trying to practice avoidance.

With the light from my Luci lamp, I could just make out the raccoon’s glowing eyes high above the ground. With The Man’s bright headlamp, we could see the raccoon splayed out on a branch ten or twelve feet up. This one was much smaller than the lumbering beast I’d seen at the coffee shop in Texas.

The Man put the dog food in his van, and we made sure there was no food left outside to entice the raccoon. We all went to bed and didn’t hear from the raccoon again.

A couple of days later in the Mercantile, I heard about the further exploits of what must have been the same critter.

Two young men were in the Mercantile early on Sunday morning. They reported they’d seen a raccoon in the campground the night before. They’d actually seen the raccoon on their very own campsite. In fact, the raccoon had stolen a bag holding the swimsuit and towel belonging to one of the guys. It had been too dark to find the bag right after it was stolen, but he’d found it that morning in the bushes. The raccoon had ripped the bag trying to get to the contents. We joked about the raccoon being sad after it discovered that the bag it had just grabbed contained the worst snack ever.

I wondered aloud why, after three and a half seasons of seeing no raccoons, this one had suddenly appeared. The other young man said the raccoon must have been pushed out of its territory, and now had to find a new home. I suspect the young man was right. Maybe a wildfire had pushed the raccoon out, or maybe it reached maturity and had to leave the territory of its birth. I spent the rest of my time on the mountain doing my best to put food away so the raccoon wouldn’t try again to make my territory its territory.

Photos courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/animal-whiskers-raccoon-16605/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/zoo-bear-raccoon-saeugentier-54602/.