Monthly Archives: April 2020

Hiking The Deepest Lake On Earth – Perils and Trials of Lake Baikal (Guest Post)

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Today’s guest post comes to you from James Redden of the hiking and outdoor gear review website TrekSumo. James recently hiked Lake Baikal in Russia and lived to tell the tale. In this post, he’ll tell the tale to you.

Cracks in the ice covering Lake Baikal

Lake Baikal, Russia. One mile deep and 400 miles long. Between January and March every year the surface freezes up to a metre (3.28 feet) deep. Explorers venture onto the ice as they seek to traverse the full length, or dash across the 50km (31 miles) width of this vast expanse of water.

This is Adventureland – what could go wrong? A lot. Let me explain.

My Love of Cold Places

I’m a former soldier with 13 years service under my belt. During my time in the British Army I came to love the Arctic training packages my unit attended every year. The journey from the UK took us across the seething North Sea, up the spine of Norway and into the Arctic Circle near Poersanger.

Brutal temperatures bit deep. At times the thermometer nudged -30C (-22F). But it was okay, our equipment was designed to keep us warm.

I was smitten.

After leaving the Army I spent some time finding my place in civilian life. Office work beckoned. Memories of Norway clung to me. After a couple of years, I decided to work on my neglected fitness. In what felt like no time I had completed ultra-marathons, several Spartan races, and many long hikes.

More. I wanted more.

The next steps were easy decisions to make.

North Pole – 2015

Not a full distance ski, but far enough to experience the thrill of a truly extreme environment. And appreciate what the world is losing. I joined a team and we spent two weeks skiing across the frozen ice cap, reaching the Geographic North Pole 16 days after my 44th birthday.

Norway Ski – 2016

Next came a trip to Norway. Covering 250km (155 miles) in 8 ½ days was hard work. High temperatures and unseasonal rain made progress slow and arduous. Over the course of the trip I lost a significant amount of weight and suffered the misery of extreme fatigue. 

Norway Ski – 2017

A shorter trip this time round. Only around 100km (62 miles) in four days, in part due to an injury received on the first day. A small tear in an abductor muscles left me in agony. 

Greenland Crossing – 2018

Success! No illness, just a 600km (372 miles) ski along the Nansen route that cuts across this gargantuan island sat halfway across the Atlantic Ocean. I joined 5 others, some of them former Army colleagues, and we skied into some of the harshest weather seen or experienced for about 10 years. The crossing was a joy – apart from my near-death experience!

2019 was a quiet year for me. A plan to solo to the South Pole was shelved due to lack of funding. Looking at maps in search of possible destinations, my mind was drawn to Russia. Lake Baikal beckoned.

The trip wasn’t expected to be too taxing. After all, I’d completed several tough expeditions – how hard could Baikal be?

The Journey to Lake Baikal

My flight left on the 14th February 2020. Valentine’s Day was celebrated 24 hours earlier. Landing in Irkutsk on the 16th February was a surreal experience. Monuments to Soviet heroes still dominate civic buildings, the city center has what felt to me like a harsh and alien vibe. How wrong I was.

I’d heard that many Russians are harsh, unsmiling characters. All those I came across were friendly, helpful (even if we couldn’t understand each other).

One night in a hotel.

My gear packed.

Pulka packed and ready to go. The Lexico online dictionary says a pulka [or a pulk] is “a type of sled without runners, pulled by a person or dog and used especially to transport equipment and supplies.”

An early start.

Crossing Lake Baikal – the seed of an idea – started a year prior to the 16th February 2020. But that time had flown by. I sat in a car, talking to Eugene (owner of A – B Tours, the logistics company that did the heavy lifting and administrative tasks required to get me to the start point) as we headed to Kultuk, the traditional starting point for the traverse.

A mild chill raced into the car every time a window was opened. Cold weather thrills me. The climate didn’t seem quite chilly enough for my liking. That was the first complacency.

2 ½ hours after setting off, Eugene helped me drag my 60Kg (132 pounds) from the back of his van and onto the ice. He took a couple of photos, wished me luck and departed.

Game on.

Before we move on, anyone planning a similar crossing of Lake Baikal should check out the post I wrote about my hike there with tips for hikers. All of the tips offered were learned during my 400 mile winter run/hike/ski traverse of this vast expanse of frozen water.

The Perils and Trials of Crossing Lake Baikal

You came here to read stories of man vs Mother Nature, of fear and uncertainty in an alien environment. So far, you’ve read a meandering, placid tale of one man’s journey into the wilds of Siberia.

Bear with me. We’re about to delve deeper.

Is It Possible to Haul Gear with Ankle Injuries?

60Kg of food, fuel and protection from the elements. Seems a fairly light weight when you’re traveling across ice. The task becomes infinitely harder when you start to pick up injuries.

Day 1, 10km (6 miles) out from Kultuk, the snow thinned. Movement was easy. Ridiculously easy.

I decided to jog, if only for a short distance.

My Merrell Moab 2 boots were ideal for this kind of work. Lightweight, with great ankle support, they gave me a sense of sure-footedness as I dashed across the ice.

Nature – or ill-luck – waits at every junction, in every pothole hidden by a thin cloak of snow.

We all know that feeling that something is about to go wrong. A sixth sense that predicts our, only our, misfortune.

Alarm bells rang. I fell.

Pain radiated out from my left ankle. Half a kilometre later, as night closed in, I hobbled to a halt and erected my tent.

For several days the injury slowed my progress. By day 5 the swelling eased off, and I felt ready to attempt an easy jog. Easy? The pace was excellent – nearly 6 miles per hour – and only mild niggling pain from my left ankle.

There was one issue. Compensation. To relieve the pressure on my left ankle my body had compensated – an invisible and instinctive reaction of which I was not aware – by shifting weight to my uninjured leg. My right shin and ankle ballooned.

Pain was a constant companion for the remainder of the journey. At times it was little more than an irritation, but on some days I had to take regular breaks to pop pain killers and rest.

Yes, it is possible to haul a pulka with ankle injuries. You just need to accept there will be pain, then ask yourself how much your journey means to you.

What could be worse than this? Well…

Filth. And the Effects of Mild Food Poisoning

5 years’ experience of hiking, skiing and trekking in arduous environments. That’s a good deal of experience in anyone’s eyes. My own back catalogue of adventures extends way back into my teens. That’s over 30 years of knowledge stored and available to me and anyone else who cares to listen.

Experience only matters when you pay close attention to the details.

6 days into the traverse of Lake Baikal, my right ankle grumbling in the dark cocoon of my tent, and a new sensation stirred.

I knew this one well.

In seconds, I had burst out of my sleeping bag, ripped open the flysheet zip and was outside relieving the pressure in my abdomen. Oh, the pain.

Some people revel in the details. Let’s leave those out of this tale.

Stomach cramps pulled me doubled over. The cold, normally my friend and constant traveling companion, multiplied the misery. Every step amplified the stabs of pain – the waistband of my pulka harness pressed hard on my abdomen.

For five days the discomfort and pain were all too apparent, only fading after I’d finished the crossing.

Looking back, I realize the most likely cause of the food poisoning was the interesting build-up of grey food under the rim of my thermo cup.

That was the most painful experience during my time on Lake Baikal, but what about the wildlife…?

He Who Doesn’t Dance with Wolves

Lake Baikal is home to a dizzying number of animals, in part due to the protection inherited from living in, or near, a national park.

Before heading over to Russia, I’d received warnings that bears and wolves stalked the ice. Planning how to fend off an attack was my initial response. “Would a bear take any notice if I started beating it with one of my hiking boots?” Unlikely.

Running fast seemed like a better option. I’m 48, but keep myself very fit. The reasoning in my mind was that maybe a dash across the ice, heading away from the bear would work. Ultimately, there was no need to test my theory as the bears were still hibernating.

Wolves are a different prospect, as I discovered.

Day 8. Clouds gather and darkness spreads. Nightfall shifts across the land. I’m trudging through deep now, my legs tired and my glutes a raging inferno. Soon it will be time to pitch my tent and cook up another evening meal.

Something catches my eye. A movement to my left.

Blurred shapes bounced and raced across the ice. At first, I assumed they were children from a nearby village, but soon realized the nearest habitation was about 8km (5 miles) away.

It was at this point I decided to move away from the loping shapes. As I moved off sounds rolled across the ice. I’ve seen wolves up close, but only in the zoo, and heard their bark-growl. A sense of urgency insisted that I move faster. Run, whilst dragging a 60Kg pulka.

After a while, I paused and looked back over my shoulder. The bounding figures were moving off in the opposite direction. They had no interest in me.

Meeting some of Baikal’s wildest inhabitants would have been a truly amazing experience. But I’m happy to keep those with very pointy teeth at a good distance.

And The Trials Kept On Coming

Lake Baikal is a beautiful and harsh mistress. Her icy embrace is a warning, one we would do well to heed.

I saw wolves, traveled nearly the full distance carrying ankle injuries and experienced the searing jabs of food poisoning. Yet there was more.

Temperatures of -20C (-4F), driven lower by the Siberian wind chill are a constant reminder that the extremities should always be protected. At times I was a little slow to heed that warning and paid a price…

Frostbitten thumb

At night the ice creaked and groaned, fractured as the immense plates pressed against one another. Periodically the ice would shift underfoot and sending me crashing to the ground, waiting for the plate to flip me over into the frigid waters.

Luck favored me. I remained dry for the entire journey.

Heat, or the contrast between hot and cold, was another unwelcome companion. During the day the sun climbed, beat down and forced me to remove layers of clothing in order to prevent overheating. Then nature spun the wheel, clouds gathered and the deep chill returned.

Clothes were quickly pulled on, but the cold had already found its way deep into my muscles. For a while, until my legs were once again warm, I shambled unsteadily over the ice.

Do You Want to Hike Lake Baikal?

Don’t let my story put you off attempting the 400 mile traverse. Lake Baikal is a place of mystery and beauty. Danger and thrills await intrepid hikers and explorers.

As a destination, I can wholeheartedly recommend Lake Baikal although I would give you one word of warning: seek guidance before you set off.

About the Author

James Redden is a former soldier in the British Army who now owns a technology company. In his spare time he travels to the most extreme and arduous destinations on the plane with the he aim to raise awareness and funds for mental health charities. When not working in IT, traveling and giving public talks James can be found working on his new hiking and outdoor gear review website TrekSumo.

The author provided the photos for this post.

Happy Earth Day!

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Mother Earth loves it when we reduce, reuse, and recycle!

Please spend some time today thinking about what you can do to help the earth, preferably by buying and using less! Remember, reduce and reuse come before recycle.

I took the photo in this post.

In Praise of Fresh Garlic

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According to the National Day Calendar website, Sunday, April 19 is National Garlic Day. In honor of this upcoming holiday celebrating the aromatic member of the lily family, today I will sing the praises of fresh garlic.

I grew to love fresh garlic in my 20s. I put it in nearly every savory dish I cooked. When I heard of its medicinal properties (antimicrobial, antiviral, antifungal, according to the article “7 Raw Garlic Benefits for Fighting Disease” by Dr. Josh Axe, DC, DMN, CNS ), I began to eat it raw and drink it in a sort of tea. If I began feeling rundown or the least bit sick, I’d add freshly minced garlic to hot water with a dash of cayenne and maybe a splash of honey. I’d swallow the bits of garlic down and wait for it to do its healing magic. I traveled with my garlic press and fists of Allium sativum , and I took on its aroma.

(FYI: Garlic breath isn’t because of what’s happening in one’s mouth. According to the Web MD article “Why Garlic Is the Bad Breath King” by Andrea M. Braslavsky, garlic breath begins in the gut. In summary, “the gas [from the garlic] was going into the blood, circulating around the body, and being excreted in the breath and urine.” That’s why you can brush your teeth and still have garlic breath.)

After I became homeless, there was no time for fresh produce, and I fell out of the garlic habit. Once I got a van, I experimented with the garlic that comes minced in jars. That stuff was quite convenient (if a little pricey), and was great until I ran out of ice in my cooler and the garlic got warm. Even if it tasted ok, the garlic that came to room temperature after the jar was opened left my tummy feeling unhappy.

When The Man and I started traveling together, he wanted garlic, so we experimented with the minced garlic in the jar. This time The Man was the one with the unhappy tummy, and by “unhappy,” I mean sick. The garlic from the jar—once we ran out of ice in the cooler and it got warm—was tearing him up.

After we gave up on minced garlic in the jar, I used garlic powder sometimes, but it always seemed lacking. When I saw dried garlic flakes in the store, I decided to give them a try. The garlic flakes were tastier than garlic powder, and we were satisfied whenever we sprinkled them on a dish. The problem occurred when I couldn’t find them in the grocery store. It seemed like even small grocery stores carried onion flakes, but garlic flakes were few and far between.

One day at the end of 2018, we ran out of garlic flakes, and I couldn’t’ find any in the grocery store in the small Arizona town where we were staying. I didn’t want to spend money on garlic powder I knew would leave me feeling dissatisfied, so I broke down and bought two fists of garlic.

You may wonder why I never got back into the habit of cooking with fresh garlic. I had a van and then a fifth wheel. I don’t have any good reasons. I no longer had a garlic press and chopping up a couple of cloves of garlic every evening seemed inconvenient. Fresh garlic is somewhat sticky and it seemed to take too much water to clean the knife and my hands and the cutting board. I guess the main problem is that I am basically lazy and typically take the path of least resistance. I wanted something totally convenient that would taste as good as fresh garlic.

I guess I’d forgotten how tasty fresh garlic is. When The Man and I ate the first dish I added the fresh garlic to, we were blown away. We could taste the garlic, and it added a depth of flavor no amount of garlic flakes could compare to.

I’d been on the fresh garlic bandwagon for several months without a garlic press. Every night I’d chop chop chop several cloves of garlic to add to our meal. It was a bit more work than sprinkling garlic . powder, but the extra effort was worth it because the fresh garlic tasted so much better.

Metal garlic press with three gloves of garlic
I scored this sturdy garlic press for less than a dollar.

I got lucky one day when I stopped in at my local Habitat for Humanity ReStore. Each ReStore is different, and the one I go to carries a lot of kitchenware: plates, bowls, eating and cooking utensils, mugs, glasses, pots and pans. I always look on both sides of the kitchen aisle, hoping for a good deal on something I can use in meal preparation. On this particular day I was looking for a garlic press and I found one! It’s Chefmate brand and very heavy duty. This garlic press is likely to last for years. The best part? The price. The man working the cash register only charged me $1 for the garlic press and two forks. Hell yes, I’ll take a good quality garlic press for only 33⅓ cents!

Th press really helps me keep up with my love affair with garlic without a lot of muss or fuss. Yippie for my garlic press and most of all, yippie for fresh garlic.

A List of Posts about Vandwelling, Camping, Boondocking, and Living Nomadically from the Rubber Tramp Artist Archives

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It’s a tough time to be a nomad because we’re all grounded right about now.

Where are you hunkered down during the COVID-19 pandemic?

If we’re not hunkered down at our home base, we may be staying with friends or family members. Some of us may be self-isolating in a still-open campground or while boondocking on public land. In any case, we’re not out and about as much, not able to see new things or visit new places.

Cannon Beach on the Oregon coast

If you want to be productive while you practicing social distancing, I’ve compiled this list of Rubber Tramp Artist blog posts of particular interest to nomads, vandwellers, vagabonds, rubber tramps, RVers, drifters, and travelers of all kinds. You can use these posts to learn about everything from safety on the road and how to prepare for disasters to how to deal when the weather is bad and how to train your canine companion for life on the road. Especially if you are just beginning your nomadic journey, these posts can help you prepare for a nomadic life.

So here we go. Browse this list to find posts you missed and posts you want to revisit so you’ll be ready when it’s time to get back on the road. (I’ll also include some photos from my travels for your viewing pleasure.)

Mountain, southern New Mexico

If you don’t understand what all the fuss is about with this coronovirus and COVID-19, check out the post Living Nomadically in the Time of COVID-19 for information about what the pandemic we are currently experiencing means to individuals and to all of us.

Red flowers, location unknown

Before you hit the road, familiarize yourself with the basics of living nomadically. From lingo to budgets and all the preparation in between, these posts will help you get ready to go.

Canyonlands National Park, Utah

If you don’t already have a rig, these posts may help you choose the rig that’s right for you.

Lake Isabella, California

Many nomads are going to have to work, at least part time. These posts will offer you tips on getting a variety of jobs, from camp host to house sitter to human guinea pig.

Adobe at sunset, New Mexico

Staying safe is important to everyone, especially when driving a large, powerful rig or living alone. Check out these posts for tips on staying safe while living on the road.

Arizona beetle

Maintaining mental health is extremely important too. These posts will offer advice for staying mentally healthy while you travel.

Gate and Ute Mountain, New Mexico

Unfortunately sometimes disasters happen. Here are some precautions you can take to help you avoid disasters.

Pine tree on Dome Rock, California

It’s important to know what to take with you when you hit the road. Here are some of the things I recommend.

White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

It’s also important to know what to leave behind before you move into your rig and how to organize the things you decide to keep. These posts can help you purge and organize.

Waterfall, Oregon coast

When you’re living on the road, you’ll find yourself dealing with the impact of the weather. These posts will help you stay comfortable when the weather is less than pleasant.

Tule River, California

Need help staying busy and connected while traveling? These posts will help you find things to see and do while you’re on the road, as well as help you stay connected to other people.

Rocky Mountain high, Colorado

If you’re traveling with a companion animal (or more than one!) or if you’re considering getting one to join your nomadic life, these posts may be helpful

Goose on the water

If you’re traveling in a travel trailer, these posts might be of special interest of you.

Giant sequoia, California

So you want to go camping…Whether you’ll be sleeping in a tent or boondocking in your van, travel trailer, fifth wheel, or motorhome these posts will help you have an enjoyable experience.

Mesa Arch, Canyolands National Park, Utah

Now that you know how to camp, I’ll tell you where to camp. These are campsites I’ve actually been to, most of which I have spent at least one night at. Many of these campsites are free.

Joshua Trees, California

If you want to learn from other nomads, check out these interviews, as well as the post all about blogs written by other vagabonds, nomads rubber tramps, and van dwellers.

Monument Valley, Navajo Nation

I hope this post helps you pass the time and sends you on your way to so much good information. If you read all of the posts listed here, by the time you come out of self-isolation you will be totally ready to hit the road.

If you found this post helpful, I’d love your support! Hit the donate button in the toolbar to the right or go to Patreon to become my patron.

I took the photos in this post.

Spitz Clock, Santa Fe, NM

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I like big clocks, and I cannot lie!

In January 2020 I wrote about the Town Center Clock in Mesa, AZ. I saw the clock in downtown Mesa and thought it was interesting, so I took some photos. Then I shared the photos of the clock and its story with you!

I had forgotten that Santa Fe, NM has a big clock of its own. I saw the clock again during a brief visit to Santa Fe last month (March 2020).

The clock is the Spitz clock, and it’s been all over the Santa Fe Plaza.

According to the plaque at the base of the clock, the “Spitz Jewelry Store was established on the Plaza in 1881.” A clock without works was placed in front of the store as an advertisement. Around the turn of the 20th century, the fake clock was “replaced by a functioning sidewalk clock which stood until 1915 when it was knocked down by one of the first motor trucks in Santa Fe.” The third clock is the one you see in my photos today.

The Spitz Clock is located almost in front of the New Mexico Museum of Art at the corner of Palace and Lincoln Avenues.

The third Spitz Clock…was purchased second-hand by Salamon Spitz in 1916 and was brought to Santa Fe from Kansas City. It stood in front of the Spitz Jewelry Story until the Plaza’s south portal was built in 1967. The clock was donated to the citizens of Santa Fe by Bernard Spitz, and was erected on this site in June of 1974.

(You can see a photo from that dedication of the clock in the New Mexico Digital Collections.)

According to the 2011 Albuquerque Journal article “Clock Takes A Beating” by Phil Parker,

The Spitz Clock was built by the clock makers E. Howard and Company. Howard clocks were ubiquitous around the country on city squares…but Santa Fe’s is believed to be the last one with its original gears still intact. Others around the country have had their inner works, which have to be wound, replaced with electronics.

The aforementioned 2011 Albuquerque Journal article was all about how the clock wasn’t doing too well.

The gold leaf around the face is cracking, and seeping water has caused the clock to deteriorate. Also, it becomes far less reliable in the winter.

The clock wasn’t running at all during my visit, and the protective covering over its face was quite clouded. In 2011, some folks wanted to find the clock a new indoor home, but nine years later, it’s still outside. At the time the Albuquerque Journal article was written, there was talk about renovating the Spitz Clock.

Santa Fe Parks Director Fabian Chavez said a small ad-hoc committee is looking into options, including a full renovation of the clock, or finding it a spot inside and putting a replacement piece in the same location…

A weather-proofing restoration of the Spitz Clock would run about $5,000, according to Mary Chavez, senior vice president of First National Bank…and a member of the committee.

I have mixed feelings about what I think should happen to the clock. On the one hand, I like having a piece of history right outside in public where locals and visitors alike can look at it whenever they want. On the other hand, this piece of history is deteriorating. Maybe the clock could be put on display inside of the Santa Fe Place Mall or the DeVargas Center.

The committee that was trying to find a solution for preserving the clock in 2011 wanted it to be donated to the New Mexico History Museum, but the museum turned it down.

[A] museum spokesperson said it’s too tall to fit into an exhibit, and doesn’t fit in “architecturally” in the lobby.

Wherever the clock ends up (and probably the best and easiest way to preserve it is to move it indoors), I hope a replacement clock is put in the Spitz Clock’s present location, and I hope any replacement is a replica of the current clock. Otherwise, I think visitors to the Santa Fe Plaza would miss seeing an old-fashioned clock on the corner of Lincoln and Palace Avenues.

The original Spitz Clock cost $315 in 1881, according to the Albuquerque Journal.

Valentine’s Day Hitchhiker

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It was late afternoon on Valentine’s Day, and I was driving home from work.

Up ahead, I saw someone standing on the corner where the dirt road met the pavement. This was the spot where people stood to bum a ride deeper into the Wild West of dirt roads that was my neighborhood. I figured the person was hitchhiking.

As I got closer, I saw that the hitchhiker seemed to be a man. His clothes were drab from long wear and infrequent washes. He shoulder length hair was peppered with grey and probably hadn’t been shampooed in a while. He had a big puppy with him and a medium-size backpack on the ground at his feet. Because he wasn’t hauling a large pack, I sized him up as a guy who lived in my neck of the woods and was trying to get home after an excursion to town.

Before I got to the dirt road, a small, red, shiny clean car turned from the pavement onto the dirt road. That car would have to roll past the person standing next to the road.

My truck was muddy.

I was surprised to see the shiny clean car leave the pavement. The car didn’t look like one that had been rolling on a dirt road recently. There was not a clod of mud on it, no film of dust. My truck, on the other hand, looked like I’d taken it out for some recreational muddin’. Of course, I’d only been to work and back, but my truck was dirty, just like every other vehicle in the state that had been traversing the muddy roads of February.

Another problem that little car would have traveling up and down the roads where I lived was the low clearance. The embedded rocks and potholes drivers on those roads encountered daily would eat that little car for lunch (and breakfast and supper too).

These factors made me think the driver of the shiny clean car did not live anywhere that dirt road would take them. I wondered why the car had turned onto the dirt road in the first place.

The shiny clean car stopped next to the fellow standing on the corner. I figured he’d get into the shiny clean car and be whisked away.

As the fellow approached the passenger side of the shiny clean car, I turned onto the dirt road. The shiny clean car was stopped just about in the middle of the narrow dirt road, so I didn’t try to get around it. I stayed behind the shiny clean car and waited patiently for it to move.

I was expecting the fellow to open the passenger door and fold himself into the small car, but he never did. Instead he was handed something through the window. Then he walked away from the shiny clean car and back to the side of the road. The shiny clean car started rolling away. I could see the fellow was now holding three brightly colored heart-shaped boxes.

When the shiny clean car started rolling, I took my foot off the brake and started slowly rolling too. I looked to my right and the hitchhiker had his thumb out and was grinning in my direction. Of course I stopped for him.

In the meantime, the shiny clean red car had pulled up enough to turn around in the middle of the road. I realized it wasn’t going the hitchhiker’s way after all.

As the shiny clean car headed in my direction, I could see the driver was a blond woman wearing big sunglasses. She looked as shiny and clean as her car.

The fellow and his pup climbed up in my truck. As I drove us down the bumpy, muddy, slippery road, I asked about the women in the shiny clean car. The hitchhiker said he didn’t know her. She stopped, so he walked over, thinking she was offering him a ride. Instead, when he approached, she rolled down the window and asked him if he needed some Valentine’s candy. He’d said Sure! and she’d handed him the three heart-shaped boxes. Apparently she’d turned onto the dirt road for the sole purpose of giving candy to the hitchhiker.

When I stopped the truck at the end of the hitchhiker’s road, he proceeded to unload his backpack and his dog. After he thanked me for the ride, he asked me if I needed some Valentine’s candy. After a moment’s hesitation, I said Sure! It took me just a split second to decide there was not reason not to take the offered candy.

Once the fellow was out of my truck, I continued on my way home. I was excited to have a bite of chocolate once I parked.

The hitchhiker handed me this heart-shaped box complete with “chocolate flavored candy.”

I’m not going to lie, I was a bit disappointed when I read the words “chocolate flavored candy” on the box. I was hoping for real chocolate. I was hoping for gen-u-ine chocolate. I was hoping for dark chocolate with almonds, but hell, beggars (or in my case, the recipient of a gift gifted to a hitchhiker) can’t be choosers. I unwrapped the red foil wrapper from around a piece of the chocolate flavored candy and popped it into my mouth. I decided chocolate flavored candy is better than no candy at all.

I took the photos in this post.

Free Things to Do While You Are Hunkered Down (Blog Post Bonus)

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Some people get bored when they have to stay home. If you find yourself in this situation, today I will share with you things you can do for FREE if you have internet access.

The idea for this post came from my friend Laura-Marie who writes the blog dangerous compassions. (Go ahead and add that blog to your list of things to read now that you have some time on your hands. It’s good!) Laurie-Marie offered to share a list of free learning resources she knew about. I’m using her list and adding free things I’ve heard about too. I hope you find some activities to enjoy here. (Also, I’ll include some more beautiful photos from my collection for your viewing pleasure.)

Cholla

The first six resources and commentary were provided by Laura-Marie.

Clozemaster is a free language learning website offering sentences with one word missing, and you fill in the world multiple choice style. You’re informed whether you entered the right word, then hear someone speak the sentence. I enjoy that it’s a different approach from usual–I like variety in my language learning attempts.

Duolingo is a free language learning website that offers a ton of languages and is fun and easy to use. Like any way of learning a language, different people’s minds are helped by different methods. I don’t do well learning verbs through this website, but otherwise, I find it helpful for my study.

Sea creature

Librivox is a website for free public domain audiobooks read by volunteers. The audiobooks are available for download. You can listen, read aloud, or both.

Project Gutenberg is a library of free public domain ebooks–great for if you suddenly need to read Paradise Lost and got rid of your copy from college countless moves ago.

Bee and flower

Open Culture lists “the best free cultural & educational media on the web.” Laura-Marie says, “This list of free online courses is long.” The website says it lists “1,500 online courses from universities like Stanford, Yale, MIT, Harvard, Oxford and more.” You can also find 1,150 free movies, 700 free audiobooks, 800 free ebooks, and 300 free language lessons.

The #freepermaculture website offers “free online permaculture courses [to] help you create ecological gardens and homesteads and connect with a global community of co-learners, innovating hands-on solutions and envisioning a sustainable future, together.” Laura-Marie says, “I’ve been enrolled in this free online year-long permaculture [course] for about six months. I love how it’s packed with information [and] well-organized. Also, it’s special because it’s taught by women instructors. I enjoy the lady-friendliness. Each lesson has bonus material at the end, with plenty of essays to read, diagrams to see, videos to watch.

Carrots grown without chemicals in a home garden

The rest of the resources and commentary are by Blaize.

Another source for free courses is the Saylor Academy. The website says you can “Build new skills or work toward a degree at your own pace with free Saylor Academy courses.”

A third source for online learning is Courses.com. This website offers a collection of free online courses from top educational institutions for anyone to take.

For more free options for learning a language online, read Larry Kim‘s article “9 Places to Learn a New Language Online for Free.” (Kim also mentions Duolingo and Open Culture.) Also check out FluentU‘s article “49 Free Language Learning Websites That Are Almost Too Good to Be True” by Jakob Gibbons. (You can also get a free 14 day trial to FluentU, which brings you “real world video content that’s entertaining, timely, and ideal for language learners.”)

Arizona palm tree

Want to build, craft, or create something but you’re not sure how? Want to learn how to prepare food? Instructables offers step-by-step instructions to help you complete a wide range of projects. I used instructions from Instructables to learn how to make infinity scarves on my round knitting loom.

Skillshare offers thousands of free online classes on topics including design, business, photography, drawing, cooking, and more.

Another place to learn for free is at wikiHow. I often use the wikiHow website as a source when researching for blog posts. The wikiHow website says,

Since 2005, wikiHow has helped billions of people to learn how to solve problems large and small. We work with credentialed experts, a team of trained researchers, and a devoted community to create the most reliable, comprehensive and delightful how-to content on the Internet.

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Many museums around the world–including Detroit Institute of Arts; the Galleria dell’Academia in Florence, Italy; The Dalí Theatre-Museum; and the National Museum of African American History and Culture–offer virtual tours. To find out how to view collections from the privacy of your own home, see the Upgraded Points article “The 75 Best Virtual Museum Tours Around the World [Art, History, Science, and Technology]” by Jarrod West.

You can also take a virtual tour of Carlsbad Caverns National Park, one of my favorite places.

Cacti

If you’d rather look at animals than art, check out the extensive variety of animal cams available on the EarthCam website. Here you can find cams to let you view everything from bison to giraffes, pandas to tigers. Here you can even find the Michigan Snowman Cam! (Is a snowman an animal?)

The EarthCam Webcam Network also offers you peeks into places aross the United States and around the world. Missing Lake Michigan? Check out the Lake Michigan Beach Cam. Wish you were at the beach? Check out the Hawaii Surf Cam.

Waves from the Oregon Coast

Many aquariums also have cams to check out. Some aquarium cams you can watch are available from the Monterey Bay Aquarium (with ten live cams to choose from including the aviary cam, the coral reef cam and the moon jelly cam); the Aquarium of the Pacific ( including Shark Lagoon and penguin habitats above and below water); and the Seattle Aquarium (harbor seals! sea otters!) Other aquariums offer cams too. Simply search “aquarium cams” and see what pops up.

If you’d rather watch opera than animals, many opera companies are offering free streaming of performances right now. David Salazar has compiled “A Comprehensive List of All Opera Companies Offering Free Streaming Services Right Now” for the OperaWire website.

Garlic growing

If you want learn more about music including songwriting, music theory, playing guitar, music history, and so much more, see Class Central‘s list of 200+ free online music classes. (According to the website, “Class Central is a search engine and reviews site for free online courses popularly known as MOOCs or Massive Open Online Courses.”)

If you want to narrow down your search for music classes, check out Springboard blog’s post “The 30 Best Free Online Music Courses” by Rajit Dasgupta. The post ends with a list of five other free resources for musicians.

Fender (as in guitars) is currently offering three months of free guitar lessons. (No credit card needed.) If you want to sample what Fender has to offer before you commit to three months of lessons, you can try out the three levels of online lessons the company offers for free via video.

Other places to check out free guitar lessons include Justin Guitar, Guitar Compass, and Guitar Lessons.

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Writers who want to hone their abilities should check out Class Central’s guide to free online courses to improve writing skills.

Folks of any age who like to color can find hundreds of free coloring pages online. Download free coloring pages from over 100 museums and libraries; see this BookRiot article for all the details. Just Color offers “1,500+ Free Adult Coloring pages to download in PDF or to print : various themes, artists, difficulty levels and styles.” The Spruce Crafts provides free printable coloring pages for adults from a variety of sources. Even Crayola has gotten into the act with free coloring pages for grown ups.

For people who want to try painting, Kelly Allen of House Beautiful reports “You Can Watch Every Episode of Bob Ross’s “The Joy of Painting” for Free Right Now.

Not only are Ross’s videos a great way to pass the time when you’ve run out of options on Netflix, but you could, in theory, create 403 paintings right along with him…

Not to mention, listening to Bob Ross as he paints a picture is extremely therapeutic. If you’re highly anxious or just overall exhausted, his videos can offer you a calming effect that’s as reliable as a weighted blanket.

If you’d like to learn about shooting photos or videos, Nikon (as in cameras) is offering all of their courses for free during April 2020.

The Bluprint crafting website is offering free unlimited access to online classes and projects until April 16, 2020.

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If you want to move your body but need some inspiration, you might want to check out one or more fitness apps. Amy Marturana Winderl, C.P.T. runs down “11 Free Fitness Apps That Will Help You Work Out When Your Living Room Is Your Gym” for the Self website. You can also try a free live-stream workout; Stefani Sassos, MS, RDN, CSO, CDN shares “25+ Fitness Studios and Gyms Offering Live-Stream Workouts During the Coronavirus Outbreak” on the Good Housekeeping website. (Note: Some of these apps and classes typically cost money but currently are offering free trials.) You can find a free 38 minute gentle yoga flow video on the YogiApproved website or check out TCK Publishing’s list of “15 Free Online Yoga Classes.”

Pink flowers on tree

Before I wrap this up, I want to encourage you to also check out TED Talks, the Stuff You Should Know podcast (and everything else in the How Stuff Works family), and YouTube as other great places to learn about a variety of topis. There are also lots of good suggestions on the Business Insider post “The 43 Best Websites for Learning Something New,” a “list of great knowledge sources, inspiring blogs, tools, communities and course platforms that will help you discover fresh ideas or master new skills.”

If all of these suggestions aren’t enough for you, check out the extensive list of free things to do while practicing social distancing provided by a librarian from Tennessee State University.

I hope some of these ideas prove helpful in keeping you busy during this time of social isolation. If you know of other resources, please feel free to share them in the comments.

If you found this post helpful, I’d love your support! Hit the donate button in the toolbar to the right or go to Patreon to become my patron.

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I took the photos in this post.

Santa Fe March 2020

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We went to Santa Fe early in March.

Santa Fe Plaza was festooned with chiles.

This was before we realized how bad COVID-19 was going to get. We had a vague awareness that maybe we should stay at home, but our friends The Poet and the Activist from Las Vegas (Nevada, not the closer Las Vegas in New Mexico) were going to be in Albuquerque and asked if we would meet them in the middle. I had Monday off work, so we made plans to get together then.

The friends were on a pilgrimage of sorts. The Poet’s grandmother had been born in a small New Mexico town; The Poet wanted to see that place from which her ancestor had come. Of course The Activist was part of the excursion, as was a friend who’d come for the fun and to help with the driving.

The pilgrimage was also a vacation of sorts. On their way to New Mexico, they’d visited Arcosanti and stayed the night. They’d spend three nights in Albuquerque, taking a side trip to visit me and The Man in Santa Fe as well as the journey to the ancestral home.

We met at my favorite place to get lunch in Santa Fe, El Parasol at 1833 Cerrillos Road. There’s no place to sit and eat inside the restaurant, so I had suggested that we buy our lunch at the counter, then take it to a park or to the Santa Fe Plaza. However, The Poet had gotten permission for us to sit at the picnic table in front of the Baskin-Robbins next door. The Man and I each got our favorite, the vegetarian burrito with guacamole. I don’t know what the others ate, but the five of us sat at the outside table and had a leisurely lunch while chatting.

We spent most of our day sitting on benches in the Plaza.

Our next destination was the Santa Fe Plaza. We drove over in our truck and our friends drove over in their car. We met near the bandstand.

According to Wikipedia,

The Santa Fe Plaza is a National Historic Landmark in downtown Santa Fe, New Mexico in the style of traditional Spanish-American colonial cities.

Santa Fe Plaza has been the commercial, social and political center of Santa Fe since c. 1610 when it was established by Don Pedro de Peralta…In 1822 the famed Santa Fe Trail, a trade route connecting New Mexico with Missouri, was opened with its western terminus at the Santa Fe Plaza…[3]

The Plaza is Santa Fe’s historic, cultural and geographic center. In the early days, it was found at the end of El Camino Real (the Spanish Royal Road from Mexico City), the Santa Fe Trail, and the Old Pecos Trail.

The problem with hanging out in the Plaza is that parking is a real pain. We were lucky to get a parking spot only a few blocks away. However, it was just a four-hour spot, so it was a good thing we planned to hit the road in a few hours anyway. The other problem was that I hadn’t brought enough change for the meter. I had forgotten how expensive parking can be in the tourist area of a big city. We had to ask for change at businesses three times over our four hour parking period. Groan.

We saw this mysterious portal as we walked from our parking spot to the Plaza.

We spent most of our visit sitting on benches and chatting. At one point I remembered that the Five & Dime General Store across the Plaza from where we were sitting sold souvenirs. The Poet is also a snail mail enthusiasts, so I told her that if we wanted to get postcards later, the Five & Dime would be the place to go. In fact, we did end up walking over to the store to pick out postcards. I regret not taking a photo of their great wall of postcards. Trust me, that place a huge selection of postcards representing not just Santa Fe, but the entire state of New Mexico.

These are the Santa Fe postcards I picked out to send to friends.

At one point I left my friends briefly to take some photos of the Spitz Clock. I got several nice photos while I was on that side of the Plaza.

Later in the afternoon, my friends were ready to visit The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, commonly known as Saint Francis Cathedral. According to Wikipedia, it is

a Roman Catholic cathedral in downtown Santa Fe, New Mexico. It is the mother church of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.

The cathedral was built by Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy between 1869 and 1886 on the site of an older adobe church, La Parroquia (built in 1714–1717). An older church on the same site, built in 1626, was destroyed in the 1680 Pueblo Revolt. The new cathedral was built around La Parroquia, which was dismantled once the new construction was complete. A small chapel on the north side of the cathedral was kept from the old church.

The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi

If you want to learn more about the history of the The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi and the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, see the Parish History page of the Cathedral Basilica’s website. The page also includes a list of the archbishops of Santa Fe.

If you, like me, have wondered about the difference between a cathedral and a basilica and how one building could be both, here is some information on the topic from Busted Halo, a website with the mission to help people understand the Catholic Faith.

A cathedral is the home church for the bishop or archbishop of a Catholic diocese…

A basilica is simply an important church building designated by the pope because it carries special spiritual, historical, and/or architectural significance. Basilica is the highest permanent designation for a church building, and once a church is named a basilica, it cannot lose its basilica status.

A basilica may or may not also be the cathedral of the diocese.

I enjoy the adobe buildings in Santa Fe because they’re so different from buildings in most place. The Tourism Santa Fe website says of Santa Fe Architecture,

Santa Fe has a distinctive architectural style all its own. No other city in the country has so many low-slung, earth-colored buildings made of adobe bricks, which consist of a mixture of sun-dried earth and straw…

Santa Fe’s historic adobe architecture evolved from early Native American dwellings that impressed the Spanish when they first arrived in the region in the 16th century…

As the Spanish settlers established communities in the region, they sought to improve the Pueblo construction methods using adobe. After all, the essential materials—mud, earth and straw—were plentiful and readily available…they designed wood molds to shape uniform adobe bricks.

Soon it was time to start heading home. We had a long drive ahead of us. It was nice to spend a day in the state capital, visiting our friends from far away.

I took the photos in this post.

Happy Blog Posts for Your Reading Pleasure

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In my recent post Update, COVID-19 Edition, I asked if I should “go all COVID-19 all the time.” Reader Janice responded, “Please continue on as nothing is amiss in this world. I love your blog! We get enough COVID-19 info from everywhere!”

With that in mind, today I’ll share happy blog posts from the Rubber Tramp Artist archives. This way you can get lost in reading stories that are cheerful, funny, and uplifting without having to wade through the sad or grouchy ones. (I’ll also include some lovely photographs too, for your viewing pleasure.) This is a gift from me to you to help you survive this difficult time.

Happy Work Stories

Here are some stories about actually having a good day and being helpful on the job.

Uplifting Tales about Hitchhikers

Yep, I pick up hitchhikers. Here are some stories about helping people who just needed a ride.

Places I’ve Been

Here are some posts about interesting places I’ve been, cool things I’ve seen, and fun activities I’ve participated in.

Happy Days and Positive Stories

Here are some stories that are funny and/or upbeat, from times when I was having a good day, from times when I noticed the kindness of humanity. I know we’re all hoping for more happy days ahead.

I took all the photos in this post.

Sniffer

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Nolagirl said she was sending a package, but she didn’t tell me what was in in it.

After traveling from southern Arizona to northern New Mexico, the package must have sat behind the counter of the mail room for at least a week before I was able to get there during business hours to pick it up. I was glad to finally have it in my possession.

Nolagirl had told me there were goodies for The Man in the package too, so I didn’t open it as soon as I picked it up. I threw it in the back seat of the truck, knowing we’d open it together once I returned home from work.

After work, I carried the package into the trailer. I told The Man that Nolagirl had sent us treats. We were both excited to discover what was inside the cardboard box.

I put the box on the floor while I removed my muddy shoes.

As soon as the box was on the floor, Jerico the dog was on it. He put his nose directly on the box and gave it some mighty sniffs. He was really excited to discover what was inside.

Is there food in there? The Man and I asked each other.

Jerico likes food. He enjoys eating, but he’s not what I would call food motivated. Food is not the driving force in his life. Sure, he gets excited by a bit of cheese or a canned fish treat, but he’s not a do-anything-for-food kind of dog. He has kibble in his bowl all the time, and he eats when he’s hungry, but he doesn’t overeat. He stays slim despite being allowed to eat whenever he wants.

The Man and I were skeptical that Jerico would be so enthusiastic about food that might be in the box. Maybe he’d act this way if there were meat in the box…but Nolagirl knew The Man and I are vegetarians. I doubted she would have sent us meat.

I got my shoes off and grabbed a pair of scissors to cut open the tape holding the flaps closed. Jerico continued to express interest in the box even after I lifted it from the floor.

I sliced into the tape, then pulled the flaps apart. I saw a small package of pistachios (which The Man and I shared right away), half a pound of Camilla brand red kidney beans, a box of granola bars, a box of breakfast cookies…and three blue rubber balls intended for playing racquetball.

While Jerico may not be motivated by food, he is certainly motivated by playing ball. Playing ball is Jerico’s most favorite thing in the whole world, the driving force in his life, and when he plays ball, the ball he plays with is a blue one intended for racquetball use. He was thrilled when I pulled those balls from the box and let him have one.

I was impressed that Jerico had sniffed out those balls through the cardboard box. What really amazed me, however, was that the particular smell that told him his favorite type of balls was in the box was still intact after Nolagirl touched them to put them in the box, after the box traveled from Nolagirl’s house to a post office to my mail room to our house, after the box sat in the mail room for more than a week, and after the box sat in the truck for hours while I was at work. All dogs have a keen sense of smell, but Jerico’s nose is something special.

Jerico is a hound dog. He’s part beagle, the vet said when The Man brought him in for his first checkup after being found as a puppy. You might not see the beagle in him at first glance, but when he throws his head back and starts barking loudly, his beagle heritage is apparent. He’s a beagle and he has a lot to say. He’s a beagle and he’s got quite a sniffer.

I don’t know if Jerico could sniff our a lost child or a fugitive from a law, but he proved he can sniff out a blue racquetball, even one he’s never touched.

I took this photo of the little sniffer sitting on top of the clean laundry in the backseat of the truck waiting for me to return from buying groceries one winter day.