Art-o-mat at Meow Wolf

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This is one of the postcards I bought in the Meow Wolf gift shop.

After a little more than two hours in Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return in Santa Fe, NM, The Man and I thought we had seen all there was to see. (Spoiler alert: We didn’t. The Man saw a photo of a ship on a magnet in the gift shop and realized we hadn’t laid eyes on the actual structure. We had no idea how to get to the ship at the time, so we decided we were ready to leave. We think we know how to find the ship now, which is one of the reasons we want to go back.)

Anyway, we were on our way to the Meow Wolf gift shop so I could pick up a couple of postcards (and two is all I bought since they cost $1 each), when I saw it: the Art-o-mat®.

The Art-o-mat® in the Meow Wolf lobby. Isn’t it lovely? I think the color scheme is fantastic! And that sugar skull…swoon!

I’d heard of Art-o-mat® machines, although the term for them in my brain was “art vending machine.” I’d maybe even seen one, somewhere, but I’d never bought art from one before. I figured if there was ever a time and place for buying art from a vending machine, that time and place was now, in the lobby of one of the greatest art spaces I had ever experienced.

What exactly is an Art-o-mat®, you may ask? According to the Art-o-mat® website,

Art-o-mat® machines are retired cigarette vending machines that have been converted to vend art. There are over 100 active machines in various locations throughout the country.

The site’s About page says,

The inspiration for Art-o-mat® came to artist Clark Whittington while observing a friend who had a Pavlovian reaction to the crinkle of cellophane…

In June 1997, Clark was set to have a solo art show at a local cafe, Penny Universitie in Winston-Salem, N.C. He used a recently-banned cigarette machine to create the first Art-o-mat®…The machine sold Clark’s black & white photographs mounted on blocks for $1.00 each…

AIC [Artists in Cellophane] is the sponsoring organization of Art-o-mat®. The mission of AIC is to encourage art consumption by combining the worlds of art and commerce in an innovative form. AIC believes that art should be progressive, yet personal and approachable…

My fortune as given to me by Alva, a robotic soothsayer from Portals Bermuda.

Do you have a $5 bill, I asked The Man. I’d broken my fiver to buy a pair of Meow Wolf chromadepth glasses (a waste of $1, as far as The Man and I were concerned) and spent another buck to have my fortune told by Alva, a robotic soothsayer from Portals Bermuda stationed in a glass cube in the arcade. I was now $2 short of buying a small piece of art from the Art-o-mat®.

Alva the soothsayer from Portals Bermuda

The Man pulled out his wallet, rummaged through it, and produced a $5 bill. Yes! Now we could choose which knob to pull.

Oh! What a decision! We had twenty choices after all! Twenty. Choices.

The top row had the name of a specific artist above each knob. Of course, I didn’t recognize any of the names. There was even information about what kind of art would be dispensed above some of the knobs. Did I want a leather key ring? Did I want matchbox art? I was overcome by choices.

On the second row, each knob was labeled “Random Art.” Maybe I would be better off if I let the Universe decide what piece of art I needed. Of course, there were still ten “Random Art” choices. I managed to narrow my choices down to two.

I narrowed my random art choices down to these two.

Should I go with creating a rainbow by buying art? (Note: I knew that buying art doesn’t really create rainbows even before I read the disclaimer.) Should a take a chance on an unknown artist? Although I’m not much of a gambler, I decided to go with taking a chance.

The Man fed the money into the bill acceptor of the sort one uses to get change at a car wash or laundromat. Now was my moment to pull the knob.

The aforementioned Art-o-mat® website answers the question What do you get? [from the dispenser] this way:

The experience of pulling the knob alone is quite a thrill, but you also walk away with an original work of art. What an easy way to become an art collector.

Pulling the knob was a thrill. Those old machines were built to be sturdy, so I had to give it a strong tug. I was rewarded with a hearty thunk! when the art fell into the tray at the bottom of the dispenser. I reached in and grabbed something the approximate size and shape of a package of cigarettes, although this item was heavier than the packs of cigarettes I’ve held. I thought the art would come in an old cigarette box, but instead it was wrapped in paper to keep it from getting scratched. I peeled off the paper and found a small painting (or maybe the image was created with markers) on a block of wood.

This is the art I received when I took a chance.

I’m not sure what exactly is depicted here. Like all good art, it leaves the viewer with some questions. Is that the sun in the upper left? Is that water on the bottom? Is it a lake? An ocean? Why is it jagged? What’s in the space between the sun and the water? The middle space looks really hot. Is it hell? Phoenix in July? What does it all mean?

This is the artist’s signature on the side of the little art piece. I took a chance on you, Jack. Thanks for this beauty.

You can answer those questions for yourself. You can ask more questions if you like. As for me, I appreciate this piece of art and its randomness and mystery. Most of all, I enjoyed the experience of buying art from a vending machine.

I took the photos in this post.

Memories of the RTR 2020 (Guest Post)

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As I said in last week’s report on the RTR, I attended the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR) in 2015201620172018, and (very briefly) in 2019. Every year I was there, I met new people and leaned new things and was glad to have gone. Every year I posted a report of my experiences at the gathering. Unfortunately, in 2020 health and financial concerns kept me from attending the RTR.

I wanted my readers to know what had happened at this year’s RTR so I asked in a few van groups I’m in on Facebook if anyone would like to write a report about their experiences at the 2020 RTR. This is the second of two reports submitted.

Today’s report is by Heinrich Keifer. I’m very grateful for his willingness to share the following perspective on this year’s Rubber Tramp Rendezvous.

In 2018, on a visit to Quartzsite, AZ I first heard a whisper about the RTR. I thought what is that? I asked a fellow in town, what was that and where it was located, he said way back in the desert up a long dirt road. I had visions of a strange group of folks who assembled annually to tell long tales of adventures of life in the wild. That year, I did not make the effort to find my way to attend. Maybe, inside I had a fear of this new group of desert people.

In 2019, I came upon a youtube video about the upcoming RTR. I became fascinated with the thought of camping out in Quartzsite and attending this event to share and learn about life in the wild and off the grid. I knew that I had to share in the event and made plans to attend my first RTR.

I arrived as early as possible on the first day that group camping would be allowed on the new land designated by the BLM for this purpose. The planners had announced efforts to have more restrooms and even a dumpster to aid in the camping for all to enjoy. Bob Wells said that he would be underwriting the cost associated with these amenities, but still wished to keep the RTR free for all to enjoy. I found a great camping spot for my trailer and as it turned out I was right next to the Art Camp. I met several very interesting folks in the Art Camp and enjoyed the camp’s morning fire on several occasions. I was also able to lend a hand with a new solar panel kit build for one of the Art Camp folks.

On a walk I met a fellow who was deep into solar technology and he spoke of various solar related issues that helped me understand more fully how to get the most benefit from my 100-watt roof mounted system. Presented, at the main stage, were many fine topics on camping off the grid, everything from safety, minimalism, border parks and safety along the border, solar cooking, battery management, stealth camping and more. I enjoyed the exhibit area which featured mostly car conversions. Also, a big hit for me was the evening talent show. I just missed the closing ceremonial van burning, but I did get to sign the van in the days before the closing. I managed also to volunteer to help folks get in and out of the RTR grounds via narrow dirt roads and do some clean up and break down of equipment. My experience convinced me that the 2020 RTR would be a must-attend event.

In the weeks leading up to the 2020 RTR I searched the area around the La Paz County Fairgrounds for dispersed camping. I saw Facebook posts on available State Trust land and thought that there must be space somewhere closer than the 19 miles to Plomosa Road BLM camping. Many folks had the same idea to find a closer place to camp. After much discussion, some for and some against closer camping, I took a trip to the area and drove off road to get a better picture of what could be used and where it was. I made calls to the Parker Police and the La Paz County Sheriff, but no one could say for sure if the land would accommodate camping. I returned home to Los Angeles and continued to suggest to anyone who would listen that I thought there was camping, but it required 4-wheel access only, maybe some could make it in in a 2-wheel vehicle. Time passed and the discussion continued in Facebook and Rvillage.

Finally the event came, I spent the first night in Scaddan Wash, then off to the Fairgrounds to drop off my wife, Peggy, at the Women’s RTR (WRTR). I proceeded up Hillside Road to the end, and as I reached the dirt road I switched on 4-wheel drive to enter the semi-wash road. I traveled over some mild mounds, through a rather sandy wash bottom, and up to a slight plateau. I was set for the week, I thought. The night was quiet and the next day we rose to have coffee and breakfast, then it was off to the WRTR for Peggy. I remained at camp in and around the 5th wheel trailer and relaxed.

All was going as planned until a white pick-up crossed the nearby desert and then stopped about 200 feet from my rig. I had a bad feeling and when I saw two law enforcement officers exit the pick-up truck, I knew to expect a visit. I exited my rig and walked slowly toward them carefully keeping my hands where they could be seen; after all, I am from Los Angeles. I was welcomed and asked if I knew that I was within the Parker city limits and that there was no-camping with the city limits? I told them that I spoke with the Parker Police, the La Paz County Sheriff’s Department, and State Land Trust office in Phoenix and all agreed that this area should be fine to camp in. I also pulled out my Stage Trust permit along with a map showing the assumed boundaries of the Trust Land. Well, I was told that the city ordinance would overrule the State Trust permit and that I needed to comply. I told them that I was happy to comply and did not want to create any trouble for the event or the city.

I was the only person to attempt to camp in that area; however I understand that another camper made a camp along another road and was also asked to leave. The RTR did announce that someone had been cited for camping, in a “no-camping area”, but did not say who. I did settle in for 6 days at another BLM area along Parker Dam Road which worked out well and had good access to shopping, Blue Water Casino, and several restaurants.

My attendance at the RTR proved to be satisfying and worthwhile. Peggy enjoyed her two-day participation in the WRTR. I managed to do some volunteer work which was fun, and I met many different RVers and van dwellers who had interesting stories and visions for their future, as perhaps full time RVers.

Since I was a volunteer who agreed to provide over 16 or 20 hours of service, I was entitled to free dry camping at the venue, which I though could be expanded next year. By lowering the required number of hours, there could be more campers on-site and this would help to increase attendees to the workshops.

I also suggested that a shuttle transportation be planned for next year. I was told that the organizing of a bus would constitute a violation of the BLM rules, but that I could work on it on my own. I agreed that I would see what could be done outside of the official RTR management circle.

I know that I benefited from my attendance and would encourage others to think about attending in the future. Hope to see you down the road, and at the next RTR.

In 2014 Heinrich Keifer decided to restore an old 1980s 5th wheel trailer; after a few weekend trips he attended a national Good Sam rally. After years of boating and boat camping he started to get a good feeling about RV living. In late 2015 he picked up a new Jayco 5th wheel and has been increasing his RV education at numerous RV events, through magazines, and from YouTube and Facebook posts. Recently he attended his second RTR and was involved in posting tips to help locate camping.   

Photos provided by Blaize Sun.

Meow Wolf: A Review

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Why is the Meow Wolf sign shaped like a bowling pin? Keep reading to find out.

The Man and I finally visited Meow Wolf in Santa Fe, NM, and we had an awesome time. I want to tell you all about it, but please know that my words and photographs simply cannot do the place justice.

Actually, even if I could tell you all about Meow Wolf and show you all of my photos, I probably shouldn’t. Part of the fun for me was going in fresh, not really knowing what to expect. Before I went, I purposefully avoided doing a lot of research on the place. I wanted to experience what was there without a lot of foreknowledge.

I did know a little bit about Meow Wolf before I went, and I will share some information with you.

According to the Meow Wolf “About” page,

Meow Wolf is an arts and entertainment group based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. [The group was] established in 2008 as an art collective.

One painting inside Meow Wolf. It reminds me of art by my favorite surrealist artist, Remedios Varo. That bird does not look happy to be held by that orange and yellow avocado with arms.

The aforementioned webpage says,

Meow Wolf is comprised of over 400 employees creating and supporting art across a variety of media, including architecture, sculpture, painting, photography, video production, cross-reality (AR/VR/MR), music, audio engineering, narrative writing, costuming, performance, and more!

Our first permanent installation, the THEA Award-winning House of Eternal Return, launched in March 2016 with support from Game of Thrones creator, George R.R. Martin.

Also, Meow Wolf is housed inside an old bowling alley! According to the Meow Wolf FAQs, the bowling alley closed in 2008 and sat empty for several years. There is no bowling there now and the lanes have been stripped out.

Is this a Meow Wolf?

While reading those FAQs to learn more about the old bowling alley, I learned how Meow Wolf got its name.

At the very first meeting of the collective in 2008, everyone put two words into a hat. Then they picked two random words out of the hat and got “Meow Wolf.”

There are some things you should know about Meow Wolf Santa Fe before you go. It is located at 1352 Rufina Circle, just off Cerrillos Road. Regular hours of operation are Sunday through Thursday from 10am to 8pm and Friday and Saturday from 10am to 10pm. Meow Wolf is closed on Tuesdays. Check holiday closures here.

The parking lot at Meow Wolf is rather small, but parking is also available on nearby streets. The Man and I visited at noon on a Sunday and had to park about two blocks away. The parking lot is not available to RVs, trailers, or other oversized vehicles; such vehicles must be parked on the street. Vandwellers traveling with companion animals should note that animal control may be called if animals are left unattended in vehicles in the Meow Wolf parking lot. Vandwellers should also note that overnight parking is not allowed in the lot.

The Man is trying to decide if he wants to walk through that door.

Strollers, backpacks and oversized bags are not allowed in the exhibit, but the items can be securely stored for you for a small fee. Stroller/walker/wheel chair storage is complementary.

An important concern for many people is the accessibility of Meow Wolf. This is what the FAQ page has to say about accessibility:

[T]he first floor of our exhibition is ADA accessible and navigable by crutches, walkers, wheelchairs or scooters, but some areas may require additional navigational guidance from our docent staff (they are here to help!). There is almost always more than one way to access to an area…We do not have elevators…to the second floor, though, and the second floor is much more difficult to navigate as well (more single steps up/down and narrow passageways). Areas with flashing lights are located behind clearly labeled doors. You do not need to coordinate ADA accommodations with staff prior to your arrival – just know that we are here to help however we can.

Also note that there are many places throughout the exhibit to sit and rest. From cushions on the floor to sofas and chairs, you do not have to be on your feet for hours on end. There are also several points where it is possible to exit to the lobby so you can visit the restroom, get a snack or beverage at Float Cafe & Bar, browse in the gift shop, or quietly create art in the David Loughridge Learning Center. You can decide to go back into the thick of things as long as you haven’t left the building.

So many pretty lights…and music too.

If you’re concerned about getting overstimulated at Meow Wolf (and this is a distinct possibility for many folks), consider picking up a sensory bag at the front desk. What is a sensory bag? The FAQ page says

[s]ensory bags are a tool guests can utilize to aid in their experience inside House of Eternal Return. Each bag can be checked out upon arrival and has items inside to help ground and re-center folks who might feel overstimulated or overwhelmed while inside the exhibit.

Looks like somebody puked up filthy lucre and glitter.

Admission to Meow Wolf is what I consider pricey. The regular adult admission price is $30. The regular admission price for a child over the age of four is $20. Children ages four and under enjoy free admission! (Anyone under 14 needs to be accompanied and supervised by a guardian over 18 years old.) Students, seniors 65 and older, and members of the military pay $25 to get in.

If you’re a New Mexico resident, you’re in luck because you get a discount. Cost of admission for adult residents of New Mexico is $25. Children who are residents of New Mexico pay only $15, and the student/senior/military rate for New Mexico residents is $20. However, every Monday and Wednesday night (4-8 PM) and Second Sunday of the month New Mexico residents pay only half off the New Mexico resident admission rate.

While I typically enjoy activities that are free and cheap, I recognize that my admission fee is helping to pay artists and maintain the Meow Wolf facilities. I can tell you that every aspect of Meow Wolf from the restrooms to the tree houses to the cushions on the floor were clean and in perfect working order.

I don’t know who these little creatures are, but I love them.

I was also pleasantly surprised that I did not encounter a single person behaving in an obnoxious way. Although there were lots of people at Meow Wolf the day we visited, people were being respectful of one another. Children were having a good time, but no one was screaming or running or annoying strangers. Adults were well-behaved too, and not once did the word asshat run through my mind.

If you haven’t already figured it out, there’s a lot going on at Meow Wolf House of Eternal Return. There is an actual, full-size house, complete with portals (hint: there are five) to other dimensions. (And here’s another hint for you: start with the house. You can start in the other dimensions, but for your first time, I HIGHLY recommend you start with the house.)

There’s a wrinkle in the reality of the bathroom floor.

You will see people stepping into and out of household appliances; you can step through some of them too, if you wish. There’s a mystery you can try to solve as you move through the house. (I’m not sure if it’s possible to solve the mystery or if it is meant to remain unsolved, but look for the clues and decide for yourself.) You can open cabinets in the kitchen and find wondrous things. You can sit in the bathtub or on the toilet of the wavy-floored bathroom. You can look into the cookie jar and see what awaits you there.

A fantasy world awaits you when you step through the refrigerator portal.

Once you move through the portals, you enter fantasy worlds filled with art and music and soft lights and magic. Well, maybe not magic; maybe what you experience is technology cleverly disguised to seem like magic. Even if you’ve never dabbled in psychedelics, you will know you’re in a the midst of some trippy shit.

There’s an entire bus in there and a dinner you wouldn’t want to eat even if you could. There are beams of red light you can play like harp strings (or drums), giant birds, and a multitude of items that will make you wonder WTF? Is it art? you may ask yourself. Does it really matter? It’s beauty and fun and color and experimentation and the chance for childlike wonder.

When we left Meow Wolf (after realizing we’d missed an entire reality but too tired to figure out how to get to it), The Man said he’d enjoyed himself but didn’t really feel the need to ever go back. But the next day, we were still talking about our experiences in the House of Eternal Return, and we both admitted we were excited to explore the place again. (Maybe it’s called the House of Eternal Return because so many visitors want to go back.)

The Man took this photo of me photographing a tiny portal in the bathroom medicine cabinet.

I can’t speak for other people who’ve been there, but The Man and I are saving our pennies so we can visit Meow Wolf again.

I took the photos in this post, except for the very last one. The low light in most of the exhibits and the camera on my cheap phone made for substandard photographs. My apologies.

Little Free Library at SOMOS in Taos, NM

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The storefront of SOMOS, the Literary Society of Taos. Can you spot the Little Free Library in this photo?

In the fall of 2019, I found myself in Taos, NM. I tried to park in a parking lot, but my vehicle was just too big for the tiny spaces. I made the block and found a parking spot in front of SOMOS. It was a metered parking space, but I wasn’t going to be long, so I fished a few coins from my pocket to drop in the slot.

SOMOS bills itself as “a place for words in Taos, New Mexico.” The letters in the acronym stand for the “Society of the Muse of the Southwest.” The History section of the group’s About page explains,

…literature has played a prominent role in the area’s rich cultural landscape. As the literary arts flourished, the need for formal community support became apparent, which ultimately led to the nonprofit incorporation of SOMOS…in 1983.

Since then, we have expanded into our present role as a respected literary resource center whose outreach extends to the greater community of Northern New Mexico— and beyond. Our live readings, workshops, conferences, and festivals not only showcase accomplished writers but also encourage creativity in novice writers from all walks of life.

The group’s aforementioned About page says,

[o]ur space has a large room that doubles as a book store and a salon for literary gatherings, two separate classrooms, a ten-space parking lot in back, and lots of on-street parking out front.

I’d never been inside SOMOS, and unfortunately that day I didn’t have time to stop in. My plan was to hop out of my vehicle, drop a few coins in the meter, run my errand, and be on my way. Imagine my delight when, upon stepping toward the parking meter, I saw a Little Free Library in front of the SOMOS building. I certainly had to take a few moments to check out the little library and take a few photos for documentation.

If you haven’t read my past posts about Little Free Libraries (LFLs) I’ve visited in Los Gatos, CA; Santa Fe, NM; Flagstaff, AZ; Phoenix, AZ; Mesa, AZ; and even others in Taos, NM, you may not know anything about these manifestations of gift economy.

The Little Free Library organization calls itself the “world’s largest book-sharing movement!” The group’s website says the “Little Free Library Sharing Network [is] 90,000 Little Free Libraries strong!”

Side view of the Little Free Library in front of SOMOS.

On the group’s Who We Are webpage, we learn

Little Free Library is a nonprofit organization that inspires a love of reading, builds community, and sparks creativity by fostering neighborhood book exchanges around the world.

Through Little Free Library book exchanges, millions of books are exchanged each year, profoundly increasing access to books for readers of all ages and backgrounds.

Not everyone believes all of the above assertions to be true. In the 2017 article “Against Little Free Libraries,” author Kriston Capps outlines the case Canadian librarians made against the Little Free Library organization in an article for the Journal of Radical Librarianship. The main critiques are that registered Little Free Libraries

predominantly appear in medium-to-high-income neighborhoods,..are distributed almost exclusively in neighborhoods where 25 percent or more residents have university degrees, [and]…sprout where public library branches are plentiful and where neighborhoods are white.

In reality, these librarian researchers only studied two Canadian cities, Toronto and Calgary.

“Despite the fact that we’ve just done a case study of two Canadian cities that are probably not entirely representative of the locations of Little Free Libraries across the world, they did raise and confirm our suspicions toward the organization,” Hale [one of the librarian researchers] says.

View of the other side of the Little Free Library outside of SOMOS

While I know many Little Free Libraries are located in front of residences, several of the ones I have encountered were in totally public areas. In Taos County, I’ve visited registered Little Free Libraries in front of a medical center, the town recreation center, and the community well in a rural area. In Phoenix, I saw a Little Free Library on Grand Avenue in an artsy, commercial district.

Another book-sharing option is what I call “renegade” Little Free Libraries. The sharing box I discovered in the Santa Fe dog park was labeled “free little library,” not “Little Free Library” and did not have a charter number. While the library in the Mesa, AZ pocket park was labeled “Little Free Library,” it did not seem to be registered with the Little Free Library organization. What I at first thought was a registered LFL in Heritage Square in Flagstaff, AZ sported a sign calling it a “Little Library” and did not have a charter number.

In the October 2019 Publisher’s Weekly article “Little Free Library, Founder’s Family Clash Over Organization’s Direction” author Claire Kirch reports the Little Free Library

organization filed three separate applications for new trademarks with the U.S. Patent Office regarding the term, ‘Little Free Library,’ used in connection with the words, ‘wooden boxes with a storage area for books,’ and ‘signs, non-luminous and non-mechanical, of metal,’ and ‘guest books and rubber stamps.’

The article goes on to share the point of view of Greig Metzger, the executive director of the Little Free Library organization.

Metzger explains that LFL works with like-minded nonprofits all over the world to advance literacy, and that it provides support for those who want to ‘go their own way” and not register their box with LFL, even providing instructions for those who want to construct their own book boxes rather than purchase them from the organization.

But, he adds, LFL does not condone for-profit businesses…making money off of the concept by selling products using the LFL trademark.

In any case, the Little Free Library outside of SOMOS has no reason to worry because it is registered with charter number 42532. It’s decorated with ravens, a bird seen often in Northern New Mexico, and the flowers and mountains of the region. I love its bright colors.

I didn’t take any books from this library, and unfortunately, I didn’t have any books with me to contribute. I’m glad to know there is another Little Free Library option, this one in the heart of the town of Taos.

I took the photos in this post.

Is The RTR Dead? (Guest Post)

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I attended the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR) in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and (very briefly) in 2019. Every year I was there, I met new people and leaned new things and was glad to have gone. Every year I posted a report of my experiences at the gathering. Unfortunately, in 2020 health and financial concerns kept me from attending the RTR.

I wanted my readers to know what had happened at this year’s RTR so I asked in a few van groups I’m in on Facebook if anyone would like to write a report about their experiences at the 2020 RTR. I got a couple of volunteers, and I’ll be sharing their guest posts in the upcoming weeks.

Today’s report is by Mary Ellen Telesha. I’m very grateful for her willingness to share the following perspective on this year’s Rubber Tramp Rendezvous.

Is the RTR dead?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this come up on social media before, during, and after this remarkable nomadic event.

I’m here to reassure you, it’s not.

What is the RTR you ask? 

Click here, for detailed information, but here’s the short version–RTR stands for Rubber Tramp Rendezvous, an annual 10 day gathering of nomads out in the Arizona desert, founded by Bob Wells of Cheap RV Living.

The RTR, preceded by the Women’s Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (WRTR), just wrapped up its 10th annual gathering in January 2020 under balmy and beautiful Arizona skies.

In previous years the RTR/WRTRs were held out in the vast Sonoran desert, where we gathered to create an enormous temporary community. The estimate of attendees for 2019 was upwards of 10,000 participants, with free onsite camping spreading out for miles around the central presentation area. This huge number speaks to the growing phenomenon of nomadic living, and the success of the community Bob Wells has worked so hard to create.

Unfortunately, this year’s RTR was a drastic deviation from the RTRs of the past. The Bureau of Land Management, the governmental agency that manages public land out West, refused to allow another massive RTR event without a significant monetary commitment, no doubt following the precedent of Burning Man, an enormous gathering in the Nevada Desert (not related to the RTR).

In his wrap-up video of the 2020 RTR, Bob shared with his viewers that the BLM was asking anywhere from $100,000 to $600,000 to hold the event on public land this year. As he is devoted to keeping the event free, Bob was forced to come up with an alternative plan.

So, the RTR was moved to the La Paz County Fairgrounds just outside of Parker Arizona, where all of the seminars took place. As there was no camping allowed on the Fairgrounds, (except for staff and  full-time volunteers), the droves of nomads pouring into the area for the RTR spread out to camp in the surrounding Quartzsite, Parker, and California BLM areas. 

Of course, this change became a perfect opportunity for the usual naysayers to announce that the RTR is dead.

Now, I’m not a nomad newbie.

This year was my 3rd WRTR, and my second RTR.

I’ll be on the road full-time for 3 years this spring, and I’ve pretty much got my routine down.That’s not to say I’m done learning, but I don’t attend the RTR just for the education.

The nomadic lifestyle is intriguing, attracting a unique variety of humans from all walks of life. We come in cars, tents, vans, trucks, and RVs. We nomads are as varied as our rigs, yet when we get together we’re bound by the common experience of life on the road, and the stories that got us there.

I’m especially inspired every year by women who face their fears, throw their belongings into a vehicle, and drive thousands of miles for the first time, often solo, to learn and meet their fellow nomads.

Every interaction at the WRTR and RTR either inspired or educated me in some way, like the woman giving out little emergency whistles to everyone who crossed her path. What a perfect way to start conversations about safety and awareness on the road!

I was a volunteer this year, working behind the scenes as an assistant to the scheduling committee, and I’ll tell you what, the way the WRTR/RTR event came together out of hundreds of hours of volunteer work, and formidable chaos, was nothing short of amazing. 

I was also a volunteer at the “Information and Sticker Booth” on the first day of the WRTR. The energy was high, with old-timers and newbies alike thrilled to have finally made it!

Even with the added driving this year to get to the seminars at the Fairgrounds, I made it to quite a few presentations. 

One of my favorites was Mary Shafer’s severe weather presentation, (find her at WildHeartWanders.com). She taught us how to predict where a tornado is headed (hint: if it looks like it’s not moving but just getting bigger it’s headed right for you) and how to identify specific cloud formations that might impact travel. She also taught a jam-packed hour on weather apps for your phone.

I experienced Gong meditation for my third year with Harmonic Immersion – A Meditation and Sound Experience, by Gong Gypsy Michelle Angel of the Gong Temple.

One of the most moving presentations on the main stage was a discussion of depression and anxiety on the road, with a very personal sharing by Bob Wells and Joanne Shortell of the NomadChapter.org.

There was a panel discussion “Allies For Safety,” which covered the importance of nomads having each other’s backs, specifically addressing how men can be allies for women in the nomadic lifestyle.

I totally enjoyed the seminar “One Pot Cooking, No Junk” by Dr. Dorothy Adamiak ND and her husband Andy, and I’ll be buying their cookbook, 69 Pleasures, for healthy and easy-to-cook meals on the road. Healthy Ricotta cheese sauce? Oh yes!

There was even a talent show!

Although there are too many too list here, there were hundreds of free seminars, including solar experts, budgeting, making money on the road, internet service, workcamping, stealth camping, vehicle maintenance, pets on the road, and even aura reading. The seminars on the main stage were recorded, and will eventually be shared with the public on Bob Well’s Youtube channel 

So when the naysayers start throwing the BS, which they always do, I know they just don’t get it. Before the gates to the Fairgrounds were even closed I saw complaints on Youtube and other social medial outlets — about incompetent, bossy volunteers; that the RTR was dead; and all the usual BS about Bob Wells ripping us off. How anyone can believe that is beyond me. This is the first year he and his co-founder Suanne Carlson haven’t had to take money out of their own pockets to cover costs.

It’s been said that it’s easier to criticize than to organize.

Amen to that.

Mary Ellen Telesha is a nomad and author, currently traveling around the U.S. in a simply converted Chevy Uplander mini-van. She’s also a Martha Beck Life Coach, and a Reiki Master who has written two books, Wild Women On The Road: A Women’s Guide To Nomadic Freedom In The Modern Age, and the second with a more humorous take, Top Ten Lists For Nomads: The (Mostly) Lighter Side Of Nomadic Life. For more of her journey, find her at Cosmic Gypsy Nomad Life on Facebook and Instagram. 

Photos were provided by the author.


What Do I Use?

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Many of the people I encountered when I worked at the fuel center seemed barely capable of taking care of themselves. Some people were old and feeble of mind, body, or both.

One elderly gentleman–the skinniest person I think I’ve ever seen–asked for $20 on pump 9. When I pulled the drawer into the kiosk, I found a $50 bill. The gentleman was already walking toward his vehicle. Luckily, he moved really slowly.

Sir, your change, I called through the intercom system.

He tried to wave me off. I think he didn’t know what I was saying. Maybe he didn’t hear very well.

Sir! I called with more force. You gave me fifty dollars!

He seemed to hear that and came back for his $30.

Weeks later, and elderly woman paid for her fuel at the kiosk, then walked ever so slowly to pump 4 where she’d left her car. Many minutes later, I saw her standing by her car. She wasn’t pumping gas, and my POS (point-of-sale) system showed pump 4 was still authorized for the full amount she’d paid. I was mystified, so I went outside to find out if she needed assistance.

When I asked her if she needed my help, she said she couldn’t get the car’s gas cap off. It wasn’t a locking gas cap, but I when I tried to get it off for her, I found it had to be pushed in and turned at the same time. The woman simply didn’t have the strength to push and turn all at once.

Photography of One US Dollar Banknotes

It wasn’t only elderly people who made me wonder how they were getting along in the world. Once a woman who looked to be in her 30s came up to the kiosk. She asked me for $58 on pump 4 and put a wad of bills in the drawer. When I counted the money, I only came up with $47. I counted the bills again and got the same result.

Ma’am there’s only $47 here, I told her through the intercom.

She looked at me blankly. I held the bills up the window and showed her each one as I counted. There was only $47 there. The customer didn’t argue with me, just accepted her mistake, then went off to pump her fuel.

Before long, the young woman was back for her change.

The POS system did all the work of figuring out change for me. I’d tell the computer how much money a customer gave me. The customer could then pump the equivalent in fuel into their tank. If the customer didn’t pump as much gas as they’d paid for, the POS system prompted me to refund the difference. The compuer never made a mistake.

When the young woman came back for her change, my screen told me just how much money to hand back. I told her the amount of her change and put the money into the drawer, which I slid out to her. She picked up the money, but said the amount was wrong. I realized right away that she was expecting the change from the amount she originally thought she was giving to me.

No ma’am, I said to her. You didn’t give me $58, remember? You only gave me $47. See, it says $47 on your receipt.

Oh, right, she agreed and went on her way.

I never felt as if she were trying to hustle or scam me. I think she was genuinely confused.

The person I felt most worried for was the elderly lady who didn’t know what kind of fuel to put in her car.

She’d pulled in while I was outside conditioning drinks in one of the coolers. She’d stopped at a pump that offered gasoline and flex fuel. I think it was the flex fuel that confused her.

She got out of her car, but I honestly wasn’t paying any attention to her. I

Assorted-color Soda Cans

was busy sorting out the dozen different sizes and varieties of Red Bull.

Suddenly I hard a voice yelling from across the fuel center. What gas do I use? What gas do I use?

I looked up. Was the lady yelling at me? She was staring at me, so I was pretty sure she was addressing me.

What’s that? I asked, confused. I couldn’t believe she aw actually asking me what fuel she should use in her vehicle. How would I know what fuel she should use?

What gas do I use? she asked again. Yep, she wanted me to tell her what fuel to put in her car.

Ma’am, I don’t know, I told her, truly perplexed. How in the world did she think I’d know what fuel went into her car.

I don’t know what to put in, she said, sounding increasingly panicked.

Do you usually use diesel or gasoline or flex fuel? I asked.

I don’t know, she wailed.

Well, the black handle on that pump is for gasoline and the yellow handle is for flex fuel, I explained. Which color do you usually use? I asked her.

She maintained that she didn’t know.

The last thing I wanted to do was tell some senior citizen to put the wrong type of fuel into her car, leading to damage she’d then want the company I worked for or (heaven forbid!) me to pay for. I didn’t recall being told in my training that I was responsible for knowing what fuel individual customers used.

Ma’am, I don’t know either, I told her. I honestly didn’t know how to help the woman.

What kind of fuel do you usually put in? I asked again, hoping to jog her memory.

Ethanol! I usually use ethanol! she screeched.

That didn’t tell me much. Maybe it told me she didn’t use diesel. Didn’t all gasoline have ethanol in it these days?

I don’t know, ma’am, I said apologetically and went back to sorting energy drinks.

I heard a friendly young woman who’d been pumping her own gas nearby talking to the older lady. I don’t know which one approached the other, but I heard the older lady explaining her situation. The young woman lifted the black handle for gasoline on the pump nearest the elderly lady’s car and told her this was the one she needed. I hoped she was right, but if she wasn’t… well, better her mistake than mine (at least from my perspective).

The two of them had trouble getting the elderly woman’s debit card to work, so I ended up going over to help, which was fine. I didn’t mind helping, but I certainly wasn’t going to make a fuel decision for a stranger.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/photography-of-one-us-dollar-banknotes-545064/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/drinks-supermarket-cans-beverage-3008/.

What Do You Mean?

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The elderly woman looked very sweet when she walked up to the fuel center kiosk where I was working. She was certainly old enough to be somebody’s grandma. Her hair was totally white and longish and curly. She wore eyeglasses and conservative clothes.

She had some questions about her reward points. She thought she’d get 20 cents off each gallon of gas she purchased, but she wasn’t sure.

I scanned her rewards card and pulled up the loyalty balances screen on my POS (point-of-sale) system. I showed her she’d already earned a 10-cents-off-per-gallon reward this month, and she still had a 10-cents-off-per-gallon reward from last month.

So I get 20 cents off per gallon? she asked.

Well, no. I explained she could use one 10-cents-off-per-gallon reward now and use the other 10-cents-off-per-gallon reward later. That wasn’t good enough for this customer. She wanted 20 cents off of each gallon of gas she bought today.

I explained to her that the rewards program didn’t work that way. The points don’t combine, I told her.

She was angry by then, even though I was working hard to remain calm and polite and even friendly.

What do you mean they don’t combine? she demanded.

Well, they don’t combine, I said again. I knew I was repeating myself, but I wasn’t quite sure what other words to use to explain the concept of “don’t combine.”

What do you mean they don’t combine? she demanded again. She was growing increasingly agitated.

I tried again to explain, this time using different words. I told her she could get 10 cents off each gallon of fuel she bought today and she could get 10 cents off per gallon of fuel she bought on another day, but she couldn’t get 20 cents off per gallon today by putting her rewards together.

She was still angry, and I could tell she didn’t understand why I wouldn’t give her 20 cents off each gallon of gas she purchased. Obviously 10 + 10 = 20.

I refrained from telling her I didn’t make the rules around there. I refrained from telling her that the corporate office decided how to run the reward program with no input from me. I refrained from telling her that if there were some way—any way—to combine her rewards I would have done it in a heartbeat in order to end our interaction. I simply remained calm, polite, and firm that it was impossible to combine her rewards as she wanted to do.

She finally stepped away from the kiosk and went over to pump 8 to fill her tank and probably complain about me and my arbitrary rules.

Maintaining Mental Health While Living Nomadically (Part 2)

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Photo by Toms Rīts on Unsplash

As I mentioned in Part 1 of my series Maintaining Mental Health While Living Nomadically, life on the road can be challenging. From rig breakdowns to loneliness, from inclement weather to lack of funds, a nomadic lifestyle can be difficult. Dealing with mental health issues can be one of the challenges of life on the road, especially without the infrastructure that may have helped keep issues in check in the past.

Last week I covered some of the physical steps you can take to help maintain good mental health (or improve your mental health if it’s not so good at the moment). From getting enough sleep and eating healthy foods to exercising in sunlight, I outlined steps you can take to keep your body and mind doing well. Today I’ll go a little deeper and share ideas for advanced activities aimed at maintaining and enhancing mental health.

#1 Have a support system in place. While you’re doing ok, set things up in advance of a crisis. Stock your pantry with healthy foods so you don’t have to think too hard about eating if times get tough. Have spare cooking fuel available too. Make sure you always have plenty of drinking water on hand. Have sleep aids (over-the-counter options like Benadryl, Aleve PM, and Unisom SleepTabs and natural remedies like melatonin, valerian root, and magnesium) available for short-term use if sleeping becomes a problem. Make a list of people you can contact for support if you are feeling down. Maybe you want to write out your mental health plan to refer to if you get too anxious or depressed to remember how to nurture yourself.

#2 Deal with stress. According to National Institute of Mental Health article “5 Things You Should Know About Stress,”

Stress is how the brain and body respond to any demand. Any type of challenge… can be stressful.

Over time, continued strain on your body from stress may contribute to serious health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other illnesses, including mental disorders such as depression or anxiety.

Don’t let stress build up. Deal with problems as they come. Don’t let bills, mechanical problems, health issues, and relationship challenges pile up until you have so much on your plate you think your head will explode. Believe me, I understand that hiding under the covers feels simpler than dealing with the problems of life, but most of these problems will not go away on their own. Dealing with each problem as it arises will be easier than dealing with multiple problems that have each reached a crisis point.

For more suggestions on dealing with stress in your life (and the anxiety it often brings), see Mary Elizabeth Dean‘s article “How To Reduce Stress And Anxiety In 10 Steps” on the BetterHelp website.

Photo by Jared Rice on Unsplash

#3 Meditate. The Psychology Today article “Meditation and Mental Health” by Samoon Ahmad M.D. states,

There are physical benefits [of meditation] that appear to be backed up by clinical evidence. According to these studies, meditation can help individuals sleep better, cope with some symptoms associated with mental disorders like depression and anxiety, reduce some of the psychological difficulties associated with chronic pain, and even improve some cognitive and behavioral functions.

Want to reap the benefits of meditation, but you’re not sure where to begin? Read “Meditation 101: Techniques, Benefits, and a Beginner’s How-to” for explanations of different meditation techniques and instructions for a simple meditation for beginners.

#4 Live in the present. Whether or not you decide to meditate, you can practice living in the moment. The Just Mind article “Minimize Anxiety & Depression by Living in the Now” references author Eckhart Tolle and his idea

Photo by Deniz Altindas on Unsplash

that learning to exist in the now frees us from pain while connecting us to the infinite calm of our essential being. [Tolle] attributes human suffering — depression, anxiety, guilt, worry, fear, and more— to our tendency to live in our minds instead of in the present…

Luckily, there is an escape from the pain caused by the mind’s continual creation of and rumination on psychological time. If we embrace the present moment, we unchain ourselves from this suffering and are free to enjoy the peace of true existence — the joy of the now…

Tolle teaches that the easiest way to start living in the now is by noticing the sensations in our bodies and by paying attention the world around us as it unfolds…

#5 Be grateful and track your gratitude. According to the Positive Psychology article “The Neuroscience of Gratitude and How It Affects Anxiety & Grief” by Madhuleena Roy Chowdhury, BA,

[p]sychologists have defined gratitude as a positive emotional response that we perceive on giving or receiving a benefit from someone.

(Emmons & McCullough, 2004)

Another article on the Positive Psychology website (this one by Courtney E. Ackerman, MSc.) lists 28 benefits of gratitude including a strong positive impact on psychological well-being, self-esteem, and depression; enhanced optimism; improved sleep; and reduced blood pressure.

The Mental Health First Aid article “Being Grateful Can Improve Your Mental Health” by Rubina Kapil explains that

Research has also shown that “by consciously practicing gratitude, we can train the brain to attend selectively to positive emotions and thoughts, thus reducing anxiety and feelings of apprehension.” The simple act of reminding yourself of the positive things in your life can invoke feelings of thankfulness and optimism that make managing stress, depression or anxiety easier.

The article then lists several exercises for practicing gratitude including the following:

Try to appreciate everything.

Find gratitude in your challenges.

Keep a gratitude journal.

If you need some suggestions for starting or maintaining a gratitude journal, Courtney E. Ackerman’s article “Gratitude Journal: 67 Templates, Ideas, and Apps for Your Diary” offers lots of information and guidance.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

#6 Practice Positivity. The WebMD article “What Is Positive Thinking?” answers the question this way:

[p]ositive thinking, or an optimistic attitude, is the practice of focusing on the good in any given situation….

That doesn’t mean you ignore reality or make light of problems. It simply means you approach the good and the bad in life with the expectation that things will go well.

The article says positive thinking can lead to “better mood, better coping skills, [and] less depression.” More importantly, positive thinking is a skill that can be learned! Check out the article to find out how to nix the negative and put positivity in action.

#7 Laugh. In the Psych2Go website article “5 Mental Health Benefits of Laughter,” author María Emilia Guzmán explains that when we laugh, our bodies release hormones that enhance good feelings and balance moods, while working against hormones related to stress.

When we laugh, our bodies produces endorphins, which are considered to be the “happiness hormone”. We also release the hormones dopamine and serotonin, neurotransmitters that are in charge of our motivation and balance our mood.  All of these substances fight several mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety

…laughter also combats hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine. These hormones are released as a response to stress, increasing our heart rate and causing general discomfort.

If you’re feeling low, listen to a funny podcast, read a funny book or article, or watch a funny movie. If you’re laughing, you might just feel better soon.

Photo by Alec Favale on Unsplash

#8 Interact with animals. The HelpGuide article “The Mood-Boosting Power of Pets” says that studies have found the following benefits of spending time with animals:

Pet owners [sic] are less likely to suffer from depression than those without pets…

Playing with a dog or cat can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which calm and relax…

One of the reasons for these therapeutic effects is that pets fulfill the basic human need for touch…Stroking, hugging, or otherwise touching a loving animal can rapidly calm and soothe you when you’re stressed or anxious. The companionship of a pet can also ease loneliness, and most dogs are a great stimulus for healthy exercise, which can substantially boost your mood and ease depression.

If you don’t live with an animal friend full-time, consider pet sitting, volunteering at an animal rescue, or spending time with a friend or family member’s pet.

Photo by Tegan Mierle on Unsplash

#9 Maintain contacts with humans, too. In the Medical News Today article “What Are the Health Benefits of Being Social?” author Maria Cohut, Ph.D. quotes psychologist Susan Pinker who says,

[f]ace-to-face contact releases a whole cascade of neurotransmitters and, like a vaccine, they protect you now, in the present, and well into the future, so simply […] shaking hands, giving somebody a high-five is enough to release oxytocin, which increases your level of trust, and it lowers your cortisol levels, so it lowers your stress.

The article continues quoting Pinker who says that, as a result of social interaction

dopamine is [also] generated, which gives us a little high and it kills pain, it’s like a naturally produced morphine.

Photo by Balkan Campers on Unsplash

How’s a nomad to stay connected to other people? Attend gatherings like the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous and the ones listed by Vacay Vans for 2020. Read my blog post “How to Avoid Loneliness on the Road” to learn more about Meetup groups, the Wandering Individual Network (WIN), Loners on Wheels, and a dating site for RVers. Some groups, like RVing Women and Sisters on the Fly, allow gals to hit the road together. Other RV groups like Xscapers and Escapees accept people of all genders and relationship statuses.

#10 Volunteer. When you volunteer, you not only get to interact with other living beings. According to the Able To website, there are 6 more mental health benefits of volunteering. Some of those benefits include reducing stress by “tak[ing] our mind[s] off our worries and putting our attention on someone or something else,” combating depression by “keep[ing] the mind distracted from a destructive habit like negative thinking or being overly critical,” and making us happy because “feel good [sic] hormones and brain activity spike during volunteer activities.”

#11 Engage in a hobby. The CBHS Health Fund website offers the article “Here’s How Finding a Hobby Will Improve Your Mental Health.” Some information gleaned from the article:

Western Australian adults…who dedicated 100+ hours a year to their [hobbies] reported significantly better mental health than those with 0-99 hours dedicated…

658 young adults took part in a daily diary study, recording how much of their time was spent on creative exercises, and how often they felt positive moods (joy, alertness, interest) and negative moods (anger, fear, contempt, nervousness, anxiety)… More time spent with creative activity produced higher levels of positive affect.

Even if you live in a very small space, you could take up photography, writing, painting on small surfaces, knitting or crocheting with limited colors of yarn, making jewelry, or bird watching.

#12 Ask for help. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help if you need it. Talk to a trusted friend or family member. If you are in suicidal crisis or emotional distress, call the free, confidential 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. (You can also chat with a trained crisis worker if you go to the Lifeline’s website.)

Photo by Dustin Belt on Unsplash

If you don’t know how to do something related to life on the road, go to the Cheap RV Living forums, read old posts, ask questions, and seek advice. There are also lots of Facebook groups for vandwellers, RVers, and nomads, but with Facebook comes trolls. I don’t recommend Facebook for anyone in a fragile state of mind.

#13 Use technology to your advantage and try online therapy and mental health apps. According to Talkspace,

[o]nline therapy lets you connect with a licensed therapist from the privacy of your device — at a significantly lower cost than traditional, in-person therapy.

Because online therapy and mental health apps don’t require you to go into an office to see a therapist, you can connect to a counselor from anywhere you have internet access. Sounds like a perfect arrangement for nomads who may not stay in one place for long.

Photo by Rob Hampson on Unsplash

Interested in online therapy and/or mental health apps but have no idea where to begin? Verywell Mind offers a list (complete with in-depth reviews) of “The 9 Best Online Therapy Programs of 2020” compiled by Amy Morin, LCSW. The Psycom article “Top 25 Mental Health Apps: An Effective Alternative for When You Can’t Afford Therapy?” by Jessica Truschel highlights mental health apps available to smartphone uses dealing with issues ranging from addiction to anxiety, depression to eating disorders. There are apps to help with general mental health, as well those intended for specific issues. Many of the apps are free, but some do come at a monetary cost.

I hope among these thirteen additional suggestions you find some ways to improve and/or maintain your mental health. Not all of these suggestions will work for everyone, so plan for some trial and error while you try out different activities.

Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash

Please remember, Blaize Sun is not responsible for your health and well being. Only you are responsible for you. Please seek the help you need. If you need to speak to a mental health professional, someone at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) may be able to help you find resources in the area you are in.

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.

Sherman Peak Hike

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It wasn’t my finest hour.

I was lying face down in the middle of the trail, crying and whining.

I was not having fun. I did not want to go on.

The Man stood a few feet ahead of me on the trail and looked at me incredulously.

Do you want to quit? he asked, not unkindly. Do you want to go back to camp?

I know he would have accepted it if I had said yes to either or both questions.

I was miserable, but I was also determined or at least stubborn. I hauled myself to my feet and wiped the tears and snot from my face with the sleeve of my tie-dyed button-down shirt.

Let’s keep going, I said.

One of the giant sequoias with which visitors could get up close and personal .

The whole ordeal started with a camper.

The Man was the camp host a the tiny campground where we stayed that summer. I worked down the road at the store near the trailhead of a popular trail where visitors could get up close and personal with giant sequoias.

One day The Man was talking to one of his campers. The camper told him about the great hike he’d been on. The hike wasn’t very long, only a couple of miles, and the view at the end was amazing. The camper encouraged The Man to go on the hike.

The Man told me about the conversation wit the camper. He asked if I wanted to go on the hike with him on our next day off. I said sure.

Sunlight through the pine needles

I would not call myself a hiker. I like to see natural beauty, and sometimes I have to walk around to do that. I’m not big on elevation changes; I’d rather walk along a flat path. I’m not big on long distances either. Give me a mile loop to conquer, and I’m perfectly happy. A hike consisting of a mile in and mile back is in my comfort zone.

Somehow, I didn’t give much thought to a hike of a couple of miles probably being a four mile round trip. Certainly the camper was a better hiker than I was. Probably a four mile round trip hike was easy for him. It was not easy for me.

Life and death

According to the All Trails website, the Sherman Pass Trail to Sherman Peak (in the Sequoia National Forest) is

a 4.4 mile lightly trafficked out and back trail located near Kernville, California that offers the chance to see wildlife and is good for all skill levels.

One of the folks who left a review on their hike to Sherman Peak in June of 2019 recorded “an elevation gain of 994 feet.”

The SummitPost website’s page about Sherman Peak says,

Sherman Peak, elevation 9,909 feet, is on the eastern side of Sequoia National Forest on the edge of the Kern Plateau. It affords tremendous 360 degree views of the Great Western Divide, the Sierra Crest including Mt. Whitney, Langley, and Olancha, and a bird’s eye view of the Kern River Canyon and Little Kern River drainage.

A flower I encountered somewhere along the trail

I wasn’t in a good mood when we left the campground.

The Man and I were having relationship issues. I wasn’t sure if we would both be able to get our needs met. I felt like I was doing more than my share of the emotional work. I didn’t know how to solve our problems.

I wasn’t happy at work either. The yurt I worked in was always hot. One of my coworkers was difficult to get along with. The tourists seemed dumber than they had been in the past.

I would have preferred staying at our campsite and taking it easy that day. I would have enjoyed working on some blog posts, reading a book, taking a nap. However, The Man seemed to want to go on the hike, and I was pleased that he’d suggested an activity for us to do together, so I said yes.

We got a late start.

When I have an activity planned, I like to get started early. I prefer to start my summer hikes in the morning before the heat of the day sets in. I like to complete my physical activity early so I can spend the afternoon relaxing before cooking and eating dinner.

It was mid-morning before we boarded the minivan and embarked on our journey. The Man drove for a long time before we arrived. As one of the reviewers of the hike on All Trails said, this trail “is a long way from anywhere….”

Here’s the sign that lets visitors know they have reached the Sherman Pass Vista.

The Man parked the minivan in the paved parking area at the Sherman Pass Vista. The camper had told The Man this was the best place to leave the vehicle when going on the hike. After making use of the pit toilet in the parking area, we crossed the road and found the sign marking the beginning of the trail.

The hike started our easy. The trail was relatively flat, and we were making good time without overexerting ourselves. Jerico the dog was having a great time.

We soon found that no one had been maintaining the trail. In some places we had difficulty determining where the trail actually was. There were no markers, no cairns. I was afraid we were going to wander off the path, into the forest, and to our eventual deaths. The Man continued to boldly go. I continued to follow.

The trail got worse.

In several places, trees had fallen across the path. A couple of times I had to climb over fallen trees. The Man’s long legs allowed him to step right over the downed trees, but I had to climb on top of each lot, sit in the middle, then swing one leg and then the other over.

In one spot, I had to crawl under a dead tree lying across the path. I’d never before encountered such an obstacle in my limited hiking experience.

Somehow we ended up picking our way through a patch of large rocks. The Man had lost the trail and accidentally brought us through the rocky area. The rocks were all in a jumble, so there wasn’t really space to walk between them. We basically had to walk on top of the rocks or put our feet in the crevices between them. The rocks were jagged, so walking on top of them was not an easy option. I was worried I would slip from the top of a rock and twist an ankle or bust a knee.

When we finally made it out of the rock field and found the trail again, our uphill battle became steeper. We were definitely gaining in elevation now.

It was some time after this that I lay down in the middle of the trail and felt sorry for myself.

We were definitely going up in elevation now.

Another problem I was having on the hike was that The Man walks a lot faster than I do. He has longer legs. He used to be a runner , so his body has muscle memory of going fast. Also, he’s impatient. He crunches his cough drops before they can dissolve in his mouth, and he surges ahead whenever we’re on a hike together.

Even though he was carrying his guitar so he could play when we reached the summit, he kept leaving me in the dust that day. Before we began the hike, I’d imagined going on an easy walk together. Instead I was looking at the back of my partner’s head in the distance.

Granted, my mood had moved from bad to foul, and I wasn’t pleasant to be around. Hell, I didn’t even want to be with me, but I was stuck. I could understand why The Man wanted to walk ahead and be alone, but feeling abandoned only made my outlook worse.

More than once The Man stopped and waited for me to catch up. Several times he asked if I wanted to turn around and go back to the minivan and head back to the campground. Each time I wanted to quit, I ultimately decided to keep going. I was fully entrenched in the sunk cost fallacy which occurs, according to Behavioral Economics website, when people

continue a behavior or endeavor as a result of previously invested resources (time, money or effort) (Arkes & Blumer, 1985).

We’ve come so far, I thought. Surely we’re not far from the top.

I saw a lot of The Man’s back during our hike to Sherman Peak.

The trail took us higher and higher. The Man disappeared around a bend. I sat down again and cried some more.

I stood up and continued up the trail.

The camper had said the view from the peak was excellent. I hoped it would be worth all our struggles.

Another day, another tree

I came to a point where the trail forked. I could go left or right. The Man was nowhere in sight. Which way should I go?

I picked left more or less at random. I made the right decision. Next thing I knew, the trail had ended. I’d made it to the top! There was The Man and Jerico the dog.

I looked around. We were on the top of an enormous chunk of rock. There was little grass, a few evergreen trees, and some low bushes. One tree with branches low to the ground provided a bit of shade we utilized to get out of the sun.

I looked off into the distance. The view was nice…if a person had never been to Utah and seen the magnificent red rock formations.

To be fair, the view was nice in a California Sierra Nevada way. If I’d never seen that view, I might have been awestruck, but I’d seen what amounted to the same view several times in the prior three years. I’d seen basically that view from Dome Rock half a dozen times. I’d seen that view from Beetle Rock and Moro Rock in the Sequoia National Park. I couldn’t believe I’d just done a treacherous hike and the payoff was something that felt totally familiar.

This is the view I saw from Sherman Peak. The Man drove us up that road to get us to Sherman Pass Vista.

I’d thrown a few granola bars in my pack before we’d left camp. The Man and I sat in the little shade provided by the evergreen tree with low branches and each scarfed down a couple of granola bars and gulped from our water bottles. The Man took out the guitar he’d carried hundreds of feet up and played a bit, but he didn’t have much energy for jamming. We were both tired, hungry, thirsty, and we still had to walk back to the minivan.

The Man played a few tunes and Jerico rested before we headed back down the trail.

After we’d rested a bit, we looked around. There was a wooden shed up there as well as another little building and what I learned later was a radio transmitter. (I don’t know what it was transmitting or to whom.) The were a couple of large propane tanks up there too, but I don’t know if they were full or what the propane might be used for.

Once we were done poking around at the peak, we began our descent. At least our tired legs didn’t have to climb, although other little used muscles complained about going down. We managed to miss the rock patch this time. The worst was behind us.

At the peak we found a wooden shed, propane tanks, and radio transmitter.

Back on the road, we discussed going out of our way to the town with the gas station. We decided it would make more sense to go now while we were halfway there rather than having to go all the way there from our campground later in the week. We knew the fuel in the minivan wouldn’t last another week until we got our next days off and went into town.

If we go into town, I ventured, we could get a pizza.

The Man said he wouldn’t want to wait for dinner once we got back up the mountain. A pizza sounded really good, he said.

He waited in the minivan with Jerico while the air condition kept them cool. I went inside the pizza restaurant to place and pick up our order. The restaurant offered a vegetarian pizza with mushrooms and onions and green peppers and olives and broccoli. That sounded good to me.

I put ice from the soda dispenser in my water bottle and utilized the restroom (complete with a flush toilet and hot running water in the sink) while our pizza was prepared. When it was done, I triumphantly carried it out to the minivan. We devoured the whole thing while the minivan ran and pumped out cool, sweet air conditioned air. It was the best part of the day.

I struggled, but I made it to the top of Sherman Peak!

If I haven’t scared you off completely and you would like to hike the Sherman Pass Trail to Sherman Peak, you can find driving directions and lots of other information on the Summit Post webpage mentioned above.

What’s the worst hike you’re ever undertaken? Tell me about it in the comments section below.

The Man and I are doing fine these days, thanks for asking. In fact, we are doing better than ever.

I took the photos in this post. All were taken during the Sherman Peak hike, except for the one of the giant sequoia.

Cones

Standard

When I worked at the fuel center, we used safety cones whenever we needed to block a pump because it wasn’t working correctly or a fuel spill needed to be cleaned. Some of the cones were yellow with the word “caution” spelled out on the sides. The other cones were standard orange and had no words on them.

Whenever there was a fuel spill, the first thing I did was grab three cones and use them to block the area in front of the pump where the fuel was. This way, if I couldn’t clean the spill immediately, I could at least try to keep people from driving through the fuel and transferring it all over the concrete. 

Of course, our customers were an independent bunch. If some folks saw a pump blocked off but couldn’t see any problem, they’d simply move the cones so they could get to the pump. It’s true, I’d usually cleaned the fuel by that time, and the cones were there to keep people away while the cleaning solution dried, but I admit I got a wee bit pissy when customers moved those cones. Didn’t they know this was my fuel center? I was a fuel center professional. It was my job to decide when a pump was ready to be used again. Such a decision could not be left to mere amateurs.

Sometimes people wouldn’t even move the cones in front of a pump with a problem. If the cones were close to the pump, the customer could park on the side of them and stretch the hose to the opening of their fuel tank. I learned quickly to place cones about three feet from the problematic pump and use three of them to make an obvious barricade. A vehicle three feet from a pump was in the travel lane and in the way of other customers trying to get in or out of the fuel center. Most people were not going to risk the wrath of other customers by blocking them due to parking three feet from the pump.

I also learned quickly to put an “out of order” bag over the nozzle of any pump that was not working. While people often tried to ignore cones, I never saw anyone take an “out of order” bag off a nozzle and attempt to pump gas or diesel. Cones may not have been always taken seriously, but “out of order” bags were apparently gospel.

Sometimes a pump’s problem led to leaking fuel. In such a case, I had to shut the power off to the pump to stop the flow of fuel. Each fueling station had a pump on either side. Pumps 1 and 2 shared a fueling station, as did 3 and 4, 5 and 6, etc. Each pump had two nozzles; one provided gasoline, and the other provided diesel or flex fuel. The way the pumps were wired, it was impossible to cut the power to just one of them. If I shut off the power at the breaker box, the pumps on both sides of the fueling station were off.

At one point during my short fuel center career, pump 4 started leaking diesel. When I flipped the breaker to shut off power at pump 4, all four nozzles on pumps 3 and 4 stopped working. I took four “out of service” bags outside and placed them over all the nozzles on pumps 3 and 4. After the nozzles were bagged, I dragged over six cones and created blockades in front of both pumps.

Communicating the out-of-orderness of pumps 3 and 4 was for the convenience of the customers. No one wants to waste time pulling up to a pump, getting out of the vehicle, (and knowing my customers probably trying to shove a debit or credit card into a nonfunctioning machine) only to find the pump down. After discovering a pump was nonfunctional, the customer would have had to get back in the vehicle and drive to another pump and maybe have to wait in line. It was much more considerate to let people know right away which pumps were not working.

Pumps 3 and 4 were down for several days as we waited for a repair person to come out and fix the leaky diesel nozzle. After a couple of days, one of the cones in front of pump 3 was removed for use elsewhere in the fuel center. The two remaining cones had been pushed closer and closer to the pump. I should have recognized that the cones needed to be pulled away from the pump to make them more noticeable, but it was a busy afternoon, and the prominent display of safety cones was not at the forefront of my attention.

I saw the Jeep pull up next to pump 3, but I didn’t think much about it. Sometimes people parked next to closed pumps if they didn’t want fuel but wanted to buy cigarettes or a soda or snacks. Honestly, it was only way back in my mind that I remembered pump 3 was offline. The cones blocking the pump had faded into the fuel center scenery.

The woman who’d parked next to pump 3 approached the kiosk where I stood behind bulletproof glass. I hit the button on the intercom that allowed me to speak to the outside world.

Hi! How can I help you today? I greeted her.

I need $10 on pump 3, the woman answered.

I glanced over at my POS (point-of-sale) screen to check on the availability of pump 3. I’d gotten in the habit of checking the screen immediately after customers told me what pump they were on so I could insure there was no problem with the pump in question. I also checked to make sure no funds were already authorized on the pump. Of course, when I check on pump 3, the screen told me it and pump 4 were offline and unavailable.

I was momentarily confused since I’d mostly forgotten that pump 3 was not functioning. Why had this lady even chosen pump 3 if it was out of order? Were the “out of order” bags gone? Did cones no longer blocked off the pump?

I glanced over at pump 3. There was an “out of order” bag on each nozzle. Two tall yellow cones were in front of the pump, but pushed up close to it. The woman had parked her Jeep next to the cones which were between the vehicle and the pump.

Pump 3 is not working, I told the woman.

She looked at me blankly.

That’s why the cones are there, I told her. I was unable to keep the you are an idiot tone out of my voice.

The woman stared at me with a What am I going to do? look on her face.

You’ll have to go to another pump, I told her.

Maybe the woman didn’t notice the cones. As I said, they had been pushed over, so they were not directly in front of her vehicle as she drove up to the pump. However, they were definitely in front of the pump. They were yellow.  The word “caution” was printed on them. They were difficult to miss. Besides, if she didn’t see the cones, both fuel dispensing nozzles were marked “out of order.” How did she miss all the signs?

Classic Brown Vehicle Parked Beside Trees

When I drive into a gas station, I’m alert. I’m looking around to see what fueling stations are available, looking for other vehicles, cones, and bagged nozzles. If I end up at a pump with bagged nozzles, I notice before I get out of my truck and move to a different pump.

I believe these days this noticing of my surroundings is referred to as situational awareness. I am aware of my situation. My late father would have called this getting my head out of my ass.

Apparently many customers entered the fuel center where I worked with their heads firmly in their asses. I suppose they pulled in at any pump where there wasn’t an obstacle directly in their path and hoped for the best.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/two-red-and-white-traffic-cones-in-middle-on-road-1236723/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/broken-car-vehicle-vintage-2071/.