Tag Archives: paper map

Managing in the Mountains

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I love these mountains in Taos County, NM.

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

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

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

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

The article lists these symptoms of altitude sickness:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I took the photos in this post.

The Rubber Tramp Artist Rules of Van Life

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#1 Rule of Van Life: Always Know Where Your Keys Are

I’ve misplaced the keys to my van many times. Sometimes I have misplaced the keys by locking them in the van. No good. No good. (Read about a couple of those experiences here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2015/03/01/in-praise-of-roadside-assistance/ and here: http://www.rubbertrampartist.com/2016/03/30/good-samaritan/.)

My keys on a lanyard long enough to unlock the door without taking it off of my neck.

My keys on a lanyard long enough to unlock the door without taking it off of my neck.

Now my #1 rule of van life if to always know where my keys are. When I’m awake, I wear my keys on a long lanyard around my neck. It’s made from small, pretty blue and green glass beads. I bought it for $1 at a thrift store. I don’t have to take the lanyard from around my neck to unlock the doors, but when I do need to take it off, it lifts right over my head.

When I get out of the van, I make sure the keys are around my neck before I close the doors. It might seem as if I am patting my boobs or belly just for fun, but really, I’m making sure I have my keys. (The challenge is getting the keys immediately out of the ignition and hooked to my lanyard before my attention wanders and I exit the van without my keys.)

When I go to bed at night, my keys are within arm’s reach. If I have to drive the van in the middle of the night, I don’t have to fumble in the dark searching for them. Even when I sleep, I know where my keys are.

Rule #2 Don’t Knock Over the Pee Bucket (When It’s Holding Pee)

I’ve had a variety of pee buckets in my 4+ years as a van dweller. First there was a plastic one-

My current pee bucket with lid.

My current pee bucket with lid.

gallon ice cream tub with lid. Later I used a plastic one-quart, slightly oval shaped ice cream container with a tight-sealing cover. For a while I used a plastic storage container with a snap-on lid with a handle; that container was my favorite, but I lost the lid when I forgot to remove it from the van’s ladder (where it had been propped to air out) before I drove to work. I’m currently using a red coffee can with a snap-off cover.

I’ve knocked the pee bucket over before. While it wasn’t the worst elimination disaster I’ve ever had in the van, it wasn’t pleasant. It was so not pleasant. Now when there’s a container of urine in the van, I am very careful not to kick it or bump it or do anything to make it fall over. I certainly don’t want to drive while there’s pee in my bucket. Even with the cover on, the thing can still leak, and I do not want to deal with urine on the rug and on the floor and on the items on the floor.

Rule #3 Use Blind Spot Mirrors

The Your Mechanic website (https://www.yourmechanic.com/article/how-to-use-blind-spot-mirrors) says,

No matter how well you position your side view mirrors, there is going to be a blind spot on either side…there will always be areas that you cannot see. Blind spot mirrors are designed to alleviate this problem.

I swear by blind spot mirrors. I don’t know why all driver’s aren’t using them, whether on a van or a pickup truck or a sports car. They are inexpensive; a two pack usually cost under $10 at

Best Blind Spot Mirror - 4 Pack Blind Spot Mirror For SUV & Blind Spot Mirrors For Cars - Great For Motorcycles, Trucks, Snowmobiles As Well - Rust Resistant Aluminum Rear View Blind Spot Mirrors 4pcs
Amazon, auto supply stores, or any store with an automotive department. They are easy to install by peeling away paper backing covering the strong adhesive on the non-mirror side. Press the blind spot mirrors to a clean (cleanliness is crucial for proper sticking) side view mirror and get ready to see everything in your blind spot that you have been missing.

Rule #4: Do Your Routine Maintenance

Get your oil changed regularly. (The Your Mechanic website recommends every 5,000 to 10,000 miles). Check the air pressure in your tires and add air as needed. Check your fluid (oil, brake, transmission, coolant/antifreeze, power steering) levels and add accordingly. Take care of problems before they become disasters.

Rule #5: Carry Basic Automotive Supplies

I have a pair of jumper cables in my van. I believe everyone should carry jumper cables, especially if traveling to areas where it might take a long time/be impossible for roadside assistance to get to you. It’s usually fairly easy to find a helpful person to give your battery a jump start, but helpful people don’t always have jumper cables.

In addition to jumper cables, I have a jack and a tire iron. I also typically carry brake fluid, oil, and antifreeze/coolant.

Rule #6: Don’t Hit the Road Without a Paper Map

Sure, sure, GPS systems and map apps are great–if they work. I did a Google search on “did people really drive off cliff while following GPS” and came up with a whole list of GPS disaster stories. GPS systems really do lead people astray. img_7800

I’ve never used GPS, but I do tend to rely on Google Maps. I use Google Maps on my laptop to map out routes in unfamiliar cities, and I use it to decide how to get from a city (or nature area) to my next destination. Several times while traveling in California, Google Maps has directed me to roads that don’t exist or sent me well out of my way.

On a couple of occasions, I’ve been able to pull over and use the Google Maps app on my phone to recalibrate from my current location. But recently, after Google Maps sent me on a wild goose chase–out of my way–hour long–gas guzzling–circular excursion, I stopped at a gas station to figure out what I should do from there. Google Maps told me what to do, but I immediately realized it was all wrong. Highway 49 was not the same as Main Street, and the directions told me to go the same way from which I’d just come. So I pulled out my atlas and figured out where I was and where I wanted to be. Turns out a nearby highway was a straight shot from point A to point B. If I had looked at the paper map before I hit the road, I would have seen that Google Maps had sent me on a route that was never going to take me where I wanted to go

Rule #7: Stock Up on Essentials Before You Leave Civilization

Before I head out to a remote area, I make sure I have everything I need. Even if I can find a store in a small town selling the necessity I’ve forgotten, I’m going to pay more for it in a remote location. These are the essentials I make sure I have before I head out of Babylon: food, water, ice, propane, toilet paper, paper towels, soap, wet wipes, gasoline.

Rule #8: Tell Someone Where You Will Be

I have a trusted friend I text everyday if I have cell service. Before I hit the road, I tell her where I’m going. When I arrive, if I have cell service, I text her to let her know I am safe. If I change my plans, I alert her. If she doesn’t hear from me, she checks in. I know doing this won’t save me if someone decides to hurt me, but I feel more confident knowing someone will realize pretty quickly if I disappear and be able to direct a search party to a starting point.

Rule #9: Bungee Cords Are Your Friend

I’ve spent a lot of time picking up plastic drawers and tubs (and their contents) from the floor of the van. Rapid braking and sharp turns made my belongings tumble to the floor. Now I’ve got my stuff tied down with bungee cords. I buy the cheap ones, as they don’t really have to be super strong. They just have to be strong enough to keep my life from flying around as I drive.

Rule #10: Don’t Forget to Have Fun

Having fun is one of the reasons we’re doing this van living stuff, right? We get to travel and see amazing places. We get to explore because we’re not tied down, not spending a huge portion of our money on rent. So don’t get so uptight and worried about what might go wrong that you forget to have fun. In my experience, a bit of prior planning (maintaining the vehicle, strapping down with bungee cords, knowing where my keys are) allows me to relax, arrive safely at my destination, and have a good time while I’m there.

ol-betsy

I took the photos in this post, except for the one of the blind spot mirror, which is an Amazon link.

What are your rules of van life/life on the road? Feel free to share them in the comments section below.