Some photos

September 1, 2022 Comments Off on Some photos

Double whammy

August 31, 2022 Comments Off on Double whammy

I had started Day 4 in Camp Nelson feeling kind of glum because the situation with the provender promised to be a bit on the harsh side. I had oatmeal on order for breakfast (blagh), peanut butter on English muffins for lunch (blaggh), and dried potatoes with tuna and part of an onion for dinner. It would be enough, but not a lot more than enough.

I left my magical camp around 7:00, and since the store didn’t open until 10:00 I resigned myself to thin rations for a couple of days. On the bright side it was an 8-mile descent to my turnoff, and then a brief 4-mile climb up to the campground on the Tule River.

Imagine my glee when, a mere mile down the highway, I saw a store, and better yet an open store, and wildly better even than that, a store annexed to a cafe! I parked, entered, and sadly saw that the cafe wasn’t open. I was nonetheless glad to be able to buy milk, jerky, and chocolate, and as the lady rang me up I commented on my disappointment at the status of the cafe.

“It opens in an hour but that’s probably too long for you to wait,” she said.

“Only an hour? No problem!”

And there, ninety minutes later, I was seated, staring down a massive plate of eggs, bacon, sausage, toast smothered in real butter, and a heaping side of pan-fried potatoes. This is what I love about bikepacking. One minute you’re wondering what the hell you’ve done, and the next minute you find out.

My legs were coming around too, so with that breakfast whammy out of the way all I had to do was coast downhill to the turnoff and I’d be at my destination well before noon.

That’s when the second whammy showed up, and not the good kind. The downhill coast was indeed amazing and effortless and fast, but the moment I turned right I had a nasty suspicion that the next four miles were going to be hideous. And they were. It was so steep, and my bike and pack so heavy, and my legs so weak, that it took an hour to reach the top, including three or four stops.

Yet the pinnacle was beyond anything I could have imagined. Searingly hot at the bottom of the climb, a mere 1,300 feet higher at just under 4,000 feet, the point where the road crossed the river ushered in one of the most lush, cool, and stunningly beautiful places I have ever seen, though I did have to leave the road and bushwhack a bit to find it.

Giant stones, giant trees, giant coolness, and most incredibly, giant silence of all things human wrapped my little campsite like a magical cocoon.

Sometimes in order to get the jam, you got to take the wham.



All systems not quite ready

August 30, 2022 Comments Off on All systems not quite ready

Everything went great until it didn’t. We started late, which was okay as we were only riding about 25 miles. It was already hot when we left, and in Kernville we stopped for groceries.

Riding out of the parking lot I spied a wallet in the middle of the road, picked it up and found it loaded with cash and credit cards. We rifled through it, found a business card, and I called the guy up. “Hey, Scott!” I said.

“Who’s this?”

“It’s Seth and I’ve got your wallet.”

“What?” he said. He obviously hadn’t missed it yet and was checking his pocket.

“It was lying in the road by the supermarket.”

“Oh crap!” he said. “I’ll be right there, thank you!”

You might think there would be some good bike karma after that but it was not to be. The heat, my loaded bike and loaded pack, my general weakness and old age quickly ground me down. Seven miles up the river we stopped for a snack of cold watermelon that Kristie had packed.

That revived me for another seven miles, after which we swung into McNally’s for fries, cheeseburgers, and milk shakes. My body went into toxic lard shock as we remounted to finish the last seven miles, the final two up a brutal climb to our wild camp by the waterfall.

I lay down, destroyed.

“It takes you five days to acclimate,” Kristie reminded me.

“What day are we on again?”

“This would be Day One.”

We stretched out our sleeping bags in the dirt and I fell deeply asleep. Kristie fell deeply awake but at least she had company as Orion’s Belt crossed the heavens until she nodded off around three.

Day Two arrived as crisply and fresh as my legs, which was great because we started having done only two of the steep twelve miles up to Parker Pass. “How are your legs?” she asked.

“Great! Yours?”


A mile later she asked again. “How are your legs?”

“Utter shit. Yours?”

“Great!” she said.

I don’t know how to say this gently, but it took me three hours to go ten miles. My day’s plan had been to ride as far as Ponderosa, but that would have only worked in conjunction with an airlift.

We stopped for the day at Holy Meadow and camped beneath a young sequoia that was only about six or seven hundred years old. It had already been there a couple of centuries by the time Columbus showed up. Who really belongs here, they or we?

The rest of Day Two involved me sitting and lying around a deserted campground. I like that.

On Day Three I knew what was in store: the day began with a 13-mile climb up to Ponderosa at 7,000 feet, followed by a long descent into Camp Nelson. My legs finally felt like legs and it took a mere 1:40 to go thirteen miles. The store at Ponderosa was closed so I sat on the stoop with an amiable dog and ate raisins.

The drop into Camp Nelson is a straight 10-mile descent, beautiful and isolated, the road occasionally cut by clear mountain streams. There is a general store in Camp Nelson so I bought tuna fish, an orange, and a red onion, and rode up past the campground to a trail that leads through an ancient grove of giant sequoias. I camped next to the pristine waters of the South Fork Middle Fork (not a typo) of the Tule River and slept beneath hoary, towering alders.

Day Four started with the most amazing surprise imaginable.



The retired cyclist, part 3: The struggle

August 26, 2022 Comments Off on The retired cyclist, part 3: The struggle

There’s no better way to describe the things than Jurassic. Giant, prehistoric, straight from the bloodline of the velociraptor, that’s what wild turkey tracks look like.

It’s the end of summer already and we have an early fall in the works, which, although I’m getting ahead of myself, looks forward to Thankstaking Day, that national guise of genocide, theft, and rapine wrapped up in praise to Dog for his beneficence. I doubt the turkeys are any more enamored of what they have to give up at gunpoint than the original Americans were.

This small flock of turkeys prowls the small wash behind the house and the neighboring hillsides, foraging at dawn and otherwise silent, invisible unless you cross their tracks. Magnificent, multi-hued, stunning birds surviving in a harsh landscape made harsher by dirt bikes, ATVs, chainsaws, bulldozers, and man-made wildfires that singe every living thing into smoldering ashes, this flock somehow survives, but how? They struggle mightily until death. That’s how. And it’s from the struggle that their magnificence is born.

Among the lies of retirement is the lie of rest, the lie that you can wrap things up relaxed, painlessly, doing what you want when you want, free and therefore happy. This Bud’s for you!

The wild turkeys and Don Quixote suggest otherwise. Generally regarded as the greatest novel ever written, especially if you are a white male, Cervantes’s madman and I have much in common. First, we’re both mad. Second, we’re both locked in perpetual struggle, seeing visions, fighting imaginary foes, risking what we have for nonexistent glory, recompensed for our efforts by the ridicule and ostracism of the sane, joined at the hip to a sane partner who, having given up on a cure, has made it her business to mitigate the beatings administered by windmills, cattle, and fuller’s hammers. They say you never know your friends until you’re down and out, and it’s true, with perhaps one qualifier, which is that you never really know your friends, which could be even more perfectly modified by putting the period after the word “know.”

So how did Don Quixote become the greatest white man’s novel ever written? How did Lord of the Rings become the greatest gay white man’s fantasy ever written? What do they encapsulate, separated by the misogyny of so many centuries?

Of course it’s the search. From Odysseus to Aeneas to Beowulf to Chaucer’s pilgrims to Don Quixote to Huck Finn to Oscar Wao, the motif has been the struggle of the search, the necessity of the quest. In fact, the struggle has four parts that I like to call the Four P’s: A path, a purpose, a partner, and a passion. Every great struggle, and every small one, shares these fundamental pieces of the human mosaic.

Most people have never set forth on a quest of any kind, let alone a mad one, though we evolved as nothing more than searchers, upright walkers with toughened feet and marvelously dexterous hands, a brain honed for cooperation, language, and tool-making as we perambulated the continents, ever seeking food, fire, clothing, shelter, love, progeny, and community. Instead, we have learned to shun the search, to relegate madness to a clinical manual that subdivides it into comprehensible, drug-and-therapy treatable misbehaviors, and above all to stay home. Outside is the Jurassic, the struggle, death.

What is the crux of the brainwashing? Stake your claim even though you’re no miner. Sink deep roots though you’re no tree. Gather moss though you’re no stone. Abandon the only thing you were made to do, which is to seek madly, I mean, to struggle.

But the sadness of retirement is the same sadness of its predecessor. The person who does not seek will never find. And the person who thinks they have found has never sought. Let the velour or leather arms of your recliner enfold you. Drink in the nectar of the TV, crane your stooped neck into the microverse of your phone where dopamine without struggle awaits in infinite supply. All it costs is your time, the one thing that their money can buy, but that yours cannot.

And when the literati who anointed Cervantes go to book heaven, do you know what tale they’ll find, what story of love, adventure, longing and loss they will find reigning supreme above them all?

“The Missing Piece.”



August 25, 2022 Comments Off on Unbearable

I’m not afraid of bears. Unless I see them. Then, I’m really afraid.

There is a healthy population of black bears around here, although many of them left after last year’s fire because it devastated their habitat. I’ve seen a few while riding my bike and once while walking, but they run like hell, which is good, because they are terrifying. I don’t care how scared they are of people, I’m scared-er of them.

Yesterday I was coming back from a bike ride, passing the Chico Flat campground. Chico Flat is always filled on the weekend, people hanging out at the river and camping. It has a massive dumpster. But today the area was completely empty except for one car. School has started and summer is over except for the last big Labor Day Alcohols Celebration.

As I passed the campground a voice said, “Hey!”

I looked but couldn’t see anyone because my view was blocked by the huge dumpster. Then the voice said, louder, “Want a beer?”

I was on my loaded touring bike and going slow, returning from a test ride for a little trip that I have planned, a trip up into Bear Everywhere Country. If I’d been unloaded and going faster I would never have heard him. I slowed, did a u-turn, and only saw a lone car. As I got around the dumpster I saw a man and his girlfriend set up underneath a giant tree. Chico Flat is hot.

I pushed my bike over. “Want some water first?” the woman asked.

“Sure,” I said. “I’ll pass on the beer, though.”

“Man, we had something happen last night,” the guy said. He was really shaken.


“We were in the tent and we heard somebody trying to get into our car, so I grabbed my flashlight and baseball bat and yelled ‘Hey!’ and the noise went away, then it started coming towards the tent and I figured they was going to rob us and I shined my flashlight and saw these two blue-brown eyes set about as far apart as my dog’s, at my eye level, and I yelled again and it dropped to all fours and ran off.”

“It was a bear,” the lady said. “He was coming to our tent looking for food. Look what he done to my car.”

“Did you have food in it?”

“Yeah, of course.”

The driver-side handle had been torn off. There were big bear prints on the hood, and claw marks all around the window, along with the dried white glaze of saliva. “He was hungry,” I said. “And he intended to get in.”

“So fucking glad we didn’t have any food in our tent,” the man said.

“Yeah,” I agreed. “That tent doesn’t look big enough for you two and a bear.”

The lady laughed a little but the guy was still very rattled. I don’t blame him. The only time I’m brave and fearless enough to make jokes about bears is when they are gone. Long, long gone.


The vulture’s eyes

August 8, 2022 Comments Off on The vulture’s eyes

I don’t think I almost died. But I think I could have died if a few key things weren’t in place.

  • If I hadn’t brought shoes
  • If I hadn’t been out walking, running, and riding in the heat
  • If I hadn’t known every step of the 18-mile route
  • If I hadn’t run out water there before

It began to dawn on me, still an hour to reach the front door, that I was in trouble. I’d sat down on a high ridge to shake some rocks out of my shoes. The house was visible, far down in the valley below, but there were a lot of steps between me and it, and almost all of those steps involved steep hills, mostly down but some up as well.

As I sat there a shadow passed over me, then another, then another. Pretty soon I had five vultures for company, taking turns flying so low that their giant red heads were less than ten feet away before tipping their vast wings, catching the updraft from the ridge, and making another big circle.

They are beautiful birds, but they are in the business of knowing when things are about to die, and they’re .watching you long before you even know they’re there. They’re watching your face, your steps, your stumbles, and most of all your stops. They may not be able to predict when you’re going to die, but they know when you’re in trouble.

And trouble is exactly what I was in.

I had three swallows left in my 28-oz. plastic bottle, which was the only thing I’d brought for a 7-hour hike with about 4,000 feet of climbing. I’d left at 6:10, shortly after being awakened by the cat, when it was still in the low 70’s. I’m hardy in the heat and figured that when I got to the turnaround at five miles I’d just skip back home; I left without breakfast.

I’d done it before, and I didn’t want a heavy bag so I hadn’t bothered bringing more water. Chocked in between the gaping gaps of stupid, though, it occurred to me to take shoes. I’ve been caught out before in the extreme heat barefoot, and once the ground gets a certain temperature you cannot walk anymore. “Probably won’t need them but just in case.”

I made good time to the turnaround and still hadn’t had a sip of water, so I took one. By then it was getting warm, but it was still early and I decided to push on to Rancheria Road, another three and a half miles farther up. “It’ll be cooler there, too,” I thought. The last time I’d done this walk, those last few miles had been blissful, covered in the cool canopy of big cedars and pines.

Much of what was happening to me, that is, stupid, happened almost exactly a year ago to a 45-year-old man named Josh, his wife Ellen, their 1-year old baby Miju, and their dog, Oski. The terrain was similar; they had started out in the Sierra National Forest farther north from me at the Hite Cove Trailhead. They had a shorter hike planned, eight miles, but like mine it was going to be a hot day hike followed by, no doubt, a nice lunch and a walker’s high. The trail was aptly named the Savage-Lundy trail, a few miles from the border of Yosemite.

Like me, Josh had done his hike before, and like me, he’d done it before a fire had burned through and taken away the cooling canopy. Like my hike, his was mostly on the southeast slope, where the heat is most intense and stays the longest. His hike would be taking place in the extreme heat of the day, as did mine.

The similarities sort of end there, because Josh and his entire family never made it back to their car. The heat killed them 1.6 miles before they regained the parking lot.

Although news reports said he was an experienced hiker, there was nothing to indicate that the experience was recent or that he was in particularly good shape. The photos show a smiling tech money guy in his mid-40’s with a paunch and the pasty complexion of a man used to lots of air conditioning. His wife was a rail thin yoga instructor but it was rail-frail, without musculature or any apparent outdoor fitness. It’s the kind of skinny that some women get by not eating, not the skinny of hard activity.

There is no doubt in my mind that each of them thought they were fit and in great shape. There’s also no doubt that they were both delusional beyond belief: Who takes a 1-year-old infant on an 8-mile summer hike where the temperatures are predicted to be in triple digits, no matter what your fitness level? And the post-mortem showed that Josh had mapped it all out on hiking software, so it’s not plausible that he hadn’t also checked the weather. You could be Reinhold Messner but that’s not going to help your baby child.

Unlike my day yesterday, where the ambient air temperature never got over 105, they died coming up the steepest part of the trail, the end, where it was 109. When it’s 109, you can be sure that the ground is at least 130, if not hotter. I put my shoes on somewhere around Mile 7 because the trail that had once been covered with leaf litter and loam had become a rocky painfest from the fire trucks churning up the ground during last year’s fire. Each time I stopped on the way down to empty my shoes, the soles had gotten hotter and hotter until, at the time I swapped stares with the vultures, the soles were almost too hot to touch. I’d grossly underestimated the heat and had simply gotten lucky.

Like me, Josh had woefully underestimated the heat and his family’s concomitant water needs. They died with an empty 85-ounce container, something that was supposed to supply two adults, an infant, and a dog on a six-hour hike. The general recommendation for triple-digit temperature hiking is a minimum of one liter per hour per person, more if there is strenuous climbing. Somehow I made the 7-hour slog with 28 ounces. Josh and his family, with less than 20 ounces apiece for three people and a dog over a gruelingly hot and somewhat hilly 6-hour trek, didn’t.

Unlike mine, Josh’s route had all the climbing at the end, when, with a baby, frail wife, and old dog, it would have been impossible in the heat unless you were totally hydrated and very, very fit. The final 3.8 miles packed in 2,108 feet of climbing as they tried to ascend from 1,785 to 3,893 feet at the parking lot. It’s not a severe climb but 554 feet of climbing per mile will get your full and undivided attention, and with an infant, two presumably exhausted and dehydrated adults, and a dog to look after, things got lethal. The fact that it took them almost four hours to do the first six miles, most of which were downhill, tells you that even when the going was easy, they were moving at a snail’s pace. Add the paunch, the pasty face, and the tech hubris, and it’s easy to conclude that they weren’t in shape for the conditions.

Which brings things back home: If I hadn’t been out in the heat these last few weeks at the urging of my girlfriend, running, hiking, and riding in triple digits, I might not have made it back, either. Heat stroke isn’t gradual. When your body overheats, you fall down and cannot move. There is no recovery from it without emergency aid. The consequences are immediate damage to brain, heart, and kidneys followed by death.

As his family was dying, Josh sent a text asking for help, but never called 911. Even in areas where there is no cell signal for your particular carrier, sometimes a 911 call will be picked up by a different carrier and relayed to the police. Hyperthermia, like hypothermia, is often accompanied by confusion as the brain’s cognitive facilities begin shutting down. This probably explains why Josh waited 13 minutes after trying to send the text before trying to make a phone call for help. Then he waited almost 20 minutes between his first call for help and the final frenzied calls sent at one-minute intervals prior to death.

It took him over 30 minutes to realize that they were all dying. Part of this was likely hubris. It’s really hard to accept that you’re dying because you were too dumb to bring an extra couple of water bottles. Another part of it may have been his realization that without cell service, it didn’t matter. And the final piece of the puzzle was likely the disorientation as his brain began shutting down. Still, there may have been something else at work: He may have never really realized until the very end that they were going to die. His text message indicates urgency but not desperation. 911 was never called. Somehow the thought that nature is going to kill you is a tough one to grasp, especially when, your whole life, things have always worked out. As one of the stories mentioned, he had “fallen in love” with Maricopa and “bought several houses.” Money and pride rarely play well together in survival scenarios.

This combination of pride, stupidity, and bad judgment is a familiar one. I’ve found myself in tough scrapes many times and after the fact have often wondered how in the world I managed to survive. A lot of it is luck, and some of it is simply experience, the experience of not dying the last time.

Last year, coming down this same trail, Kristie and I had run out of water. So stupid does strike twice. But that time it wasn’t as hot, we’d turned around at Mile 5 instead of Mile 9, and we’d brought a lot more water. Even so, I still remember taking the last swig out of that bottle and thinking, “Fuck, I wonder if I’m going to make it?”

By the time I got to the 9-mile mark yesterday, I still had a mostly full bottle of water. I knew it was going to be scorching but I wasn’t too worried. I also knew every step of the route and where to meter what I had left. I literally planned every single sip from that bottle so that when I got to the final hill, not even a half-mile from home, I had exactly one swallow left.

Knowing where you are, how much farther you have to go, and especially the difficulty of what lies ahead made the difference for me. For him, stuck at the bottom of a 1.6-mile climb, swimming in temperatures between 109 and 120 degrees with a dying infant, and not knowing what they were going to have to do to make it, ensured that they weren’t going to make it.

And I got lucky in another regard, too.

Since moving to the mountains I’ve been eating less and less while outdoors. There is an indisputable body of science confirming that for the most part you don’t need to eat and exercise. Your body has a relatively limitless store of fat that it can very efficiently use, in combination with training, to keep you going. The GU’s, gels, snacks, and snake-oil drinks are nothing more than a glucose shortcut around the way your body evolved to go for long distances without regular infusions of sugar. Early hominids didn’t walk for a hour, stop and pick a few gel packets off the tree, and continue on. They burned the fat they carried with them, and trust me, it was a lot less than what you’re carrying with you.

But this utilization of body fat as fuel, though efficient, is not fast, and it requires conditioning. The only thing I ate on my hike was two handfuls of raisins. Had I eaten anything else, I’d have needed to wash it down with water–and it was the water I had conserved that kept me from getting heatstroke. Another small piece in a puzzle made up of small pieces, was starting time. I was out walking at 6:10, a bit late for me, but it still saved me a solid two hours of walking in the heat. Josh and his family, at a lower elevation and going down even lower, and therefore hotter, didn’t get started until about 8:00. Would I have made it had I started two hours later? Or if the temperatures had been five degrees hotter? I don’t think I would have.

All of this is simply to say that the difference between an adventure and a tragedy is the ending. I had a pedestrian day yesterday. Walked a long way, got hot and thirsty, but got home fine. After drinking half a gallon of chocolate milk and an equal amount of water, then napping, I was able to hop on my bike and ride to the store. This morning I’m, well, taking it easy. Josh and his family are dead.

What I’m also saying is what Kristie has been saying for a long time. Forego the air conditioner. Forego the easy choices. Condition yourself for the heat, for the cold, and for the outside. You still may die tomorrow, but it isn’t likely to be because you couldn’t finish a day hike.


Fear of dirty

August 6, 2022 Comments Off on Fear of dirty

I am an especially unclean person. There is grime beneath my fingernails. My toenails are nasty. The filth on the soles of my feet is so deeply ground into the skin that it’s permanently there. The last time I had a shower with soap was … I can’t remember when. My hair has dirt and grit in it. Running a comb or brush through my locks is like a mineral expedition. Skin and scalp? They are oily beyond belief. Everything I touch is left with fingerprints clear enough for booking.

The clothes I wear are rarely washed after weeks of profuse sweating, hard labor, and hard exercise. When they do end up in the washer, they get washed on cold with no detergent, so there’s rarely an appreciable difference.

Being dirty has a lot of health benefits. It protects your hair and skin from the sun. The best sunscreen is the one we evolved with, oil. Grit has sun-block characteristics, too. Being dirty also means being cocooned in bacteria of every sort. This keeps my immune system functioning at its highest levels.

Most of all, though, being dirty is fun. It’s fun to have dirt behind your ears, on your palms, swaddled around your ankles. It’s fun to splash through mud and be soaking in sweat. The smell you develop when you are habitually sweaty and dirty is uniquely yours. You develop your own smell and it’s very distinct. I like that. Sometimes I’ll be sitting down and a strong whiff of me will waft up, and you know what? I like me. Your opinion? Not relevant.

When I do clean up it usually means a five minute shower in water, never soap, shampoo, conditioner, or other needless chemical disinfectants. In between the rare shower I’ll hop in the river and scrub some of the grime and dead skin off with river sand and fresh, cool water. It’s awesome how my skin stays oiled and slick like a sharpened axe blade.

Now, then. I recognize that most people don’t like being dirty. But what saddens me more than that is what I consider the real state of modern life, which is dirt-o-phobia. This is different from mysophobia, the clinical fear of dirtiness linked to obsessive-compulsive disorders such as handwashing.

Fear of dirt is basically the revulsion that almost everyone feels at being dirty, smelly, oily, grimy, or in contact with grit. I notice it when I ride my bike along the M99, winding along the Kern River and about fifteen established campgrounds in less than twenty miles. There are innumerable symptoms of fear-of-dirtiness. The most obvious one is tossing trash from your car so the filth will be outside.

The next most obvious one is neatly setting your massive garbage bags NEXT to the dumpster so that you won’t have to touch the dumpster lid. Of course this results in ravens tearing open the bags and strewing trash all over the road and, better yet, the campsite. Surrounding yourself with filth in order to stay clean …

But by far the nuttiest manifestation of fear-of-filth is the rooftop camper, a recent invention that has all of the benefits of a tent (and when I say “all” I mean “none”) at 10-100 times the price. The rooftop camper claims to do the one thing that the lowly camping tent cannot: It keeps you off the ground and away from the dirt. Now you might wonder why anyone who hates dirt would go camping, but you are clearly ignorant.

People do not go camping because they are okay with being dirty. People go camping so that they can sit somewhere different from where they usually sit. And what do people do when sitting? Hint: It involves the elbow and the alcohols.

When I was a kid and we went camping, the purpose was very different. My dad wanted to let us go run around outside so he could run around too, and only after lots of running around would he come back to the camp site, sit on a log or the ground, and get drunk. Mom hated dirt and camping so we didn’t do that as a family often. She was perfectly content to get drunk at home, where it was clean.

As I got older and camping became more complex, dad would take us to Colorado where we would hike up really awful, long trails, laden with huge packs, set up camp, and the next morning go climb some tall-ass, snow-covered peak. Then the next day we’d hike somewhere else and climb another one. The alcohols were carried in little flasks and drunk in small quantities by the menfolk after dinner, whereas the childrenfolk would sneak away and get stoned. After the drinking and smoking everyone collapsed in exhaustion. In a tent.

Every time we got back from one of those trips, we were filthy. There was dirt everywhere and on everything. It always rained, so the grime was baked in. The next year you’d unroll the tent and it still had the smell of dirt and filth from the year before. I would always gather the fabric up to my nose and inhale, deeply. Ah, dirt! Ah, humanity!

But back to the rooftop camper because it is the opposite of being filthy.

To put it simply, if you’re using one of these things, you are not camping. Same if you’re using a “changing tent.” Do you really think anyone is curious about your ugly half-naked self squeezing into a sausage skin? Most of the people who use those dumb things could run buck naked up and down the river for days and never get a single look, much less a kudo.

No, if you are using a changing tent, and especially a rooftop camper you are simply scared of the dirt.

The rooftop camper is so stupid that even the hucksters who shill for them can’t think of a reason to have one other than, “You are stupid.” Which is a good reason, when you think about it. Listen to this list of benefits taken off, the hack site that pimps for Amazon under the guise of being a credible cousin to Consumer Reports. Here is the total sum reasoning of why you should buy one of these things:

Rooftop tents are an increasingly popular choice for campers. Putting them up each night is quick and easy. You’re off the ground and out of the way of rain and mud, bugs, critters, and snakes.

Did you get that? You should buy one because they are increasingly popular. Wow! I’ll take four!

But if you’re a touch (but not much) more analytical, they are “quick and easy” to put up, and most crucially, you’re “off the ground.” The ground, we learn, is where rain comes from, and its evil sister mud. Bugs also live on the ground, as well as critters and snakes. It’s great to learn that rain is ground based, and when you are out in it the best thing to do is get off the ground.

It’s also helpful to learn that the bugs most anathema to campers, that is mosquitoes, noseeums, gnats, midges, and chupacabras, all live on the ground. Why do they seem to be in the air, equipped with those things that look like wings? I dunno.

Finally, of course, the ground is the home of critters and snakes. Although statistics on critter bites are hard to come by, snakebite statistics are a Google away. Five people die each year from them, almost as many as die from mass shootings. More frighteningly, of the 7-8,000 snakebites each year, 28% involve alcohol, presumably in the system of the bitee as opposed to the biter. I mean, if snakebites had alcohol in them, every trailer park in Texas would have its own rattlesnake den where you’d stop by for little snakebite on the way to work.

Anyway, the point of all this is that somehow the rooftop camper keeps you away from nature, which is crucial if you’re camping.

After this bit of logic, they then explain that yes, the rooftop camper can be put up in a few minutes, but, ah, they have to be permanently attached to the top of your car, they weigh a hundred pounds minimum, it takes two people to bolt them onto the roof, and it’s a quarter of an hour pack them up. Does that sound quick or easy? Maybe.

But when’s the last time you put up a fucking tent? If you can’t put up a tent in ten minutes, especially after having practiced in the living room, you are a functional moron and don’t legally belong more than five feet from the recliner in your living room. Putting up a tent means hammering in four stakes and threading two poles. That’s really more than you can handle? Who zips your pants up for you? Don’t answer that.

But taking the rooftop camper down isn’t quite as simple. Just like it’s harder to put the sperm back in the pipe than to get it out, it’s a lot harder to cram the 180-lb. Falcon Pro by RoofNest (financing available, cuz $5k), back into the hardshell carrying-condom permanently bolted atop your car.

Which brings us to my next point. Your car is now a traveling motel. And since gas is getting cheaper by the month, your new 180-lb. fold-out apartment building for six (comes with a 7.5-foot LADDER) sitting permanently atop your SUV is going to bring your already laughable gas mileage down to something comparable to a traditional junk hauler. And for folks who like their cars to be a statement, from now on your statement, whether driving to the bank, your job, your wedding, or your kid’s t-ball game, is going to be, “I take my apartment building with me wherever I go because I ain’t scared of no eviction notice/foreclosure auction.”

To get an idea of how ridiculous it is to have a pop-up motel room atop your car, and the inconvenience of having to watch every single low clearance for the rest of your life, think for a moment about what it takes to break down a tent. No, wait. You don’t have to think. I’m going to tell you. Yesterday I was pedaling by a campground and this raggedy-ass Andy, raggedy-ass Ann, and raggedy-ass kid were breaking camp. They had a tent and a 1980’s Chevy Luv that looked like it had a billion miles on it as a shuttle vehicle carrying motion-sensitive bombs. In the time it took me to pedal by, less than five seconds, raggedy-ass Andy yanked the whole fucking tent up, stakes and all, tent still filled with the portable meth lab, and threw the entire goddamn thing into the back of the pickup. They were all in the truck and backing out before I’d passed the campground.

Okay. We’ve settled that you look stupid. Your car looks stupid (redundant). You’ve paid $5,000 for something that you can get at Wal-Mart for $50. Surely there has to be a fantastic benefit we’re overlooking? Oh, yeah. As they say, “It’s off the ground.”

Now I’m pretty sensitive to marketing b.s., but this one really had me scratching my balls. “Off the ground?” What does that mean? Isn’t a tent off the ground? Isn’t that the whole point of a tent? So you don’t have to sleep ON THE FUCKING GROUND? Yah … just gets dumber.

You might think that it couldn’t get any dumber. You’d be wrong., despite its shameless fluffing for these limp non-camping items, actually delivers one negative to having a rooftop camper. Only one. Not two. One.

But before I tell you, let’s see if you can guess. No? Here’s a scenario that may help.

Tent scenario: It’s 2:00 AM. You’ve been lying awake, profoundly drunk since midnight. You are so uncomfortable that you wish a big wind would come and blow you off into the river. It’s hotter than fuck, minus the fuck. You hate camping. You hate the person who brought you here. You hate that sixth bottle of Fireball. If you had a gun you’d … wait … what’s that … oh, shit … you gotta go take a piss. You rip open the door, step on your partner’s face, and blindly stagger off into the bushes where you relieve yourself on someone’s dog. The dog awakes, bites your foot, you scream, and all hell breaks loose. You never go camping again.

Rooftop camper scenario: It’s 2:00 AM. Same situation as in the tent. Your bladder and/or bowels are about to make the bombing of the USS Arizona look like a kiddie fireworks display. You rip open the zipper, slip on the ladder, and fall 7.5 feet to your death. You never go camping again.

See? Same result, only with the rooftop camper you’re dead. Which is a big negative. is more circumspect. They say:

Expert Tip

The disadvantage of a rooftop tent comes when you need a comfort break in the middle of the night.

Talk about understatement. The disadvantage of a rooftop tent is that you have to hold your bladder and bowels until dawn after a night of drinking and chili dogs. Still think they’re worth it?

Well, they are. Because even though tents are technically off the ground, the rooftop camper is way off the ground and you can’t get as much dirt in it. It’s cleaner. Sure, you rupture your bladder every now and again, but that’s a small price to pay for no dirt. Of course there are one or two tiny drawbacks. The big one is that the rooftop tent, like all greenhouses, traps heat and becomes unbearably hot, especially if you are fat.

With a regular tent you simply stumble outside and lie in the dirt until the heatstroke wears off. But with a rooftop camper you are zipped up in your heat sink and the only relief is by having, you guessed it, a generator that will allow you to run air conditioning. I’m trying to think of what this all sounds like. Hardshell structure on wheels. Air conditioning. No rain, dirt, bugs, or critters.

Which is all anyone really wants anyway.

Hmmmm. Sounds to me like, well, being in a car. Which is exactly the point. Camping doesn’t mean driving somewhere, getting filthy, hiking, biking, climbing, swimming, playing, screwing in the woods and cleaning up once you get home. Camping means staying in your car, because for Americans there is no place like home like their car. It’s insular, it’s insulated, and it’s never more than a few hours, tops, from McDonald’s.

Which is all anyone really wants anyway.


Afraid of the dark

July 29, 2022 Comments Off on Afraid of the dark

Sleeping out on the little dirt patch behind the garage, now that the ants leave me alone, and now that I’ve removed all the rocks, well, it’s sublime. Black skies, cloudy skies, starry skies, and the lighting variations that come with each phase of the moon make for an endlessly interesting ceiling to stare at, though in fact the stare-time is short. I rarely lie in my catbed more than ten or fifteen minutes with the cool breeze in my hair before I’m deeply asleep.

I call it a catbed because sometimes Pepper will come out and join me. I’ll be very asleep and then hear this deep sniffing sound around my nose, and when my lids lift I’m looking into the biggest jet black inkpools on earth. The famous tiny slits set in amber that characterize cat’s eye during the day become massive and massively black pupils at night. It’s not hard to imagine the cat’s head being five or six times bigger, jaws wide open, and huge fangs poised to sink into your neck. It’s always a bit unsettling.

I suppose once upon a time it was really like that, and so deep in our gene bones we fear the dark.

Out on the catbed, the fear seems rational. The coyotes are constantly making a racket. What if one of them, or a pack, skulked up the hill to try their hand at some man flesh?

Once we found giant cat tracks just a few inches from where I now lay the catbed. What if a hungry cougar, tired of chasing deer, happened upon a lump of human rolled in a blanket burrito?

A neighbor sent us a video before last year’s fire of a neighborhood bear who routinely went through the trash. No amount of dog barking, yelling, or threatening could make him leave until he’d gotten what he wanted. What if Brer Bear decided that old man was more filling and less work than 400 pounds of juniper berries and garbage?

Reality, though.

Coyotes don’t hunt people. Cat attacks are extremely rare. Brown bears are afraid of humans.

So none of it disturbs my sleep, though I’ve considered the angle. What I can’t understand though are the people who live indoors, sleep indoors, do EVERYTHING indoors, and yet they have a dozen outside lights illuminating their palace or their shack.

Is it to deter thievery? I mean, there’s nothing in this part of Kern County worth stealing, and the local thieves are so drunk and high in the wee stealing hours that it’s all they can do to find the Fruity Pebbles, much less make off with Elmo’s vintage unrestored Airstream that doesn’t have any wheels on it.

Is it so that they don’t drunk-stumble in the driveway late at night? Can’t be … no one is ever outside, ever, day or night. Yesterday I saw a neighbor in a baby’s wading pool on his porch and count that as only the third time I have ever seen him. The first time he’d been standing in the middle of the road, half dressed, doing tequila shots. It was 10:00 a.m.

Some folks don’t use night lights, but most do. I think they’re afraid of the dark, which is a shame. The darkness amps up the night beauty by orders of magnitude, and it allows the full spectrum of natural light to come into play as the earth slowly rotates into the pre-dawn of the sun. And of course on truly black nights when the Milky Way is smeared across the sky, it’s even prettier without the dumb twinkling down below of some yahoo’s sodium beams shining on his trash cans.

This fear of the dark is inside, too, with lit-up microwaves and refrigerators, bedside night lights, phones, illuminated clocks, lights left on in the bathroom, and every other manner of light to chase away the dark. Who knew that cougars and bears were indoor threats as well as out? More realistically, when the leftover pizza or Sara Lee cheesecake calls, it’s an emergency. Ain’t got time for no turning lights on.

For all that, it’s still damned dark and damned quiet outside. No cars or sounds of anything at all except the one neighbor who uses her air conditioning at night. And when the dark gets pushed away in slight shades by the spinning earth as day begins to break, it makes the daylight more precious and more welcome.

Pepper didn’t roust me from the catbed this morning. I was awakened by the faintest of eastern glows and that’s all. He was waiting on the steps, I fed him, made some coffee, and sat on the porch, taking deep, lung-filling draughts of the silence and the dawn.

A few days before I’d made a bird bath out of an old kitty litter box, filling it with gravel and rocks and then topping it off with water. It had already rewarded me with the antics of bird hygiene, and now it was playing an equally lovely role as a still body of water catching the first sunrays of the morning in its reflection.

I snapped, quickly. The night had gone.

Who’s afraid of the dark? Not me.



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