Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Travel Resolutions for 2020

My top 13 personal 2020 travel resolutions - or, as someone coined - "travelutions" - include:

  1. Regular carV practice in Chez Prius before the big road trip to Alaska
  2. Road trip to Alaska
  3. Road trip with my mother
  4. Loose ends closure: New Mexico: A hike in the Bisti Wilderness
  5. Loose ends closure: Drive to the southern end of Highway 1 in Louisiana
  6. Indirectly related to travel: When I leave Tucson, I will have slashed my inventory of belongings to the point where I can carV in Chez Prius as I migrate on the way to whereversville
  7. A second trip to Nogales
  8. A trip to Yuma, forever riveted into my brain with The Devil's Highway
  9. A trip to San Luis Rio Colorado, MX, which is just south of Yuma
  10. A trip to Naco, Sonora, MX, which is south of Bisbee
  11. A trip to Agua Prieta, Sonora, MX, also south of Bisbee
  12. While still in Arizona, push out of my comfort zone by staying solo on public lands
  13. Push out of my comfort zone by hiking solo more often

Below are past travel resolutions, which continue to be relevant today. I've looked at more recent lists, but they generally repeat the content of previous years' lists. This is because the best resolutions are timeless best practices not only for travel, but for daily life.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Relocation: The Condiment Rite

Jars, Tsalaskuri, Caucasus Georgia. September 2011.

I know that I am looking toward my next relocation when condiments come to my mind.

About condiments in my refrigerator that I must consume before moving.

Ready for canning. Missouri. October 2010.

The quiet satisfaction of emptying a jar that I will not restock until I arrive at my future destination, wherever that may be.

Last night I consumed the last of my Miracle Whip Light. I use it seldom enough that I won't miss it in the next four months before I depart Tucson. But if I do miss it, I can venture onto the slippery slope of collecting mayonnaise (or mustard or hot sauce) packets from the deli counter of a local grocery store, running the risk of becoming one of the legions who cache clutches of packets in their drawers, refrigerator doors, on shelves and counters, glove compartments, purses ... because.

Jelly jar, El Paso, Texas. December 2016.

Next up: Pickle relish.    

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Stuff: Releasing More 2 in 2019

It was only last month that I wrote Stuff: Releasing More in 2019. Letting go continues.

The stick

Years ago, I received a walking stick from someone who'd whittled the bark off of it before presenting it to me. I have carried this stick with me for more than 10 years. My mother used the stick on some of our road trips. One of my descendants hiked with it in New Mexico. I transferred it from the trunk of my 1995 Camry to my Prius at the beginning of this year. But where there had been affection at the time I received the stick, in recent years, there have only been troubling thoughts  related to the giver. Each time I see it, touch it, move it from one spot to another in my car, the stick signifies darkness. It does not belong with me.

This morning, I pulled the stick from my car, walked it over to the dumpster, and leaned it softly against the dumpster's hard metallic wall. I felt pretty sure someone would claim it.

A couple of hours later, I saw the stick at its new home. The young woman who lives below me - she'd propped it just outside her door.

I smiled. She will know none of its history. For her, the stick will represent a goodness, and I am glad of it.

Happy anonymity

Installing Texas plates onto my car meant I had to let go of my glorious Land of Enchantment plate. A piece of art, that plate. Its turquoise sky, cheery sunshine lines, coral center within the Zia - displaying it on my car had been the unexpected realization of a wistful dream I had years back to be the owner of such a plate.

I could have kept the "Happy Town, USA" license frame that showcased my connection to Opelousas, Louisiana, but it obscured too much of the Texas plate.

Besides, in this time of too too much information about ourselves being siphoned into barrels owned by those who want to sell to us or to sell us, I welcome bland anonymity on my bland gray car with its bland, grayscale plates.

I've got the photos for remembering my colors.    

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Road Trip: Dash to Las Vegas, Nevada: Part 3: Hoover Dam

Hoover Dam, Nevada and Arizona. December 2019.

Thus far

Part 1: On the Way There is here.
Part 2: There is here.

I struggled between exploring Las Vegas a bit on Monday morning or stopping in Hoover Dam on the way back to Tucson. I didn't have time to do both.

I chose Hoover Dam.

Hoover Dam, Nevada and Arizona. December 2019.

Leaving Las Vegas

However, I also made the decision to move out of Las Vegas via its city streets instead of jumping on the highway. The idea was that I'd get a passing view of the city as I departed.

Although it exacted a time toll that I paid for on the last leg of my trip, I'm glad for this choice. As I left the strip and its environs, the streetscape of Las-Vegas-the-Star! transformed into the near-city and suburban streetscape of just about any desert city in the Southwest. The view right-sized Las Vegas for me, letting me see, in a sense, what a showgirl looks like when she's got a day off, sans costume and make-up, buying Q-tips and frozen chicken breasts at Walmart.

Boulder City

Charming. I want to return, twirl around in its cubbyholes for a few hours, while basing myself for a weekend at one of the Lake Mead Recreation Area campgrounds.

Entrance to Lake Mead Recreation Area from Boulder City, Nevada. December 2019.

I lost my way to Hoover Dam while in Boulder City, which one would think is almost impossible to do, but the sort of thing that happens to me regularly. Fortunately, a visitor center was at the precise intersection in the historic center of town where I paused, unsure about which way to turn. So I turned into that, and the docent inside helpfully pointed toward the very same intersection, at a smallish sign on one corner, that said "Hoover Dam." OK, then. So, while I'm here, "where is your restroom"? (Across the street, by the way, in a different building.)

Hoover Dam

On one end of the dam is Nevada and on the other end is Arizona. The Arizona side terminates in a dead end, but it offers tiers of parking lots, which overlook the dam and the river, which are all free.

Hoover Dam, Nevada and Arizona. December 2019.

There's a tour (or more) on and in and around the dam, but I didn't have time to do any of those.

Hoover Dam, Nevada and Arizona. December 2019.

But below is a driving tour over the dam, with impressive power concrete structures and towering power tower skeletons, and people, lots of people:

The loveliest view is the lapiz lazuli river that swings slowly between cinnamon-toast outcrops.

Hoover Dam, Nevada and Arizona. December 2019.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Road Trip: Dash to Las Vegas, Nevada: Part 1: On the Way There

Before landing in Tucson, I never had the desire to visit Las Vegas (Nevada, not New Mexico.)  But shortly after I arrived here, I kinda got hit in the head with the gobsmacking news that Las Vegas is not a far drive away. It got suddenly put on my list of places called "It'd-be-a-shame-not-to-check-out-if-I'm-so-close."

Then not long ago, it got pushed to the list called "I will go next month."

This is because one of my students, who lives in Vietnam, was coming to the US for a business trip, and then visiting a friend outside of LA, who had promised my student a look-see over in Vegas, and I allowed as how Las Vegas wasn't all that far from Tucson, and we sealed the deal: He and his friend would come to Vegas from LA, and I'd come to Vegas from Tucson.

I'll call my student "Sinh," which really is a Vietnamese name, because it seems fitting for the Las Vegas milieu.

 On my way to Las Vegas, I saw some stuff.

Sacaton Rest Area, I-10, Arizona. December 2019.

Sacaton Rest Area on I-10, between Tucson and Phoenix

I am fond of trees with smooth, muscular trunks, so I felt immediately attracted to a particularly handsome palo verde tree standing along the entry path to the restrooms.

Sacaton Rest Area, I-10, Arizona. December 2019.

I am not alone in my admiration, as evidenced by this blogger's 2015 post on the trees at the rest area.

Arizona remodeled the Sacaton Rest Area in 2018 and proudly released this grand re-opening video re: same:

The refurbished restrooms are nice, but I feel disappointed when accessible stalls fall short of the spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and perhaps even the letter of the law.

In the case of the Sacaton rest area, there seemed to be ample room within the stall for a person to enter and maneuver in a wheelchair. Unfortunately, the door latch on the inside was difficult for me to turn to lock or unlock, so anyone with mobility issues in their hands, wrists, or arms might have a hell of a time getting out of the stall. This may appear trivial to those without a disability, but if you can't lock or unlock your own toilet stall, then you are denied independence that other users take for granted.

As I wonder when on tiptoes for restroom mirrors hung inexplicably high, why don't installers (or Arizona Department of Transportation, who paid for and had administrative oversight of the completed work) think to invite someone with a wheelchair (and those with arthritic hands) to test out these spaces?

But moving on!

Hassayampa Rest Area, on Highways 60/93, between Surprise and Wickenburg, Arizona

My bladder and I next stopped at Arizona's Hassayampa Rest Area.

Hassayampa Rest Area, Hwy 60/93, Arizona. December 2019.

Since my return home, I've learned that the rest area is a sweet spot for birders. From this article's author:
There are many riparian corridors in Arizona, and many roadside rest areas, but this is the only roadside rest area in a riparian corridor where I would stop and expect to see Vermilion Flycatchers in the parking lot. The Hassayampa River riparian corridor is a migration route for birds crossing the desert that can be a good place for a quick stop along the highway. Some 230 species of birds have been recorded in the area.

What enchanted me was the idea of an "upside down river," in which much of stream's water flow is under the sand. This blog offers a still-photo tour along much of the Hassayampa River's length.

The lush ground cover at one side of the rest area's parking lot reminded me of Louisiana's lushness.

Hassayampa Rest Area, Hwy 60/93, Arizona. December 2019.

All so quickly, I was off again for Las Vegas.

Along Highway 93, I saw this:

And this:

Driving through a moonscape, it was, above.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Gifts For the [Fill in the Blank]: 2019

Dia de los Muertos ornaments, Mesilla, Las Cruces, New Mexico. November, 2012.

I've done some version of Gifts For ....  a few times:

Holiday bulb in leaves, St. Louis, Missouri. December 2007.

In 2015, I wrote my own list, and it still holds up well today. But let's see what other folks are suggesting this year:

There are more than a few pretty cool things on Thrifty Nomads' 25 Unique Gifts for the Travel Addict in Your life 2019

... 20 minutes later .... I've dipped in and out of a bunch of other lists and I didn't get excited.

Gutter sun, Oil Center, Lafayette, Louisiana. December 2013.

So I'm going to update the 2015 list I wrote for the frugal, minimalist travel-lovers in 2015.
  1. Write a letter with a pen and mail it to the recipient. Doesn't have to be lengthy or detailed. Might just be three sentences telling the recipient you were thinking about them, hope they are well, and that they have a wonderful year ahead.  
  2. Make a phone call. Express the same three sentiments as above: I was thinking about you, hope you're well, want to wish you a wonderful year ahead. 
  3. Cash. It fits everyone, is accepted everywhere (except Norway), and has no expiration date. Quantity unimportant. Five bucks- woohoo! There's a lot one can do with five bucks. 
  4. Whistle. For one, whistles are cool. They're small. They're useful for security (or at least a reassurance of security). They may or may not scare bears.
  5. Travel alarm. Sure, your recipient has a phone with an alarm clock app on it. But shit happens. The phone, for whatever reason is inaccessible or unusable. You inadvertently set the alarm volume to zero. (Not that I've ever done this. Not even three times.) You can get a perfectly serviceable, eminently packable travel alarm for less than 10 bucks. 
  6. Paracord lanyard. If you're crafty, you can make your own and distribute them as gifts. Otherwise, you can buy one. I like the idea of a paracord lanyard because of its utility, strength, and style. Search on "paracord lanyard" and you'll find lots of DIY instructions and also where to buy them readymade. 2019 update: I find a good lanyard is desirable for carrying my car's remote key fob, a whistle, and a flashlight when I'm camping or hiking. The trick is that the lanyard needs to have these qualities: adjustable length + sturdy carabiner or ring from which to suspend items. I don't care if it's made with paracord; in fact, I prefer something soft and non-chafing around my neck, and something strong, but not heavy.
  7. Drawstring bag (aka "sack bag"). I've come to appreciate my two cheap-ass drawstring bags, which I got free as promotional items from a booth at some event. They're lightweight, take up virtually no space in my car or apartment, and they attract no covetous interest by strangers. I use them on short hikes, at the grocery store as a plastic-bag substitute, and at dance venues, so I can take along a fan, bottle of water, and a few other items. 
  8. Small flashlight. Do some review searches for the best-quality small, budget flashlights. Sure, your recipient may have a camera with a flashlight app, but this assumes a charged phone when, where, and for how long she may need it. Besides, like whistles, little flashlights are cool.
  9. Duct tape. You can buy a travel-ready roll or you can create one for your recipient
  10. L-o-n-g clothesline. Cotton or nylon, whatever. Just the rope; no fancy-schmancy hooks or rigs. I say long (i.e. 20 feet) because it will still pack up compactly and offer maxium utility to the recipient: Camping, tying down trunk lid when transporting bulky stuff, hanging laundry in hotel rooms, etc. If necessary, the recipient can cut off a length as needed. I currently use my clothesline as a way to hang artwork on one wall in my apartment. The excess length is coiled neatly (kind of) in a corner. 
  11. 2019 update: Detailed state map for someone who has an interest in that state, or a good road atlas for the US, such as National Geographic or Rand McNally. I have a downsized national atlas that I bought at Walmart a few years ago. Next time around, I'll get a full-size atlas so I can see more details. Relying on Google or other internet maps doesn't offer a decent big-picture perspective for routing a trip, and the map applications also stubbornly resist trying out alternates to the routes they want to push on you. 
  12. 2019 update: Small electronic support gewgaws such as colorful (and long) charge cords or wall outlet converters for charge cords.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Road Trip: Livingston, Texas: Part 6: Second Night Boondocking

Being reborn as a Texan, feeling a new-home-base glow, I headed westward again. Knowing I will come back east only a few months from now.

I spent my second night at an I-10 rest area, again in Texas, this time at the one that lies between Comfort and Kerrville.

It confounds me that evidently I took nary a photo of the place.

I learned some new things about rest-area boondocking with this second go.

Yes, try to arrive earlier in the evening than I did, particularly on a Monday following Thanksgiving.

I rolled into the rest area around 5:30, I believe. Already there were RVs and vans in occupation for the night. Some trucks, too. I had very limited parking choices.

At this rest area, it is parallel parking only. When I first docked, I chose a spot that was parallel to the women's side of the restrooms. My slot was just behind a red zone, so there would be no vehicles directly in front of me, but there were slots in the spaces behind me. I quickly discovered that this meant I had regular and frequent headlights shining directly into the back of my vehicle.

I looked for a less-trafficked spot. In front of the accessible parking, there was a van, and immediately in front of that, a camper. And then that was the end of free spaces at the front of the car-parking line. I walked over to see how much space existed between the van and the accessible spot. .... Just enough. Just enough for me to scooch my Prius in there. Which I did.

Having learned my lesson from the first rest area car-sleeping, I pulled out my clothes for the next day and placed them in a red bag with my toiletry bag.

Although the temps dipped into the 30s that night, I felt cozy. I slept very well. If there were 18-wheeler truck sounds in the night, I must have quickly become inured to them.

Based on my two experiences sleeping at a rest area, I feel good about doing it in the future.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Road Trip: Livingston, Texas: Part 5: Reconnecting With Fellow Travelers

Lamp glow in Missouri. December 2006.

False sun in Jefferson City, Missouri. December 2006.

Before going any further in today's article, I invite you to read On the Way to El Paso: A Remarkable Thing, as it introduces you to "Travis" (and indirectly, "Lark"), who I met at a Motel 6 in Junction, Texas, one sunny morning back in 2016.

After I published my post about that day, I sent a link to Travis, and ever since then, we have remained in touch, mostly by email and the occasional phone call.

But all three of us were able to meet up at a Burger King in Houston when I passed through there on my way to Tucson in early 2019. Again, all of my belongings filled my car. A newer car

And now, almost a year later, we could meet again on my road trip to Livingston.  Grand!

Lark and Travis drove up to Livingston from Houston on a crisp Sunday morning to see what was what at Escapees RV campground and CARE Center

The two pulled into my dry-camp site and peered into Chez Prius while I led a rig tour of my bed, kitchen, toilet, and dining room.

The three of us sank into big, soft furniture in the CARE Center's living room. Lark and Travis listened, without the diversion of snacks or commercial interruptions, while I regaled them with telenovela plot lines from real life.

Eventually, we drove into town for lunch, settling in at Joe's Italian Grill after a bit of a look-around at the options. Savored the best garlic rolls I've had in years. Warm, buttery, garlicky, yeasty. Decent fettucine alfredo.

Lamplighter on Baratashvili Street, Tbilisi, Caucasus Georgia. May 2012.

On travel styles and the freedom of Motels 6

Like me, Travis and Lark are travelers. Not nomadic, as they maintain a home base in Houston, but frequent road trippers.

Watch a handful of or a hundred youtubes about #vanlife or #rvlife, you notice that "freedom" is a common theme.

Yeahhhhhhhh, well, "freedom" is a relative term.

Downtown El Paso, Texas. September 2016.

Van dwellers and RVers are most free if they possess all of these:
  1. A rig that is short enough to negotiate most roads into and out of desirable camping destinations; 
  2. A rig that performs well in most weather conditions, i.e. hot, cold, snow, rain, wind, and typical thunderstorms; 
  3. A rig that that can be self-contained for food storage, food prep, and toileting if one is stuck inside due to a day or more of inclement weather;
  4. Sufficient financial resources to support both boondocking and hook-up fees, at will;
  5. Sufficient financial resources to move from one location to the next, at will, irrespective of fuel cost to travel from one spot to the next; and
  6. Sufficient financial resources to execute Plans B and C when their rig is admitted to the hospital.

A lot of van- and RV-dwellers must rely on boondocking to make the lifestyle economically feasible, because campground fees (private or public) - and fuel, for the most frequent movers -  ratchet the cost of living to unsustainable levels. With boondocking, one's direct, overnight costs are "free," but there is a cost exacted in time taken to find new sites. There are limits to how long one can stay in a place; the durations are a function of how long the land manager allows boondockers to stay (generally up to two weeks only) and how long one's supplies and power last without having to drive from what may be a remote spot to a distant town.

So the "freedom" of boondockers is circumscribed.

When one considers the direct and indirect, and tangible and intangible costs of RV living, being a "moto6er" vies, in my opinion, for equal "freedom" status.

Delta Queen Hotel, Chattanooga, Tennessee. October 2013.

As moto6ers, Lark and Travis enjoy a similar level of freedom, albeit in different formats, as most RVers and van dwellers:
  1. While driving a fuel-economy car, Lark and Travis can road trip almost everywhere (or close to everywhere) in the country; 
  2. Private toilet and shower (with no worries about black water tanks or water storage or power for hot water);
  3. Electrical outlets to recharge one's devices;
  4. Most of the time: small fridge, microwave, access to coffee
  5. When they're ready to leave, they pack up their car and go - no battening down the hatches of a rig, hooking up a tow car, or even making the bed or cleaning the bathroom
  6. They can bring in their own food if they want, with various options for cooking same, either in or outside their room
  7. On-demand climate control
  8. They can leave stuff safely in the room while visiting more remote locations in their car for sightseeing, hiking, etc. 

Da Gabi Hotel, Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico. November 2010.

If a moto6er desires an economy of scale by moving from nightly rates, they can go to weekly or monthly rates - or opt for short-term rentals in an apartment or house as sole or co-housing inhabitants.

Bottom line: All "freedom" has limits; we can find freedom in a style that works for us.  Some find it in RVs, some in vans, some in cars, some in tents. Lark and Travis enjoy freedom as moto6ers.

Goha Hotel, Gonder, Ethiopia. January 2011.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Road Trip: Livingston, Texas: Part 4: A Christmas-y Evening in Livingston

Here I am, listening intently, in Livingston, Texas. November 2019.

I learned from Gina and Mandy, my new friends at Escapees RV Club's campground, that there was an excursion to town for Saturday night to visit two annual Christmas events in Livingston:
  1. Christmas Train Village
  2. Christmas lights at the park

Two Escapees volunteers would chauffeur a group of us in two Escapees Care Center vans. Free, y'all.

Christmas Train Village, Livingston, Texas. November 2019.

Christmas Train Village

I've seen a model train display or ten (here are here are two examples), and I didn't expect to witness anything extraordinary, but .. ... hoo wee .... this was one of the best - maybe the best - I've ever seen!

Below is a video of some of the little town's goings-on:

Sledders, gondoliers, skaters, carousels, several trains - so many moving parts. The time it must take to set this up - and to dismantle, pack, and store all of it - it's hard to fathom. The Polk County Heritage Society sponsors the village.  This is the 17th year of its annual appearance.

Christmas Train Village, Livingston, Texas. November 2019.

To really appreciate all of the miniature life activities going on, I'd estimate one would need a good hour to properly take it in.
Christmas Train Village, Livingston, Texas. November 2019.

Christmas Train Village, Livingston, Texas. November 2019.

Good Golly Miss Molly's is the shop that hosts the village. The downtown store is a mashup of antiques, vintage stuff, good smells, jewelry, teas, spices, accessories, etc. It is fun to poke through. I bought an inexpensive snap coin purse.

Good Golly Miss Molly's, Livingston, Texas. November 2019.

As riveting as the train village was, I eventually found a nice spot to sit, push off my shoes, and give my senses a rest:

Good Golly Miss Molly's, Livingston, Texas. November 2019.

Presently, our group decamped for the Christmas lights in the city park.

Join us while we go through the tunnel of lights:

Pretty, wasn't it?

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Road Trip: Livingston, Texas: Part 3: Escapees RV Club

Escapees RV headquarters, Livingston, Texas. November 2019.

I'm too new to comprehend all of the moving parts of Escapees RV Club (and its ancillary connections), so what I share below is merely a reflection of my first impressions and limited personal experiences thus far. 

What is the Escapees RV Club? 

The mission of the Escapees RV Club is to support an RV lifestyle "with everything you need to make it easier, more affordable, safer, and .... fun!"

Services that flow from the mission include:
  • "Largest private mail forwarding service in the country"
  • Job exchange
  • Discounts at selected campgrounds or services (think similarly to AAA or AARP)
  • Education, e.g. RV Boot Camps, webinars, and an "online RV university."
  • Multi-day "convergences" at campgrounds around the country, which include both educational workshops and social events
  • Special-interest groups within the larger club membership
  • Member-driven online forums 
  • Webinars

If I'm not an RVer, why am I a member of Escapees RV Club?

Although I'm not the traditional RVer, I am still a member of the tribe:
  1. I have a rig in which I sleep on a part-time basis - my car. My carV, so to speak. In fact, my car is always set up for sleeping and camping.
  2. I am nomadic. We nomads are diverse in how frequently and how far we migrate. Some of us move every few days, some every few weeks, some every few months. Some of us stick to a certain geographical region, some of us crawl all over the continent. Some of us boondock and some of us move from one full hook-up situation to the next. Some of us do both. On a migration continuum that runs from moving every couple of days to moving every year, I fall at the far right end of the spectrum.
  3. Like a full-time RVer, I practice minimalism in the quantity of stuff I own because of limited space and frequent moves, using only my car to carry all of my possessions from one temporary abode to the next.
I share some of the special administrative concerns that RV-based nomads do, such as permanent mailing addresses, mail forwarding services, portable health care, tax homes, voting, etc.

Mail goes on, even during a festival. Columbia, Missouri. September 2007.

Rainbow Campground in Livingston, Texas

The campground property is immense. There are three large gathering places on the grounds:
  • CARE Center, which has a dining room and a vast living room, with the latter including a number of cozy couches, large upholstered chairs, a library, a TV viewing area, a "church" area, and an arts-and-crafts section.  
  • Activity Building with adjacent swimming pool. The activity building has one large room and a stage, restrooms, and several small rooms for small-group activities.
  • Club House, which includes a kitchen, a game room, and a library. 

Every day offered me opportunities to socialize with fellow campground visitors by way of regular social hours, exercise "classes," card games, etc. Said socializing also happens organically by just walking around the campgrounds. I'd say that rig-peeking is a universal form of recreation for campers. At least that's been my experience in any campgrounds I've visited.

I took a pleasant walk up and down the campground lanes, which included a couple of wooded areas near a ravine.

Another thing I liked about the campground (in addition to its affordability), was that at no time did I feel "less than" for being a car camper amongst a flock of RVs. In fact, I felt completely at home and welcomed by everyone.  Of course, I also feel no reason to be bashful about my lil' rig, so if there had been any icky vibe in that regard, I would have put that squarely on the other person's shoulders and not let it sit on mine.

Teeny RV at Good Golly Miss Molly's, Livingston, Texas. November 2019.

Escapees Care Center

The C.A.R.E. Center is a separate legal entity from the Escapees RV Club, but its physical property abuts the Escapees Rainbow Park campground. If you didn't know any differently, you'd assume the CARE Center was part of the Escapees RV campground.

C.A.R.E. is an acronym for Continuing Assistance for Retired Escapees.

It is flipping cool.  So many reasons:
  1. It's a place for full-timers to live  - in their own rigs - after they must get off the road either permanently or temporarily. ... And they get to stay among their own tribe - fellow full-timers! 
  2. The CARE Center is not an isolated community where the only residents are assisted-living residents and their sometimes visitors - heck, no, CARE Center residents enjoy a daily influx of active full-timers coming and going in the dining room, volunteering at the CARE Center, and participating in activities that are at or near the CARE Center. 
  3. The monthly fee is affordable for many, many folks, and it not only offers the site space, but three meals a day, plus regular housekeeping-type assistance in their rigs.  
  4. Transportation to medical appointments + local recreational field trips.

One of my new friends, "Gina," is a CARE Center resident. A solo full-timer for decades, Gina's most recent rig is a Lazy Daze. Before she became a resident, she thoughtfully donated money at times and also volunteered at the CARE Center when she stayed at the campground.

Volunteering at the CARE Center is a win-win for everyone. Volunteers drive, clean off dining room tables, do some light bookkeeping, and I don't know what else. In exchange, the CARE Center residents, of course, reap the injection of new conversations from folks still on the road, and the volunteers get free rent AND meals at the CARE Center dining room.

One evening, Gina and I, and another new friend, "Mandy," (an active solo full-timer who also owns a Lazy Daze, and who was my next door neighbor at the campground) went on a group outing to town. A husband-and-wife duo of volunteers did the driving of the two vans; there were perhaps 15 of us who went. The couple had been staying (and volunteering) at the Livingston grounds for a month; they would leave Monday for another Escapees RV site in Alabama.

In addition to interactions with active full-timers, CARE Center residents also chat with townies and weekenders who come for the all-you-can-eat pancake breakfasts on Saturday mornings (for only 5 bucks) or the Big Breakfasts on Friday mornings, which include eggs and two meats and other stuff (for only 6 bucks).

I was mighty impressed with the CARE Center operations.



At some point, Escapees RV Club recognized that the membership skewed hard toward the silverhairs. This makes sense, of course, because you've got to have some bucks to be able to buy most RVs, plus the financial security to travel in them. And folks who've passed through various life milestones - advanced in their careers, paid off their college debts, raised the kids, set aside long-term savings, have more disposable income to play with - they're generally going to be older.

But Escapees RV Club wisely looked to its future by creating space for what they call Xscapers - a cohort they define as "working-age RVers."

This is a clever, clever definition because it skirts what might be an off-putting arbitrary age envelope, allowing generous overlap between Middle Youngs with children in the nest, Old Youngs, and Young Olds whose kids might be out of the nest, but the parents are still very much working.

Xscapers also plant the words "active" and "adventure" in its message, which perk the ears of the younger demographics.


Yeah, almost exclusively white. This lack of diversity needs just as much attention as the age homogeneity did before Escapees launched Xscapers.

I wonder if Escapees RV Club has ever reached out to clubs for strategic partnerships such as NAARVA  (National African American RVers Association).

As a nation, we've got to be energetic in our efforts to send inclusive messages to all Americans.

An organization's marketing materials - such as photos that include groups or individuals having fun - should reflect heterogeneity (actual or aspirational) in its membership.

And how about an organization avoid naming locations with such monikers as "plantation," as Escapees RV Club does for its Alabama campground? Isn't it time we put to rest kill the idea of plantations as a romantic representation of a bygone era of Southern charm and hospitality, and instead, consider how some current and prospective members see plantations as what they were: open-air prisons for enslaved women, men, and children?

Volunteer ethic

There is an ethos of volunteerism at the campground (and CARE Center) that surprised and pleased me.

Yes, there's a quid pro quo for folks who sign up for specific volunteer duties and tenures of same - in the form of free or discounted campground fees - but overall, there's a community vibe in the expectation that we all clean up after ourselves and help keep things nice for our neighbors and those who arrive after we leave, rather than a resort model, where there is an expectation of "somebody" who is going to take care of us and our environs.

I am tickled to be a member of the Escapees RV Club. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Road Trip: Livingston, Texas: Part 2: Becoming a Texan

Teeny RV at Good Golly Miss Molly's in Livingston, Texas. November 2019.

On home bases

A nomad needs a home base.

The usual custom, I think, is for a nomad to maintain their home base in the state where they lived when they began their new, portable life. This makes sense. There's already a history there for mail, banking, taxes, vehicle registration, driver's licenses, health insurance, vehicle insurance, etc.

Over time, though, as one's spiderweb gets stretched ever so more thinly from its center, there comes a point when a nomad stops spinning for a bit and contemplates where home base should be.

I arrived at that point this year.

My old home base was no longer tenable, for a variety of logistical reasons. Furthermore, it was no longer home even on a sentimental basis. I have beloveds there, but I can maintain those ties without being a member of that state.

So where to make my new home base?

This is where Escapees RV Club comes in.

Escapees RV Club

My home-base move actually began with a more modest need: A reliable, stable mailing address (and forwarding service) that I could use now and for years hence, as my old system was no longer viable.

Since I bought my Prius, I'd begun viewing many videos that offered tips for tricking one out for camping, which led to binging on car and van "tours," which led to general #vanlife sorts of video channels.

Most of these youtubers are full-timers in that they live out of their rigs. I am also a full-timer, but in a different, slower way.

 I encountered some videos on mailing address and forwarding services for full-timers.

Hands down, the mailing service most cited for nomads was Escapees RV Mail Service.

While checking out its mailing service, I saw other videos that talked about changing one's domicile, and I saw that Escapees RV was a good launchpad for that, too. And I had come to realize that, in addition to finding a new, permanent mailing address (and forwarding service), it was time for me to divorce my old home base and marry a new one.

Full-timers seem to gravitate to one of these three states as a domicile: Florida, Texas, and South Dakota. There are a number of reasons for narrowing their options to these three, but one of the common denominators is that Escapees RV has a presence in all three, specifically its mail forwarding service.

Once my head moved from simply finding a mail forwarding service to establishing a new domicile, it took very little time for me to execute on same.

I chose Texas as my new home because:
  1. Escapees RV Club is based in Texas, and Polk County (in which Livingston sits) is accustomed to working with Escapees RV Club members who make Texas their domicile
  2. I loved my time in El Paso (and also Big Bend National Park), so I have a good vibe with Texas, generally
  3. South Dakota - shudder! - too cold! 
  4. Florida - too far away from the places I lean toward
  5. Texas is so immense, there are ample numbers of communities for me to consider if I choose to put down sticks-and-bricks roots there when I'm finished nomadding
  6. Establishing a domicile in a new state is not just about some paperwork - it's also about establishing ties to communities in the new state - and I'm willing and able to do that with Texas.

I'll talk more about Escapees RV Club in Part 3.

Sutton County Rest Area design, 1-10 Exit 394, near Sonora, Texas. November 2019. Not my favorite design.

Becoming a Texan

I arrived in Livingston on Friday afternoon.

On Saturday morning, I had my car inspected at the Grease Monkey in Livingston. I was dazzled by the friendly staff, homemade muffins, and coffee that you could make to order, with flavored syrups! I arrived before it opened so I could learn as quickly as possible if there would be any issues that I needed to address if my car didn't pass.

My car passed!

On Monday morning, I arrived at the vehicle registration office before it opened, with requisite paperwork in hand, and ..... I left with two spankin' Texas plates and windshield sticker! In addition to registering my car with Texas, I also had my vehicle title transferred to Texas.

Gosh, I really smiled looking at the Texas plates in my hand. I never would have thought I'd become a Texan. This new rite of passage felt good. It felt right.

From the registration office, I drove to the driver's license office. There are some puzzling logistical issues with that office that are not very customer-friendly, but rather than dwell on that, I'll focus on the positives:
  1. The staff were amiable; 
  2. My paperwork was in order; 
  3. I surrendered my old state's driver's license; and
  4. I emerged with a new, Texas driver's license! 
Again, smiles. One in relief that I had all of the appropriate documentation. Two, my divorce from the other home base felt complete; there was closure. Finally, with this second ceremonial rite, I felt that my new status as a Texan had been sealed.

I may have skipped to my car.

Three nights in Chez Prius

I stayed at the Escapees RV Club campground for three nights.

I had a 'dry' site, meaning I had no electricity or water hookups. A restroom (with showers) was conveniently close by.

As with my rest area night in Part 1, I felt supremely cozy each night in my vehicular space.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Road Trip: Livingston, Texas: Part 1: First Night Boondocking

Texas-I-10 EB Pecos West Rest Area near Ft Stockton. November 2019.

I left Tucson early Thanksgiving morning, amidst dire weather warnings swirling about the nation. I'd kept my thumb on the forecasts for my route, and for the most part, it looked cloudy, yet dryish.

Although my drive began dry as I left Tucson, much of the first day was a tense slog through light and middlin' rain.

No matter. Such things are like painful labor and delivery - a bitch during the process, but the moment one arrives at one's destination, all is forgotten in the delight of a journey safely made.

The rest area

I stopped for the night at the Eastbound Pecos West Rest Area that is on I-10 between Balmorhea and Fort Stockton. The rest area opened in 2018. It is a serene space, well-lit at night, and - at least on Thanksgiving - with a caretaker-staff person on the premises all night.

Texas-I-10 EB Pecos West Rest Area near Ft Stockton. November 2019.

After a rainy, chilly day of driving, the warmth inside the rest area facility soothed my body and spirit.

Texas-I-10 EB Pecos West Rest Area near Ft Stockton. November 2019.

I saw a coyote walk leisurely across the parking lot!

My preliminary research on rest area boondocking had noted the value of stopping fairly early for the day, so as to ensure a good spot - or, indeed, any spot - for overnighting. Having learned this lesson on a road trip to Alaska many years ago, it made sense to me now. Also, I wanted plenty of light to arrange my en suite bedroom before it got dark.

In addition, an early stop rewarded me with time to walk the rest area's two short nature paths and witness a stunning sunset.

Texas-I-10 EB Pecos West Rest Area near Ft Stockton. November 2019.

Texas-I-10 EB Pecos West Rest Area near Ft Stockton. November 2019.

A metal artwork sculpture inside the building translated light from the setting sun in a fetching way.

Texas-I-10 EB Pecos West Rest Area near Ft Stockton. November 2019.

A muzak soundtrack in the building flowed through the internal space. If I remember correctly, I heard mostly Top 40 country songs, with maybe one Spanish-language song. Texans with Spanish-speaking heritages comprise almost 40% of the state's population. About a third of Texans speak Spanish at home. I'd like to see the state's music choices in rest areas reflect its residents more fully.

Chez Prius' first time at a rest area

Traditionally I have stayed at budget motels on road trips in which my goal is to get from Point A to Point B as quickly and efficiently as possible. For this trip, I decided in advance to overnight in Chez Prius at an interstate rest area for both of the two-day driving legs of my trip.

Because I'd be, essentially, in a parking lot, I had to go stealthier than I would at a campground. Also, because I had my en suite toilet with me, I wanted to be absolutely certain of my privacy when I used the toilet at night, in an environment with lots of tall lights and semi-regular foot traffic near my car throughout the night.

The day before I left, I visited a local thrift shop and bought three dark-colored pillow shams. I also bought two more adjustable-length bungee cords. (I already had two in use.)

With the four bungee cords, clothes pins, and fabric, I created a "room" with 3.5 soft walls. Two side walls, suspended from bungee cords with clothespins, completely obscured the two rear side windows. The front wall spanned the width of the car, hung from a bungee cord, just in front of the front driver and passenger seats. The half-wall hung from a bungee that stretched the width of the car, but at a diagonal - meaning that it was level, but one end was affixed to the left side door's ceiling-edge hand grip and the other end was affixed to the opposite side's seat belt crescent slot. The half wall protected the privacy of my bathroom and also of my upper body. Reflectix on the hatchback window and triangular far-rear windows provided sufficient protection for the rest of my reclining form.

Chez Prius at Texas-I-10 EB Pecos West Rest Area near Ft Stockton. November 2019.

My walls were comprised of:
  • Three pillow shams (for one side + part of front + half wall in back)
  • A length of black-cream fabric I'd bought in Antigua, Guatemala (for one side)
  • Bath towel (front)

The car's front cabin had no cover other than the sunshades for the windshield.

There are things I'll change to make the set-up more efficient in future, but I'm completely satisfied with the privacy my soft walls provided. Because I didn't have to pretend I wasn't sleeping there - it is perfectly legal to do so - I didn't have to be stealthy to the extent one must be to overnight in places where such activities are frowned upon.


My major lesson learned from this first night was: Pull out the clothes I'll wear the next day and place them in a convenient spot for when I arise in the morning. I wasted rather a lot of time in the pre-dawn darkness rifling through my packing cubes for fresh underwear, trousers, and a shirt.

Also, I like very much the two screen 'socks' I bought for side windows. Unless there's interior light, it's hard to see into the vehicle from the outside, and they let me roll down my windows as much as I want without letting any creepy crawlies in. I will buy two more of these screen socks so that I can put them on all four windows if I want.

Chez Prius at Texas-I-10 EB Pecos West Rest Area near Ft Stockton. November 2019.

A side note: As a small security maneuver, I backed my car into the parking space so I could wheel out of there a few moments faster than if I'd parked with my nose to the curb. I also chose to park closer to the rest area exit than to the building, not so much due to security but to reduce the amount of foot traffic by in-and-out travelers as they stopped for a toilet break.

Texas-I-10 EB Pecos West Rest Area near Ft Stockton. November 2019.

Overall experience: I was super comfortable in my movable motel, and I felt safe.

Texas-I-10 EB Pecos West Rest Area near Ft Stockton. November 2019.