Friday, January 27, 2012

The Road Trip



Road Trip

The USA is such a great country for a road trip.  Such spectacular scenery, and such a variety of scenery. And a great interstate highway system, so easy to drive and cover lots of ground without effort.  I guess all that enormous population and dynamic commerce makes it affordable, just be prepared for a whole lot of trucks moving all those goods around....  But really good drivers, both trucks and private cars; and lots more courteous and considerate than Aussie traffic, I must admit...  Even in the cities, I found enormous 40 acre parking lots to turn that rig around.  But of course that was a small rig compared to those enormous motorhomes with a car in tow, that American campers think they need....

The area I love the most is northern Arizona and New Mexico, and southern Utah and Colorado, but there’s lots more.  Spectacular rock formations everywhere, whether from erosion or from volcanic activity.  I’m really intrigued by the volcanic cinder cones and lava flows that you come across frequently.  The low rainfall means that the formations aren’t eroded, and no trees to cover it all up.....  It’s not just the famous and touristy Monument Valley and Grand Canyon, it’s everywhere and ever-changing as you roll over the next rise....  I guess I should be a truck driver there, cause I could drive those roads day after day.....

Americans were crying about fuel at $3.80/gal, “Oh, it’s going to ruin the economy, etc...”  But we’re already used to about $6/gal in Australia, and our economy is going pretty well....   We don’t drive the same enormous fuel hogs, but still get around to do all we need to do....  I didn't notice the Americans making any moves to use less fuel.   Anyhow, I don’t let it stop me going where I want to go, so just fill up and then cringe when the credit card statement comes in.....   I drove about 24,000 miles (40,000 km).  I didn’t keep track of the fuel cost, and don’t really want to know, but probably about $7000. But that’s for the trip of a lifetime, and really worth it.


But one thing that’s immediately confronting for an overseas visitor, is that you must pay for fuel before starting fill!  In Australia they trust us to fill up and then go in and pay.



Camping

I seldom went to RV parks (why should I pay to sleep in my own bed...), so I camped at many Walmart parking lots.  They stock everything  you could ever need, from groceries to hardware to camping goods to electronics to tires, so it's real convenient for shopping, which of course is just why Walmart encourages such camping.  The stores are so huge that you can get all the exercise you need just walking around the place,in air conditioned comfort.  You have to get used to lots of bright flood lights in the parking lots, and security patrols, but that makes it safe.  They open at 6am and many are open 24hrs, and no objection to using the restrooms.   Thank you Walmart for all that hospitality.....

There are enormous truck stops, now called 'Travel Centers', everywhere.  One night I counted 80 trucks in the one I was in, (all with engines idling for their aircon), and right across the highway another of equal size.  There's always lots of food around, and not only Maccas and Subways, but good restaurants as well.

I often camped on country airfields, and my favorite of course was camping alone in the desert.






No shower in the camper, but two bowls of water and two wash clothes, one soapy and one for rinse, does the job at the right price and only a quart of water.  But there is a technique to make it work well.  Start with only a cup of water in the soapy bowl and the rinse bowl full.  Always dip the  rinse cloth in the rinse bowl and then wring it out into the soapy bowl, so that the rinse water stays clean.  Finish with a vigorous rubdown with a rough towel, and feel really refreshed.  Of course there are showers at truck stops, called 'Travel Centers'  these days, but cost $10-12, sometimes have to wait a long time for your turn, and a strong chance of catching foot fungus from all those who've gone before.  I prefer to do it my way.  Laundry on the go was a 5 gallon pail with a tight lid.  Add clothes, detergent and water, clamp lid and secure the pail, then it gets shaken around while driving all day, rinse out and it’s done, once again at the right price, and no need to hang around laundromats.....  Ala, John Steinbeck, 'Travels with Charlie'......


I called this my 'doghouse'
Like a dog, all I need is some basic food and a dry bed.


With always a free bed, and all the low cost food available in the US, living costs were low.  A foot-long Subway for $5 is two light meals for me, just as healthy meals should be.  A little bit of meat and lots of fresh salad stuff, and low fat.  I ate so many Subs that I should have had shares in the company....  It's good to see the success of Subway and others offering light, healthy food, and now they're everywhere.  (It appears that a lot of both Aussies and Gringos would be healthier with smaller meals, but of course it’s hard when restaurants compete to serve up such large plates of luscious stuff.  Some even offer, “...all you can eat...”, now that’s a really gross concept....)  In sit-down restaurants the servings were so large that I could usually carry away a second meal in a doggy box.  Sometimes for a change, a salad at Taco Bell, or the deli section of a supermarket, and for special occasions BBQ ribs!  Always kept a good supply of Campbells ‘Chunky’ soups on hand.  More like a stew really, some meat and lots of vegetables, lots of varieties that mostly taste the same but good enough.  With some bread, that makes an easy meal for me any time.  Once again at the right price, and no need for refrigeration, and in hot weather don't even feel like heating it, just eat from the can.  I like to keep it simple.....  That diet kept me lean and fit and healthy.  And despite mixing with so many strangers with so many possible new viruses, I never caught even a cold, so my immune system must have been fed well enough.....



A typical dinner in the desert.
Not a fan of Fosters, but OK for a change....


 They say you should have variety in your diet, eh...
This was a potent brew!


The  cab of that truck became my office and living room for all those months, and worked pretty well that way.  Seats were comfortable, and already there so nothing more to carry around.  Installed several 12v outlets to power the GPS, laptop, wi-fi router, fan, and chargers for phone and iPad.  Started out with just the iPad on AT&T 3G, but later got a Verizon Jetpack for wi-fi.  Between the two carriers, I nearly always found a signal, but neither one had signal everywhere.



When the truck was parked I had no air conditioning, and it was mid-summer in some pretty hot places.  I put one of those reflective barriers inside the windshield, and draped shade cloth over the cab, so that it hung down the sides so that I could leave doors open on both sides for any cross draft.  That kept the sun off the metal and glass, so that the heat didn’t build up, and it was dark enough inside to see the computer screen.  That worked really well and made it liveable.  (I noticed that shade cloth isn’t used nearly as much in the US as it is in Australia.  In hot bare desert areas with no shade trees, a shade cloth ‘veranda’ all around the building keeps the soil and rocks from soaking up the heat and radiating it into the house, and makes a heck of a difference for comfort, and a shade cloth fence really breaks that annoying wind, whether hot or cold, into a gentle breeze.  It’s low cost, easy to rig, and lasts a long time, in both sun and wind.) 

For really hot days and nights I had a ‘Swampy’ evaporative cooler.  It’s a great device, small, portable, low current drain, and really effective.  I got the optional hoses with mine, and set the Swampy behind the seat and ran the hoses underneath the seat and up between my legs, blowing up into an extra large lightweight shirt that billowed out like a balloon and kept me in a bubble of cool air that exhausted through the arm holes and up my neck.  It was really cool!  At night I set the Swampy on the floor at the foot of my bed and fed the hoses under a lightweight sheet.  The sheet billowed up so that I was lying in a bubble of cool air.  And it’s a very gentle airflow, not annoying like the blast from a fan.  And current drain so low that a battery easily lasts all night.  Of course evaporative cooling works best in low humidity where I measured 20 degree drop in temp, but even in high humidity I measured 7 degrees drop, and that’s well worthwhile.  I highly recommend the Swampy for anyone living in a camper vehicle.  I value it enough that I packed that one home with me to Australia.

Seems to me that excessive air conditioning use has conditioned most folks to expect ice-box temps all the time, so they think they can't tolerate a bit of sweat.  If our fore bearers who settled this land could live without a/c then so can I......  I only have a small air conditioner at home in OZ, and then only turn it on when the room temperature gets over 30C (86F).  

I didn’t have a refrigerator and can’t be bothered with ice in a cooler, so sometimes had to drink warm beer.  Takes a bit of practice, but once you get used to it it’s OK.....  In Walmart parking lots it’s easy, cause there’s real big cans of Red Bud right handy in there; but don’t drink in the cab of the vehicle, even if you’re parked for the night, cause you can get done by the police for having an open alcoholic beverage, and in some places that’s a real serious offence!  If I was planning to camp in the desert, then at the last gas station I’d get a cold six-pack and wrap it up in my sleeping bag to keep it cold.  The way I’ve been going on you’d think that I drink a lot of beer....  Not so, but it sure is nice to have a cold one (or even a warm one), or two but no more, after a long day in the dry heat.....   No real pubs over there, but beer is sold in all gas stations and supermarkets, at less than $7 for a six-pack.

Early morning in Walmart parking lots you often see sleep-tousled characters shuffling (and sometimes rushing) to get to the restrooms.  There’s likely to be a que at those restrooms at the front of the store, but remember that most stores also have another restroom way at the back....  To cope for real emergencies I also carry one of those plastic bag toilets from Walmart or any camping store.  I don’t like disposing that way, and only used it a couple of times, but when you need it you really need it.....  Small airfields usually leave toilets unlocked, but not always....  For desert camping I just dig a hole and cover it well.... 

My really basic RV camping is so different from all those enormous, lumbering, motorhomes and fifth-wheelers, equipped with everything, that are everywhere on the US highways.  It must cost a heap to buy and equip and run those machines, just to drag around all that 'luxury'.  I've been able to afford to travel all over the world by learning to live simply and frugally, and love the freedom that lifestyle gives.  Keep it simple I reckon, and then it's easily affordable.....  
  
 Each to their own I guess, 
and they can't get to camping spots like this.....


My last camp site on this great road trip!
In the desert in NE New Mexico, with only a cinder cone for company.....













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