Finding Myself

6/18/18    

It’s interesting where I find myself sometimes.  I mean, I’m consciously involved in deciding where I go and when, but there are so many moments when I look around and think how awesome/weird/random it is that I end up where I do.  Take, for instance, the weekend before last.  I attended a wedding ceremony of a queer couple whom I’d photographed back in April when they did their legal ceremony in SF.  Megan was there too, as were a number of people I hadn’t seen in many years and many more I’d never met before.  The cross-section of humans in their endlessly varying gender and fashion expressions was a delight and a marvel to behold.  The ceremony itself was moving, heartfelt and sincere.  The celebration afterwards was joyous.  I’d ended up spending the whole weekend on the farm where the ceremony was held and got to give a tour of my van to a few curious guests.  Beautiful sunsets were enjoyed, much food & drink consumed, and love was in the air. 

Then, I find myself packed inside the Great American Music Hall in SF, strobe lights flashing and fog machines billowing and amplifiers crushing eardrums as I photograph New York noise merchants A Place To Bury Strangers. 

A day or two later I find myself on top of a hill overlooking the Ukiah Valley, walking through a picturesque vineyard taking photographs as the sun slowly sinks below the opposing hills.  Silent but for the birdsong and the leaves of nearby oak trees rustling in the breeze. I wanted to stay there all night, but it wasn’t my vineyard and I didn’t have permission to stay.

Then a day or two after that, I’m in the van with Megan as we drive down the empty, curving roads of Siskyou County watching the Trinity River appear and disappear over and over again through the trees. This was her first overnight van trip with me and I wanted to show her all the beautiful places I’d driven through on my visit there last month.  We did a little hiking, a little river swimming (yep, it was cold), and a lot of driving. Quite a delightful little trip.

And a day or so after that, I’m in Santa Cruz loading my van full of Aurora’s belongings, since her school year just ended and she’s got to move out of her on-campus housing.  We take them all to my parents’ house to be stored for the summer while she travels to New York, then Cuba, then Mexico. My sister and her husband are visiting my parents, so the whole gang is there.  Her husband insists on washing my van for me (which is nice of him but a little strange), and I’m happy to let him do it.  I spend a little time doing some projects in the van myself, but don’t end up staying down there for long.

The next place I find myself is on a beach on the Sonoma Coast with Megan and two dear friends, Dan and Sherry.  My birthday is the next day and we’re doing a pre-game hike & impromptu photo session with the ocean and the ladies as subjects.  It’s a gorgeous day and we spend time walking together or wandering off on our own to think or look for stones or watch the waves roll in.  We meet up with Travis and Lauren later in downtown Guerneville and have a birthday dinner at the taco truck in the Safeway parking lot.  The food is amazing and we’re starving. 

_20A5618-Edit.jpg

We make our way back to Dan & Sherry’s house for cocktails and a little fire in the back yard where we tell stories of the past and make each other laugh as we always seem to do. The night closes with a smoke on the porch above the redwood-lined canyon and soft conversation.

My 46th birthday arrives slowly and softly, me raising my head to peer out the window at the morning fog, then rising to make breakfast and join Dan on the porch for coffee and more conversation.  Eventually Megan and I leave to take a walk near the Pomo Trail, just a mile or two from the coast.  We find a snake sunning itself on the road, find the large campground all closed up and abandoned, and walk through the trees and meadows in near solitude.  It feels good to breathe the coastal air and walk with each other.

We check into a sweet little Inn at the edge of Guerneville and spend some time lounging by the pool, lounging in our room, then spending a little more time with Dan & Sherry.  Birthday dinner at the taco truck again (because it’s THAT good), and an early bedtime.  Glad to be alive another year.

Terror in the Northwest - Pt. 1

6/6/18 Wednesday

One of the highlights of my year last year was attending the Northwest Terror Fest, a three-day gathering of underground metal bands, performing back to back sets at two adjacent clubs in the Capitol Hill District of Seattle. Not only did I get to photograph a ton of great bands, but I also met some only-on-the-internet friends in person and make some new ones, establishing a connection with the scene up there that continues on.  So now that I’m mobile-living, of course I wasn’t gonna pass up an opportunity to head back to Seattle for another NWTF and make larger trip of it as well. 

I spent the beginning of the week cramming in as much work as I could in order to leave town free and clear of responsibilities, which wasn’t easy but doable.  I was able to break away midday Wednesday and point my nose north, following the route I’d taken a couple months back when I went out with Marty O’Reilly and his band.  I grit my teeth and slogged over Hwy 20 to the I5, barreling (if I could use such a term) towards Shasta, then cutting off northeast at Weed and heading up the 97.  I was met by a major downpour on that first stretch of highway, forcing me to  reduce my speed and keep both hands on the wheel at all times.  I loved it.  The weather eventually cleared allowing me to enjoy the high desert forests and wide open plains, which, in those moments when the clouds parted to allow scant rays of the sun through, turned gorgeous hues of orange and red and blue.

 dinner spot

dinner spot

I stopped outside Chiloquin to make myself some dinner and was treated to an amazing view from my perch on the side of the mountain.  It’s a simple thing, but when I find a gorgeous spot to park and eat, it gives me great satisfaction.  Now properly nourished, I continued down the 97 for another couple hours til it started getting dark and I needed to find a place to stop for the night.  There were dirt roads leading off the highway every quarter mile or so, and it was time to play the game of slow down/crane your neck/peep the dirt road for camp-ability without causing an accident.  I rolled the dice and headed off one of these random dirt roads leading out into the state forest, which did end up providing me with a spot. The air was clear and crisp, the traffic lowly rumbling a short distance away and I decided to treat myself to a little stroll down the abandoned road to soak up the smells and stretch my legs after a long day in the van.

Morning greeted me with overcast skies and temps in the upper 30’s. Not what I was expecting, but the van was still cozy enough to where I didn’t need to fire up my heater.  I made breakfast and coffee and got my ass on the road, continuing up the 97 through Bend and into the Mount Hood National Forest again, which was much greener and lush than the last time I came through in April.  Took the winding roads down past the ski resort, then into the outer Portland bergs and past Portland proper, then back on the I5 the few more hours to Seattle.  I got into town a few hours before the show was supposed to start, so I searched out a pay lot near the venue and walked the neighborhood looking for a place to eat.  Went back to the spot that saved my ass many times during last year’s Fest, a little cantina called Bimbo’s where I was welcomed by awesome 80’s goth and industrial music on the PA and a couple delicious tacos on a plate.

 Ford

Ford

Eventually it was showtime, and arriving at the venue I realized the first band had already played and I missed them.  Felt kinda stupid.  Ran into my photobro Teddie Taylor, who’d undertaken her own substantial road trip out here from New Orleans, passing through a number of picturesque places and making some great photographs of her trip along the way.  I also ran into Josh Ford, an amazing veteran photographer I’d met in Las Vegas last year.  I’ve long admired his photography work, and he’s a delightful human being to boot.  Our little photographer gang ranged back and forth between the larger upstairs venue (Neumo’s) and the smaller basement venue (Barboza), shooting the first few songs of one band before heading to the other club to save a spot near the front of the stage and wait for the next band to start.  This went on for five or more hours, for three days straight.

 My hood

My hood

Fortunately, though, the shows were over by 10:30 (though a couple bands played “afterparties” at another club a few blocks away), which allowed me to get to bed at a somewhat reasonable hour. Last year I’d scoped out some spots to park and sleep in a pretty upscale neighborhood only 6 or 8 blocks from the club, so that’s where I headed again.  I quickly found the perfect spot on a tree-lined, dark and quiet street and settled in for the night.

I spent more than half the next day in a nearby café, working on photos from last night and catching up on a bit more work. As I sat at my little table, I watched people walk by and come in and out of the café, and realized how much I appreciate being in a city that still has a great collection of freaks and weirdos, (unlike San Francisco, sadly).  Elderly people with tattoos, punks and metalheads and artsy queerdos, people who are definitely living life on their own terms.  Refreshing.  I bailed from the café in the early afternoon back to my van still parked on the quiet and tree-lined street and relaxed for the afternoon.  I was feeling pretty spent and needed to nap and recharge the batteries for a bit.  Eventually I went back to town to get myself a substantial dinner that would keep me powered through the night. 

Back at the club I did a couple video band interviews, ran into a few other people I knew, then dove back into the subterranean caverns for another five-hour metal marathon.  There were a couple of highlights for me tonight, band-wise, including seeing Full Of Hell (YouTube them if you haven’t heard of them) and Primitive Man, who are the absolutely heaviest, loudest, darkest band you’ve ever heard.  They were loud even with my earplugs in.  There were a couple times I chuckled to myself that this band was almost too much.  Almost.  Unlike last night there were a few mosh pits upstairs, especially for Gatecreeper and Full of Hell, and of course for the night’s headliner Integrity.  Those guys are an old-school hardcore band, and though I’m not familiar with their music or background, it was clear that most everyone else in that room was.  At one point during their set, I turned to look at the seething mass of sweaty bodies and saw nothing but smiles on nearly every single person’s face.  Watching people get their release by throwing themselves violently against/over/on top of each other is pretty awesome. 

And yes, once again I ended up in my van, parked on a quiet, tree-lined street, getting ready for bed at the wonderfully middle-aged hour of 11:30 (which is an hour past my bedtime, btw).

 

 Seattle

Seattle

The Incessant Sound of Traffic

5/31/18

 A beautiful spot in Potter Valley, 40 yards away from the sound of traffic.

A beautiful spot in Potter Valley, 40 yards away from the sound of traffic.

Here's something I've noticed:  No matter where I go to stop and make dinner, sleep, or just settle in and hang out, I'm almost never out of earshot of the sound of cars.  Granted some places have very little traffic (Montgomery Woods), or less traffic but the sound of ventilation fans from nearby grow rooms (Redwood Valley), but otherwise I can't seem to get away from it.  I'm realizing I need to regularly spend time in places with no traffic noise or I think I'm gonna go a little crazy.

The past week or two hasn’t had an excessive amount of adventure in it, but I’ve been working on the van with my dad, (built new cabinets, installed a faucet with running water (!!), putting some finish on the interior…), spending a little time with Aurora before she heads off to her next adventure, working, and enjoying a bit of city life with Megan.  After one such SF visit, I drove all the way up to Ft. Bragg for a photo shoot, enjoying my first drive up the length of Hwy 128 for the first time in forever.  I have some poignant memories of that drive, which goes from Cloverdale up through Yorkville, Boonville, Philo and Navarro before connecting with Hwy 1 on the Mendocino Coast.  Memories from the time I still lived in the Bay Area but my life was taking big turns that eventually led me northward.  I’ll save the story of that particular time for later (or for that memoir I’m gonna write when I’m old), but some of my first memories of Mendocino County were made along that highway as well as the little towns of Albion and Mendocino.  The road and surrounding acreage is picture-perfect gorgeous, and never ceases to impress me even after all these years. 

After my photo shoot I headed down to Big River Beach to cook some dinner and take a walk along the river and out to the ocean to watch the sunset.  That, too, is a very special place, for many many reasons that stretch back over 23 years.  Lots of memories there. 

I decided to spend the night at Montgomery Woods again, and drove out Comptche/Ukiah road to my little spot in the redwoods, which waited for me like a faithful lover. I was pretty tired from the full day of driving, so I turned in early. Woke before dawn and took a walk along the road, taking in the rich aromas of the rainforest and appreciating the quiet solitude and the chance to enjoy the beauty of this place once again before heading eastward feeling good I’d gotten an early start to my day considering how much I had to do in town.  I was only 10 minutes from Ukiah, but lo and behold, I’d forgotten that Orr Springs Road was closed for construction.  A chunk of the road collapsed in a mudslide the winter before last, and the county is finally getting around to fixing it.  Slapping my forehead and cursing my bad memory, I turned around and headed back up the road.  I stopped at the Greenfield Ranch gate praying I remembered the gate code (I did), and cut through the ranch out to Redwood Valley and then down to Ukiah.  Took me an hour out of my way, but I got to see one of my favorite places in all the world and didn’t have to drive all the way back around through Boonville.

The following week I found myself back out in Fort Bragg again for another photo shoot, and after finishing up I drove out to Pudding Creek beach to park and have some dinner.  The sun was going down over the ocean and it shone through the trestle in such a sublime way, I had to get out my camera and make some photos. 

It began getting dark, and I drove around town looking for a place to park, eventually settling in a tiny corner of an industrial area on the north edge of town.  It was quiet enough that night, but I was awakened by garbage trucks tossing cans and revving engines just before 5 AM and never fell back to sleep.  Hashtag vanlife.

_20A1443-Edit.jpg

I spent a lot of time this week driving around the Ukiah valley making photos for Visit Ukiah, the city’s tourism board who’ve hired me to run their social media and create content for it.  It’s a pretty cool job, providing me with the opportunity to visit wineries, parks, lakes, rivers, campgrounds, restaurants, and tons of other places I might not otherwise go.  And especially now that the weather is getting warm, being outside taking photos is a delight.  I’m pretty fortunate to be able to do this for work.

_20A0363.jpg

The Stoke Chicken, Scars, and Rainbow Videos

5/20/18 Sunday

I’m sitting in my van, enjoying my morning cup of coffee and watching cars & trucks stacked high and wide with mountain bikes slowly queue past me.  I’m at California High School Mountain bike Championships in the East Petaluma Hills, which takes place on a sprawling 250-acre ranch owned by a generous family who’ve donated the ranch to the event so kids from all over the state can come and race.  I don’t know if this is actually true or just my admittedly limited observation, but the racers and their families seem to be overwhelmingly Caucasian and appear to rest pretty comfortably in the upper registers of the income scale.  I imagine bicycle racing in general is something that the moneyed class is more apt to participate in, considering quality mountain bikes (and road bikes for that matter) cost upwards of $2k or more, not to mention the other gear and vehicles to tote them around. Perhaps there are other parts of the state or country where mountain bike racing has more racial and socio-economic diversity.  I’d be interested to find out.

The reason I’m here at all is because I played my first gig since October with my good buddy Arann Harris last night, who I drummed for regularly for three or four years until he retired from the music biz two years ago.  Last night’s event was the cap-off of a long day of racing and it turned out to be super fun to play some music with the boys again.  Fast and loose… fast and loose.  I’d been nervous I’d play terribly due to many months of barely even touching a drum, but it was pretty much like I’d never left.  It’s a relief to know that ability won’t leave me, even if I ignore it. 

The last couple of days have been an interesting array of activities. Thursday afternoon I had a chance to hang with my son Mickey for the first time since he’d come home from surgery a few weeks back.  We enjoyed some burgers at Buster’s in Willits, then went to see the new Avengers movie at the charming (and kinda janky) Noyo Theater. When the kids were small, we’d periodically take them to see movies in the theater they were excited to see, and I would unfailingly fall asleep in the middle of it.  Every time.  No matter how hard I tried not to.  I felt pretty confident that wouldn’t happen again since this was supposed to be an action-packed, explosion-filled film, and not a kids cartoon kinda thing.  And goddammit if I didn’t fall asleep.  It was only for a minute or two, but it happened. 

When I dropped Mickey off at home, I asked to see his scars and make a few photos of them, and they’re looking great.  I’m super stoked for him, and he’s super stoked on his body for the first time in a long time.

On Friday I spent some time making photographs of food at Oco Time, the best sushi restaurant in Ukiah.  It was fun watching them make those delicious rolls and specialty plates, and they were all so gracious and kind to me. I made my way down the 101 to Bodega so I could meet up with my friends the Rainbow Girls to discuss collaborating on a music video.  As you might remember from my earlier post, they hosted Bodega Day and live on a gorgeous property of rolling hills lined with eucalyptus and aspen trees.  Their house is warm and homey, and I enjoyed spending a couple hours with them hashing out ideas and making plans, then just hanging out enjoying each other’s company. 

As the sun went down, we parted ways and I headed to the Shire to park and crash for the night.  Travis and his family had grandparents in town visiting so they were otherwise occupied, which was totally OK.  I snuggled into bed and watched a movie till I fell asleep.

Yesterday morning I woke early and fixed myself some breakfast, enjoying the bright and clear west county morning. Travis was also up early, and came out to say hi just as I was about to walk “the loop” through and around the property he lives on.  He decided to join, and we enjoyed a brisk tromp and the opportunity to catch up.  He went on to attend family stuff and retired to the van, parking my chair by the open van door and enjoying the morning as it warmed.  Around 10 or so I decided to head out to the coast, driving to Salmon Creek again and parking on the bluffs above the ocean.  It was super windy and a bit cold on the coast, so I opted to keep the van closed up.  Kinda disappointing, but that’s how it goes.  I spent the entire day on that bluff, alternately working on photos, writing, reading, and just staring out the window at the roiling sea below. Pretty great way to spend the day.    

And now I’m here at the end of the day, tired but feeling good, laying in my old bedroom of my parents’ house.  Gonna spend a day or two here working on the van again.  My day consisted of parking my butt in the middle of the race course and playing some rally music with Arann for the racers as they speed past.  I did this with him last year, and it was pretty fun.  We just sit there until racers come thundering into the turns and dips near us and we fire up the drums and guitar to provide them with as much encouragement as we can.  Arann dressed in a chicken costume too, which everyone appreciated. 

Adventures in the State of Jefferson

5/16/18

The last week has been a full one, thus the long span of time between posts.  More progress is being made on the interior of the van, which is deeply satisfying and makes it more like home every day.  I had a realization this past weekend while having breakfast with my parents, which I’m still pondering and feeling into the ramifications.  As I’d mentioned in an earlier post, I left the safety and stability of the Bay Area when I was 23 and moved onto Greenfield Ranch, living on a parcel that belonged to my now-ex-wife’s family.  No one had lived there for more than a decade, and other than the roof over our heads, we had no real amenities to speak of.  Over time, we were able (with the help of generous friends) to get ourselves hot running water, solar electricity, refrigeration, and a primitive cell phone that could only get reception when we drove up to the top of the hill.  Going from living in the modern suburban world where everything was taken for granted, I got to experience starting over.  Appreciating every single time we manifested an amenity that made life a little easier.  I also had to adapt to the slow, quiet pace of life on the hill after living a life of suburban hustle and bustle.  That’s a story unto itself, but let’s just say it took some serious adjustment and wasn’t always easy.

 Greenfield Ranch House

Greenfield Ranch House

Even though the circumstances are quite different, I’m undertaking the same sort of journey.  Leaving the support and comfort of an established home with its modern ease and jumping into something harder, weirder, and only happening because of my drive to make it so (and again, the gracious help of many friends).  Every time I get something done with the van, life gets a little bit easier.  And that makes me appreciate everything I have, way more than I did when I was living in a house. 

A buddy and I had planned a little excursion to Tahoe when the weather got nice, but due to some unforeseen work issues, he had to bow out.  I had the time blocked off, so I decided to take a trip on my own, not to Tahoe but northward into Humboldt, Trinity, Del Norte and Siskyu Counties.  I wanted to see places I’d never been before, plus I’d always been curious about and fascinated by the pockets all over California that contain tiny little forgotten towns, ones that had their heyday back when mining or timber or ranching was at peak production in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but are now languishing, or at the very best transforming themselves into something more appealing to 21st century interests. 

My first stop was Scotia, the town owned by the Pacific Lumber Company and at one time the largest employer in Humbodt County.  When I first moved to the northlands, the battle over Headwaters Forest was in full swing, and PalCo’s corporate owner Maxxam was the chief villain in the fight to save the last of the old growth redwood trees.  My then-wife and I attended the giant rally that took place in Stafford in the summer of ‘96, and driving up the freeway passing that spot brought back many memories.  I pulled off the freeway and wound my way slowly through town.  The giant lumber mills and warehouses are in a significant state of disrepair, and many of the facilities are falling apart due to disuse.  There are some bright and shiny track homes lining the main street, and the market, hotel, theater and civic buildings look relatively new and well taken care of.  I walked around and made some photos of some old buildings, but really wanted to wander the streets of the residential areas and take pictures of the houses.  I figured that sort of activity wouldn’t be appreciated, so I stuck to the public spaces. 

I kept north on the 101 through Eureka, then headed east on the 299 before jutting north on the 96 with a little town called Happy Camp as my first destination.  I ambled alongside the Trinity River through the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation and the town of Hoopa, which, from the outside, looks as though it’s managed to escape the desolation and poverty so many other reservations suffer from.  The land is beautiful and verdant, the houses modest and timeworn, but the school and community centers were spacious and new and full of activity. I did some research on the reservation when I got back to Ukiah and found that it’s definitely still experiencing the poverty that many reservations suffer under.  I also know that a cursory drive-through won’t even begin to give me a real understanding of the place, but from what I saw this reservation has a lot going for it that others don’t.   

I followed the 96 northeast through Weitchpec, Orleans and Somes Bar, where I found sporadic pockets of houses and settlements and an abundance of amazing scenery.  I took my time, enjoying the beauty and solitude (I went for long stretches of time without passing a single car), and scoping all the possible spots I could come back to if I wanted to spend the night.  I got to Happy Camp in the late afternoon, parked and took a walk around the old downtown.  The place was busy with people, but many of the buildings in old town were vacant and falling into disrepair, though the surrounding houses were in pretty good shape. Happy Camp has many characteristics of a small town in the middle of nowhere, but it feels like a town that’s happy being in the middle of nowhere, as opposed to some places that appear to be sickly and dying of neglect.  I could have stopped here for the day, but my urge to see more places pushed me on. 

 Happy Camp, CA

Happy Camp, CA

I drove through the Seiad Valley, still paralleling the Klamath River (as Hwy 96 does for most of its length) and looking for my cutoff to Scott River Road, which would take me off the highway and deeper into the wilderness.  One thing I began to notice after getting through the Seiad Valley was the prevalence of a yellow flag with two X’s on it that hung from scores of doorways, fences and shop fronts.  Later when I got back into cell range, I looked it up and found it to be the official flag of the State of Jefferson, the imaginary 51st state that hopes to break away from California and southern Oregon and become its own thing.  I read up on it when I got back to Ukiah and it’s an interesting story.

I found my intended turnoff and headed towards Scotts Bar, which was a lonely and winding one-lane road cut into a steep hillside that wound along the Scott River.  I get a surge of excitement (and a little bit of nervousness) when I veer off the known roadways into more isolated areas, and also find that my body relaxes and my senses open a bit more as well.  Since the sun was already behind the mountains, I figured it was time to find somewhere to park for the night.  Eventually I came across a “campground” that was really just a glorified pull-out with a couple of crude fire pits alongside a split log fence.  But it was flat and no one else was there, so I pulled in and shut the engine off.  I took a walk down the road, past a bridge that spanned the river and up a dirt road, feeling glad to stretch my legs a bit.  Came back to my van to make some dinner, enjoy the solitude, then turned in early.

 Campsite along the Scott River

Campsite along the Scott River

The next morning I was up early, getting myself fed and caffeinated before jumping into the van and heading up Scott River Road to join up with Hwy 3 running southwest through the cattle ranches and sprawling farms of Fort Jones and Greenview (where the snowy cap of Mount Shasta was visible in the distance), into the little town of Etna.  This spot warranted a stop and walk around, and had a strange energetic draw for me.  Not really sure why.  Did my ambulation and resolved to come back here again at some point to spend a little more time. 

Back in the van, I continued down the 3 heading towards Weaverville, where I planned to stop for a bit to do some laundry and have lunch.  This was a town that seemed a bit depressed and forgotten about, though being an interloper I’m in no real position to say.  Did my laundry and ate, then debated on my trajectory.  Part of me wanted to spend more time exploring the little towns, maybe heading back north again instead of west back towards the coast as I’d been planning to do.  Responsibilities back in Ukiah on Friday pulled me towards heading west though, and I made a slow mosey down the 3 towards the 36.  I was surprised at how many campgrounds were still closed in the middle of May, especially since the weather was amazingly gorgeous.  I stopped at one campground and parked the van at the top of the driveway before walking down to the Trinity River and jumping in for a quick (and cold) rinse-off. 

 Farms and Mount Shasta

Farms and Mount Shasta

 Etna, CA

Etna, CA

 Trinity River

Trinity River

Reinvigorated, I climbed back in the van and continued the drive, connecting with the 36 and veering west again towards the ocean.  I passed a ton of little teeny tiny towns that seem to stay alive due to the proximity of fishing and river rafting industries.  Oh, maybe people grow pot up there too.  As the sun fell, I wound through the redwoods past Carlotta and Hydesville into Scotia, where I connected with the 101 heading south.  I decided to pull off the freeway onto the Avenue of the Giants, hoping to find a secluded place to stop for the night.  I found the perfect place, so after parking and making myself some dinner, I took a walk up the road making pictures of the huge trees and enjoying the cool coastal breeze and quiet.  Around 9:30 or so, I was relaxing in my bed watching a movie when there was a loud pounding on my sliding door and a voice yelling “park ranger!”.  It scared the shit out of me.  I opened the door and was told by the awkward and nervous ranger that “camping” isn’t allowed alongside the road, so I had to move along.  This was my first ever rousting by the powers-that-be, and wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been. Just a few miles down the road just outside the town of Myers Flat I found a pull-out that was plenty suitable, so there I stayed.

 Avenue of the You-Can't-Sleep-Here

Avenue of the You-Can't-Sleep-Here

Even though I’d planned to get back to Ukiah, I found myself not wanting to do that at all.  I wanted to keep exploring, maybe head out towards Covelo and drive out to the Mendocino National Forest or something.  But responsibility beckoned, and I had to heed the call.  I took care of my tasks, then headed down to my parents’ place for the weekend to work on the van.  We had a pretty unproductive Saturday, but an exceedingly productive Sunday where we finished another cupboard, hung some bug nets over the sliding door, built some protection for the batteries, but failed at attempting to connect the propane to my new tabletop stove.  The weekend ended and I came back up to SF to spend some time with Megan.  She had some significant life stuff going on it felt good to be there for her.  We had a pretty enjoyable couple of days together, then back to Ukiah I came, which is where I find myself now.  Not a bad place to be, I suppose.

 Poison Oak shroud

Poison Oak shroud

 Sneaky little van

Sneaky little van

 Eel River

Eel River

Concerns, Upgrades, Ruminations & Plans

5/7/18 Monday

Privacy.  Something that many of us take for granted, living in homes with doors to lock and windows to curtain, resting easy that the people around us won’t be sticking their noses in our business.  I have a certain amount of privacy in the van, when the doors are shut and my curtains drawn across the cab.  But then I’m shut into a metal box, roughly 20 square feet with no windows except for the skylight and ceiling fan above.  I debated putting in a window near the back, but it was expensive and I feared it would compromise my stealthy profile when parked in populated areas.  I’ve given myself plenty of time to decide if having a view to the outside world is more important than looking anonymous, maybe waiting out the full turn of seasons to see how often I wish I had one.  Once you do it, there’s no going back.  But in the mean time, I find myself scouting for places to park where I can have my sliding door open (now that the weather is nicer) without anyone peering into my home.  I also, due to said nice weather, have to scout for places that are shady as well.  Level, shady, private.  The golden combination. 

This past week saw some major upgrades in the van, which have made things quite a bit more enjoyable.  Alex finally carved out some time to finish the electrical system, giving up an entire Sunday working outside in periodic rain showers and cold to provide me with continual and renewable electricity.  For this, I am eternally grateful.  After finishing that project, I jetted down to my parents’ house and installed my new refrigerator, which is providing me with fresh, cold food 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  Previously I’d used a fridge that plugged into the van’s electrical system, which would only work when the key was turned on.  Throwing away food became a regular and frustrating occurrence.  No longer!  I also have electric lights connected to switches on the wall, plus AC power to connect my computer and other gear as well as a ceiling fan that pulls air out when I’m cooking and pulls air in when the van gets stuffy.  Golden.

With spring in full swing and summer just around the corner, I’m looking to plot a few trips.  Maybe a few summer music festivals, and hopefully a jaunt northeast through Eastern Oregon Idaho, Montana, and maybe further.  In the mean time, I’m doing what I can to get away for little jaunts here and there.  Like last weekend, when I was able to spend a night parked on the Sonoma Coast before joining up with Megan for a day and night in Guerneville the next day. I drove out River Road to Jenner just as the sun was going down, scouting for a place to park that would give me a little bit of solitude and a nice view to wake up to.  I eventually parked just north of Jenner in a pull-out overlooking the ocean.  It was calm and beautiful and not too cold, and the sun setting behind the emerging curtains of fog was a delight to witness.

The next morning, I took a walk down to the beach below where harbor seals lounged on the shoreline and a lone photographer sat motionless on a stump staring out to sea.  I walked around snapping a few photos and was making my way back to the car when the photographer whistled at me and motioned to hurry over.  He said a whale had just surfaced less than 200 feet offshore and he was so excited he’d barely had the presence of mind to snap a photo.  Of course, the beautiful and elusive sea creature never showed itself again, so I said my goodbyes to the ocean and the apologetic photographer and made my way back to the van.

I drove into Guerneville to work at Coffee Bazaar, a place I’d spent many a day back in ’96 when I’d escaped from the Bay Area and was staying with friends in Rio Nido while looking for work and trying to figure out what to do with my life.  The café looks different now than I remember it, though I can't exactly remember what it looked like back then.  As I sat drinking my coffee, I reflected on that time in my life and all the monumental changes that occurred.  I’ll have to save the details for another time, but I’ve always thought of that time as the demarcation between my “old” life and the “new” one.  And I still kinda think of myself as living that “new” life, even though it’s been 22 years.

I met up with Megan midday, and we spent the day together just relaxing and enjoying each others company.  We checked into a hotel, and I have to say there’s nothing like staying in a clean and spacious room with a big soft bed, a bathroom with a large shower and a hot tub on the deck to put van living in perspective.  I love both, and appreciate fully the opportunity and fortune to do both.

 Cazadero

Cazadero

The evening brought an opportunity to spend time with some friends I haven’t seen in a very long time and wish I could see more frequently.  Dan and Sherry have been friends for almost 20 years, and we’ve shared many memorable times and spiritual journeys together.  The four of us spent Friday evening deep in drinks and conversation at a downtown Guerneville watering hole, catching up and talking shop (Dan is also a talented photographer and works for a well known photo gear company), then chowed down on tacos from a truck parked outside Safeway, where the guy who took my order periodically called out “Bobby my friend!!” throughout our brief stay outside his establishment.  Funny guy.  We eventually said our goodbyes and Megan and I finished off the night with a delightful hot tub soak before falling into bed exhausted but content.

The next day Megan and I decided to take a walk in Armstrong Woods before we had to part ways, which sounded like a wonderfully relaxing way to spend the morning.  As we drove down the road that led to the woods, we found it lined with car after car after car, stretching more than a quarter mile from the entrance.  Apparently there was a trail race going on, and the place was packed with people.  We managed to have a nice walk anyway, but the sound of cheering and dodging the sweaty, huffing runners on the trail definitely altered the meditative silence that one usually enjoys in the redwood forests.  

We parted ways and I headed to Rich’s house so we could put some more time into the van.  We put the finished ceiling panels up and mounted one of the cabinets my dad and I made.  This means my clothing no longer needs to be stuffed into a crate and can be organized and put away (!!).  I love when things get organized.

 better than TV

better than TV

I ventured over to west county where Travis and Lauren were hosting Taco Night with none other than Dan and Sherry attending (yay!).  The delicious food abounded and the raucous laughs were plenty, and I had many moments of appreciation for the opportunity to spend time with these people that I love so much.  We met as wild youths and now find ourselves definitively middle-aged, though none of us really feel middle aged.  The drinks flowed as night fell, and Dan busted out his camera and tripod so we could run ourselves silly doing long-exposure light painting in the front yard.  We were goofy, boisterous and sometimes quite immature in our light-painting subject matter, and in our exuberant reverence, the fact that we’re all middle aged was just about the furthest thing from our minds.

 

 Travis

Travis

 The Shire

The Shire

A Week on the Road - Pt. 2

Wednesday 4/11/18

Woke at dawn to the rumblings of diesel engines and the sound of the docks opening for business.  Did my morning routine then walked a few blocks to a café where I spent a couple hours going through photos from the night before and waiting for the crew to wake up. I eventually met up with them and listened to mumbled stories of heavy champagne consumption and conga lines on the roof until the wee hours, so I knew everyone was getting off to a slow start.  We headed out to have breakfast (lunch for me) with the band’s manager for a planning meeting, then got on the road to Portland.  The sunshine and warmth of yesterday unsurprisingly mutated back into the rain and cold we come to expect from the Pacific Northwest, so cautiously we drove southward. 

 

Arrived at Mississippi Studios in a downpour and the band unloaded and soundchecked.  I got to have dinner with my dear friend Jeanette and do some catching up, then met up with the band again to do some video interviews and film some backstage footage (I’m planning to create a little mini-doc of my time on tour with them).  Their show tonight topped last night’s show for sure, and last night’s show was pretty fucking good.  With a house full of exuberant fans and more than a month of playing every night under their belts, they brought the musical magic once again. 

After the show we headed across town to their friend Austin’s house, where I was graciously allowed a parking spot on their flat driveway right next to the house.  Sleep came late, but that was all right by me.

 

Thursday 4/12/18

Again I found myself awake a couple of hours before everyone else, so I took a walk around the neighborhood then spent some time going through photos from the night before.  People slowly rose and plans were hatched by Matt the drummer and Natasha the tour manager to head to Revival Drum Shop, one of the most amazing percussion storehouses and retail outlets in the world.  First we stopped at a food truck hub and had the most amazing Oaxacan food, then scooted across town to the shop.  Spent almost an hour there, Matt getting a few things fixed on his kit, but mostly just playing the drums and looking at the artifacts and rare kits and feeling overwhelmed by the vast assortment of auditory rhythmic devices.

Joined back up with everyone and caravanned down to Bend, which required driving back through the Mount Hood Natnl Forest.  This time it was snowing heavily on the peak, and I found myself getting a little nervous driving a large, wobbly  2wd vehicle instead of my nimble 4wd vehicle.  But it turned out fine, and we made a bee-line for Bend.  I had some errands to run (groceries, gas, etc…), so I met up with them at the venue.  Unfortunately, I only had an hour or so to spend with them before I had to hit the road on my own and head south, due to having scheduled a wedding shoot in SF for tomorrow morning that required splitting the 8+ hour drive into two parts.  Sad to miss the show, but that’s how it goes.  Shot some video of them during sound check, said my goodbyes, and headed out into the flurrying snow and darkening evening.  I was pretty bummed to do the central Oregon drive in the dark since the scenery was pretty awesome, but the fact that there’s nearly no traffic on the road was a reasonable consolation.  Got down to Dunsmuir (just south of Mount Shasta) and decided it was a good time to stop, so I snuck down a side road and found a place to park where I wouldn’t be bothered and the sound of the river rushing just downhill could be faintly heard through the van walls.

 

Friday 4/13/18

Since I parked when it was pitch dark out, I had no way of knowing I’d parked literally 30 feet from a railroad track.  I sure figured it out when the lumbering, obnoxiously loud machine made its way past me just as I was falling asleep and I wished I’d made a different choice.  Luckily that was the only train of the evening, so I managed to get some rest.  Woke at 5 and got myself fed and took off south with just enough time to get to SF for the wedding.  Unfortunately I had two very frustrating experiences with attempting to get gas (not worth explaining here) which set me back about 25 minutes, so the rush was on and I had to push it.  I haaaaate that feeling.  Charged down the featureless and soul-crushing Interstate 5 for four hours, rushed across the Bay Bridge, then parked the van in a nice neighborhood and got a ride to City Hall, where I arrived just barely on time.  The couple I photographed are a wonderful queer couple, and they wanted to get married next to the bust of Harvey Milk that sits atop the grand staircase in the middle of City Hall.  There was a point during the brief ceremony where I was attempting to frame a shot with Harvey between the two of them as though he was looking down upon them, and I got hit with an unexpected jolt of emotion.  This sweet couple, so clearly in love, were being legally married in this venerated building only because of what that man fought and died for.  He would have been proud.

Afterwards I met up with Megan for lunch and a quick walk through Hayes Valley to find her some macaroons, then back to her place for a relaxing afternoon of doing nothing.  A perfect way to decompress after a busy week.

Last night I drove through snow and freezing temperatures.  Today I was sitting in a curbside café with short sleeves on, feeling the sun beat down on my pale flesh.  It still seems slightly unnatural that we can travel such distances in a short amount of time.  Was I sad to miss the last couple of shows of the band’s tour?  Definitely.  Was I glad to be back in a familiar place with a soft bed and clean bathroom, spending time with one of the people I care about most?  Absolutely.

A Week on the Road - Pt. 1

Monday, 4/9/18

Picking up where we last left off… turns out the problem with the van wasn’t actually anything to worry about.  Better safe than sorry, so I’m glad I stuck around till Monday to see my mechanic and got the go-ahead to leave town.  I left in a hurry with a rough idea that I’d connect with my friends Marty O’Reilly and the Old Soul Orchestra in Hood River OR, where they were staying on a day off from tour.  I wasn’t sure I would make the entire drive in one day, but figured I’d drive until I didn’t want to drive anymore and see where I ended up.

The day was bright and warm, spring-like and invigorating. I took Hwy 20 to the mind-numbing banality of the 5, then broke off when I got north of Mount Shasta and headed up the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway through central Oregon.  I passed through a dozen small towns, including Klamath Falls and a fascinating little town called Dorris.  I say fascinating because it’s a town out in the middle of nowhere, seemingly a million miles from anything substantial, fairly run-down and somewhat deserted, but populated by some number of people who see fit to live there for whatever reason.  The buildings are old and decrepit, the houses squat and square (also run down) but there are those few buildings that attempt to draw in the stray tourist looking for a bed or a meal, or at least to stop for a minute and appreciate their little corner of the prairie.  Stopping wasn’t in the schedule for me today, but I’m absolutely going to go back and take a walk around and get a feel for the place.  I’m fascinated by abandoned places, but more fascinated by not-yet-abandoned places, well on their way to ghost town status but not quite there yet.  Why do people live there? What do they do with their time?  Where do they work?  How did they end up there? 

Pushing on northward, I passed through a another dozen small towns (and one big town – Bend), some more populated than others, and some clearly connected to the ranching and farming taking place on the large swaths of land that rolled by my window. I was treated to a brilliant sunset over the buttes outside of Madras on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation as I watched storm clouds roil over the distant mountains. I was on a mission though, so stopping for photos wasn’t in the cards (though it pained me not to). Slowly the scenery changed from rolling golden foothills and craggy buttes to arid Pine forests, the scent of evergreens and wet earth filling my nostrils as I put on my jacket, turned up the heater and rolled the window a little further down. This was the Mount Hood National Forest area, and I decided I’d find a place to park and sleep here.  The mountains were what I needed.  I wound down the darkening forest roads until I found the perfect place, flat and wide, right above the Hood River.  I was only about 45 minutes from where my friends were staying, but I opted for a night alone with the river’s song and the chilled air keeping me company.  Made myself dinner, walked around taking some photos before evening turned to night, then holed up in the cozy van to read until I fell asleep.

 the Hood River

the Hood River

Tuesday, 4/10/18

Gloriously solid night of sleep, waking to the sound of rain tapping against my metal roof and the sky still nighttime dark outside.  Did my morning routine including a little walk down the side of the highway to stretch my legs, then piled in the van and headed out of the stately and splendid forest into the town of Hood River.  I knew my friends wouldn’t be awake yet so I found a coffee shop and sat down to do some work for a bit.  Took a walk around town and passed a little restaurant that used to be a bar where my old band played a fateful gig a number of years ago involving heavy drinking, near fisticuffs and a near implosion of the band.  Not so, after all.  Took a photo of the spot and sent it to my old bandmates for funsies. 

Eventually I got a text that the fellas were waking up and getting themselves together, so I met up with them at the house where they’d spent the night. We enjoyed a home-cooked breakfast (my second of the morning) and coffee provided by their gracious hosts, who it turns out were complete strangers that had opened their home to the band.  After eating, the band needed to record a few videos of them performing some songs as gifts to contributors to their crowdfunding campaign, so we all settled in the living room and let the tape roll.  There’s nothing quite like sitting in a small room (a home, a cabin, a dressing room) and listening to an amazing band perform songs on acoustic instruments.  I’ve been fortunate enough to experience this a number of times, and it’s a treat I never tire of.  It’s an intimacy like nothing else.  It’s how music was played for millennia, come to think of it.  No wonder people respond to it.

We bid farewell to our hosts, packed up vehicles and caravanned northward to Seattle for tonight’s gig at the Tractor Tavern.  Seattle was warm and sunny (!!), so it was a special little treat to lay in the sunshine while waiting for the club to open.  The band loaded in and did their soundcheck thing while I stole away and had dinner with a friend who lives across town.  Got back and joined the band and a handful of friends at a local Pho noodle shop before trekking back to the venue and readying for the show. The band were on fire tonight and I continuously struggled with whether I should be shooting video or photos or both.  I keep telling myself to commit to one or the other, at least for an entire song, but I found it almost impossible. I don’t want to miss a good photo or miss a dramatic moment that needs to be filmed, though that’s inevitable.  Did my best.  On this tour, Marty and the boys have been finishing their sets by pulling instruments onto the floor and playing a few songs acoustically in the middle of the crowd.  It’s a special way to end the night, again accessing that intimacy that only acoustic music can. 

The band had a plan to crash in a friend’s apartment in a different part of town, and since I didn’t know what the parking situation would be over there, I opted to park behind the club, next to the docks and piers that line the waterfront.  The presence of other parked RVs gave me the impression that this was an OK place to be, so I pulled up behind a clunker and put my ass in bed.

 

 Home for the night, Seattle

Home for the night, Seattle

Patience

4/8/18 Sunday

Patience.  The constant practice.  A trait celebrated and revered, difficult to obtain for many of us.  I think I do OK with it, but it doesn’t always feel good.  Like right now, when I’m supposed to be hitting the road to join a band I love for a few days on the road in the Pacific Northwest.  Instead, I’m killing time in Ukiah until Monday morning when I can take the van to my mechanic.  A worrisome dash light came on Friday night, one that’s come up before and if you believe what you read on the internet, could result in complete engine destruction if not addressed immediately. There’s still a chance that I can make my planned trip, but I’ll be gunning it up Interstate 5 instead of taking a leisurely and enjoyable excursion on back roads and highways as planned.  First world problems, I know.  But this would be my first extended trip since living in the van full time and I’m itching to go.  Tired of being stuck in Ukiah.

So what does it mean when your mobile home stops being mobile?  It’s still a home, but the prime directive is thwarted, rendering it mostly just a metal box with a bed and a bunch of my belongings in it.  I'm lucky the light came on when I was in Ukiah and only a few blocks from my mechanic.  I’m also very fortunate to have friends in town who will let me park the van in front of their house while I whittle the weekend hours away. I managed to have an entertaining evening watching MMA fights and hanging out with said friends, enjoying many laughs and getting to eat dinner on my old dinner table (oh, the nostalgia!).  Today I might try to get out into the hills for a bit (driving my car instead of the van), just to keep from going stir crazy.  We’ll see.

This past week saw me & my dad finish the frame of the galley, which is a much needed step forward in the build-out process that seems to have ground to a halt.  I (patiently) await the availability of my electrician so we can finish installing the solar stuff & wire up the lights and outlets.  Once that’s done, the ceiling panels can be put on, then the cabinets my dad made can be installed.  But until that electrical stuff gets put in, there isn’t much that can be done. 

Patience.

City Mouse, Country Mouse

4/2/18 Monday

The beginning of last week was barely noteworthy, mostly just working and running errands around Ukiah, spending my nights parked out in Redwood Valley on Joe’s property (thanks Joe!!).  I took a brief excursion down to my parents’ place in the south bay area to do a little work on the van with my Dad, where we enjoyed a surprise visit from Aurora just beginning her spring break, which I always appreciate. Spent a day and a night there, then headed back in Ukiah and ventured out to new favorite pull-out spot next to Lake Mendocino, where I can enjoy a bit of pseudo-privacy.  There's also the sound of the highway only 30 feet away, but with a little music playing the noise is negligible.  With the weather having warmed significantly, I slid my door all the way open and faced the little valley containing the Russian River as it flows into the lake, enjoying a beautiful sunset while eating my dinner.  Headed to Redwood Valley to sleep, as I needed the silence.

Thursday took me back down to SF to photograph two of my favorite bands, King Woman and Russian Circles.  King Woman have become friends over the last year or two, and I’ve seen/photographed them many times.  Since I’d arrived in the city a bit earlier than expected, I headed over to the Great American Music Hall to say hey to them and catch up.  They’re on a steady upward trajectory, having signed with new management and thus getting to spend a month touring the country with Russian Circles, playing sold out shows in large venues.  It gives me a vicarious excitement to watch their ascension, and I appreciate their humility and gratitude for the opportunities they’re given.

I watched them soundcheck, snapping a few photos in the meantime and keeping out of the way as much as possible.  It was interesting that I found myself totally content to just sit and watch something that most people would find boring.  Maybe it’s my previous life as a musician finding ease in a familiar environment, maybe its a little ego boost feeling like I get to be somewhere that others don’t.  But it did get me thinking…  why am I totally uninterested in playing/writing music myself, but so totally interested in hanging out with other musicians photographing them?  Where did my life-long, all consuming drive to play/write/record music go?  I sometimes find myself missing the magical experience of playing onstage, finding those moments of synergy with other musicians, feeling the reciprocal energy exchange with the audience. But I certainly don’t miss hauling my drums around, playing to empty rooms, battling through creative differences with other people, and making no money.  I now find great satisfaction showing up to a gig with my little bag, engaging with the music and the performances intimately, and then leaving whenever I want without all the excess drudgery that comes along with being a performing musician.  I suppose in a way I am making music with them, but just in a visual form and somewhat removed (more as an audience member than a performer). 

Stayed in the city that night, then spent the Friday morning editing photos before heading back to Ukiah to spend the rest of the day working on the computer.  Megan was up in Willits on a personal errand, and we’d made a plan to spend the night together in town.  This was the first time she’d come to Ukiah since I’ve moved out of my house and in light of the fact that my van is far from ready to host two people for an overnight, we opted for a hotel.  Not that I minded a big cushy bed and a shower and the ease in knowing Megan would be comfortable in her accommodations as well, but I think we both missed my house a bit. In the morning we took a walk on a closed road on the east side of Lake Mendocino where we talked, enjoyed the sunshine, and ran into a miniature horse.  Megan and I are both going through highly transitional & transformative phases of our lives, and it gives me great comfort to know we have each other to lean on.

She and I parted ways and I went to Willits to pick up my son Mickey, who I haven’t seen in weeks.  It’s been strange and somewhat uncomfortable to spend so little time with both of my kids, but that’s just where things are right now.  It was good to see him, and we headed down to my parents’ house to for a visit with them and my sister and her husband, who were up from southern California.  Spending time with my family hasn’t always been comfortable for me, but as we all get older it gets easier, and can often be quite pleasant.  There are still some idiosyncrasies of our family dynamic that leave me scratching my head, but it is what it is.  We shared a lot of laughs, had a nice dinner together, and all went to bed early.

Spent the next morning doing laundry and cleaning out the van while waiting for Aurora to stop by on her way back to Santa Cruz to resume her spring semester at UCSC.  Unfortunately, my sister had to hit the road before Aurora arrived, but that’s how it goes.  I eventually hit the road with Mickey back to Willits to drop him off, then back to my pull-out spot next to the lake where I sit and write this, enjoying the cool breeze while watching the sun go down, listening to the traffic whizzing by a short distance away. 

One Month

4/1/18 Sunday

Today I hit the one-month mark.  Houseless but not homeless.  Adventuring solo but not without companionship.  Figuring it out as I go along, trusting that everything will come together however it needs to, in its own time.  Tense & anxiety-filled moments as well as hours spent in relaxed contemplation.  So far so good.

I’ve been continually filled with gratitude for all the words of appreciation & admiration for what I’m doing, for what I’m creating and how I’m sharing it.  A deep and heart-felt thank you for all the kind words shared while I’m sitting at the café working, or in comments on this blog & social media, emails, and during random encounters (my favorite!).  It means the world to me and buoys my spirits during those moments of doubt and worry that periodically plague me.

THINGS I’VE LEARNED IN THIS FIRST MONTH

1. I have some of the most wonderful people in my life.  They support me, comfort me, encourage me, and allow me to make mistakes.  Before launching this phase of my life, I’d been somewhat hermetic, anti-social, and pretty flaky at times. I blamed many different things for this (my illness, my residing in a town I no longer wanted to be in, many friends having moved away, etc…), but I understand now that those were just excuses, rationalizations for an internal inertia I’d grown far too accustomed to.  I will do my best to not take any of you for granted, and to show you the same love and support you show me.

2. This is truly the life I want to be living right now.  No regrets.

3. In order to become a better photographer, I need to be out in the world taking pictures.  Duh.

4. Showering every day is not a requirement.

5. How to be more patient, especially in the face of adversity.

6. My life is far more interesting now than it’s been for a long while.  At least to me.

7. My life is nothing like those other #vanlife videos you see on YouTube. 

The Past, Hardship, and Buildings

3/28/18 Wednesday

As I mentioned in my earlier entry, there’s something about old buildings.  Old buildings, still in use or long abandoned, standing tall or graceful or crumbling into mud and dust.  Something about the past that pulls on me in some difficult-to-define way.  Perhaps it’s just some romantic nostalgia for a time I daydream about but never had to live through.  Maybe it’s the yearning for a time before rampant pollution and overpopulation, a time I imagine as more free and full of possibilities, with clean air and abundant wildlife and no humans for miles in many parts of our country.  I know those are fantasies, for the most part.  Life 100+ years ago was hard for the vast majority of people.  Options were limited, travel all but impossible save for the very few. 

The hardships people lived through also holds some allure for me.  Not that I necessarily wish for hardships, but there is absolutely something about hardship that forms and shapes a person.  When I read real life accounts of people who lived decades or centuries ago, I often imagine myself living in those times, wondering what kind of a man I would be, how I would meet those challenges.  Wondering if I would opt for a life of difficulty if it meant freedom to wander, to make my own way in the world, to explore beyond the far reaches of "civilization".  I don't pretend that living in a van is in any way like living in a long-ago time of freedom & hardship, but at my hope is that I'll feel like I'm free to move, mostly unencumbered, to places that are still lonely and wild.

So, back to buildings… as I said before, I’ve always had the strong sense there are countless stories these old buildings could tell.  Stories of the people who built them, lived in them, worked in them, died in them, left them in the dust as they set out for a better future, abandoned them in a desperate escape from some impending danger, left them and never gave them another thought. Many old buildings were built for completely utilitarian purposes, to serve as simple shelter or storage for goods and livestock.  Even those I find beautiful in their simplicity.  The style and design commonplace for the times, built to serve a purpose… and that’s all.  I appreciate that kind of honesty and austerity. Likewise there are some old buildings built opulently and indulgently, as symbols of prestige without a single plank or brick out of place, devoid of any semblance of modesty or simplicity. These are interesting too, if only to appreciate the engineering and craftsmanship.  They don't grab me the way the simple buildings do, though.

There was a time many years ago, when I lived in a house that wasn’t very old, but was left unfinished, abandoned for over a decade by the family who’d lived in it for years.  It sat nestled amongst towering oak trees in a small valley on a piece of property settled by my then-wife’s parents back in the 70s.  The land was (and still is) breathtakingly beautiful, with seasonal creeks running in the winter and spring, a pond on the plateau above the cleared living spaces, wild animals tip-toeing along their trails in the forest above and below the house, sunrises peeking above the hills to the east and setting over the wooded canyon to the west.  The house was large, designed in a grand fashion and executed by a builder who, though very skilled and experienced, implemented some features that were grand in their conception but somewhat flawed in their execution. Impressive nonetheless.

When we moved in, there was no electricity, no hot water, no indoor bathroom, and no refrigerator.  There was, however, a beautiful antique Wedgewood stove in the kitchen, connected to a small chimney and totally functional, if a bit dusty and rusty.  We cooked on that stove for a time, splitting wood into finger-sized pieces and filling the room with the smell of hot iron and wood smoke.  This life was far outside any previous experience of mine and a bit intimidating, but my wife was old hat (she grew up living that way) and was happy to guide me through the process of turning the clock back as it were, and living much the way the old-timers did.  We read by kerosene lamps at night (antique ones, with beautiful ornate designs on the bodies and delicate glass shielding the flame), went to sleep not long after the sun went down and woke just before the sun came up. 

That house was full of stories, and I was lucky enough to hear many of them from the original inhabitants.  When I visit genuinely old buildings, I can feel their countless secrets, locked in the timbers and floorboards, never to be told.  I want to know them.

The Inevitable Arrives

3/23/18 Friday

Sooner or later I knew it would come, and here it is.  Today’s been spent experiencing the unpleasant side of being houseless, confined to a very small living space, and committed to being in Ukiah a majority of my time.  I'm growing weary of looking for places to park for the night that won't leave me feeling exposed or scrutinized.  Also, I’m finding that even though I’ve chosen a life of freedom and mobility, when I'm in Ukiah I still have a strong pull to end up at a place at the end of the day.  I don’t need it to be a house, but I feel like I need a place to be that I don’t have to think about, worry about, plan for… just a place where I can park and not be bothered, not bother anybody, and go about my end-of-the-day business.  I’m going to invest some energy into procuring such a place.  We’ll see what comes my way.

 It's not pretty, but it's home

It's not pretty, but it's home

I need to get the work on the inside of the van done pronto.  Part of my frustration is the inefficiency and disorganization inside the van, and how long it takes me to do the things I need to do.  I’m not sure exactly how I’m going to do that, but I need to do SOMEthing to keep the ball rolling. 

Part of the ‘van life’ fantasy was to travel, and I knew my work commitments would require my presence in Ukiah enough to restrict any extended sort of travel for the time being.  But spending time in Ukiah when I’m NOT actually working is getting less and less fun.  I’ve felt ambivalent about being in Ukiah for the last couple of years anyway, but now I’m aimlessly driving around, trying to find a place to be or something to do.  Again, maybe things will get better when the van is more finished out, but for the time being it’s making me feel edgy.

 Shelter from the storm

Shelter from the storm

Yesterday I was awakened at 6 AM by the van rocking back and forth violently and rain pelting the back of the van at high velocity.  I jumped out of bed and turned my headlights on to see what was happening, and it appeared as though a small tornado was passing close by.  I wondered what to do… should I stay put or should I try to drive somewhere more sheltered?  Considering I was parked on a bluff 100 or so feet above the ocean, I knew I was particularly exposed to the wind and didn’t want it to blow me off the cliff.  I opted to hop in the driver’s seat and slowly creep back down the highway to shelter in Westport, where I managed to park in front of a lovely, dilapidated old abandoned house on the main thoroughfare and go about my breakfast and coffee business until the squall passed. 

The weather cleared for the rest of the morning as I made my way south, back through Fort Bragg and into Mendocino, with a short stop at Jughandle Beach to brew another cup of coffee and take a little walk.  Headed down the 1 to Navarro Beach, where I walked on the sand, made a few photos and then walked up the beach to watch a lone surfer work diligently to catch the few clean waves that came through the cove.  Mendo Coast surfers are a special breed, possessing much of the old California pioneer spirit that drove their forbearers to endure special hardships and unique challenges in their pursuit of their ventures.  As someone who’s spent my fair share of time in the water up here, whatever hardships present themselves are worth it, because of the beauty and solitude and specialness of the place. 

 Jughandle Beach

Jughandle Beach

I walked back up the road to the old Navarro-By-The-Sea Inn and the only other still-standing structure remaining from a time long gone when this was an active resort.  Before that, it was a sawmill and lumber harbor, originally established in the 1850’s.   The Inn has been restored and made a national landmark and historical place, spared a certain fate of being swallowed up by the marshland and surrounding forest.  The other building – a large house – isn’t marked or labeled in any way, so I’m not sure what its story is. 

As I stood there staring this elegant relic of a time long gone, I felt a longing to know the stories of these old buildings, especially the ones that have been neglected or ignored for years and fallen into disrepair.  Who lived/worked there?  For how long?  What were their lives like?  What countless conversations, arguments, intimacies, injuries and misfortunes have those walls been witness to?  Sometimes when I find myself inside a place like that I’ll stand quiet and still, straining to hear some whisper of a voice from the past. 

On I drove… over the Navarro River and further south through Elk and Irish Beach and Manchester, cutting west onto the curves and near solitude of Mountain View Road.  I stopped for a quick leg-stretch at Faulkner Park, a small redwood grove just outside Boonville that seems to have regular usage during warmer months but these days looks and feels abandoned, which was just fine by me. 

 A Faulkner Park bench slowly becoming part of the forest. 

A Faulkner Park bench slowly becoming part of the forest. 

Back in Ukiah again, it was errands and work and unsettledness and uncomfortable pondering until bedtime.

 

Riding Out the Storm

3/21/18 Wednesday

Here I sit, on a pullout north of Westport, the rain coming down in sheets and the wind rocking the van back and forth, contemplating the last couple of days.  I arrived back in Ukiah on Monday midday after enjoyable evening and morning in San Francisco.  I hunkered down at Black Oak to do some work for a bit, then walked around town running errands and making a few photos.  Joined the Capoeira class in town, which I do infrequently since my Lyme disease and other maladies forced me to stop training four years ago.  It’s still emotionally difficult that I can’t fully participate in something I so love and enjoy, but I can play the drum and sing the songs and see my friends, and sometimes that’s good enough. 

After working in town all Tuesday morning, I took a reconnaissance drive out towards Potter Valley to see if there were any places I would consider parking for the night.  Once I arrived, I realized I’d be that proverbial ‘guy in the van down by the river’, and I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.  It probably didn’t help that for the 13 years I lived in Potter Valley, I drove past all those other people parked down by the river and leveled some kind of subconscious judgment on them for it.  Came back into town for a walk and a bit more work, then as the rain came down I did some laundry and parked myself near downtown for the night.  I’m realizing I don’t like parking in town, mostly because I feel so exposed, potentially the subject of a Neighborhood Watch phone call to the cops, but also because at this point I have no kitchen, so tooth brushing and dish washing has to be done partially outside.  Awkward.  Plus it doesn’t feel very adventurous.

Today I opted to head out to the Mendocino coast in the hopes of taking a walk and exploring before cruising up to the top of Hwy 1 and finding a place to park for the night.  The torrential rain put a damper on the walk idea, but made for a beautiful if sometimes sketchy drive.  I got to the spot where the 1 starts winding inland away from the ocean and decided to turn around, though my instincts were to just keep going… to drive up in to Humboldt, then Trinity, then… just keep going.  But there’s work to do in Ukiah tomorrow, so I’ll have to save that for another time.

Forced inside by the weather, I have to confront my need to be “doing” something all the time.  I also have to confront my slight anxiety around what the fuck I’m doing with my life right now.  I knew that the fantasies I concocted about what van life would be like weren’t representative of reality and tried to leave space for that, but dang.  It’s easy to start feeling adrift and aimless. And lonely.  However, I am very fortunate to be in a position to at least give this life a try and see where it takes me, and also remember that my van is far from finished inside, and once that’s done it’ll feel more like a home. 

_20A1897-Edit.jpg
_20A1821-Edit.jpg

Deep Friendship & the Marin Coast

3/16/18 Friday

I tend to make plans to attend social functions, only to back out at the last minute because I’m tired/preoccupied/lazy/old/whatever.  When I moved into the van, I hoped and fantasized that it would force me to be more social, to not use the excuse of distance and geography to back out of things.  But old habits die hard, and I opted to not attend a party I’d been kinda looking forward to for a couple of weeks.  The upside to this decision was that I ended up spending some time with some very dear friends I don’t see nearly often enough.  We spent the afternoon together catching up and making each other laugh.  I gave them the now oft-repeated update on how my life in the van is, but I don’t mind.  It’s part of the package, and people seem to be genuinely interested and excited for me. 

I drove south after a dinner in town, heading to West Sonoma County to connect with my bestie and his family.  I arrived late, but we still got a great visit in before we had to drag our tired old bodies into our respective beds and crash out.  I did have to wonder if I’d missed out on something really fun by bailing on the party, but I ended up on the doorstep of some of the people I love most in the world, and that’s never a bad thing.

3/17/18 Saturday

Woke early this morning and the two of us took a walk around the loop, which is a couple-mile-long walking route around his neighborhood in rural West County.  We start down a curving paved road then up a narrow dirt one, then cutting through an organic farm situated on top of a majestic hill before dropping into the newly planted lemon orchards (that used to be ancient apple orchards) that surround his house.  Our talks are always enjoyable, covering as many aspects of our lives as possible in the short amount of time we spend together.  Back at the house, he left for work and I got to hang with his kids and wife for a while, catching up on their lives and getting the latest news.  This family and I go way, way back… one of a handful of friendships that have continued on for over 20 years.  We’ve watched each other’s kids grow, shared deep and intimate moments of our lives, counseled each other, consoled each other, supported each other, and had many, many joyous times together.  I cherish them and my time with them deeply.

 The Farm

The Farm

I shoved off from their place mid-morning and made my way out to the coast and headed south, through Bodega and the little town of Tomales, past Point Reyes Station and around the bay through Inverness towards Tomales Bay State Park. I stopped at the Life-saving Service Cemetery, situated on a hill surrounded by a grove of eucalyptus trees. The trees were alive with a riot of chirping birds, who gradually quieted as I walked closer, and resumed their racket once I’d left the grove. I walked among the small cluster of refurbished headstones, marking the graves of men who died while serving as rescuers at Point Reyes in the 1890s.

Just inside the State Park I parked just off the main road, a perfect flat spot on the bluffs overlooking the coast. I cooked myself some lunch, walked the hills making a few photos, and enjoyed the coastal breeze and sunshine for a couple of hours.  I sat listening to the squawking calls of the crows and sporadic bird chirps drifting through the quiet afternoon.  I spotted a hawk, swooping and stalling in the air as it scanned the ground for another furry meal.  I drank the silence in when it came.  I imagined how it might’ve been before the European invaders landed on these shores, when there was nothing but land and time out of time, and the human visitors were few and they themselves were only a small part of the timeless cycles of life and death.

 Where's Waldo?

Where's Waldo?

I eventually headed south again, past Bolinas and up through the Mount Tamalpias State Park which was choked with cars and bicyclists and tour buses and hikers.  As I dipped down into the hills outside Mill Valley, I marveled at the modest but stylish homes that lined the ridges, their picture windows doubtlessly framing a vast and expansive view of the forest below that stretches to the coast.  I imagined those places were once homes to hippies and other outlanders back in the day. Who knows who lived there before them, or if there were even houses there.  And what did those early residents pay for those houses, either in rent or the cost for raw land on which to build? I’m sure it was a pittance compared to their inflated worth now, which guarantees inaccessibility to the working class of this golden state in this era of tech zombies and the carpetbagging neuvo riche.  Lord knows I’ll never live there, unless fortune falls into my lap or a technological apocalypse levels the playing field a bit. 

Final stop was San Francisco, this being the first time I’ve driven the van into the city to visit my girlfriend.  The van did NOT like the steep hills and Sunday traffic, though it did its best.  I opted to park in a nicer neighborhood to leave it overnight and got a ride from her back to her apartment in a, uh… less nice part of town.  We’ll have to figure this one out a bit better as time goes on, but I have no doubt we will.

 SF sunrise

SF sunrise

Solitude

3/16/18 Friday

After a full day of work and between bursts of torrential rain, I decided to head out towards Montgomery Woods to spend the night. This is a place I visit often (though not often enough), and after a delightfully picturesque drive up Orr Springs Road, I tucked my van into a pullout on the side of the road I’d been eyeing for years but never taken advantage of.  Parked alongside a full and flowing creek and surrounded by ancient redwood trees, I left the warm confines of my home on wheels and walked up the road in the growing darkness.  The sound of water was everywhere. The cold dampness of the primordial forest filling my nostrils and lungs.  THIS is the place I’d love to spend every night if it were possible.  Upon my return to the van, I cooked myself some dinner, cleaned up, then made up my bed and pulled out my computer to write.  I sat reflecting on all the feelings and thoughts that’ve been jostling in me all week, and for the last couple of weeks as well, which I wasn’t fully aware of until I found myself out of cell service and settled in the dark blanket of a rainy forest night.  Feeling unmoored.  Unsettled.  Anxious.  Crowded.  Disorganized.  Excited for my future.  Afraid of what the future might bring. 

The soothing patter of the rain on the roof, the whooshing of the creek just 15 feet away, and the solitude were just what I needed to settle those things out a bit.  To bring myself back to something bigger than me, indifferent to me, but inviting me to sit and be quiet and listen and breathe.