The half empty bag of trail mix lays open on the dashboard. Old Man, not satisfied with the stale bowl of Meow Mix his partner left tucked under the bed, investigates with the cunning of a cougar on its nocturnal hunt for prey. The crackle of plastic and the rattle of dried nuts and berries rolling off into crevices inaccessible by man, results in the pillow from hell smacking the grizzled old cat upside the head. “Damn you cat, that crap went down the defroster vent, it’ll be rattling around forever”.
Sitting up in bed, Clarence sets his feet on the van’s cold floor, quickly withdrawing them and slipping on a pair of socks. With one hand he rubs the shortly cropped hair on his balding head, the other hand holding aside the curtain that separates the cab from the living quarters. “Is it daylight yet? Hard to tell with all these damn parking lot lights”.
Truckstops are a noisy place, especially when you’re surrounded by diesel rigs running their engines all night. In the summer it’s to keep the air conditioning running, and in the winter for heat. 24 hrs a day, these cargo ships of the highway never rest.
The first blizzard of the season just hit northern Minnesota, Clarence didn’t get out a day too soon. Still he shivers inside his mobile cocoon, wishing he had managed a few more miles southward the previous day. The bright blue skies, and comfortable winter nights of the southwest are his destination. He might stay a week, he might stay a month. Hell, if things go just right, he might hang around until the desert heat becomes more than he can handle. That’s usually the beginning of May, when temp’s crack the +100 degree barrier.
Tucked safely in the storage space under his bed, is the new Garrett Ace 250 Metal Detector Clarence ordered off the internet. On a flatbed trailer behind the van, is his off road transportation, a Honda 4-wheeler. The secondary purpose of his journey being to find immense wealth laying on the desert floor. Gold, sliver, and gems, all glistening in the sun, waiting for someone to scoop them up. More realistically the effort required in recreational prospecting will hopefully ward off boredom, while providing some much needed exercise.
For the moment, home is the parking lot of the Emporia Kansas Flying J just off I35, the Kansas Turnpike. With the last of the snow belt some 250 miles behind him, the morning air is still brisk. A huge improvement when compared to the artic blast he left behind.
Old Man is a curmudgeon of a beast, a feral cat that wandered into camp about a year ago. With 1-½ ears, and more scars than a prize fighter, Clarence assumed he had accumulated a goodly amount of street smarts surviving the wilds around Tucson. Though he was still a bit skittish, and wouldn’t allow Clarence to pick him up, Old Man was wise enough to realize taking on a partner was a good idea. Age was catching up with him, making the nightly hunt all that much harder. Even stale kibbles were better fare than what he had dined on for many years.
Together they travel, endlessly from one adventure to the next. All the while writing their tale, to be posted weekly on the internet for the world to follow. Thousands of people seem to sense something they can identify with from his life’s journey. Others think the lifestyle a bit over the top. No matter to him, their reading his story is all it takes to provide the income that gives him freedom to wander.
“Hey Old Man, which way to the buffet”? The last joint in Old Man’s tail is dislocated, like a pointer mounted on a swivel, it can be used to indicate direction. Of course the cat has no control on where it points, but Clarence likes to make him think his input is vital to the success of their travels.
Scratching behind Old Man’s half an ear, “I’ll bring you back a piece of bacon, you old fart”. After exchanging his sweats for jeans and a t-shirt, Clarence slides the side door back. After a good stretch to relieve a night’s worth of cramps, he slams the door closed, leaving Old Man to watch through the windshield as he heads off toward the truck terminal. “Keep a look out for banditos, cat”, this parting comment a warning that his trusted partner will shred anyone who attempts to trespass his fortress.
“Belch”, Clarence allows a hearty plate of eggs and hash browns to settle while sipping a cup of thick black coffee. Stroking his two day beard, he thinks back on the days when he had a time schedule to keep. Pick up the load late in the evening, with unrealistic delivery instructions to be some 500 miles down the highway by dawn. After driving all night through slush and freezing rain, some S.O.B. warehouse foreman would be bitching that water got under the tarps and stained the pretty packaging around a batch of aluminum doors. “So what, they’re not going to melt, get a life”.
Clarence left his trucking days far behind him, now he drives where he wants, when he wants, keeping no time schedule. He can leave anytime, or stay as long as he wants, the sun above determining which direction he chooses to travel. Today he will feel the morning sun rising against the back of his neck. West is where he’s headed, to meet up with his old friend Buck. Together they will search the Superstition Mountains for the Lost Dutchman’s mine. Of course it’s only a myth, but who knows, more than one person has found his fortune snooping around places not often visited by the general public.
Your odds of finding something of value increase exponentially to the quantity of travelers that proceeded you. Like Mel Fisher always said, “Today’s the day”. People sure stopped laughing at him when he found the Spanish Galleon Atocha. Lost in 1622, it was loaded with many millions of dollars worth of gold and silver.
Maybe this excursion will at least pay for itself.
As Clarence ambles back to his self-built RV of sorts, Old Man paces back and forth across the dashboard. “Don’t get your britches in a bunch Cat, I’ve got your bacon in my pocket”. Becoming almost vicious, Old Man snatches the porky prize from his partners fingers, scampering off to a more secluded corner. Purring and munching, both at the same time, he watches his back to make sure no passing predators attack, trying to claim his booty.
After a quick PTA bath, using the small sink in the van, Clarence shaves his stubble and makes himself presentable. Though his rolling residence is a retired standard white cargo van, experience has shown looking less like a vagrant makes encounters with authorities much less intimidating.
Hoping for a WiFi hotspot, Clarence plugs in his laptop computer, “Bingo, we’ve got internet”. In short order the business of the day is taken care of. Emails checked and answered, income from websites confirmed, blogs updated with new articles and stories. With online banking, and automatic credit card payments, Clarence’s only financial concern is that adequate funds remain in his checking account. It’s a simple 30 second matter to transfer money back and forth from savings to checking, making this real-time banking perfect for full-time travelers.
The interior of the van is warming up nicely. Now that he’s escaped the cold weather up north, a more leisurely rate of travel will be established. Turning the GPS Navigator on, Clarence pulls out onto Hwy 50 headed due west. As he drives on, the blacktop will first become Hwy 56, then it will turn to Hwy 96. The pretty young female voice emanating from the Navigator will assure he doesn’t wander off course.
With one hand on the wheel, he shuffles through a box of old cassette tapes. “Take me home, country roads”, John Denver makes for good driving music, “Cat, do you think you can at least squawk in tune to the music this time”?
A duet, in broken harmony they sing. Clarence as tone deaf as a chunk of wood, teamed up with the scratchy voice of Old Man. Sadly, they sound a lot like a heavy smoker with lung disease.
The beauty of the Southwest, and other parts of the country for that matter, is dispersed camping on B.L.M. (Bureau of Land Management) land is free. For someone who’s daily cost of living consists of food, gas, and a place to park, there are millions of acres of open range, desert, and mountain terrain available at no expense.
True, there are limitations to your length of stay, but heck after 2 weeks a change of scenery is probably warranted. Not to mention remaining somewhat stationary for a few weeks can keep the monthly gas bill well under control. All proving that those financial wizards that run Wall Street have their heads well placed between their butt cheeks, when they say it takes a small fortune to retire early and travel extensively.
A good days driving brings the white van into Gunnison CO, Clarence pulls into the parking lot of the local B.L.M. building. Regional offices are a wealth of information. They have maps, directions, restrictions, everything you need to know to make your stay enjoyable, but yet respectful of the archeological sites scattered throughout the area.
“Excuse me Miss, do you have information about dispersed camping in the Canyon of the Ancients Monument area”? The attractive lady Ranger, complete with her Smokey the Bear hat, directs Clarence to the rack of pamphlets and literature on the far wall.
“Please be careful with your campfire during your stay sir, the fire danger is in the red zone. It’s been quite a while since we’ve had any precipitation”. Glancing over the information counter at his 4-wheeler behind the van, “Is the use of off road vehicles permitted in these parts”? “Yes, if your exhaust pipe is equipped with an approved spark arrestor”. Fortunately most ATVs come standard with such a device right from the factory.
Old Man, having long since fallen asleep sunning himself on the dashboard, doesn’t even flinch as Clarence steps back up into the cab, slamming the drivers door behind him. After a quick stop at the local Shop & Save supermarket, its off into the wilderness to secure a spot to set up camp for the next 2 weeks.
This section of Colorado is sprinkled with old abandoned ghost towns, and mining camps. Many require 4-wheel drive to gain access, not a problem for Clarence. His is a Chevrolet model, so equipped for navigating snow covered roads up north. “With a High-Ho Silver, we’re off to Clear Creek Canyon”.
County road 390 is the Clear Creek Canyon road. It intersects State Hwy 24, south of Granite Colorado. If you’re looking to find abandoned mines from the 1800s, this is the route to take. Gold, silver, copper and lead were all hauled out from holes going up to 3,000 feet back into the surrounding mountains.
“Damn, it’s like Alice in Wonderland, the road just keeps getting smaller”. The white van creeps down the old mining road. Edging past tall aspen and pines that have all but reclaimed what was once a vibrant artery bringing ore from the mines.
So much of the property around here is posted as being private, with trespassing to be resolved with prosecution. Not a situation that Clarence wishes to test. Most mining sites, and structures that still remain, are privately owned. Respecting their boundaries is the best way to avoid problems with officials carrying guns and badges.
Finally a gravel turn off from the main trail provides a suitable spot to camp. Clarence puts the van in reverse and backs up into a spot that has traces of others using it for the exact same purpose.
Swinging the back doors of the van open, the plastic tarp and poles that make up a large but inexpensive sun shelter come out. Secured to conveniently situated trees, this shelter will assure a dry spot for cooking, and kicking back, even in a modest rain.
The next step is the collapsible nylon shower enclosure. Beyond eating, the ability to take a hot shower is the one thing that separates man from the animals. On board is a water system comprised of a tankless water heater that operates on propane. A 12 volt water pump sends hot shower water through a 25′ garden hose. With a clear mountain stream close by, a daily shower makes this life in the wilderness quite civilized.
“Well Old Man, what exploits do you think our audience wants to read about tomorrow? Should I tell them about the time you did battle with the coyote, sending him running off into the desert with his tail tucked between his legs”?
Old Man doesn’t care, he’s snuggled up close to the warm rocks that make up the fire ring. The glowing embers of a low fire not only keeping the aging feline comfortable, but simmering the cast iron Dutch oven containing a fresh batch of Mulligan Stew.
Exhausted from a long days drive, Clarence closes up shop and turns in as darkness arrives. Old Man takes his position on the passenger seat, with his favorite blanket draped over him. Clarence changes back into his sweats, and gets ready to slip between the sheets.
Opening a locked compartment he retrieves the 9mm Berretta, and places it within easy reach. He’s never had cause to reach for it after turning in, but spots like this are far from civilization. There is always that one in a million chance encounter that goes wrong to consider. Pulling the covers up to his nose, the duo is off to dream land within minutes.