A Travellerspoint blog

December 2009


A vignette of a wandering man.

I met Robert down in Arizona. I had just parked my van at the Sugarloaf Mountain parking lot at the Chiricahua National Monument in southeast Arizona. I got my gear together, for the mile hike to the fire lookout, when I noticed the other van parked in the lot. It was a full size white cargo van, kind of like a kidnappers van, with no windows in the back and it had bumper stickers about vagabonds of Baja, Mexico. Now, I know a fellow vanner when I see one, and there he was, a grizzled old man with full wispy, white beard making chin music at me, as he ate his bologna sandwich. I walked up and said hi, and we talked a bit about Sugarloaf Mt.

I then headed up, leaving him to enjoy his lunch. It was an easy hike, uphill for a mile one way, but on top I could see for miles in every direction. I sat up on the stoop of the fire spotters building drinking water and systematically chowing down on a sack of pistachios. I hoped the old man would appear, as I wanted to talk with him some more. He looked like a kindred spirit, and an interesting man to talk to. I finished my pistachios, and decided it was time to head back down and find a campsite. On my way down, I ran into the old man, who was slowly working his way up. He asked me how long I spent up on top. I said, “Long enough for me to eat a small bag of pistachios.”
He looked at me for a second and asked, “That’s how you measure time?”
I told him it was the best way that I knew of. He chuckled, and we parted ways.

I got a site in the nice campground, and was sitting up in an oak tree playing my banjo when I saw the white van pull into the campground and drive by. I realized that the old guy in the van could easily be my future self. He lives in his van, he visits beautiful places, he has bumper stickers claiming his title of vagabond, he still goes hiking up lonely mountains. It was kind of eerie, but in a cool way. I decided that I’d go and talk to him the next day, if he didn’t come find me.

The next day I got up early and drove to the trailhead of the “big loop.” I hiked the 12 miles through the beautiful and rugged “heart of the rocks” and hiked my way back to the trailhead. As I made my way through the milling cows of tourists, I saw the old guy walking towards the trail, and I stopped to say hello. This time I introduced myself, and learned his name was Robert. We talked for awhile about the trail, where I had hiked, and the wildlife around. It was enjoyable. I got the feeling that the nice smelling, well dressed tourists were giving us a wide berth. I was all sweaty, unshaven, dusty, and rumpled; what I usually look like after a long hike. Robert was grizzled as usual, wearing his watch hat, old jeans, a down vest with his walking stick. He looked like an old sailor, which in fact he was. I later learned he used to be a sailor on the Great Lakes, working as an able-bodied seaman on the ore freighters. We must have been the motliest pair there, but we were having a good conversation. I bid him to have a good hike, and to look me up when he got back to camp.

We talked a couple more times in the next two days. Robert was a sailor for awhile before he got tired of it and moved to Washington to work on the ferries around Seattle. Robert is a long haul traveler, living out of his van. He spends his winters away from his home in southern Washington, rarely paying for camping, and traveling anywhere from Baja California in Mexico over to Texas. He listens to classical music, reads thick, dusty books on various subjects that few others will open. He is kind of a curmudgeon. He knew more about the Russian revolution than any man I’ve ever met. He told me, “I’m going to write my own damn book about it. Nobody else can get it right.”

In the night, I could hear Robert coughing hard. He’d hack something up, and it’d get quiet, than he’d be back at it, hacking, trying to clear his lungs. It was hard to listen to. In the morning, I went over to see him. He looked older, and tired, I imagine he didn’t get much sleep. He said he was going to Tucson to the hospital. He said he caught a fungal disease down in Mexico, and it troubled him from time to time. I wished him well, and said goodbye.

As I drove away, I couldn’t help but think about Robert. He was kind of an inspiration to me. I hope that when I’m up in my seventies that I’m still hanging out with a bunch of vagabonds down in Mexico, or hiking to the top of a 7000 ft high mountain. I hope he finds better health. I was glad to have met Robert. He seemed kind of a loner, as a lot of us long term travelers are. Before I left, I asked him if I could take his picture. I explained that I like to take portraits of interesting people I meet along the road, and he agreed, but he wanted to put on his good hat for the picture. I laughed and told him that would be just fine.


Posted by Rhombus 18:06 Archived in USA Comments (1)

The Redwoods

Exploring Redwood National Park

Picture the following scene: You are walking on a trail roughly 3 feet wide, and covered with sandy, loamy hard packed dirt, wet pine needles, moss, sticks and limbs from fallen branches. You are in a forest, and it’s dark from the mass of the trees around you. Sunlight cuts through the fog, showing off diagonal sunrays that is highlighted by the white mist. You look off the trail, and you see the twisting trunks of the 250 ft tall redwoods elevating from a sea of green ferns and undergrowth. Upon closer inspection of the forest floor, you see a myriad of mushrooms, fungi and wildflowers. You crane your head back to see the tops, but you can’t see the top, just the first tiers of branches some 150 feet up. You barely hear the soft sounds of your footsteps on the moist, sound dampening earth. In the distance you hear a soft roar of a swollen stream, falling through rocks on it’s way to the ocean. It is a beautiful white noise. The air smells fresh, full of an earthy, moist, pine scented perfume. You can’t see it, but the forest is breathing too, symbiotic, taking your carbon dioxide and giving you oxygen. Only this is like being hooked up to the equivalent of an oxygen tank the size of a 30 story building, and far more invigorating. Its fresh, and cold, and quenching, like mountain spring water, and you are immersed in it.


The Redwood coastal forests of California must be some of the healthiest forests on earth. Walking through the groves of these ancient, magnificent trees makes me feel vigorous and strong. I love to breathe in the forest, and I often stop and take deep meditative breaths cleansing my lungs with the cool, fresh air. Redwood National Park in northern California, has a fantastic collection of humongous coniferous trees. Some of the trees are more than 2000 years old, and it puts my existence into perspective. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit this park four times over the last 5 years, and have enjoyed each visit immensely.

I have an odd attraction to banana slugs. When in the redwoods, I’m more often than not looking down on the ground, or on the trunks of fallen trees covered in bright green moss, trying to spy this interesting slug. By day, banana slugs mostly lay dormant, looking like a 3” half melted yellow candle, moist and waxy in appearance, and hard to find. By night, they come alive, poking their tiny heads out of their shells, and oozing their way through the night. They can be found more easily at night, climbing up the redwood trunks, or sliding through the undergrowth leaving a tell-tale slime trail to track them. I’ve found banana slugs from California all the way north to the spruce forests of Alaska. Further north, they look more like rotten banana slugs, taking on a brown, dog doo appearance or even a rotten banana black. Fascinating. I assume they taste terrible, because if they didn’t, most animals could, and would, eat them. Think of one of those wax candies you used to buy as a kid, gnawing through wax to get an intense shot of sugar syrup to slurp. Gross.


I enjoy climbing trees. I’ve climbed trees every year for as long as I can remember. My current favorite trees to climb are the redwoods. I never get very high when I climb, not usually higher 10 feet off of the ground. Without protection, it would be foolish to climb up what you can’t climb down. The bark of the redwoods, offers decent hand holds and foot holds, and sometimes if you find a hollowed out trunk you can wedge your way up like a rock climbers chimney. There’s something therapeutic about climbing trees. It brings me back to the mindset of a 10 year old, playful, care-free and at one with my environment.


I like camping at Prairie Creek Campground in the redwood Nat’l park. I’m usually traveling in the winter months, so I get most of my parks deserted, and Prairie Creek is no different. On my first visit, the park ranger laughed at me when I asked if it was busy. I was the only one there. The campground has two loops, one in the dark, damp, oppressive groves of redwoods, or the one I prefer in the roadside field, open to the stars, and much nicer to my way of thinking. While I like playing in the deep forest of the redwoods, it’s a little too dark and cold for optimal camping. My campsite had a nice ambiance of the local wildlife. I could hear Elk bugling 300 yards away on the other side of the field, enjoying their winter staging area. Robins, White Capped Sparrows, and Stellar Jays, hopping around the campsite, poking around for seeds and worms distracted me from my journal. It’s quiet, and peaceful and an excellent place to contemplate the days adventures.


I find the redwoods a great place for day hiking adventures. There is a wide variety of interlacing trails through the forest, allowing me to make my hike as challenging as I want. The environment is interesting, and awe inspiring, and I recommend anyone who loves trees to come and see the magnificent redwoods.

Posted by Rhombus 07:25 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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