High Time

While camping alongside the Airstream factory in Jackson Center (see Building Airstreams), Leah and I wondered how we would kill time during our weekend stopover. There wasn’t much to do in town, although we were within walking distance of the Elder Theatre, a one-screen cinema showcasing Dora and the Lost City of Gold and the Heidout Restaurant, serving bar food backed by a roadhouse jukebox.

We took a pass on both, and drove to Bellefontaine, 20 miles east of our location. How fortuitous, because high atop Campbell Hill–overlooking a scenic parking lot, and peaks of grasslands beyond, as far as the eye can see–

Campbell Hill panorama

sits the Ohio Hi-Point Career Center, a two-year career-technical high school campus that also doubles as the highest point in Ohio, at 1549 feet elevation.

Campbell Hill marker

Once upon a Cold War time, this site was home to Bellefontaine Air Force Station, providing radar surveillance to NORAD in the event of a Soviet invasion from the North Pole.

Remnants remain.

Hazmat Team

Leah and I were giddy with excitement. It could have been the altitude, but the notion that we were standing at the highest point in Ohio nearly took our breath away. 

highest point

However, we are seasoned travelers who have Airstreamed through most of America (see Top of the World), and we refused to be intimidated by the height of Campbell Hill.

Admittedly, we were weak-kneed.

We took a deep breath to clear our heads, and took a seat on a strategically placed bench by the geodetic survey marker.

Campbell Hill bench

After a snack to raise our blood sugar, we managed to trek to the parking lot a short distance away. As I regained my composure inside the F-150, I realized that we were brought here for a reason. I figured that given our vantage point and strategic positioning, the military may be interested in recommissioning this location as a secure listening post as we approach the 2020 presidential elections.



Freedom’s Just Another Word

For many, the notion of boondocking in an Airstream trailer might be enough to move the oxymoron needle from sublime to ridiculous. There are those whose purist sensibilities are offended simply because my RV has AC, TV, LP and TP.  To them, my mobile home is an affront to Bear Grylls, surviving in the wilderness with only flint, rope, and a knife. On the other hand, there are Airstream extremists who would argue, “What’s boondocking, and why would you even want to?”

Being caught in the middle of a philosophical referendum on outdoor living has offered few choices when looking for like-minded enthusiasts, since traveling on the road. Mainstream Airstreamers (or Airstream mainstreamers) I’ve met seemingly flock to RV parks that offer a variety of amenities that complement the home-is-wherever-you-are lifestyle. So I have turned to Air Forums—a community resource for all things Airstream—to find adventure seekers who are not opposed to finding a lesser road traveled.

In fact, there is a breed of Airstream aficionados who brag about never paying a camping fee. Of course, many of them belong to the Walmart or Cabela parking lot crowd, for whom I draw an analogy to those who over-extend to buy a house they can’t afford to furnish. But to be fair, there are others who simply want to get away from it all—to be free from campground constraints and rules. I call them “liber-trailer-ians.” (While the idea is enticing, it would also mean giving up cable news, and I don’t think I’m ready for that just yet.)

I met such a person from Prescott, AZ while the Airstream was in dry-dock at Turquoise Trail Campground in Cedar Crest, NM. Leah and I had returned from an East Coast red-eye, and I needed a couple of days to prepare for several anticipated days of camping (“glamping”) without services, as we would be swinging through the western National Park circuit in Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming. Our biggest concern was having sufficient self-sufficient power, if shore power (30/50 amp hook-up) should be unavailable. My intention after researching the Air Forum: to replace the two troubled 12-volt OEM deep-cycle batteries, with two 6-volt golf cart batteries.

Without going into the science, I can report that swapping out two 12-volt cells connected in parallel for two 6-volt cells connected in series yields an extra 80 amp hours, or the equivalent of 33% more power, and the ability to re-charge them endlessly. The only hitch would be finding right-sized batteries that are compatible with the pre-existing dimensions of the battery box that’s welded to the A-frame of the Airstream hitch. My gratitude to the internet for guiding me to an online retailer who shipped two Lifeline GPL-4CT batteries in three days at a competitive price. On paper, it was the right choice for the right job. All I had to do was replace, connect, and bask in the accomplishment…or so I thought.

Back at the campground, I was scratching my head, trying to figure how to stuff 10 pounds of shit into a 5-pound bag when Prescott came by with his Boston terrier to satisfy his curiosity. Approaching me was a skinny guy in his mid-50s, with a long hair braid covered by a dirty red “Make America Great Again” cap.

“I was admiring your Airstream. There’s a few others here in the campground, but yours seems to be on the newer side,” he observed. “I like that they kept the fundamental design.”

Prescott’s rig was nothing fancy. He was parked at a site just up the hill from a scratchy patch of red dirt near my location. “I just bought that two weeks ago,” he bragged, pointing to his 30 foot Jayco Eagle. “It’s a 2006. Sold my house. Sold my garage. Got rid of all the shit I was never gonna use, and put the rest of it in the trailer with my two dogs. I figure I don’t need much, ‘cept my tools, my dogs, and my Harley. Got the Harley and the tools in the van.”

“That’s quite a payload over there,” I offered.

“I figure, between the trailer and what’s in the van, I’m probably towin’ close to 10,000 pounds, but I got a V-10 in there, an’ it does the job real nice,” Prescott responded.

“You say you got tools in there?” I inquired. I was thinking about the work in front of me, and wondered if anything inside his van could be useful to my installation job. Specifically, I had two new batteries that fit the box perfectly in length and width. However, the security lid had no way of closing over the assembly with the connections brimming over the lip of the box.

“Somethin’ ya need help with?” he asked earnestly.

“Just adding new batteries to the silver bullet. I thought I’d try to buy a little more flexibility and a little more freedom while criss-crossing the country,” I shared.

“Know watcha mean,” Prescott related. “I mean, I’m not ready to retire an’ all. That’s my living in the back of my van. Any kinda auto body work you need doin’, an’ I can take care of ya. Even got a welding torch back there. But I hear ya loud an’ clear ’bout bein’ free. The way I see it, there’s no reason to go back to the way of life I had before, when all I ever did was keep payin’ the man, an’ never really gettin’ ahead. But this here trailer is a game-changer.”

“What about your hat?” I asked. “Is Trump doing the job you expected him to do?” 

“That asshole!?” Prescott quickly reacts. “This hat is just a reminder that the whole fuckin’ government can go fuck itself!”

Prescott’s admission makes me smile. “Really!?” I’m amused now.

“Damn fuckin’ straight, man! In fact, the best government is no government at all. That’s real freedom. Think back to the Wild West. Everything was just fine until the Sheriff came to town and infected everybody with his corrupt justice, when actually, all those folks ever really needed was a gun an’ a reason to use it if necessary. That’s exactly what we need here today,” Prescott confessed. “All them police can just go fuck themselves.”

“Sounds like anarchy to me,” I responded.

“Fuck yeah!” he asserted. “Just so ya know, there’s this Freedom Rally comin’ up in Arizona later in June… Just in case you’re interested in puttin’ the free back in freedom,” asserted Prescott.

“Sorry, man,” I exhaled. “But we’re heading north through the end of September. I hesitated, “But it sounds like my kind of fun.”

“You ever change your mind, you’re always welcome,” he enthused.

I’m happy to report that the batteries are now in place and making a real difference. With the help of Dan, Leah’s son-in-law, we were able to build up the battery box rim to accept the lid.

Consequently, there’s presently enough power to run the water pump, the lights, and the refrigerator while we simultaneously charge all of our electronics. And equally as important, there’s energy to spare to watch cable TV news.

Here’s hoping that Prescott avoids the news crews.

What Time Is It?

Camping inside Guadalupe Mountain National Park is notable for the dramatic setting presented to travelers sharing the trail head to Guadalupe Peak, the highest peak in Texas at 8751 feet elevation–fronted by El Capitan, it’s foremost surveyor’s point.

El Capitan

Access to the park is available to limited numbers of tents, trailers and RVs behind the Pine Springs Visitor Center, where the Guadalupe Mountains fan out in a protective panorama. Reservations are unavailable, as it’s first come, first served dry camping that is best described as boondocking in narrowly aligned asphalt stalls, where utility hook-ups and dumping stations are non-existant.

It was a crap shoot, but after a four-hour drive from Marfa, we score one of twenty available RV sites that are quickly filling up around us. An abundance of solar cell arrays dot the parking lot-with thirsty batteries soaking up sun rays needed for later use–while I, in turn, crank up the Honda 2000i generator to attend to our personal energy needs.

Our new neighbor, Mr. and Mrs. Salt and Pepper from the Sunshine State pull up beside us just as I disengage the F-150 from the Airstream, in search of the turn-off from the Guadalupe Pass that services the McKittrick Canyon Trail.

During our late-day hike, our marginal shade is supported by occasional juniper pines and Texas madrone…

Tree of Lifeas we cross several dry river beds…

canyon wallalong the arroyo to Pratt Cabin, a Depression-era structure built entirely of stone.

Pratt CabinRocking chairs under a cool porch provide perfect respite from the simmering sun.


Upon returning to the Airstream, we follow parking lot protocol with dinner preparation plans en masse, prompting Mr. S&P to cautiously knock on our screen door.

“Howdy, neighbor,” I announce through the screen with all good intentions. “What’s up?”

Holding back, but clearly annoyed, he addresses me in a veiled voice. “I hope you’re aware of the rules about running your generator,” he reprimands.

Gauging his tone, but uncertain of the point he’s trying to make, I answer, “Okay?”

“So were you planning on turning that thing off anytime soon?” He is more ordering than asking.

“Well, sure,” I try to reassure him, “but it’s only 7:30. I still have half an hour before quiet time.”

“I don’t think so,” he challenges, pointing to his watch.

He’s now flanked by his wife, who’s approached the Airstream to reinforce her husband’s position, and it becomes clear that he’s been put up to the task.

“Did you tell them about the rules?” she intervenes. “Tell them to read the rules by the bathroom.”

“I did, dear. He knows all about it,” her husband relents.

Now looking pointedly at me, she asks, “So why’s that thing still running? It’s 8:30, you know, and you’re out of time.”

“Look,” I start out. “I think you’re mistaken about the time. As I mentioned to your husband, I still have half an hour to go.”

“Not according to my phone,” she insists, waving her iPhone.

Leah joins me at the door to even the playground odds. “Then you must’ve forgotten about the time change,” Leah interjects. “We just crossed the border from Central to Mountain time, and you forgot to turn back your clocks.” Rubbing it in, “Didn’t you get the park memo?” she says smugly.

“Sounds reasonable,” she shrugs. Are you certain?” doubts Mrs. Salt and Pepper.

“You can’t rely on your phone,” Leah tutors her. “For some reason it’s not showing up yet.”

Mrs. S&P nudges her husband, teasing, “I can’t believe you didn’t know that.”

“Shit happens,” I announce, side-stepping the S&P’s on my way down the Airstream stairs. “While time is still on my side, please excuse me while I tend to the chicken on the grill.”

Walking away, Mrs. S&P mutters to her mate, “I feel like such a fucking idiot!” Then, calling out to me, “By the way, that smells sooo goood.”

Returning to their RV box, I overhear Mr. S&P lament, “I told you not to bother them.”

I remain exalted in my vindication. At precisely 8:00 pm, I cut the generator din, restoring tranquility to the campground community where I’m no longer the menace of Guadalupe Mountain.

And I am absolved when the quiet of the thin mountain air carries the collective sigh of my next-door neighbors through their hollow RV wall.

Blogger’s Preamble

This trip has been in the planning stages for the better part of two years, but it’s been a vision of mine for over 30 years. Two things I realized early on: I’d have to wait until I retired, and I’d have to find someone compatible enough to join me on this wacky adventure. I’m happy to report that both conditions have been met.

Most importantly, Leah and I have been together for nearly 12 years because we forgive each other’s most embarrassing moments and tolerate each other’s most defining idiosyncrasies. We have become formidable collaborators regardless of our separate opinions and talents. Our curiosity knows no boundaries, and our appreciation of the “great outdoors” is a driving force to explore the outer limits.

We spent four weeks together last summer romping through Alaska and Yukon in preparation for this trip. Our objective was simple: to still be talking to each other by the time we returned home. While there were some tense moments along the way, it was always the laughter that eased every crisis. By passing this test, it allowed us to set our sights on bigger goals.

Of course, all of this became possible by my retiring from the NYC Department of Education after eleven years of teaching high school to students with special needs. Teaching Special Education was not a calling; it was an assignment. By enrolling and being selected into the 2006 cohort of the Teaching Fellowship, I was introduced to an urban population of teenagers that collectively knew the struggles of academic failure, the isolation of being different, the limits of parental/guardian support, and the epic challenge to be better than everyone’s expectations.

It wasn’t easy. There were a few victories along the way, but way too many disappointments made more disappointing by a system that lost its way. Too often, colleagues of mine were reminded by administrators that “It’s all about the kids,” yet the rhetoric always exceeded the reality. I’ve seen my share of budget misappropriations, bully pulpit principals, invisible discipline accountability, and city denial. I’m sure it wasn’t always this way, because I’ve met so many great teachers during my tenure who would do anything for their students, and leverage their students’ successes in order to continue teaching. Yet, it was enough to make me weary and yearn for more.

This trip is all about yearning for more. It’s about discovery, reflection and purpose.