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Home-grown Webcam Evolution

Good, fast, or cheap: pick any two. A few years ago, I decided to build a webcam, rather than buy one, which were about $100, plus whatever monthly service charge for hosting the link on the cloud. I’m not sure I beat the cost, quality, or speed, but it’s kept me actively managing the system. Instead of a plug-n-play wifi-enabled little module, I have a rats-nest of wires, USB hubs, USB external disk drives, Raspberry Pi with external camera on a ribbon cable, and, now, extension cords and 50-foot CAT5e cable. About once a year, I wear out the flash drive that the system runs from, so there is some on-going cost. Plus, much coding in Python and Bash, a distributed network system to process the video, cron jobs, an API key and code to get weather information and sunrise/sunset times to turn the camera on and off.
Meanwhile, the landscaping has grown up around the office window, so the camera sees mostly flowers and bees (left view). So, I moved it to the office closet, which was not so simple. 1) Being “cheap and fast,” the software wasn’t very “good,” so I had to modify the Python code to provide a way to restart the system during the day without losing all the footage: the system keeps a week’s worth of data, and erases last week’s when starting a new day. This also entailed generating images with a timestamp, rather than a simple index, as the camera software libraries start indexing at 1 each instance.
OK, that’s done, and the system retested, bugs fixed, etc., which ended up losing most of a couple day’s surveillance: “cheap” means not having a second system for development and test, and “fast” means not doing a proper code review before testing, which leaves “good” out of the equation.
Of course, nothing ever goes smoothly: after moving the computer/camera, the USB hub and disks into the closet, we weren’t getting communication with the processor.  So, drag everything out next to the desk so we could hook up a console (keyboard, mouse, and monitor) to the computer, retest with the original ethernet cable, then with the long one.  Everything worked, inexplicably, since nothing really changed except having the console hooked up.  Unhooked the console, and moved everything, still running, back into the closet, then adjust the camera  view, and we’re done–except for resetting the key agent so the computer could talk to the video processing computer.
Our program takes a photo every 10 seconds, updated to the web server, then assembles a timelapse video once an hour, showing one hour in 30 seconds.  After letting the revised program run for a couple hours, we checked the logs and directories: still showing last week’s video.  Aha.  The video compositor program needs a numerical sequence for the images in order to assemble a video: the timestamp doesn’t meet specification.  So, back to the drawing board, rewrite the Bash script on the video processing computer to renumber the files in a format the video assembly utility understands.  Success at last.  The system is now fully functional, but made a bit more complex by the simply addition of a restart ability.
The results can be viewed at

So, not fast, not good, and not cheap, when you consider the effort put into a custom, one-of-a-kind system. But, it keeps me in practice coding and designing.  And, because it runs on Linux, I can keep the security patches current: many purchased plug-and-play “appliances” have their code burned in at time of manufacture, and may be designed around already obsolete and buggy software.  My little system has undergone several major upgrades of the Debian Linux distribution core system  (Linux kernel 4.9.35, patched 30 June 2017: latest release is 4.12) and gets regular security patches and bug fixes.  That’s even newer than my primary laptop (Kernel 3. 13.0, patched 26 June 2017).  Considering all the little Rasperry Pi machines scattered around the house, it may be prudent to work on configuring them for diskless boot, in order to preserve the flash memory chips on-board.

Not your plug-n-play webcam…

Warm Showers Hosting is a web-based organization that connects bicycle tourists with hosts to share lodging while on tour.  There are no fees, except for voluntary donations from members to keep the web site running, and accommodation provided to guests at no cost.  The accommodations offered range from a place to pitch a tent with access to toilet and shower facilities to a furnished guest room or cottage with full meals, laundry service, sag service (transporting bikes, gear, and riders from their route to the accommodation or to/from bicycle repair shops, train or bus stations, or airports), and minor repairs.  Guests, in turn, often bring food to share or small presents for the hosts, if convenient to do so.  We provide “all the above,” serving an evening meal and  breakfast.  Occasionally, guests will offer to cook or treat us to dinner out, but we know from experience that a hot shower and warm meal after a long day on tour is most welcome, and a good breakfast starts the next day’s tour off right.

We first became aware of Warm Showers in the early 2000s when we lived in Hamilton, Montana, 80 km south of the headquarters of Adventure Cycling Association (ACA), and on the Transamerica and Lewis and Clark routes. There were several hosts in town and we were still working, so we didn’t sign up then. But, in the fall of 2009, we moved to western Washington, 70 km south of Bremerton, to a small town on the ACA Pacific Coast Route, Seattle Connector for the Washington Parks Route, and the route in the Kirkendall-Spring book “Cycling the Pacific Coast.”  We bought a large 1920s Craftsman bungalow near downtown, and found ourselves full-up the first year, with grown children and grandchildren taking up the extra bedrooms while we all waited out the slump in the housing market to sell our former houses. Both of us continued to work at our home-based businesses, in computer consulting and long-arm quilting services.

After the family moved out, and we settled into semi-retirement, we bought a new tandem bicycle in the spring of 2011 and planned to tour again. We had gone on several multi-day tours in the 1980s, but had just taken day rides since, despite planning longer tours. Since we had three extra bedrooms now, we decided to join Warm Showers as hosts, to give us an opportunity for lodging when and if we started touring again, and to become part of the bicycle touring community, meeting other tourists and sharing stories.

Not long after we joined and shortly after we took delivery of our new bicycle, we got our first guest, Todd, who was also new to Warm Showers. The experience was perfectly natural for both of us, and we never looked back: in the six years since, we have hosted more than 160 guests, stayed with five Warm Showers hosts while on our own tours, and have so far met with one other host in a town a day’s ride away, and kept touch with her and others through social media.

Todd – Vancouver, BC – Imperial Beach, CA

Over the years, our guest list has included five small children under the age of five, and two dogs. We’ve also had two adult mother-daughter teams and one father-son team. Our guests have ranged in age from 8 months to early 70s, but most are in the 25-45 age range.

Reuben, Heidi, Eden, and Harper – Toronto to Cheyenne, Vancouver, BC to Panama City, Panama, Richmond to Toronto: one year, 8000 miles.

In the early years, we would sometimes ride out with our guests in the morning, up to 20 or 25 km. Sarah, below, on her second tour and first solo tour, was a bit apprehensive about cycling the back roads, but continued on another 20 days. We’ve kept in touch: she has had some amazing adventures in Patagonia and across the country, and now works as a tour guide  for ACA.

Tour-season sendoff at the Bucks Prairie Store, Cloquallum
Riding to Olympia with our first Warm Showers guest of the season, Andreas. (at Island Market, halfway)

Located a day’s ride from Seattle and three to five days ride from Vancouver, we found that a lot of our guests were in a “shakedown” stage of their tours: mechanical problems tend to show up within a few days of starting out. We also noted that, if guests arrived on a Surly, Salsa, Kona, or other brand specifically designed and built for long-distance loaded touring, we would send them off in the morning with no more than topping off tires and water bottles. The bike-shop road bikes, overloaded or without front racks, would get loaded onto the car bike rack and sagged off to the nearest bike shop, 30 km away in Olympia. Bike shops normally have a minimum shop fee and a two-to-three-week turn-around time, but I was able to make a deal with a neighborhood shop to get tourist’s bikes in first thing in the morning so they were on their way by noon. Most we rerouted with maps from the bike shop back to their intended route.

A broken disc brake meant a trip to the bike shop for one of this threesome. We went south and they other two went west.  I plotted a route for him from the bike shop to intercept his fellow travelers: they met up and were able to get to shelter before the afternoon thunderstorms arrived.
While loading her bike, I noticed a broken spoke, so it was off to the bike shop, and reroute her to get back on track. The bike shop was in the right general direction, so she didn’t lose any time.

While we advertise a maximum of four guests (we have two furnished guest rooms with queen beds), we rarely turn away “drop-in” guests who call the same day.  The group above called from a few blocks away on a rainy evening after we had already set dinner for two guests who had arrived earlier.  We ordered pizza delivery while setting up sleeping space in the living room and craft studio for the extras.  We’ve also set up an air mattress in the upstairs craft studio when we’ve had three or more guests who didn’t want to share a bed.

Sometimes, we get guests going both directions: the foursome above had two headed for Seattle after riding around the Olympic Peninsula, the other two coming from Vancouver, headed for California.

In this case, the couple with the baby found their friend (with the dog) was traveling the same direction, but by a different route, and arranged to meet at our house.  We met her on the road while returning home that day and led her to our house before her friends arrived.

On our own tour, we didn’t plan on using Warm Showers for the last half, as we had shipped our camping gear home earlier, but Scot spotted us in a grocery store parking lot and brought us home, giving up his own bedroom to sleep on the sofa.

First post-surgery meal, in the ICU

The only time we cancelled on guest reservations: I failed a treadmill test and woke up with a 20-cm incision down my chest and tubes hanging out.  And a spot on my leg where they had borrowed one of those good bicycling veins to bypass a clogged artery in my heart.  That also put us on the “unavailable” list for the rest of the summer.

Jameson had made a reservation for the previous day, but his mileage estimates were off, so he just stopped by for coffee and a chat midday the next day in early June, and didn’t stay. He is a yoga instructor, so we had something in common besides a love of cycling.

We’ve had a number of Warm Showers members who have made contact and gotten information, or who have miscalculated weather, distance, or other factors that caused them to cancel or undershoot or overshoot us.  Some have shifted dates after first contact.  It’s always good to update hosts with projected arrival times, delays, etc.

Several years ago, Eric ran into late-season wet, cold weather, leaving him stranded “in the middle of nowhere” wet, cold, and in the dark.  We got a call at 7:30 in the evening, after he had tried to contact many other hosts near his location.  We made a 60-km run to rescue him.  He had been touring continuously for over a year and his rain gear was worn out, not that it would have done much good in the cold November rain.  He has since ridden the GDMBR (Great Divide Mountain Bike Race) and rode the first 1000 km of the Transamerica race.  We’ve since upgraded our sag vehicle from a small SUV with a tandem rack on top to a cargo van.

We keep a small collection of toys our grandsons outgrew, to entertain our younger guests.  Toddlers take readily to touring, as long as the parents juggle nap time and play time into their riding schedules.  Older children do well on tandems, triples, and pedal trailers.

We usually cook, but some guests like to have a home-cooked meal of their own, and treat us.  We’ve collected a few good recipes from guests.  We convinced this  couple to stay and extra day and continue by public transit on Monday during a period of cold and wet weather, so they took over the cooking chores after a day out downtown.  We live within walking distance of a movie theater, supermarket, several restaurants and coffee shops, and the public library, giving guests an opportunity to explore a bit off the bike.

Some of our guests have overextended or had mechanical problems, arriving courtesy of passers-by who sagged them to our house. Sometimes—and we have first-hand experience ourselves, on tour—those “tour angels” spot trouble before the riders realize they could use help. We do now offer sag service, having acquired a van for our own rail-trail touring plans, but there are areas of poor cell service in our area, so calling for pickup is not always an option.    We have hosted guests from a dozen different countries: some have purchased SIM cards to use their phones in the U.S., but some don’t, relying on WiFi for data connections.

Our father-son team, above, and a mother-daughter team, below.  The mother, below, turned out to be friends with long-time friends of ours who live in her home town.  Over the years, we’ve hosted cyclists who know each other, or who have stayed as guests at hosts who have been our guests.  We’ve read tales of guests meeting up with other guests farther down the coast and riding together or staying at the same other hosts.  It’s a small community, considering.

Over the years, we’ve met so many people from many countries, of all ages, and different work backgrounds, but the thing we have in common is that we all crazy in the same way–we just have to get on our bicycles and pedal off over the horizon now and then.  Being hosts has kept us active in cycling: since opening our doors to Warm Showers guests in our late 60s, we’ve made three tours of a week or more, and many day trips, often on trails across the country.  Since joining Warm Showers, we’ve logged more than 5000 km, despite nearly a year off to recover from heart surgery.

As we get older, hosting becomes a bit of a burden, especially during the busy season, when we get one to four guests  a night for several days running.  This year, we decided to book time for ourselves to train and prepare for our own outings, limiting hosting to a few short periods during the season.  For a couple of years, we were the only hosts in our town, so we were reluctant to turn away guests, but now there are three in town and a couple of others not far away.

Our hosting facilities:

The Warm Shower, result of a major bathroom upgrade a few years ago.
The primary guest room, on the first floor.
The “bicycle room” on the second floor, with several pieces of bicycle art and books.
For coffee drinkers, we supply made-to-order espresso drinks, press, or Kuerig.
For tea drinkers, we keep a wide selection of black, green, and herbal teas.
Laundry facilities are also available to guests.
For canine guests or those allergic to cats, we can accommodate a tent or two on the porch. Bicycles get locked in the garage, which can be accessed through the basement.

Of course, meals are prepared in the kitchen and served in the dining room, photos of both shown earlier with guests.  Evening conversation moves to the living room, where there is a gas fireplace for chilly evenings and mornings. The covered porch, patio, and lower deck are also available for conversation or privacy in warm weather. We offer high-speed Internet (cable) with WiFi, and have a small older laptop with a guest account for use if needed. We often print out Google maps and cue sheets for custom routes, and have supplied GPS track files or Google map links via email or message.

We have a floor pump with Presta and Schrader fittings for use by guests, and the usual tools for minor repairs, including degreaser and shop rags. In addition to limited sag service with our own vehicles, Mason County Transit buses run Monday through Saturday from downtown Shelton, with bike racks and service to Olympia, Bremerton, and Brinnon, with connections to Grays Harbor County (Montesano & Aberdeen) and Jefferson County (Port Townsend) transit services as well as Kitsap County transit, the Washington State Ferries to Seattle, and the Olympia Intercity Transit with connection to Amtrak. Roll-on bicycle service is available on Amtrak at the Olympia-Lacey terminal with service to Seattle, Portland, and Eugene.

Over the years, in addition to delivering bikes to the bike shop in the city, we’ve also made runs to the nearby hardware store for missing or stripped stainless steel metric screws, safety-wired a homemade trailer hitch, supplied a spare tire from our stash, and delivered articles left, either in person or by parcel service. We’ve answered queries from travelers who didn’t stay with us, including route advice, and where to leave your car when starting/ending a tour nearby (try a self-storage yard). Not surprisingly, we’ve had reciprocal treatment when we travel–hosts picking up most of our gear for the last few miles, sag lifts from strangers met on the road, a lift to a bike shop for supplies, awesome meals, and close-up encounters feeding apples to a captive elk herd. Being part of the Warm Showers community enriches our lives and is a means of paying forward all the kindnesses done for us over the years, cycling or not.

Last, but not least, being a part of Warm Showers brings us closer to the bicycle touring community and makes it more likely for us to reach out to tourists we see that could use a hand.  A couple of weeks ago, we were at a nearby (20 km)  bakery on a rainy day when an older bicycle tourist came in to dry out and warm up, intending to wait out the rain, even if it meant bivouacking behind the bakery.  We struck up a conversation, soon recognizing him as a legend among the world trekking and bicycle touring folks, as well as in his home country, Australia, for his cycling exploits and trekking with camels around Australia.  The rain subsided somewhat, later that day, and Klaus took us up on our invite to spend the night, even though he wasn’t a  Warm Showers member.  Normally, we’d ask tourists we meet this way to join (that’s how we recruit), but Klaus has been nomadic for 23 years and, at 69, doesn’t plan to settle down anytime soon.  He also prefers to camp wherever the day ends, but was grateful for a chance to dry his gear and sleep out of the rain.  And, we were glad to have met him, hear his stories first hand, and to have a chance to ride with a legend, if only a short way to send him off on the next leg of his life-long adventure.

Klaus Menzel, “The Camel Man of the Outback,” world traveler, and a very interesting fellow.

Don’t WannaCry? Hack-proof Your Computer

As the resident computer “guru emeritus” in our family, I often get questions from family members about computers, particularly computer security.  I’m not a Windows expert by any means, though I was briefly a Windows NT sysadmin in the mid 1990s and the Unix and GNU/Linux systems for which I was responsible had to coexist with, but independent from, Windows Server Active Directory domains throughout the first decade of this century.  As the latest hacker disaster to befall the Windows world sweeps across the planet, I got this request from a cousin:

I was wondering whether you had any advice for us Microsoft PC users and the cyber attack which they predict is rolling our way. We don’t do online banking or bill-paying. We do have a lot of pictures and documents. Most of the pictures I have on a  flash drive. Do you think they will only hit the institutions? Sounds like Europe was not prepared and was operating on an old system. Hopefully our country has a “heads up” to protect our government institutions, airports and banks.

We haven’t fired up our two Windows 10 instances since the news (one is Judy’s new laptop, which runs Linux from a thumb drive “all the time,” the other is a refurbished desktop we only use for TurboTax).  But, when we do, the first thing will be to grab the security patches from M$FT.
1) Always install Microsoft updates as soon as they are released.
2) Any machine that is directly connected to the Internet (i.e., plugged into your DSL or cable modem instead of wifi or a router) is in immediate danger.  So is any machine for which the router firewall is turned off or for which port forwarding is turned on for vulnerable ports.  The “bad guys” use bots that scan the entire Internet looking for open ports to penetrate.  The machine that handles our webcam has port 8080 (redirect to 80 internally) and 22 (secure login for me to access our systems remotely) open: the logs show hundreds of break-in attempts every day.  Naturally, we limit access to accounts that present known secret encryption keys, and don’t write web applications vulnerable to code injection.  Once an attack has gained access to an internal network through any machine, all the machines behind the firewall are vulnerable.  We got hacked last year because I reinstalled the system and didn’t disable the default accounts before putting it back on the network.  It only needs a few minutes exposure to be compromised, with the observed rate of attacks.
3) Downloaded programs, including mislabeled email attachments or web links, can deliver malware that will corrupt your machine: the ransomware currently in the news can get in through an open port without any help from the user, but also through “Trojans” (files that look like something you want or look innocent but aren’t).  A firewall won’t help if you invite them in. The most common attacks are notices that appear to be from your bank or credit card company or utility provider that require you to open an attachment or click on a link to see the notice or respond.  Since modern email apps and web browsers tend to hide the full header or complex URL it is very difficult to tell which ones are fake–misspellings and vague, non-explicit wording in the text are tell-tale, but the safe way to address these is to login to your account through the browser instead of the link in the message to check if it is legitimate.
4) Linux, OS/X, and IOS are much less vulnerable, as they are inherently more secure and a minority target (except for servers and routers, which is why our Linux gateway gets attacked so much).  Security upgrades are much more promptly distributed, as well. Android devices, which are Linux-based, but tend not to be updated regularly, have become vulnerable.  Older routers may also be vulnerable: make sure that external login/configuration is disabled.  Newer routers may be configured for automatic upgrades, but still should not allow external login.
5) As always, good passwords are essential.  Don’t use non-HTTPS web sites from a public wifi access or one that uses a web-page login rather than a wifi connection password.  Anything that is convenient or intuitive is probably not safe.  [See #9 below for more detail]
6) If you must use Windows, do keep up your virus protection subscriptions, even though the worst attacks may be undetectable.
7) If you don’t already do so, buy a USB hard drive larger than your computer hard drive and back up your computer regularly, or subscribe to a cloud service for your important files–photos and documents.  Even if you don’t get hacked, hard drives have a half-life of about 3-5 years and fail with alarming frequency.  Fans die and fry your machine, too: even if the hard drive is still OK, professional file recovery is expensive (an external drive dock compatible with your hard drives is a good investment if you know how to use it).  Keep in mind that laptop hard drives are probably encrypted, so can’t be recovered easily if removed from the computer.
8) Just say “no” to Microsoft…  I know, almost impossible.  We use iOS (iPad, iPhone) and Linux exclusively for Internet use, but still need to fire up Windows now and then and put them on the Internet for Microsoft and other vendor updates, and file taxes, so we share the same dread as everyone else, plus the other burdens of keeping servers and web apps secure.
9) As the WannaCry ransomware plague becomes better revealed, it appears that the primary attack is through the file-sharing protocol used by Microsoft, SMB, or Server Message Block.  If you have enabled file sharing between computers or inadvertently have the service running even if you don’t connect with other computers on your network, you are vulnerable until patched.  Even if your network is secure, i.e., you connect through a router and the firewall is turned on, using a laptop at a public access site can expose you.  Needless to say, your own WiFi router needs to have a strong WPA2 password.  If you have old equipment that uses WEP or no security, upgrade or reconfigure your network now.  Even if guest networks (motels, restaurants, coffee shops, businesses, etc) have WPA2, you may be exposed to attack by other users (or compromised equipment) on the network.  If in doubt, use your smartphone’s data plan on the cellular network instead of your laptop or wifi on your hand-held.
10) The latest information on computer exploits, although technical, is always available on,  the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team, a branch of Homeland Security.  This site will have information on severity, what systems are affected, and links to security fixes.
Lastly, if you are hacked, the only recourse is to wipe the disk, reformat, and reinstall the operating system and restore your backed-up data files.  In the event you don’t have a backup, it may be possible for a file recovery service technician to boot your machine into a safe operating system (like Linux) from an external USB drive, mount the drive as data only and recover your data files (if the drive is not corrupted or encrypted by the attack), but it is generally not possible to reliably remove the attacker’s files and restore the operating system without a complete wipe/reinstall.  If the attack is ransomware, the data is not recoverable without the attacker’s decryption key.  Even if you pay the ransom, you may recover your data, but the disk needs to be wiped and reformatted and not placed back on a network until the security fixes have been applied.
If you are curious about the concept of ransomware, hacking in general, and enjoy a good read, check out Neal Stephenson’s novel “REAMDE,” a techno-thriller about ransomware that attacks users of an on-line multi-user game.  The characters include a credit-card thief (briefly), the game designer, Russian mafia, the Chinese hacker, and a Polish white-hat hacker, and the action flows from Seattle to China, Canada, and Montana.  Warning:  heavy on computer and gaming cultural references.  Neal knows his stuff–it’s all realistic tech, if fantastic and wacky.

Road Trip 2017, Part 1, Stage 4: There’s No Place Like Home

Our travels through the fictional fractured former United States continue, hence the geographic references that may be unfamiliar to those readers who believe the Federation propaganda that the Republic still stands intact.  Our travels in this chapter take place in the countries of Greater California, Jefferson, and Cascadia, which extend up the Pacific coast from north of San Diego to Prince Rupert and east to the Sierras and Cascades in California, Jefferson, and the Oregon and Washington districts of Cascadia, and the Rockies in the Columbian District.  Free White Idaho extends from the Cascades to the Rockies south of the 49th Parallel.  Jefferson extends from north of Sonoma County, Gr. Cal., to the southern reach of the Willamette Valley.

[all photos by Judy unless otherwise noted]

Farm road, San Joachin Valley

Our trip became more normal with our return to the independent republics on the West Coast of North America, where Federation loyalist influence is much less, though still significant in the news.  Leaving Bakersfield, we head north through familiar place names: streets and highways named after popular country-western music artists of the mid-twentieth Century: Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, and others.  After our drive across the Mojave, the north-bound routes seem frantic and busy.  We soon turn off the old Highway 99 onto farm roads through the San Joaquin Valley, meandering between CA 99 and I-5, sometimes through potholed and muddy tracks  indistinguishable from the cattle feedlots that line them, as seen above.

Hills along CA 198 west of Coalinga

After a brief run up I-5, we turn off toward Coalinga, and over the mountains toward the coast, turning north up a verdant and quiet valley, joining US 101 and its heavy traffic for a run through Silicon Valley into San Francisco, where we will spend a few days site-seeing before continuing toward home.

Judy hadn’t spent time in downtown San Francisco before.  I had spent a 3-day pass from the U.S. Army there, 51 years ago in 1966, riding the cable cars, dining at Fisherman’s Wharf and Chinatown.  A return trip in 1983 was spent entirely at the Moscone Center in a computer conference devoted to the doomed 8-bit personal computer operating system CP/M  from Digital Research, which was supplanted by the 16-bit Microsoft knock-off MS-DOS within a few months.  We stayed a block from the China Gate and a couple blocks from Union Square this time, within walking distance of shopping and restaurants.

As we often do when visiting a large city, we bought a two-day bus tour package, and set off on a rainy morning.  The upper open deck on the buses was awash in the downpour, so we imagined the sights the guides described as we peered through the fogged-over and rain-smeared windows.  We changed buses at Fisherman’s Wharf, with a quick look around, then off to the Golden Gate Bridge, where we had a wet and blustery layover before catching the Sausalito bus.  We stopped briefly on the north end of the bridge, shrouded in mist before descending into the city by the bay for a 20-minute layover before returning over the bridge once more for another wet wait for the next bus.

Union Square, San Francisco (photo by Larye)

The next destination was Golden Gate Park and the Haight-Ashbury district, which, again, we glimpsed through the perforated sunscreens and film of rain on the bus windows.  After heading back downtown around City Hall, we disembarked at Union Square for lunch, then caught the alternate bus route back to Fisherman’s Wharf, where we toured on foot, catching the last bus back to Union Square.  On this route, the rain had stopped long enough to permit riding on the open deck, so we did get good views of Chinatown and the financial district on this tour.

Transamerica Pyramid (photo by Larye)

The next morning, we sat through the customary sales pitch at the condo office to get part of our parking fee validated.  We thought $40 a day was outrageous, but we noted that other nearby hotels charged upwards of $60 per day.  While waiting for the tour bus, we noted that most of the guests at that hotel used Uber for ground transportation.  Our hotel brochure warned against bringing a car into the city, but, being on tour, we didn’t have much choice.

A late start took us on a repeat of yesterday’s route, without the side trip across the bridge.  We had planned on taking in some of the gardens at the Golden Gate Park, but the heavy rain continued, so we declined to disembark.  Once again, we were confined to the limited view from the lower compartment in the bus, but had better seats, so we were able to see some of the attractions we missed the day before.   Back at Union Square, we marched off to the Mall, where we had lunch at the bistro in the Nordstrom department store, in solidarity with the Cascadia-based chain with which the Federation had started a trade war the day before, after the store had dropped the royal family’s clothing line.  Word from our contacts in Free White Idaho indicate that a major department store chain based in the Ozark District has taken up the slack and is enjoying exports of the royal line to the FWI as well as throughout the Federation.

The next morning, we headed north in sunshine, making sure to drive through some of the areas we had toured, but not seen, from the bus.  We had intended to head east to visit with an old friend, but the bad weather had made the roads unreliable.  Indeed, by the end of the weekend, hundreds of thousands of people living between us and them were being evacuated as the flood waters overflowed the largest reservoir to the east and threatened to breach the dam due to erosion on the spillways.  So, we headed across the bridge through Sausalito once more, finally outrunning the city traffic north of Santa Rosa as we crossed over into the Republic of Jefferson.

Palace of Fine Arts, Panama-Pacific Exhibition, 1915, a simpler but more elegant time.  I once owned a Sonora Phonograph, which won a Gold Medal at this exhibition for quality and sound, and which was a beautiful piece of furniture as well.   Sonora was taken over by its investors in 1929 and failed in 1930, a victim more of hostile takeover than the Great Depression. (photo by Larye)

We spent the night in Eureka, then headed inland at Crescent City to Rogue River for lunch with my cousin and her husband before continuing north over the mountains into our home territory of Cascadia, arriving in Eugene along the Willamette River for the next night.  We headed north on old Highway 99 in the morning in dense fog, which lifted near Junction City.  We took the west branch of 99 through Corvallis and McMinnville, then winding back roads to Hillsboro and Scappoose, then up Highway 30 to Rainier, where we crossed the Columbia and then the Cowlitz to continue home on I-5.

Avenue of the Giants, scenic route through the redwood forest.

So ended the first road tour of 2017, covering about 8000 km in three weeks.  We plan a trip to Victoria in June and an extended tour to Minnesota and Eastern Canada in September.  We may venture into the FWI sometime this summer if the borders stay open, as we still have family and close friends in the Mission and Bitterroot valleys.  We took Maximillian, our hybrid crossover vehicle, on this trip because we needed extra seating, and it was easy on fuel without the bicycle on top, burning about 6 liters per 100 km when we stuck to the lower-speed roads.  For the rest of the trips, we plan to drive the White Knight, which burns about 14 liters per 100 km, but we can camp in it and take our bicycle, and it blends in better when traveling in the interior republics.  We’ve been careful in this divided age not to display any political insignia, which may in itself raise suspicion in some districts, where patriotic displays of the majority’s ideological symbols are common and expected.  The environmental statement the hybrid vehicle makes may attract unwanted attention in those districts by itself, so the older, nondescript work vehicle may be the best choice, even if it isn’t the most efficient.

Road Trip 2017, Part 1, Stage 3: The Southwest Zones

We continue with our travelogue of adventures in a fictional parallel universe where everything is familiar, except the United States has split into six major separate countries and several smaller independent city-states, the result of an insurmountable divide between left and right with the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as President of what is left of the USA, predominantly red states united in a loose federation. The independent states consist of three culturally and economically diverse nations on the West Coast, and two states in the Rocky Mountain West, based on religious conservatism on the one hand and extreme right-wing ideology on the other. Islands of blue across the eastern two-thirds of the country comprise most of the city-states, with a few in the west that don’t fit well with the surrounding territory.  We also see increased independence in the indigenous peoples’ territories. Meanwhile, we enjoy visits with family, whether or not they agree with our politics, and travel through regions where we might be considered “foreigners” in a fractured country.  And, we hope, present the reader with some thought-provoking questions about what it means to be an American: whether we are a diverse unity or moving toward a uniformity intolerant of diversity that strains our constitution to the breaking point.

Border Patrol Checkpoint between Las Cruces and Hatch — inside the borders of the old Republic, and which has existed throughout this century and perhaps for nearly 50 years.  Records are vague, but the authority for such checkpoints dates back as far as 1953,

Leaving Greater California, we crossed over into the Mountain Time Zone and into the patchwork Federation, putting up for the night in Eloy, a desolate stop with minimal services midway through the Arpaio Protectorate. We ate from our travel stash and the meager breakfast offerings at the hotel the next morning, driving 60 km to the nearest Starbucks for our morning coffee.

Old Town Bisbee

Figuring we might not have freedom to travel in the future, and eager to see places we’ve read about in books, we veered off the I-10 at Benson, driving through Bisbee, where fictional Sheriff Joanna Brady keeps the peace in the series of novels by J.A. Jance.  (We’ve also stayed at the B&B in Ashland, old Oregon, where fictional detective J.P. Beaumont stayed during one of his cases.)  Old Town was much more colorful than portrayed in the novels, which mostly take place in the more sedate new part of town and the surrounding desert.  Moving on through Douglas, we passed under the shadow of the tall prison walls that rise ominously near the Mexican border that separates Douglas from Agua Prieta, foreshadowing the rise of the Trump Wall.

We stopped for lunch in Lordsburg, where we needed to make the choice between “red, green, or Christmas” chile that is the essential part of every meal in this region.  Moving on, we find the effects of the new order fairly pronounced in the *real* universe.  Our B&B hostess in Mesilla, a transplanted Australian, was trying to sell, having lost her job and fearful of expulsion or worse as the wave of xenophobia sweeps over the land.

We spent a day in the old city of El Paso, visiting historical sites and museums with our granddaughter and son, and a few more days visiting with children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great grandchildren in Las Cruces before heading north for more family visits.  [The cultural diversity of the region makes it impossible to consider closing the border here, hence we find it logical to assume our alternative universe provides an extended city-state composed of two American counties in two states and a Mexican city that is surrounded by a new border, which, in many ways, already exists, and has for decades.]

Choosing the old road along the Rio Grande was perhaps not wise, as we endured a bit more grilling at the border crossing between the El Paso/Doña Ana Free State and the Southern Exclusion Zone than we probably would have traveling on the Interstate, where traffic moves through the checkpoint more rapidly. (See photo at beginning of this post.) Fortunately, we still have passports issued by the former United States, which got us through, with acceptable answers to questions about our itinerary and choice of  routing.

Lunch at Truth or Consequences (known as Hot Springs in early 20th Century maps of the old United States, before it was renamed to become the mail drop for a 1950s television quiz show) just up the road reminded us that the northern region’s cuisine has crept in, confining the southern style to the Free State to the south, where culinary influences remain influenced by Texas and Chihuahua.

Little seems changed in New Spain: Albuquerque continues to expand up the mountain and spill out west of the river, as well as grow inexorably toward the capital to the north.  At lunch the next day, I had a southern version of the Québécois poutine: hash browns smothered in chile and cheese and topped with a fried egg.

After celebrating a great-grandson’s 4th birthday with an evening at the local roller rink, we headed west on our long journey home.  The pueblo regions define the area outside the modern city.  The indigenous people stand to lose even more than they already have under a regime with no regard for the environment, so they band even stronger.  In Gallup, a mosque stands at the edge of town, as yet not burned to the ground, thanks to the strong indigenous presence, and at the west edge of town, a series of hogans built with modern materials mark the core of a native religious academy.

The Raven stands watch over the ancient petrified forest.

At the western boundary of the Navajo-Hopi confederacy stands the Ryan Zinke Mineral Reserve, which we tour.  While the petrified wood formations in the reserve still stand, the town of Holbrook is surrounded by acres of stone yards stacked high with the gem-like remains of ancient trees.  We overnight in Flagstaff, where it is winter, with icy streets and piles of snow in the corners of parking lots.

The Crystal Forest

The next morning, we head westward, clearly back in the Arpaio Protectorate, noted by the broken asphalt and potholes in the main roads so common in the Federation heartlands.  Squads of police from several local jurisdictions cluster in the highway median crossovers, possibly looking for non-patriots, this far north of the Southern Exclusion Zone.  Unwilling to take a chance on being detained for scrutiny, we turn off onto the old highway, through indigenous lands once more.

Near Kingman, the largest northwestern city in the Protectorate, we drive past gated communities and full RV parks, a sprawling city not on the maps, no doubt filled with refugees from the liberal states to the west and more moderate loyalists from the north.  We continue on the deteriorating old road, which rolls up and down across the desert arroyos, fortunately dry this week, but bearing marks of recent flash floods.  The narrow track winds across the mountains, with few guard rails, through old mines and the steep main street of Oatman, sometimes blocked by wild burros.

Driving through dust storm, Mojave Desert

Finally, we reach the Colorado River and cross into Greater California, where our clearly Cascadian appearance (old Washington registration plates on a hybrid vehicle) gets us a perfunctory wave through customs at the border.  Having last filled the tank in the Navajo territory at $0.56/liter, we fill up, shocked at the $0.95/liter prices.  The difference in price is the tax burden, between countries that don’t care about the environmental impact of fossil fuels and those that do.  The price also reflects the contribution to highway maintenance from fuel taxes.  We cross the Mojave Desert and over the mountains, past wind farms to Bakersfield for the night.