Coffee and Wifi

When you’re working on the road, coffee and wifi are as vital as gasoline. (Of course, coffee is just as vital when not on the road. And when not working. Mostly anytime you are breathing and not sleeping.)

Seattle basically has startups operating from coffee shops in place of downtown office buildings. You can barely walk down the street without starting a company. At the very least, everything you need to get started is right there in front of you: a desk, a conference room, free internet, examples to inspire you, hope that it’s possible.

Do aspiring entrepreneurs have that environment everywhere in the United States? Turns out, not exactly.

Many towns have no coffee shops at all. Or libraries. In towns like that, you start to appreciate that McDonald’s free wifi is providing a place to do homework or meet with startup co-founders.

The interstate offers more wifi spots than you might think. Pilot/Flying J truck stops have a monthly wifi subscription (a la Gogo for flights), some rest areas have wifi, and of course, the Starbucks, McDonald’s, and so on.

But I’ve been venturing off the highway and into towns. Here’s what I do. As I’m stopped getting gas or admiring a vista or whatever (see example vista below):


I open the Yelp app on my phone and choose Nearby > Coffee & Tea > Map View. I then scroll a little ahead and see if anything pops up. Then I switch back to list view and sort by stars. If I see something that’s less than 20 miles out of my way and has good reviews, I drive over to check it out.

Carpinteria Beach, CA (Lucky Llama Coffee)

The state beach campground in Carpinteria doesn’t have wifi and my cell signal was faint at best, so using it as a hotspot only sometimes worked. I walked a few blocks downtown and worked outside at Lucky Llama Coffee. Good coffee and great yogurt and fruit bowls!

Coffee and wifi

Riverside, CA (Back to the Grind)

I was staying with my sister in Riverside, but had to bring the RV downtown for that tire and brake situation, so I hung out at Back to the Grind downtown while the mechanic was checking things out. This place might be the quintessential example of a coffee shop. Good coffee, lots of comfy couches, a patio out back, a loft upstairs. With its huge wooden bar, tin ceilings, and low lighting, I could have been in Brooklyn.

Riverside, CA Coffee

Green River, UT (Green River Coffee Company)

Yelp told me this place had good breakfasts, and Yelp was not wrong. It also had an eclectic record collection.

Green River Coffee

Black Hawk, CO (Mountain Mocha Cafe)

The night of the Google Maps incident, I stayed in Black Hawk, CO, which is a crazy, crazy place. You drive through mountains, and nothing, and then all of a sudden, mini Las Vegas! I also came upon this disturbing mural that made me wonder if I was in Pawnee, Indiana.

Black Hawk, CO Mural

Black Hawk is the smallest town in Colorado, with a population of only 118.

Wikipedia tells us about a “heated competition” over who can attract the most gamblers: Black Hawk or nearby Central City. Black Hawk has benefited greatly from gambler laziness as drivers come upon Black Hawk first, so why keep driving? Central City fought back by (get this !) constructing a new highway as an alternate route that goes through Central City first!

Black Hawk CO Gambling

But in the end, Black Hawk has won out because “Gambling in Black Hawk also benefits from less restrictive building codes; while Central City until recently limited building heights to 53 feet to preserve the historic character of the town, Black Hawk has no such limits”. No kidding. (Black Hawk also apparently has more casinos than Atlantic City.)

Black Hawk banned bicycles until the law was overturned by the state Supreme Court. Wikipedia explains “the ban was prompted by a surge in traffic following the change in maximum casino betting limits from $5 to $100.” Well, sure.

The tiny little town is also home of Mountain Mocha Coffee, where they roast their own beans and make delicious soup and sandwiches. I hung out with the wifi for a couple of hours and then headed onward to Denver.

mountain mocha coffee black hawk co

Denver, CO (Weathervane Cafe)

First, it was rather thrilling to find street parking in Denver. The Weathervane Cafe is equally thrilling. Go upstairs where there’s a great patio, comfy chairs, and a tiny antique store.

weathervane cafe denver

Hoxie, KS (Oscar’s)

Yep, there’s a big cow in front.

Oscar's Hoxie KS

It’s interesting. All those towns, exactly like Hoxie. One long main street with a hardware store, maybe a diner, a gas station. In 9 towns of 10, no coffee shop. No wifi. No schools, no library. And then out of nowhere, the 10th town has Oscar’s.

After Kansas, I drove into Oklahoma. And Oklahoma deserves its own set of posts.


An Open Letter to Google Maps

Dear Google Maps,

You know how a million years ago when you first launched and there was no street view or anything cool like that and some Googlers thought it would be awesome to strap video cameras to their helmets and jump on mountain bikes to try and map trails?

Yeah. I think that data may have accidentally gotten mixed up with the data for the roads that cars can drive on.

Colorado is a lovely place. Woods, mountains, streams, cliffs – lots of nature is what I’m trying to say. And nature is really super cool. It is. Who doesn’t love nature?

I’ll tell you. Cars. Cars don’t love nature. Cars love roads. Put a car on a road and it drives along and it’s happy and the driver is happy and everyone is happy. Put a car in nature and suddenly the driver (that would be me) is trapped in one of those horror movies with shaky, amateur video on YouTube and ghost witches.

I was driving along a road in Colorado, admiring the lovely nature along the SIDES of the road. I checked my nifty Allstays iPhone app that shows me all the camping stops, complete with reviews and how many showers are available and found a KOA a couple of hours ahead. I called to make a reservation. The office closes at 9pm? No problem. I’ll be there WAY before 9.

Like a sucker, I followed the innocent-sounding evil voice that is Google Maps personified. Take this exit? Gladly! Turn down this road? For sure!

Wait, this road is dirt? That seems right. A lot of KOAs are a little out in the woods. I grew up in Oklahoma. I’m no stranger to dirt roads. Onward.

And here, Google Maps, here is where things took a turn.

It happened slowly, like in that apocryphal story about the frog in the pot of the ever-increasingly hot water.

The road kept getting rougher and narrower and rockier. The trees got darker and twistier. I realized what had once been a road was now a hiking trail, perhaps passable by mountain bikes. Not passable by RVs. The road was barely wide enough for one vehicle to fit. On one side, a ravine; the other side, a mountain. The only upside of being stranded in an RV on a hiking trail is that it’s unlikely another car will be coming from the other direction, effectively trapping you both forever.

I was ever so slowly climbing up a steep hill, bumping over rocks and tree branches and massive holes and no place to turn around. The “road” was washed out in several places; the terrain was so rocky that I worried the entire RV would bounce right off the road. Or the undercarriage would get smashed off and I’d be trapped there forever. Until bears ate me.

I’m sure I don’t need to clarify that my phone said “no service”. It got dark. I learned there are no street lights in the middle of horror movie nowhere woods.

And you, Google Maps. Adorable you. You were blinking furiously, unable to pinpoint a location.

It hit me then. This cannot possibly be the way to the KOA.

I mentioned there was no way to turn around?

I kept inching slowly forward, in the face of no other options. I finally found a slightly larger area where I could make an 800 point turn. And then I even more slowly went DOWNHILL down the same terrifying “road”.

I made it.

I made it!

I finally made it back to pavement and flat roads and cell service. It was just about 9pm. I called the KOA.

The woman that answered told me that the highway was closed due to a rock slide. I said that Google Maps had rerouted me through Yukon Gulch Road. “DON’T TAKE THAT ROAD.”

I told her it was too late.

I looked up York Gulch Road later and this is what I found, mostly on discussion forums for good hiking, four wheeling, ATVing, and dirt biking spots:

    • The road is suitable for a “high clearance 4 wheel drive vehicle”
    • “The road becomes very rough beyond the intersection of 739.1, 277.3 and 175.1. One major problem is that the road sign designations have been removed in a number of spots. This makes staying on the right road difficult. Also need to know that in many spots the road has become a dry stream bed and is washed out. With care and a good high 4X4 you can make it”
    • “Rocky and steep in places on the western half. Eastern half is rough in spots but easy. Side roads can be difficult. Roads are poorly marked and route-finding is challenging.”
    • ‘The following trails are for off-road vehicles only. Passenger vehicles will not be able to complete the trails”

I found meeting minutes from area that these roads are really:

“…old wagon and cow trails: and  “should not be considered “public roads” for property access. One problem has been the use of the wagon trails by 4-wheel and off-road vehicles over the years.”

And this great tidbit for directions to GOLF COURSE THAT GOES THROUGH A GHOST TOWN (!! Sorry for the all caps, but how awesome is that?):

“**** Do NOT use GPS directions that take you off I-70 at Exit #238 up York Gulch Road. Not passable. USE the Central City Parkway route.”

Also this from a discussion on a dirt biking meet up:


Someone posted pics to on a four wheeling discussion thread:




I took the road-based directions from the woman on the phone and got to the KOA a little after 9pm. The office was closed, but they took pity on me and my hands that were still shaking from the ordeal and gave me the golf cart escort to my site.

And in the morning, nature was beautiful again.


Anyway, Google Maps, maybe look to see if you’ve mixed up that old mountain biking data. Also, yes I realize I should have video taped the whole thing with my iPhone so at least I could have been a YouTube star, but I was too busy thinking I was going to die, and multitasking can be difficult when you have both hands glued to your steering wheel to keep your RV from bouncing off a cliff.




Zion Looks A Lot Like Black Out Curtains

Yeah, yeah. Zion National Park is beautiful and amazing and proof of God, etc.

But let’s talk about what’s really important. Temperature control.

It’s August. In the desert. It’s hot. My RV is a transformer version of a Chevy Express van. So basically a car. If it’s parked in the sun in 100+ degree heat, it can get a tiny bit warm inside.

Not like, nice and toasty in front of fire drinking hot chocolate warm. More like, wow, I would be super embarrassed if I set out on this RV adventure and then died of being hot.

The internet is full of RV hacks and a large number of them are focused on temperature control. How to keep the RV cool (or warm, but I’ve had no need to warm things up at any point yet). I’ve been reading up, plus watch what the experienced RVers do (I’m sure they all think I’m a crazy stalker).

First, if you read a lot of RV campground reviews (and I do), you’ll sometimes see people giving mad props to the parks with lots of shady spots. And you might think (like I did), oh how lovely. That park sounds pretty and wooded and peaceful. I can totally get why this reviewer would add stars for shade trees. But you would be naive.

You know sometimes it’s super hot and let’s say you’re going to the mall and maybe you’re in college so you have kind of a crappy car with vinyl seats. And so when you get to the mall you see this awesome parking spot under a tree and you think, yay, shady spot! Because you’re wearing these great shorts and you know that if you leave your car parked in the sun, when you get back into your car after browsing the Pacific Sun store and getting an Orange Julius (did I mention, it’s also 1992), you’ll sit down and all of your skin will instantly be burned from your body and you’ll have to spend the rest of the summer wearing the that one maxi dress you have.

My point is that the sites at most RV parks are not shaded in any way. So when you find a park with shade, you give it as many stars as will allow.

Also, the very second you park, you have to instantly spring into action, put up your reflective window shade, and close all of your curtains. You might think, but Zion is so beautiful! I came here to bask in the beauty of it all. Doesn’t matter. The beauty means nothing if you’ve collapsed from a heat stroke. Because your eyes will be closed at that point anyway.

I now have reflective shades for both the front and back windows and my curtains go all around (I also have covers for the little windows in the roof). A lot of people custom make reflective covers for the rest of the windows, but I keep waiting for someone to sell them on Etsy as that seems like a lot of work.

Of course, in addition to shade and reflective shades and curtains, you’ll want air conditioning. My Roadtrek has basically a wall air conditioner in the back (above the living room/bedroom). The air conditioner is not a battery-operated appliance. It’s electricity or generator powered only.

This means that when it’s over 90 degrees or so, I’m unlikely to be doing any free/dry camping in parking lots. A cheap and crappy RV site with electrical hookups is like paradise since it facilitates air conditioning.

But the RV air conditioner is only going to cool things down maybe 15 degrees or so. So if it’s 107 outside, it’s still pretty hot in the RV.

When I got to Zion, I had tons of work to do, so I found an RV park with wifi (and electricity) and I spent most of the time working in the communal game/media room. Everyone else was hiking around, so I mostly had the place to myself.

Here’s something you may not know about Zion National Park: There’s this mile long tunnel in the middle of it! Most RVs are so tall they only fit in the middle, so they have to pay an extra $15 to drive through and the rangers close the tunnel to traffic so they can drive through while straddling both lanes. Fortunately, my RV, at just under 9 feet tall fits fine. It seems a little stressful to have to worry that if you veer a little too much to the left or right, you’ll crash into the side of the mountain.

Zion tunnel

Inside the Zion tunnel

You’ll be happy to know I made it through the tunnel.

zion and roadtrek


Flash Flood

I made it through the night of a million ants. And the million imaginary spiders. I was starting to get behind on work (all those spiders and ants can take up a lot of valuable work time), so I looked for an RV park with wifi that was next up along the route.

My plan was to get set up, get a bunch of work done, get a good night’s (ant-free) sleep, and then head onward towards Vegas to meet up with a friend from high school.

The RV park that best fit my criteria was in a random town in the middle of nowhere next to an abandoned strip mall. All that was around was a closed-down restaurant. As it was Sunday, the RV park itself was also closed.

RV parks often leave notes about available spots with information on the gate code to get in (one wonders about the true value of a gate code at that point, but I don’t really have a better solution). I grabbed the code, drove in, and picked an empty space. The park was about 80% full. I saw 0 people the entire time I was there. Possibly I actually was staying in a zombie town, but I didn’t see any zombies either, so I felt pretty safe.

Until I ventured outside.

I decided to walk to the nearest non-abandoned strip mall (about 6 blocks away) to have dinner and get a few things at the grocery store. It was a fine, non-eventful walk on a sidewalk, across an overpass, past a gas station, and to a little cluster of businesses around a parking lot.

While I was at the store, my phone began sounding an alarm. Flash flood warning!

flash flood

I looked outside and it was like a monsoon. I waited a bit but it didn’t seem like the rain was going to let up any time soon. So, whatever, a romantic walk in the rain it is!

It was warm out, I was soaking wet, it was fine.

A guy pulled over and asked if I wanted a ride. Which was super sweet! I said I was fine. Because the rain didn’t really bother me. Also, he didn’t look like a serial killer who waits for women walking during flash flood warnings, but you just never know.

I walked one more block and then had to cross the street. But the gutters were totally flooded with rushing, rushing water. Like a miniature version of those rapids you raft down if you’re hard core. Way too wide to step over. Over jump over.

What can you do, right? It was at most 6 inches deep. It’s not like I’m going to drown! So I took as big of a step as I could right into the rushing gutter water. When I lifted up my foot, the water tore my shoe right off my foot! And I watched as it was whisked out onto the freeway.

So then I had one shoe.

It seemed kind of stupid to walk the rest of the way with one shoe. I could take the shoe off but then I’d be walking barefoot in the rain down the sidewalk. Which sounds like a Taylor Swift video but maybe would actually be a super bad idea?

I was near the gas station so I thought maybe they would sell flip flops there? (Unlikely, but I was sort of desperate.) I walked by a cop who was getting gas. I said, “oh, I just lost one shoe in in the gutter! I probably shouldn’t keep walking barefoot, haha!”

He said, “you could get electrocuted that way” in a super serious voice. I dunno about that, but OK.

He said he would give me a ride. First though I had to wait for him to go buy a Big Gulp. He did not offer to get me one.

Then I had to sit in the back where the door handles had been ripped out. I realized the car said “public safety” not “police”, so I was thinking, is he actually a cop or is he a security guard? Because if he’s a security guard, he’s likely to just kill me and store my body somewhere.

I started strategizing what I would do if I started getting murdered. It would be hard to escape without door handles and also his gun likely trumped by makeshift RV keys/knife.

I had to wait while he used his Galaxy tablet to take a picture of his receipt and upload it to his expense report program (of the Big Gulp or just the gas?). He started telling me about how they had replaced the in-car computers with these Galaxy tablets and were so great. I thought it would be weird to do an expense report right before killing me, right?

Well, I know you are in suspense, but I am not murdered!

But I am totally bummed that I lost my favorite sandals I got in Brazil! Well, one sandal.