Branching Out

Traditionally I’ve written about cars and motorcycles, with a bit of technical writing to keep the bills paid. Since getting laid off from my last tech writing job I’ve been looking for other opportunities, including some outside my usual areas. One thing led to another, and I’m now contributing to the Building Self-Esteem blog at HealthyPlace. My intro post went up today.

Mental health is serious business, and something I’ve struggled with my whole life. I may come across as cool and confident, but there have been many times I’ve felt quite the opposite. These days, I’m doing okay. I’ve learned some tips and tricks along the way to remind myself that no, I’m not a worthless hunk of slime, I do have value, and I do deserve to be treated well. I’m not a doctor. I have no training in this whatsoever. I just have my experiences, what’s worked and what hasn’t, to draw upon. So that’s what I’m going to do.

It’s been a long road, and I certainly have off days (yesterday was one), but I have more good days than bad. I’m looking forward to sharing some of these tips and tricks with the world so that maybe they’ll help someone else who’s going through what I did.

Oppositelock, Rust In Pieces

Oppositelock was a Jalopnik user community on the Kinja platform for many years. It’s where I got my start as an automotive journalist. From time to time back in the day, particularly good content from Oppositelock would get reposted to the Jalopnik front page. I decided to try my hand at writing something good enough to qualify for this, just on the off chance that maybe, someday, I could be featured on Jalopnik. It worked. Then it worked again. And again. And again. It became a regular thing, and soon I made a sideline career out of it.

Unfortunately, the original Oppositelock community was nuked out of existence today. We were told it would be read-only until the end of the month so we could save our stuff, but that appears to not be the case. A lot of great content no longer exists as a result, including my own. I was able to panic save a few of my first articles that made it big as the nuking began. I’ll be republishing them here as I have time and get them formatted correctly.

It really is a shame that it came to this. I’ve watched what used to be a community of Jalopnik‘s loyal supporters become their adversaries over the years, prompted in great part by whoever the powers-that-be of the Kinja platform happened to be at the time (it’s changed ownership a few times since Hulk Hogan sued Gawker out of existence). It’ll never be the same, but at least the community it created lives on. Discord, Facebook, DriveTribe, Reddit, and the new website all preserve what made Oppo great. Can’t stop the signal. Browncoats unite.

Working Hard, Hardly Working

Despite van adventures (until the blown radiator), it hasn’t been all fun and games for me. Hardly. My main focus, as it should be, has been to try and get more work so I can continue to pay the bills. There are reasons why the van is still parked out back, right where the flatbed left it, with a busted radiator. At least camping season is over in the northeast, especially with the threat of snow tomorrow. Yes, snow, in October. Crazy.

I am making some slow progress. I will be expanding my existing weekend role at RideApart. Details to be finalized, but basically it’ll be more weekend coverage for a commensurate increase in pay. Not bad. I’m also joining the writing team at HealthyPlace, where I’ll be occasionally sharing my experiences with building self-esteem. If you know my work, it sounds completely out of my wheelhouse, literally, since I’ve traditionally written about cars and motorcycles. If you know me personally, though, you’d know that this is an issue I’ve struggled with my whole life, and still struggle with today. The opportunity arose for me to speak out on the subject and hopefully help people who are going through some tough times that I’ve had in the past, and maybe help them through. I’ve long admired how open and honest Wil Wheaton is about his mental health issues, some of which I share. I guess this is me coming out about my own, and trying to do something similar to him on a smaller scale.

Since I am not currently beholden to a boss or a job, I’m also working on some new projects of my own. I can’t say much about them yet, but I’m looking forward to sharing them with you. I can say that as I go back and proofread material I’ve already written, I’m just as amused as I was when I first wrote it. It’s funny, it’s vehicle related, and it’s well on the way. You’ll be seeing more about these projects, for sure.

Meanwhile, I’m still seeking more traditional freelance writing gigs and such. If you know of something that might be up my alley, feel free to contact me.

A Van Workout

Beach Bums

I’d promised Trisha a day at the beach. I hadn’t fulfilled that promise, and there aren’t that many warm days left this year. Since I don’t currently have a full-time job taking up my time, we decided to hop in the van and visit Hampton Beach one particularly warm day last week. She got her beach trip, and I got a break from the grind of kicking off my job search. There isn’t much to report. We did basically nothing, and it was wonderful.

Being in the van enabled us to spend the night at the beach. Since it’s off-season, parking was easy, even overnight. During our extensive walking around the area, we found no signs prohibiting overnight parking, nor marking resident-only parking, so we just parked in front of an unoccupied house for rent and called it a night. I got Trisha caught up on The Mandalorian before season 2 starts, and we fell asleep to the sound of the waves. Nobody bothered us.

The next day we lounged a bit more, then met Allison for lunch. When the rain started, we hit the road to National Powersports Distributors. Trisha wants a bike, but wasn’t sure what kind. The best way to figure that out was to sit on a whole bunch of different ones, and this place has a huge, wide selection of bikes. I mean, they even had a Honda PC800 in stock. She pretty much fell in love with the Triumph Speedmaster. I can see why — I like it, too. Then it was onward and homeward.

Because Racecar

The next day we did a quick turnaround on the van and drove up to the Littleton rest area for the night. This wasn’t for the scenery, but a strategic pre-staging location for Team O’Neil Rally School, less than half an hour away. We volunteered to work an SCCA RallySprint, the first to take place since the ‘Rona ruined everything, and the first rally event of any kind I’ve gotten to all year. All that planning with the previous radio tests got put to practical use. It was go time.

It worked great. I set up the radio as a crossband repeater to let me sit outside with my fellow rally workers — at least, until my handheld radio’s battery ran out. No big deal. I just sat on the futon sofa and operated the radio by hand instead of remotely. Since it was cold, I also turned on the propane heater. It was practically the lap of luxury.

I also saved the day when the generator failed to start by plugging the timing equipment into my Jackery 240 battery pack. This was pretty much a worst case scenario for my power situation, running twice the wattage I expected and with no solar charging due to shade and overcast skies. It was under 20% charge by the end of the day, but it did its job perfectly. We were headed home that night anyway, so we wouldn’t need any more power overnight.

Breakdown, Now I’m Standing Here

Or so I thought. To make a long story short, just north of Concord, NH the van sprung a leak and dumped all of its coolant. After a long wait with roadside assistance, once they finally assigned a towing company it was a relatively quick and easy flatbed home. I’ve traced the problem down to a hole in the top of the radiator. The drive to Team O’Neil was a straight highway slog up and down Interstate 93, running faster and harder than I normally do just to maintain the speed limit of 65-70 mph. This harder driving is probably what pushed the radiator past its limits.

I could try some of the low-cost patching methods (stop-leak, an egg, etc.) but everything in this van is so old and rusty I should probably just replace it. Honestly, I can’t justify spending money I’m not making on repairing a vehicle I don’t need to use right now, so the van is just sitting in my parking space, awaiting repair. I will winterize it if it’s going to end up sitting over the winter, just to prevent any further issues while it sits still.

It’s a blow, for sure, but my van adventures for this year were already pretty much over. There’s another SCCA RallySprint in November, but I’m not going on any adventures with very little income. Northern New England is in pretty good shape for COVID these days, but the rest of the country is raging out of control, making travel to someplace warm not the safest thing to be doing. On top of that, I’ve lost a lot of confidence in this particular van for long distance voyages. Ultimately I’d like to do a cross-country trip, and I don’t trust this clunky old Dodge to get me there and back trouble free. When I bought it, I always said it was a one or two-year van, given its age and condition. I’ve gotten essentially a year’s use out of it at this point, so that’s on target. It’s given me a chance to try #vanlife. And, it’s given me the chance to realize that I like it. So although my personal #vanlife is on pause right now, it’s certainly not over.

Radio Check

Fortunately I recovered from my crash well enough to not bail on this past weekend’s van excursion. A group of five of us (plus one wife) trekked up to Maine to experiment with HF radio communication on the New England Forest Rally’s South Arm and Icicle Brook stages. Communication on the traditional 2 meter band has always been problematic, with a big hill in the middle of the stage blocking direct contact between the start and finish. There’s no rally this year, which means it’s the perfect time to go out to the stage to test alternative communication, with no pressure of holding up rally cars and such.

I turned this half-day activity into a weekend van trip. Although I’d wanted to explore some dispersed camping near Bethel, Maine, a lack of time and a need to complete some RideApart writing led me to spend the night in the Oxford Casino parking lot. It’s only an hour away from our meeting point in Newry, and had an excellent fast data connection for me to do my work. It’s not a glamorous campsite, but it served its purpose.

The following morning I drove to Newry, accidentally meeting up with one of the other radio people in the process. We chattered on the radio as we drove. I won’t bore you with the details of the test itself, but if you’re interested you can read all about it on W3ATB’s website. 80 meter NVIS worked beautifully, and 10 meters was a failure. That’s okay — we found something that works, and today was the day to experiment and fail.

After the test we had a late lunch, discussed the results, and went our separate ways. I tried getting more writing done in the Irving parking lot, but while my signal strength was excellent, my data rate was unusable. Bethel was absolutely slammed with people, and they were probably all trying to use the same data connection, rendering it useless. Between the crowds (not a good idea during COVID) and the unusable data, I decided to get out of there and find a place to camp for the night.

I followed a suggestion one of the other radio people had given me and ended up driving down another rally stage in Grafton Township. Eventually I found a nice little hideaway tucked off the road to call home for the night. It soon rained, so I didn’t set up any camp outside of the van. Instead I watched the clouds roll in, then left the lights off after dark to enjoy a spectacular lightning show all around me. This spot was so remote I opened all of my shades to enjoy the panoramic view of the lightning.

There was no cell signal here, so I went to sleep early, then woke up early to get back to civilization and get my writing done in time for my morning article to publish. I drove 20 miles down a dirt road to get to Berlin, New Hampshire. This shook things up in the van a bit, so much that I’m going to have to rearrange my setup slightly and get things like my Jackery battery and my five-gallon water bottle tied down more securely. Any van build is a constant evolution of finding out what works, what doesn’t work, and what needs fixing. I’d planned to take a leisurely route home, but circumstances caused me to hop on the highway and take the fast way home. It’s okay — I got the getaway and mind reset I needed after dealing with a motorcycle crash, losing my day job, and a family funeral the week before.

Speaking of which, I’m wide open to additional freelance writing opportunities at this point. If you know of anything, please let me know.