My MATE Bike: The Wait is Finally Over

It’s a nice bike, but I honestly can’t recommend it. Here’s why.

Way back in September 2016, I blogged about ordering a MATE foldable electric assist bicycle. It was offered through an Indiegogo crowd funding project. The makers wanted to raise $60,000. They wound up raising over $6.1 million.

From Copenhagen my ass
The Overview of MATE’s Indiegogo campaign, which still appears on the Indiegogo site. From Copenhagen? Not exactly.

And that’s where everything went south.

The Delays

If you’ve come to read a review and don’t want to read my whining complaints about delays, damaged parts, and customer service issues, click here to skip ahead. But if you want the whole story from an actual funder, keep reading.

You see, they sold a lot of bikes — apparently enough to make them cheaper in China. So they sent the project there and spent months working with a Chinese manufacturer to get the bikes made. This added huge delays to the project. I was originally supposed to get my bike in September or October 2016, which would have been in time for my annual migration south. But instead of a bike, I got numerous progress report emails that apparently went out to everyone in my situation all over the world. Emails about new features available. Emails about working through design bugs. Emails about picking a color. Every few weeks, there would be another one, but none of them would specify a delivery date.

I went online when directed and set up an account on the Mate website. I picked a color (red). I changed my shipping address to where I’d be that winter. Later, when I left Arizona, I changed my address back to my home address. I reviewed my invoice to see if I had to pay any VAT tax (I didn’t) and tried to understand the confusing instructions about finalizing payment (I had paid in advance — over $1,000).

Months went by. When the emails came, I’d scan them to see if there was any delivery date. There wasn’t. These people wasted a lot of words on email messages that talked a lot about progress but delivered nothing.

I emailed them. I got canned responses about them being busy dealing with the amazing response to their incredible bike. I seldom got any response from a real person and, when I did, it didn’t answer my questions about when the bike would arrive.

After a while, I started to think the whole thing was a con. I contacted a friend of mine in New York who had bought one. He didn’t have any more information than I had.

More Problems with Shipping

Finally, in August 2017 — yes, eleven months later and at least nine months after the the original expected ship date — my bike was shipped. I got an email message about it and was hopeful. But if I’d read the message more closely, I would have anticipated the phone call I got from my friend in Arizona. The bike had been shipped to his house.

I went online. I looked at my record on their website. There was a billing address and a shipping address. My address in Washington appeared in both places. The Arizona address did not appear anywhere.

But now there was a 50+ pound box for me sitting in Arizona.

By some miracle I was able to get someone in MATE’s Customer Service who put me in touch with a woman in California who dealt with shipping. She had a Chinese accent. I suspect that she worked as a shipping agent for the Chinese manufacturer. She was very apologetic. After some back and forth by phone and email, she sent me a PDF for a UPS shipping label. I sent it to my friend. He printed it, stuck it on the box, and brought it to UPS for me.

“By the way,” he told me in a text, “the box is pretty beat up.”

Mate Shipping Box
My MATE finally arrived at my home in August, eleven months after paying for it.

The box was still beat up when it arrived and I made sure the UPS driver noted the damage. I took a photo of it before I opened it. The brown outer box fit snugly around a MATE inner box — the same kind of packaging Apple uses to ship computers. That inner box had some dings but nothing had fallen out.

A Damaged Part

The next day, I set about assembling the bike. It was mostly assembled; just a few pieces had to be put on. Putting on the front tire was Step 1. For some reason, however, I couldn’t get it on.

That’s when I realized that the front fork was bent. Badly. As if it had been crushed.

In all fairness, the packing job looked good. There was lots of foam and everything was secured with plastic wire ties. Everything fit tightly in the box; nothing had rattled around during shipment.

The damage to my fork, however, had likely been caused by a crushing weight. Whether it happened before the bike was packed or when it was put into the container or while it was moving across the ocean or when it was removed from the container or when FedEx or UPS shipped to to my friend or me is something I’ll never know. And frankly, I don’t care. The bike arrived damaged and was useless.

Knowing how bad MATE’s customer service was, I took the bike to two bike shops in Wenatchee to see if they could fix the fork. Biking is a big sport here and we have two excellent bike shops right in town. They both said the same thing: the fork was too badly bent and I needed a new one.

Crap.

I contacted my friend in New York. His bike had arrived damaged, too, but not as badly as mine. They’d been able to get the wheel on, but he admitted that it had been wobbly. I don’t think he was impressed.

Of course, there was no customer service phone number. The woman I’d worked with on the shipping issue could not help. I emailed MATE. About a week later, I got a message telling me to fill out a form on their website. I did.

Then I waited.

And waited.

I went online and filled out another form. I included photos of the damaged fork, as instructed. And I waited.

And waited.

I started sending emails to the same address I’d been communicating with. I got no response. None.

Meanwhile, I’d begun following @Mate_Bike on Twitter. When someone tweeted a photo of their new headquarters with a bunch of MATE bikes parked out front, I went ballistic. I’d helped pay for those headquarters and I had nothing to show for it other than a bike I couldn’t assemble. I tweeted a nasty response.

Any time @Mate_Bike retweeted someone’s praise for the bike, I’d reply that they were lucky to get one that worked. I was going to be the squeaky wheel, making sure that other folks knew about the crappy customer service I’d been getting.

And it worked. After a few tweets, I got a direct message (private tweet) from MATE. They were looking into my problem.

More time went by. I kept tweeting. I began using direct messages to nag them. I still can’t believe it was necessary to be such a whiney bitch.

But it was apparently the only thing that worked. I finally got a message saying the part had been shipped. I asked several times for a tracking number and after a week or so they sent me one.

And then, two full months after the bike arrived damaged, the new fork arrived.

Yes, I waited two months for them to replace a damaged part.

Assembly

I took the bike, which was back in its box, and the new fork to one of the bike shops in town and told them to assemble it for me. I was tired of screwing around with it. If there were problems with other parts — which was possible since I hadn’t been able to get past step 1 of the assembly instructions — I hoped they could deal with it.

They did. The fork arrived partially crushed but they were able to repair it well enough to put it on the bike. They got the bike assembled and even took it for a test ride, although they didn’t seem able to figure out how to get the motor running. (They thought that something needed to be in the USB port on the computer to turn it on; in reality, the port is provided to provide battery power to a mobile phone or other device.) They did, however, charge it up for me. So when I returned the next day, in pouring rain, I had a working bike.

Not a moment too soon. It was Friday. I was due to leave on my two-week autumn vacation south on Sunday. One purpose of the trip was to reposition my truck and camper in Arizona for the winter. If I didn’t get the bike on board my truck before I left, I wouldn’t have it with me for my big winter vacation.

Of course, it was raining like hell all day Friday so the only place I could test ride it was inside my garage. My garage is big, but not really big enough to test out a bike. Because I was kinda sorta hoping to leave on Saturday, I folded the bike up and packed it in the truck that morning.

First Test Ride

It wasn’t until Monday, at an autumn leaf strewn campground along the Salmon River in Idaho that I got a chance to finally test it out. The campground roads were paved and there was only one other camper around. I pulled it out of the truck, unfolded it, inserted the key in the lock, and turned it on. I turned on the computer display. I got on and started to pedal.

The electric assist gave me a little push between pedals. I dialed it up to help more and it did. I dialed it down to help less and it did. I used the “throttle” lever and let the electric motor do all the work.

Yes, the bike worked as advertised. And from what I’d seen so far, I liked it.

Mate Bike
Here’s my MATE bike, parked after my first real ride in an Idaho campground. Does that look red to you?

Of course, I couldn’t seem to set the on board computer to display distance in miles instead of kilometers. I tweeted to MATE about that and was shocked to get a fast response with an image laying down step-by-step instructions for getting the job done. When I finally got around to trying them a few days later, they worked. (Unfortunately, when I tried them again to change the bike’s maximum speed, I couldn’t get back into the settings. I shut the bike down with the key and tried again in the morning; it worked. Go figure.)

The Big Test Ride

I put the bike through its paces on Sunday. I was winding up the traveling portion of my vacation and my last night on the road was in Natural lBridges National Monument in Utah. I found a campsite in their very pleasant campground but the parking area was so small I had to unhitch the boat I’d been towing for the past week and leave it parked on a gravel area near one of the restrooms just so I could back the camper in. Once I was parked and semi leveled, I wasn’t interested in moving the camper. So I decided to take a bike ride through the park. I knew there was a paved loop road with overlooks and figured that the bike should be able to handle it.

When my campground neighbor saw me getting on the bike with Penny in my backpack, he asked if I was doing the loop road. I told him I was.

“It’s nine miles long,” he told me. “And it has some pretty steep hills.”

I told him the bike had electric assist and should be able to do it. I sure hoped it would. The return trip was uphill and I had no desire to walk several miles rolling a bike with a dog on my back.

It didn’t take long to fully understand the power assist feature. It has six levels of assistance: 0 (none) to 5 (the most). It seemed to work at certain speeds (depending on the setting) when I pedaled down on the left pedal. So it was like a pulsing timed with my pedaling. Kind of annoying, frankly.

The model I bought also has an independent throttle that I can use whether I pedal or not. That’s limited to the speed you can set in the computer. (Which is why I wanted to try to change it; it was too slow.) It seems to have plenty of pep on level ground and gentle uphill climbs. But when roads get steeper — as the loop road did — the motor can’t seem to keep up. I soon learned that if I kept the bike in top gear (7) and pedaled while using the throttle, I could keep the speed above 15 miles per hour and not get fatigued with pedaling.

The trip computer crapped out on me once during the ride. It registered zero speed and the odometer didn’t click. I had to turn it off (thus turning off the electric motor) and then turn it back on to get it to work again. I have a feeling that the computer is going to be a problem in the future.

Going down hill with pedal power only is pretty fast. At one point, I had it up to 30 miles per hour, which probably wasn’t a good idea. But the bike is very solid and stable. It felt good, even at that speed. The brakes work well, although they do squeak a bit.

Mate at Natural Bridges
My MATE bike parked near one of the bridge overlooks at Natural Bridges National Monument. I’m thinking it’s orange.

I answered a lot of tourist questions about the bike when I stopped at viewpoints. My speed was almost enough to keep up with the people driving the road (where the speed limit was 15 mph) and making the same stops as me so I saw a lot of the people a few times. The bike obviously looks different and that starts conversations.

The battery seems to last well. It was fully charged a little over a week ago and I put nine miles on it Sunday after about two miles of screwing around with other short rides last week. When I finished on Sunday, four of the five battery level indicator bars were still solid. I can’t remember offhand how long MATE says the battery should last, but I’m sure I’ll get at least 25-30 miles out of a charge, even using the motor as much as I did on the loop road.

On ease of folding, I give it a 6 out of 10. The handlebars fold down and then the bike folds in half. There doesn’t seem to be any way to hold the two halves together; I use a bungee cord. Once the bike is folded, it’s awkward to roll. And it’s heavy — more than 50 pounds — so it isn’t very easy to lift in and out of the back seat area of my pickup truck, which is where it’s riding on this trip. I have learned to fold and unfold it right next to the truck door.

And the manual? Very nice looking waste of paper. It has very little useful information in it. I shouldn’t have to figure out how the bike works. The manual should explain it. And I shouldn’t have to use Twitter to get instructions for setting the computer with miles instead of kilometers. That should be in the manual, too.

Do I like it? Well, it meets my needs: it provides portable transportation that I can take with me in my truck, boat, or helicopter. The electric motor, if fully charged, will give me a good range on steep uphill climbs that I likely would not be able to pedal on my own. That means I don’t have to worry much about how far I might have to ride from, say, a landing zone to a local restaurant or motel.

But do I like it? I really don’t know yet. I don’t think I regret buying it, and that says a lot. But after talking to other people about electric bikes they’ve used, I’m not convinced this one was worth the wait and aggravation.

Customer Service is a Real Concern

Despite any level of satisfaction I have with the bike itself, customer service remains a serious concern.

What I want to know is where the customer service person who finally helped me with the fork issue and was so prompt with computer instructions was last year when I was waiting for my bike to arrive and two months ago when I first reported the fork problem. It’s almost as if it took the company fourteen months to set up a decent customer service department and even then, it only works through Twitter.

So no, even though I like the bike I honestly can’t recommend it to anyone.

Why would I? Until recently, I’ve had almost zero customer service. I can imagine recommending the bike to a friend and that friend having the same frustrating experiences I have had. And that friend coming to me and saying, “I thought you said this was a good bike?”

And don’t even get me started on the fact that when I dished out $1,000 for a bike thirteen months ago, I thought I was getting a bike made in Denmark. There’s no way in hell I would have bought the bike if I knew that manufacturing was being farmed out to China and I’d be waiting a year to get it.

This has been a big lesson for me about crowd-funding purchases. I realized that funding a project doesn’t mean you’ll get what you paid for timely. Or get any kind of acceptable customer service related to it. Or, in the case of Lily, an amphibious drone a friend of mine funded, it doesn’t mean that you’ll get what you paid for at all.

So even though I’ve now participated in three crowd funding projects through either Kickstarter or Indiegogo, I will not fund another one. Nothing is so amazing that I can’t wait until it hits the market to buy it from a real store with real support.

I just hope I don’t have any other issues with my MATE bike in the future.

Racism is Alive and Well in Quartzsite, AZ

A few thoughts about a startling experience.

I had the batteries replaced on my RV yesterday in Quartzsite, AZ. I’d been camping off the grid about 25 miles from there with friends and was having trouble keeping a charge overnight. Another friend did some troubleshooting with a multimeter and concluded that one of the two 12-volt batteries was dead and the other was on its last legs. There’s a great RV fix-it place in Quartzsite called RV Lifestyles so that’s where I took it. They got the job done in about a half hour and there was free music and hotdogs (and the usual collection of folks you get when you offer free food) while I waited with Penny.

Afterwards, I visited Tyson Wells, where one of the many “shows” is going on. I bought a new coyote tail for my Honda’s rear-view mirror and a pair of long wind socks to replace the wind ribbons on my home. And lunch, which was cold by the time I got it so I wound up reheating it for dinner later on.

Signs from our ugly past

With time on my hands and no real plan for the rest of the day, I went over to the remnants of the old Main Event show in the northwest corner of town. Last year, I’d bought a neon sign at one of the shops there, but I didn’t want to go back, fearing I might want another one. Instead, I saw a metal building off the road with the sign “Henry’s Antiques and Cast Iron Imports.” There were some metal sculptures outside and although none of them were to my taste — except maybe the flamingo on a bicycle that’s designed to hold a flowerpot — I thought I’d kill some time with a look inside. So I parked, cracked the windows in the truck for Penny, and went in.

Henry's Antiques
Looks interesting (and innocent) enough, no?

Inside was more of the same, although smaller pieces. A lot of signs. Bins full of cast iron nicknacks and things to hang on the wall like hooks and insect sculptures and crosses and trivets. A lot of different shapes and sizes, all heavy iron. On the wall were various signs made of a lighter metal, roughly cut and painted, obviously designed to represent the metal signs from 50s. Signs you might put in your kitchen that said “EAT” or “Coffee.” Metal bird houses in all kinds of shapes. There were stacks of repro old gas station signs, made new to look old. Man cave or college dorm stuff.

The building was spacious with aisles of bins with the smaller iron pieces. I went up and down the rows, cataloging, in my mind, the kind of stuff they have. If I found something I liked and could use, I’d likely buy it — the prices were reasonable enough. But I also like to just see what’s available in case I have a need sometime in the future. I’m back in the area most winters and can always pick up something I’ve seen.

And then I saw something odd. A black metal sign with white trim, lettering, and arrows. REST ROOMS. WHITE. COLORED.

Segregationist Restrooms Sign
Who would buy something like this?

I was immediately taken aback. It was a throwback into America’s segregationist days, days we should be ashamed of, days that should have been long behind us. Was this someone’s idea of reminding us about those bad old days? If so, it was in poor taste.

Segregationist Signs
Who would make something like these?

And that’s when I realized that all the signs in the row were similarly themed. Bin after bin, there were signs for showers and drinking fountains and officer dining. And even a WHITE ONLY sign.

These weren’t one-offs or actual antiques. There were bins literally filled with these signs. Dozens of them. Possibly hundreds in total.

They weren’t funny. They weren’t some sort of joke. They were a horrible reminder of how cruel people can be. Segregation was a stain on the fabric of our nation. Yet this shop was selling signs that seemed to say segregation was okay, it was part of the good old days like the old Sinclair gas sign over there.

Why would anyone buy one of these signs? I cannot imagine. Yet someone must buy them or they wouldn’t be manufactured.

And that’s when I realized that someone somewhere had made an iron mold to run off signs like these in quantity. And was selling them to stores like this one. So they could be bought by…well, who?

The thought that there were still people in this country who would buy and presumably hang something like this shocked and disgusted me.

You don’t have to be black to be offended by racism. You just have to be human. I was offended. Deeply offended. I took these photos just to show what I’d seen. I was too shaken to document them all. I just wanted to get out of there. I just wanted to put it behind me.

I left, taking a photo of the store front. I was already thinking about what I needed to say in my blog.

And then there’s that flag…

Of course racism is alive and well in the United States. It’s in the news every time a white police officer shoots an unarmed black man. And now it’s back in the news after Donald Trump’s attack on John Lewis, who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. to help end segregation and give black people the same civil rights white people have always enjoyed. “All men are created equal” — that’s what our Declaration of Independence says — but too many people still don’t think it’s true.

And some vendors and shops in Quartzsite — and elsewhere — cater to these people.

The most obvious racist symbol for sale in tourist shops is the Confederate flag. I’m offended by that, too. This is the United States of America. We fly the American flag here, not the flag that symbolizes the war that nearly tore this nation apart and caused American 620,000 deaths. The Confederate flag symbolizes a way of life that not only approved of slavery, but depended on it. It symbolizes a racist mentality. Anyone who tries to say otherwise is either lying or deluding themselves.

The American flag is the perfect symbol of our nation. The 13 stripes (for our original 13 colonies) with a single field of blue (actually called the union) that unites the 50 stars (for our 50 states). One nation, indivisible. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

People who call themselves “American patriots” and then fly a Confederate flag are hypocrites, plain and simple.

Sorry state of affairs

It’s 2017 and the world is a mess. I blame it on divides. The old “us vs. them” mentality.

Whites vs. blacks. Natives vs. immigrants. Conservatives vs. liberals.

Everywhere you look, there are people trying to separate themselves from each other, trying to say that their group is better or smarter or somehow more worthy than the other group.

Meanwhile, people are dying. It doesn’t matter whether it’s shootings or starvation or war or lack of health care. The “us vs. them” mentality is tearing our country and the rest of the world apart.

Why?

I’ll never understand why we let hate and anger destroy ourselves.

Back in the 1960s, Martin Luther King Jr. led a crusade for civil rights. His fight, which was mostly won, cost him his life. I say “mostly” because I don’t see true racial equality in this country. Sure, it’s on paper. But its not in the actions and attitudes of all Americans. And when I visit a shop and see segregationist signs for sale or drive past a house with a Confederate flag flying in the front yard, I lose all hope that there will ever be true racial equality in my country.

What a sorry thing to have to blog about on what would have been Martin Luther King Jr’s 88th birthday.

Snowbirding 2017: Life at the Colorado River Backwaters

Back at the backwaters.

For the second year in a row, I’m camped with some friends in some BLM land south of Ehrenberg, AZ, right along the Colorado River. This year’s site is on the north side of an inlet into some channels that parallel the river on the otherwise dry side of a levee. We’re on a peninsula across the inlet from where we camped for a while last winter. My friends preferred this spot because it gets sunlight earlier in the morning; the other spot is in the shadow of some 200-foot high cliffs to the southeast for too much of the morning. Sunlight is everything in the winter, especially when you’re getting most of your power from solar panels.

The Backwaters
A look down at this year’s campsite from the top of the cliffs to the southeast. Our site, which is just about dead center in this shot, consists of my truck camper, Janet’s little pull trailer, Janet’s workshop tent, and our two vehicles. (My truck was with me at the top of the cliffs when I shot this photo.) The “backwaters” is the forked channel on the right side of this image.

The site is somewhat remote: seven miles from pavement. Other than the folks camped out across the inlet and the occasional camper driving in to see if this site is occupied, we’ve got a lot of privacy and solitude. Across the river is an RV park that’s remarkably quiet, although they do have a bunch more lights than I wish they had. The sky is not nearly as dark as I’d like it to be; this is not the place I’ll be doing any astrophotography.

We’ve had guests. My friend Rebecca joined us for two nights at the beginning of my stay and Janet’s husband Steve just joined us today for the rest of our stay. We’ve also had a few visitors: another snowbird named Mike who’s staying with his wife in the first campsite we had last year has come by for brief visits and Janet’s artist friends Karen and Steve who camped with us in our second campsite across the inlet last year came by today to help troubleshoot an electrical issue I was having with my camper. (Turns out I have a bad battery and will get it replaced on Sunday.)

Life is very laid back around here. There is no schedule.

I wake up, usually before dawn, and if I’m lucky — which I usually am — I’ll get a 2-bar LTE signal on my iPad so I can catch up on the latest political craziness on Twitter and check in with friends on Facebook. I very rarely check email.

I’ll roll out of bed around dawn and might be more motivated to do so if we’re having one of our spectacular sunrises. That’s when I’ll go down to the beach in my pajama shirt, sweat pants, and slippers with my phone to try to capture a shot that beats the last best one I took. Janet sometimes gets down there before me and sometimes doesn’t.

Sunrise
I don’t think a sunrise photo will get much better than this. And yeah; I shot this with my iPhone 7.

Then back to my camper to make coffee with the immersion coffee maker someone talked me into buying. (They’re right; it does make the best coffee without electricity.) I’ve got a technique where I boil water in a glass kettle on the stove with my empty coffee cup as a sort of lid. That speeds up the boil while thoroughly heating my cup so my coffee stays hot extra long.

I’ll keep busy by writing up the previous day’s journal entry or a blog post or reading something interesting in the New York Times or Washington Post. Janet usually has her coffee out by the fire pit and if there are still embers from the previous night’s campfire, will get another fire going. Usually there isn’t.

Fishing
We went fishing this morning. It was supposed to rain, but it turned out to be a beautiful day.

What follows varies from day to day. Janet usually either goes fishing or paints — she’s an artist — and sometimes does both. I usually putter around the RV, neatening it up from the previous day, then try to get some serious writing done — I’m working on a memoir about my first ten years as a helicopter pilot and I’m really procrastinating a bit more than I should be. Sometimes I go fishing with Janet. (Today I actually caught a small bass; although it was large enough to keep, we tossed it back. The fish were literally jumping out of the water.)

Truck on the Hill
Janet shot this photo from our campsite of me and my truck atop the cliff.

The other day I drove to the top of the cliff southeast of our campsite. I wanted some photos for this blog post (see the photo at the top) and I also wanted to see if my truck could make it. (It could.) Last year, I chickened out near the top and walked the rest of the way; this year, I took it all the way to the top. The drive is no easy task in a truck the size of mine; there’s a very steep, narrow gravel “road” to climb followed by a winding pathway that sometimes goes through some very deep sand. It’s all about four-wheel-drive, good tires, momentum, and knowing when it’s safe to stop.

Blue Heron
I must have shot 20 images of this blue heron from the driver’s side window of my truck with a 300 mm lens. This one is the best, although I think it might benefit from a touchup in Photoshop.

I’ve done some photography. This is a desert riparian area so there are some water birds. Mostly duck-like birds — I really don’t know exactly what they are — and at least one blue heron and one white heron. The other day I got a bunch of really nice pictures of the heron, no small task because he seems to spook very easily. When he does, he makes one hell of a racket as he takes off into the air, usually landing within a quarter mile for a new hunting spot.

We also go boating. Janet brought a river raft rowboat that can seat both of us comfortably for fishing. I also brought my kayak and have gone paddling with Penny. We do all this in the backwater channel. Sadly, the water level is very low this year — “they” are supposedly working on either canals or docks or possibly both so they’re limiting what comes through the Parker Dam far up river. Last night, for some reason, the water level was very high. But this morning it was low again.

Once in a while we’ll go into town. There are actually three towns:

  • Ehrenberg, AZ is Exit 1 on I-10. There’s a truck stop on the south side of the road and a “resort store” on the north side. The resort store is where we buy fishing licenses, refill water bottles, throw away our garbage, and dump RV tanks on the way in or out of our campsites. They also sell Mexican ice cream pops, which are a cheap and amazing treat. And worms for fishing. We go there two or three times a week, usually on our way in or out from somewhere else. It’s about 8 miles from our camp. The post office is also there; that’s where we get our mail forwarded via General Delivery.
  • Blythe, CA is a few miles west of the Colorado River off I-10. That’s where we do grocery shopping, usually at Smart and Final, although there is an Albertson’s. There’s also an excellent Ace hardware store, an O’Reilly’s auto supply, a K-Mart, and a Walgreens. Other than that, Blythe is a sad little town and I can’t see any other reason to visit it. (Sorry, Blythe, but I do tend to tell it like it is.) I do know its airport, on the west side of town, very well since that’s where I nearly always stop for fuel for my helicopter when flying along the I-10 corridor between California and Arizona. Smart and Final is about 12 miles from our camp.
  • Quartzsite, AZ is Exit 17 on I-10. That’s a hopping place in January, full of rock shows and art shows and RV shows and all kinds of booths to buy all kinds of useful and junky stuff. It’s what brings Janet to this area of Arizona; she displays and sells her artwork at the Tyson Wells show that runs concurrently with the big RV show at the second half of January. (There’s another show going on there now, so Janet has to wait; she waits out on BLM land where camping is free and life is mellow.) I like Quartzsite because it’s weird and I can always find something neat to buy for my truck or my RV or my home. Last week I bought some fossils. This week I bought a little DC water pump I can use to transfer water from my 6-1/2 gallon water jugs to my camper’s water tanks. Next week, I’ll buy new batteries for my camper and possibly an additional solar panel. (Yes, Quartzsite does see a lot of my money; I bought a cool neon sign there last year and my old 5th wheel trailer back in 2010.)

Between Quartzsite and Ehrenberg is the Chevron station with cheap diesel and gas; that’s where Janet and I fuel up if we need to. (We don’t usually because we really don’t go far.)

In the late afternoon, we regroup for dinner. We share cooking duties. Our main goal these days is to empty our refrigerators and freezers. I brought a ton of frozen food from home and we’ve been eating some of that. We had nice little filet mignons the other day. Janet makes various dishes — she made an excellent chicken with quinoa dish the other night and we had pan-fried panko-crusted bass (that she caught, of course) one night last week. I always seem to have ingredients for a salad. I think we’re having pad thai chicken for dinner tonight; Janet has the noodles and chicken and I have the pad thai sauce and other ingredients.

Sunset
At sunset, if there’s a show I’ll go out and take photos from the levee. I shot this on my second night here. That’s the Colorado River with California on the other side.

Campfire
We have a campfire every night.

By the time dinner is ready, the sun has gone down. Janet usually has a fire going before it gets dark. We sit in front of the fire and eat, drink wine, and chat. Very relaxing. After dinner, we’ll spend a while longer in front of the fire with our dogs in our laps. Sometimes the sky is full of stars. The nearly full moon rising the other evening was a real show-stopper.

Moonrise
Moonrise from our campsite.

We’ll each turn in to our campers between 8 and 9 PM. Sometimes I’ll write up my journal entry for the day. Other times I’ll just relax in bed with Twitter or a book or a crossword puzzle. Then it’s lights out. If it’s a clear night, I can see the stars through the big sunroof over my bed.

It’s a very simple, very quiet, very mellow existence here. This year, I’ll be at the backwaters for a total of nearly two weeks. It’s quite a change after my month-long stay in a friend’s guest house in Wickenburg.

From here, I go to San Diego with friends. I might spend a night at Glammis Dunes near Yuma, hoping to get some good photo opportunities if the sand isn’t too disturbed by tire tracks after a holiday weekend. On the way back, I’ll visit various hiking spots near Borrego Springs and possibly Joshua Tree National Park. Then I’ll be back at Quartzsite for the RV show. I’ll camp out in the desert near town and make daily trips in to visit the shows and check out the RVs. I’m in the market for a tiny toy hauler; who knows what I might come home with?

And who knows where I’ll go from there? I have another month to kill before my seven-month vacation is officially over — and even then I have the ability to do some travel before I need to be back home with my helicopter in May.

But the Colorado River Backwaters is one of my favorite destinations for off-the-grid camping. I look forward to coming back every year I travel south for the winter.