NFSV Episode 7: Inside the hut…

I shot this inside my hut last week. It’s a little dark, but you can get a sense of what it looks like inside at night. Watch it on YouTube in HD, if you want to see my grainy underexposed face fill your screen. I also uploaded photos I took last week to Flickr, so check those out too, if you haven’t already.

I’m heading back up there tomorrow, hopefully to start a garden, so expect more interesting news next week…

On Guns

When I started this blog, I assumed that the few people who would read it would be my friends. My friends know me for who I am first, and for them, the part of me who is a gun-owner and a woods-dweller is only a relatively small part of a larger whole. While I consider myself fortunate to have picked up a few readers who haven’t met me in person, I suspect that those of you who don’t know me well may make assumptions about who I am based on what little you see and read on this blog. For instance, a few of you picked up on that short scene in the last video where I was loading shells into my shotgun, and commented on the potential use of force on my land. While you’re free to think of me as you wish, as a gun-owner-blogger, I feel a certain responsibility to articulate my views on guns as clearly as I can. So, here we go…

Unlike many of my city-dwelling friends, I grew up around guns. My father was an avid marksman, and shot competitively for as long as I can remember. There were guns in our house when we lived in Los Angeles in the 80s, and my dad shot air guns competitively when we lived in Germany in the 90s. We even had a 10m indoor “shooting range” setup in our basement, where I often shot air guns as well. I didn’t get into shooting competitively myself until I moved to the Bay Area after college and joined a local club, where we shoot matches similar to NRA Highpower matches (and CMP Service Rifle matches). I started off shooting about 40% of maximum points, and have gotten to the point where I can score about 90%. So I’m not great at it, but it’s something I take seriously.

Though I primarily consider myself to be first and foremost a competitive marksman, gun owners are actually a pretty diverse group. Even within competitive shooters, there are various disciplines that are very different. Some are more “practical” and simulate the challenges of tactical scenarios, while “benchrest” shooters clamp down their guns and compete based on their ability to tune their guns and ammunition and read wind accurately. However, there are tens of millions of gun owners in the US, and most of them don’t even compete at all. Many of them have guns tucked away in the closet “just in case” and rarely actually shoot. Some shoot casually at shooting ranges. Many hunt, for food or leisure. Some have permits to carry concealed handguns. And while the stereotypical gun owner might be a white conservative man living in a small town, some are like me; well-educated, young, socially liberal, reasonably affluent, and/or living in the suburbs or cities. Even in the San Francisco area, known for its liberal population, there’s a thriving community of gun owners, gun shops, and shooting ranges if you know where to look. So, while the label “gun owner” has a certain stigma (and set of assumptions) attached to it these days, stereotyping us is as misleading as stereotyping any other group of people in this diverse country.

Now, with that aside, let me talk a little bit about why I carry a gun on my property. First of all, I’m not certain that there aren’t bears or wild pigs around, and both can be quite dangerous. If a pig were to charge at me, I wouldn’t hesitate to shoot it (mmm… free pork). But when it comes to humans, the short answer is, deterrence. Out there, there’s a good chance that anyone who is illegally on my property is also armed. Maybe they are illegal loggers or hunters. Maybe they are illegal marijuana growers. Whoever they may be, by being on my land illegally, I would consider them to be people of questionable moral character. And the reality is, if someone wanted to shoot me and leave me for dead, they could. They’d be far, far away before anyone even noticed I was missing. I carry a gun not because I think I can win in a gun fight, but because it’ll hopefully make someone think twice before shooting at me. If I am unarmed, the equation is simple: if they shoot me, they can get away free. Even if they miss and I call the sheriffs (which I currently can’t since my phone doesn’t work up there), it’ll be an hour before they show up. In fact, there may be more incentive to actually just kill me to avoid the hassle of potentially being identified later (since there won’t be any other witnesses). But, if I am armed, there is more uncertainty: if they try to shoot me, I might shoot back. It’s very, very unlikely I’ll ever get shot at, but anything that makes it even less likely for me to get shot at is a good thing.

Now, I’m a pretty chill dude and do not wish to do anyone harm unless they threaten me with imminent danger. That’s fortunate for me because state law prohibits me from using force in pretty much any other circumstance. I can’t shoot someone for merely trespassing (nor would I wish to). I can’t shoot someone even if I catch them in the act of burning down my hut (nor would I wish to). I can’t shoot them even if they are armed and shoot a hole into my solar panels with a shotgun (nor would I wish to). In fact, I won’t point my gun at another person unless they’ve shot at me or I feel they are about to, and even then, only if I think they can actually hit me (most people can’t shoot worth a damn), and only if I don’t think I can safely retreat.

If I came across someone vandalizing my property, how can I be sure that in my rage I won’t shoot them even though I have no legal basis to do so? I can’t. But I have faith in myself. I believe I am a good person, and that I won’t cause unnecessary bodily harm in another person. Like I said, I’m a pretty chill dude. While we’re on the topic of safety, I should also note that I exercise extreme caution with my firearms. When I carry guns on my property, I leave the chamber empty. That means I can disengage the safety and pull the trigger and nothing will happen. I have to load a round into the chamber, which is a clear and deliberate act that gives me an additional moment to reflect on what I am doing, or about to do.

For me, gun ownership is about more than what the 2nd Amendment says or doesn’t say. It’s about freedom, individual accountability, and faith in humanity. It’s about what kind of society I want to live in. Personally, I want to live in a society where people can do whatever the hell they want, as long as they don’t harm others. And if they do do harm, then they should be held accountable. But as long as I don’t actually do harm, it shouldn’t be anyone else’s business what I might do. I also want to believe that most people are good, and want others to believe that I am good too. I’d like to live in a society where I’m not assumed to be violent or dangerous just because I own a device that could conceivably be used for violent and destructive purposes. In other words, judge me by what I do, not by what I own. And trust me, for I am good.

I hope this clarifies my view on guns, gun ownership, and the use of force. As always, leave a comment if you have any questions or thoughts…

News from Serenity Valley – Episode 6: Return to Serenity Valley

Latest episode of NFSV about my return to Serenity Valley after being away for the winter. Can my new car make it up the dirt road? Will my hut still be standing? What state will my camp be in? Watch to find out.

Found: Ryomobile 2.0

I woke up this morning to the sound of rain pattering against my window. I thought about what it must be like up on my property. The dirt road would be muddy and slippery from the rain, and possibly rockier with all the dirt washed away. Forecasts for the area predicted occasional snow showers at altitudes as low as 3000ft. My property is at 4200ft.

Lying there in bed, it occurred to me that the truck I was testing might not do so well up there. Truck or no truck, a 2WD is a 2WD. And I realized, as many of you commented in the original post, that I needed a 4WD or an AWD. I haven’t seen any used 4×4 Tacomas for sale, and even if they were, they only get 21MPG which is unacceptably low for me. I decided to step back and look at other options. Subarus were an obvious choice, but all the used ones I could find in my price range all had at least 70-80k miles, and no warranty. Then, somewhere the notion popped into my head to look at Toyota RAV4s. They get good gas mileage, and they come in 4WD/AWD. And as it so happened, the dealer I’d been working with had one in stock, roughly in the right price range.

I drove down to the dealer, returned the truck, and asked to test drive the 2006 RAV4 Sport. It felt right. Actually, it felt great. This was a car I could love. And it had all the right features: A “part-time 4WD” system that kicks in when it detects tire slippage, but otherwise drives in 2WD for better gas mileage. A 159HP 3.5l V6 engine, that provides the kind of acceleration the xB could only dream of, yet still gets 26MPG on the highway. A differential lock for when I get stuck in snow/mud. Cruise control, which I (or rather, my knees) sorely missed on my 10,000 mile drive across the country and back (not to mention, speeding tickets I probably would’ve avoided if I had cruise control). Extra 12V power sockets, including one in the trunk. And all the little things I’d gotten used to in my xB, like power windows, locks, keyless entry. I wasn’t too keen on the color (red), but I’m more of a function-over-form kinda guy anyway. The car has 65k miles on it, but is “certified used” so it has a 100k mile warranty on the engine/power-chain (and I bought additional warranty for other bits).

And, here she is:

Over the last few days, I learned a lot about what my car means to me. In short, it means a lot. And it’s no surprise; the Ryomobile has been my one constant during the last several years. In the last 4 years, I’ve had 8 different mailing addresses, 3 different jobs (or none), friends and girlfriends have come and gone, but the Ryomobile was always there. Whether to get me to work, across the country, to the desert, to the mountains, or to the ocean, I could depend on the Ryomobile to get me there. Or, at least, most of the way there. It took me a while to find a replacement that could do everything the xB could do and more, with the kind of reliability and peace of mind that that little box on wheels gave me. But I feel like I found what I was looking for in the RAV4. When we finished the paperwork, got my keys, and it was time to empty out the old Ryomobile, I didn’t feel an ounce of hesitation or regret. That’s how I know I did the right thing.

Tomorrow, I’m heading down to the dealership for one minor repair, stopping by the gun shop to pick up a 12ga shotgun I got, and heading up to Serenity Valley. It’s been almost 5 months since I was last up there. It’s been too long. Stay tuned for an update on the state of Serenity Valley here on this blog later this week…

Truck Hunt

I went looking for a truck, and realized that I had to find myself first.

I’ve spent 3 full days doing nothing but traveling up and down and around the Bay Area, stopping at more than half a dozen car dealerships. I’ve driven 3 trucks. One was a ’97 Tacoma with 118k miles under its wheels, being sold by a kid who wanted to buy a VW camper van. Another was a ’99 Tacoma Prerunner being sold by a dealer. The third an ’06 Tacoma with only 22k miles on it.

The three trucks I drove represented three different possibilities. The ’97 Tacoma was cheap enough that, if I sold the Scion, I could buy it with what cash was left after paying off the remaining loan. On the other hand, it was a beaten up truck owned by a couple of kids. It ran well, but it didn’t make me feel safe, and especially not for a long trip into the mountains. It also had small wheels that didn’t seem much bigger than the wheels on my xB, and I wasn’t certain they’d go over the rocks on that dirt road on my property. And to top it off, the kid wanted way more than I think the truck was really worth.

The ’99 Tacoma Prerunner was a nice truck. It had 108,000 miles on it, but it had been reconditioned by the dealer, which was somewhat reassuring. The Prerunners are 4×2 but designed for off-roading, so it would definitely work well on my land. On the other hand, they’re only rated to get 21MPG, which would cost me an additional $30 (50% more) in gas for every trip to my land from San Francisco. The biggest concern for me, though, was that I didn’t feel comfortable trading in my trustworthy xB with 60k miles on it and another 15k miles left on the warranty, with another vehicle that had over 100k miles and only a 3k mile warranty, especially since I had to increase my debt by $2k.

The third truck, the ’06 Tacoma, costs considerably more, but it’s “certified used” and still has 78k miles left on the warranty. It’s the 2.7l 4-cylinder model with an access cab, which gets 24MPG on the highway, and the bigger wheels on them would fare better on my property than the smaller wheels that came on older Tacomas. Since it’s a newer truck, they offered me a longer term financing plan that kept my payments comparable to what I’m paying now. Clearly, this was the best value and lowest risk option.

But at the end, I hesitated. I hesitated not because I didn’t think the ’06 Tacoma was a good deal, or because I couldn’t afford it. I hesitated because I wasn’t sure if I really wanted a truck. The xB implies a certain lifestyle, and a truck another. For driving around the city and suburbs, or even plain old highways, the Scion is obviously a better plan. Granted, the way I’ve used my xB might be somewhat unorthodox, since I’m not sure how many people use it to haul lumber, or mount roof racks on which to haul a week’s worth of supplies, including 5 gallons of gas and a generator, into the desert. But, nonetheless, it’s served me well, and its fuel efficiency, compact exterior, and paradoxically spacious interior are all hard to beat. The pickup? Well, it’s big, and relatively speaking, a gas guzzler. It symbolizes the “bigger is better” mentality that I don’t entirely ascribe to. On the other hand, the bed will be big enough for me to, well, bed in. It can get to my hut. I can tow things and haul things. It’s rugged, and it’ll last me ’til the end of time.

So, which am I? Am I a mostly city-dwelling Ryo? Or am I a mostly land-dwelling and occasionally truck-dwelling Ryo? Once I’ve found the answer to that question, deciding on whether or not to actually get a truck becomes easy.

Noting my hesitation, the dealer offered to lend me the ’06 Tacoma overnight on an “extended test drive.” I make my final decision tomorrow.