2015: The Year in Review; or, Bugger Off and Good Riddance

Here we are, nearly two weeks into 2016, a land of promise filled with mistakes yet to be made and nascent errors still unhatched. It is customary, as the calendar ticks over from one arbitrary designation to the next, to look back upon the road traveled and ask questions like “what the hell was that?” and “how in the name of God did I get here?”

In the spirit of that tradition, allow me to take a moment to offer a retrospective of 2015, a year that can well and truly fuck right off.

To be fair, it wasn’t all bad. Indeed, many parts of the year, taken on their own, were quite joyful. To help separate the good from the bad, I will be using a thumbs up icon for the bits I liked and a red X for the bits I didn’t, because I’m told clarity in communication is a virtue.

In matters such as this, it is difficult for any of us not to be an unreliable narrator. We are, after all, only imperfectly aware of how others see the world, and even of how others perceive the events in which we take part. That said, I will endeavor to be as objective as I can about the massive suck that made up an unfortunately disproportionate part of the year now past, and to polish what nuggets of win I can find amid the rubble.


Mechanical Difficulties
The year started with replacing the engine in Zaiah’s car, a four thousand dollar expense necessitated when Jiffy Lube installed a defective oil filter and then refused responsibility for the error, causing catastrophic destruction of the engine. Always a nice way to start the year. Lesson learned: Jiffy Lube is not a place where one should do business. This turned out to be a theme; hang onto the thought, I’ll get back to it.

In the meantime…


Seclusion and Murder
2015 (woe be unto it) started on a good note. Eve and I spent some time in the same remote wilderness cabin where we wrote More Than Two. It’s a lovely place, far from…everything, really. It’s a lovely place with a lovely (if murderous) cat and a great way to spend the first days of a new year filled with promise and the hope of a bright new future. And the murder of small furry animals by an adorable feline, but you have to take the bad with the good, or so they say.


Carelessness of the heart
Eve and I spoke at a poly conference, which was a lot of fun save for the fact that I met a delightful woman whose interest, initially quite mutual, I feel I handled poorly. I was not appropriately cautious and became aware of significant incompatibilities too late to avoid hurting both of us unnecessarily.

So, yeah, lesson learned. Mindfulness at all times in all interactions with other people? It’s a thing I need to do.

This was also when I began to fully grasp the weird–and often dangerous–ways that the one-sided intimacy inherent in being a writer and speaker who offers up bits of one’s inner life for public consumption can distort human interactions, especially with new acquaintances. Another lesson learned: Flirting with fans is a dangerous game, and is a risk I’m no longer willing to take on myself or expose others to.


Bionic penises
The next few months of 2015 were relatively calm and reasonably normal, at least for those values of “normal” as one might expect. Hmm. Normal. There’s a word I use only cautiously, and perhaps should consider striking from my vocabulary altogether, except insofar as it has a negation in front of it…but I digress.

The first third of the year was all about bionic cock. Eve and I got serious about launching a business to investigate producing the dildo that provides sensory feedback to the wearer, by which I mean Eve, who is rather the amazing mastermind and who has a can-do attitude that would make Ernst Stavro Blofeld jealous, enrolled us in a business accelerator competition that brought us together with investors and mentors and taught both of us how to say “penis” in a room full of people without blushing–a valuable business skill, it must be said, if one’s aim is to develop a bionic penis.

Penis, penis, penis. See? Hardly a twitch.

It turns out that business accelerators are a lot of work. We did market research about penises. We built business plans around penises, and had our penis business plans examined, dissected, critiqued, and torn into teeny tiny shreds by a procession of investors and business leaders. We built value chains focused on penises. We constructed penis value propositions for penis market segments of folks who want to know what having a penis feels like. I’ve run my own business since about 2001 and I learned more about how to run a business between February and May of last year than in the ten years before.


Sick kitties
My cat Kyla has never been terribly healthy. Shortly after she adopted me and declared me hers, when she was still a very young kitten, she got a respiratory infection that nearly killed her. I spent long nights awake with her, holding her and rubbing her chest, and she eventually recovered.

While I was away in Canadia-land dodging Kurgan raiders, she got sick again and very nearly died.

Well, technically speaking, she did die. Twice. She stopped breathing, and Zaiah brought her back with kitty CPR.

She’s a fighter, Kyla is, and she really, really likes being alive. Kinda like I do. She got through it with minor damage to her balance that seems to be permanent, but she did bounce back. So I suppose on the whole that’s good, or at least better than the alternative, but it’s bad it happened.


Indiana Jones Goes to a Swinger’s Conference
2015 was the year Eve and I started getting more speaking conventions than we could hope to say yes to. One of those invitations was a swinger’s convention in Canada that wanted us to talk about ways to do non-monogamy beyond swinging.

Swingers have a problem. Since at least WWII, swinging has been the go-to style of non-monogamy for people outside the leather scene. But now it’s getting harder and harder for swing clubs to find new members, what with Millennials growing up witht he idea that polyamory and other styles of non-monogamy are just options among the many out there and TV shows about polyamory and all. You don’t need the structure and safety of a swinger’s group when non-monogamy just isn’t that big a deal.

So we said yes, hopped into a rented car, and were on our way.

We were driving along the Crowsnest Highway (insert appropriate Scottish joke about taking the crow road here) when from out the window of the car I spied with my little eye something beginning with “ooh, look, pull over, that looks like the ruins of an old mine shaft up there!”

Eve, familiar in the years we’ve been together with my many and varied eccentricities and often given to indulging me, pulled over. We looked at the mine entrance, a few hundred feet up the side of a slope.

“Think we can get up there?” I said.

“Sure,” she said.

So we started the scramble up. We climbed up an embankment, past a row of trees, up over another embankment, and..whoa. Serious Indiana Jones moment.

The detour cost us several hours, dirt all over our clothes, and more than a fair bit of hard physical labor, but man, was it worth it.


Have a nice trip!
I have long been something of a straight arrow when it comes to the many pleasures of chemical mind alteration.

I know, I know, hard to believe, what with me being an Internet sex gargoyle and all, but until I was in my late 40s I never once experimented with any chemical alterant beyond alcohol. I didn’t try any recreational drugs at all until I was 46, when I experimented with hallucinogenic mushrooms–an altogether positive experience, and one I’ve been thinking about writing about for a while. I didn’t even drink ’til fairly late in the game.

We arrived at the swinger event considerably dustier than we had been, and were offered ecstasy by a person who apparently quite likes the experience of swinging while on E.

Now, as I mentioned, I’ve not dabbled far into the ocean of recreational biochemistry, and in fact have barely gone so far as to build sand castles on the beach of recreational chemistry, the waters being not to my liking and even the sand being more coarse and gritty than is perhaps entirely pleasant, and the sun and sounds of the gulls are…where was I going with this metaphor? Anyway, I’ve never felt the siren song of pharmacologicals, but I will admit to a certain level of curiosity about ecstasy. So we accepted his offer.

Ecstasy is not an easy molecule to synthesize by any measure. It’s a complex, fiddly, two-day process that involves a lot of extremely close monitoring and very careful mucking about, and one of the waste products of a more popular synthesis pathway is elemental mercury. All of which means that what’s often claimed to be ecstasy in the dystopian nightmare that is the market for street drugs is anything but.

I’m still not 100% sure what it was we took. Google suggests it was methamphetamine, based on its color, consistency, and the absolutely miserable night we had.


Ten carbons, fifteen hydrogens, one nitrogen, all the rage and hate of Lucifer after the Fall

I want to impress upon you, Gentle Readers, exactly what “miserable night” means. To do this properly, I will wander off for a moment into a story about a bucket of chicken. When I had first met my former wife, she and I were kinda sorta in what kids today might call a “quad” with two close friends of mine, and we spent many a night doing things to make a bishop blush, often with a video camera. We got some bad chicken at a KFC one evening–salmonella, I believe the diagnosis was. My friend’s girlfriend and I spent about three continuous days on the bed together barfing our guts out more or less nonstop. It was a waterbed, see, so whenever she would start throwing up, the waves in the waterbed would start shaking me, and then I would start barfing too, and that would set her off, and…you get the idea.

I describe this because I can now say it was the second most miserable time of my life.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, not every moment of the experience was bad. The first four hours were great, seeing as how we both had turbocharged libidos and couldn’t get enough raw animal sex, and raw animal sex is not something that I’m normally on distant terms with–Internet sex gargoyle, remember?

But after that…

The closest I can come to describing what the rest of the night was like is I had the visceral experience that there was something in my body that hated me and wanted to hurt me. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t stop moving…I don’t often use the word “evil,” and when I do, it’s not usually about organic molecules, but meth is an evil, evil molecule. I can not comprehend why any human being would knowingly take that stuff in full awareness of the ride it was going to give them. Dante’s most vivid descriptions of Hell are a walk across a breezy tropical island compared to what meth feels like, assuming that is in fact what it was. Without hyperbole, I can state with confidence that I would rather get hit by a bus than experience anything like that ever again.

One star. Do not want. Should you, Gentle Reader, ever want to go down this road, learn from my example. Do not trod this path without a testing kit, which if you’re in the US you can find here and if you’re in Canada you can find here. Wish I’d’ve known about that sooner.

The weeks following the swinger convention were a whirlwind of chaos, the kind of chaos only two chaosbunnies in the same place can create.

My sweetie Maxine came into town, and we spent weeks traveling the deserts of the Pacific coast photographing ghost towns. Mining towns, railroad towns, logging towns, you name it, we visited it–a journey I’m still in the process of journaling.

Maxine and I are both chaosbunnies, so the two of us together is pure concentrated chaos. Into any such maelstrom good and bad must go. I will touch only on the hilights here, some of which I have not yet documented.


Camping in the Wilderness
This is, as it turns out, something Bunny has become quite adroit at, with a set of mad camping skills that’s little short of awe-inspiring. Seriously, when the Big One hits and civilization collapses, I hope I happen to be on the same side of the pond as she is. Build a campfire in the pouring rain, armed with nothing but a flint and a soggy roll of toilet paper? She’s the one to do it.

We had a fantastic time, even if there was rather less sex than perhaps there could, or should, have been. (Note to self: next time, plan a less ambitious schedule and leave more time for the horizontal mambo.) It was fantastic to spend some quality time with her in the deep desert.


Break a rib!
It is telling, I think, that when you make a list of all the things that went wrong during the year, you keep forgetting “oh, yeah, I broke a rib.”

If I could go back in time and give information to the younger me, I would definitely tell myself “don’t try to cross that stream on that slippery fallen log.” Well, first I would tell myself the Powerball numbers, but after that, I would definitely tell myself the thing about the log. Well, okay, the Powerball numbers, the stock price for AMZN throughout the second half of the year, and then the thing about the log.

But I lack access to a time machine, and so the younger me said “hey, look, a log across a stream! That seems a reasonable thing to walk across!”

Fast forward a few seconds and I was tumbling into ice-cold snow runoff, pausing just long enough on the way down to whack my side against the log.


The desert defeats us
One of the stops on our tour was an old lead mine, closed in the mid-1800s and since left alone, high atop a mountain in the middle of Black Rock Desert.

Or rather, one of the stops on our tour was supposed to be an old lead mine, closed in the mid-1800s.

It took us rather a long time just to find the old road–little more than a narrow, rutted dirt track, really–branching off the paved road in the direction of the mountain. It took us a couple of hours to crawl along that road, such as it was, to the base of the mountain. It took us another hour to climb halfway up it, then two minutes to realize that the grade had become so steep that the van simply would not move, even in low gear–and, for that matter, the wheels wouldn’t spin either. Another minute after that convinced me that any additional tilting at that particular windmill would only destroy the transmission, which was already slipping.

From there, it took five minutes to realize that turning around was an absolute impossibility, five minutes to realize that the van could not back down the grade as heavily loaded as it was without the back bumper digging into the earth, twenty-five minutes to unload everything onto the side of the dirt track, half an hour to back cautiously down to the point where a wide spot afforded opportunity to turn around with only a moderate chance of tumbling off the edge of a cliff, and half an hour to load everything back into the van again.


Black Rock desert. That thin dark line in the lower left is the “road” we came in on.

It should be noted here that before we set out on this journey, Eve had suggested I get a GPS locator beacon, in the event that, I don’t know, we should encounter problems deep in Black Rock Desert or something. I pooh-poohed that idea, because, really, what were the odds? Next time, I will not so easily discard that idea.

I still haven’t fixed the damage to the van’s transmission. The shop says the transmission needs to be replaced. So far, they haven’t been able to come up with an estimate. I’m not optimistic.


Bored and Terrified…at the Same Time
Our misadventure in Black Rock Desert was merely the appetizer for the main course of mechanical suck–the price, I suppose, of adventuring in a 23-year-old camper van.

We set out on the last leg of our trip straight over a mountain that Siri, in all her passive aggressive navigational glory, didn’t think to send us around. That particular part of the adventure will most likely get a blog post all its own, filled as it was with ominous signs and squadrons of US Marines, but the hilight, which I will briefly mention here, was definitely the trip down the far side, during which with a thump and a cloud of foul-smelling smoke the van’s brakes failed.

We were, at the time, in a remote area unserved by cellular signal–indeed, it’s quite likely that most of the natives were entirely unfamiliar with any communications technology more advanced than the telegraph, or perhaps smoke signals–and 70 miles from the nearest town.

Therefore, with no other options availing themselves, we spent almost the entire night on a white-knuckle journey across seventy miles of narrow and windy mountain roads in first gear at about ten miles an hour with no brakes, relying on engine braking to manage our speed.

I did not, prior to that night, realize it was possible to be both utterly terrified and completely bored at the same time.

The next day, we found a Les Schwab service center. I’d never heard of Les Schwab before I moved to Oregon, but Zaiah swears by them. “Great customer service!” she told me. “Awesome warranty!” she told me. I was skeptical, but when I bought the van I had the brakes serviced at a Les Schwab.

It took them an hour just to work up an estimate–never a good sign when it comes to brakes. They gave me a number. I choked. “Well, we need to replace everything in the front,” they said. “…” I said.

“We looked you up in the computer. You still have a thousand miles left on your warranty,” they said. “It will all be no charge.”

“…!!” I said.

Sometimes, fortune favors the foolhardy.


Uterine Thunderdome
June decided to continue the theme of random bodily injury started with the rib thing in May, because why mess with what works, amirite? And so it came to pass that I ended up with weird pain that left my doctor scratching his head and muttering about the possibility of a kidney tumor, that got worse and worse until eventually I ended up in a CT scanner shot full of contrast that made my eyes feel like they were melting.

The CT scan was illuminating, both as to the nature of the problem (appendicitis) and to why it was tricky to figure out. Apparently, my internal geography is as unorthodox as my romantic life.

More distressing, perhaps, was finding out that such unusual innards are often the result of a situation whereby a person becomes pregnant with twins, one of which absorbs the other early in development in a kind of uterine Thunderdome–two fetuses enter, one fetus leaves.


I have no idea if Tina Turner was there or not. It was too dark to see.

But hey, there’s a silver lining. From now on, if anyone gets all up in my face, I can say “don’t fuck with me, man, I ate my twin!”


O Canada
Eve, in her ongoing attempt to make me more self-sufficient in the nutrient procurement department, has been encouraging me to learn the dark arts of cooking and baking, by whose secret alchemy ingredients are transmogrified into food.

As part of that ongoing effort, she had me decorate a cake for Canada Day. I must say, I think it turned out rather well.

A most excellent representation of the spirit of Canada, if I do say so myself.


The Big Book of Franklin Gets It Wrong
2015 is the year my memoir, The Game Changer, finally saw the light of day.

Writing it was rough. For years–decades, really–I’ve written about polyamory and kink and relationships, but I’ve never really told my story. I’ve talked a lot about the things I believe, but not very much about how I got there. The Game Changer was a new kind of writing–one that’s not very comfortable for me.

It also tells the story of things I’m not proud of. It’s about the mistakes I made and the people I hurt, because those are the experiences that led me where I am. In fact, while I was writing it, I called it The Big Book of Franklin Gets it Wrong.

The response to the book has been overwhelmingly positive, and it’s reached a lot more folks than I expected it to. I am deeply grateful for that, no matter how hard it was to write.


Dancin’ the Blues
One of the many things I’ve been working on this year is learning to blues dance.

I’ve always quite liked to dance–generally more gothy than bluesy, and without a partner–but partner dancing is new to me. Eve’s been teaching me, and it’s turned out to be rather a lot of fun.

In the fall, Eve and I went to Northwest Recess, which is rather like Burning Man only with fewer flamethrowers and a lot more dancing.

A whole lot of folks got together in the middle of nowhere, set up tents, and spent several days dancing without the distractions of civilization, like Internet, television, or potable water. And it was absolutely lovely. How come nobody ever told me how much fun blues dancing is?


More bionic penises
2015 was the Year of Travel and Presenting. Most of the presenting revolved around polyamory, but we took just enough time from talking about the whys and hows of multiple lovers to talk bionic cocks at Arse Electronika.


The second-generation prototype lacks the glowing lights, sadly

We were told we’d won the Golden Kleene Award for tech in sex, but weren’t able to pick it up as we had to depart for the airport immediately after our presentation to head to Europe. That right there ended up becoming the theme of the next five weeks.


Roads go ever ever on, over rock and under tree
The book tour. Ah, yes, the book tour.

What to say about it? The book tour was very, by which I mean parts of it were very good and parts of it were very bad but none of it was mediocre.

I started touring with The Game Changer a couple of weeks before Eve joined me for the European leg with More Than Two. I also ended up in urgent care midway into the second week, diagnosed with bronchitis.


The bunny ears are mandatory. The bunny ears are always mandatory.

As for the European bits…

We miscalculated, we did. During last year’s book tour in Canada and the US, we lived in the back of the Adventure Van traveling from town to town talking about polyamory. We packed our European schedule with the same density of events, neglecting to consider that:

  1. We would be on foot or relying on public transit for most of the tour;
  2. We would be dragging all our luggage with us everywhere we went; and
  3. We would be dependent on the schedule of the trains for our schedule.

They say good judgment comes from experience and experience comes from poor judgment. If that’s true, we’re now so absolutely brimming with good judgment we should be on the Supreme Court and at least seventeen less supreme courts.

Meeting people was amazing. The folks we met on the trip were absolutely wonderful. And I don’t think I’ve ever been so utterly exhausted in my life. By midway through, we were hanging on by the skin of our teeth, putting one foot in front of the other, and all those other cliches that one resorts to when one is too damn tired to be able to think.


This is how most mornings started: double-fisting cups of tea.

And it was still unbelievably amazing.

One thing we never did get used to: no cats. Such a dearth of cats, in fact, that on no fewer than three occasions we were forced to seek company of the feline variety in various cat cafes across the European continent.

We spent our last night in Paris atop the Eiffel Tower, drinking champagne and looking out over the city. I got to cross “spin poi in front of the Eiffel Tower” off my bucket list.


I didn’t even know it was on my bucket list.

We flew home the day before the terrorist attacks in the city. When we hit the ground in San Francisco, we both had a bit of a freakout about it.


Oh, you wanted to breathe with those lungs?
On returning, finally, to Oregon, I visited my doctor to follow up on the bronchitis thing.

He did the poking and prodding doctors do, and then welcomed me to the wonderful world of adult-onset asthma, the result, apparently, of the pneumonia I had in Atlanta a few years back and the more recent spell of bronchitis.

If there were a god, I think he or she should have made us from something a bit more durable than meat. Just sayin’.


The last twist of the knife
2014’s last fuck-you was the destruction of Zaiah’s engine by the incompetent boobs at Jiffy Lube. Not to be outdone, 2015 had to get in its last little dig in the same spirit of giving, when the radiator in her car–the same one we’d only just put a new engine in–erupted in a cloud of steam.

Fortunately, this was a far less expensive fix. Still, they say it’s the thought that counts.

So that’s the way it was, the Year of Very. I still hold out some hope that 2016 will be a bit less very, though I have a feeling that this year will be a bit of a roller coaster as well. And I don’t even like roller coasters.

Two Chaosbunnies in the desert: Now we’re getting somewhere!

Part 1 of this saga is here. Part 7 of this saga is here.
Part 2 of this saga is here. Part 8 of this saga is here.
Part 3 of this saga is here. Part 9 of this saga is here.
Part 4 of this saga is here. Part 10 of this saga is here.
Part 5 of this saga is here. Part 11 of this saga is here.
Part 6 of this saga is here. Part 12 of this saga is here.

Our journey to Sparta presaged the lowest point in our travels, a long barren stretch of time (by which I mean about a day) during which we failed to locate any ghost towns of note, or indeed even any zombie towns, vampire towns, or other even approximately dead or undead towns.

But be assurred, Gentle Reader, for things did turn around, and amazement and wonder lay in our future.

We drove aimlessly for a while, chasing the ghosts of ghost towns whispered of in rumor and myth on Web sites of dubious provenance.

There is a lesson here, dear reader, which I hope that with this tale I might impart to you, so that you may avoid some of the travails which bedeviled Bunny and I on your journey. These words may, I think, impart to you a wisdom we lacked. This may be upsetting to those of you with more delicate sensibilities, so if this describes your constitution, you may wish to ensure you are seated before continuing.

Much of the information you will find on the Internet is rubbish.

Pure, unadulterated rubbish. Bunkum. Baloney. Poppycock, even.

So it was with the next ghost town we arrived at, the town of Cornucopia. An amazing ghost town, they said. Now completely abandoned, they said. No population, they said. A great example of an 1800s mining town, they said.

So we naively plotted a route, past the “Road Closed” sign, around the “No Access Turn Back” sign, up a winding dirt road and through steep and treacherous cliffs into the ancient mining town of Cornucopia.

What we found, I’m afraif, was not what we were promised. A stream, a couple of foundations, a scattered handful of modern houses with satellite dishes, a sign advertising WiFi(!), and one shell of an abandoned house. This, after many hours of driving, was all we had to show for our adventure.

It’s a very cool ruined house, mind, but still not quite what we were led to expect.

It turns out that Cornucopia is now entirely privately owned. Someone bought the town. I didn’t even know you could just buy a town, but apparently that is a thing that you can in fact do, and someone did it here.

Someone who didn’t much cotton to city folk, from the sound of it.

The sign reads “Warning! Cornucopia township, land and buildings are all private property. No shooting allowed. No trespassing without permission. Baker co. sheriff.” It also says “we don’t much fancy your kind ’round here,” but that’s more the subtext than the text.

Our spirits low, we wound our way back down steep (and nominally closed, though that’s never much deterred us) winding roads, heading off toward the next stop on our agenda, about which we had, I must report, some nontrivial degree of skepticism. Sparta and Cornucopia had been almost enough to make us despair of finding a really good, solid ghost town of the kind Hollywood movies had led us to expect. That cinematic ghost town experience felt beyond our reach.

And it was in this dark hour, when hope seemed naught but a flickering candle in a howling maelstrom, that Bunny said, “Hey, Franklin, pull over!”

Just like that, the storm ended and the candle roared into life, no longer a flicker but a towering column of flame, a flame to lead the lost tribes of Israel through the trackless wilderness. A flame that shed a clear, bright light on: Whitney, Oregon.

Without even planning to, we had stumbled upon a real ghost town.

Whitney provided plenty of photo opportunities to keep both of us busy for the next while.

And, astonishingly, the town of Whitney also is not uninhabited. It is home to someone who no doubt wanted to get away from the bustle and the hurly-burly of life in a big city like Cornucopia, and settle down somewhere a bit less crowded where he could relax in the shade and, I don’t know, shoot chipmunks (of which there were many) with a high-powered rifle (of which there was much sign).

Yes, someone lives here.

Alas, a real storm was fast approaching, preserving a metaphysical symmetry now that the metaphorical storm had departed, and all too soon we were forced once again to pile into the Adventure Van and be on our way.

Once more the miles sped beneath our wheels, and we were on our way to still more serendipitous discoveries…but that must wait for the next installment.

Two Chaosbunnies in the desert: This is Sparta!

Part 1 of this saga is here. Part 7 of this saga is here.
Part 2 of this saga is here. Part 8 of this saga is here.
Part 3 of this saga is here. Part 9 of this saga is here.
Part 4 of this saga is here. Part 10 of this saga is here.
Part 5 of this saga is here. Part 11 of this saga is here.
Part 6 of this saga is here. Part 12 of this saga is here.

And so it was, Gentle Reader, that emanix, having recently called upon her Aspect and bodily shoved a 22-year-old camper van from a deep ditch, calmly returned to the front seat and said “do you fancy some tea?” We drank tea, for all the world like nothing had happened. She fixed the broken clasp in her bra nonchalantly, as if popping out of clothing while performing impossible feats of force were an everyday occurrence with her (which, in all fairness, it might just be), and we were off.

I am not, Dear Reader, much of a planner. I would like to say I chose a route for us that was breathtaking in its efficiency and military precision, but that would be a lie.

Our next destination was the Oregon town of Sumpter, a town whose status as the incorporeal essence of the deceased is vastly overstated. It’s described as a ghost town on the Web, sure, but in reality, it has a population larger than many of the Midwestern towns I grew up in as a child. In fact, we arrived to discover the allegedly late town of Sumpter was having a street festival.

It was not a total wash. Sumpter does boast a tiny collection of ruined buildings from antiquity (by US standards, which means anything prior to 1950 or so). There was the old brick safe from the old bank that burned down during the old fire of 1917, for example.

We also found the remnants of a long-abandoned gas station, now completely overgrown and with trees sprouting from what was doubtless once a nexus of commerce for the town.

Something about this place kinda reminds me of a location from the video game Portal 2. I kept expecting to hear a synthesized voice say “Sorry about the mess. I’ve really let the place go since you killed me. By the way, thanks for that.”

The outskirts of Sumpter is home to an open-air museum of sorts given over to the study of the various ways in which large old pieces of machinery can gather rust. I recognized this mining dredge from my time in Nome, Alaska; it’s a smaller version of the dredges they used there.

I like this old tractor. They don’t make ’em like this any more.

Probably a good thing, really. This machine looks like it runs on leaded gas and the fingers of the careless.

One of the vendors at the festival was selling corn dogs. Corn dogs, for those of you who are not acquainted with this peculiarly and quintessentially American gastronomic innovation, are hot dogs breaded with cornmeal, deep fried, and served on a wooden stick.

Bunny found the notion quite intriguing, having grown up in a land where things like black pudding (which is neither black nor pudding–it’s actually fried congealed horror) is more conventionally served. She had one, pronounced it delightful, and we stopped for the night, resuming our journey the next morning toward Sparta.

Sparta is not really a town. Sparta is a wide spot on a long dirt road that is more a suggestion of a town. It’s like one of those places in an open-world video game where you get the feeling that the game designers weren’t really trying, or couldn’t think of anything to put there.

One reaches Sparta, if one is of a mind to reach Sparta, by spending a very long time traveling a very narrow dirt road through arid desert. And believe me when I say “long” and “narrow.” This is the real reason people were reluctant to invade Sparta: it’s just too much of a pain in the ass to get there.

One travels along this road until one finds, first, a crumbling foundation, and then, a few miles past it, a crumbling stone cottage.

One then drives past these things, interesting but not really a proper ghost town, until one arrives at the center of town.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is Sparta!!!

Seriously. This is it. This is Sparta.

We were, as you can probably imagine, distinctly underwhelmed. No crumbling old buildings quietly decaying into the desert sands, no burly spear-armed men thrashing about in ways that are no not even the least bit homoerotic not ever so don’t you even think that.

But fear not, Gentle Reader, for though our tale reaches a low point here, we were soon to discover ghost towns quite marvelous in their essential ghost-towniness, despite the lack of not-homoerotic burly spear-armed men.

Update #3 on the sex toy you can feel

A while ago, I had an idea on how to create a strapon that the wearer can actually feel, as though it were part of your body. The idea took off, so my partner Eve and I started a company and commissioned an engineering firm to do a design proposal. We recently tested a first-generation prototype, and discovered that not only does the tech work, it works far better than we expected.

Things have gone a bit crazy since then. We’ve received an avalanche of support and interest, and we’ve been talking to folks from all over the place who want to see this device become a reality.

I’m working on a second generation prototype that’s a lot more sophisticated than the first-generation prototype. It’s an interesting bit of engineering, for sure.

Still quite crude, but I’m refining it very rapidly. Right now, the main area I’m concentrating on is sensor design. The second prototype will have much more sophisticated sensors and will actually be usable for fucking (the first prototype wasn’t really suitable for penetration).

We’ve also been doing tons of market research, and the results have helped steer us toward a design that will work well for a lot of people.

If you’re interested in keeping up with this project, we’ve set up a Mailchimp email list. Feel free to add your email to the list! You can find it here:

Sign up for email list: http://eepurl.com/bP8m4f

Feel free to publicize this link to anyone you think might be interested!

We’re hoping to present the second-generation prototype at this year’s Arse Elektronica convention in San Francisco in October. Stay tuned!

Want to keep up with developments? Here’s a handy list of blog posts about it:
First post
Update 1
Update 2
Update 3
Update 4

Update #2 on the sex toy you can feel

A while ago, I had an idea on how to create a strapon that you can actually feel, as though it were part of your body. The idea went crazy, a lot of people expressed overwhelming support, so my partner Eve and I started a company and commissioned an engineering firm to do a design proposal.

In the meantime, I’ve also been working on the idea independently of the engineering firm, so last week I put on my Mad Scientist hat1 and built a simple proof of concept.

Then I went to my friend Emily and said “hey, I have this prototype of a computerized strapon with sensors and a wearable computer and stuff, do you want to help me test it?”

“Sure!” she said, because my friends rock. (I love my life.)

So two days ago, I showed up at her house bearing the crude prototype. “Okay,” I said when we were safely in her bedroom, “this bit goes here, and that bit goes up in front like so…”

There were some design flaws in the first version–the wires leading from the computer to the electrode weren’t quiiiiiite long enough, so she ended up doing this one-legged dance trying to put it on. When it was all powered up and running (which looked quite odd–the sensors mounted to the big purple dildo all have little red lights that come on to show the sensor is working, so the overall effect looked a bit like a prop from a 70s science fiction porn flick), we spent some time adjusting the signal generator and making sure everything was working, and then got to it. I touched the sensors and had her describe what she felt. At one point, as I knelt in front of her stroking her cock, it suddenly struck me exactly what I was doing. “Man,” I said, looking up at her, “this is really obscene.”

“But Franklin,” I hear you ask, “how did it work?

Emily wrote a really good writeup from her perspective on her blog, appropriately titled “Brains, Bunnies and Boners.” Here’s an excerpt:

I stood sporting a sizable electrode-covered, purple erection as this man knelt before me stroking the blinking phallus. Looking dreamily into space, I concentrated on this new sensation and how to communicate it. He asked questions that had nothing to do with arousal and everything to do with programming or nerve density. It crossed my mind briefly that this was a strange situation. Covered in wires, half naked in front of a man I’m not intimately connected to, waxing poetically about the sensation of him passively stimulating my g-spot. Meanwhile he educates me on the corresponding connections between penis and vagina, sensitivity wise. […]

I see him touching the wirey and weird strap on, the sensation of that cock hitting my pubic bone becoming enough to fully trick my mind. The arousal of the plug flitting electrical currents over my internal nerves quickly translates into a thought of, “wow if he keeps doing that I’m going to get a hard on during science and that will be embarrassing.” Except logically I know I already have a hard on. A big purple one that he brought along for me to borrow. My brain has already made the adjustment in the five minutes we’ve been testing this to believing in the new genitals.

So the answer is it works really, really well. Far better than I expected, given how primitive the prototype was. Within minutes, it seemed her brain had internalized the dildo as part of her body; she said that touching the dildo felt like touching her. Which was amazing. I’d expected just to validate that the device could be made to work; I didn’t expect it to work that well.

Eve and I are actively pursuing making this device a reality. We’re currently enrolled in a venture accelerator program in Vancouver and we’re doing market research to validate the market for this device. Interested in being interviewed as part of that market research! Hit me up in email! franklin (at) franklinveaux (dot) com.

1 By which I mean my Mad Engineering hat. Well, technically, my Mad Engineering Magnifiers for Precision Soldering.

Want to keep up with developments? Here’s a handy list of blog posts about it:
First post
Update 1
Update 2
Update 3

Two Chaosbunnies in the Desert: On the taxonomy of ghost towns

Part 1 of this saga is here. Part 7 of this saga is here.
Part 2 of this saga is here. Part 8 of this saga is here.
Part 3 of this saga is here. Part 9 of this saga is here.
Part 4 of this saga is here. Part 10 of this saga is here.
Part 5 of this saga is here. Part 11 of this saga is here.
Part 6 of this saga is here. Part 12 of this saga is here.

As our journey around the Pacific Northwest unfolded, emanix and I slowly gained an awareness that not all ghost towns are the same. There is, in fact, an entire taxonomic classification of ghost towns–a phylogenic tree, if you will, of abandoned places.

The classic, Scooby Doo variety of ghost town–an entire town whose members have left behind, leaving empty buildings in their wake, is relatively rare. Ghost towns like that don’t usually last very long, unless they’re in high desert. The artifice of human hands is surprisingly fragile and crumbles quickly without human tending. Some of the ghost towns that had formerly be on our list, before we started validating them with Google Earth, are nothing but foundations scattered about in otherwise unremarkable landscape.

Some ghost towns are what Bunny calls “zombie towns.” They’re towns that were mostly or completely dead, then came back to life when the economic conditions changed. One ghost town we had planned to visit but then removed from our list is a classic example, an old mining town settled in the 1800s that became nearly deserted in the 1940s when the mine played out, then saw new life in 2011 when new mining technology made it possible to reopen the mine.

More common are ghost towns that aren’t really ghost towns. People still live in them; there are inhabited houses and ongoing business enterprises set in amongst abandoned houses. The town of Venango, Nebraska where I grew up is a semi-ghost town. Some of these ghost towns reinvent themselves as tourist destinations, playing up the “ghost town” mystique for the benefit of visitors.

Granite is a tourist ghost town. Being there is a bit like being on a very realistic movie set. There are still people living there–quite a few of them, in fact–and many of the abandoned buildings have little signs telling you what they once were.

Granite wasn’t all that impressive at first glance.

I have often been told not to judge a book by its cover. It’s advice that never made a whole lot of sense to me; if the cover didn’t matter, why not just put a blank cover with the book’s title on the front? Today, as co-owner of a publishing company, it makes even less sense to me. But the idea behind it has a small grain of truth. You can’t always tell from a first glance at something what you’ll get. First impressions can be deceptive. Something that doesn’t seem impressive at first might be far more impressive once you delve a bit deeper.

Sometimes, though, you can judge a book by its cover…and Granite was one such book. We hopped out of the Adventure Van and poked around for a while, waiting to be blown away by something amazing. Amazing things failed to happen.

We did both like this old dance hall, to be fair.

We knew it was a dance hall because a sign told us so.

That sign was probably old when mammoths walked the earth. Oh, the stories that sign could tell–skies filled with the leathery wings of great flying pterosaurs, the discovery of the western reaches of the New World by a strange species of hairless ape, Richard Nixon’s Southern Strategy.

The building is for sale, if you want it.

The same style of sign identified the old fire station and the old church. (It’s hard not to put “the old” in front of the remnants of abandoned places–the old Miller place, the old asylum, the old space shuttle Vehicle Assembly Building, the old Detroit.)

But we soon found ourselves bored and in search of wifi. There was a small combination convenience store/winter sports staging and supply area/restaurant at the edge of town, where we wandered in search of food and Internet access. They had wifi but told us guests weren’t allowed to use it, on account of the considerable expense involved in airlifting data packets to such a remote place.

They also seemed flummoxed by Bunny’s English accent and even more befuddled by her request for tea. It took a while, but they finally sorted out what “tea” was an a loose approximation of how to make it, and delivered, after considerable fussing, a beverage which was more like tea than you might expect from, say, a Sirius Cybernetics Corporation beverage dispenser.

We headed out of town, pausing only long enough to photograph this rather fetching ruin of the old car, located just a short distance from the old lodge right next to the old tree.

We headed out to our next destination, which we hoped would be less semi-ghost town and more authentic ghost town than Granite, and we–

“Hey! Pull over!” Bunny said. “What’s that?”

“That” turned out to be a cluster of ruins–not a town, precisely, but more a gathering, or perhaps clump, of old houses long since abandoned.

And it was awesome.

I stopped the Adventure Van off the road, a narrow and straight strip of highway that cut through the desert like a length of electrical tape placed by some unknown hand over an otherwise innocuous birthday cake, or something.

We hopped out, cameras in hand, and explored.

That’s an enormous mound of old tin cans, now rusting, behind that house.

This lovely, lovely old stove was slowly turning to dust beside the collapsed wall of one of the houses. At least I think it’s an old stove. I’m not entirely sure. That’s an old stove, right?

We cautiously poked our noses into one of the houses. The floor was littered with decades of detritus. There were some magazines from the 1940s lying scattered amongst the refuse and rubble.

The building next to it was in slightly better repair–but only slightly.

This was our first real jackpot–a completely serendipitous find that was absolutely magnificent in its decay.

We wandered around for a time. Eventually, a car pulled up next to the van. “Hey!” a woman said to Bunny. “I think you’re trespassing.”

“Okay!” Bunny said. That seemed to be enough for her, and she drove away.

I paused to get one last panorama of the scene before we left.

We hopped into the van. I put the transmission in Drive, and approximately two hundred milliseconds later had dropped the front of the van into a ditch.

We got back out. Bunny shook her head.

A car traveling the strip of electrical tape stopped and a lovely young couple got out. “Need a hand?”

I pointed to the van. “Yep. We’re in a ditch.”

I got back in. Bunny and the couple put their backs against the nose of the van. The wheels spun.

I wish I could tell you, gentle reader, what happened next. I feel that I can’t quite properly comprehend it myself. It seemed as if Bunny turned green and…swelled somehow. And roared a mighty roar, a roar to make the heavens tremble and brave men weep. The nose came up out of the ditch and the van lurched backward as though tossed like a Dixie cup in the mighty fist of Hulk Hogan, who was perhaps at a picnic with friends and no longer needed it, having consumed the combination of Kool-Aid and Pabst Blue Ribbon it once contained.

The couple waved cheerfully and drove away. Bunny climbed into the front seat, once again her normal size and color. “I think I popped the clasp on my bra strap,” she said. I stared at her, thankful that time and circumstances have never conspired to cause me to be in a fistfight with her, as she would without question crush me like a bug.

And we were off once again, heading down the electrical tape highway across the great frosted birthday cake of life, destined for more adventures which I shall relate in the next chapter of this tale.

Two Chaosbunnies in the Desert: Of can openers and serendipity

Part 1 of this saga is here. Part 7 of this saga is here.
Part 2 of this saga is here. Part 8 of this saga is here.
Part 3 of this saga is here. Part 9 of this saga is here.
Part 4 of this saga is here. Part 10 of this saga is here.
Part 5 of this saga is here. Part 11 of this saga is here.
Part 6 of this saga is here. Part 12 of this saga is here.

In any human endeavor, there must necessarily be those things that don’t go quite according to plan. Just as Hannibal’s trip over the Alps with an army of elephants met with certain less-than-favorable outcomes, so too did our adventure.

We had to contend with fewer elephants and less snow than the luckless Hannibal, but we faced our own trials nonetheless. Chief among them was a dollar-store can opener, which, like many dollar-store items, was perhaps less splendid in its design and construction as we might have hoped.

This was unfortunate because emanix had, during our provisioning, acquired for us many canned goods, which, lacking a functional can opener, we were unable to use. The hatchet I had thoughtfully packed in the back of the van was an altogether unsatisfactory substitute. Fortunately, emanix is a skilled camper who plans ahead, and she had hidden in her numerous tool belts and pouches a US Army-style miniature can opener, which has a user interface that’s a bit less than obvious but nevertheless succeeded where my can opener failed.

Be prepared, they say.

With our cunning new plan (by which I mean her cunning new plan) to scope out potential ghost towns on Google Earth before journeying forth, we set about revising our itinerary and set off toward Granite, Oregon.

Granite was rather a long way from where we were, as our previous itinerary proved to be almost exactly wrong in every respect when compared with the new. So we set out on a flat ribbon of highway that stretched through the desert of eastern Washington and Oregon, driving for hours along a hypnotic stretch of arid tundra, with nothing to see or do–

“Hey! Pull over!” Bunny said. “What’s that?”

That would, as it turn out, become the refrain of the day “Hey! Pull over! What’s that?”

I pulled over. Just off the road, Bunny had seen a crumbling barn, quietly decaying into the landscape.

We stopped to shoot some pictures, then headed off once more, destined for Granite, where we hoped to–

“Hey! Pull over!” Bunny said. “What’s that?”

I pulled over. Bunny had spotted the top of a crumbling house just peeking out between the trees in a valley right off the road:

When I’d parked just off the road, we hiked back to take a look. We weren’t disappointed.

This was, Bunny said, the sort of thing you don’t see in England. Great Britain is a small, densely inhabited country completely surrounded by water. The western United States is an enormous, sparsely-populated country with vast quantities of land being put to little use. The two could not be further from each other unless England were a suburb of Hong Kong (which, compared to the desert of rural Oregon, it might as well be), so there is a great deal of stuff we take for granted in the more uninhabited part of this country that you don’t expect to find across the pond.

Sadly, we were unable to get closer, as it likely would’ve been quite a lot of fun to explore this magnificent old ruin.

We piled back in the van. The wheels turned, the road hummed by, and–

“Hey! Pull over!” Bunny said. “What’s that?”

Pulling over turned out to be a bit trickier this time, as we were on a narrow paved road with no shoulder cutting through a vast swath of absolute nothingness.

The “what’s that?” in this case turned out to be a deer that had apparently tried to leap over a fence, with sad results.

emanix took pictures, with her parasol and bunny ears…there are moments when I am with her that she just seems so very British.

I felt bad for the deer, though. Nothing should have to die like this.

It will definitely be appearing in the book she’s working on, no question about it.

We set off once more, the van eating away at the miles between us and Granite, bringing us closer with each passing mile to–

“Hey! Pull over!” Bunny said. “What’s that?”

This time, “that” turned out to be the remnants of a long-deserted gold mine.

I should mention as an aside, before I continue on, that the ruins of long-deserted gold mines seem to be a regular theme in my life these days. A few months back, Eve and I were on our way to talk polyamory at a swinger convention in Canada when, from the window of our rented car, we spied a glimpse of a long-abandoned gold mine and, naturally (because we are who we are and we must do that which it is in our natures to do) we stopped to explore. The video that accompanies my Patreon was shot there, and I still intend to write about the place (with pictures! Many pictures!)

This gold mine was much different from that one, an altogether cruder and less Indiana Jones place, and crumbing in much more spectacular fashion.

We forded a small stream to get there, which alerted me to the fact that my tumble off the log into the river the day before had not only given me a cracked rib but put a hole in my shoe as well–a brief discomfort, gentle reader, that was soon forgotten, driven from my mind by the splendor of large-scale wood structures in decay.

We scrambled up a steep incline to get more pictures.

That little stairway on top, a few short steps to an abrupt and sticky end in the yawning chasm below, is nightmare fuel, for serious.

Let me take this opportunity to assure you, dear reader, that we did in fact eventually make it to Granite. We also passed something along the way that would turn out to be even more interesting than Granite, and I dumped the Adventure Van into a ditch while we were about it…but hat is a story for the next installment.

There is a postscript to this portion of my tale. Yesterday afternoon, as I was preparing for another trip to Canada, I received a package in the mail from Bunny, a gift sent all the way from the UK. Inside, I found this.

If you’re wondering why I love her, that is but one of many, many reasons.

Two Chaosbunnies in the Desert: A Series of Unfortunate Events

Part 1 of this saga is here. Part 7 of this saga is here.
Part 2 of this saga is here. Part 8 of this saga is here.
Part 3 of this saga is here. Part 9 of this saga is here.
Part 4 of this saga is here. Part 10 of this saga is here.
Part 5 of this saga is here. Part 11 of this saga is here.
Part 6 of this saga is here. Part 12 of this saga is here.

We woke, emanix and I, the next morning with birds chirping all about us. She made breakfast and massive quantities of tea (the latter would soon become a regular fixture on our adventure), and discussed where we would go next.

I do not fully understand, dear reader, what strange malformation of logic gave rise to our decision. Somewhere in that conversation, we lost the guiding light of Reason and Logic, and opted to continue down the narrow dirt road in the direction we were headed, rather than heading back to Liberty, the disappointing ghost-town-that-wasn’t and to our previously established route. Perhaps we thought there was another ghost town to be had at the road’s end, though quite what might have given us that idea, I am not sure.

We packed up the van and proceeded down the track, which gradually grew rockier and more treacherous, until soon we feared getting stuck with every passing yard. We pushed on ahead nonetheless, until finally we came to a narrow but quite rapid stream that bisected the road, or what there was of a road, preventing easy passage.

We stood there, debating whether we should risk taking the van through the stream and up the rocky bank on the other side. While we weighed the merits of going on vs. turning around, a young couple in a Toyota Prius pulled up behind us.

They discussed a discussion that followed along the lines of our discussion. “Where does this road go?” we asked them, reasoning (apparently optimistically) that if they were all the way out here, they must have some notion of where they were headed.

“We don’t know!” they said.

Ultimately, they opted to try their luck with the stream. The Prius did that spooky thing Priuses do where it crawled forward with nary a sound, and was soon axle-deep in water. It pulled up on the other side. We waved. They waved.

“Think we can do that?” I asked Bunny. She looked skeptical.

“I wonder what’s on the other side of the stream,” I said. “I want to take a look.”

She set about making lunch while I went upstream a bit and looked for some way across. I found a large log, stripped of branches and leaves, and cautiously walked out onto it.

It turns out, gentle reader, that logs partly submerged in water become quite slippery. You may guess what happened next. My feet shot out from under me, and I plummeted like a stone into the stream, colliding with the log on the way down. The spot where I went in was deeper than it looked, and cold, and moving very fast.

I struggled back out of the water. emanix waved cheerfully. “Lunch is almost ready!”

That episode would have a long-lasting effect on the rest of the trip, as I had, apparently, managed to crack a rib on colliding with the log. For the rest of our adventure, I was reminded of that log every time I tried to lie down at night.

After dinner, we concluded there was no legitimate reason to try crossing the stream, given that we had no idea what (if anything) the other side might offer. We packed up and headed back, retracing our route to Liberty, and from there to the next stop on our cunningly-devised plan.

That next stop turned out to be rather a lot of nothing. We followed Siri’s directions to what would, according to the Web, be an abandoned gold mining town high in the mountains, and discovered…trees. And narrow muddy roads.

At this point, we’d decided we’d had quite enough of navigating the van along steep mountain trails, and headed to the nearest major road to regroup. We spent the night at a rest stop, and woke bright and early the next day. Bunny prepared a rather astonishing quantity of tea, and we were off once more.

We eventually found ourselves, after many hours of driving, sitting in a small country restaurant in a small town in…well, I think it was Washington, though I’m not convinced I’d wager on it.

“I know!” Bunny said. “We should look at Google’s satellite view of all the places we’re headed, so we can tell if they’re worth going to or not!” Such a simple idea, and yet so brilliant.

We hopped on the WiFi and did just that. The ghost town Web site, as it turns out, was a bit rubbish, and most of the places on our route had either come back to life (“zombie towns,” she called them) or faded into nothingness.

We scrapped our previous plan and, after a bit of frantic Googling, put together a new itinerary. Then we piled into the van once more and started down the road toward Hardman.

Hardman, Oregon was settled in 1879, according to Wikipedia. We arrived shortly before sunset, and finally, we got a taste of some real meat.

Hardman is not technically abandoned. A small number of folks still live there, and there are trailers and inhabited houses scattered more or less at random through the ruins.

There’s a community center that’s still in use.

We peeked into the community center. A man who lived in a small shack next to it wandered over. “Want to look inside?” he asked.

“You bet!” we said.

He unlocked the door and ushered us in. “Where are you from?” he said.

“I’m from England,” emanix told him. “I’m from Portland,” I said.

“Portland. It’s full of liberals. Always telling us what to do,” he said.

He ushered us upstairs and showed us around, talking about the history of the place, the ruins of the post office next to the community center, and how he hunts cats in the fields around the town.

We discovered this lovely hulk quietly rusting away just outside the town.

Photos taken, we left town, driving into a most fantastic sunset on the way out.

A much more productive day than falling into the water and cracking a rib, all things considered, but the real jackpots still lay ahead.

Two Chaosbunnies in the Desert: Plans, we have them!

Part 1 of this saga is here. Part 7 of this saga is here.
Part 2 of this saga is here. Part 8 of this saga is here.
Part 3 of this saga is here. Part 9 of this saga is here.
Part 4 of this saga is here. Part 10 of this saga is here.
Part 5 of this saga is here. Part 11 of this saga is here.
Part 6 of this saga is here. Part 12 of this saga is here.

It is a truth often acknowledged that I am not a master of the art of planning. I’ve heard people speak of the many wonderful things that can be accomplished by planning, but the details of this arcane practice have generally been a bit fuzzy to me.

When emanix and I decided to tour the various ghost towns of the Pacific Northwest, I do what I always do: I turned to the Internet. A quick Google search for “ghost towns pacific northwest” turned up a Web site called, logically enough, ghosttowns.com where I could click on states and counties and see lists of ghost towns. Precisely the thing you need if you want to, say, visit ghost towns, right?

As it turns out, it’s not that simple. The site hasn’t been updated in a while, and on top of that, may folks seem to have a…generous definition of “ghost town.”

So it was with the ghost town of Liberty, Washington, a place that was first settled as a gold mining town in the 1800s. We were promised many wonderful things in Liberty. Fresh from the disappointment of Goodnoe, which was less “ghost town” than “a c ouple of old buildings in the middle of a farm,” we set off for Liberty.

Now, it should be mentioned here that the Pacific Northwest is in the New World, and more specifically, in North America. So you can probably understand our confusion, dear readers, when we came upon a sign pointing the way to Stonehenge.

Intrigued, we followed the sign, and discovered…Stonehenge. But not Stonehenge as it is now, oh no. Stonehenge as it was when it was still in operation, in the dim and distant past.

We found a plaque that failed to shed as much light as perhaps it thought it did. Apparently, a Quaker anti-war activist commissioned a 1:1 scale model of Stonehenge in Washington as an anti-war memorial. His reasoning, which I will confess left me scratching my head, was that the original Stonehenge was used for human sacrifice, but the ultimate form of human sacrifice is war, and therefore a model of Stonehenge would be a good anti-war memorial for reasons not clear to your humble scribe. (As it turns out, the original wasn’t used for human sacrifice, it being an observatory and all. I’m not sure what that does to the metaphor.)

Still, it is quite a fantastic place.

We had a discussion about whether or not building a model of Stonehenge in the US counts as cultural appropriation. Can the US culturally appropriate Great Britain’s history?

A quick meal later, I was able to check “have grilled cheese sandwiches prepared on the back of a van at Stonehenge” from my bucket list.

And once again we set off, toward Liberty. Which, after many hours of driving, turned out to be…a still-living town whose residents have made a cottage industry out of promoting as a ghost town.

I have no photos to show you of Liberty, because it seemed weird to us to run around taking pictures of a town that was still very much occupied.

We drove through the town, disappointed, and found a narrow dirt track leading up into the mountains. Thinking, perhaps somewhat optimistically, that anything appropriately decrepit and abandoned might more likely be found on a narrow dirt track in the mountains than on a busy paved road, we ventured up the trail, thinking “we’re heading into the mountains at dusk in a 22-year-old van, what’s the worst that can happen?”

The road got steeper and rougher, then steeper and rougher still, and we soon found ourselves well and truly in the middle of nowhere and facing the unenviable prospect of retracing our steps after dark.

The nice thing about adventuring in the Adventure Van is we always have a bed with us, so we parked on the top of the mountain, surrounded by fantastic scenery, and did precisely that. The view from the campsite looked like this:

emanix has, it must be said, some epic mad camping skillz, which she demonstrated by building a fire and cooking dinner for us.

The day made obvious to us a small but significant flaw in my cunning plan. Clearly, if we were going to make the most of this adventure, we would need some way to separate the wheat from the chaff and focus our effort on only those ghost towns most likely to give us the best bang for our buck.

I’d like to say it was I who came up with the missing ingredient in our earlier plan, gentle readers, but that would be a filthy, filthy lie. It was in fact emanix who got the idea that would set things aright…but that’s a story for the next chapter.

Two Chaosbunnies in the Desert: The Beginning

Part 1 of this saga is here. Part 7 of this saga is here.
Part 2 of this saga is here. Part 8 of this saga is here.
Part 3 of this saga is here. Part 9 of this saga is here.
Part 4 of this saga is here. Part 10 of this saga is here.
Part 5 of this saga is here. Part 11 of this saga is here.
Part 6 of this saga is here. Part 12 of this saga is here.

So there we were, in the middle of the California desert, atop a mountain at 8500 feet where the sun was so brutal it burned us through our clothing and the air was so thin that walking a dozen yards meant sitting down to rest, surrounded by the ruins of cutting edge Victorian technology…

But maybe I should back up a little.

It all happened because emanix is an artist, and land in Britain is scarce and expensive.

The part about her being an artist is important because she conceived an idea for a graphic novel and decided to embark on the arduous process of birthing that idea into a real thing. And the part about land being scarce in the United Kingdom? There are no ghost towns there. People don’t pack up and abandon entire cities, leaving them to crumble quietly into dust.

But I’m getting ahead of myself again.

So, the graphic novel. It’s set in a ghost town, you see. And ghost towns, well, they’re as thin on the ground where she lives as snowmen in the Philippines.

So it came to pass that she flew across the pond to Portland, and we set out to tour the many and varied ghost towns of the western United States. For background research, you see. We would, we thought, spend a few weeks living in the back of a camper van–tax-deductible, of course–surveying and photographing abandoned towns for the sake of making art.

That was the extent of our cunning plan…more a cunning intention, really. We are chaosbunnies, she and I. One does not become a chaosbunny by forming a plan and sticking to it.

I did some research, by which I mean I typed “ghost towns” into Google and typed the result into Google Maps. It chewed for a while, an enormous massive parallel supercomputer bending some small part of its mighty attention to the task of drawing dotted lines on a map of the western United States. We piled our suitcases into the van and we were off…

…to a Wal-Mart to get supplies and an oil change. Then we were off…

…to the Wal-Mart parking lot, to meet my sweetie zaiah, who had realized I’d forgotten my jacket and kindly ran it out to me. Then we were off…

…and realized we’d nearly forgotten ice for the cooler. That taken care of, we were off, on a three-week adventure that would take us nearly 4,000 miles, across narrow dirt trails winding high into the mountains and through trackless expanses of Forest Service land, looking for places where people had once lived and didn’t any more.

The thing that worried me the most was the shovel. We’d packed a shovel, emanix and I, because she felt there might be an occasion during which we might have to poop in a hole. I’ve never quite got the hand of pooping in the hole. To be honest, I tend to regard the process with some suspicion, not to mention a fair degree of horror.

Minor reservations about the shovel aside, we set off with boundless optimism to venture into the desert, just the two of us and a 22-year-old van, bunny ears perched jauntily upon our heads.

The ears I’m wearing are new, a gift from emanix to replace the previous set she gave me some five or six years ago, and which, after accompanying me on countless adventures across the globe, have become somewhat shabby and dilapidated for the wear. Shabby bunny ears are a sad thing, but everyday, around-town ears are surprisingly difficult to come by.

The first leg of our plan intention had us traveling through Washington, exploring a number of old mining towns throughout the state.

There is a saying among those who practice the art of war: a plan rarely survives contact with the enemy. It might, I think, be extended just a bit, to say a plan rarely survives contact with the enemy or a chaosbunny. Two chaosbunnies in one van is, therefore, right out. (Indeed, I suspect that should your life ever bring you into contact with two chaosbunnies in one van, you might well be advised to batten down the hatches, yo, because things likely will get interesting.)

So off we went, the two of us in a van, driving along the highway without a care in the world save for running out of gas, having a breakdown, having a breakdown in the middle of the desert, having a breakdown in the middle of the desert and running out of food or water, getting bitten by a venomous snake in the middle of the desert, having a breakdown in the middle of the desert and running out of food and water and then getting bitten by a venomous snake, and being attacked by clowns. We ventured into Washington and began searching, that first night, for a hotel to stay in, figuring that the van would be our home once the trip really got going.

We pulled into the Scenic Winds Motel…

…and immediately realized that, entirely by accident, we’d started our trip in a ghost motel.

Even Norman Bates might have some reluctance to check in here.

“Ah,” thought we, “this bodes well! We’re finding abandoned places without really trying!”

Sadly, we couldn’t actually camp here, as the proximity to the road and the rather forbidding “no trespassing” signs would, we thought, attract the attention of law enforcement, who are notorious for the absence of their sense of irony.

So we spent the night in a motel that wasn’t abandoned, and set off bright and early on the first leg of our tour.

We did actually make the first stop on our planned itinerary, at Goodnoe Hills, Washington. The Internet assured us this town, first established in the 1860s and abandoned soon thereafter, would be a productive stop. We arrived, ears still jaunty, just in time to be underwhelmed.

Which is not to say that there was nothing left of the old ghost town, only that there was almost nothing left. We discovered an abandoned house that looked like it was last decorated by human hands sometime in the most hideous part of that most hideous decade, the 70s:

There was an astonishing number of birds living in a bedroom on the second floor, and the quantity of guano was something that had to be seen to be believed. Seriously. I will see it in my nightmares for decades to come.

My parents used to have this exact phone. I haven’t seen one of these in a donkey’s age. Kids today probably wouldn’t know how to work one. No, scratch that, a lot of adults today probably wouldn’t know how to work one.

Cool, in its own ghastly way, but definitely not what we were looking for.

We had a bit better luck a few blocks down the road, for some loose definition of “blocks.” We found the ruins of a lovely old church, gradually crumbling into the dusty ground.

We weren’t able to get inside; the church was surrounded by a barbed-wire fence with dire “no trespassing” signs plastered all over it.

Still, it was quite lovely.

A bit further on, we encountered this place. Now this, we thought, was cooking with fire. This was a proper ruin, just the sort of thing we were hoping to find.

Overall, though, Goodnoe was a bit of a wash. The locals had destroyed most of the remnants of the old town and set down farms where the buildings once stood.

This would turn out to be a recurring theme in the early part of our ghost town adventures, until we figured out a new strategy that necessitated abandoning our original plan altogether.

But that’s a story for the next chapter.