Monday, December 17, 2007

Airstream Storytelling

It's our turn to be the interesting party guests. While everyone else our age has been busy at work this year, we've been on a leisurely land cruise through North America pulling that great mid-century icon of American adventure and wanderlust--an Airstream trailer. That's a story that piques everyone's interest. Quitting work before age 50 to travel America with a grade-school daughter: How do you do that? People hardly know where to begin with their questions. Generally, the questions fall into the categories of:

1. How can you afford to do this?
2. What's it like living/traveling in a trailer?
3. How do you school Allison?
4. What have you seen so far?
5. How long do you plan to do this?

They want to know everything: the how, why, and where. I realize in my answers that the whole adventure is not a complicated thing. Everyone seems to have a sense for what it means. Almost everyone has taken a road trip. Almost everyone has experienced the thrill of a summer excursion to a national park or beautiful place in the U.S. All we are doing is taking a full immersion into the experience. We are on an extended road trip, one that is awesome because we don't have a deadline. It's not us that is interesting--it is the adventure. We are just the characters in a story that any listener can easily replace with themselves. Seeing America by road is an easy dream to comprehend.

In a way our adventure is so American, so democratic, that I feel compelled to share, especially when the interest from others is so sincere. I believe a recounting of a safari in Kenya or rafting down the Amazon couldn't draw the sincere and absolute fascination people exhibit when listening to our kind of story. We are sharing something so uniquely American and so guaranteed to elicit nostalgia or childhood memories that we feel like preservers of an American cultural ritual. And that's just the road trip aspect. The other is the Airstream factor. I've never met a person yet who didn't think Airstreams are just super cool.

I've enjoyed a holiday season homecoming. We're home at the right time to gather with friends for dinners or parties. We had two social occasions in two nights. I spoke so much that l lost my voice. Apparently, I haven't used it that much on the road. Now I was suddenly called to report on a version of: "How I spent my summer vacation." Instead of being the kid who had to go to summer school I'm the kid who got to see Mt. Rushmore, Buffalo Bill's wild west, the Canadian Rockies, the California coast. I rode ferries in Puget Sound, picked pumpkins in Oregon, hiked the mountains and redwoods of California.

It's a story I like telling.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

To be or not to be Green

I'm back to dreaming of building our dream house. I always do this when I get planted here at home. Why? Because I have never been satisfied with our old house yet I have never seen one other new one (in our town, in our price range) in that I would prefer. The sad fact is that today's homes are devoid of true character. I understand all the economical reasons for the blandness, but it grates on me nevertheless. I do not want a trophy home or anything remotely resembling the horrible things being built today. I want a smart home that blends with its environment, uses resources wisely, and has subtle understated style. No packaged theme, no faux finishes, no stamped concrete, no granite countertops, no wall of windows. No cathedral ceilings, no walk-out basement, no 3-car front entry garage, no wasted space.

I've wanted a smart "sustainable" house long before the term became vogue. Now I am afraid "sustainable" will be another fraud--becoming a design style term with no substance after developers catch on to it. Eco, green, and sustainable are the new catch phrases. Intentions may be good. I am happy to see all the attention on rethinking our homebuilding. We all want to be conscious of our carbon footprint, our impact on the earth. I just hope developers and builders will embrace this revolution honestly. For me, however, the time is not right for us to take the leap. To be pioneers in this movement requires lots of research, effort, and money. Building green is not cheap, not yet.

Our home is a sprawling California-style ranch circa 1970. For all it's flaws I think it's still heads up over the split-ranch and still later contemporary Tudor and Mediterranean styles with their monster ceilings and interior columns. At least a ranch has correct proportions. Our house suffers innocently from obsolescence. It could benefit from advances made in heating and cooling, especially. My new house would practically be off the grid and real. No pretense.

But since it is our home of the last 15 years and since it is no strain on our finances we keep it. We improve where we can. It's like the gas guzzler vehicle you may own. You weigh a new car payment against the rising fuel costs and decide for yourself which is worse. I read something interesting today in Dwell (Dec/Jan) magazine. For the most part Dwell and literature like it sickens me with it's pretentiousness and often god awful love of ugly-ass architecture. But an article, "On the Level," struck a chord. It discusses the renovation of the sweetheart of postwar suburbia, the split-level house. Most people agree they are ugly, but they occupy en masse the older neighborhoods that are becoming attractive to buyers. What's a design aesthete to do but make the necessity of economy suddenly chic? It's becoming cool to look at the split-level as worth saving. They are relics of a particular period in American housing history built quickly and affordable for the middle-class. According to architect Peter Cardew, they have a cultural value worth preserving. He advocates saving the lowly split-level and in this one statement he makes a stunning argument regarding sustainability: "When people talk about sustainability, they are usually referring to a new architecture, but when you figure that most of the energy that goes into a building comes from the one-time act of construction, you are already ahead when you can keep a building rather than demolish it."

Right. Hadn't really thought about it that way. For us to go green we would eat up more energy and resources than if we stayed put in our obsolete mid-century home. That is news Robert will love to hear since he's never been interested much in my new house-lusting daydreams. Foiled again.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Made in America

I pulled our Christmas tree up from the basement tonight. It's plastic but surprisingly real-looking and it was incredibly cheap two years ago when I grudgingly made the jump from real to fake. Naturally, it was made in China. Those Chinese are great with fake floral goods. The truth is a lot of good stuff comes out of China and it is always dirt cheap.

This new Hallmark ornament is also made in China. However, the actual Airstreams are made in America--in Jackson, Ohio. Probably every ornament on my tree is made in China. The Chinese must love Christmas, but not this Christmas. They must be in a panic with the exposure and recall of their lead poisoned toys. Nobody's buying toys made in China. I say, good. I hate toys anyway. My kids always had too many. I don't know where half of them came from. But once a year I found myself cleaning my house of Rubbermaid containers full of stupid plastic toys, most complements of McDonald's Happy Meals. About the time Allison came around I had made a habit of requesting the toy be omitted from the Happy Meal much to her disgruntlement. (Interestingly, McNuggets eventually lost their appeal to her appetite.) I say buy kids books for Christmas. They still make books in America don't they?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Abby gets a rest

We cleared our things out of Airstream Abby in preparation for storage. Our plan is to fly home for the month of December then return to Phoenix to resume our year-long journey.

We started by removing all the perishables, but soon it was all things valuable and the project turned into an all morning affair. I am the more trusting of us two: I say leave it all. Robert emptied every little thing down to the bottle of aspirin. Now all our trailer possessions are in my mom's garage closets.
I guess I'll be leaving my shorts too, since it is winter back in Missouri.

My sister's boyfriend took this photo of Robert and me just minutes before he and Robert drove it away. It will be the last I see of our Airstream for awhile. The parting is temporary so I have no troubled feelings about it. I'll be happy to go home to my sprawling suburban house and I'll be just as happy to return to my compact streamlined habitat. It's all good.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

There's no place like mom's home

As it turned out, we did end up courtesy parking at our friends' rented house in Indian Wells--but only for a day. Some official-looking person came knocking at the door to inform us we had to move our trailer immediately. No big surprise. We knew we were pushing our luck. However, we enjoyed our time at David and Sheri's.

My quick impression of the Indian Wells/Palm Desert area was favorable. It is clean and modern and, of course, the weather was perfect. Robert got to play some golf with David and another friend, Ted, from back home who lives here in winter. We girls shopped along the trendy stores of the El Paseo as well as the weekend Street Fair. I took some long walks around the neighborhood taking in the wonderful Palm Springs residential architecture.

This morning we left for Mesa, Arizona to visit my mother and sister. We've decided to store the Airstream and Tahoe here while we fly home for a few weeks. My mother met us at the door and ushered us straight to dinner. Her table was set for company with water goblets and linen napkins. Her house was spotless and glowing, all for us. My sister rushed over from her boyfriend's house (he lives across the street) and even the new dog my mother rescued seemed happy to see us.

As everyone settled in I wandered the house looking at photos and trinkets and other reminders of family. Photos of me, Robert, our children are everywhere in that tiny house. To her, we are the most important people on the earth. Hadn't I noticed that before? I took that thought with me into her laundry room where I unloaded our dirty clothes. Without the vague sense of indebtedness that accompanies using someone else's washing machine I piled our clothes into hers. I thought about the comfort and relief there is in this guiltless access. In my mother's home I don't think twice about rummaging the refrigerator or plopping on the sofa. I am treated like a guest without having to behave like one. After four months on the road this a good feeling.

I dumped in the liquid detergent and dropped the lid on the machine. As the tub filled with rushing water I thought about my skills at observation. For the past two years I've documented the world around me. I've dissected every little thing and then put it back together in some clever and compact narrative. I'm busy writing about the interesting people and places we're meeting on our journey. I write about how I feel about those things. Now here, in my mother's closet-sized laundry room I see something I'd not noticed before: my mother also documents my life. And in doing so she validates my life in a way nothing and no one else can. That, too, is a good feeling.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Ralph and Abby Get a Bath

This was the best truck wash ever. It's next door to the Flying J truck stop on Ramon Road in Thousand Palms.

For $45 bucks this crew scrubbed down our Tahoe and Airstream. Money well spent considering whenever we try to wash them at a self-serve wash we go through half as much in quarters. Then later, we discover how bad a job we did. Abby is streaky and Ralph's lower panels are still grimy. Plus, my shoes and pant legs are soaked and my fingers numb from the cold water.

More Malibu Fires

The drive from Santa Barbara to Palm Springs was uneventful except for this. On the 101 South right around the Mulholland Drive Exit we could see this billowing smoke on the mountainside. It was around 2:00 p.m. I took this picture out the window of our car.

Another Malibu fire. This one causing the evacuation of 20,000 persons. It started in the Corral Canyon today and quickly spread. As of late tonight it was only 25% contained. This is the first time we've seen an active fire. The big fire in Ketchum, Idaho occurred just days before we arrived in late August. We only witnessed the re-opening of the area to a very grateful and saved public. Southern California has suffered greatly and repeatedly from these fires this year. We altered our plans early on to avoid the L.A. and San Diego regions because of the threat of fires.

Our friends, Rich and Eleanor have their Airstream stored somewhere in that area as they travel to Hawaii. Since their Airstream is their full-time home we certainly hope for the best.

I'm sure the neighbors will miss us

Pack it up and move it out. We are leaving the sweet bliss of Julie and Pete's house for the great unknown--some RV or state park in Palm Springs. I'm thinking San Jacinto State Park might be a possibility. However, we may hook up with our new friends we met in San Simeon who are in Indian Wells right now. They have the 66 Tradewind Airstream and have rented a home in Indian Wells for a month. We could end up parked in front out another home again, just like here at Julie's.

We did no site-seeing at all while in Santa Barbara (unless you count shopping in old town Santa Barbara.) Most of the time our Tahoe was at the dealer's getting maintenance done. We also had a problem with the pin in the receiver hitch wearing down and had to get a replacement part delivered. We don't know why exactly the pin was doing that, but Robert felt it important to fix it. Probably a good idea, hey?

Now we are good to go. Time to get back into compact mode. We've been spoiled by the space and luxuries of a house and now we have to reign it in again and get lean. After Julie and Pete left for Merced, we sort of migrated to the house. We mastered the television remote, the dishwasher, the washing machine, the slippery temperature knob on the oven. I even located the circuit box when we blew a fuse. I know where Julie keeps her tin foil and Tupperware lids. I know which light switches work for which lights. The homemaker in me was arising from deep sleep. It's like riding a bike.

One by one, items from the trailer found their way into the house. We'll probably forget a bunch of stuff. We were here longer than expected. I might have worried that our Airstream in the street would perturb neighbors, but there are other RVs parked throughout the neighborhood. At least ours is pretty to look at. It has been nice to wake up to perfect warm weather every day, but where we're going there will be more of it. From there we head to Phoenix. And then we fly home for about a month for the holidays.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving style

Thanksgiving this year is particularly odd for us. We are spending it alone in Julie and Pete's in Santa Barbara. We stopped in to visit them, but Thanksgiving plans sent them off to Merced to Julie's mother's house. We had one day together before they left, just enough time to get a happy dose of their little family. Three boys under 5 years old, and all of them adorable and amenable to hugs and affection. I got to carry a baby on my hip again

Julie is the sister of our ex-brother-in-law. Obviously, we all still consider ourselves family. We could have tagged along to Julie's mom's, but that would be serious backtracking and we want to keep moving south. We've planted ourselves here a few days while our Tahoe gets some maintenance done at a local Chevy dealer. I must admit it is so nice to have some space to spread out. Julie and Pete literally turned over their house to us and we're making good use of it--especially the kitchen. Robert and I prepared a fairly complete Thanksgiving meal substituting turkey cutlets for a whole turkey. I made the usual sides and we sat down to a beautiful meal. (Julie, please don't be horrified that I hung a basket on your little stray lamp that I found near the piano. I needed a little light, it needed a little lampshade. BYW, I've left you a little surprise in the freezer--homemade pomegranate gelato.)

We've seen little of Santa Barbara. Instead, we behave like we're at home in the neighborhood, walking Guinness, the family dog, and escorting Allison on a borrowed bicycle to a school playground. The weather is perfect every day--almost enough to make you buy into why dumpy houses sell for a million dollars. Honestly, what goes for a million here is astonishing and makes our modest house back home the bargain of the century. We ask ourselves, "how can working people afford this?" but somehow they do, only they can't seem to afford repair or upkeep. I have a theory that the homes that are in best shape are owned by the older neighbors who aren't saddled with mortgage payments. They can afford to maintain their homes. The California real estate game is an animal I do not understand. It's like watching someone stack blocks as fast and as high as possible. Your senses tell you the thing will fall, but with California we all keep watching it go higher and higher.

Maybe that is changing. Supposedly, the bubble is or has crashed--I don't know, I can't keep up with everything, and to figure it out would take more hours out of my life than I care to give. All I know that back home in Missouri if there was a bubble I didn't see it. The outdated home we bought 15 years ago hasn't appreciated all that much, (which gnaws at me when I hear of the big bucks "everyone else" is making), nor has our neighbors'. However, our neighborhood is in good shape and stable. Good old Midwestern stability: Boring, but steady. Now, pass the potatoes, please.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Life in the Canyon

This neglected Airstream belongs to my dear friend, Denise, and sits on her acreage in the canyons outside Arroyo Grande. It has served them well, first as the "wagon" that took them to their new life in Montana years ago and now to California where they raise their four sons in a remote rural setting. I try to convince Denise that she should renovate this 1966 cutie into a studio or guest apartment, but she looks at me like I'm crazy--she's had enough renovation projects in her life. And where would she find the time? So it sits like a pretty piece of yard art and maybe a reminder of their strenuous migrations from Missouri, to ranch life in Montana, to rural life on the outskirts of wine country on the central California coast.

The weather is near perfect 365 days a year. Of all the places we've been so far, I could see Robert's radar turning. He really liked the area. Mark took us on a little tour that included San Luis Obispo and a stop at the Tally vineyards. San Luis, or Slow-town, is just right. Not too big, just enough culture (the home of Cal-Poly,) and again, perfect climate. I caught Robert looking online at real estate later, so that says something. Allison loved that she got to feed the horses which amounted to Mark driving the pick-up down the drive and letting the kids divide a bale of hay among them.

Besides all of that, it was especially nice to reunite with an old friend. Denise and I were college room-mates. We both married young and had a handful of kids. And from what our men say, we are still the loves of their lives. Oh, yes, and that they married up and don't deserve us. We're both still falling for it, apparently. Robert and Mark hit it off well. They did not know each other in college, but had lots of mutual friends. They're pretty good guys.

It looks like a pretty nice life to me. They remodeled an old ranch home, added a swimming pool and a top-notch outdoor kitchen. Old red oaks stand in the yard and their horses ramble freely on their acreage along with the deer and Arnold, the English bull terrier. The nearest neighboring property belongs to a Boy Scout Camp. The winding road to the village of Arroyo Grande is dotted with orchards and wineries. Denise works part time in a cute store in the village to provide her a "girly fix." I'm not sure how to categorize Mark's work except that it affords him the freedom to wear flip-flops instead of dress loafers everyday. He invests in property. I'd say he has the knack.

Our time was short. They have busy lives with four school-aged boys. Plus, with the Thanksgiving holiday approaching they had family visiting. We came in like a whirlwind and left two days later on the road to our next stop--Santa Barbara.

Monday, November 19, 2007

My other Airstream is a Dune Buggy

We tried to do as Rich and Eleanor did-- camp on the beach at Pismo State Beach, one of the rare places in America where you can pull your rig right onto the oceanfront. We were not successful. We should have heeded the wary looks from the park attendant when we paid our ten dollars admittance and insisted we could manage just fine. After all, Rich and Eleanor pulled their Airstream right up on the sand and they made it look fun.

We, however, met with some challenges I don't think they encountered. First of all, we arrived on a Saturday. Once we hit the sand we immediately saw what was hidden from view at the entrance: hundreds, maybe thousands of helmeted people on ATV's. The place was like a raceway with no boundaries: Road toys zipping to and fro between 4WD vehicles and RV's; little nylon tents dotting the sand behind the "roadway" and the dunes; people strolling on the surf's edge. Everywhere a dangerous collision lurked. We had no opportunity to make a U-turn out of there. Our best move was to keep our speed up and keep moving before we got stuck in the sand. We were told the campground was two miles down the beach, but would we make it?

No. A mile down we hit a patch of deep dry sand and came to a halt. Robert and I looked at each other and grimaced. Now what? The wind was beating sand against the windows. The last thing I wanted to do was to get outside, but I did in a vain attempt to access our situation. Within moments we had help--a man began instructing Robert to deflate the air in all the tires. I let them have at it and jumped back into the car to get out of the blowing sand. Amazingly, the trick worked. We popped right out. Robert's new friend encouraged us to stay. He said, "You're fine now, just pull in down there between that group of RV's" Robert hesitated to say no after all the man's help, but I was poking him to get a move on. I wanted no part of this mayhem.

We graciously thanked him, waited for the brief moment when we could clear a U-turn and gunned it out of there. Once we hit pavement we nervously searched out a place to get air for the tires. And once we were put back together we pulled our sand-beaten selves to the county park into a pull-through with hook-ups and called it a day. We laughed about what silly rookies we were and for the next few hours I would occasionally bite down on a grain on sand.

Sometime in the night our Airstream began to shake and rumble. A passing train roared down tracks unnoticed by us when we chose our spot. It was one of many. But I felt as long as it didn't jump its tracks and tumble down on us we were certainly safer than down on that beach where some combustion driven toy, big or little, might easily run us down.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Those Lucky Hearsts

Hearst Castle is just minutes up the road from our campground in San Simeon. We've seen the castle once before, years ago, but we wanted Allison to have a look. Some things have changed, namely the visitors center is renovated. Now there is an IMAX movie included in the tour. It does a very good job of romanticizing Hearst and his times. No mention of Yellow Journalism or Citizen Kane. It gives appropriate credit to the great architect, Julie Morgan, an individual worthy of her own showcasing. Has there been a movie made about her, I wonder?

The buildings and grounds are truly impressive though nothing like the great medieval castles of Europe. Hearst Castle has it's own style, mostly called Mediterranean Revival. Allison actually seemed a bit disappointed: was she expecting something along the lines of Disneyland? What I love most are the cottages with their dark, cozy rooms overlooking the Pacific.

The setting of Hearst Castle is what impresses me. What a commanding view. Hearst's daddy bought up all the land farther than the eye can see. I think something along the lines of 300 square miles worth. I can't even imagine what that must have felt like to make that big of a land purchase on the California coast. George Hearst was one lucky man. His enormous wealth came from gold and silver mining ventures in California.

I would have liked to live in that era at the turn of the 20th century. Newcomers to California and other points west must have lived in a perpetual state of exhilaration at all the abundance and promise the territory held. Of course, I would have preferred to be in the lucky camp--the ones who made it big in mining, ranching, farming, etc, like good old George Hearst.

Road Schooling

Every few nights Robert and I discuss our directions. Where will we go next and when? Overall, I've had the biggest say in these decisions partly because it requires research and that is not his job. His responsibility is to the transport and delivery of trailer and precious cargo. We never sat down and discussed this, we just naturally fell into the jobs we were suited for.

Just like our marriage. We never sat down and laid out the process of how it was going to work. Somehow, we knew where to jump in. We tended to delegate responsibilities in full to one another without a lot of negotiating. Tasks were determined along gender lines, no doubt, but for the most part that seemed reasonable. He made the living; I ran the household with little interference. I didn't want to see Robert doing laundry no more than he cared to see me carry firewood. It worked for us.

So we carry the same process on the road. However, there are some things that simply don't transfer. First, the household, my domain, is now a travel trailer. Not much house management to do. In fact, most of the concerns are mechanical and therefore fall to Robert. Second, and most impacting, is that my charge over travel planning is akin to his usual job of being at the helm of our lives. I'm steering the ship, so to speak, and although he is literally in the driver's seat I am calling the plays, especially lately as we travel through my home state of California. He's unfamiliar with most of it and is therefore even more at my mercy. I know he likes the ocean so I aim for that. But what he really likes is boating and cronies to play with, a little television, and a lot of space to relax. The cramped space of the Airstream bothers him more than I.

One thing I've learned on this journey is this: I feel more responsibility to his happiness. I think he's always worried more about mine. And now I know why--he was the one leading--the one to take the blame if we should fall. Surely, a little trip in a trailer does not equal the trials and burdens of a 24-year marriage, but little insights are quick to grasp if you're willing to be schooled.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

If I could pick my neighbors

We are happy campers here at San Simeon State Park. The weather is perfect and apparently warmer than usual. Yesterday, we walked from the campground to the town of Cambria. We started on the beach but soon found that route too disgusting because of the massive amounts of flies swarming the beached sea kelp. Maybe it's a seasonal event, I don't know, but it was nasty.

However, further down on the beach near Cambria, the ocean was more hospitable to humans, especially the kind in wetsuits. We sat on a bench on the boardwalk and watched the surfers--and fed the squirrels. Funny to see squirrels on the beach, but these were awfully tame and beggarly.
Cambria is a cute beach town and amazingly small. It could be Santa Cruz 50 years ago. There are dozens of unique shops and restaurants (no franchised eateries that I could tell.) Secretly, I was wishing to dump Robert and Allie so I could shop at my leisure. Actually, I don't shop leisurely, I sort of speed-shop. I'm feeling due since on this trip I have bought nearly nothing. "Where would that fit in the trailer?" usually stops me.

Oprah has a segment this week on people who are hoarders, basically women who buy, buy, buy and then live floor-to-ceiling with their hoarded goods. I watch that stuff and gasp. What is wrong with that woman? Her rebuttal is that everything she buys is clearance or deeply discounted. If she has 42 umbrellas it's because she got them on sale. Pshaw! My particular purchasing style may not have any better logic but here it is: I rarely care what something cost (as long as it is within my means) if it only passes my one criteria: DO I LOVE IT? If it's a bit pricey I justify it with my time and labor. How much time did it take me to find this item? Since I am such a particular shopper I usually end up with nothing. But when I do.....

"How much did that cost?" Robert asks and I always snap back, "Well, do you like it? Do you like your new stainless coffee percolator? Yes, I could have bought a cheap french press, but then you'd have cold coffee after I'd hogged the first steamy cup." You'd think by now he'd buried that question, but he can't help himself. But, he knows one thing--anything I buy will be around in in use for our lifetimes. So that's how I justify my arrogant shopping style.

After a few hours wandering around we headed back to our campground. By now we were very tired. We'd started out with big ambition--now we were groaning about the 3-mile walk back. But on we went and by the time we reached the park entrance the sun was setting. It is not often we get to see the sun set into the Pacific. I think often about the trekking Allison does with us. Is it asking too much of an 8 year old to take these hikes and long walks? Interesting, she really doesn't complain, and she has never mutinied on us. She enjoys what we enjoy and that is a blessing born out of conditioning. I've been making that kid walk since she outgrew the stroller. One day when her kids complain about anything, she can say. "Well, when I was a kid, my parents made me hike mountain paths with names like, Damnation Trail. And we'd walk 8 miles in one day!"

Our new friends, Dave and Sheri, (with the 66 Airstream Tradewind) came over for dinner again. We pool our resources to come up with some pretty satisfying trailer cuisine. I was happy to have their company. I'm learning that it's easy to make friends on the road and often the friends you meet are ones you'd like to keep. The fact that you are traveling in the same manner opens the door for mutual appreciation. Now, if I could just gather all these acquaintances up in one place, I'd have one great neighborhood.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Is That Your Airstream?

I like to mix it up a little--a few nights camping followed by a night or two in RV luxury where I can catch up on laundry and get my fill of obnoxious cable news programming.

Talk about one extreme to the other: From the rustic campground of Yosemite we moved to a resort-like RV park in Paso Robles near the coast. For a pricey $46.50 a night we got a level piece of concrete complete with full hook-ups, cable, and amenities galore. The grounds were immaculate as well as the pool and hot tub (which we actually used.) Our Airstream Abby, which to us is a luxury apartment, sat like a pipsqueak among the McMansion motor coaches that filled the park. There must have been $50 million dollars worth of polished luxury units out there. However, we were not alone: I counted three other Airstreams, including this 1966 mirror-finished Tradewind.

Like Airstreamers tend to do, we gravitated over to the owners of this rig. Or maybe, they wandered over to us first, but anyway we got friendly and now we find ourselves having dinner together in our new spot--the rustic bliss of San Simeon State Park.
Our new friends are a wonderful couple from Seattle. We knew them all of 20 minutes before deciding to reunite at San Simeon. That's the weirdness of "Club Airstream"--instant friendship based on owning a certain aluminum tube on wheels. No back-ground checks necessary.

Here at our new digs we pay $20 dollars a night. We get a semi-level space with no hook-ups, but a partial view of the Pacific Ocean, a mere short walk from our door. The park is quiet and practically empty. Now that the generator is off we can hear the surf pounding the shore. The little town of Cambria is a couple miles away so we will do some exploring tomorrow after we stroll the beach. It is such a wonderful spot. We are thinking we might stay here a few days.

What we saw of Paso Robles was very nice. There are something like 200 wineries in the vicinity, but we didn't visit one. Again, with an 8 year old in tow, it is difficult. Instead, we went to a spa where we dipped into a mineral tub (stunk like sulphur) and strolled the historic square downtown and ate Thai food at a place called Basil. We kept wondering why the buildings all looked so new and we learned that a recent earthquake resulted in a lot of rebuilding. We also wondered why a place so temperate in climate and so close to the ocean is not a sprawling metropolis, but I'm guessing it may have to do with lack of water, or the occasional smell of sulphur, or maybe it's actively quaking. I don't know, but it seems like a lovely place to live.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Me and John

Twelve hours later and I am already dreaming of returning to Yosemite. I can't name one other spot on this trip that has the spiritual pull of that holy place. No surprise to me that John Muir became obsessive about it. There's no revelation he's proclaimed that I, too, would not have arrived at myself. So, that makes me a transcendentalist, like Mr. Muir. I always suspected so.

Muir wrote: I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown,
for going out, I found, was really going in.
Yeah, me too.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Where's the Bears?

We awoke to another beautiful unseasonably mild morning in Yosemite, yet Rich and Eleanor had decided to leave for new adventures south. We could have tagged along, but we are enjoying Yosemite too much. We're sure we'll meet up again somewhere down the road soon.

Having another Airstreaming couple to hang with was certainly fun and educational. You can't help but bond with people who are similarly engaged in such a unique quest. The fact that they had a daughter Allison's age was a special bonus and made for a tug-of-war farewell this morning between the girls.

We managed to distract Allison with the pursuit of earning her Junior Ranger badge which she did. The rangers made a little show of it with Allison raising her right hand in pledge followed by a loud announcement to onlookers that there is a new ranger in town. Later, we took another ranger walk. The subject was bears, though good luck if you ever see one. The days when rangers actually fed local garbage to the bears as spectators crowded to watch are long gone. Again, born to late, missed all the fun. Now, conservation and protection are the norm and understandably so. We must protect the bears from us and us from the bears. Still, who wouldn't like to see a bear in Yosemite.

Tonight, I am again loitering at the Ahwahnee Lodge to tap into their internet connection. There is a big crowd tonight, a wedding party. I left Robert at "home" with a book I bought today: Death in Yosemite. I know he'll enjoy it for he likes the macabre--well, don't we all? The book documents the many sad outcomes of people who made wrong choices or were simply in the wrong place, wrong time and paid for it with their lives. There are numerous accounts of people going over cliffs and steep waterfalls in the pursuit of a better photograph. You know, "Honey, back up just a little.. a little more..." It happens more than you'd think.

It's dark now and generator hours are over so I'll be returning to a trailer lit by a Coleman lantern and probably a couple of candles. Robert's probably up to his eyeballs in scary tales of death. I should hurry home, but I'll make him wait a bit. He's quick to tease others, so I have to get my licks in when I can.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Yosemite: IMHO

Wherever we go I'm always scouting out internet access. Doesn't matter how beautiful the spot; I have to know where I can get online. I waste a fair amount of time in this pursuit.
Sometimes it pisses me off how difficult it can be when it doesn't have to be. I believe too, that some people, i.e., park employees, get a smug satisfaction in my discomfort. I imagine they have a prejudice against "tourists," with laptops in tow, as if we were addicts unable to enjoy the brief disconnect from our habit.

My cellular service is out of range therefore my data card is useless. I must find wi-fi which is severely limited to the two hotels here in Yosemite. The Ahwahnee offers its wi-fi free (supposedly to guests only), but the Yosemite Lodge charges a fee and requires a passcode. But to purchase this service you must wait in the 20-deep line of guest registrants. If that is too much trouble, you can purchase time on one of two internet kiosks at $.25 cents a minute. Same at the cafe near the Visitor Center, though there are a few more there. No thanks.

I do understand the concept of intentional disconnect. People complain that they can't get away from their work, or all things tech, but some of us think we can do it all. God knows I can spend 10 hours in the great outdoors taking in the meaning of wilderness. I just want to not spend one more driving around the park, wasting resources and time, parking and trekking to the hotel interiors to get online. Especially after dinner, when the sky is so incredibly dark that driving is not recommended and you're likely to run over something. What would be so hard about friendly locations for wi-fi? I have some other recommendations for the powers that be in Yosemite, but I don't think anybody much would care to hear them.

The Ahwahnee Lodge is impressive in its architecture and setting. And no one frowns on me for plopping in front of the huge fireplace with my laptop or has yet to ask me if I am a guest. At $400 plus dollars a night, I'll pass. Again, I sound like a complainer, but the Lodge did not blow me away. It is very nice, but not as grand in atmosphere as I had expected, which makes staying in the campground in my Airstream a fine alternative. Someplace like the Biltmore in Arizona puts out a better, more awake, atmosphere. The Ahwahnee is stuffy and unattended. The dining hall is the best feature inside. We tried to have dinner here last night, but the hall was reserved for a vintners' party. Maybe a fun party to crash, but we'll wait and have lunch or coffee later.

Thursday, November 08, 2007


I nixed the Ansel Adams photography walk in order to spend the day on a series of hikes with Rich and Eleanor. We all left the campsite around 10:00 am to drive to several points in Yosemite Park starting with Sentinel Dome. From there--Glacier Point, then Mariposa Grove. We didn't return to camp till after 6:00 pm. A long day, and a lot of driving, but worth the effort.

The views from Glacier Point were panoramic and dizzying. It overlooks the Yosemite valley some 3200 feet below. We could make out the little silver slivers that were our Airstreams deep in the pines below. Conditions for viewing weren't perfect even though it was a sunny day: There were some controlled forest fires that clouded the valley in a yellow smoke that made our photos kind of hazy.

The sequoias at Mariposa Grove were impressive though overall I wasn't as moved by them as the coastal redwoods. I like the wet, lush understory of the redwood groves. The perpetual foggy mist adds a mystery and ethereal quality I like. However, the sequoias are grand just for their immense size. The base of their trunks make me think of giant, gnarled elephant hooves.

Of course, I wanted to snatch up as many cones from the sugar pines as I could, but it is a no-no and it's hard to escape notice when you're lugging a 12-inch cone in your vest. I admit to getting away with one. Dammit, I want at least one. I hate kitchy gift shop souvenirs. I prefer my knick-knacks to be organic and found. Since there's no room for my stolen cone in the Airstream, I was thinking I'd mail it home. But, goodness, for all I know, that might be a felony or something.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Airstreaming in Yosemite

Yosemite National Park. If we stayed one week it wouldn't be enough for me. I'm already anxious that I won't get the time or weather to explore all the sites and activities available. We are incredibly lucky that the weather is sunny and warm for our visit--the forecast being at least three days of sunshine and temps in the 70's. I awoke early today (an amazing feat for me) and brewed coffee the primitive way--on the stove since it was too early to crank up the generator. I showered and was pushing Robert out the door to take a long stroll through the village leaving Allison with the Luhr's.

We are in the Upper Pines campground alongside Rich and Eleanor. They arrived about an hour after we did yesterday. The girls are thrilled to be reunited. First thing we did was purchase the Junior Ranger program book and make plans for the ranger-led excursion through Cooks Meadow this afternoon. Ranger Eric was our guide (another lucky stroke.) He's a guy who really likes his job. He seemed as excited as the rest of us to spot a red-tailed hawk swoop through the meadow as well as the acorn woodpecker and five-point buck under the trees in the village.

I think I've been on my feet for 10 hours straight. Everyone is back at the campground but Rich and I who have found a spot in the Ahwahnee Lodge to get online and do our important work of informing everyone about how much fun we are having. Of course, the lodge is fabulously and rustically beautiful, but we've got our heads in our laptops. Tomorrow, Robert and I plan to have dinner here in the grand dining hall. That should top off another exhausting day of walking, gawking and ahhing at the beautiful sites. Also, since I've proven I can rise early, I plan to join in the Ansel Adams photography walk in the morning. I could sure use the photography tips since I'm not doing so well on my own. Maybe I'll have something wonderful to show for it tomorrow.

Monday, November 05, 2007

My people

This is my 74-year-old Uncle Don, skydiving. His grandsons, Michael and Daniel gave him the gift of this major adrenaline rush for his birthday. He is way too cool. We spent the day at Don and Marilyn's home in Modesto getting a quick glimpse into their lives. I added another mark on my tally of "Isn't my family great?" Robert has to agree and, yes, Don and Marilyn have an Airstream too.

Along this trip we have made stops to visit members of the Hancock line (my mother's side)--a hearty bunch indeed and people to be proud of. We first visited Don and Marilyn's daughter, Christy and her boys in Seattle where Allie fell in love with Michael, the one who played with her in the park. Then, yesterday we stopped over in Folsom to say hello to Don's sister Rose and her daughter. Rose is 86 and going strong. I always tell Allison, "I want to be just like Aunt Rose when I get old." Now Allie sees why. Even she was smitten with her. Maybe it's her little girl giggle, or her china blue eyes, but everything about Rose is adorable.

I am so proud to show off my family to Robert and Allison. Especially to Allison for it gives her an idea of what she's made of. I only wish we all lived closer to be able to share our lives. There's so many of them out west--we've not seen even half of them yet. I'll keep my crew busy visiting them all--all the way into Arizona.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Trying to Get it Right

I think it's goodbye to Oregon for good. We kept lingering there because we liked it so much. The Valley of the Rogue State Park was nice though we didn't do any site-seeing or hiking. We spent our time getting to know Eleanor and Rich and watching Allison play with Emma. They hit it off so well we hated to pull them apart, but a good weather forecast for Yosemite urges us forward. We broke camp yesterday. Rich and Eleanor headed to Chico to visit friends; we headed to Redding. I had a vague idea that we'd find a state park close to Turtle Bay, but my research was shoddy and we ended up on the road to Whiskeytown and closed campgrounds. "Mrs. Jeeps," our GPS voice guide, was little help. She was as lost as we were. What information I could find online was incomplete and confusing. I was looking for Brandy Creek campgrounds but could never find it and finally Robert, worn out and frustrated, pulled into the parking lot of the Oak Bottom Marina and called it a night.

I really stink as a navigator. I don't get everything lined up before we take off and then I scramble to put it together in route. Maybe I think I'll have plenty of time on the road to research our next destination. Or maybe I think we'll change our minds and then my research will be wasted. Something wants me to be flexible, but more often it causes lost time and energy. I've promised to work on this, after all I'm not the one saddled with the job of driving. In fact, I get to relax, look at the scenery, play on my computer, and occasionally drift off to sleep. The least I can do it get us somewhere decent before dark.

But, selecting a place to land in a place you've never been before is not easy. You are considering so many factors. We've decided we like state and national parks best, but not all have campgrounds, and many campgrounds are closing for the season. Robert dislikes commercial RV parks. He hates being right up against another RV, and he hates paying for the night when the plan is to leave the next morning. My considerations are slightly different: I like laundry and shower facilities and internet access.

Three months on the road and we are getting wiser (the benefit of making mistakes), but we have much to improve on. Cutting back on expenses would be the first. It is easy to overspend. $30 dollars for an RV park is not uncommon. Restaurants, admission fees to various attractions, shopping, groceries, and gasoline can put us at $200 dollars in one day. If we were frugal we could bring that figure down considerably. This is the aspect of RV travel that I'd like to pay attention to now that the "honeymoon" is over.

Actually, in the last 24 hours I thought we'd done pretty well. $10 dollars for the overnight parking at Oak Bottom. I made potato and leek soup for dinner. Lunch, today, was leftovers eaten in the trailer at a rest stop. And tonight we are overnighting in the parking lot of the Flying J Truck Stop in Modesto. Pretty frugal, heh? However, we treated my aunt Rose and cousin Gigi in Folsom (the town, not the prison!) to dinner tonight and filled the gas tank twice. And with gas at $3.30 a gallon, well--goodbye, greenbacks.

Maybe we'll make more progress with this in Yosemite. But, once again, I don't really know what to expect there in spite of everything I'll read beforehand. This is the nature of the unknown. You just have to learn as you go.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Sharing the Gleam

We left the Ashland area (reluctantly) to head to Valley of the Rogue State Park a bit west on I-5. We want to camp alongside Rich and Eleanor and firm up our plans to visit Yosemite together. The drive over was gorgeous passing through valleys full of orchards tucked between rolling foothills. I kept thinking about how migrating pioneers must have shouted "Hallelujah" at the sight of such beauty. It must have seemed like a fitting reward for such a miserable journey west.

We made a quick stop in Jacksonville primarily to visit the museum. I couldn't pry Allison out of the Children's Museum. It was stuffed with artifacts of days past when kids went to one-room schoolhouses and moms churned butter and laundered clothes with a washboard. There were stations set up that featured different activities common to pioneer life. Everything was touchable, hands-on, which is rare for history museums. She absolutely loved it. We may try to sneak back for another run-through.

We only had a few moments to walk the main street in Jacksonville. I'm told there are 60 historical buildings standing in the town. It seems things are well-preserved. Once, long ago, Jacksonville hoped to see the railroad come through, but Medford got it instead and the course of Jacksonville was altered forever. Good thing. Medford is a little metropolis while Jacksonville is a quaint, pastoral hamlet overflowing with charm. I feel a tinge of worry for the place as I stroll downtown under the frontier-style architecture of the shops. I also feel greed. How can I get a piece of this before everyone else grabs it all? Is that not human nature? I'm as bad as the next guy, or the next home-equity rich Californian. We passed a few trophy houses on the hills and I'm muttering, "Damn Californians. They're going to ruin everything."

Robert went to look for a hardware store to get a wrench for Rich while Allison and I ducked into a couple of shops. I tried on a long skirt in one that I liked immediately. Allison, my fashionista, brought a knitted scarf to the dressing room, saying, "Mom, you must try this."
"No, it looks itchy," I replied, but wrapped it around my neck anyway to please her. Surprisingly, it was soft and happened to match the skirt so well I decided to buy both. Now I'm one step closer to being a gentle Oregonian now that I own a hemp skirt!

Tonight we are set up in the park next to Rich and Eleanor. I must say our rigs look mighty handsome in the backdrop of this lush green setting. There is something so elegant about the smooth curves of the Airstream and the reflective gleam of the aluminum at dusk. That we are the only two beauties here--well, don't we feel special? I feel like I have a Thoroughbred in a pasture full of cart horses. Emma and Allie scrambled off to play in our Airstream while we adults gathered in the other. I tried to restrain myself from grilling Rich with too many questions. He and Eleanor are a living data source for all things Airstream. They are pioneers we've caught up with on the trail. They have insight and knowledge of the conditions ahead. So, naturally we want to know everything.

Eleanor prepared a nice dinner for us all before we separated to turn in. I found that there was wi-fi access for a small fee here so of course I got online to write. Meanwhile, I'm sure Rich is doing the same. Besides publishing the Airstream magazine, he keeps a blog too. Since we are spending time together we'll naturally be writing about one another which adds an unusual dimension to a new friendship. So, when I finish writing this you know I'll be heading to his website to see what he writes about us, those damn Airstream newbies!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Everybody go, Boo!

Trick or treat, Ashland, Oregon. You can don your scariest get-ups, but you don't spook us. Your people are just too mellow, too good-natured, too organically fortified to be threatening. I shouldn't be surprised at the great effort you go to; you are a town well practiced in theatre.

What a treat to parade downtown with your babies in bumblebee costumes, your dogs in tutus. Okay, maybe a few paraders were a little scary, but cuteness ruled the day.

Allison had a buddy to trick-or-treat with. We met up with Rich and Eleanor Luhr and their daughter, Emma, who is Allison's age. Rich publishes Airstream Life and travels the U.S. in their Airstream Safari. We all hit it off right away having the Airstream experience in common--as well as the road-schooled daughter thing. It was just good fortune that we happened to be in southern Oregon at the same time. We may buddy-up and travel the road together for awhile. That would certainly please Allison who's thrilled to have made a new friend.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Back in Oregon

The only reason we went to Klamath Falls was to visit one of Robert's cousins. He has only two, the other two are dead and he never knew them. This one he only met once in his early childhood. We visited only a short while. The cousin and his wife and daughter publish a real estate magazine and were busy putting it together at the deadline. They dropped everything to entertain us, taking us to a nice dinner. I'm glad for Robert that they were such lovely people. I have many cousins, all pretty terrific; I think he felt he needed to produce something equal from his side!

Since we were so close to Crater Lake, we decided to go for a day trip. Lucky for us the weather was warm and clear. We got a good look and then headed to Medford. We spent the day today strolling through Ashland which was a nice surprise. The town is in such a beautiful setting surrounded by mountains. The autumn leaves are at their peak making the town look like some quaint picture postcard. We ate at Grilla Bites, an organic cafe and then walked to Lithia Park, a stunning woodland park that follows Ashland Creek. I could move to Ashland for that park alone.

We needed to find Allison a Halloween costume. I'd about given up after yesterday's unsuccessful run through Wal-Mart and Target. But now I found myself in the most opportune place for costumes: Ashland, the city of the Shakespeare Festival that runs from February through October. There is a wealth of used costumes for sale and we found them at the Gypsy Rose costume shop on Main Street. I was able to put something together for Allison in less than 15 minutes. She will be a girl pirate just in time for the Ashland Halloween Parade tomorrow. Everyone we met insisted we must come. I imagine it will be a real treat in a town like this.

We keep lingering in Oregon. We really like it. Not only is is lush and beautiful, it has such an interesting history. I am fascinated with the stories of the pioneers who made the dangerous trek to the Pacific northwest in the mid-1800's. The book I bought in Mt. Shasta City made good reading material on the road. I've read parts of it aloud to my captive family who also find it interesting. The book, Women's Diaries of the Westward Journey, by Lillian Schissel, offers a good picture into the westward migration. Those people went through hardships we can never imagine today. It is one of the greatest stories ever told, I believe. While we are here I'd like to visit several museums and interpretive centers that feature the Oregon Trail history. But first, Trick-or-Treat!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Gathering Water

Here's video of people gathering water from the Sacramento River headwaters in Mt. Shasta City park.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Mt. Shasta

It's from the locals that you get your best information about a place. Even the briefest conversations always lead to some interesting tidbit of guidance or advice. We would have never known about the headwaters of the Sacramento River in the city park, or the existence of cobra lilies in the meadows near Gumboot Lake if not for the coincidence of chance meetings with people here.

The transient who loitered outside the book store every day gave us the scoop about the headwaters. There is no sign or advertisement or scrap of information in the visitor literature about it, yet this surprising articulate man was adamant we not leave town before seeing it. Ice cold water flows from an underground spring through a lava tube and out into the city park. People go there to collect drinking water.

So we went. We had no idea where in the park this attraction might be. When we found it we were surprised at the humble nature of a tiny pool of water with no marker. I was expecting a huge river, but the water streamed from small hole in a rock outcropping, and not all that forcefully. It was more of a peaceful pool that spilled into a creek. People, one-by-one, kept driving up the the spring unloading their water jugs and gingerly stepping on the stones to the source of the water. Everyone we spoke to agreed that the water was the cleanest, best-tasting water in the world. One couple had come down from Ashland, Oregon to fill their jugs. Many people believe the water has healing properties. Now, I understood why the check-out clerk at Ray's grocery looked so puzzled when, empty jugs in hand, I asked her where the bottled water machine was. She said, "You're not from around here, right?"

We filled a plastic gallon container we had with us and took a few swigs. We all agreed it was great-tasting water, but Robert being less impressed said it just tasted like melted ice. I think I was mostly impressed with the idea of drinking straight from a stream. If I lived here I would probably come here regularly for water. Of course, if I lived here I'd have to become more hippy-like and shed my conservative dress for hemp and hand-knitted apparel and become a vegan to fit in.

Overall, I find the area around Mt. Shasta to be full of interesting surprises, mostly all related to nature. It is such beautiful country and Mt. Shasta is majestic in a special way. It stands so tall and imposing and every sunset throws a dramatic cast on its snowy face to make it even more mesmerizing. I can see how people become convinced it is magical. I can understand how the myths and spiritual movements get started. I, too, would probably find myself drawn into the mysticism if I lived here. Maybe I'd undergo a complete spiritual transformation. I'll never know, because we've got our water jugs filled and are heading to Klamath Falls.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

House of Soul Confusion

Today, Allison and I returned to Mt. Shasta City to look for a birthday gift for Robert. We found ourselves in a store named, "Soul Connections," lured in by the geodes and polished stones in the window. However, the store specialized in new-age and metaphysical items and we were mesmerized by the amount of stuff you can buy to aid your soul-searching. I learned some interesting things about this area from the many books it featured. Apparently, many people believe Mt. Shasta is one of seven sacred mountains on earth and an ancient colony of people called, Lemurians, live deep in its core. They moved there 12,000 years ago to escape the sinking of their continent, Mu, on the Pacific. They live in the secret city called, Telos, that is filled with treasure. The reason we never see them is that they can make themselves invisible at will. People who have seen them say they are very tall (almost 7 feet) with slender necks and long, flowing hair. They speak Lemurian, but are also fluent in English (but with a British accent.)

I almost bought a book on the subject, but standing there surrounded by Buddha and Hindu and Chinese and goddess statuettes, crystals and wands, and Tibetan ritual bowls and bells, I felt the eye of the Jesus of Baptist Sunday School upon me. Now, I'm not sure what's the occult and what's simply a culturally diverse religious item, but helping fund the cult of Lumeria seemed not the thing to do. Instead, I let Allison buy little matching ceramic Foo Dogs. They were pink and blue and reminded her of the lions outside her favorite restaurant back home, the China Buffet. She read the little placard beneath them explaining their significance and mythic powers of protection. It stated that placing them at the foot of a child's bed will ward off bad dreams. How could I refuse with the shadow of Bigfoot still in her little head? I was becoming too confused and morally fuzzy-headed. What harm is a little foo dog if it comes with a mother's warning: Now, you understand that Chinese foo dogs really can't stop bad dreams, but it's nice that they want to, right?

Then, I was struck with the image of the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus, and I felt a headache coming on.

Just your local folk

After our hike up McCloud River we dropped into Mt. Shasta to stroll around. Mt. Shasta is a sweet little city next door to Weed. The book store on the main drag looked appealing so we stepped in, ordered some coffee and a hot chocolate for Allison, and looked through some books. I love bookstores so much, it hurts. I get a certain anxiety from a room filled with new books and magazines. Instead of relaxing with a book, sipping my latte, making polite conversation, I get overexcited about the choices. So much to read, so little days left in my life. And I can't stay focused. Every section beckons to me. Do I want to know about logging history or the ecology atop old-growth redwoods? And, God, how distracting are those Log and Timber dream home magazines. I finally settled on a book of first-hand accounts of the women who traveled west on the Oregon trail, probably a real downer, but surely good perspective for a woman traveling in the luxury of a new aluminum, fully appointed, Airstream trailer.

And what else gets my eye is the local character of the townsfolk who gather here. There are odd people everywhere, but there is a particular oddness to the California/Oregon "hippy" folk. I think it's their gentleness. I snapped a photo of this gentleman outside the bookstore puffing on his hand-rolled cigarette. Not weed, but something else, though I'm not sure it was tobacco either. I liked the care he gave to twisting his hair into a pretty knot on top.

Mother McCloud Doesn't Live Here Anymore

We picked a great day to visit the McCloud area. The day was sunny and bright with no wind. Our first stop was the old company town (1897) of the McCloud River Lumber Company. This was a town totally built to sustain the lumber company, dubbed, Mother McCloud, for the forced dependency of the employees on the company. It prospered for many years until advances in the lumber industry outpaced it. Newer tools and equipment and better practices of timber cutting led to the decline of the industry in McCloud. It would be a ghost town if not for the sheer tenacity of folks who continued to pursue logging. A much smaller company operated until 2002. Now there is talk of the industry of bottled water. McCloud is also positioning itself as a vacation town, a tourist destination.

We really enjoyed our walk along the McCloud River Trail. We began in the lower falls and followed along the river to the upper. The middle falls is the biggest. The upper is small but falls from a greater height. Though some of the trail follows the water's edge, most of it is along a high ridge. It is a moderate hike that took about an hour each way.

Allison and I located two letterboxes hidden in the park. At the end of the trail we picnicked in the shade and the roar of the waterfall. Robert fell asleep in the pine needles. I watched the chipmunks scurry around him and thought how much he looked like a sleeping Gulliver. Allison busied herself building a chipmunk town with broken twigs and pine cones and I thought she looked like a kid should look: at one with nature.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

4% of Magnificent

4%. This figure I keep repeating when I think about the old growth forests. There is only 4% left of the magnificent old redwoods, cedars, sitkas, and other evergreens. It's like the story of the buffalo: you think there's plenty to spare, but everything is expendable.

Here's some footage from our walk through the Stout Grove in Jedediah Smith State Park on the northern California coast:

Happy in Weed

From Jedediah Smith State Park we took Highway 199 northeast. Our plan was to get to Weed, California. No particular reason except that it was our wedding anniversary and we had to spend it somewhere--why not in Weed? Actually, my travel plan includes Mt. Shasta and Redding and from there back to the coast for more redwood exploration.

The trip covered something like 130 miles, but took 4.5 hours over mountains and a quick side sweep into Oregon. Once we descended into Happy Camp, California, we were following the Klamath River. It reminded us of the Salmon River in Idaho a bit the way the road runs alongside the river. Happy Camp sure sounded appealing, until we discovered it was synonymous with Bigfoot. It is the home to many Bigfoot sightings. There were murals and signs and statues of Bigfoot all along the road through the tiny town. All this Bigfoot imagery spooked Allison who had her dose of Bigfoot stories from her father while we camped in the Oregon backwoods. As we were taking a quick rest stop along the river, I spotted a deer across the bank. I blurted, "Look, Allison, a...." And I turned to say, "deer," but she had already dashed to the inside of the Airstream. Poor child.

But on to Weed. You can only imagine the ribbing Weed gets: How many motorists pull off the road to pose, thumbs up, under it's signs. How many stupid stoner inferences. Weed Street, Weed Museum, City of Weed. How'd you like to be a graduate of Weed High? If you can get past the giggling stoner humor you'd learn that Weed is named for the founder of the lumber mill, Abner Weed. It is an historic lumber town and the mill is at the end of its main street.

Weed sits under the shadow of Mt. Shasta which makes for a dramatic backdrop. Tonight, the moon rose over the pinkish cast on the summit left by the sunset. It was beautiful. There is a lot to see nearby. We visited the fish hatchery (the oldest west of the Mississippi) and the Sisson Museum which was a homey little repository for the artifacts of the county's founding period. I particularly liked the homages to the early settlers who tackled climbing Mt Shasta back in the late 1800's. The first woman to do so was named, Harriet Eddy.

She'd migrated to Sisson with her brother after losing her husband and infant daughter to tuberculosis. I imagine she felt she had nothing else to lose. She never married again, but cared for her brother and other lumber workers. There was no sugar, but she baked pies anyway and sold them for a little cash. And when she climbed Mt. Shasta, custom dictated that she wear a dress. This little fact gives me pause: What little and incongruous steps society made towards female independence. There is a story there and I want to know more about this woman and her world.

Tomorrow--a walk along the McCloud River and a visit to the lumber mill.

The Magnificents

Apparently our drive through the southern Oregon Coast was during a major rain/wind storm. We hunkered down in Fort Orford thinking we'd visit Brookings the next morning, but by then we were ready for sunnier, drier conditions. We ended up in Jedediah Smith State Park near Crescent City, California, not much drier, but certainly beautiful. We parked in a beautiful spot along the Smith River. It had risen over 10 feet and the camp host warned us to keep an eye on it. It did rain a little through the night, but the river actually had begun to recede. The next two days we spent hiking through the giant redwood forests. The old trees (redwood, sitka spruce, fir) in Stout Grove were amazing, many over 300 feet tall. Our hike down Damnation Trail in the Del Norte Redwoods was a physical challenge for all of us. We were so proud of Allison for keeping up.

The 4.5 mile round-trip trail takes you on a 1000 foot descent to the ocean. But you can't actually get to the beach unless you crawl down a rock outcropping, so we just rested on the bluff eating our packed lunch. The hike took maybe 2.5 hours and all the way back we kept repeating, "What in the damnation!!!" Now we knew. That was the hardest trail we've taken, but so worth the effort.

I was without any internet access for three days. There are no Sprint towers in the area and Jedediah Park is too remote, so I had to just go rustic. We played games at night in Abby under the light from the lantern. It was a nice break.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Tales from the Oregon Coast

Our stay in Portland was the longest on the trip--six days parked outside Sarah and Stuart's house. The Airstream acted as an apartment and we became neighbors that came to dinner every night. We broke our Ben Franklin policy regarding length of stay, but everyone seemed comfortable, especially Allison, who had her good buddy, Carly, to play with.

Yesterday we headed west, back to the Oregon coast. We took Highway 6 to Tillamook where we made a quick run through the Tillamook Cheese Factory (mildly interesting) and then began driving the coastline. We made a quick stop at the Oregon Coast Aquarium, a nice little gem of an attraction. There is a large exhibit devoted to crustaceans (huge lobsters and crabs) that were distractingly arousing to my appetite. I'm sure I'm not the first to wish for a bib and some drawn butter. My favorite section was this acrylic tunnel under a enormous aquarium. I took this shot of Allie on the runway as the overhead lighting warped the arch.

We found a nice spot for the night, the Carl Washburne State Park in Florence. Robert started a campfire, but the wood was too wet and no one wanted to sit with him while the wind whipped smoke into our eyes. Actually, Allison wouldn't come out of the trailer at all. Robert had spent the last three hours telling her Bigfoot stories. Don't you know Bigfoot creatures live in the remote forests of Oregon, probably in the very spot we were staying. We woke up with her in our bed, a habit we thought we'd recently broken.

The Oregon coast is rugged and in this October weather, very foggy. The wind was whipping up the sea and gusting across Highway 101 this morning. The Sea Lion Caves were temporarily closed due to the weather so we drove on. Robert had hoped to play golf at Bandon Dunes, but he's not eager to spend $250 to play in rain and wind. We stopped there to check the place out and I accidentally left my purse in the restaurant. We had to drive from Port Orford back to get it which put us in the middle of the rainy onslaught. We are now back in Port Orford buttoned-down for a stormy night. A fierce front has hit the southern Oregon coast prompting wind advisories and dumping hard rain. When we pulled into the RV park we didn't bother to unhook or set up the stabilizers. We'll just ride out the elements battering us from the outside. It feels like we're riding in a private train car with all the rocking. And now Robert is hollering for me to bring a pan to the bedroom. We've sprung a small leak. More updates later.