THE SPRING ROAD AWAITS

Matilda (motorhome), the Mothership (car), and a jug of sun tea. Life is good, when it’s good.

We waited. We hid. We isolated ourselves. We wore masks and we social distanced (at least 10 miles from anyone every chance we got). Then we got our vaccines, and so did most of the family. So, how about a spring drive to see the ones on the east coast to start our summer? We could take a month, drive slow, enjoy the sights. Easy. Simple. No rush, no fuss, no hassle…

What was that saying about the best laid plans?

We started off in Oregon, along the Columbia River Gorge. We stayed along side the river and watched the windsurfers, played games… and spent a small fortune saving the lives of both dogs. Rusty, and Frankie, being explorers like us, both managed to get into something that made them deathly ill. They each spent 2 days in the animal hospital on IV antibiotics and fluids, and were sent home with lots of fun drugs. 

*** We pause this blog to give a special shout out to everyone at The Columbia Veterinary Hospital for the amazing care and compassion they showed our fur-kids. There may have been tears of gratitude as we drove away with them.***

These windsurfers were amazing!
It looks like a ton of fun. And like I would probably break my body as I was drowning.
Some serious Jesus moves going on here.

After all that fun we thought, hey, the worst part is behind us, smooth sailing from here (Pro tip: Don’t ever assume it will be smooth sailing). Farewell Bend, the Oregon State park along the Oregon/Idaho state border was our next stop. This time, we simply took some pictures, played with our reinvigorated doggos and relaxed along the Snake River.

Farewell Bend, an Oregon State Park.
The Farewell Bend of the Snake River along the Oregon/Idaho border.

Next Stop: Milner Recreation Site in Idaho. Without discussion, we apparently decided to follow the Oregon Trail in reverse as we slowly tootled along the Snake River. Just a few feet away from where the greatest ol’ motorhome, Matilda, sat, were the very ruts carved by wagon after wagon during the westward expansion (and the sad land theft from indigenous peoples) of the United States. Being so close to hundreds of year old history that you can see and touch is quite a feeling. 

Wagon wheel ruts from along the Oregon Trail. Maybe the doggos had preemptively tried to die of dysentery. 
The Snake River in the Milner Recreation area near Burley, Idaho.
Frankie (Doodle Dandy), the Great Tree-bone hunter.
Rusty, making a sport out of watching Frankie work her ass off swimming for tree-bones.

Remember that pro-tip earlier? Well just enough time had passed that we felt like we were truly on the road again. Then we stopped somewhere and a squeal like the banshees of legends greeted our ears. Matilda began losing power and we were forced to pull off the road. We breathed in a sigh of relief at realizing it was just a thrown belt and we could get it fixed and back on the road ourselves (this part of the story doesn’t end here).

Our next mini-adventure found us under the bridge, like trolls. GPS said we should be somewhere else, but it was occupied. So we explored, and we found a hidden, off-grid gem. A gem that turned into an extra couple days stay because our dear Frankie had to return to the vet. The minor infection in her ears that we thought would clear up with the drugs from the previous trip had gotten worse, and was now a full-blown double ear infection. Fortunately they have vets in Utah. The Wasatch Hollow Animal Hospital took care of our little lady (Thank you so much!).

Think bridge trolls are cool? You should see him troll on the Internet.
Rusty meandering through his retirement age like a good boy.
She is always tracking down the tree-bones with ease.

Okay, is that enough headaches now? Should be good to go now, right? Right? We had plans for two stops, one in Wyoming, and one in Nebraska, before making the final jump to our family on the east coast. And yet, nothing went according to plan. 

Just before the town of Rawlins, Wyoming, Matilda broke down again. The banshees had returned and it sounded as if our very souls were in danger. It turned out that the previous belt failure was not due to an old belt, but rather a smog pump that had seized up. After 2 days on the side of the road as we tried to track down a part, we were able to make our way to the Dugway recreation site about 20 miles away. 

Memorial Weekend brought us a patriotic visitor, flying over the North Platte River in Wyoming.
A neighboring camper brought his half Bernese Mountain Dog, half really big bear to peacefully enjoy the river.
Where the antelope roam, indeed.

Think this part of the adventure is a simple buy a new part and replace the old one? Oh no, that would not make for a juicy story. Nope, we had to discover that the shop that had installed the previous pump had duct-taped the back of the pump together. Not only did they duct-tape the main air line to the pump, but they also skipped installing the check valve or even the right high pressure air lines. In all, we learned that we had previously paid an $800 bill for a shoddy installation of the wrong parts.

But wait, there’s more… 

We were forced to wait for 4 days to find out if we could even order the part, only to find out that it was available for 2 day delivery the whole time. At least we now had a nice quiet spot with a decent view. The only advantage to living our life when Murphy comes to visit. 

Dammit, Murphy.

Is there any good news to talk about for the last 2 months? Sure there is.

The wildlife that visited us was amazing. We spent the majority of the 2 months alongside a couple of rivers, and the seclusion was wonderful for both of us, our writing, and our dogs to run and play. 

Mourning Dove looking for it’s love.
American White Pelican
Beetley Buddy
Red-Tailed Hawk
American Bison
American Bison
Bald Eagle
Pronghorn Antelope. Dat booty, tho’

So now what? Well, we cross our fingers, leave offerings and say prayers under seventeen different religions and spiritualities, check the dogs’ temperatures, triple check every belt, fluid level, electrical connection, and then hold our breath as we turn the key and get moving on. The Traveling Writing desk will not be held back (at least not for long). 

The road awaits.

 

 

Vampire Slaying, Stephen King, and a Grand Forking Idea

It all began on a cool, windy, spring day in Bandon, Oregon. Bandon is a beautiful beach town along the Southern Oregon Coast. At the time we lived just a short twenty-five mile jaunt away. We were treating ourselves to a day-date in the “old-town” district.

Coquille River Lighthouse – Bandon, Oregon. 

We went to the Face Rock Creamery, and after sampling enough cheddar variations that we were in danger of being asked to leave, we thought it best to purchase ourselves a couple of blocks to take home.

Face Rock Creamery – Bandon, OR.

We walked along the edge of the harbor and darted in and out of the gift shops. We browsed the bookstore (of course), and we left with two books that explain more than I care to admit about our personalities – Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King and the Star Wars Bounty Hunter’s Code.

We dropped our purchases off in our vehicle and decided it was time to feed the beasts that were growling inside us (the more you feed them, the less likely they are to burst from your chest and face-hug all of your friends and family – if only John Hurt could have eaten faster…). Remember, this was an all-day date, so we went to a nice  restaurant instead of the seafood stand on the waterfront. I mean, come on, we even got dressed in real pants for the day!  

The Wheelhouse Restaurant – Bandon, OR. 

We laughed. We held hands. We ordered an appetizer that was an experiment for both of us. Our food arrived. It was amazing. This is where we would recommend the meal choices, yet, the food is the fuzziest part of the memory. You see, we had always talked about how we wanted to go and visit new things. We shared pictures of places we wanted to go. Someday, we said; someday. 

“You know, we could get a travel trailer and strip it out, and just make a library. Yeah, it’d be a library on wheels with nothing but a bed, books… oh, and a toilet,” he said.

She laid her fork down gently as he stuffed another bite in, proud of himself for the lame addition of the toilet joke. Finally a pause in his babbling. She looked directly at him. 

“What’s stopping us?” she asked.

“Um…” he said as he tried to swallow down the over-sized bite.

“Seriously, what’s stopping us?”

His lips twisted in thought as his brow furrowed. He looked down at the table and his eyebrows began to raise. He lifted his head and looked into her eyes.

“Uh… I dunno,” he said.

From that point on the rest of the day was spent dropping back into that conversation. The children were out, or old enough to be out of the house. They had their own jobs. But could we? Was this really a possibility or was the mixing odors of new books and seafood causing misfires in the synapses of our brains? Had someone drugged the vampire-slaying cheese? 

That night we broke out pen and paper and began a three-day research project. We spoke of it to no one. This was serious deep spy stuff. Satellite images were passed through secret drop spots and we spoke through encryption devices when anyone was around that might hear. (We texted each other from the same room and sent pictures to each other through our social media accounts. Yes, we know, the NSA could have been looking in on our super-secret spy game.)The fate of the world was resting on our shoulders, and the pressure was on to find an answer.

We read blogs of full-time RVers. We did lots of math (well, he did the math, as she has come to believe that math is just a foul language that should not be used in mixed company).

Actual photo of her when faced with simple addition.

How much will our income drop? Can we afford to live that way? We considered the emotional states of the children, and us. We considered the health of our aging parents. We talked through scenario after scenario. What if we do and something happens back home? What if we do and there’s a major breakdown or one of us gets really sick? What if we get out there and I can’t stand you? (The answer to this one involved a shovel and the use of one of our kids as an alibi.)

We walked around the house and looked in every room and cried out: “What in the world will we do with all this stuff?”

Those questions were answered, and then we tried to break those answers with as many what-ifs as we could. By day three, we realized the truth. 

What was the truth you ask? 

We were nervous, because we could, we could really do it. Nervousness became excitement which became… 

“Oh crap, we have to tell the family.”

Before we get into the trauma (and drama) of the next few days, let us discuss the how-to part of what we did. Believe us when we say we are not the ultimate authorities on how to transform your life into a full-time RVing adventure. In fact, we are regularly learning something new, or getting frustrated at what we don’t know, all the time. (This is a nice way of saying we really don’t have a clue about what we’re doing, but we hope you’ll continue reading anyway.)

The beginning of the “how-to” part boils down to coming up with your recreational vehicle size and type. Everyone has different desires, different needs, and different wants. 

That’s a broad statement, how do we translate that into an RV type, you ask. Well, what we did was make a list. 

Actually, make three lists.

First, what do you NEED to take with you to survive, we’ll call it the essentials list. We strongly recommend taking clothes, a jacket or two, and maybe even splurge for some soap and a toothbrush. Then a second list of the things that you want – things you think you need. This second list is the almost essential list. Like a regular can opener instead of an old Army P-38 can opener  – or a camera instead of the stone tablets and chisels to create a visual record of your adventures. The third list is the I don’t think we need this but wouldn’t it be nice to have list. You know things like the espresso machine, or the Roomba™. 

These lists are not the final packing lists for your new life. Nope, not a bit. Those “final” lists will change several times and will not be finalized until you are twenty miles down the road in your new rolling forever home on wheels. (Even then, it will change as you discover new things and go more places. Basically, you can throw the lists out.) No, these lists are to give you an idea of what kind of space you need. Do you want something tiny, the size of a Scamp™ or a conversation van? Or do you need a 40-foot 5th wheel behemoth? We’re not judging you either way. This is entirely up to your preference, and because it is, we’ll just walk through the wonderful way we found our first little towed home…

To start with we had a Dodge SUV. It had the bigger V-8, and it’s tow capacity wasn’t horrible so we thought we were halfway there. It meant that 5th wheels were out, and we weren’t fond of towing it behind a motorhome due to its own weight. SUVs tend to be heavy, as heavy, if not more so, than their pick-up truck cousins. So that discussion was fairly short; Travel trailers it is! 

New? Used? How old? Fixer-upper? What do we want? Well, with the drastic change (also known as a drop) in income, let’s try to avoid adding a new debt. Let’s go for used, maybe even a fixer-upper, I mean we are crafty people right? Yes dear; and so that part of the discussion was a bit longer, but still relatively short. It’s all settled now, we want a used travel trailer, no leaks, appliances work, other conditions are open to negotiation.

Two days later. Mike is at home performing his house-husband duties (watching cat videos and posting food pictures to social media all while claiming to be writing an important section of his barely started novel manuscript.) when MeLisa contacts him from work. She found something while browsing the internet on her break. 

“What’s that?” he asked.

An RV to go check out. Okay, I can do this, he thinks, but wait… did you say it was a motorhome? Yes. We had come to a decision – Travel Trailer it was, and now Mike was off to take a look at a 24-foot Winnebago Class-c motorhome. 

It was the first official look either of us had taken at a used RV. It was spacious for its size. Good sized bed. Functioning kitchen area… lots of carpet. It even had carpet up between the front seats and around the console housing. Between the dogs, and an inability to decide what to do with the SUV, we walked away from it. It was on the high end of our price range anyway, we said to ourselves. Secretly both of us had wanted it, and were afraid to admit it until many months later, but we walked away all the same. 

That was a Thursday.

Friday we were back to looking at travel trailers and calling on a few. Mike even stopped to look at one that was being sold with a truck. Interesting idea, but alas, still not quite right.

Then came Saturday.

We had been up late Friday. Had a big family dinner, a few drinks, all with music played at one-half notch below the piss-off-the-neighbors level. We both woke early – too early for the tequila and beer from the previous evening. We took care of a few things around the house and decided an early afternoon nap would be just the thing…

Then MeLisa found it. Someone was selling a travel trailer on Facebook. 

“Oh, there’s a number. You should call,” she said.

“Wait, how big?”

“It’s only a thousand. Like one-thousand dollars,” she said.

“And it says it all works?”

“yeah.”

“And how big?”

“And no leaks, “ she said.

And so he called. No set time, just come down. It’s right here and we’re having a yard sale too, they said. They also said lots of people were calling and that the first one there with the cash takes it. 

And so we went. While we were looking it over – at only sixteen feet that takes a LONG time – two other people showed up inquiring about it. Standing alone inside we quickly discussed it…

“It is small,” she said. (Yes, that’s what she said.)

“Might be too small,” he said. (And then she giggled.)

“The cushions are ugly. What is that, Pepto-pink puke color?” she asked.

“Nah. It’s more purple and puke,” he said.

“Do you really think the dogs and us can even fit in here?” she asked herself more than him.

“Look at it this way, I could give it a once over and sell it for more. There’s a line waiting. Let’s take it home, and decide later. If we don’t want it, we can sell it,” he said.

Afraid that someone would get there first we had skipped stopping by the bank on the way, so MeLisa waited there to have awkward introverted conversations with the seller, while Mike ran to the ATM and pulled the cash we were short. We skipped our nap that afternoon as we towed an old tiny trailer to our driveway.

There it sat for a week, while we debated back and forth if it was big enough to handle our needs, while we also kicked the idea back and forth about what we were going to use to tow it. Our inexperience reigned supreme as we learned what tow ratings versus actual weight meant. Our new acquisition was heavy for its size (though we thought it was all normal – remember, inexperience supreme). At a dry weight of 2900 lbs. the math worried us. The tow rating of our SUV was only 4900 lbs. Our assumption was with the stuff we’d pack we’d be at 3600-4000 lbs. if we kept the trailer we had. That was just too close to the rating to make us feel all warm-n-fuzzy when we thought about the Rocky Mountains or the long haul across the high deserts. And what if we get a bigger one? So while we considered whether the tiny trailer taking up all the space in the driveway would work, we set off on selling our Dodge and finding a more capable tow rig. 

Again, MeLisa came through. 

Eugene, Oregon is just a couple hour drive from our home on the coast and we setup a day trip to look at both privately sold vehicles and a dealer’s lot in Eugene. The long story short; we said no to two different private vehicles and no to the 3 lots we looked at while waiting on our creditors to approve or deny us on the truck that had both of us salivating. An older F-150 with dual shock systems, shift assist, overdrive kill switch, tow package, no rust, all OEM equipment. Shiny! We had to have it. 

That same week we decided. The Serenity was christened (geek alert!). The tiny travel trailer was named and a full remodel/refit began. So, because it would be towing the Serenity the truck was named Hoban. (Most people give their vehicles female names, but Hoban just felt male. He even gets a little hot under the collar, but more on that when we get to Nevada.) Yes, as in Hoban Washburne. The Browncoats were going to take to the open roads because “you can’t take the sky…” er… road “from me.”

“Hang on, travelers.” – Hoban Washburne

We had it all set now, we were sure:

We had our tiny (ultra-miniscule is likely the more correct term) home. We had a tow vehicle that we loved and was nice enough that we frequently got compliments on. We had informed the two children still living with us, and the family members who mattered. We had survived the guilt trips from the daughter who had spent years trying to convince us that she was never moving out of the house. We handled all the interpersonal drama from our family that supported and was going to miss us, and those who thought we had lost our collective minds. The latter were certain we must be the first victims of a soon-to-be pandemic level brain devouring disease.

We felt like giants.

What was left? Just the little details right? You know, things like finishing the remodel of the interior (piece of cake) and then downsizing into our tiny home.

We’d be ready and capable of leaving within a week we were sure. (There was 23 days in that “week” before Serenity was ready. And another month of donations, giveaways, and yard sales to downsize and choose what was truly important to us.) We walked around the house several times and looked at all these things that we seemed to hardly use; yes, downsizing would be as easy as conquering northern Siberia in the dead of winter. 

Serenity served us well over the next 10 months. We learned a lot; saw a lot. We followed the trail of Billy The Kid.

“Pals”

We taught a couple of college kids how to play poker (by taking their money at the table). 

and we discovered what happens when you leave a window open in a sand storm. We should’ve brought the Roomba™.

“I don’t like sand. It’s coarse, and rough, and irritating, and it gets everywhere…” – Darth Vader, but whiny.

We fell in love with this RVing life, and it was time to plan for the long haul. Serenity found her way into the needy arms of a young couple and we found ourselves a new vessel on the roads of adventure. A magical home with wheels that came to be known as Matilda.

“I was flying past the stars on silver wings,” Matilda said. “It was wonderful.” ― Roald Dahl, Matilda

But that is a story for another day.