Sunday, December 14, 2014

The trailer, how it happened, if you care....

We bought a travel trailer.

Pros:  Everything!

Cons:  The shopping is over.

The latter really is sad, because it had kept us happily occupied since last spring.  It started like this:

Husband, who tends to allow his schedule to overfill because of obligations which sometimes seem to include taking care of the entire human population (slight exaggeration but you get the idea) along with an ever-expanding cache of hobbies........sometimes finds himself overwhelmed and looking for an escape.  (Fortunately, as far as how I fit in, he says he wants to escape with me, rather than from me.  Good thing.)  Hence, he started thinking about getting an RV some time ago, focusing on those new smaller types built on Sprinter chassis that get impressive fuel economy, compared to the larger, more traditional fuel-guzzlers.

I, on the other hand, didn't jump onto this band wagon at first.  I was happy with our tent.

But then, on one fateful afternoon, I happened to be near an RV-selling establishment called Camping World, with time to kill.  Thinking they might cater to all things camping, I ventured in.  It turns out they don't think much of tent camping.  They want to sell rigs.  Big expensive ones.  So I peaked inside one of their showroom models.

These things are incredible!  I'm talking guest baths and fireplaces.  Big screen TVs and kingsize beds.   No kidding.  You should stop by a dealer for a look.  Or maybe not.

Backtracking a little, this particular afternoon was during a stressful period, not uncommon in our home, when Husband's obligations were bearing down on him and I was helpless to remedy it.  So when I stepped into one of those gorgeous, luxurious motorhomes......suddenly I too, saw ESCAPE.  I mean, lights flashed in my head and a heavenly door seemed to open.

"I want an RV," said I to Husband later that day.

"You do?" said he, as he turned to his computer screen to commence the search.

Purchasing something big ..... like a house or a car, usually involves an evolution as you sort out what you want, what you need, and how you will pay for it.  

We started with the Sprinter models with the ever standing question of -- HOW will we use it?

1.  Will we take long ... meaning several weeks or months at a time ... trips?  Or short weekenders?

2.  Would we, could we, actually adopt the life of "snow-birds" who head south each winter?  After all, we are both now in our sixties and retirement will come..... eventually.

We never quite pinned down our answers but Reality says snow-birding isn't likely.  Some obligations will never simply go away.  Shorter trips are much more doable.

We looked at fifth wheels, which are big trailers that require a pickup truck to pull them.....

.... bringing us to pick-ups.  Wow.  What drove their price so high?   And I didn't really want to drive a truck full time since we wouldn't be letting such an expensive vehicle just sit and wait for occasion trailer trips.

We progressed into monster diesel pushers --- those big motorhomes that I literally could live in that require no tow vehicle, but do call for towing a car behind it....a problem in and of itself.  So we considered buying a scooter-type motorcycle to bring along for short excursions.  But seriously, did we really want to ride to church during those trips that had us layed over on Sundays, on a scooter?  Possibly in the rain?  Hmmmm.

We visited lot after lot, showroom after showroom, and several fun RV exhibits at the local convention center.  It was fun.  Did I mention we like shopping?

We planned and we dreamed.  Who wants a Caribbean cruise when you can wander through another RV show?

We thought we had settled on a model made by Winnebago.  It was a reasonably not-too-big motorhome which would have to have been previously owned because these things cost not-a-small fortune.  Think of buying a starter home.  The price starts there and goes up.  And it had to really be USED.  Like around seven years old or more.  And we found the exact one in Utah via RVtrader online.

So on an unrelated family-caused Utah trip, we went to look at it.  It was still in the starter-home cost range and yet was so...... used.  And with more depreciation to come.

We drove away.  It just didn't feel right.   Too much money for something so old.

Later on that same trip, we stopped by yet another RV dealer and began to look at small travel trailers.  Husband had not wanted to go this route originally because they are not as easy to tow.  But they began to make a lot of sense.  As I said .... evolution.

This new plan took us on another progressive round of visiting dealers, shows, and watching online.  We learned early on that all RV models have bad reviews.  Some are the makings of nightmares with flaws and failings and poor customer service by the manufacturers.  I must have read, "Will never buy another (fill in the make of any RV) again!" a hundred times.  Except for one.

And that one became our top choice.

A company in Indiana called Livin Lite makes a nifty little trailer, of their Camplite series, made entirely of aluminum.  No wood nor steel to be found.  Therefore, there will never be rust nor rot.  Ever.  Think airplane construction.  Plus they are light and towable with a mid-sized SUV and I love to drive SUVs.  And there were good reviews all around.

Downside?  Of course!  They are expensive.  But not as bad as Airstreams, the patriarch of the industry that are purported to outlive their owners.  And the model we wanted had just arrived on the scene this year.  Not likely we'd find any used ones.

But then, one popped up on RVtrader.  Used.  Best price we've seen.  By far.

Downside?  Of course!  It was in Little Rock, Arkansas.

We went to one more RV show to finalize our choice.  We could have bought a fancier one on the spot for a similar price.....but they all had some wood lurking deeply inside their walls, threatening to rot at any moment.  And they were heavier.  Not so sure our newly purchased Jeep Grand Cherokee could safely pull them.  Our choice was made and Husband booked a flight to Little Rock to check it out.

To be continued .... if you care.  (I wouldn't blame you if you didn't.)

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Life of Riley .....

.... is the name of an old radio program from the 1940s.  It denotes a life of ease and comfort.  Years ago I decided that if we ever got another dog, I'd name it Riley because at our house, dogs have it made.

So, continuing from the previous post....... I brought him home on a trial basis called fostering.  They even loaned the equipment.  T'was the perfect arrangement as I cautiously waded into such a heavy commitment.  And here's the clincher ..... Husband was out of state on a guy-fishing-trip, not to return for another three days.   He readily okayed the plan being completely in agreement on preferred breeds and so Riley and I lunged head first into a crash course of serious dog-human adjustment.

A sweeter animal is not possible.  He seems to love everyone in sight.  The moment I picked him up, he gushed with adoration and to him, I ranked up there with deity.    The other dogs at PetSmart squirmed and yapped with anxious distraction but Riley seemed to see only me.

I could hold him for an hour or more and he'd be content.  Our former cat, by comparison, would tolerate being held for about 30 seconds before moving on.   When Riley is ready for a nap, he finds my lap and settles in for the duration.

So now I'm outside numerous times each day, attempting to rein in this little cinnamon-colored animal attached to the far end of a leash as he happily zigzags in every direction, sucking in the entire world through his nose.  There is no scent within a mile of our house, that he hasn't tracked, cross-referenced, and filed.  Every tree has been marked, every worm examined, and every neighboring dog has been duly greeted with a thorough butt-sniff.  I am constantly monitoring potty stops, mentally noting the time of each occurrence so that I can successfully predict when to expect the next one.  And if you're concerned, every deposit has been bagged and removed.  I AM a responsible citizen.

Riley loves everyone and everything, with the single exception of cats.  Based on what I've observed so far, if confronted by one, my bet is on the cat.  One gray-striped tabby on our street quickly caught onto this and now seems to take wicked pleasure in taunting him.  This ever-present enemy skulks around in the shadows with that "Go ahead Jerk, make my day," glint in its eyes.  Riley abruptly reacts with a frantic combination of fascination and alarm, bristling and dancing about in a futile attempt to look tough.

Acquiring this dog was a matter of -- damned of I did and damned if I ... didn't.   I knew I'd have many moments of regret if we kept him and just as much regret if we gave him back.  Dogs are work.  Dogs are frustrating.  Dogs are messy.  Training, internet sources say, is three steps forward and two steps back.  So true but all in all, the pros are outnumbering the cons ..... so far.  Who knew such a big personality could burst out of such a small body?   He loves his toys, his bed, his treats, and us.  I am quite a sap over him and dangerously tread on the edge of becoming one of those obsessive people who cart their little pet along wherever they go, expecting everyone else to deal with it.  Husband, possibly a bigger sap than I, trots him in after one of many outside jaunts announcing proudly that Riley is an "accomplished dog" because he peed AND pooped successfully on schedule.   There's nothing like carting home that prized little bag of you-know-what after a walk, confident that for the next three or four hours, the dog is empty and there will be no mishaps on the carpet.

Meanwhile, take in those expressive eyes and the floppy, velvety ears, and imagine him cuddled on your lap.

And be warned that this blog may now occasionally drift into Riley's world ....

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Senior neuroses and puppy ears

My sixtieth birthday looms (borrowing a phrase from a very wise book) "steadfast and immovable" next month and inadvertently, I find myself checking off all the boxes of getting OLD.  I'm not referring to aches and pains, wrinkles, and gray hair ..... although they have all arrived on the scene.  I'm talking about STUFF that old people DO.  Like, for example .....

1.  Buying a motorhome ..... or something similar, which we have been researching for several months now......
2.  Happily taking full advantage of every "senior discount" out there, and inwardly assuming my eligibility is in doubt by all clerks and/or waiters because I certainly don't LOOK over 55.......
3.  Wearing high-waisted elastic-topped pants.   (Actually I've been guilty of this for years because really, who cares??  Admit it, we all KNOW they're more comfortable and we're not tucking our shirts in so no one sees anyway.)  ..... and....
4.  Getting a small dog.

You may recall we tried a cat on for size and he lasted a year before disappearing.  We like to think a kind dairy farmer found and adopted him and the cat is happily chasing barn mice and licking the milk buckets clean.  We DON'T like to assume a coyote was involved.  We were fond of our cat and a bit sad at his departure.  But during our cat phase, Husband occasionally commented that he'd rather have a dog.

"They actually love you."  He said.

And he's right.  To a cat, we are simply its staff.

We used to have a dog.  We also used to live on a couple of acres with four children for whom I wanted to provide the classic all-American childhood.  In my mind, this required a rural setting, regular family dinners, and a dog.  He was a border collie/sheltie mix named Jesse ..... well loved, most of the time, for the approximate 14 years of his life.  Then we moved into a new home unmarred by dog pee, and he was lapsing into old-dog failing health, complicated by the trauma of new and strange surroundings.  We eventually laid him to rest with many fond memories.  That was it for me.  No more dogs.  I wanted my pee-free home to remain as such.

Ten and a half years later, the pee-free home is no longer new and the carpets are beginning to show their age.  My fanatical dog ban has evaporated away.  And ..... bottom line ..... I am a softie.  And Husband, who leads the world as a Champion World Class Marshmallow, detected a crack in my resolve and gently prodded my thoughts towards a puppy.  He claims he didn't, but he did.

Now why on earth, would anyone with a sane mind give up a major chunk of their long-earned freedom and take on a pet???  They say that freedom is when the kids move out and the dog dies.  We HAD that freedom.  It was ours!  Maybe it's one of those psychological quirks that we neurotics manifest occasionally when we sabotage ourselves one way or another.  You know what I mean.  Like when we SWEAR we are starting a diet then promptly buy another carton of Breyers chocolate mint ice cream. (Which I may or may not have in my freezer as I type.)  But, you see, we envisioned bringing a fun little dog into our semi-new camping/hiking lifestyle, easy to take along in a travel trailer or other type of RV, for which we are still shopping.

Okay so, here's my defense:  I have always loved dachshunds, informally known as "weiner" dogs.  Is there anything cuter?  I think not.  But I've never owned one.  And recently we attended an RV show where an EVIL pet-selling enterprise staged a pen of over-priced PUPPIES in the lobby!!  They KNEW there would be hoards of gullible retirees coming to that show.  THEY KNEW.  And in that pen was a tiny dachshund puppy.  OH MY GOSH.  He cuddled into my neck and rubbed his velvety ears on my face and my knees went weak.   Therefore the conversation between Husband and me began.

And I, in my usual over-thinking mode began haunting every possible source for dogs:  Craigslist, the local newspaper, websites, and shelters.  I read every thing dog-related.  Dachshunds are not known, I learned, to be the easiest to train.  So I considered beagles which, apparently are worse.   Beagles are also extraordinarily cute with their long, floppy ears ..... (I obviously have a thing for floppy dog ears) .....but I wanted SMALL.  That was one of my complaints about Jesse.  He was mid-sized and difficult to bathe.  And I can't handle that stinky-dog smell in my house, or on my hands, or anywhere else.  My dog has to be clean.  Therefore, it was a requirement that it be small enough to fit in a sink.  Plus short hair and low grooming maintenance.  Jesse fit none of those requirements and so this time I was firm.  I wanted what I wanted.  Dachshunds were a concern because of their short legs and our visions taking it on long hikes.  Plus they have vulnerable backs that can be injured easily, particularly on stairs ..... and our house has three different staircases.  So I wavered back and forth between beagles and doxies (another nickname) and their various pros and cons.

Then, on a useful site called that features rescued pets, I found this:

Look at those ears!
He is a one year old product of a brief encounter between a doxie and a beagle, which I recently learned is called a "doxle".  Some people (including the AKC) classify them as one of the snooty-sounding "designer hybrid breeds" while to most old-schoolers, they're just mutts.  I HAD to go see this little mutt at their next dog "event" where they feature their rescued critters at a local PetSmart in hopes that some schmuck like me will fork over money and adopt them.  I drove over with a firm grip on myself ..... determined to hold out for what I really wanted.

He was perfect.  The exact blend of the two cutest breeds, the size of your average cat, fully grown yet looked like a puppy.  With the velvet ears.  I was done for.

To be continued......

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Backpacking ..... leaving the glamour behind

Don't worry how you'll look out on the trail, because nobody cares.  Nature steals the show anyway.  

That said ..... this ...... 

                                                                                                                                              (Great picture, Lindsay!)

..... reminds me of this.

I just needed some cymbals between my knees.

(Read the whole story here.)


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Move over REI, here comes Cabela's

Years ago I remember my brother commenting to my kids, while driving along a section of I-5, just south of Portland......Said he, in words something like this:

"There are two important and noteworthy landmarks here along this freeway.... the LDS (Mormon) temple and .... (reverent pause)...  REI."

This was years before I developed an appreciation for this epic store of stores.  I didn't yet know I needed its products, although they piqued my interest.  I'd wander through its aisles, perusing the various camping and backpacking treasures and think about how fun it'd be..... until I pondered nights in a small tent, on the ground, in the dark, with bugs, and quickly dismissed the whole idea completely.

Then Husband was given a church-assignment to hang out with teenage boys on backpacking trips, and this sent us, and our credit card, to every sporting goods store within miles.  I went along on the shopping trips and watched the bill grow while our bank account shrank.   Down-filled sleeping bags, tents, air mattresses, backpacks ...... added to miniature stoves, cooking tools, and various other light-weight, yet costly items.  And with his anticipation that I might eventually join in on this new hobby, he bought some things in duplicate.

Fast forward to now.  I am indeed shamelessly hooked on this outdoor lifestyle and no one is more surprised at this than I.  There is no logical explanation for it.  I love to trot on over to our local REI to see if perhaps there is SOMETHING new on their shelves that I missed last time, that I really, really need.  And for a REAL treat, I arrive early, stand in line awaiting the doors to open, and elbow my way around their occasional "garage" sales when they sell returned items for ..... well, let's just say, a LOT less than new.   Some people prefer wearing Ralph Lauren and going to concerts and over-priced restaurants.  I prefer Gore-tex and testing out camp chairs and trekking poles.

But a few years ago, while on a trip to Utah, we were introduced to a monstrous wonder called Cabela's. In this heady version of retail sporting goods, you will find recreations of the great outdoors, with life-size taxidermied animals, and huge aquariums full of live fish.  It sells that tacky cabin-style home-decor and bedding, casual clothes and shoes, woodsy-type toys, and anything to keep the family entertained while Dad is off looking at the boat supplies, guns, and fishing gear.  There is an exorbitant amount of floor space wasted on camouflage clothes and hunting supplies that must be patiently endured, but the camping section can keep me happy for an hour.  Plus there's fudge.....

Since there was no Cabela's near us, we'd occasionally do a day trip, driving several hours north to visit the one in Lacy, Washington.  Just for fun.  Because we like fun.

True story:  Husband's brother lives an hour or so north of the Lacy store.  During one of our Cabela's day trips, he happened to call Husband's cell.

"Hey", he taunted/teased, "I'm at Cabela's.  Need anything?"  (In his I'm-here-and-you're-not tone.)

To which Husband responded, "I'M at Cabela's!"

"No you're not!"

"Yes, I am!"

"You're kidding!!  Where ARE you??"

"By the guns....we've been here nearly an hour!"

"Us too!!"

After which we had a fun reunion next to the caramel corn stand.  Cabela's is just THAT kind of place.

Then came the BIG news:  Cabela's is coming!!  Here!!  This red-neck-catering, gun-promoting bastion of outdoorsiness is coming to liberal Portland.

We drove by the site frequently to monitor the progress of its construction, and marked the opening day on our calendar ..... which happened while Husband was still traipsing around Mt. Hood.... so we went the next day.

Here again, I wander the aisles in vain searching for SOMETHING I NEED.   But sad to say, there isn't.  I don't need anything.  I have it all ..... liner socks, water bottles, inflatable pillow, pack cover, collapsible sink ..... I even have stuff Cabela's doesn't sell.

All in all, I must say, in conclusion ..... REI probably still holds its spot of importance, ranking just below the temple.  It doesn't sell fudge, but it cuts to the chase by keeping out all the camo.  As far as I'm concerned, it's focused on the good stuff, without all the hoopla.  No guns, no fishing, no boating silliness in REI.  No taxidermied animals, nor bear-themed lamps.  Just the important stuff.  Husband may not agree, but this is not his blog.

And if you REALLY want the best deal for camping/hiking knickknacks, other than buying used, it's at Walmart.  Yep. ..... But don't tell anyone I said that, because I'm NOT one of those people.  I'm not.


I'm not.

Friday, September 19, 2014

High on the mountain top ..... Three days on the Timberline Trail

The first part of this post is a letter to me.  I know I will feel some regret for the decision I made so I want to remember my reasons.

Dear Self:  When you chose to go home after day three, two days and twelve miles short of completing the 40 mile backpacking circuit around Mt. Hood, this is how you felt -----

You just completed three of the most challenging days of your nearly 60 years of life.  You hiked 28 miles, much of it going up, up, UP!!!..... carrying a 35-pound pack the size of Kansas.   The climbing was endless and many times you had to stop every few yards and heave in air. You saw the best that the Timberline Trail had to offer, and it defies description.  There were many moments when you couldn't believe where you were and what you were seeing.  But you pushed your body and mind to the limit and when the opportunity came to stop, it was too much.  You were exhausted, filthy, and sore to your bones.  Each day had been harder than the previous day.  And the climactic end of that third day, crossing through the ominous Eliot glacier canyon and across that raging river, well..... you'll just have to remember what it was like because words fall short.  You were afraid of an emotional collapse if you watched the car that could take you home, drive away.

But also remember that you were among the first into camp at the end of each day.  Remember that the physical help you received from others was essential but rare.  You could have stayed and you could have finished, but remember, REMEMBER what you DID do, and not what you didn't do.

Because what you did was awesome.


I do a lot of driving for our business, running our manufactured parts around, doing deliveries.  One of my frequent routes takes me out towards Troutdale on I-84, where I pass by Exit 13.   When the day is clear, and the afternoon sun is behind me, it's at this spot where I am suddenly greeted by the panorama of Mt. Hood towering on the horizon.  Especially in the spring when it's still heavy with snow, sparkling white against the vivid blue sky...... the scene is so stunning that I nearly gasp each time it bursts into view.  I grew up loving the sight of that mountain.

Enter the annual Manly Man Hike.  (Last year's hike is documented here, here, and here.)  Completing the Timberline Trail was entrenched on the bucket lists of several of the "Manly Men", and there have been previous failed attempts.  So it became the goal for this year.  Last year's hike was hard.  This would be harder.  I was scared, but couldn't bear not to go.  

Like last year, I prepared for weeks with my usual obsessive intensity, studying blogs and reports from others who had done it.  The more recent the report the better, because this mountain is ever changing.  I shopped, packed, weighed, and scrutinized every item that went into my pack that I would have to haul on my back.  We trained by stuffing bags of flour or liter pop bottles into our packs and trudging up and down local hills.  I haunted the weather forecasts which seemed to bounce around almost every hour.   I did all I could do.  

Although the title of the Manly Man Hike is forever carved in stone, this year it included three women -- New Delightful Friend Heather, Favorite Daughter Lindsay, and me.   Lindsay is truly her father's daughter, gleefully jumping head first into whatever adventure presents itself and flinging joy wherever she lands.   I just make sure she remembers to pack her socks and enough food.

Filtering water.
Topping off the list of fellow hero-hikers are:

Fearless Leader/Organizer Steve, whose truth-embellishments can seldom be trusted.
Coolest Guy Garth, who makes everything fun.

Intrepid (don't-forget-your-hat-next-time) Allen.
Always Smiling Josh.  (Heather's husband and they are the perfect pair!)

 ..... and of course, Dear Husband Bryce, who is the rock to which I cling.

Favorite comment of the trip:  (paraphrasing)  "The Manly Man hike is where we send the women ahead to scout out the route and help us across the streams."  ~ Garth

Day One.  No turning back.

Bryce, Lindsay, and I hit the road at 4 a.m. in two cars.  Lindsay, mom of three show-stopping young kidlets, couldn't be gone five days, so we dropped off her car at the campsite called Cloud Cap that we would hike into three days later, so that she could drive home early.  It was the only spot along the trail accessible by car .... although that nine-mile bumpy, rutted, dirt path barely qualifies as a road.   The sunrise was spectacular.

Then we headed back to Timberline Lodge to meet the rest of our group.   Here we left our cars, climbed into our packs, and began walking.

This was a ten-mile day, much of it a knee/thigh-killing descent, ending at Ramona Falls.... a beautiful spot which sadly went unappreciated because by the time we got there, we were spent.

There is no time to stand and gawk at the waterfall that cascades beautifully over the rocks, because there are tents to pitch, air mattresses to inflate, things to wash, food to cook, sore feet to bemoan, etc.  It's a crowded camp area bordered by a mountain wall on one side and a drop off on the other, with campers all around.  Trying to find a private spot to take care of "business" was challenging, and finding a spot to set up a shower was futile.  I gave up on the shower.   T'was also the night we were welcomed by spiders and shirt-eating squirrels.

That first day, we saw sights that are the reason for it all.   We stood at the edge of canyons, with the magnificent rocky summit of Hood above us and sprawling vistas below us.  Even pictures fail to express .... but that's the best I can do here…..

We met up with the Sandy River, among the first of many river crossings.  It's at places like this where one learns to appreciate cairns (properly pronounced "kerns", although everyone says carns, or ca-erns,  because that's how it's spelled, darn it.)

 These are little stacks of rocks left by previous hikers to show the best direction to go, or the best place to cross, or at least the best way when THEY were there.   Fortunately there were logs laid together on which we gingerly crossed, remembering at every step that if your pack falls in and gets soaked, you are toast.  Bodies and clothes dry.  Down-filled sleeping bags, tents, and your change of clothes also dry.... eventually.... but not before that night when you will sorely need them.

Day Two.  "Oh, 'bout a mile/mile-and-a-half."

Note to self:  Bring more Ambien.  It's not good to have to ration at times like this.

The weather held and it was beautiful.  But this was the day we had to pay for all those descents of the day before.  We had approximately nine to ten miles to do that day, and those miles went on and on, seemingly into the Millennium.

Great picture by Josh.
We climbed and we climbed and I panted, gasped, sweated, and groaned.  My affection for this mountain wore thin.  After each long ascent, the trail would level off mercifully for all of about 30 seconds before handing us another long climb.  We trudged up a long tree-covered ridge that dropped downward on both sides.  Now and then the trees would open up and offer haunting views of the looming summit, through the smokey haze of a forest fire happening somewhere off in the valley.  Again, there are no words to describe it.

Wait.  Do you see it?

I had a copy of a trail summary I had printed off before coming and with our map, we kept thinking we were farther than we actually were.

 Conversation typically went like ..... "Now according to what it says, we should hit a trail junction any minute now, which means we are at mile 18, which then means all we've got are a few switchbacks and we're there!"  ("There" meaning our next campsite.)  But the junction wouldn't come when expected and then we'd realize we weren't nearly as far along as we thought and "there" was still miles and several river crossings away.   We averaged about a mile an hour.

We planned to take a shortcut path that Garth and Steve had taken some years previous, which they found in the foggy mist via a GPS.  We came to what Garth thought might be it, and Bryce hiked up to check it out.  Garth, Lindsay, and I sat and waited and Garth scoured his memory trying to recall if this was the correct path.   After Bryce had disappeared into the trees, Garth mentioned he remembered there were big rocks and Lindsay said, pointing back a short distance from where we were sitting, ..... "There are some big rocks over there".  Then we saw the cairn and the right path.  If we hadn't stopped and waited at the wrong path, we would have missed the right path entirely. 

Note to other hikers:  When the sign says "Cairn Basin - 3 miles", don't believe it.   Plan on at least four, which will feel more like six.

Cairn Basin is still recovering from a 2011 forest fire and is where we planned to camp that night.  It's a wide area with multiple tent sites, allowing us to spread out away from the several other campers.... or rather they away from us since we were the bigger, noisier group.  We met up with a 20-something-year-old girl doing a solo hike, who insisted, according to her map, that Cairn Basin was still ahead.  My printout said there was an old stone shelter at Cairn Basin which, said (creepy) shelter, was right there within sight during our discussion.

Fortunately another couple of hikers happened along who concurred that we were indeed where I knew we were.  We encountered this young solo hiker once again the next day, and she was doing well.  We all hope she made it, but I highly question the wisdom in her plan of doing this by herself.

Day Three.  In the shadow of glaciers.

The weather was getting cooler, but was still good.  According to the map, we only had about a thousand feet to climb that day, but it felt like we repeated that thousand feet multiple times.  It was another hard day, but during breaks we were almost dumb-struck as we filled our water bottles beneath snow-covered glacier-bridges stretched across waterfalls with the top of Hood hovering overhead.... we could not get over where we were and what we were seeing!

It was too easy to forget to pull our eyes up off the path ahead as we trudged up those trails, and yet each time we did pause to look around, we almost had to grab hold of someone or something because the view was powerful enough to jolt a grown man off balance.  (I need more WORDS! ….. Majestic?  Unbelievable?  Incredible?  …. Wow???…… Nothing describes it.)

This was to be a seven or eight mile day, which meant to plan on about eight hours.  It actually took over nine hours, because this was the day we faced Eliot.  

There used to be what was probably a LOVELY bridge built crossing the Eliot river, but in 2006 it was washed out in a storm.  Eliot is a huge glacier high up on the mountain that melts into a small, yet fast-moving river that rages over boulders, creating rapids and waterfalls.  This river lies at the bottom of a mammoth canyon.  With the loss of the bridge, the Forest Service officially closed the trail, with threat of fines to trespassers which has not stopped the hundreds of hikers passing through every year.  This was our biggest concern so a few weeks ago we drove up to check it out, via the east side.  That morning we found a semi-easy trail down into the canyon on that side where there was even a rope at one spot.  The river was low and we found a crossable section.  Easy peasy.  Other hikers told us there was also a rope on the west side but they hardly needed it.  We wondered what the big deal was.  Piece of cake.  

Fast forward to our third day on the trail.  The new detour trail that was created after the bridge washed out, on the west side from which we approached the canyon, was this ridiculous squirrel path etched in the side of a nearly straight-up hill.  At the base of this path sat a rough little sign saying, "Don't do it".   (As IF we had a choice?)  We crawled our way up to the top and then stood gasping and sweating as we gazed into the gaping mouth of the Beast.

Stole this pic off the web.
This canyon was the biggest yet, lined with gritty scree and rocks that threatened to let loose and tumble down taking us along for the ride.  Lindsay's fear of heights kicked in as we had to crawl, scrape, skid, and claw our way (still hauling the weight of Kansas on our backs) down the steep walls into the abyss.  We met up with the "hardly needed" first rope, which we clutched like a lifeline.  After the first harrowing descent to the bottom of the rope, we were able to sit for a moment and I dumped the pound of scree out of my boots.  At that point we realized the river was still far below so we then had to hike and scramble over boulders to make our way up stream in the canyon, gradually bringing the river up to our level.  It was at this point we THOUGHT the worst was behind us.  Not so.

A frightened Lindsay took her turn on the rope while Josh and I waited above.

That speck on the hill in the upper left is me, working my way down the rope.
Heather and Josh heading down
We soon realized the river was higher, due to the lateness of the day, compared to what it was on our reconnaissance hike of a few weeks previous.  The spot where we had crossed before was still doable but treacherous, and upstream held no possibilities.  Bryce got his pack across and came back to take other packs, which meant his feet, if not the rest of him, would be soaked before we all got to the other side.  There was no option to crossing this torrent.  It had to be done.  So we said a prayer.  Then we decided to check further downstream, (which I credit to inspiration) which was tricky to access because the shore became very steep and more unstable.  More clawing, scraping, and scree in the boots as we worked our way down along the river's edge until we found a couple of crossable spots.  Bryce took my pack across and then I, with the help of poles and his outstretched hand, got across by leaping from rock to rock while the river roared below me.  Rock-leaping across a raging river is definitely unnerving, to say the least.  Over-leap and you fall forward, under-leap and you fall backward, and either way you're going in the water.  There are no second chances, you have to get it right the first time.

(Unfortunately we have no pictures here.  Being in survival-mode, all cameras were packed away.)

The roar of the rushing water was so loud that we had to shout to be heard.   I went back part of the way to help Heather across, and the others plus their packs, crossed over one by one at another spot close by.   I appreciated all the previous river and stream crossings we'd weathered before this, which had bolstered my courage..... otherwise, I would have frozen into a useless mess of tears.   All in all, our prayers were heard and answered.  

More ropes and a doable path took us up the east side and out of the canyon and Lindsay and I made our way ahead of the others, down the half mile or so to Cloud Cap campground and her car.  Here were actual picnic tables and an actual faucet with actual running water that needed no filtering and an actual toilet with actual toilet paper...... and an escape.  

With the use of Lindsay's car, Bryce planned a surprise and had a cooler ready with steaks and pie, and a small BBQ.   While we ate this delicious treat, I debated.  Should I go, or stay?  As I said above, I was physically and emotionally spent.  I worried about Lindsay driving on that long remote cow path without cell service, alone in the dark.  And rain was forecasted for the next day.  I just didn't have it in me to go on.  It was never on my bucket list to complete the Timberline Trail.  Heck, I don't even HAVE a bucket list.  

My gut said go home.  So I did.

At this point, my only regret is leaving Bryce to finish it without me, although I know he would have done the trip if I hadn't gone at all.

But the shower when I got home, and my bed were as wonderful as I anticipated.  It was a tremendous experience that I will NEVER do again .... and one I will never forget.

Lindsay, me, and Hood.  Fabulous shot, Bryce!

Again, thank you Steve, Garth, Allen, and Josh, for allowing us "manettes" to tag along.  You guys are wonderful and you saved me more than once on many a stream crossing.  I admire your patient natures as you helped one another over the rough spots.   Thank you Heather, for your gentle, cheerful presence and complete lack of complaints.  You did it, Girl!  Thank you Lins, for talking me up those brutal climbs and showing us how fears are faced and conquered.  And thank you Bryce, for being my rock. 

Friday, August 15, 2014


When running a relay, you generally have two or three "legs" to run or, in other words, sections of the race when you alone carry the baton for your team.  You anxiously accept it from the previous runner and start your leg with enthusiasm and energy, overwhelmed at the wonder of being able to do it.  Then before long, your muscles and lungs begin to tire and by the end of your leg, you are a gasping mass of sweat and exhaustion.  You are so DONE and beyond ready to hand off that stupid baton to the next runner.  And when your last leg is finished and you never have to run again, you sink into the back of the van and hum "Forever in Blue Jeans", or whatever song, from your iPod, had just pulled you in that last mile.

Sometimes life is like a relay.

A few weeks ago a woman who lived in a neighboring town, drove into the woods and ended her life.   Why would she do it?  HOW could she do it?  Leaving what appeared to be a devoted husband is tragic, but leaving her two young sons ....... is unthinkable.  There is no way to understand it.  What was it that she could no longer bear?  As I think about her, I imagine she felt she was carrying something that had become too heavy with no one to hand it off to.  So she just relaxed her grip and let go......  Then a few days ago the popular and talented actor/comedian Robin Williams also took his life.  What was his burden?  What was it that pulled him downward?

I don't suffer from depression like so many people seem to.  Like the woman in the woods and Mr. Williams probably did.  I would never consider doing what they felt compelled to do.  Absolutely never.  But .....

..... Sometimes I fantasize of escape.  And lately my fantasy comes in the odd shape of a 3 - 400 square foot box on wheels called a motorhome.  I ponder ditching our semi-large house with all its demands and upkeep, my yard with its never-ending maintenance, and all the stuff...... and just driving away with my husband.  And not just the stuff, but away from his obligations and pressures, that become my obligations and pressures.  Away from all the gaps that constantly need to be filled.  Away from the things that somewhere along the line, he agreed to carry and so I must carry too.... or else helplessly wait for him to collapse under them.  Sometimes I just want to sort through all that stuff, keeping just a few precious bits..... like my children.... and leave the rest.  Needless to say, I know..... of course I know .... that my load is nothing compared to the loads that others carry, like the poor woman in the woods, like RW, which leaves me feeling like an ungrateful, whiny schmuck.

Nonetheless, this leg of the race has been tough.  Like the last one and the one before that, and the one before that.  I'm tired of running it.  I'm tired of the duties, obligations, and responsibilities that never stop.... and the endless needs of the needy.  I'm tired of, dare I say it ....  my own resentment.  I'm tired of the assumptions and expectations about our willingness to always go and do and provide.  Because sometimes we just aren't that willing .... or more specifically.... I'm not.  Am I allowed to think that?  Am I allowed to be ..... done?

Would a Winnebago, a long road, and no forwarding address fix it?  Probably not.

But sometimes I just need to dream of letting the baton drop, while in reality I grit my teeth and continue to run.

Monday, July 21, 2014

More on this camping thing .....

First some personal history ..... As a kid I loved camping.  Who didn't, when someone else did all the work?  Then as a parent of young kids I BECAME the one doing the work.  We tried it a few times, and seldom with any cooperation from the weather.  One time we even traveled to the eastern side of our state where the sun is supposed to actually shine, and after the first night, we woke up to sleet, which sent us hightailing for home.  We didn't even take the canoe off the car, which we laboriously hauled along, (not my idea), until we got home again.

Fast forward to the summer of 2013 and the kids are grown.  Husband and I attended a family reunion in Wyoming that required a tent.  We packed along our little 4-man job, our air mattress, and bedding.  The weather was perfect and I slept on one of the most comfortable beds known to man.  Note:  It may SAY the tent sleeps four.... but picture sardines in a can.  It's best to cut the purported number in half, and you'll have a more accurate and reasonable fit.

Here's a tip:  Forget sleeping in bags.  Bring sheets and blankets like you use at home.  Use an inflatable mattress, insert a THICK quilt or opened sleeping bag between it and your bottom fitted sheet, and if you are fortunate to have no air leaks, you are in for one comfy night.

Since we were already in Wyoming, we HAD to visit Yellowstone in which hotel rates require remortgaging the house.  Therefore, back to camping.  Our three days there were glorious with perfect weather ..... a good thing because our one night after the reunion and before Yellowstone (that we spent in Teton National Park) was not.  That night it rained and hailed with the fury of a vengeful god.  We woke up to a small river running under our sad little battered tent.  Needless to say, I was ready to start the remortgaging process and get a room.  But as I said, the remaining days were perfect, and I fell in love with camping.  And as with any relationship, there would be changes.

First of all, we needed a bigger and more substantial tent....particularly one with a sturdy rain fly, and that we could stand up in.  No more trying to change clothes on our knees.  We wandered around the campground and critiqued the different tents, determining what we wanted.   We spent quite a bit of time shopping after we came home and my first choice, since I was still haunted by the hail storm, was an indestructible Springbar canvas tent that they say you can pass down to your grandchildren.  But the poles were too long for our car, and the thing weighs a ton.  So we opted for a Big Agnes Big House 6.    
(Last summer with our kids.  A brief patch of rain sent us inside.)
Second, a bed off the ground, like a double cot on which to put our mattress.   At my age, some things, like NOT sleeping on the ground, become priorities... plus the added storage under the bed is a nice perk.
(One of our camping neighbors.  Some creatures are happy in the minimalist mode.  Not me.)
Last winter, I happened upon Thousand Trail campgrounds online.  These campgrounds, of which there are many throughout the country, are semi resorts, with beautifully kept grounds, clean bathrooms, swimming pools, spas, lodges, pickle ball courts, miniature golf, a store, etc., etc.  Each one is different.  And all are yours for unlimited use for $200/year.  So I signed up for one year.  Now, after staying at four, and a total of nine nights so far, I am sold and am anxious to visit more of their campgrounds.  For TT members, they almost always have openings, even last minute and there are no cancellation penalties.  Pretty cool.  Last weekend horrifically high temps were forecasted so I jumped online, snagged a campsite at the beach and we escaped for a couple of days.  Try doing THAT without a months-in-advance hotel reservation, in July.

So this summer, we have been packing in as much camping as the Husband can stand.  He's about hit his limit but I may never hit mine.  Why?

Because for one thing, it's cheap.  I like cheap.  It's a vacation that doesn't hemorrhage money, nor depend on someone's spare room.  It's an escape and I need them regularly.  It's time focused on the relationship, which I also need regularly.  And it doesn't involve airports.  I've got the packing process streamlined and the camp setup is routine and quick.  We can bring our bikes .... or not.  We can cook .... or not.  We can hike .... or not.  Time slows down and the rest of humanity, with which I must always share my spouse, fades a little .... never completely, but a little.  And every little bit helps.

Yes, that's us glowing in the dark... yes, Husband is the photographer... and yes, those are actual stars.  

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Moab, we love thee.

I'm going to take you on a little travelogue into a world that defies all scenic imagination.

Utah's Canyonlands.  Unbelievable even when you're standing there in the middle of it with your mouth gaping open.  And included in our latest trip, were a few happy hours with the three most awesome siblings and siblings-in-law who conveniently live along the route as we travel to this favorite vacation land.  Score, score, and score!

Moab, I am proud to say, lies deeply in my roots.  My very own grandparents, Emerald and Geneva Stout, lived there in the 40s, 50s, and early 60s, before it was discovered by air conditioning and tourism.  My vague, early memories recall an average small, sleepy town with one main street, complete with a corner drug store and probably a grocery store, gas station and a five-and-dime.   They owned a small farm within a few blocks of the town on a dusty road near a creek.  I remember very little, sad to say.  But I do remember the giant black walnut tree that stood near the house and although the farm was replaced over half a century ago with a school, the remains of the tree still stand.
Today it sits in a dog park.

The dusty road is now paved, but the creek is there.  What I wouldn't give to go back in time and revisit my grandpa's farm, confront his turkeys that terrorized me at age three, and eat the fresh peaches with the sticky juice dribbling down my neck.  

Today Moab is a tourist's love affair.  Outdoor sports like mountain biking, four-wheeling, rock climbing, etc. have awakened the town and it is decked out with all the cute shops, galleries, and restaurants that I, as a female, cannot help but adore.  If only all towns could follow suit.  And then, there is the scenery......  Oh.My.Gosh.  Within a short drive in every direction we have the wonders of Canyonland, Arches National Park, Monument Valley, and incredible vistas as far as the eye can see.  Picture in your mind the Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote chasing through those canyons, cliffs, and plateaus, and you kind of get a hint of it.  To THIS Pacific Northwest native, southeast Utah might as well be on the moon.  Talk about contrast from home.  But enough talk ..... let's look at some pictures, thanks to my photographer husband.

Our wheels, whose purpose is road trips such as this, against a sampling of the famous red cliffs.


Below is Corona Arch, gracing the end of a 1.5 mile hike (each way).  Worth every step.

This arch has recently acquired a dubious history because of this now-gone-viral video:

Hence, there have been some horrible accidents there because of copycat foolishness.  In fact one such accident happened on the day before our visit, requiring a team of rescuers and a life-flight helicopter.  I will spare you the photo of the blood on the rock floor below the arch.  As far as we've been able to find out online, at least initially, he survived.  But the 22 year old who tried it last year, didn't.


Into Arches National Park we go and our first stop is Balanced Rock.  The picture does not do it justice.  The thing is HUGE.


Below is Double Arch, one of my favorites.  The little green speck is me.  What you don't see is the deep gulf behind me, between the two arches.  


Then there's Sandstone Arch, and the best part about it was the short hike to get to it through narrow slot-canyon-like rock walls.


It's incredible that Landscape Arch is still with us.  A large chunk fell from it in the early 90s.  We did this hike later in the day and the wind was fierce.  But we made the effort because it may not be there next time.


Mesa Arch is about an hour out of Moab in Canyonlands National Park.  We discovered this one-of-a-kind wonder a couple of years ago.  It's a short quarter mile hike from the parking lot and as you begin to see the low arch, you think ..... cool, there it is.  But as you get up to it, you realize in a chilling, jaw-dropping sort of way, that just below and behind it, the entire world disappears into a vast abyss.   Previously unbeknown to us, this arch has a world-wide following.  Photographers come to capture it at dawn because the rising sun lights up the underneath of the arch.  So of course, Husband had to give it a go.

We got up at 4:15 a.m. and drove out there in the dark.  On our previous trip, we were there late in the day when it was getting dark.  It was then when I had my first and what I determined would be my ONLY encounter with a rattlesnake and so THIS time, as Husband trotted off on the short walk to the arch, I remained in the car waiting for daylight.  As I waited, more and more cars pulled up and finally when a humongous tour bus full of camera-toting Asians arrived..... I figured all snakes must have fled the premises.  So I walked out to join Husband at what had become Grand Central.  People were everywhere with their cameras and tripods, all poised for the sun to creep over the horizon.  It was tricky to get some shots with 60+ people crowding the scene.  But in spite of the mob and the haziness, Husband managed some good ones.  On the walk back to the car, another photographer told us it's like this every morning, spring to fall.  Who knew?


Lots of petroglyphs.   They are supposed to tell stories of successful hunts, but I kind of wonder if ancient cave-kids simply got bored and found something to pass the time ...... probably earning a "time-out" for drawing on the walls.

In addition to a few motel/hotels en route and a homey church service on Sunday morning in Torrey, Utah, we camped four nights just outside of Moab at an immaculate although somewhat noisy campground.  I highly recommend Moab Valley RV Resort (we were in a tent), just be prepared for the highway noise and fellow campers who don't realize how sound carries.

We forgot to take a picture so I stole this one off their website.

In May, the summer heat has not yet arrived, making camping a terrific option compared to the high-priced hotels in town.  Each morning we'd head out to experience the sights with hikes, drives, and more gawking at the beauty, then return to our camp swimming pool and hot tub where we met and shared our day with people from various parts of the world.  Then we'd hit the showers and a clean set of clothes and head into town for dinner.  Life does not get better than that.


This will go down as one of the good ones, as far as vacations go.  And we WILL return in a year or two, for our next Moab-fix.

If you've had the means, but haven't been there, please excuse me as I pause and stare at you for a moment.  I would be feeling a mixture of dismay in that I CAN'T BELIEVE anyone would waste time in places like Hawaii and neglect THIS .....and envy that you have your initial never-to-forget, eye-popping introduction ahead of you.  (Kind of like the envy I feel for anyone who has not yet seen either of the latest two movie versions of Pride and Prejudice.  There's just nothing like the first time.)  But in this case, the second, third, fourth, etc. etc. times are lacking for nothing because there's always something new and incredible to see in this land-like-no-other.  And we haven't even talked about the BIG canyons (to which we didn't go this time).... like Bryce, Zion, and that little number called GRAND.  Another trip, another blog post .......