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Friday, July 24, 2015

The Cluck Truck Continue-ith

More pictures here!

Sitting in Evergreen, Colorado preparing for our second trip to Orcas Island with the chickens, we were priding ourselves on how easy it all seemed the second time around:  We had the travel cages, the free-roaming tent, and chickens who are clearly prepared for anything.  We thought we couldn’t be surprised by anything chickens might do the road, but The Ladies proved us wrong.

Due to the time of year (July) and fear of how hot The Ladies may become in the back of the truck (Shaker), we set out on the most northern route possible; making our first stop almost due north at Sinks Canyon State Park in Wyoming.  It was scheduled to be our longest drive day of the trip—it is good to get the long one out of the way first—but long drive day took on a new meaning come Day 4, more on that later.

None-the-less, it was a long first day and driving up Sinks Canyon the temperature reached 85 degrees.  The Ladies always have plenty of air flow in the back of Shaker’s new canopy (verified by me riding back there one hot Colorado day while Alan drove around in the comfort of the cab) but plenty of air flow only matters when it is cool air.  This was hot, blasting, humid air.  So on Day 1 we engaged Rule 4: When the temperature gets over 82, we drop the rear window on Shaker’s cab, turn up the A/C and let the cold air flow all the way back to the hens. 

This makes for a very loud drive, but not as loud as my howling should we arrive with five dead hens.

We quickly chose a spot at the Popo Agie Campground right next to the middle fork of the Popo Agie River.  Whew!  We thought the drive was hot and loud!  The weather became even hotter (Alert!  There is no A/C outside!) and the beautiful, large rocks that run up and down the river made a cacophonous roar of an otherwise peaceful site.

Dripping in sweat, we quickly set up the chicken roaming  tent and placed them inside.  The poor things were holding out their wings and actually panting it was so hot.  Then Thelma just sank to the ground.  She wasn’t moving and JJ and Louise were making sure by pecking her tail feathers until they bled.  Thelma was still alive, just unwilling to move.  We cannot stand seeing a chicken being pecked when she is down so I went in, picked her up and we took turns holding her on our laps for hours.   When we put them to bed that night she was walking only to get a drink; much like the humans.  We made plans to drive on Day 2 with her in the back seat area with The Noses.

Thankfully we did not have to test a terrier’s reaction to sharing the backseat with a chicken; Day 2 dawned with Thelma moving around, eating, drinking and chattering with the others about her hours of being held on human laps.

Day 2 brought us through what is now my favorite part of the drive, Grand Teton National Park.  Oh how I wished we had time to stop for an extra night!  What a gorgeous area; we are sure to stop there on our way back and enjoy it more.   But our goal for the night was west of West Yellowstone at Rainbow Point Campground on Hebgen Lake.  Being already tired, hot, dusty and deaf from having the windows down, we didn’t think there was anything Rainbow Campground could throw at us that could make it worse.  With that, the gauntlet was thrown.

First of all, the campground was at the end of a three-mile dirt road.  Then we realized none of the (many, many, full) campsites were actually on the lake.  But we were tired so we found a nice spot at the back and were pleased to find it level and deep enough that we didn’t have to unhook Shaker.  We jumped out and set up the chicken tent all the while being bitten by mosquitos.  Oh it just kept getting better.

Needing some time away from the menagerie, I jumped on my bike for a ride to the registration box and then the lake.  While fishing, I heard River barking maniacally and over and over again.  I figured something must be wrong with Alan so I jumped back on my bike and rode to the campsite.  

Turns out River was barking at the camp host who was there telling us we had to move sites; the one we were in was booked for the next few nights.  Alan pointed out that the reservation card on the pole stated that the reservation ended today, at which time the host reached down and pulled it off revealing another registration card for the next few nights.  If you are not an RV’er let me tell you, there is nothing worse than having to RE-pack and move after unpacking from a long days’ drive.

But re-pack we must:  Still hot, still dusty and still being eaten alive by bugs, we packed everything up and prepared to move to the site next door.  It was only 30 yards or so away so we thought, “Heck, why don’t we just walk the chickens over?”  Did I mention we were tired, hot and dusty?  Apparently those combine to make you crazy as well.  Yes, let’s just walk the chickens through the campground to the new site.  I can hear Basil from Faulty Towers saying, “Yes!  Grand!  Marvelous idea Sybil!  Let’s just walk the chickens through a campsite!”

Alan moved the chicken tent over while I kept The Ladies occupied in the original site.  Then I started in on my “chicken chicken” and walking toward the new site.  They would only come part of the way then they would run back underneath the Shaker.  Eventually, with Alan shooing from the back and me cooing from the front, we corralled them into the new spot. 

For a few minutes anyway.

Then we set to moving Salt & The Shaker, talking on our walkie-talkies, me in my usual outside position attempting to direct Alan’s driving.   Usually this goes without a hitch (oh yes I did) but this time I was having trouble as Louise kept escaping from the chicken tent and running toward me.  She was behaving very oddly and seemed only comfortable when she jumped on my back.  So, hunched over so she didn’t scratch her way to the top of my shoulders, I continued on the walkie-talkie directing Alan into the spot.

Once parked, Alan helped me get Louise back into the tent.  But she and Thelma were still in a panic trying everything to get out.  Eventually, I sat inside the tent for a few minutes and that did the trick; they both went into a travel cage to lay some eggs (both ladies in one cage—those two are like that.) 

Believe it or not, this is not the most intimate chicken/human interaction of the trip.

Goodbye Day 2!!!

Day 3 took us to an old friend, a boon-docking  site along Fish Creek Road in Montana.   With the dogs off leash, the chickens free-ranging and the humans with refreshments in their hands, we were nine happy hearts.  Alan went off fishing, bringing back a nice sized trout and a large sized tale about the one that got away.  I went fishing for 45 minutes, had a few bites but no catches (actually, this suits me fine since without Alan next to me, I would have had to kill my catch myself—not  my favorite thing.)  It was lovely just being by the river.  I returned to camp for cocktail hour and to another tale I found difficult to believe:  Dom decided she needed to lay her egg in the camp chair next to Alan.  See?  An even more intimate human/chicken interaction.  Good thing we got a picture.  

Alan went back out fishing and guess what?  He caught his large tale:  A 16 inch beautiful rainbow trout.  Apparently all the animals wanted to be near him that night.

We decided that on Day 4 we would scrap all original plans and take back roads through northern Idaho and Washington hoping for cooler weather.  The drive was lovely (mostly Highway 20) but it certainly wasn’t cooler.  We dropped into Okanogan around 5:00 PM, stopping for gas in the 95 degree heat.  I opened the back window for The Ladies who promptly wanted to know why the A/C was turned off.  Poor things were panting and holding out their wings again.  I would have cried for them but I was busy trying not to cry for myself:   I do not enjoy the heat, nor the loud noise, and most of all I do not enjoy being on the road after five without knowing where we were going to stop.

But as luck would have it, we stumbled upon a lovely spot just off Highway 20, Sweat Creek Campground.  Once the temporarily stationed firemen left (they were on fire-watch duty), we were all alone with the Noses and Ladies roaming free and wild.  (So much happened on Day 3 I forgot to mention that we let the chickens loose without tying up The Noses and it was a huge non-event.  A couple of sniffs and a few half-hearted chases and that was the end of it.  Now they all ignore each other unless the chickens try to drink out of the dog bowl at which point River, let's just say, encourages them to move along.) 

We had such a quiet, peaceful evening we could hardly believe it when the logging (!!) began at 4:00 AM, yes that is true, with diesel engines roaring, trees falling and dust clouds billowing right through Salt's open windows.  Good morning Day 5!

Never have we packed up so quickly.  But it was a short, beautiful 180 miles to the Anacortes ferry and, since we were up so early, we had plenty of time to take a hike up to Rainy Lake in the North Cascade National Park.  From now on we will plan on leaving time for much longer hikes in that wonderful area.

We knew traveling this time of year would be a challenge with the heat and it was.  But we all made it and now The Ladies and The Noses are all running around our lovely Orcas Island RV spot together.


PS:  For those of you wondering what Rules 1-3 are: 

Rule 1:  Carpe Campem - If it reaches 4:00 pm and you are still on the road you take the first camping opportunity that turns up (we obviously broke this one Day 4);

Rule 2:  Carpe Marriagem - Remind each other that you love one another before attempting to direct the parking of Salt;

Rule 3:  Carpe Ginem - Pour a refreshing drink immediately upon parking Salt, take a nice, 10-20 minute break before continuing the set chores.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Cluck Truck Returneth

More pictures here!

It was a (miraculously) sunny, fast and fun couple of weeks on Orcas Island and we weren’t sure we ever wanted to leave.  Then the weather turned back into Northwest Gloom, a hawk attacked Louise, Rosco’s nose started bleeding and River fell into a depression.  So it was with nine happy hearts that we all packed up, jumped on the ferry and headed back to Colorado.

Let’s start with all the drama:  Before we had the chicken coop erected, The Ladies were hanging out in their travel tent when a hawk zoomed down from the sky, talons out, and attempted to grab Louise through the netting.  Louise has not laid an egg since and, in expected solidarity, neither has Thelma.

Rosco, poor guy, had two long pieces of grass stuck up his nasal passage for days, causing an infection and a bout of bloody sneezing the likes of which I never need to see again.  Late one night he was sneezing so fiercely we had to hold one of his diaper sleeping pads in front of his face for a good ten minutes after which it looked like a Pollock painting.

The following day yielded a quick trip to the vet where, while waiting in the exam room, Alan noticed something hanging from Rosco’s nose, he gently began pulling it out and it just kept coming:  At least 6” of bloody grass.  Once the first one was out, Rosco sneezed out the second blade so the vet walked in to find two bloody lengths of grass, a mess of blood on the floor and more dripping from Rosco’s nose.  But mystery solved.  I am happy to report Rosco is feeling fantastic now.

As you will see in the pictures we managed to get the Gypsy Chicks coop erected, thanks to Alan and the folks at Urban Coop Company.  Amazing service from that company and they send everything you need except for a screwdriver and hammer.  I thought it would take two weeks, Alan thought two hours, it turned out to be two days.   The Ladies, however, never quite felt right on the island.  First the hawk attack, then eagles would soar overhead almost constantly waiting for their chance for a chicken dinner.  Dom could be heard quite often emitting a throaty growl alerting all chickens to take cover.

So when the drama hit the sky in the form of sunless days, we hit the road.

Already being in northern Washington, we decided to start our drive over the North Cascade Highway (Highway 20 is closed in winter but opened this year in early April.)  I had forgotten how beautiful that drive is although I disagree with their characterization of it being the “Alps of America”.  It in no way resembles the Alps but is a gorgeous drive in its own right.

We spent our first night in Alta Lake Campground, a Washington State Park on the other side of the mountains.  A fire had ripped through the campground last year so it was quite barren of trees, but due to all the spring rain, green sprouts were emerging, making it appealing.  The chickens went into their travel tent and we went fishing.  Alan caught two trout and we enjoyed them for dinner.

The next night we made it to Fish Creek, Montana, about two hours east of Couer D’Alene, Idaho, on I-80.  I had read about the area and the abundance of dispersed camping options and we were thrilled to find it absolutely true.  More details on how to find the spots can be found here

Our spot had so much space around it we decided to let the chickens out of their travel tent for some real free-ranging.  What a blast!  They ran around and ate a ton of bugs and only occasionally ended up inches from River or Rosco’s teeth. 

I worried about how to get them back but one of the greatest things about chickens is that they like to go to bed.  So as darkness began to fall, they easily returned to their tent and then we helped them into their travel cages for the night.

Our third night was spent five miles down a dirt road at the Cliff Lake Campground off the beautiful Highway 287 in Montana.  (Next to Wade Lake.) It was a long, slow, dusty five miles but it paid huge dividends in that we were completely alone.  (There are only seven campsites anyway but it was still nice to be all alone.)  What wasn’t so nice was the howling winds which made it difficult to put up the chicken tent.  But we muscled it up and pinned it down and set The Ladies inside.  They hated it.  With the wind blowing so hard, they just wanted out.   But we wanted to fish and the dogs were running free so I made them tough it out.

Until I heard Alan call, “Chicken loose!” 

I ran from the lake back up to the tent to see that JJ had gotten out and was hiding under the truck.  Thankfully, River and Rosco were completely unaware. Good thing it was JJ; she is the only one that will come when called.  And so I did and she did and I picked her up and listened to her griping about the wind as I put her back into the tent.  (Yes, chickens have a lot to say.) 

Day four on the road was Rookie Mistakes Day—two Rookie Mistakes in one day. 

We headed into West Yellowstone to get some gas and then entered the park with the intention of scooting around the western edge and out the southern entrance as quickly as possible.  

Hello?  When doing my route planning did I even check whether Yellowstone was open?  No.  It was open but the only way out was the way we came in or exiting even further to the north.  We turned around and promptly created our now favorite saying, “If you aren’t going to be smart, you better be adaptable.” 

So adapt we did:  Unfortunately, we had had so much fun with our short drive days and long fishing afternoons that we still had over 800 miles to go and only two days in which to do it.  So we opted for a long highway drive-day.   It started out nicely on Highway 20 in Idaho through the Targhee National Forest, a spot at which we will stop next time, but ended with hours and hours (and hours and hours) along Interstate 15 south through Utah.

Not long after Salt Lake City we jumped on Highway 6, found our way to Scofield State Park, hooked up to water (hot showers!) and power (electric tea kettle!) and promptly made our second Rookie Mistake:  We left the hose attached all night and the weather dropped below freezing.  How easy it is to forget the small stuff!  Thankfully the sun rose to shine on our hose and after about an hour we were back to flowing water.  (Equally thankfully Salt didn’t burst any pipes.)  The Ladies enjoyed extra time free-ranging around the (again empty) campground.

And so we made it to I-70, home so close we could taste the martinis.  But it was a long haul; we got stuck in construction traffic for over an hour, had temperatures up to 81 degrees and down to 39 degrees (with snow!), and totally pissed off dogs and chickens who had spent two long days in the car.  We pulled into our sweet spot in Evergreen around 5:30 p.m., after eight hours in the car. 

The Noses hopped out, we carried The Ladies’ travel cages to their Country Club and set them free.  They had a good two hours of running around their quarter acre yard before climbing their familiar ladder and putting themselves to bed.


PS:  Sadly, Thelma and Louise are still not laying.  The most consistently laying chicken turned out to be Goldie Hen who, as I first posited, enjoyed the privacy and peck-free environment of her travel cage.   Dom and JJ are close to back on track.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Cluck Truck: Days 6-9

Notice those tall shoots coming off the bushes just in front of our chairs?  They play an important part of this tale.

An inquiring mind wanted to know, “What happened on Day 6?”  Well, not much other than a great hike up Mt. Constitution in Moran State Park.  Every day finds us anxiously awaiting the arrival of our coop and me fighting off feelings of claustrophobia brought about by living on an (albeit gorgeous) island.  (“What if you miss the ferry?  What if there is no ferry when you want to leave?  Want to leave, hell, have to leave, must leave . . . “  You get the idea.)  But Days 8 and 9 turned out to be much more exciting.

Day 8 finds us all settled in our lovely full hook-up site on Orcas Island, chickens in their 10 x 10 pen, Rosco running free because running freely is really just a vague idea to him anymore and River, sadly, tied to Salt on a long but annoying (to her) run cable. 

The weather has cleared and we are making our way through the over-growth, getting the yard back in shape.  Alan decides it is a good day to see what the chickens would do with a lizard.  He has found one while digging around and takes it over to the bug tent.  JJ, of course, knows exactly what to do with it:  She grabs it by the neck and runs around in circles as the other four each grab a leg and literally, rip the poor lizard apart.  Fortunately, I only saw the end of this massacre.  I was inside preparing dinner, looked outside and thought, “What is that thing dangling from JJ’s beak?”  Turns out it was the head and what was left of the body.

Day 10 started in the usual way with River and I taking a long walk to a public open space park wherein lies a sunny field perfect for morning yoga.  I set about my yoga stretches while she waited patiently under my legs knowing at some point the forward bend would yield a hug to a very expecting upward facing dog.

But Day 10 is special as it is the much anticipated arrival of the chicken coop.  For those of you who read the chicken postings of years past, you may recall that it took us an entire summer to build our coop from scratch in Colorado.  We started on the July 4th weekend thinking the long weekend would be a perfect amount of time in which to build a coop and, indeed, did finish on a long weekend; Memorial Day Weekend.  So when it came time to think of a coop for our second home, we opted to have one shipped from Urban Coops.  It comes flat packed (like Ikea stuff) with excellent directions and all the hardware you need.  (Alan thinks it will take 2 hours to put together, I say 2 weeks, the next posting will cover the result of that debate.)

But back to Day 10:  We absolutely did not want to miss the FedEx delivery so planned our day making sure one of us was always home.  When it was Alan’s turn to leave for errands, I decided to continue on the hedge/blackberry yard work.  Starting on our upper level and working my way down the (very rocky, very steep) bank to the lower yard. 

I’m chopping away nicely when I find myself in a free fall.  My thoughts are alternating between, “Flying does not feel light, I feel like a brick.” to “Shit, this is going to hurt.”  When I open my eyes, I am lying beneath the giant (7’ tall) boulder on which I had been standing (or so I thought) in a deep den-like cavern with smaller rocks to my left, and my body in a position for which my morning yoga did not provide adequate preparation.

I wanted to cry.  But realizing that the only thing really hurt was my ego, I summoned the strength of my 99 year old grandmother and hauled my butt up to a standing position.   Wow, I thought I was claustrophobic before;  The giant boulder is still above me, the smaller rocks to my back (now that I am facing up the boulder) and beyond the smaller rocks, nothing but blackberry bushes.  I am about half-way down the hillside.  Not sure when Alan is going to be back, can’t go up over the boulder and can’t go down through the blackberries.  I really wanted to cry.  But it was a nice sunny day, so I brushed myself off, clambered onto a sharp rock just big enough for my left foot and stretched up the boulder to reach the very tip of my lopper. 

Lopper in hand, I set about cutting blackberry bushes and using the hardened stems to build a nest beneath my feet so that I could gain some purchase outside of my den like arrival area.    After about an hour, I had built enough of a platform to gain a couple of feet.  Then I heard a truck coming up the drive!  Alan!  No!  FedEx!  Crap!

My first concern is not getting out but fear that they might need a signature for the coop and drive away thinking no one is home.  I call and call up but she does not hear me.  I can hear her motor still running and doors opening so I am hopeful, but still trying my best to clamber up the boulder which is not working at all.

Another truck!  Alan!  Yes! 

I can hear him talking to the FedEx driver:

“Hi, this is good timing.”
“Yes, no one else seems to be home.”
“My wife hasn’t come out?”
“No one around but the dogs.”

Alan knows how strange this is; two dogs out and one running (in his mind) freely around.  So he wanders over to the ledge and hears my call.  After making sure I am ok, he returns to the FexEx driver.

“My wife is stuck on the hillside.”
“Is she ok?”
“Yes, she suggested I make sure to get the coop before coming back and helping her out.”
“OK, you guys new around here?”
“Lovely weather today . . . “

Yada yada yada, Hello?  Your wife is still stuck on the hillside.  They finally part and the FedEx driver waves to me as she heads down the drive.

After handing my 6-8 foot long cuttings up the boulder to Alan for burning, I eventually hack my way out heading downhill.  Overall, it was about a three hour ride.  A three hour ride.