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Friday, September 25, 2015

Cluck Truck Adventures: Smoked Chicken

(This post, being written four weeks after the happenings, is ancient in the world of blog posts and I was considering not writing it at all.  But then this happened, “Alan, where did we eat that giant slimy fish?” And since it took us at least 20 minutes to figure it out, I thought chronicling these trips, even tardily, is good for the memory bank.)

As is our usual, a good two weeks prior to our return from Orcas to Colorado, I had planned our complete trip:  It consisted of some favorites (North Cascades Highway in Washington, Fish Creek in Montana) with some soon to be favorites (meeting up with my cousin, hiking in Grand Teton) and was to be our longest return drive yet at six nights; providing us that one delicious all-hiking-no-driving day.  But just under two weeks before our departure, Alan, hearing of the fires raging across eastern Washington, suggested that we should have a Plan B.  Little did we know that we should have continued further down the alphabet.

The decision was made three days prior to our departure when Washington State Highway 20 was still closed in many places (and all the places we needed it) we set out on Plan B:  South by Southeast.

Days that start or end with a ferry ride don’t make for good long driving days, so our first day was a short drive over Steven’s Pass to the USFS Nason Creek Campground near Leavenworth.  It was closed (despite not mentioning it on that website.)  Apparently it has been closed for years.  Luckily, adjacent to the closed campground was Lake Wenatchee State Park.  We found a nice pull through spot (no unhooking!), put the chickens in their run and set off for a short walk along the river. 

This park, made up of two campgrounds, is quite lovely, although clearly has room for a ton of campers.  But in the off season it was great; allowing for solitary and easy hikes along the river and lake.  (Most pitches had water and electric and there is a dump station on site.)

Our first goal for Day Two was to not leave Washington until we packed up a box of peaches.  We found a great little stand just off Highway 2 and gathered them in before heading toward Orofino, Idaho.  More and more, we aim to travel less and less on the interstates; enjoying the American backroads whenever possible.  This usually makes for longer days but almost always more interesting scenery and our route on Day Two was no exception on either score.  After a long driving day we pulled into McKay’s Bend, a BLM campground next to the Clearwater River on Highway 12 in Idaho.  (Highway 12 is delightful; a definite new favorite.) 

McKay’s Bend turned out to have about 15 sites, all pull-through or back-in and looked more like a KOA (i.e., not more than 10’ between pitches) than any BLM sites we had ever seen.  Even though we were hot and tired staying there just wasn’t appealing (the last pitch available backed up to the bathroom.)  So we opted to continue down Highway 12 to Pink House, another BLM site, about 20 minutes away.  So glad we did!  Lovely spot and we were one of three in the campground.  Pull-through, a full hook-up and right on the river for $15/night.  Unbelievable.  (We still didn’t have to unhook Salt!)  We halfheartedly attempted fishing (Clearwater River is quite large and we were equally unprepared for casting that far out) before sitting back and enjoying a quiet evening.

Our goal for Day 3 was Pettengill Campground, outside of Wise River, Montana on the Pioneer Mountains Scenic By-Way, but first we had to make it off Highway 12, skirting multiple fires sometimes with smoldering logs just barely off the road.   What would have been gorgeous scenery was almost unrecognizable in the smoke-filled haze.  We gasped our way out of those fires and headed southeast across the Bitterroot Natonal Forest.  

As we dropped down toward the town of Wisdom, Montana, we could see billowing clouds of smoke on the other side of the valley, right where our campground was due to be.  We stopped in Wisdom for some gas and received timely information from the lady behind the counter:  All the campgrounds along the north part of the Pioneer Mountains Scenic By-Way were closed due to the fire--not that we were in any danger of continuing on that path anyway. 

Now, we hate to go backward on such a long drive, but after much debate we did indeed opt to head back to May Creek Campground up in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest which we passed about 20 minutes prior.  It turned out to be a nice little campground, more full than usual with all the detours happening, but pitch #3 was delightful and we set the Ladies to roam in their tent while we crossed the street to fish.

After much bushwhacking we made it to the river and Alan almost immediately pulled in a Brook Trout.  Although small, they are one of our favorites as their meat is very sweet and tender.  I was worried about the Ladies so I returned to camp and let them free-range while I relaxed.  In no time at all, Alan returned carrying two fish; the original and another that was the biggest Brook Trout we had ever seen.  Was this going to be tasty!


Although campfires were (amazingly) allowed at May Creek we opted not to light one as it just didn’t seem right when there were people putting their lives at risk less than 50 miles away.  So we fired up the oven, wrapped the trout in foil and baked them with some butter and lemon.  Oh we were ready to open those packets up and dive in!  And this, my friends, is when we ate the Giant Slimy Fish.

We have never seen the likes of it, but the big Brook Trout emitted a slime while cooking that was simply disgusting.  I could not get past it to eat the flesh but Alan did.  Unfortunately, it didn’t get any better; the flesh was tough and not flavorful at all.  Ahh, old age gets the best of all of us.

So with our plans shot to hell for Day 4 (no going up and around Wise River to join I-15 and cut down to West Yellowstone) we opted to head south, pick up I-15 at a different spot and try a cut-off back road to get to West Yellowstone.  (I had two primary objectives at this point:  (1) Make it to our reserved campsite at Wapati Campground on the outskirts of the Grand Teton National Park and (2) do not stop in West Yellowstone, a town that is more un-navigable when towing than many small European villages we had visited.)  So off we went with a full lunch packed and stopping for gas often to ensure we would not have to fill up in my least favorite town.

We took the appropriate exit off I-15, turned left and came to an abrupt stop.  Dirt road.  Dirt road for miles and miles and miles.  Although disappointing, that was an easy decision to make; miles of filling Salt with billowing dust was simply not going to happen.  So with me driving in a general south/southeast pattern, Alan set about finding us yet another detour.  At this point, hiking in the Grand Tetons was out of the question, as was making our reservation which, being the Thursday and Friday before Labor Day Weekend was made to ensure us a camping spot.  We were now officially One of Those People:  The people who take off on one of the busiest camping weekends in the country without reservations anywhere.

But Alan’s patience (and ability to read maps and Google without getting car-sick) found us a lovely drive:  We crossed Idaho on Highway 26 which was beautiful (and finally no smoke in the air!) and then turned up to Hoback Junction locating Hoback Campground along the same-named river and finally stopped moving. 

Everyone except for JJ.  

All the chickens were in their free range tent but JJ just wouldn’t stop trying to get out.  So finally we let them all out for some real free-ranging.  After a few minutes of dutiful pecking, JJ jumped up into the back of the Shaker.  Alan brought over one of their travel cages, opened the door and in she climbed.  She spent a good hour making a lovely nest but no hours actually laying an egg.

The other Ladies joined her at the normal bed time, little did they know it would be awhile before they got out again:  The morning dawned with ferocious winds, the kind that, our experience has shown, knocks over free-range chicken tents and sends the chickens running for the truck.  So we opted to leave them in their cages with me reaching in and freshening the cages as best I could before hitting the road.

But Louise had a different idea:  She thought she would enjoy some free range time and, when I opened the top to clean out her cage, she jumped right out and ran off.

We still had a lot of packing up to do so we just left her alone.  She didn’t move far from her friends in the truck.  But holy chicken did they all talk about it!  What were they saying? 

“I heard Louise, that skinny hen, got out!”
“Where did she go?”
“No idea, but I imagine it wasn’t to the donut shop.” 

Yes, chickens can be catty.

Eventually we had to get Louise back in and potato chips proved the best lure.  We placed a chip inside her cage and she willingly hopped into the Shaker, then on top of her cage.  At this point, I managed to grab her and, let’s just say, encourage her to get inside.  After such rude handling, she refused to actually eat the chip until much later in the day.

At this point we were four nights on the road and 500 miles from home with no plans on the Friday before Labor Day Weekend.  Two of Those People.

So we set out to see how far we could get.  We knew of some boondocking sites south of Walden, Colorado on Highway 125 and set our sights there, which would make it a long drive day of over 400 miles.  But alas, what is one more change of plans at this point?  Of course all the sites were taken so we just kept going and going and eventually pulled into our driveway after every one of those 500 miles were done.

I closed the gate and opened the back of the truck and one by one the Ladies hopped out of their cages and ran freely in their yard; a just reward for having spent 24 hours in their travel cages.

Well, everyone but Louise who took just a second to polish off that chip.


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.