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Thursday, October 6, 2016

Newly Updated Cluck Truck Adventures: Always and for Never

More pictures here!

You would think after traveling to and from Evergreen, Colorado to the San Juan Islands in Washington, by truck, with chickens, three times we would have it down; and indeed, we had most of it down.  Particularly the new batch of chickens who proved to be fantastic travelers due mostly to their great early-life training (if I do say so myself.)  Nonetheless, we still managed to pick up one Never Again to offset our two Always Agains.

Our first day driving was short due to having to lock up our little log cabin and leave by ferry from Lopez Island so we planned a short 70 mile drive to Marble Creek Campground outside of Marblemount.  (Campground reviews can be found on  After our stressful days leading up to leaving, we decided to start the trip off right by staying two days; allowing one full day for hiking.  What a treat and our first Always Again.

We pulled in and I was desperate to get the chickens out of their travel crates.  I set about getting the roaming tent up (a 10x10 bug tent with an open floor for pecking and, apparently, taking dirt baths) while Alan secured Salt and the dogs. 

With seven chicks at six weeks old, we had them riding three in one dog crate (adapted for chickens of course with two perches at varying heights and lots of pine shavings on the ground) and four in another.  Even with such space, they were happy to get into the tent and fly around, chase bugs and, in the case of Dove and Ocean, hop on my back. 

In the morning we let them into the tent again until it was time to go hiking.  Then a quick “Chicken Chicken” call with pieces of corn on the cob brought them back into their travel cases.  Coming when called was a major part of their early training and now the “Chicken Chicken” call works much better than Opus’ “Come Opus”, “Now Opus”, or “Don’t you dare run the other way Opus.”  But I digress…

The host, Steve, mentioned a nice 5-mile hike along the river (FSR 1590) that we thought would be a great way to warm up our hiking legs and it was perfect.  It was the first time we left the chicks alone in the truck but it was a cool day with no sun and when we set off they were all roosting quietly—probably thrilled that the truck wasn’t moving.

Back at camp, the chicks tucked into their exercise tent, and we tucked into some gin.  Come nightfall, the ladies dutifully filed into one crate (all by themselves) leaving the second crate empty.  I thought this was a good idea as the nights were about to get cold and seven nestled on the perches seemed like a cozy start to camping.

Day three was a long, long, did I say long? LONG driving day and our only Never Again of the trip:  We stayed on Highway 20 through Winthrop then dropped down toward Spokane as quickly as we could.  But there was nothing quick about it.  And if I ever see the Grand Coulee Dam again I will vomit.  Just not a pretty part of Washington.  Slow and hot.  So Never Again will we take Highway 20 unless we plan on staying on it until Idaho.

Tired, hot (84 degrees and we do not have down like the poor chicks), in need of a dump site so we can shower (hopefully) and wanting to be settled to watch the presidential debate, we opted to stop earlier than planned.  I found Liberty Lake Campground, a Washington County Park that had a dump site and water at the pitches.  Serviceable is all I can say.  That, and thankfully we were the only camper that night as it was basically an RV parking lot.  Even the lake at that end of the road was dried up.  But we managed to shower and get a bit of reception (the old fashioned way with an antennae) to watch the debate.  Mission Accomplished (every pun intended.)

The next day we took off down I-90, one of the prettiest Interstate drives.   You can go fast and still enjoy scenery; exactly what we needed after the previous day. 

We hopped off I-90 and headed down Montana 359 to 287 (love this drive!) and camped for two nights at Harrison Lake—utilizing our Always Again, again.  I was really looking forward to the following days' hike but before that, fishing!

After about four casts into the lake, I landed a huge something.  It flopped around and bent my pole nearly in half before my line snapped and he took off with my favorite lure.  Never caught another.  Alan too had one on the line the following day and his line snapped.  I guess it’s time to get better line!

Speaking of the following day, I threw together some bread and we left it to rise as we headed out to hike.  It was a hot day so after the chickens went into their crates, I loaded them into Salt so they could enjoy the shade and fans. 

We hiked up North Willow Creek Trail just outside of Pony.  A really nice trail, particularly after 1.75 miles where it narrows a bit.  I would say the 10-mile round trip to Hollow Top Lake is quiet do-able but not when you are as out of shape as we are; we opted out after four as we were pooped and I was worried about the chicks.

Back at Salt, we baked the bread, released the chickens into their exercise tent, watched as the sunset changed the color of the distant mountains and noticed a hunter in the brush going after quail (we think.)  So not quite as peaceful an ending as we were hoping.  On the plus side, at least he didn’t shoot at the chickens.

We got an early start the next morning as the day would involve driving through Yellowstone and in our experience, you can never give this stretch enough time.  But our tanks were in need of freshening so we stopped at the Ennis RV Village.  This lovely spot (for an RV park) had me invent the “full hook-up lunch break” which will become an Always Again but doesn't classify as one at this point; we didn’t stop for the full hook-up, merely a dump and run.  We hardly spend money on campsites so spending $40-$60 for a few hours of cleaning out during the middle of the day seems like money (and time) well spent.  No one says you have to stay the night!  Anyway, back on the road…

As luck would have it, we sailed through Yellowstone in record time; hardly any traffic on a rainy Thursday in late September.  Popped out the other end and turned up my second favorite highway in the area, Highway 26 toward Dubois.

As Friday was my birthday and I wanted to hike for the Big Day, we stopped for two nights at Falls Campground which was officially closed for the season but the Forest Service (thoughtfully) leaves the gates open until snowfall.  There were no facilities and no trash service, but also very few people.  (Friday evening it picked up a lot with hunters coming in for the weekend.)

We enjoyed our first thunder and lightning storm in a long time on Thursday night (Opus and the Ladies were unimpressed, River huddled near the bathroom) and Alan took advantage of being inside to bake my birthday cake.  Normally he does a pineapple upside down cake from scratch (yes scratch!) but due to being in Salt we thought an old-fashioned boxed one would be ok.  Everything tastes better in Salt anyway.  But although it was delicious, it wasn’t close to the scratch one.  Being the great guy he is, he will make me another.  But baking the cake the night before gave me my second “Always Again”: Birthday Breakfast Cake.  Oh yeah, great way to start (and end) the day.

We tried to hike a trail in the Teton Wilderness that starts at Brooks Lake and goes up the valley to Upper Brooks Lake but after two miles we gave up; the mud was so thick it was coating our boots and clinging to the sides so that eventually we had to walk with our feet wider than normal.  Sticky, awful stuff.  But a lovely sunny day at a gorgeous lake and creek as the pictures can attest (the picture at the top of the post is of the creek coming into Brooks Lake.)

Unbelievably, the next day we drove almost 500 miles and made it all the way home to Evergreen.  Let me just say, if you are going to be gone for six months and want house sitters, make sure they are German.  The house was spotless, the yard delightful and, best of all, the chicken coop was stocked with fresh straw and shavings—not that the ladies appreciated it right away.

You see, we bought them as chicks while on Lopez Island so their life to date had first been the brooder box, then a small 4x4 enclosure for the daylight hours outside before filing into their travel crate for the night and sleeping out in the truck.  This is what they thought life was like.  So when I put them into their 8x10 Safe Zone with access to their coop, they ran around, flapped their wings (particularly after the grueling 500 mile day) but refused to go into the coop at night; they crowded into a corner of the run waiting for their travel crate to appear.  Eventually, I went out and picked them up one by one and placed them inside the coop.

The next night they managed it on their own.  They know a good thing when they see it.


Monday, May 23, 2016

You Say Alaska, We Say Lopez

The trouble with pausing an Alaska adventure with a month on Orcas Island is at some point you have to make yourself leave the island.  With decent weather, the boat in the water and a full hook-up site with a gorgeous view, it gets harder every day.

And time does seem to fly here on the island, with the exception of when you are looking for your blind and nearly deaf dog.  Then it crawls to a dead stop.
Coming back from fishing one day, Rosco was anxious to get out of the boat.  So as soon as we were near the dock, I jumped out, helping him onto the dock.  I removed his life jacket and then watched as he made a bee-line down the dock and up the ramp.  Since the ramp ended at a locked gate, I just assumed he would wait for us up there and set about tying up Boatie.

A few minutes later, I looked up the ramp and was startled by the absence of Rosco by the gate.   I began walking down the dock, then, as my heart began to pound, running down the dock, River & Opus in tow.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw a white form swimming in the boat channel and thought, “Oh, a baby seal.”  Then my stomach dropped as I realized it was Rosco out there. 

Blind, nearly deaf, and 15 years old he was also entirely wet—he must have gone completely under when he fell off the dock.  He was swimming in circles with a panicked look on his face.  I yelled down to Alan who came running with the boat hook.   Desperately trying to get Rosco’s attention, we were yelling and clapping like crazy (for some reason, he can hear a loud clap on occasion.)  Our yells combined with Opus and River scratching at the dock and barking, brought out all the look-i-loos from the condos lining the marina.  (Being new to boating, we are almost always a cause for entertainment when we return but that day they really got their money’s worth.)

Rosco was still swimming in circles as Alan began to clear out his pockets in anticipation of jumping in.  Then something got through and Rosco headed toward the dock; Alan laid down and grabbed Rosco’s halter just as he was headed under the dock, hauling him up to safety.

Man was Rosco proud!  He ran around like he had visited the waters of Lourdes rather than those of Puget Sound.

But not all days bring such excitement; some just cause you to rethink the entire next stage of your life.

Strolling around Eastsound one day on our way to getting some coffee, we stopped and looked at listings posted in the window of real estate office.   There sat a 10-acre, waterfront parcel, reasonably priced on Lopez Island.  What we didn’t say is, “We have no time to shop for real estate, we are headed to Alaska in a week.”  What we did say was, “Let’s go!”

Two days later we were on the ferry headed to Lopez, “The Friendly Island” as it is called.  The 10-acre parcel didn’t ring our bell as we thought it might but we stopped in at the local realtor’s office, met a very nice agent, who asked us a few good questions and then said, “I think I have just the spot for you.”

And she was right:  Four acres, 250’ of waterfront, with a small log cabin looking down the green, open field to the water.  (The picture above was taken on the land.) At the time of this writing, we are still negotiating—with the sellers and with ourselves.  Time will tell but we do have to leave Orcas on June 12th as our spot is rented from then until August 20th.  One way or the other, we will be on the road but we may not make it to Alaska at this point; for sure we will make it into B.C. and up the Cassiar Highway.


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Days 11-20: A Change of State

More pictures here!

When I last left off we were just north of Big Sur, California enjoying a full hook-up spot in Marina, CA.   We took a good two weeks to go from that location to our home site on Orcas, and during that time experienced changing three states, one state of mind and one state of being.

There are some folks who swear by the beauty of the Big Sur area of California and I cannot complain about what we saw there:  The amazing drop of the mountains down to the sea and simply the incredible-ness of feeling so remote while being only 200 or so miles from either San Francisco or LA is a feeling not to be missed.  But my money (or so I wish) is on the Sonoma Coast, just north of San Francisco and Salinas.  There, the green, empty hillsides slide gently down to the crashing waves and every other second there is a portion of the Sonoma Coast State Park, just waiting to take your money.

No kidding.  Even the picnic areas charge a day use fee.  Now, I don’t have a problem with that, California is an expensive place, however, when you are driving up this part of Highway 1, pulling a trailer on curves so sharp that Simon, our GPS system, thinks they are actual turns (“Turn left in 100 yards”), there is precious little area in which to pull over and give everyone a break—pee or otherwise.

But nature was calling and provided no choice but to pull into a State Park day use area.  We stopped at the gate and explained that all we wanted to do is let the dogs out to pee; the man said he would have to charge us anyway.   $10 to pee. Many things about California I do not miss and this strict adherence to the rules is one of them.  We crossed sixteen legs and left.  

And what happened to hiking with your dogs in California?  Or enjoying the beach with them?  Trying to find camping or hiking near a beach that allowed dogs was growing more and more frustrating.  We eventually found Wright’s Beach; an unappealing campground (unless you have a choice ocean-front pitch) but on one of the most beautiful beaches I have seen in California.  And where, to spite the rules, we let the dogs run off-leash.

Growing weary of the fruitless search for dog-friendly hiking trails in California we set our sights on Oregon, a state we know loves dogs to the extent that they are welcomed on the majority of beaches and you would have to search hard to find a trail excluding them.  Only one thing stood in our way:  Mendocino.

Now, let me just say I have had a long, long, love affair with Mendocino.  Almost everything about it:  The natural beauty; The vibe (Southern California Beach crossed with Northern California Intellectual); and the utter coolness of just being there.  

But good lord not the state of the camping.

We checked out two State Parks, Van Damme and Russian Gulch.  The former being in a tight, small valley filled with mosquitoes and the latter being tiny and cramped and down a one-lane road barely large enough for Salt.  The state of Oregon was really calling now; prior experience with their State Parks had us ready to keep on driving past Mendocino.   But the state of our laundry was demanding a washing stop.  So we parked for the night at the Caspar RV Park which was a typical RV park, way too much like a parking lot, but had the required laundry facilities (albeit in such bad shape that I feared dropping a freshly washed item on the ground lest I had to start the cycle over.)  Life on the road.

We did go into town for groceries and a great dinner at The Flow, where we discovered Russell Henry, a great local gin, and Thackery & Company wine.  A night out was just what was needed to restore my love of Mendocino.

But time to get to Oregon as quickly as possible, changing to a state of less frustration and more love of dogs.

And rain.

We stopped for two nights at Alfred Loeb State Park.  On our full day we set out hiking in a drizzle and came home drenched to the bone.  All of us except for Rosco who, due to his advanced age and occasionally brilliant mind, slept peacefully in the warm, dry truck.

Soaking wet dogs and pouring down rain don’t mix well in 19’ but it is nothing that a local beer and some fish and chips can’t solve:  We headed to the marina with our tablet to get the weather forecast and to plot out the camping plan.

Turns out it was about to be gorgeous.  Not wanting to waste any sunshine, the next day we drove less than 100 miles up the coast to Bullard's Beach State Park, where we grabbed a full-hookup site in a sunny pitch and immediately threw everything outside to dry out.  Que the Beverly Hillbillies theme song--nothing looks as tacky as a sunny campground after a full day's rain.

A great campground (state run again—can’t say enough about Oregon State Parks), where we enjoyed a two mile walk to the beach (dog friendly, of course) and a six mile bike ride to the lighthouse.  My kind of biking!  You know, where you take your high-end mountain bike and turn it into a low-end beach cruiser.  Nice and flat.

Next stop was a bit further up the coast at Cape Lookout State Park.  More beach, more sunshine and what should have been a great hike.  Much recommended, the hike out Cape Lookout was way too crowded and narrow for our enjoyment.  But it was a sunny Sunday and, having lived and worked in the Pacific Northwest, I know the value of that combination.  But between having to carry Rosco, Opus joyfully jumping on anything that moved and River anxiously eyeing anything that moved, we didn’t get anywhere near a hiker’s high.

Time to say goodbye to Oregon.   Ahh well, until next time wonderful State Parks.

Continuing on our coastal route, Alan found us a great spot at Kalaloch Campground in the Olympic National Park, right on a dog-friendly beach.  We drove in around 3:30 PM and found the last pitch with any kind of a view of the water.  Parked Salt at a jaunty angle, opened the door and breathed in the fresh smell of wet trees and salty air.

Being this close to our spot on Orcas Island was making us antsy so despite having landed at our favorite stop so far, we hit the road the next day and tried to make a the 3:30 Port Townsend ferry over to Whidbey Island.  No such luck.  Next available was 6:45 so we opted to spend the night at Fort Worden State Park where we enjoyed a quick bit of tennis (you can really hit the ball hard at sea level!) and a nice private picnic area.  In the morning while Opus was running freely on the beach, I was doing my best to ignore the naked 60-something lady coming out of the water.  But Opus was not having any of that--I think he just saw extra flesh that might be useful in a petting experience.  There was freedom of every sort on this sunny, warm morning. 

Finally ferry day.  I think we only drove 60 miles but we were on two ferries and eventually pulled Salt up to our gorgeous Orcas site.

Orcas, for me, is one of those places where you can’t remember if you have been here an hour, a day, or ten years.  It is like a warm bath, comfortable, soothing and it completely changed my state of mind.  I went from being driven to just sinking in, in less than a day.

And glory be, my favorite laundromat!  Odd to love a business that much, but I could have cried I was so happy to see the gleaming machines and bright, clean floor.  Then I saw the TV and, indeed, cried. 

Prince had changed his state of being.