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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 dog hug.

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.


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The (much anticipated) Cluck Truck Hits the Road: Evergreen, CO to Orcas Island, WA

More pictures here!

I always wondered why I never bothered to separate the Salt & Pepper Adventure blog from our Backyard Chicken Extravaganza blog, and now I know why:  The day has come to combine traveling in Salt with our love of chickens.  Voila, the Cluck Truck Adventures.

To be clear, though, we are not back on the road full-time.  We are starting a new business,, and in doing so need to be out on the road some of the time to locate new properties.  For this trip, we packed up the dogs and chickens and headed to our prime RV rental location on Orcas Island, WA

After doing some research on traveling with chickens, we determined that they would be happiest and safest in their own individual traveling crates.  Thus we purchased five wire crates with plastic bottoms and decked them out with individual water, food, grit, and oyster-shell eating areas all with individual perches.  The chickens hate them.  Of course, we lined the bottom with a few inches of pine shavings and plenty of straw which, every single day, Thelma pushes right out of her cage.  (I long suspected Thelma of being the nest-wrecker in the coop back home and now I know for sure.)

Chickens, being social creatures despite their almost incessant desire to peck each other, were not thrilled with the separate cage arrangement; the exception being Goldie Hen who, as soon as she heard of the plans, began her own rendition of MC Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This” in anticipation of days without being hen-pecked by her coop mates.

Preparation done, it was time to set out.  We had a little more than 1,400 miles to go from Evergreen, Colorado to Orcas Island, Washington but wanted to make sure The Ladies had time in the morning and evening to run in their free-range travel cage (a 10x10 netted bug tent with an open bottom—sets up in seconds and was perfect!) so planned only a little over 300 miles per day.  We also found out of the way places to stop, assuming most KOA’s would not relish the idea of a free-range chicken tent in their yards.  Here we go:

Day 1
Goal:  Jim Bridger Recreation Area, WY
Actual Stop:  BLM Land off of WY-84.
Egg Count:  4 (All the Single Ladies except Louise.)
Kit’s Chicken Stress Level:  5 (out of 5.)

Loaded up the chickens from (what must now look to them like a country club) their ¼ acre free-range, worm filled yard and plopped them into their travel cages.  Everyone went in willingly enough (once they saw the scratch being tossed inside) except for Louise whom I had to chase around for a good ten minutes, finally trapping her between the cage and the fence and physically putting her inside. 

During the drive, I worried every time we hit a bump or took a sharp turn.  “Those poor chickens!” was almost a constant lament.  I checked on them at every stop and they had all hunkered down and gone into a bit of a dazed state.  But they were still laying eggs which is always a good sign.

A side note:  If you are ever west of Cheyenne, WY on I-80, there is a gorgeous National Forest, Medicine Bow Routt National Forest, with plenty of campgrounds.  I would have loved to stop but we needed more miles, baby.

We kept on cluck-trucking toward our first choice for the night, the Jim Bridger Recreation Area (near the Jim Bridger Power Plant in Wyoming.) Unfortunately, it turned out to be a day use area which is really too bad as there were a couple of small lakes and lots of picnic tables with no one around.  Deciding to obey the No Overnight Camping signs, we opted to head over to some BLM land off of Black Buttes Road (WY-84), along Bitter Creek (which is close to bitterly dry.)  We backed Salt up a side road, jumped out, set up the chicken tent, unloaded the crates from the truck to the inside of the tent and set The Ladies free.  They were thrilled and did not seem to mind the sandy, desert soil at all but jumped right to hunting and pecking around.  We unlatched the bikes and took a short ride along the dirt roads.

Nearing dusk The Ladies were getting anxious to bed down for the night but chose not put themselves to bed in the crates (damn!  A human can hope, can’t she?)  It took a bit more scratch, and, of course, chasing Louise, but I managed to get them all loaded in and the crates back into the truck for safety overnight.

When morning came I ran out there and reversed the processes, giving them at least an hour of free range time before we packed them back in for another 300 mile day.

Day 2
Goal:  Lake Wolcott, Idaho.
Egg Count:  2 (Thelma & Louise)
Kit’s Chicken Stress Level:  4 (The Ladies’ egg production of Day 1 providing some hope that they weren’t fairing too badly back there.)

On the drive we had everything from rain to sleet to snow but arrived at the lovely and serene Lake Wolcott by 3:30 PM.  There are only 18 RV sites, most with a nice amount of space between them with lovely grassy areas (chicken heaven) and level, asphalt pitches (Kit heaven.)  The lake, however, we have declared fish-less.  (To our defense, it is rather early in the year.)

Of note:  The water at the pitches was turned off (not sure if this was a seasonal thing or they are permanently turned off) but if you have a long hose, you can pull over to the day use parking area and fill up via the red faucet near the bathrooms.  I pass this along as we only noticed it by watching our neighbors drive over, the whole time thinking, “What in the world are they doing?”   Electricity was on at the sites.

While in their free range tent, JJ and Dom set about feuding over two of the crates, each chicken going in and setting up a nest before the other one came in and chased them out.  This went on for at least an hour.  JJ finally won (no surprise there) and laid an egg overnight in one of coveted cages. 

Day 3:
Goal:  La Grande, Oregon (343 miles)
Actual Destination:  Farewell Bend, Oregon State Park (250 miles)
Egg Count:  3  (JJ, Dom, Louise)
Kit’s Chicken Stress Level:  3 (They seem to be getting enough free run time as they are often just milling around cleaning their feathers after a couple of hours outside the crates.)

We got a late start due to hot showers!!  Yahoo!   (Drove over to the aforementioned day use area at Lake Wolcott, hooked up to the faucet and showered like there was no tomorrow.)   We also opted to stop twice on the road to attempt to catch some fish.  Still nothing.  Still too early in the season.  Still our story.

When the clocked passed 4:00 PM and we were still on the road with about 100 miles to go to La Grande, we carpe campem’d when Alan noticed a sign for Farewell Bend, an Oregon State Park just after crossing the border from Idaho on I-84.  Ahh, those Oregon State Parks!  Never disappointing.  Lovely (and large but empty this time of year) campground along the shores of the Snake River's Brownlee Reservoir.  Lots of pitch types to choose from and we opted for one in the back with lots of area for the chicken tent.

Up went the tent in record time (it was a long, hot day back there for The Ladies) and out they popped and almost immediately began a dirt bath extravaganza.  The first one of the trip and they were really digging in.  With The Ladies so happy, we poured a cocktail and nestled near the campfire for some quiet time.  Before I had finished my gin, I noticed people trying to take pictures of the chickens from afar; I invited them over for a closer look.

They were four Canadians heading home from Arizona and amazed that we were traveling with chickens.  (They might be the first on the trip to even notice we had chickens along.)  Lovely people (as most Canadians are) and they departed with eight fresh eggs for breakfast.  I am betting that is a camping story that will get told!

Day 4:
Goal:  Cle Elum, WA
Egg Count:  2  (Thelma & Dom)
Kit’s Chicken Stress Level:  2  (When Louise, of all chickens, jumps up on your back for a ride, you know things can’t be that bad.)

In preparation for the trip, I had done a ton of research to find out-of-the-way places in which to camp; one such place was the Red Mountain Campground (USFS) outside of Cle Elum, WA.  Although it is technically closed for the winter, it is one of the few campgrounds that allow you to dry camp for free.  Winding along the Cle Elum River, it is a beautiful spot.  Being very off season, we expected the campground to be empty and were disappointed to find that at least three other vehicles had found the place before we did. 

None-the-less, it was a nice spot and Alan scouted out a site that I reserved by standing in while he drove ahead to turn Salt around.  During his drive, he found an even better site in one of the dispersed camping areas.  So he came back to get me and we set up camp just down the road.   Chickens ranging in their tent, we set about fishing the river to no avail.  But the sun was mostly out (“mostly” being a good percentage for the Pacific Northwest) and the evening was delightfully complete with Manhattans and a campfire.

Day 5:
Goal:  Orcas Island and our own Private Camping spot!
Egg Count:  4 (All the Single Ladies but Dom)
Kit’s Chicken Stress Level:  0

Packed up in the light snowfall and were on the road extra early.  Delightful to be driving in an area we know almost by heart!  We stopped at a couple of new favorites in Mount Vernon:  The Calico Cupboard for bread and a Mexican grocery (can’t find them on Google maps but they are on the corner of Freeway Road and I-5) for marinated meats and one old favorite, Compass Wines in Anacortes, before getting into the ferry line.  We had hours to spare so I used the time to collect eggs and clean out Salt.

We arrived at the site while it was still light out (a must if you are going to rent this site!) and with the sun shining, it was gorgeous.  Our intention while here is to get it ready for rental on Private Camping and we have our work cut out for us:  We forgot how mossy things (drives!) become when in the Pacific Northwest so we will be adding “Gravel Drive & Pitch” to our list of to-do’s (which include “Erect Chicken Coop” and “Build Shed”.)   In between work, we plan on hiking, biking, tennis and finding all the other fun things to do on the island which I will write about on our blog.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Mammoth, McGee & Convict Lake, CA - Oct. 9-12, 2014

More photos here!

Many experiences are worth repeating on this trip (luckily!) and the Westin in Mammoth was certainly one of them.  As we were celebrating our 14th wedding anniversary, we treated ourselves to two nights in a Heavenly Bed and dinner out at The Tamarack Lodge.  Both proved to be as exceptional as our first experience of them. 

These two nights involved a lot of sitting in a Jacuzzi, gorging on NY style bagels from The Old New York Deli & Bagel Company and dogs sleeping on their own Heavenly Dog Beds.  But we did do one hike:  Up from Horseshoe Lake (half dry) to Mammoth Pass (not as scenic as you might imagine) and over to Lake McCleod (gorgeous.)  A short hike day, but enough exercise to completely enjoy an entire bottle of wine during dinner! 

Having eaten fresh-caught trout every night since we arrived in the valley, we ignored all the fish options on the Tamarack Lodge menu and opted for Venison Osso Buco and Angus Ribeye.  Delicious.  And prepared by someone else.  And cleaned up by someone else.  (And, let’s face it, killed by someone else.)  A perfect treat.
But soon enough we were ready to hit the open road; we hitched up Salt (the Westin graciously allowed us to park her in front of their hotel in the Valet Only area) and drove a whopping 20 miles back south on 395 to McGee Creek.

The USFS McGee Creek Campground is lovely, each pitch with a built in shade shelter and asphalt pitches!!  Yahoo!  I forgot the thrill (and cleanliness) of having Salt perched on asphalt rather than dirt.  The creek behind the campground is a lovely fishing area (even better than Rock Creek in my opinion) with a lot of pools and, now, a few less fish (Alan, of course, caught dinner each night.)

We hiked up McGee Creek Trail which was enjoyable for its incredibly colorful mountains (rivaling those found in the Artists Palette in Death Valley) as well as the fall leaves.  Sadly, the trail did not follow along the creek as we had hoped and it was terribly hot.  So we kept it a short two miles in and out.

The next day we upped the ante heading up Convict Lake Trail and attempted to make it to Mildred Lake.  After about four miles of a gentle but constant climb and a half mile of scrambling straight up over rocks, we threw in the towel.  No Mildred Lake for us.  The best views on this hike are about one mile passed the trailhead at the back of Convict Lake.  So stop there if you are after a scenic hike and not a strenuous one.  We figured our total hiking mileage to be over eight miles that day.  Rosco did about half of that (which is great for him.)

Next stop is the June Lake area; despite having been up and down Highway 395 numerous times in our past, we have never even driven the June Lake Loop.  Here goes!