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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.


Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Days 1-10, UT, AZ, CA – From the snow to the sea.

More pictures here!

It felt like forever for our day of departure to arrive; when it did it brought snow.  But that is one good thing about having some sort of plan—you get up and get out no matter what just to keep your three day reservation, encompassing a weekend, in California.  An eventful first nine days with friends and family, hiking, driving within three states, and a perfect day that started with a dead baby rabbit and ended with Opus frothing at the mouth.

Our first stop was the Moab area in Utah.  It being so close to home, we had only ever driven by quickly—always anxious to return to our little cabin in Evergreen.  So heading out for six months this seemed like a great way to start:  Two nights at Hittle Bottom Campground, a BLM campground nestled between the Colorado River and the Fisher Towers.  This was the first time we decided to stop for two nights on the first night out and it was a treat.  The hassle of packing up Salt and leaving the house for six months melted away as we relaxed with a full day of hiking and reading in the sunny, warm, dry air.

Then we began the family and friends portion of the tour; first stop, Prescott, Arizona to visit with my Mom and Step-Father while staying at Lynx Lake.  A great camping area with few sites, lots of trees and hiking trails that begin right from the campground.   Already our new portable solar panels came in handy:  I managed to direct the parking of Salt to just the right spot so our roof-mounted solar panel was under a large pine branch.  Alan hooked up the portable panels, moved them into the bright sunshine and they worked their magic.

Our one full day there was lovely, starting with a 4.8 mile hike in the forest with views down into Prescott Valley followed by Alan and I working our lists:  Mine was focused on making my life prettier (everyday earrings and sandals) while enjoying some Mobom time and his was focused on making our lives easier (a third tie-down for the dogs and wiper blades that didn’t risk falling off) while enjoying the Prescott area traffic routes. 

Next stop the California beaches!  Our primary goal was to get south enough to visit Alan’s daughter and a couple of my dear, don’t you dare say old, friends.  (But since “old” describes over 30 years of friendship, old has never looked so good.)

We camped at San Mateo Campground, part of the San Onofre State Park, just on the other side of Interstate 5 at San Onofre.  An ok camping spot…Campendium asks if you would stay there again “Yes” or “No”, and this is one time I would need a Maybe.  Not the greatest campground and the “1.5 mile nature walk to the ocean” runs across the I-5 (only southern Californians would consider this a nature walk) but it was quiet and peaceful and where we wanted to be.

Odd as it might sound, this spot brought me an absolutely perfect day despite an auspicious beginning and end.

Opus tends to be shy about his toileting, often heading as far away as he can into bushes for a little privacy.  So when I was walking him and he dove under a bush, I didn’t think anything of it (other than, of course, “How am I going to get that bagged?”)  But Opus had other bagging ideas; I heard a loud squeak and out pops Opus with a present for me.

Then there was another loud squeak, ok, truth be told, more of a scream.  I thought I was going to vomit.  Opus was proudly presenting a baby rabbit, delicately draped around his jaw. 

Tragically, the baby rabbit was still moving--requiring action of the non-vomiting variety.  So I got it out of Opus’ mouth only to see that its right shoulder was crushed; he could only slightly crawl.   Not left with a lot of options, I let Opus have it again to finish the job in the fastest way possible.  It took but a second and, since Opus didn’t have any use for the non-animated version, I bagged the bunny. 

After my crying spell, we set out to find the San Onofre Bluffs Hike.  We asked multiple State Park representatives how to get to the trailhead and the third person was able to direct us (given the blank looks when asking about hiking I surmised that this is a surf-centric area, hiking is only done as a means to get the board into the water.) 

Once we found the trail, or what we thought was the trail (at the end of the Bluffs Campground, Trail #6 allows dogs)  we were delighted to find miles and miles of gorgeous beach, high bluffs and only a few people.  The dogs ran around like crazy, even Scrunch got into the water.   I could have spent all day down there just smelling the salt air and listening to the waves but our skin is as white as the snow we left behind so we thought it best to leave after a few hours.  (Although not before taking off the hiking boots and dashing through the shallows with the Noses.)

A quick clean-up and then we headed to La Jolla to have dinner with friends—I still can’t believe we didn’t take a picture!  But a great time at Puesto’s.  There is something so easy about having friends for that long in life; for friendships to last like that you have to either have a lot in common or a lot of respect, I have enjoyed over 30 years of both.

Back at camp, Alan, coming in from Opus’ evening constitutional, said “Something is wrong with Opus.” 

I guess so:  Gobs and gobs of frothing spit was flowing out of his tiny mouth.  Apparently his second foray under a bush allowed him to meet, and attempt a bunny, on a frog.  Having no cell service at the site, we bundled him up and drove up the hill.  By the time we got the number for pet poison control (recommended by the 24-hour vet service) and waited on hold for a few minutes, the frothing had subsided to the point where we thought he might live.  So we brought him back and, as usual, he did not disappoint. 

Morning brought me a breakfast with my BF at a 50’s diner off the I-5; the inverse of the day before, this was a lovely start to a pretty hideous day.

We had about 240 miles to go to Oceano Dunes.  If any of you have read the blog from the beginning, you know that this is the spot two software executives decided to take their brand-spanking new Airstream for their first night out.  A great area where you can camp right on the sand--our main blog photo is the shot from that first night about five years ago.  We earned that picture by first getting stuck in the sand, attempting to dig ourselves out, being hauled out (Pepper, our Cayenne and pull vehicle back in the day, and Salt being pulled out together by a nice couple in a Dodge Ram) trying not to hyperventilate about the rising tide, building a fire and collapsing into the chairs.  (Note that I am balancing a beer on top of my head.)

Do we learn?  No.  But to our credit, this time we have Shaker, Pepper’s replacement, a Tundra with nice big tires and four-wheel drive.  We thought we had this down.  It was only 3:00, we were cruising down the beach in the afternoon sunshine.  Then our tires began to spin.  And spin.  And then spin and dig.  And we were stuck.  Local lore said to lower the tire pressure, dig out around the tires (as well as our hitch which was also buried) and just pull ourselves up.  We did all that except for the last part.

Second local lore stopped in a Jeep to offer assistance; two great guys.  They hooked up their Jeep and, backing up, pulled us up to a harder area.  Yep.  One Jeep pulled up a fully-loaded Tundra, a 19’ Airstream, two chagrined people and three disgusted dogs.  (At this point we had been on the beach for over an hour yet there was no sand on their paws.)

The guys unhooked us, and the following conversation ensued:

               I said, “Hey, we would like to give you something for helping us, your choice; beer, cash or, if it is not too weird, pot--you might have noticed we are from Colorado.”

               John replied, “Well, you might have noticed we are from LA.”  Much laughter ensued.

They tried to refuse everything, but I plopped some cash into the driver’s hand so at least we could buy them a cocktail or two.

Then we drove away.  For a second.  And got stuck again.  Oh ya baby.

Thankfully, John and friend had not gone far.  This time they hooked us up so they could drive forward and we drove like that for a good mile before we could finally get the rest of the way out ourselves.  And out we got.  $10 camping fee, $30 towing tip, learning a lesson twice?  Priceless.

Never again.  That is my title for the Campendium review of Oceano Dunes.

We spent the night at the North Pismo Beach State Campground.  Perfectly delightful, asphalt pull-through spot (having been towed twice by a Jeep within the last two hours, the last thing either of us wanted to do was to look at our hitch.)   The pitches are nicely spaced with a short walk over small dunes to the beach. 

Woke to rain and followed it right up the coast into the Big Sur area.  Stopped along the way for a 4.8 mile hike (delightful way to travel with three dogs—a mid-day hike) up Salmon Creek before pulling into Plaskett Creek Campground, site #19A.  Beautiful, small campground right across the street from the ocean and one of the few dog-friendly beaches.  It being the weekend, we booked three nights well in advance and settled in to keep a wary eye on our solar panel (no electric, no sun and no threaded water spigots—very close to boondocking except for the abundance of kids.)

Day two at camp we hiked 5.5 miles up to Villa Creek and did enough fishing to catch the bug again.  Finally a spot of sunshine in the afternoon which lead to a few hours of light cleaning (Salt was a mud-pit following all that rain on dirty paws) and reading in the sunshine. 

Day three we woke to rain which made for a delightful morning of writing this blog.  At around 11:30 I mentioned it might be time for lunch and Alan suggested we drive 30 miles up the coast to Nepenthe, a restaurant recommended by a friend of ours.

Every once in awhile you get to know someone who is always right.  I don’t mean they think they are always right like an obnoxious party guest, simply that they are just always, simply, quietly, right.  Our friend, who wouldn’t want to be named so let’s call him Joy, is such a guy.  We have learned that when Joy suggests something, it is likely something we will enJoy.  So when Joy heard we were traveling up Highway 1, he suggested a campsite (sadly, Salt wouldn’t have fit down the road to the site) and a lunch stop at Nepenthe, a restaurant hanging on the edge of the cliffs.

For us, stopping while towing Salt for lunch almost never happens:  First you have to find a parking area able to hold 40’ of living and driving machines and then you have to want to sit again for an hour or more.  So we knew stopping with Salt on the way out of the coast was not likely to happen.   The rainy day and lazy morning, however, gave us the perfect excuse to head up in a Salt-less Shaker.

What a delight!  We were sorry to miss what was obviously a stunning view in less socked-in weather, but thrilled to enjoy the grilled shrimp BLT with fries and two glasses of delicious red wine.  The ambiance was so relaxed I only had a brief feeling of inferiority around all those northern Californians.  (When Northern California was only the street-chic capital of America I could hold my own, I do, after all, own a black leather jacket, but when they added all the brain power of Silicon Valley I had to respectfully bow out of the competition; thick black plastic glasses only get you so far.)

After our delightful lunch, with the rain still socked in, we opted to leave Plaskett Creek one night early and drive 60 miles further up our route.  If you are going to sit around, you might as well sit around behind the wheel.  Camped for the night at Marina RV Park, full hook-up spot #49 (clean-out! clean-up!), less than 40 yards from the entrance to the dog-allowed state beach.  Perfect for a rainy night.


PS:  What Opus has learned so far:  Some days the only way to stretch your legs is laying upside down in your car bed; other days the best way to stretch your legs is to clear the creek by a good two feet; most days frogs don’t want to be kissed and every day rabbits are more fun when alive.