For the next two days we amble our way down the Left Coast, hugging the coastline, stopping once in a while to admire the sweeping surfline, the white sand dunes, the rock stacks, the redwoods. We spend a night near Florence at Honeyman State Park, one of the largest campgrounds in Oregon, we are told, but still offering fairly secluded hookups for our trailer and, I suppose, a hundred others.
We stop at Bandon to visit our nephew J, who is living a bachelor life in a fixer -upper in the charming seaside town of Bandon. When he has finished the re-hab, he will rent the cottage out as an AirB&B. On the day we visit it is still missing a fence, kitchen counters and appliances, but he assures us that his first renter will find it habitable when he arrives the following week. We can see what a nice seaside pied a terre it isgoing to be – but not quite yet.
J breaks for lunch and takes us for seafood sandwiches at Tony’s Crab Shack, and gives us a brief tour of Bandon’s interesting spots. That orange globe in front of the house facing the ocean? It’s a tsunami escape pod.
We continue down the coast, crossing into California, where the highway swings inland to introduce us to the towering trees of the Redwood Empire. More on this next week!
Off to Cowlitz Falls County Park. This park is maintained on behalf of the public by the Lewis County Public Utilities District. There are actually no falls here, as the river has been dammed for hydroelectric power, and the only access to the river, the boat ramp, was destroyed in a flood and is being repaired. Aside from the misleading name, this is a lovely quiet place with lot of shade, lots of woodsy trails between sites and restrooms, a sunny meadow with a volleyball net, a horseshoe pit (equipment for both available from the ranger) and a playground.
We set up in adjoining camp spaces, our tiny teardrop next to C&C’s Trailer Mahal. Instant conversation starters with folks strolling through the camp.
Then, just to make sure we meet everyone, we walk the dog, an adorable little white mop of a thing. Nothing like a cute dog to make instant friends along the trail.
The next morning we are just finishing a tremendous breakfast of eggs, bacon, toast (Thanks to C&C’s full kitchen) when our nephew P arrives with his wife T and five lively children.
Fortunately Cowlitz [no]Falls has lots of distractions to offer. A walk to the river. Fallen trees to climb. Back at the camp, Grandma C has provided plenty of hot dogs, sodas, chips, and watermelon, while Auntie M has a box of trailer games. Five-year-old G is surprisingly deft at removing blocks from the Zenga tower!
I’d forgotten how exhausting family gatherings can be for us empty nesters. M and I tumble into our trailer while C&C are still admiring the moon over a last glass of wine.
After the heat of our second day, the cool of the next morning at Schroeder County Park finds me up early. I find a small hotel soap cake in my dop kit and take a shower, even washing my hair with the soap. Feels wonderful. M wakes, sees my wet hair, and follows my example. Breakfast again of strawberries, blueberries, granola, yogurt. We both feel great. What could be nicer, with the river sparkling, the air fresh, and the heat wave broken!
Locked, loaded, and leaving by 10 , we are proud of the improvement in our getaway time. We think we have an easy 3.5 hour drive up to our brother’s house straight up I-5 in Washington state, so we are open to a scenic detour. M calls friend in Corvallis to invite them to meet us in Corvallis’s central park for lunch – M is eager to show her old haunts, and the detour would be pretty. but the friends are on their way from Corvallis down to Winters along with another couple that M knows well, and are on I-5 headed the other way. We rendezvous at a Wendy’s in Eugene and the five friends are soon in full catchup mode, with lots of exclaiming, explaining, and suggesting. I feel like a hat rack, but it’s ok. I use the loo.
On our way again. We stop for lunch at another rest stop. We stop for gas and check the GPS. Hmmm. What was a 3.5 hour drive at 10 AM is now, at 2, after driving 2 hours all told, still a 3.5 hour drive. What had been a clear blue shot through Portland is now blood red.
It takes us two hours to get through Portland. We are delayed a bit by M’s fear of the electric connection coming loose again, so we pull off on Swan Island, home of rail yards, lovely homes, and lot of homeless encampments. Vagrancy and loitering used to be crimes, but certainly there should be a better alternative to jail time than these ugly shambles.
Once we clear the Columbia it’s an easy half-hour to Kid Brother’s house. We get a warm welcome, a bedroom for each of us and a tour of the latest quilts, wall hangings, glitter dot pix, and other crafty things which KB’s wife has put together since our last visit. .the fully de-frosted salmon in our cooler provides the centerpiece for a fine meal, with side dishes from KBW’s well-stocked fridge, and wine from KB’s well-stocked cellar.
KB plans to retire in March of 2023, and he and WBW are planning some long long trips in their long long trailer. There are sights to see north of the border, relatives to visit in Idaho and Montana and Texas and California. When vagrancy comes packaged in a 30-foot trailer, it becomes a lot more glamourous.
Up by eight in our RV Resort near Castle Crags, hoping to beat the heat on a hike up to a waterfall and scenic viewing platform touted as not to be missed on the Camp brochure. Turns out the trailhead is up the highway a bit, so we lock and load, out by 10:30. We locate the trailhead, but the parking lot is already full of earlier birds than us, and there is no easy spot for the trailer, so we forego, and head up I-5 for Oregon
We stop in Ashland and lunch with M’s college roommate and her partner. Allison is a retired lawyer and her partner Madge is a retired CPA. They live in a craftsman bungalow remodeled tastefully and surrounded by a lush garden of fruit and flowers and art objects, a dream of retirement come true. The conversation is focused on the artistic life of Ashland, the lively drama scene and how it accommodated to the pandemic, and the advantages of bungalow life vs condo life.
Three of us decide to walk to Hither, a cute-as-can-be brunch/lunch spot about a 10 block walk away – the dog needs exercise and so do we. It is HOT. The trip there is downhill, and we are in no hurry. I stop often to admire some interesting old house or flowers or pretty art thingy, but by the time we get to Hither’s shady outdoor patio we are ready for iced tea/beer/iced coffee. They are out of avocado toast, but herbed scrambled eggs are delicious.
The walk back is even hotter. And more uphill. We pick the shadier sides of the street, and don’t stop as often. M and I are sweltering by the time we get back to the house. Maybe Ashland is not the perfect retirement paradise after all. We worry about the next few days, with 100 degree temps also predicted for our destination.
Brief goodbye’s and on our way again in our air-conditioned cocoon, which we now appreciate even more. We stop for gas. Still hot. We look for the closest Baskin-Robbins. Tucked around a corner we find it after cruising the hot asphalt parking lot from one end to the other. Thank goodness for the walking option on GPS! Mint chocolate chip, very berry strawberry, and triple mango swirl do a lot for our attitudes.
And much cooler weather as we arrive at familiar-from-last-trip Schroeder County Park west of Grant’s Pass does even more. We set up painlessly, put our camp chairs at the edge of a rise which wafts a cool breeze directly up from the river, and relax. Later we go down to the river and wade again, waving at rafters and kayakers as they pass. Then we bring out wine, hummus, cheese, crackers, and veggies to dip, and by the time we have nearly finished the wine we realize we don’t really need to cook dinner. Bed and books look good.
My sister promised me two trips in her tiny teardrop trailer as Christmas/birthday presents. For our second expedition with her favorite toy, we decided to do a variation on an earlier trip, going north to visit our brother in Washington state, but on our way we also planned to visit old friends up and down I-5 and US-101.
We had planned to leave early in order to beat the heat on I-5, but domestic circumstances (which I resolve NOT to talk about in this series) delayed our departure until nearly 11:30AM. We had loaded the trailer’s refrigerator with a fresh-caught frozen salmon courtesy of M’s neighbor, a partially-pre-cooked hamburger casserole courtesy of my Personal Travel Agent, some gourmet cheese, assorted fruit, hummus, and enough wine to keep us merry as we camped our way up the valley.
M drives for the first two hours, straight up I-55 aiming at Mt. Shasta. We stop for lunch at a rest stop, where our little cocoon is dwarfed by the semis also taking their breaks in the lot marked for “Trailers and RVs”. The rest stop offers shade and a bit of a breeze, and duly fortified we proceed to our first camp spot, Railway Park Resort at Dunsmuir. We pull into the registration office past box cars and cabooses that have been re-purposed as lodge rooms for families, a gift shop, and a history museum. A Dining Car is now a restaurant. But we have our own traveling accomodation, and continue further up the road to our RV site in a different area.
It is HOT, but in the shade bearable. We see other campers returning from a swimming pool located back in the railroad car section, but it seems like too much trouble to change clothes and hike over to share a pool with a bunch of teenagers and tots. Instead, we explore and discover a creek near our site ideal for wading in. Oh bliss!
Returning with wet feet to our camp, we discover that the electrical connection to the trailer has come unplugged. We can’t know how long we have been driving without blinkers or brake lights, but long enough so that the salmon is completely thawed. We cross our fingers against botulism and hope for the best. Our first night meal is the partially pre-cooked casserole layered with noodles and cheese in a frying pan, super easy to fix, and we have some (warm) red wine to wash it down and some chocolate covered cranberries for dessert.
M’s sleeping bag has a velcro-fastened interior lining, so we could pull off the warm layer and sleep under the lightweight sheet. Despite the heat of the day, the trailer cools fast with side windows and a ceiling vent open. We have no trouble falling asleep.
Having nothing scheduled, we sleep until 6:30, when we both wake with the same need, scrambling for our camp shoes so we can hustle off to the nearby loo. If we were at home, we would have stayed upright, made coffee, and begun the day. But in camp, it seems still too dark to do anything serious, so M curls up for an additional doze, while I pull out my iPad to churn out another 1500 words of my latest imaginary adventure.
After a lovely camp breakfast of Raisin Bran, blueberries, raspberries and oranges, washed down with French pressed coffee, and milk, I do the washing up while M puts together a portable lunch in preparation for our hike to Buzzard’s Roost. We intend to leave by 10, but what with one thing and another it’s 11:15 by the time we set our feet on the path toward the Buzzard’s Roost trailhead.
It’s a lovely walk under the Highway One overpass, up through stands of redwoods terribly scorched by the Basin Complex fire of 2008, but still bravely pushing out green shoots of new growth. Then we’re in ceanothus and scrub oak country, then manzanita, and finally barren red rock with a vantage point that looks over to Mount Manuel landward and to the brilliant blue Pacific to seaward. We spread our unneeded extra layers of shirts over the red dirt and set out a lavish lunch of hard-boiled eggs, carrots, hummus, crackers, string cheese, grapes, apples, and prunes – all finger food, no grease. We stay looking out to sea until our spines begin to protest against sitting unsupported on the hard ground, then round up the eggshells and cheese wrappers with other leftovers and set off on the return loop.
One of my perennial games on a hike is to count how many different kinds of wildflowers Ican spot. In Edgewood Park near where I live, I have counted as many as forty in the spring, due to the many different micro-biomes there. On this day at Big Sur we tally twenty one, including columbine, native iris, wild strawberry, dandelion, buttercup, trillium, and others of which I do not know the names. Counting varieties is a great way of forcing yourself to be on the lookout and to really notice what is around you.
Our plan after returning to our campsite had been to hop in the car, take care of a couple of small purchases at the general store down the road, and then to drive down to Pfeiffer Beach. But after our purchases M turns to me and asks “Do you mind if we don’t go to the beach? I just want to veg.”
Instead we drive to the end of the road on the side of the river opposite our campground, just to see what is there. We watch a family playing softball on the weedy field for a while, and I want to check out the “seasonal footbridge” that the map shows opposite our campground (See the dotted line crossing the river at the end of Day Use Lot 4 on the above map?) M drops me off at the end of Parking lot 4 and drives away, while I follow the trail from the sign that says “Footbridge.”
Guess what. No footbridge. Must not be the season yet. I debate wading across the shallowest portion of the Big Sur River as it ripples past where the bridge should have been. I’m wearing my water shoes, and my cargo pants with the roll up option, and the water looks shallow. On the other hand, the bottom of the river is paved with rounded stones of varied sizes which could be very unstable and slippery, the water is so clear that it’s hard to gauge how deep it really is, and getting up the steep bank on the opposite side looks chancy. So I opt for the half-mile walk around to the far bridge at the end of the campground. (It would have been shorter, but the most direct route was “authorized vehicles only,” and a ranger directed me in a friendly but definitive way to the trail around, not through.)
By the time I make it to our campsite, M has gotten worried and set out in search of me. By the time we reunite the sun is definitely over the yardarm. She lights the portable campfire, I run cold water from the camp faucet over my tired feet, and we settle to reading, phoning, and munching the last of the crackers and hummus.
Dinner is experimental but turns out well. A vegetable medley cooked in Frying Pan #1, sliced parboiled potatoes with onions sautéed in frying pan #2, and lamb chops sauteed in Frying Pan #1 after the veggie medley had been evacuated, along with a nice Pinot Noir, dessert of shortbread and chocolate squares, and some sisterly discussion ranging from “Do you think Mom resented me?” to “Have you smoked marijuana?” to “I have this genetic deformity. Do you have it too?”
And by 9PM we are snuggled in our teardrop cocoon once more.
My sister M has christened her teardrop trailer “@rchy” a triple pun referencing its curvilinear shape, the name of the manufacturer (t@g) and its resemblance to a classic VW bug, hence the association with Don Marquis’ classic literary cockroach. The Subaru Forester which tows the trailer is, of course, “Mehitabel”.
For my Christmas present this year M promised me two expeditions with @rchy, one short, to a local state park, and one longer, to visit our brother in the Northwest. We set a tentative date in March, and then let it drift, until M went online in January and discovered that there were NO open campsites anywhere within 100 miles of us in the month of March. It seem that everyone in California at the same time got sick of staying indoors fearing Covid-19 and decided that outdoor camping is the logical healthy alternative – outdoors, campsites socially distanced – suddenly this is the hot thing to do.
Fortunately, M is tech savvy, and found an app which would alert her to any cancellations at her desired locations in the desired time frame. So in the third week of March we found ourselves outward bound for Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground – not our first choice destination, but within easy striking distance of my house as a base.
Of course, my Personal Travel Agent was quite discomfited at being left out of this ladies’ outing (@rchy only sleeps two) but he made himself as useful as possible by suggesting menus, precooking our dinner for the first night, and providing maps, hiking suggestions, and special cooking utensils.
We pulled into our camp site just after 2PM, the earliest we could check in. It took less than an hour to set up camp, complete with a carpeted “kitchen” with two work surfaces and a storage cupboard, a carpeted “living room” with mini-fireplace, chairs, and snack table,and a “dining room” with tablecloth, matching dinnerware, and a candle. M does not believe in roughing it.
Besides the many advantages of having your tent, clothing storage, and kitchen all self-contained in one aluminum cocoon, @rchy offers the additional benefit of being a social magnet. There were at least three other t@g trailers within a few campsites of ours, and fellow t@ggers needed no encouragement to give a tour of the modifications and special storage features each had added to their tow-along pet.
We had been a bit wary of Pfeiffer Big Sur for camping as several years ago a major wildfire had burned through the park, closing many trails and destroying many vistas. But the latest news from the site had assured us that trails were open and recovery from the fires is well under way.
If I can’t be Freeway Free, at least I prefer to let someone else drive. So taking the shuttle from South Lake Tahoe to the Reno Airport is a no-brainer. C is up and running by 9, and the nearest pickup point at 10AM is only 10 minutes away, at the Hard Rock Cafe/Casino/Hotel just this side of the California line.
The Hard Rock Cafe at 9:45 is a sleepy place, adorned with campy pix of Elvis, artifacts of Johnny Cash, BB King,Sly Stone, Elton John – lots of sequins and glitter, even for BB – jacquard jacket in purple and black shot with silver. I guess that’s Vegas overflow. Lots of donated guitars, maybe the second string?
Slowly other shuttle-goers arrive, some young folk going to whoop it up in Reno, some snow-bunnies returning from a girl’s outing, some young guys. Bus (Amador Stage Lines) arrives only a few minutes late (10:10 vs 10:07) loads quickly, stops at Harrah’s, where we add an older crowd of evident retirees, mostly in couples, a few more of the same at Harvey’s and no one at Montaigne Bleu to the driver’s puzzlement. And then off up the east side of the lake.
California definitely commands the most scenic lakefront. Mountains on the CA side loom high and snow-covered, while the NV side is lower, more tree-covered and nearly glitz free. When the bus turns away from the lake toward Reno towards Carson Valley, the landscape becomes all sandstone and sagebrush, and at the valley floor the view is still bleak, with winter-drab pine trees the only hint of color beyond dry grass, leafless deciduous trees, and building of stained wood blending neutrally into the surroundings. A few immobile black Angus cattle add no sense of life.
Dropoff at the Reno Airport is at the furthest remove from my carrier, United, but I don’t mind a bit of leg-stretching. Checking in and checking bags are handled smoothly and smilingly, security is a breeze, and with almost two hours until my flight I wander off in search of a restroom and water station. Oddly, all signs point toward A and B gates, none toward the newer C gates. It’s quite a walk down to gate B3 to the restroom, and after emptying what was full and filling what was empty I find an almost-deserted room with stools and tables for eating, big armchairs for massaging, and rows of seats where one can plug in a laptop, make a phone call on an actual public telephone, or request a page. I decide to squat until time to leave for the gate at the other end of the terminal.
In the newer C gate wing, of course there are rest rooms right there! but I don’t regret my walk and my quiet refuge in the old wing. Flight is on time, weather fine for flying, and I am rested, refreshed, relaxed, and best of all, returning.
Thoughts about the travel:
If you are planning to go to South Shore (or, for that matter, any town which depends on tourism for its lifeblood) don’t trust the internet to tell you the status of a “recommended “restaurant – Call first! Half a dozen times we arrived at a restaurant that said online that it was open, only to find it empty and dark.
Where casinos used to promote shows and poker tournaments and all-you-can-eat buffets on their neon/digital LED entrance signs, pride of place is being given to Help Wanted. You should probably stay away from any restaurant advertising for a Lead Cook.
Reno Airport is a small and manageable transport hub full of flashing slot machines and empty kiosks for souvenirs and food. I meet my travel-mate C at baggage claim, my suitcase arrives promptly, a big red Nissan SUV is waiting for us at Hertz, (to be christened “the Cherry-ot”) and off we go, south and west into the setting sun (glare almost blinding me at the wheel as the sun is directly ahead).
We stop at Safeway before stopping at the condo – C doesn’t drink coffee, but guzzles quarts of soda; doesn’t eat breakfast, but eats salami and bacon. (Modified keto diet.) We run up a bill of around $120, of which about $25 is stuff I won’t touch, and $30 is stuff she won’t touch. But we won’t starve.
I’ve not stayed in a great many timeshares. Worldmark by Wyndham is not as ritzy as some. The decor is standard house-staging tones of white, gray, and wood tones with granite counters and neutral upholstery and carpeting designed to hide stains. The highlight is a big walk-in shower with a sit-down stool (I think I landed the handicapped room again). The view out the sliding door to the balcony is of other condos, with lots of icicles dripping down – the big snow was a week ago, and the ice has thawed and frozen more than once.
My magic suitcase and backpack are like Hermione Granger’s infinite evening bag – I just kept stuffing more in, everything from my mother’s handed-down snowsuit to my least thread-bare swimsuit for the spa. I had retrieved some Japanese slippers from a long-ago trip for getting to the spa, but counted on a bathrobe at the condo as a coverup. Nope.
The kitchen is surprisingly well-appointed, even with small packets of useful spices next to the measuring spoons. I prepare my reliable camping casserole as a Welcome dinner, hoping that C will not pick out the corn and pasta. No problem, and enough left for another dinner for one after I’m gone.
After dinner we attempt to watch TV together, but los interest, and I take up my novel as C knits. I had only downloaded a couple of novels, and one I finished almost immediately. Now on my iPad I only have Washington Black to read for my book club and one copy of the Economist which I ‘d better save for the shuttle ride back to the airport on Sunday. Oh wait. Worst case, there is a copy of The Brothers Karamazov on my iPad, one of those “always meant to read” downloads.
The next morning I realize the advantage of having a housemate on a completely different schedule. I slept beautifully, got up at 7, had a decadent shower, dressed, fixed breakfast for myself of fruit and coffee (neither of which is on C’s diet), ate leisurely, set up an expense spreadsheet for the trip, reviewed 20 pp of notes for the on-line class I’m taking, and when C finally appears after 9AM I already feel I’ve accomplished a day’s worth of productivity and I deserve to play.
My friend C invited me out of the blue to spend a few days at her timeshare in Tahoe. A gal’s getaway – sounds great! Mindful of recent blizzards in the Sierras, my Personal Travel Agent suggested that I fly to meet C at the Reno airport rather than make a stressful drive by myself. Love to be coddled.
PTA gets me to the airport more than an hour before boarding. I breeze through check in with the help of a brightly – masked gate agent who affixes my baggage tag for me. I’m hung up for a few minutes in security as the X-ray objects to the steel shanks in my hiking boots. Cleared, I stop at the rest room, fill my water bottle, buy an extra Chapstick against cold ($3.80!) and still arrive at the gate an hour before boarding at 12:30
I dig out my Science News, which I expect to be able to finish on the plane. 12:30 comes and goes. Then the announcement – “The crew for your plane is stuck in Palm Springs. We are looking for a new crew.” New estimated departure: Maybe 2:30.” The announcer doesn’t sound very confident.
I go to the rest room again. I take out the snack I had packed for the plane – a mandarin orange and a granola bar. I find a quiet area and eat very slowly. Back at the gate there is no change on the board. I call C, already waiting at the Reno airport. I ask her to go to Hertz and let them know we’ve been delayed, so we won’t lose our car. I wander down to the bookstore. Ooh, there’s a copy of the latest volume of the “Outlander” series! But maybe I’d better check back before I immerse myself in colonial America. Oops! The plane is boarding! It’s 1:56. Amazing.
I’m comfy in an exit row with a aisle seat. Then my seat mate arrives, a very large United crew member dead-heading to Reno for a flight tomorrow. There goes my elbow room. He tells me a replacement crew agreed to fill in for the stranded group – above and beyond, out of the goodness of their hearts. Thanks be to good-hearted crewmen. I text C “I’m on the plane!” She responds “Hallelujah”
2:35: We are boarded, locked and loaded, but not pushed back from the gate yet.
2:36: We are detached from the gate, but not actually moving as safety announcements are made.
2:40: We have moved 20 feet backwards. It’s a 40 minute flight, if we ever get airborne!
I feel like I’ve been indoors in a mask with hot breath funneled up to my eyeballs forever. It has been three hours.
I only downloaded two books onto my iPad before leaving, and one of them I’ve nearly finished. Will one book and one copy of the Economist last me through four days and the flight back home? I check – seems some time back I downloaded The Brothers Karamazov as something I’ve always meant to read. This may be the week.
2;46: WE’RE MOVING DOWN THE RUNWAY! No, we’re slowing down, moving to a different runaway. Turning a second time. A third time. Are we there yet? A fourth time. The engines are making serious revving noises. Here we go!
2:48: Lift off! San Francisco looks like a city built of white sugar cubes in the bright winter light. Lots of boats and barges lined up in the water – supply chain overflow? Oakland looks just a bit grimier than its gleaming sister city across the Bay. The plane dips and turns right over Alameda; I can almost pick out our old house on Doris Court. Then we right ourselves and head east.
Thoughts: Travel is chancy these days with airplane crews and bus drivers and other service personnel ravaged by viral variants and supply-chain glitches and labor shortages. My trip by plane and rental car to Stateline NV from the Bay Area took 6 hours; on a good day one could drive the route in 4. My excuse for flying was “less stressful” but that’s not necessarily so when one’s flight is delayed, the airline rep says, “We’re trying our best but no update yet”, and one is supposed to be meeting someone at the other end.
So, if you are traveling, bring plenty to read, lots of patience, and bon voyage!