Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Gem of the Pacific Northwest and Other Stuff

Since my last blog post, we spent an additional two and a half weeks at Camping World and, finally, had the entire heat pump unit replaced. Camping World went to bat for us because it was going to be a nightmare otherwise and we are grateful they prevailed. And, yes, I did spend our last night there baking cookies for the entire staff—7 1/2 dozen. In the morning, we went inside the store to settle our bill and pass out plates of cookies. We had small, individual plates specifically for the people who were responsible for making the repairs, dealing with the insurance company, and finding the necessary parts. We had large plates piled high with the scrumptious Snickerdoodles for the parts and service department, the store clerks, and the sales department. My sister had commented on Facebook that it would've taken her all night to bake 7 1/2 dozen cookies in the tiny oven in her trailer, and the women at Camping World were thinking the same kind of thing, as women would. We women can relate to the effort of baking cookies, dozen after dozen, in a normal oven. But to bake only a half to three quarters of a dozen at a time? They certainly appreciated the time, effort and diligence. The guys? They were just thrilled to have cookies! Never mind the work that went into it. But they deserved it. Everyone made us feel welcome.

Welcome. That is the feeling I got from the entire Eugene, Oregon, area, overall. On a day I had to go to the laundromat, I noticed the Springfield Mall across the street and down a ways and decided to drive around it. I found that they had two movie theaters. One with 17 screens and one with 12. I suggested to Rob that we go see a movie, since the last time we had was in Asheville, North Carolina. I checked online and saw that Divergent was playing at the theater with 12 screens. Great! We chose a day and time and parked our car outside one of the theaters thinking they'd be right next to each other. We walked inside to discover that they were not next to each other and as we were wondering which direction to go, a young man of about 20 walked by so we asked him. He told us he was headed that way himself and to come with him. He asked us questions about where we were from and how long we'd be in town. He even introduced himself to us, shaking each of our hands, as we walked and made smalltalk. He escorted us to our destination and we thanked him as he disappeared into the crowd. I'm not sure if he was actually headed to the theater or if he just meant to be helpful and neighborly. Either way, he left us with a good impression, and that is the vibe I got from the whole area.

While we stayed at Camping World, we got to see the Budweiser Clydesdales at a local WalMart and we had the opportunity to tour Marathon Coach, which was just up the street. Marathon builds motor coaches for those who have the means to buy them—rock stars, race car drivers, actors and just plain rich folk. Built on Prevost frames, they start at about $1.6 million. They have some truly beautiful finishes, but they are just too ostentatious for my tastes, and I think I'd feel the same way whether I were rich or not. Rob loves the technology, but I'd rather not have to find the iPad in order to turn on a light. You know what I mean?

When we arrived in Graham, Washington, we were warmly greeted by Tina, the RV park's manager, with a hug for each of us. I'd been keeping Tina apprised of our progress at Camping World, calling her to move our reservation out, as needed, and her giving me pep talks when I'd sound frustrated, because every time I called her was after receiving news of additional delays. My last call was to say that even though we'd set the reservation out a few days we could actually 'come tomorrow and would that be okay?' She said, 'get your ass in here, girl!'

Tina's welcome gave us a great first impression of the area. Tina is from Arkansas and is living there only because her daughter and family live nearby, and I attribute her warmth to her origins. We kept busy over the next couple of days meeting and spending time with Rob's cousin Nick from New Hampshire, who was stationed here while in the military and never left, along with his wife Cheryl, and with friends, Dean and Diane, whom we met at Balmorhea State Park in Texas. Dean and Diane were staying at an interesting equine camping area at the base of Mount Rainier. People bring their horses there to camp and ride, and it's free. It's a lovely, forested area, quiet, with the scent of horses and their accompanying manure wafting through the air. Didn't bother me a bit.

After all that visiting, the initial impression wore off. I started picking up on the vibe of the general area and the RV park. We went into a couple of stores in town and walked around the park and although no one was actually unfriendly, I didn't come away with a sense of friendliness, either. It was more of a feeling that my presence was merely tolerated. It is as though people living around here are afraid of strangers—not at all quick to smile or become engaged. Also, in our experience, the paragliding community has always been open and congenial with a ready Hi and How ya doin', especially when meeting others who seem interested in their sport. Not so, in my opinion, when I observed pilots landing the day Rob went to fly Tiger Mountain. The only people involved with paragliding who were friendly was the fellow at Seattle Paragliding whom Rob had made contact with in advance to the get the local flying scoop, and the family sitting near me who turned out to be from the San Francisco Bay Area. Everyone else seemed friendly only with those they already knew. Some might think it's just my imagination but my senses pick up on this kind of stuff and I've learned to trust my instincts. I'm rarely wrong.

Rob's cousin Nick and his wife, Cheryl, were great sports and took me to the perfect location to photograph the Seattle skyline. I'd been keeping track of the weather forecasts from the time Nick first mentioned the possibility and the day Nick and Cheryl came by for an afternoon visit was the evening the weather was supposed to be clear. I announced that the forecast was still in my favor and asked Nick if he was still willing to take me. He was, we went, and it couldn't have been a more spectacular evening. The temperature was mild and the lights of the city were bright against the night sky. To get to our vista point, we drove down narrow streets in West Seattle through a neighborhood with unique and lovely, little houses with trimmed and manicured landscapes, each with a spectacular view of Seattle and architecture that spoke of the early 20th century. Although there was still light in the sky when we headed out, it was midnight when we got back.

Another photographic boon was the first evening we were here. The setting sun reflected off the glacier studded terrain of Mount Rainier and I scrambled to get my camera as the nearly full moon rose to the left of the mountain. I had my brother, David's, words echoing in my mind—"IF you can see Rainier"—after I'd mentioned that we would stay in an RV park called 'Rainier View.' He was right. One can not see Rainier more often than one can. After the moon arced over the top of the mountain to the right side, I knew I had my shot. The next night, I photographed the Super Moon. I am grateful the weather cooperated.

The weather cooperated in another way, too. The day before we'd planned to drive up to Mount Rainier National Park, Rob came down with a cold. Thank goodness his cold was short-lived because I knew the weather would not, could not hold. Two days later, weather holding, we were on the mountain and it is beautiful. The road takes you a little more than a third of the way up. Any further and you have to hike and climb. Ah, if only we could have the same bodies we had 25 years ago… Afterwards, while standing by The Beast, I stared at Mount Rainier and visualized about how tall Mount Diablo, my hometown mountain, would be next to it. Mount Diablo, at 3,848 feet and once used as the base and meridian for surveying the western United States, is nothing but a pimple in comparison to the soaring majesty of Rainier's 14,409 feet.

We are looking forward to seeing our daughter Susanna and son-in-law Terry, who will arrive in Seattle for our last weekend here. Susanna's maid-of-honor, Susie, lives here and she will be our city tour guide. I'm hoping to see the Space Needle and Pike's Place Market at the very least. We've planned a barbecue for them here at the RV park, mostly so Susanna can meet her 2nd cousin, but I think some old-fashioned dutch oven cooking is in order. It'll be a fun party.

Then on we will go to Sandpoint, Idaho, to visit Mike and Denise, who we met in Savannah, Georgia. I love this life.

Thanks for reading and enjoy the photos.

Josh, who went to bat to get the insurance company to play ball.

Receptionist, Shannon, who is now in Newfoundland working on her Master's in forensic anthropology.

Coaches at Marathon in for repairs or being built.

The upholstery room.

Rob checking out upholstery selections.

Work stations from cabinetry to electrical.

Looks way too complicated for me.

The late Paul Newman's hospitality coach used at racetracks around America.

The interior of Paul Newman's coach.

An example of one of Marathon's spec coaches.

Beautiful finishes.

Another example of a spec coach. The ceiling lighting changes colors.

Meeting the Clydesdale day.

What magnificent creatures!

They were getting excited because they were getting unhitched.

Only the size of small dinner plates.

My favorite Mount Rainier shot.

Okay. I've got shots of the Blood Moon and the Super Moon. Now I just need to photograph the Milky Way.

Rainier at sunset

Rob flying above me.

Pleased with his flight, but the GoPro didn't turn on when Rob pressed the button. Sigh.

Seattle Skyline

Seattle Lights

Mount Rainier by day.

The old filling station in Mount Rainier National Park.

Glacier fields.

Gray Jay.

And he wasn't the least bit afraid.


If only I could have gotten above the clouds, too.

The wildflowers were amazing, too.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

If It Ain't One Thing, Its Another

It's been seven weeks since I last posted a blog and a whole lot of stuff has happened—and not happened.

We had a delightful visit with our friends Mike and Deb at the KOA in Shingletown, California. I blame my advancing years but I can't remember how long ago we last saw them. I suspect it's been several years but the beauty of this friendship is that it doesn't seem to matter how long between visits because we pick up where we left off. And, being that there are four personalities involved, it amazes me that the dynamics remain the same—we all like each other.

Mike and Deb had their grandson, Enoch, with them. He's a cutie. Blessed with beautiful, warm weather, we spent a good amount of time around the swimming pool to keep him entertained. Enoch made a few friends with other camping kids and kept disappearing without a word to either of his grandparents. It was driving Deb nuts. Thank goodness it was a fairly controlled and safe environment where kids could just be kids.

Our next stop was Gold Hill, Oregon, where we spent a month. Cypress Grove is a clean and lovely RV park with nice folks managing the place and quite pleasant but for two minor drawbacks: It's situated right next to I-5, yet surprisingly not too loud; and, the small laundry room has only two washers and two dryers. There was one major drawback, though, and we don't know how many people in the park it affected, but we were parked under some sort of locust tree. Everyday we had more and more of this sticky stuff that coated everything. It was as though we were misted by sugar water. We could only imagine what the top of The Beast looked like and at one point Rob checked and said there were leaves stuck all over the roof. We had the car washed twice but shouldn't have because it looked the same the following day. Even if we left our Kindles on an outside table for a little while we'd find them sprinkled, too. The stuff washed off easily, but it was annoying enough that we might never go back there because of it.

While staying at Cypress Grove, we met a nice couple, Dixie and Frank, who have a really great Chihuahua named Bruce. Bruce took a liking to Rob and would jump right up onto his lap and settle in. Rob said if we were lucky enough to find a dog like Bruce, he wouldn't mind having one—a Chihuahua that is. But it's a moot point. Dogs are too much like toddlers. No dogs for us while living on the road. Another person we met was Eddie. He's a retired Contra Costa County Sheriff's deputy (for those who don't know, that's the county where our house is located). Eddie is 70 years old but likes to keep busy so he's working for Oregon State Parks and spends his days at Rogue River State Park keeping people in line. He would get back to his motorhome in the evenings shaking his head at how really great some people are and how the rest are really stupid. Yep. I know.

Gold Hill is near Ruch (pronounced Roosh), where the locals go to hang glide and paraglide from Woodrat Mountain. We were able to see several of our friends from our California paragliding community at a week-long competition called Rat Race, which was held during second week we were there. Rob got one flight in on the practice day and didn't fly again. There was no one to fly with and one must always fly with a buddy.

On one of the days before people started arriving for the competition, we took a drive up to launch for a look-see. While driving back down we spotted a bear loping across the road. We slowed down and I was hoping to get a photo of it, but it took one look over its shoulder at us, hied up the slope and was out of sight in a flash. I wish we'd had more time to observe the bear, but it was just so cool that we got to see him at all.

We took a day trip to Crater Lake to enjoy its unique beauty. The last time we were there was 25 years ago when we took a camping trip with daughter Elizabeth the year she refused to go visit her mother. That was back in the day when camping meant tents and sleeping bags, ice chests, Coleman stoves, lanterns, washing dishes using two dishpans with water heated on the stove, and sitting around the campfire until you couldn't keep your eyes open any longer. Those were the good, old days. Really.

We discovered our air conditioning (heat pump) wasn't working while we were in Gold Hill. I remember noticing while we were home that the air coming from the vents didn't seem as cold as usual but didn't really think anything of it. Then one particularly warm day, Rob thought the heat pump was making a strange noise, then he said he smelled something. We shut it down and called Camping World in Eugene. We set an appointment for the day we were leaving Gold Hill. During the interim we had several days where the temperature was in the mid-90s and a couple that got to 103°. It was unbearably hot in The Beast. We drove to a Lowe's in Medford and bought a 20” box fan to either help keep air moving or exhaust it through a window. We wanted to visit the Rogue River State Park and dip our feet in the river, but I was afraid to leave the bird and cats alone in case any adjustment was needed to help keep them comfortable.

At the beginning of our last week in Gold Hill, Rob decided we should leave two days early and go straight to Camping World. It was good we did because we needed two days there for them to determine the extent of the problem. The capacitor was fried. The part had to be ordered, so off we went to Cape Perpetua National Forest campground for a week at the coast. We arrived a day late, and even though I'd called, the message didn't get to the camp hosts. If we hadn't arrived that day, they would've given our spot to someone else. What's interesting about that is anyone else owning and/or running a campground or RV park are not allowed to rent out a space that is already reserved and paid for by someone. Cypress Grove couldn't re-rent our space for the two days that were left on our reservation. We were told its called 'double-dipping' but it is perfectly fine for the Feds to double-dip. We prepaid our week there two months in advance and they were going to give our paid space to someone else? There's something wrong with this picture.

But, the upside to that week, besides visiting with my cousin Eric and his wife Donna who live to the north, and our friends Bryan and Marty who live to the south, was that the weather was refreshingly cool. No air conditioning required!

We dry camped that whole week—no electricity, no water, no sewer hook ups and no shower facilities in the restrooms—which meant washing up at the sink. No showers allowed because water conservation was what would get us through the week. By the morning we left to go back to Camping World, our fresh water tank was nearing empty and both gray and black water tanks were approaching full. For me, that week was a vacation from our vacation-like life because not only were we roughing it water and power wise, we also had no connectivity and our satellite dish couldn't see any—that's right—satellites. It was just like the old days! Couldn't be reached by phone, couldn't watch TV, and couldn't check emails or Facebook. We spent lots of time outside enjoying our beautiful campsite, had campfires, read and explored the beautiful coastline. Believe me, though, we didn't stay incognito for the whole week. When we'd go into the town of Yachats (pronounced Yah-Hahts), we'd park in the lot at the local market and could be seen earnestly poking our fingers at our cell phones.

During the last several weeks, there have been emails and Facebook postings from the organizers of my 40th high school reunion, which, by the way, I did not attend. They posted the original list of graduates and highlighted those for whom they still needed contact information. I've often thought of my friend, Linda Pruitt, and found that it appeared they had her contact information. I emailed off a request for one of my classmate-organizers to get my email address to her. In no time I had a email from Linda. We've been corresponding ever since. I am so pleased to be reconnected with her. What's funny is that her married name is Miller, which means I have two friends named Linda Miller. Hmmm. What are the odds?

So here we are at Camping World with The Beast backed into a space at the far end of the parking lot, electrical cable fished through the iron fence and plugged into one of their outlets meant to power units they have for sale. When we need to dump tanks and fill up on water, we just drive over and use the dump station they have here. We've been here a week and are waiting for the extended warranty company's inspector to arrive. We hope he/she will authorize a new unit so that we don't have to keep dealing with repeated issues by replacing a part here and a part there.

By the time we leave, we may have received about three weeks worth of free camping altogether. It could be an easy thing for them to tell us that we could stay for a few nights, but otherwise find a nearby RV park. They haven't done that. They have welcomed us to stay. When it comes to the repairs needed, they've been completely honest and straightforward and have stayed on top of the situation. They will be receiving a stellar review from us.

When the repair is completed and if its too late in the day to get to Graham at a reasonable hour, I might just spend our last night here baking my personally-tweeked-recipe-of-super-delicious-to-die-for Snickerdoodles for the entire Camping World staff. They deserve it.

I am really looking forward to meeting the folks at Rainier View RV Park in Graham, Washington—when we get there. I had to call to say we'd likely be a day late. Then I had to call and say we would probably arrive sometime between the 30th and early August. They checked their scheduling and told me there's no problem. We are to simply get there when we can get there but just keep them informed. They're RVers, too. They understand.

Update: the inspector arrived and it looks like they are going to piecemeal the unit. Oh, goodie.

Lots of wings awaiting their turn for a flight.

The next group setting up to fly.

A pilot's view.

One after another.

Rob bringing up his wing for launch.

Rob shortly after launch.

I love the TiPi at the landing zone at Fiasco Winery.

Baby wine grapes.

The lovely venue for the paragliding dinner Red Lily Winery.

Working on getting Louis and Brandy used to their harnesses.

I brought Brandy outside and she did pretty well, but her body was plastered to the ground.

I love this house and the property around it. I had to wipe the drool off my chin…

Bruce making friends with Ollie.

The children of Gold Hill put on a parade for the 4th of July.

Beautiful Crater Lake.

At the Natural Bridge on the way to Crater Lake.

Our awesome camping spot at Camping World.

At Cape Perpetua campground.

One of the walking trails at Cape Perpetua.

Our campsite.

Eric and Donna. So enjoyed visiting with them.

Interesting flower.

This looks like a raspberry in a thicket of blackberries.

Too early to pick the blackberries.

Blackberry blossoms.

Getting ready for a campfire.

Rob sharing his lunch with Ollie.

A gray day on the coast.

Love this one.

The Heceta Lighthouse.

Our resident hummingbird. He was watching for the interlopers.