Monday, June 30, 2014

The Rest of The Story

Well, Christopher sort of brought you up to date on our travels, but he left out a few significant details so I guess it's up to me to let you know "the rest of the story".

One day last week Vicki was turning around the motor home driver's seat which she uses as her dining chair and it got a little hung up. The solution to that sort of problem obviously is to apply more force. Worked like a charm. Of course it did make a rather disconcerting noise, but we don't worry about that sort of thing. The next morning we turned the chair back around and got everything packed up to head out. After getting the slides brought in I went to adjust the chair so I could drive and, what do you know?… it wouldn't move.
Dead driver's seat

This is something of a problem. Without the chair moved essentially all the way back, I can't stuff my stocky frame between the seat and the steering wheel. The seat is all electric with no manual release. If the electronics don't work, the seat does not move. The only one of us that could sit in the driver seat was Vicki, and even she was a might too close to the pedals for comfort. We were in a tiny piece of Wyoming known as Rock Springs with no likelihood of repair and no time to spare either, so for the next two days Vicki did all the driving scrunched up close to the steering wheel and that was our situation when we arrived in Sturgis.

I called an RV dealership in Rapid City to discuss the problem. They cheerfully informed me that they did not normally work on seats and had no spare parts. If one of the motors had burned out, we were out of luck until one could be ordered from Flexsteel, which might take a couple of weeks. The good news was that given the specifics of our story, there was a good chance that either a wire had pulled loose or a fuse had blown, and those things they could fix. The bad news was that they would not even schedule the attempt for several days. The desk clerk at the motor home park in Sturgis gave us the card of another traveling RV repair guy. For all I know, it's the same guy that fixed our malfunctioning steps with a hammer last year. In any case, he said he could come out and take a look at it the following day, so we signed him up.

After much poking around he determined that one of the power wires to the chair had gotten caught on a metal edge on the seat mount and forcing the chair around had stripped off some of the insulation and shorted out the power circuit. The damage was to a circuit board that dwells inside a storage compartment. The circuit breaker was fine but the short had burned out a component on the circuit board itself. Now I ask you, what good is a circuit breaker that does not trip before the circuit that it is allegedly protecting fries itself? In any event, he did not have a replacement circuit board and had no idea how to get one. But guess what? There was an identical circuit supplying power to the passenger's seat. So he wrapped up the damaged wire with electrical tape and connected it to the passenger's seat power. This, of course, means the passenger seat is no longer movable but we can live with that for a while.

The problem
If you were following this blog a year ago, you'll recall that when we left the house in Lead last year the garage was stuffed full of boxes of junk that we had not been able to fit inside the house. Excess clothing, office equipment and supplies, knickknacks, furniture odds and ends etc., etc. The main reason for our scheduling a week in Lead this year was to try and clear out some of this stuff.  Now my concept of this job is that you look at a box and say to yourself, "Whatever is in here, I've gotten along fine without it for the last year, will probably get along fine without it for the next year and by then I will have forgotten that I ever owned it." and into the bin it goes, unopened. Vicki, however, was having none of it. She insisted on opening every damned box and going through it to decide what to keep and what to get rid of. As you can imagine, this makes
The solution
the job go quite a bit slower. Bit by bit, however, we were able to get through it all and dispose of about a third of it. We are having a shed built next to the garage that will hopefully hold enough of the rest so that our renters will be able to actually park a couple of cars in there.

Yesterday morning (Saturday) we packed everything back into the motor home and resumed our journey east. Last night we stayed in a quite nice motor home park on the banks of the Missouri River in Oacoma, SD and had dinner at Al's Oasis, which is kind of like Wall Drug in that it is a so-so diner, general store and grocery outlet that has gone to the trouble of putting up signs along the freeway for 100 miles on each side to try to make it sound like a tourist destination, which it definitely is not. The food was okay, nothing
On the banks of the wide Missouri
spectacular. But the price was right and I didn't have to cook it, so I call that a win. Today we only drove about three hours to a municipal RV Park in Adrian, MN.  We were supposed to be staying at the Blue Mounds State Park north of Luverne, but they e-mailed us a few days ago letting us know they would be closed for two weeks due to flooding. This place is okay until the sun starts to go down at which point about 1 million mosquitoes arrive to encourage you to stay inside. The plan over the next few days is to make our way gradually to Midland, MI where we will be spending the Fourth of July with my sister's family.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Thunderstorms and Dry Spells

I had reached the promised land. At least, that was what I had been led to believe, but there was no sustenance here. There was no relief from my long travels. I wandered through the wasteland, hoping for something... anything that might lead me to the reward I had been promised, but to no avail. In a last desperate attempt to fill the growing emptiness, I pulled out my cell phone. As if to taunt me, the 4G symbol flashed at me for a half-second before dropping to zero bars and staying there. I reconnected to the WiFi network once again and attempted to load a webpage. "This page cannot be loaded at this time," my phone chided me. Dropping to my knees, the last of my hope finally gone, I knew the truth; this was no promised land. There was no internet here, and there never would be. But then a striking figure appeared before me, the afternoon sun glaring behind him, obscuring his face. I squinted up at this new, heroic visage, finally making out a nametag on his chest. My heart leapt. The prophecies were true! The Satellite Technician had come on the third day to restore the promised land to its former glory, and I quenched my thirst on the waters of the web.

Guess we'll leave the front shade up
That was Wednesday, so I guess we should back up a bit. When last you had news of the three Rains' travels, we were in Casper, WY, bound for the Black Hills of South Dakota, where my old folks have a home. On Saturday, June 21, we left Casper and drove northeast, arriving in Sturgis, SD around mid afternoon. Now Sturgis is only about a 30 minute drive from the house, but it is a vacation rental home 95% of the year, and it would be occupied until Monday morning. We stayed in the Sturgis RV Park in the meantime, a Passport America campground. Apparently if you are a member of P.A. it only takes two or three stays in such parks to make the membership pay for itself. Since the three of us got to stay for $15 per night, I suspect my parents' math is accurate. Anyway, the park is on a hillside, overlooking the town of Sturgis and the hills beyond, and the view is truly something to behold. We couldn't figure out why the place was mostly deserted. I guess depending on your interests, you may or may not find enough entertainment in Sturgis and the area surrounding it, but if you are ever in western South Dakota, I highly recommend it.

The Not-So-Elusive Wildlife
With half an afternoon to kill, we decided to do some sightseeing. The weather report said there would be heavy thunderstorms, but the sky was blue, with only a few wispy clouds. We laughed at the inept weathermen, loaded the dogs into the car, and drove into the hills. We were aiming for Spearfish Canyon, to drive along the Spearfish Creek and look for wildlife, but since my parents were navigating, and my parents have no idea where Spearfish Canyon is, I cannot say with great confidence that we did that. We definitely drove along some canyon, and there did seem to be a creek, but it's anybody's guess as to the name of either. As we drove, the road turned from asphalt to gravel, from gravel to dirt, but our trusty Subaru didn't skip a beat. We had no idea where the dirt road would take us, or if we would ever see civilization again, but I was happy to keep piloting the SUV, upshifting and downshifting, until we came up out of the canyon and into some hilly farmland. At this point, Mom intimated that she was getting quite hungry, and with 20 minutes of driving behind us and a complete unknown ahead, I turned around and headed back down the canyon. My parents had told me that Guadalajara's was the best Mexican food in South Dakota, and I was looking forward to a big meal. They had been there before, and we knew it was in the town of Spearfish, so I figured we'd be sitting down to eat in 40 minutes or so. Around two hours later, with empty stomachs and sour moods, we found the place. All was soon forgotten as we gorged ourselves on chile rellenos and fajitas. It definitely lived up to the hype, and we made the most of what will probably be our last chance at good Mexican food for a while. I definitely recommend the Guadalajara Special if you are in the mood to eat yourself into a coma.

As we exited the restaurant, the predicted thunderstorm finally hit. We were wet and cold by the time we reached the car, and the drive back was both exhilarating and terrifying. I could only see about 25 feet in front of the car as I drove down the highway, using the two disembodied tail lights ahead to estimate where the road was. Every so often a disturbingly close bolt of lightning would illuminate the landscape, confirming that I was, in fact, still in the right lane... and on the highway. We spent the evening with the lights in the RV off, watching out the windshield as lightning cascaded across the sky.

There's room for another face up there... just sayin'.
By late Sunday morning, the clouds had cleared, so we went out to see all the things in the area my parents had toured a year ago, but which I had never seen. Imagine watching someone else's favorite movie for the first time, and they keep saying, "Oh yeah, this is the REALLY good part," except instead of a movie, it's the state of South Dakota. I decided that it would be a shame to come through South Dakota and not see Mt. Rushmore with my own eyes, so we made that our first stop. The lighting wasn't the best, but I think even if we'd come right at dawn with the sun hitting the presidents' faces, my suspicions would still have been confirmed: Mt. Rushmore is seriously overrated. Pictures make it look much bigger than it seems when you see it as part of the entire cliff face, and it's definitely not worth an $11 parking fee for the chance to wade through a thousand tourists just to look up the presidents' noses. We passed that parking lot and went around the back where you could only see Washington, but it was free. Besides, despite what I said before, it is still a giant hulking sculpture in the side of a mountain; you don't need to pay to get a good view of it. You can see it perfectly well from two miles away.  All negativity aside, it really is an impressive work of sculpture, and I think it's definitely the best four giant heads carved into a sacred mountain I've ever seen.

Wallowing: The natural state of bison
After Rushmore, we drove through Custer State Park (named for George Armstrong Custer, because I guess once you deface... er, quadraface their sacred mountain, you can't really piss off the Lakota Sioux any more than you already have). It was a pretty drive through green forest and meadows, but the highlight was definitely our encounter with a herd of bison on the way out of the park. For those who are interested (read: nobody), while American bison are often referred to as buffalo, even by state park signs, they are only distantly related to true buffalo, which are native to Africa and Asia, making buffalo a bit of a misnomer. Anyway, what you really need to know about buffa--I mean bison is that they are around the same size as your car, there are way more of them than there are of you, and when they decide that the main highway is easier than navigating the forest, traffic definitely yields to the bison. Also, while they generally seem docile to the point of stupidity, making them the easy natural prey of the American pioneer, their heads can deliver 2000 lbs of force at 30 mph, so, you know, roll those windows up. I also once heard that they can defecate with enough force to kill a man, but now I think that park ranger may have been having fun with me.

Buffalo-sized Traffic Jam... with Bison

On Monday, we arrived at the house, and as previously indicated, discovered there was no internet. With boredom closing in on all sides, we spent Monday through Wednesday doing various chores and errands, primarily attempting to sort through a mountain of boxes in the garage left over from the move from California. We did have a few good meals though, worth mentioning. We had lunch on Monday at the Firehouse Brewery in Rapid City. It's really built in an old firehouse, and they have some great luncheon fare, as well as some good (not to mention strong) beers. We had steaks Wednesday night, at the Gem Steakhouse in Deadwood. As you may already know (if you're as smart as me), Deadwood is famous for its history in the old west, beginning as an illegal settlement on Lakota Sioux land in the 1870's. Its main claim to fame is a poker game involving Wild Bill Hickok, during which he was forced to sit with his back to a door, against his protests. During the game, Jack McCall, AKA 'Crooked Nose Jack', walked in and shot Hickok in the back of the head, leaving behind a pair of aces and a pair of eights, now known as the dead-man's hand. The town steadily declined since its heyday in the old west (and that's a long time to decline), but in 1989, gambling was legalized in Deadwood, giving it a second wind in the form of old-west-themed casinos and saloons. This leads me back to the Gem Steakhouse, which is strategically placed on the second floor of a casino, leading you past as many slot machines as possible before you reach the elevator. Once we got up there, however, the steaks were delicious. If you're interested, Dad cooked us some steaks himself on Tuesday, and while I do strongly endorse his cooking, you have to follow this blog pretty closely to figure out where he's going to be to try it for yourself.

Back Row (left to right): Victoria, Christopher
Front Row (left to right): Ziva, Abby, Biggest Hazard on the Trail
Today (Thursday) we drove back into Custer State Park to see Sylvan Lake. If you can't manage to get in a bison traffic jam, this is the next best thing in the park. It's a fairly small lake, but it's really gorgeous. The backdrop of the rock formations is almost too perfect, looking more like a Disneyland backdrop than a real natural formation. The hike around the lake is not particularly strenuous and well worth the walk. It's a great place to walk dogs too... unless your dog is Julian, in which case the hike will be a constant battle not to be pulled off a rock face or down a set of stairs to your doom. For dinner, we ate at Cheyenne Crossing, a combination general store/comfort food joint that is my parents' favorite place to eat in the area. If you need a recommendation, all I need to tell you is that they ate there four times the last time they were here, and we'll be going back for breakfast tomorrow. The owner is a really friendly guy who will most likely come and make your acquaintance at some point during your meal.

I sit now, typing this out, as the dogs cower from yet another thunderstorm. I hope the internet will last the night... or at least long enough for me to upload this. I warn you, if there's only enough webtime for this or Reddit, you may not see this for a while. You should get another post from us soon, unless we find ourselves without internet for another extended period of time... or the house gets struck by lightning tonight.

Bonus Pic: "What are you going to do about it?"

Saturday, June 21, 2014

It Lives!: Chronicling the Trip to Maine

Christopher Rains (AKA The Kid) here. A few weeks ago, my parents reached the end of their sentence--I mean, um... exciting job opportunity in Chinle, AZ. I hope I can convince one of them to give you a detailed account of the Chinle experience, as from what they told me it was a truly--er--unique experience. They returned to Southern California, specifically their home base RV park in Aguanga, and spent Memorial Day weekend at my grandmother's house, where I met them. As I am wont to do, I commented on how unfair it is that they get to travel the country on a permanent vacation and how jealous I am of them. My parents, of course, will tell anyone who will listen, "this isn't a vacation, it's a lifestyle choice," but unfortunately, nobody my parents know is dumb enough to buy it. They travel for long periods of time, not working, sightseeing, eating local food, and stopping at any micro-brewery they find along the way. Call it what you will.

World's Best Hood Ornament
Anyway, as punishment for my insolence, they are now dragging me along with them as they head eastward, with the eventual destination of Maine. Also along for the ride is my dog, a half-labrador, half-ridgeback named Julian. This is much to the chagrin of my parents' two schnoodles, Abby and Ziva, who attempt to defend the RV from him every time he tries to get back inside. In my personal, entirely unbiased opinion, they feel inadequate seeing such a perfect example of exemplary dogginess, and are trying to compensate by bullying a dog four times their size and weight. Julian takes it in his stride, however, and tends to give them an equal amount of grief, since he is now trapped in a vehicle that is just big enough for either him or his energy, but not both. I do my best to burn off the excess energy by taking him for walks and finding open areas where he can run around at top speed for a while. This is very much like emptying a bathtub with a thimble.

The Kid and his Dog (Kid not pictured)
We pulled out of Aguanga on Monday, June 16, and made it as far as Yermo, CA. We arrived too late to visit the Calico ghost town, so Mom and I took the dogs to the designated dog area (dirt with a fence around it) and watched dust-devils coast by until the heat, wind, and dryness turned us to jerky. Then the humans drove over to Peggy Sue's Diner for dinner, while the dogs ate dry dog food and presumably plotted their revenge. The diner was featured on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, which means it passed my parents' test for a good diner. They made a good patty melt, which means it mostly passed my test as well. I would have liked to go back the next morning for an omelette to finish the test, but my mother had exhausted the menu's supply of 50's trivia, which meant we'd actually have to make conversation if we went back. My dad made eggs in a basket (an egg fried in the middle of a piece of bread with a hole cut in it), which more than satisfied my AM egg craving.

The Bridal Veil Falls continue to get less impressive.
The next day, we headed across Nevada, bound for Utah. I indicated what a delightful family activity it would be to stop in Las Vegas and see some showgirls, but my parents reminded me that this was supposed to be a punishment to show me how boring and unvacationy their life was, so we breezed right through Nevada and reached St. George, UT where we bedded up for the night, after a short drive through Snow Canyon and a hearty dinner at the Black Bear Diner (another Triple D special). On Wednesday, we reached Nephi, about an hour's drive from Salt Lake City, and parked the RV. We drove into Salt Lake City to visit the offices of CompHealth, the company that arranges my parents' locum tenens work. Andy and Omai, their contacts at CompHealth, took us up the mountain pass for dinner, along with their wives, Nikki and Nikki. I'm terrible at remembering names, so I appreciated the handicap. We ate at the Silver Fork Lodge, which serves delicious dishes and tasty beer at prices that make you glad the company is paying.

"Whaddaya mean, 'we have to get to the other side of that'?"
We spent yesterday and today crossing Wyoming, staying in Rock Springs and Casper, respectively. The driving through both Utah and Wyoming was scenic, with lakes, rivers, snow-capped mountains, and prairies along the way. As a So-Cal resident, it is really awe inspiring to see so much beautiful, viable land that doesn't have McMansions built on it. The prospect of getting over the Rocky Mountains in an RV really gave me an appreciation for the early settlers, since every time I looked at those craggy peaks, I thought, "hm, I guess we're going to die today." Instead, we took a pass that lead us through, rather than over, which led me to the conclusion that in reality, the early settlers were probably idiots.

The sun is beginning to set over Casper, WY now, and as part of my punishment, I believe I am expected to go for a tranquil walk or bike ride along the pond and river banks, in order to keep the mosquito population well fed and healthy. When I return, I will inflate the air mattress that passes for my bed and attempt to get a measly 8 or 9 hours of sleep before my merciless captors wake me to continue the journey. We will soon reach their house in South Dakota.

I'll attempt to contact the outside world again during our week there.

Start Over

Accommodations at  Yuma Territorial Pen
As a few of you may recall, in May of last year we sold our happy home, moved into an RV and set out for the horizon.  At the same time, I started (or actually re-started) this blog to provide a record of our travels.  Six months and some 60 blog articles later I kind of ran out of blog steam.  We had made a great circle across the country along the northern border, down through Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi and were on our
New inmate
way back across Texas toward our triumphant return to California when the blogs petered out in November.  Now we are back on the road again and I'm giving the blog another new lease on life.  So I propose to do a quick and dirty update to let readers know what's transpired since you last joined us and then re-enter the fray with regular blogging.

We essentially stopped touring last November in San Antonio and high-tailed it back across Texas and Arizona to meet our son in Yuma for Thanksgiving.  We wanted him to see the Yuma Territorial Prison to learn what happens to young men who don't live up to societies expectations.  It is never too late for a practical object lesson.  We had Thanksgiving dinner with one of Vicki's former  Hospice collegues who is now a retiree and a Yuma resident, then snuck back into California with the intention of resting and having Christmas with family.

Two weeks before the holiday we pulled into another Escapees campground, this one in the fair city of Aguanga, an insignificant wide spot in the road about 15 miles east of Temecula.  This park was set up as a co-op and was built in the 1990s entirely by volunteer labor. It is still run as a co-operative concern by the members with mostly volunteers doing the maintenance work (there is a paid park manager and a small paid staff).  The facilities are lovely, there are numerous activities to keep one busy and the members are friendly to a fault.  We were so impressed that we ponied up the cash to acquire a site there and will probably be wintering over there for the foreseeable future.  I will do a more extensive note on this at some future date (probably in the Fall).

Sea Elephant
We spent Christmas Day at my mother's house along with my sister's brood, then we all drove up to Pismo Beach to meet my brother and his wife who had come down from  Washington state for the holidays.  We've been going to Pismo for years and really love that area.  There are lots of good restaurants and the coastline is lovely.  We went and watched the elephant seals north of Morro Bay and did some wine tasting.  On the whole it was better than spenidng the week at Mom's place getting on each others' nerves.

We spent a month back at our site in Aguanga getting ready for cold weather (see previous post), then went of and spent three months in the middle of the Navajo reservation in Arizona, working at the Indian Health Service clinic at Chinle.  Will try to do a more extensive posting on this in a few days.

We finished that a few weeks ago, got our motor home refitted and are ready to spend another 6 months on the road.  Ultimate destination - Maine, where we intend to eat lobster until we explode.  We've never been to New England and are  hoping for a fun and interesting summer.  This week we are going to stop by the house in South Dakota and try to get rid of enough stuff from the garage so guests can actually park a car in there.

Along the way we somehow picked up a hitcher.  My son is traveling with us and he is bringing his horse... er, I mean dog.  Our cozy little chateau for two has suddenly gotten crowded.  We'll see how far we get before one of us gets homicidal.  It should be interesting.  On the bright side, I have acquired another co-blogger, so we can hopefully keep those blog articles coming fast and furious.     Or not.