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Filtering by Category: Westward Ho!

Westward Ho! / Wrapping it all up ...

bethany

Twelve days from Indiana to San Fran, intense and packed and sometimes heart-wrenching days. Emotional ones at the very least. So much to process, so much to see … life to live, relationships to work on, kids to grow, feelings to feel.

It's funny how, from the outside, it sometimes looks like we're on a multi-year vacation. Yes there is freedom to this life, huge amounts of it, but there are many many balances to it too. Large amounts of insecurity, if you're hoping to know what's next and how your daily needs are going to be met. Great stretches of loneliness, and disconnectedness, punctuated by intense interactions and deep conversations. Bouts of hard work, followed by dearths of any known opportunities to jump in and help.

I've been reading a Louis L'Amour book to the boys for bedtime story recently, and there's a line in it that really struck me. The main character (Echo, a spitfire crack shot 16-year-old-girl outrunning some would-be thieves, of course) was planning to hitch a ride with some settlers going west in a wagon, and the boarding house owner she'd been staying with disparagingly referred to those headed west as “Movers.”

Her response …

“We were all movers at one time, Mrs O'Brien” I said. “Even you when you left Ireland.”
“I suppose so, but somehow it seems different.”
“Settled folks always look down upon the unsettled,” I said, “but somebody has to open the new lands. When they are settled in their homes, they will feel just as you do.”

We're not doing anything new, but we're doing something Other. And I often feel the Otherness of it, keenly, even though the comments made and the sentiments felt by others are not disparaging, but wistful or a bit jealous or just plain encouraging. There's often the feeling of a complete disconnect … this isn't fathomable or understandable. Or perhaps just romanticized in the same way that I intently identified with Laura Ingalls standing and watching the long lines of braves and families wending past her house on the edge of the prairie as they left a council of war … wishing she were a wee one tucked in one of those saddle bags. I so wanted the very same thing, and I think I've gotten it as much as is possible in the year 2016.

There's some Mover in most of us … that bit (tiny or huge) that wants Other, and seeks out new experiences and places. Whether it comes in armchair galloping with Louis L'Amour, Netflix soaring over some new continent, trips of a lifetime that span the globe and inspire FaceBook envy, or choosing to live for decades as an RV gypsy … we get that itch, and we do our best to scratch it however we can.

I'm afraid I've rather systematically tried to debunk the notion that this is a relaxing vacation, or anything other than Life, made mobile for now. I keep bringing up the downsides, the struggles, the hard bits, and don't tend to sing the praises as loudly as I could be. I'm interested in keeping it real, and I think I've always been more fascinated with the messy bits than the pretty bits. Life, and relationships especially, are inherently messy and anything that seems to focus too much on the happy/solved/perfect parts is highly suspect to me. We're all broken, all imperfect, all unfinished.

I find something innately invigorating in the messy stuff, and while it may hurt like mad … it's a chance to change, to grow, to see things differently, and to maybe find a new viewing point. Asking what possible good can come from it, even if it's painful? There's always some answer.

I'm also a huge believer in community, fellowship, and sharing the load when we can. Chasing the joy to be found in connecting, in being seen, and in sharing whatever is to be shared, heavy or light. The joy at the end of this trip was palpable and filling. We shared in Aran and Lexie's joy, and it fed my tired spirit in a way that brought balance to the personal relationship work that kind of dogged the last half of the trip, evening up the keel for awhile. It was delicious. We've had many chances to share sorrow and hurt too, and it's always an honor. Being trusted with someone's pain isn't easy, but it's still a real connection. It's a window I try to never close, so help me God.

I said I was wrapping it all up, and I seem to be wandering in all directions. I've written and erased about 5 different endings actually, and none seem to do the job. I started out writing a travelog and ended up getting personal again … had to balance out all those pretty pictures, right?

So … it was messy, it was beautiful, it was worth every minute.

Onward ...


previous posts : DAY 1  / DAY 2 / DAY 3 / DAY 4 / DAY 5 / DAY 6 / DAY 7 / DAY 8 / DAY 9 / DAY 10 / DAY 11 / DAY 12 / Wedding Weekend

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Westward Ho! / The Wedding Weekend

bethany

Saturday August 27 ... The Pre-Party

The bliss of Saturday morning's hot shower cannot be underestimated. Boondocking doesn't generally allow for showering, mostly because we don't travel with enough water in the tanks for it as every gallon adds almost 8 lbs to our total weight. So despite the fact that we were in a drought-stricken state, I allowed myself to stand there as long as I wanted, and it was a delight.

A quick morning trip to the thrift store (I was having serious doubts about the wisdom of platform heels) netted Michael a new tie, and I settled into the feeling that wobbly or not, I'd be wearing the shoes I already had. I've never been a heel-lover, and teetering just isn't my thing.

We took off for Golden Gate Park, where the pre-party was to be held … and as we approached the Golden Gate bridge it finally hit me that we were about to see Aran and Lexie for the first time in several years! The grin started spreading :). A last minute change in parking plans got us a lovely free street spot right in the park, and we walked over to the meadow and dove in for bear hugs.

 Lexie and Aran, summer of 2008

Lexie and Aran, summer of 2008

We met Aran and Lexie back in 2008, when Michael moved to MASS MoCA for 6 months to help install a huge retrospective of Sol LeWitt's work. The boys and I stayed in the city, but went up for two months in the summer, and got to know a lot of the crew Michael had been telling me about … including these two lovelies. We stayed in as close touch as we could, but once they moved to CA, it got a bit harder to get together. This was the first time we'd seen them in at least 4 years.

 Lexie and her Mom

Lexie and her Mom

As at any wedding … it's a relief when you know more than just the bride and groom, and we happily found a few familiar faces, as well as some lovely new ones. There were some lawn games, a food truck that came just for the occasion, and lots of fun and conversation. A great way to set the stage for the next day, taking some of the awkwardness out of meeting so many people for the first time. Maybe that's just me?

I have a lot less tolerance for new social situations than I used to, meaning I find big groups harder to deal with as I get older. My claustrophobia in packed crowds is far worse than it used to be … I could never do the Taste of Chicago on July 4th again, at least as it used to be done, with millions packed along the shore and no place to go. Makes me shiver to remember it! But I also find that I have to do a bit more mental prep for going into new situations than I used to. I don't like it, but it's where I'm at. I think a lot of the redefining of my identity in the last 10 years has added some new insecurities, but taken away a lot of others. It's different terrain now.

We helped clean up and then made our exit, comparing Golden Gate Park to Central Park as we made our way back to the truck. It was delightfully wild, and much less manicured than most of Central Park … a very welcome change.

We made our way back home over the procession of bridges that had gotten us there, gawked at San Quentin in the deepening gloom, and called it a day.

The Wedding / Sunday August 28

We went, we watched, we talked, we loved, we hugged, we took lots of crazy photo booth shots, we devoured, we listened, we met cool people, we toasted, we laughed, we danced, we dragged ourselves home, we slept.

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I'll let the photos tell the wedding story here, but add in that getting to be almost 6' tall for a day was really really fun. I'd do it again in a heartbeat! I didn't take my camera for once … it just felt like too much, so all these pics are from Michael's phone.

0828161613_HDR.jpg
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lots more pics here

previous posts : DAY 1  / DAY 2 / DAY 3 / DAY 4 / DAY 5 / DAY 6 / DAY 7 / DAY 8 / DAY 9 / DAY 10 / DAY 11 / DAY 12

one more wrap-up post to come tomorrow ...

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Westward Ho! / Day 12 ... We Made It!

bethany

Friday, August 26

The pre-party for the wedding is tomorrow! Time to suck in whatever leftover bits are still floating around, and get in gear. Tumey Hills was a beautiful spot to wake up, with light on golden hills, and whatever latent fears I had about trespassing were annulled when the Park Ranger drove past and waved. A good start to the day.

0826160647_HDR.jpg

Just as we were about to pull out, Michael noticed that the two tires on the passenger side of the trailer were nearly shot, worn almost threadbare and really torn up. They hadn't been that way 2 days before, and so we concluded that heat + I5's construction zone had done them in. (In retrospect, it's likely that under-inflation played an even bigger role).

We looked up tire shops, drove very slowly and carefully to the closest one and had two new tires put on, very thankful to have enough funds to do so!

Back on the highway, we made it to Tradewinds RV Park in Vallejo by 1:30, relieved to have a place to stay for a whopping 3 nights in a row ... no breaking camp in the morning! I hadn't done bridge research on getting TO the park however, so was a bit shocked at the $20 bridge toll, thanks to having the trailer in tow.

We found our spot and got parked ... tight quarters but clean enough and just what we needed.  We emptied everything out of the back of Matilda and stowed it under the trailer or under a tarp, locking up the go-kart too. We didn't want to add to anyone's temptations when parking in the city the next two days. Did a bit of housekeeping too, got groceries, and tried to relax a bit. So very glad to be settled after 2500-ish miles!

Finally starting to think about getting a long hot shower in the morning, coming to terms with my choice of wedding outfit (vintage, borrowed, wildly colorful for me, and crazy platform heels), and getting my mind around being social and formal. The gears were shifting, though a bit creaky in the process.

previous posts : DAY 1  / DAY 2 / DAY 3 / DAY 4 / DAY 5 / DAY 6 / DAY 7 / DAY 8 / DAY 9 / DAY 10 / DAY 11

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Westward Ho! / Day 11 ... The Golden State

bethany

Thursday, August 25

I woke up gritty-eyed, and once armed with caffeine I set right to researching SF campsite possibilities and transportation options from various outlying areas, while Michael made breakfast.

Did you know that campgrounds in SF proper are over $100 a night? I didn't, but had suspected they were at least pricey. Our budget was about a third of that, and so after RV park pricing about 10 places and guessing at transit times to downtown, calling a couple for availability, ferry pricing, downtown SF parking restriction research (Matilda is 20' long and oversized for many places), and parking lot hunting … I found and booked a spot in Vallejo, about an hour northeast of downtown by car. Just having that settled took a huge weight off!

We packed up and headed off towards Bakersfield, through the desert, past more ghost towns and dust bowls and random-seeming factories, and then started up I5. I'd never seen so many almond trees in my life! We passed countless miles of groves, laced with canals and signs arguing about water rights. There were citrus groves too, and we stopped at one orchard to guzzle some fresh orange juice and pick up some dried fruit. There was road work on 5, and many miles of ripped up pavement, making for a rough ride.

We found a boondocking spot called Tumey Hills Recreation Area, not far off the Interstate. We arrived just as the sun was setting, only to find the gates locked, and the sign “No Motorized Access April – November” attached to it. Which I had seen on my app, but mis-read in my head as Accessible April - November (thanks to my midwestern winter=snow assumptions). Hah! 

The road seemed quiet enough, with a vineyard off to the far side and virtually no traffic, so it was decided we'd risk just parking right in front of the gate for the night, as we weren't blocking the road at all.

The boys scampered off to collect bullet shells in the hills beyond the gate, and I made supper, only stiffening slightly with each passing vehicle. I had no desire to be told to pack up and move on, and thankfully we weren't! The shooting stars and deep dark skies were a gift and a balm to tired bodies and hearts.

lots more pics here

previous posts : DAY 1  / DAY 2 / DAY 3 / DAY 4 / DAY 5 / DAY 6 / DAY 7 / DAY 8 / DAY 9 / DAY 10

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Westward Ho! / Day 10 ... In Which We Get to California, Though a Bit Wilted

bethany

Wednesday, August 24

With the parks behind us, we had to do a bit of emotional shifting. It had been three days of visual overload … heart stretching, eye-straining, camera imploding beauty … and now that we were through the mountains and headed towards the flats of Nevada and CA the focus of the trip suddenly shifted towards the end point. Aran and Lexie's wedding, on Sunday, at The Presidio in San Francisco.

I didn't even remotely feel ready. Things were starting to boil over in the heart department, and the fact that we still didn't have a place to camp near SF (not a decision to leave till the last minute!) was adding to the stress.

This set the tone for the day, as we rocked our way out of our campsite and onto the last few pretty miles of Rt 12. We stopped at one pullout to stretch our legs and look at a lake, and ended up having a lovely chat with two couples that were touring on their Harleys. The chance encounters and conversations are always a delight!

Once we hit I15 and headed southwest at 75mph, it started heating up. The tensions seemed to rise along with the temperatures, and by the time we went through a wee corner of Arizona and hit Vegas, it was 99° and still rising. We took in a few miles of the strip, just for kicks, and then headed on into California. Finally hitting a West Coast state! Only took us until day #617 :).

We gawked at huge solar farms and endless tracts of windmills, wandered through a wee ghost town, winced at rising diesel prices, and found ourselves a cheapish campsite on the edge of the Mojave desert.

At 105° the boys ran for the pool in the gathering dusk, jumped in and yelped at the frigid water, and had to be convinced to swim a few laps before jumping out again. The cats found the hot sand disorienting, and didn't stay out long either. Michael and I spent awhile hashing things out once the boys were in bed, and survived it … every marriage takes work, and this was one of the heavy lifting days :).

lots more pics here

previous posts : DAY 1  / DAY 2 / DAY 3 / DAY 4 / DAY 5 / DAY 6 / DAY 7 / DAY 8 / DAY 9

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Westward Ho! / Day 9 ... Drama King Drama Queen

bethany

Tuesday, August 23

 Escalante sunrise

Escalante sunrise

Recovering from yesterday took a couple of hours – groceries to track down, photos to download, emails to send – and we took off again around noon. Our first real stop was a pullout that offered a short hike to a mossy cave and a waterfall.

Red cliffs, a stream, and a few small stone arches added to the appeal. The stream was fed by a 2-mile long canal that had been hand dug in the rock in the 1860s by some settlers trying to get water into their otherwise perfect valley. We enjoyed the view, the boys got to run around, and we kept an eye on some gathering dark clouds.

Michael Instagrammed a pic of the boys and I with the red cliffs and lowering sky, tagging it “ominous clouds”, and then we went on down the road to the Bryce Canyon Visitor's Center.

Just as we pulled up to the fee booth, the clouds broke and it started hailing with a vengeance. Michael flashed our National Parks pass under the agent's nose, wincing and getting pelted, and then grabbed the park map and RV Restrictions notice that was shoved at him with a mirroring wince. Windows were rolled up, bounced 1/4” hail collected, and we sloshed to a corner of the parking lot to wait it out with everyone else.

Ten minutes later it subsided into rain, and Fynn and I dashed into the Visitor's Center to retrieve a better map and some more info on turnaround spots, pushing past steaming wet crowds of fellow tourists who were trying to take selfies with the shoveled pile of hail right outside the front doors.

Bryce has one 18-mile road that's an out-and-back deal, with a side loop that's off limits to rigs our size. We did most of the pullouts, shivering and damp, but loving the deep oranges and hoodoos and rainbow rocks.

At the end-of-the-road stop there were two viewing spots, one being a short hike down the promontory from the parking lot, and we remarked on the path to it on the way to the nearer one. We took in the view, increasingly cold, and Michael agreed to start his sciatica-hobble towards the second viewpoint, while I went with the boys to the bathroom and then caught up with him.

The crowds were getting to me, as was the cold/wet thing, and we were all getting tired. A fearless raven distracted me while waiting for the boys, and then we set off down the ¼ mile path, expecting to see Michael at every turn.

Got to the end, lovely view, no Michael.

We tossed a few pebbles over the edge to see how long a drop it was, took a few pics, and headed back … maybe he'd decided to go to the restroom too? Turned back due to pain?

Checked the restrooms. Checked the first lookout again. Checked the shelter.

Muttered, grumbled, shivered.

Looked into the truck and camper, but both were still locked, and Michael had the keys.

Muttered some more, and got a wee bit uneasy. Where could he possibly have gone?

A man with two kids saw us wandering, and must have seen us together with Michael earlier, as he pointed along the edge of the tree-lined cliff, and said “He's down there!”

“How far?” I asked.

“50 yards or so …” was his answer.

Off we went, tramping noisily down the sorta-path along the edge … no Michael. Then Douglas spies his hat … the ever-present-felt-fedora-ish thing he wears … perched neatly just a couple feet from the dropoff. He picked it up.

“Well, here's Dad's hat …” he offers, his tone bemused, with a dash of hesitation.

I look at it, and the spot where he'd found it, run an instantaneous Michael-over-the-cliff scenario in my head, which about 2% of me thinks is possible … and I've just gotten to the part where my brain says “but if he'd gone over in the 90 seconds since that man told you he'd seen him we'd definitely have heard it” … when he pops up from behind a bush 15 feet down the path, and cheerfully says “Here I am!”

I stare at him … ready to punch him and then maybe toss him over the cliff. Really?!

He'd spent 25+ minutes waiting for us, on the wrong path (at least not the paved path that said it went to the viewing point, which I'd commented on earlier) … assuming that we'd been delayed at the bathroom, and concocting what he thought was a funny prank to play on us. The fact that we'd already been hunting rather urgently for him for 15 minutes already rather took the last shred of potential humor out of it for me. Ha ha.

It was a rather chilly ride on the 18 miles back to the entrance, despite the truck's heater.

Predictably, Fynn needed to pee as soon as we left the park. We stopped at the tackiest souvenir shop yet seen, begged the bathroom key from the dour and very shop-worn proprietress, and after failing at small talk with the woman I tried to be interested in dusty shot glasses, bad wood carvings, and made-in-China-we-don't-even-pretend-to-be-authentic treasures while Michael and Fynn disappeared around the back. When Fynn returned, he bought himself a bandana before we all scooted out the door just as another carload came in asking for the key. I heard her voice drop another level as she eked out her answer.

Relieved to be back outside in the bit of remaining sun, we headed to the truck … only to discover that Michael had left the keys in it, and someone's elbow must have bumped the lock button on the way out.

It wasn't a happy moment. I let Michael tackle it, still smarting a bit from the hat incident, and yes, sulking. I joined the fray when it was suggested we try to break into the trailer to get a coat hanger, and helped force a window open to boost Fynn in through the slit. After the hanger was bent and I watched him try to press the unlock button with it, I realized that maybe the back window of the truck would be easier to get into as it had no electric lock. A screwdriver twist later, we were in!

Light fading, we made for another patch of Dixie National Forest on Rt 12, assuming we could find a boondock spot. We did come across one pretty quickly, though the access to the site was a bit rutted and dicey … and we'll just gloss over the fact that there was the decision to unlock the bikes and go rambling off on the back roads to see if there was a better site back in there somewhere … before bumping our way to a nice level spot with a turnaround, and plenty of dead wood for a campfire. Whew. Very glad to finally be at rest!

 Things seemed a bit brighter by the next morning :)

Things seemed a bit brighter by the next morning :)

lots more pics here and here

previous posts : DAY 1  / DAY 2 / DAY 3 / DAY 4 / DAY 5 / DAY 6 / DAY 7 / DAY 8

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Westward Ho! / Day 8 ... Utah ... Wow!

bethany

Monday, August 22

 Matilda in hiding ...

Matilda in hiding ...

Up early, atlas consulted, and decision reached – we'd cut southwest across Utah, and try to hit three national parks in two days; Canyon Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Zion. A brief stop at the Utah Welcome Center modified that slightly, as the very friendly and knowledgeable fellow behind the counter warned me that there were height restrictions between Bryce and Zion that would be too low for us … we're around 12.5' high with our air conditioner. Glad to find out in advance!

We cut off of I70 onto 39 South, and the fun started. The terrain changed constantly … and suddenly. You'd go up over a rise and come out into a whole new planet.

Much of it felt like Mars, for the redness and the nearly inexplicable formations, but it was as delightful as it was disorienting. Cloudy, a bit of rain, and nicely cool.

We hit Canyon Reef first … which was really nice as you drive through the canyons and rocks, rather than peering at them from an overlook. It felt personal and accessible.

 Navajo Dome, Capitol Reef NP

Navajo Dome, Capitol Reef NP

We stopped at many pullouts, listened to a ranger talk about the petroglyphs left by the Fremont Indian culture, picked free apples in orchards left by a former Mormon outpost called Fruita, and then took off towards Bryce in the late and rainy afternoon, heading south on Rt 12.

The Rand McNally Atlas has no elevation markings on the state pages, other than the occasional peak height. It's my main form of navigation, as Google is often not available, and I prefer paper in my hands and the “big picture” anyway. So my assumption that the upcoming Dixie National Forest was rather flat was a somewhat misguided one.

We climbed up over the 9600' peak of Boulder Mountain while passing through, and saw a number of boondockers and some cattle dotting the rolling meadows at the top. So tempted to join them (despite the cold!), but we went on, though not without leaving our windows down so we could continue to enjoy the divine smell of wet sagebrush … yum!

One overlook near the top, half lit with the last of the sun, had a view of Mt Ellen's 11,500' peak, and the “biggest” vista I can ever remember seeing. Layers upon layers of buttes and trees and mountains and colors and light. Utterly magical. According to the placard there, we were looking at the last bit of the lower 48 states to get mapped, which happened sometime in the 1850s.

Then down the mountain in the gathering gloom, including a couple spots of 14% grade, heading into the large empty-looking blob on my map labeled as the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. About which I knew exactly nothing. So why we were shocked to come down off the mountain and find ourselves on a wet, winding, very narrow road between two deep canyons, I'm not too sure. It was par for the course.

It was visual overload for all of us, but insanely wild and empty and beautiful, though increasingly hard to see. We wound, swooped, curved, teetered (or so it seemed) through the trackless wild, seeing only a couple other vehicles. The only sign of habitation in the next hour was a coffee shop(!) perched out on a promontory over a canyon, but it sadly had closed at 4pm. I don't think we would have fit in their parking lot anyhow.

We climbed our way slowly up and out of the canyons, headed for the next dot on the map that implied people and services, labeled Escalante. The last overlook offered the story of mule trains delivering mail there, in winter at least, as recently as 1942. It wasn't hard to imagine at all.

 The road we'd just traveled ...

The road we'd just traveled ...

Matilda purred her way into town (that filter wash made a big difference!) and we found a pricey-but-we'll-take-it RV park that had a laundromat, WiFi, and a paved pull-through … perfect! My journal entry for the day ends with “exhausted and exhilarated”, and that pretty much sums it up. It was an astoundingly full day of strange and beautiful sights, and the fact that it was all surprising made it even more enjoyable.  Lack of research meant that the expectations were pretty low, and we gobbled up the beauty we stumbled across without having any regrets over things we missed. 

see Flickr for lots more pics for Utah! and Capitol Reef and Grand Staircase Escalante

previous posts : DAY 1  / DAY 2 / DAY 3 / DAY 4 / DAY 5 / DAY 6 / DAY 7

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