Friday, April 11, 2008

Home again, Home again...

Heading East

"OoooooooooK........lahoma where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain
And the wavin' wheat can sure smell sweet
And the wind comes right behind the rain."

Rogers and Hammerstein got it.

Now I get it.

Because I'm blogging again it is obvious we did not get swept away like Dorothy and Toto by a tornado. I'm grateful for that. But we did endure torrential downpours accompanied by thunder and lightening, high winds and a some small hail. That was on Wednesday. I didn't leave Mary all afternoon choosing instead to continue my cleaning frenzy. Wednesday night the three of us went to the horse show. John told me it was a half block to the arena from where Mary was parked so we bundled up and grabbed the umbrella and Breezy and started toward the arena. Two blocks and gobs of rain later I was asking, "Where is the arena?" He says, "See that brick building up there?" I saw it. "You have a different definition of a half block than I do," I say as I slog through the puddles soaking my socks and working to keep the umbrella from turning inside out in the wind.

I attempted to sleep that night but the Interstate had different ideas for me. Apparently truck drivers don't like to stop in Oklahoma City at night when it is pouring down rain because they roared down I-44 in a procession all night long. I'm sure my tossing and turning deflated the Sleep Number by 10. On Thursday morning I dragged my butt out of bed feeling like I had run a marathon.

On the up side of our time in Oklahoma City, I met and got acquainted with Mary Ellen and Mike Carlson from Missouri. John has known Mike for many years but this was my first introduction to them. They are salt of the earth, wonderful people and we had a great time with them. Meeting them made the stop totally worthwhile.

On Thursday, as Rogers and Hammerstein predicted, the wind came in after the rain. We got up to a sunny day but Mary was rocking and rolling to 25 to 35 mile an hour winds...all day long. I kept checking the weather reports. They said, "WINDY". They weren't kidding. I really needed to go out and do some shopping but as John is well aware there isn't much in the world that can piss me off faster or more than stepping outside and having the wind wreck my hair style. It drives me around the bend. He was out and about at the show and would drop in on me every so often, relieved when he found me still in the coach working on bills and paperwork. Mary Ellen came to visit and then Bill and Mary Lynn Whitley stopped by and we exchanged coach stories for awhile. It was a nice afternoon to be sure. We had dinner with Mike and Mary Ellen at a historic steak house and then it was time to go to the show again.

There was something weird going on with the sky in Oklahoma City that evening. The sky was yellow. We had never seen anything like it and kept commenting on it. At first I thought it was dust from all of the wind but then I remembered that we had four inches of rain resulting in a lot of flooding the day before. I still don't know what that was. It was very weird like being on Jupiter or something.

Because of the construction there wasn't any place to park the car so there was no choice but to walk to the the wind. By this time the wind gusts were up to 50 miles an hour. I arrived at the arena looking like I had done my hair in a wind tunnel. I'll leave my frame of mind to your imagination. Suffice it to say that I was ready to move on from Oklahoma City. We watched the show with Breezy, Mike and Mary Ellen, visited with some people and then headed back to Mary for what I hoped would be a decent night of sleep. When we stepped out of the building the wind was still blowing but the temperature had dropped by twenty degrees. Now we were being blown to kingdom come and we were COLD. We arrived back at Mary who was warm and cozy. We dropped the black out shades in the bedroom to block the light from the electronic billboard and settled in for the night.

I knocked another ten numbers out of the mattress tossing and turning to the sound of trucks and woke up in the morning feeling completely worn out. That didn't stop me from jumping into the shower, into my clothes, buttoning up Mary and having everything ready to go when John got back from the videographer. He laughed. "I take it you are ready to go?"

I need to go back a bit to our trip from Needles to Albuquerque. Fabulous. That's the best word I can think of and it doesn't cover the beauty of New Mexico's rocky landscape. I tried to catch it with my camera but I really couldn't do it justice. I will include what photos I took in the Picassa album. It was a pleasant sunny day of travel. We stayed at a KOA in Albuquerque and the next morning did our last leg to Oklahoma City. It included a trip across the TEXAS panhandle.

More of our Sierras drive

I told John about the last time (and the first time) I drove through the TEXAS panhandle. I had come from Kentucky via Tulsa on my way to meet my friend Nancy in Phoenix. It was a pleasant drive until I got to the TEXAS border. For some strange reason I just assumed that there would continue to be gas available along Interstate 40 into TEXAS. I had about a third of a tank when I headed out into the vastness of TEXAS. I drove and I drove and I drove. I kept driving but I didn't see any gas stations that were inhabited. I drove and drove some more. The needle on my fuel gauge kept getting lower in tiny increments. Finally like a mirage I saw an exit with a gas station. I pulled off. I drove up to the station. It was abandoned. The pumps were still there but no one was home. I looked down at the gas gauge and sighed. I looked in the back seat at my sweet dog Tag (the Border Collie who graced my life for 14 years before Breezy) and said, "I don't know Miss Tag...I hope this Camry has a good reserve because we are about to test it." She looked at me with her big brown eyes and then curled up on the seat to prepare for what ever bizarre situation that I might get us into. She endured a lot of adventures with me in 14 years. We hit I-40 again in search of fuel. I drove and drove and drove some more. My gas gauge was getting very close to E and finally the fuel light came on. My imagination went to work as I visualized Tag and I hitching along I-40, thirsty and hot (it was August and scorching) waiting for the serial killer to come and pick us up. I was getting pretty worried. Then I encountered a bug storm. Massive big black kamikaze bugs with massive wing spans and huge gobs of guts impaled themselves on my windshield, wiper blades, grill and antenna. It was disgusting. After the flurry of cussing Tag decided that riding on the floor behind my seat was a safer place. Finally off in the distance I saw a sign. It was one of those state road signs that advertises gas and food and lodging. There was no food and no lodging but there was a mini market with gas. I pulled off and found that it actually had fuel and thankfully a window cleaning squeegee/sponge thingie so that I could clear the bug guts off of my windshield. After I filled the tank I gave Tag a drink of water and a handful of doggie treats and we blasted across the rest of the panhandle. At one point I looked off into the vastness of the flat barren landscape and I saw something sticking up on the horizon. A few minutes later I could see it more clearly. It was a HUGE white cross. I was sure that it was only five minutes away but I kept driving and driving and I could still see it. And the farther I drove the bigger it got. Finally I thought that I'd never get to that cross and that it must belong the hugest church on the planet. I drove and drove some more. Finally I came to the cross. It wasn't a church but more like a monument. I never forgot that TEXAS size cross.

As we drove down I-40 through the panhandle the other day I remembered the cross. It was in Groom, Texas. I saw it as huge and white as ever way before we got to Groom. I looked it up on the Internet (typed in Google "Texas panhandle big white cross"...what would we do without Google?) and came up with the facts. It is 19 stories high and it took 100 welders in two shops to complete it. It has been there since 1995. I don't know much else about it except it is huge and the panhandle is as flat as a pancake with nothing to block the view so you can see it for miles. I wondered what aliens landing here eons after we are extinct would think of such a thing standing there... I know. I wonder weird stuff.

So we finished up on Oklahoma and took off on Friday morning for Little Rock. I'd never been to Arkansas and was surprised how much it looks like Central Kentucky. Neither of us slept much during out stay in OKC so we made a short day of it. We found a nice little KOA off of the Interstate...but not far enough off of the Interstate. It was charming with nice owners but noisy and I didn't sleep much again. Even though I was pretty worn out from lack of sleep I decided that it was time to go shopping. The cupboard was really bare. John wanted to watch The Masters so he tuned in and I looked on the Internet for a grocery store. I found a Kroger about seven miles from the KOA. Feeling like I needed a back up to my driving directions I programmed Tom Tom and took off for Kroger with the bike rack and one bicycle on the back of the car. Believe it or not Tom Tom took me right to the store! I made the left turn into the parking lot and realized that even though it was the correct turn it was the wrong turn. The parking lot was full...full of demolition derby cars, nothing newer that 1980s and everything beat to hell. There were derelict people laying in front of the store on the sidewalk and a guy and a thrashed up Caddy. The black paint had peeled off of the sides and the front bumper was hanging down. He was trying to park it and was having trouble putting in the parking space. It was a diagonal pull in space. Not rocket science. A two year old could have put that car in that space. At that point I determined that he was probably somehow impaired and so were the rest of the people wandering in the parking lot and that I needed to go directly back where I came from. When I got back to Mary John offered to help me unload the groceries. "No need," I said. He looked at me funny. "I didn't go." He said, "Couldn't you find it?" I said, "Oh, I found it. But if I had gone into the store and been lucky enough to come out the bike would have been gone, the bike rack would have been gone and the car might have been up on blocks and the wheels gone." He went to the KOA office and found out that there was a new Super Walmart three miles from the KOA. We got groceries. We left Little Rock, me totally sleep deprived and John driving expertly and quickly toward Kentucky. We had planned a route through western Tennessee up US 51 to Paducah. When I was checking for KOAs I noticed one at Lake Barkley. Hmmm...a night at the Lake might be kind of nice after all of the noise.

I must say here that we have stayed in KOA campgrounds all across the country and back. Our experience at Wildwood was an isolated one and most of them are great places to stop for an overnight when you are traveling. Our best one was at Las Cruces, New Mexico. They are so convenient. You can find them on the KOA website, book the reservation, pay for it and specify exactly what you want. Most of the KOA owners are very nice and the parks are conveniently located, easy to get to and easy to find. I like that. But most of them are pretty close to the Interstates. So when we started talking about taking a day out before we get home and spending some time at the Lake it sounded like heaven to me. As I type we are parked lakeside. We are under some trees and parked next to some bass fishermen who are here for a tournament. The people across from us are nature lovers. They have to be. It's 4o degrees out, windy and they cooked out beside their coach and sat outside wrapped up in layers of clothes until dark.
Our only problem was a conversation that I had with the woman in the office. We found the KOA but couldn't determine where the office was. That's unusual. So I called the office as we sat in the road poised to make a right hand turn toward the marina. There was no traffic so we decided to just stop before we did something that would require that we back up (still touchy after Baytown). So I called the woman. The conversation went something pretty close to this:

Her: "KOA Lake Barkley. How can I help you?"

Me: "Yes, this is Karen Jones and we have a reservation for tonight for a 42 foot motor coach and we are sitting by the sign that says "Ramp" to the right and "Camping and Lodging" to the left. Can you tell me which direction we should go to the registration office?"

Her: "You're where?"

I repeated myself.

Her: "Just a minute." (I hear rattling) "Is that YOU sitting out there in the big tannish colored motor home?"

Me: "Yes, that's us."

Her: "You can't go up there. The owner's house is up there."

Me: "That's fine. So where do we go, to the right?"

Her: "You're gonna hafta back up. You're goin' to the owner's house. You can't do that."

Me: "Ma'am we can't back up. We are towing a car. We can make a turn. Can you tell me which direction we should go?"

Her: "Well can you see the yellow car in the parking lot?"

I scan to left and then to the right and see a blazing yellow car.

Me: "Yes. Do we turn to the right? We can make the turn without backing up."

Her: "Do you see the flag pole?"

What the????

Me: "Yes. It's by the yellow car. Now, do we turn right?"

Her: "Come down by the little wood lookin' buildin' with the green metal roof."

I look to the right again.


We have been sitting there for five minutes and I can't get an answer to one simple question. Do we turn to the right, YES or NO.

Her: "Just drive down by the flag pole and pull in front of the little building. Come in and I'll give you your packet."

Me: "So we turn right and drive by the flag pole and the yellow car and pull up in front of the wood building with the green roof." I didn't want to ask any more questions but I had to be sure that we were parking in the right place. "So we don't pull into the parking lot?"

Her: "You'll have to turn your motor home around after you register."

Big sigh.

Me: "So we do NOT go into the parking lot."

Her: "Pull in front of the building."

Me: (I gave up). "Okay, thank you very much."

Apparently "yes" and "no" are not part of her vocabulary. She probably thought I was the dumbest person on the planet too. Oh well...

We drove about six miles off of the main highway to get here. After my exhausting conversation with the woman in the office John went in and paid for two nights and came back fifteen minutes later exhausted from trying to talk to the woman. Then in KOA fashion the manager came out in his golf cart with his little yellow flag flying on the top. We unhooked the car and I drove behind Mary while the little golf cart guided her to our spot. We wound around on narrow roads and big trees and then he guided John into this treed area right next to the lake. John has earned his Master's degree in coach driving in the last six weeks. I believe he could parallel park her in downtown New York City if he had to. We are almost home and I still haven't driven it. There is future post on the repsonibilities of navigation. I promise. So the KOA guy disappeared from my sight behind Mary as he guided her back toward the lake. I sat there and held my breath with Breezy hanging over my shoulder in the Camry as I watched her back tires get closer and closer to the bank of the lake. She stopped on the edge and I let out my breath. I thought after this long journey of learning and fun and panic and laughter and old friends and new ones, and every emotion known to man it would be a bad ending to put her in the lake. But between the KOA guy and John's expertise she is sitting on the pad overlooking the water and we are settled in for a day of rest before we go home and resume our daily duties of life.

I'm sure reflections on this adventure will come as the days pass. We are already planning our next trip toward the end of May. It will probably include a trip to the Carolinas and then a drive to Pennsylvania to the Devon horse show. We are also talking about going west again after the show in Louisville in August, this time taking the northern route through the Dakotas and stopping at some shows and stables along the way. And if we need a little quiet time we can just take her and disappear into some nice campground somewhere close by and have a retreat! Mary and the Camry are due for a good bath and some service for their next trip. They are both covered with bird crap, bug parts, dust, mud, cinders, muck and who knows what else. It's been driving us both nuts since we were in Oregon.

I'm anxious to get home to Lexington and enjoy the spring in Kentucky and sad that the trip is nearly over. As many people know better than we do owning a motor coach can be a challenging experience and some present such problems that they can drive people to do things totally out of their character. We've heard some horror stories that were unbelievable but believable at the same time. We were so fortunate to have gotten this coach with the help of some good friends. She's a good one too, beautiful and smart and solid as a rock. We have had lots of help from the Monaco people and we are so grateful for their assistance along the way. John called Dennis the other day to tell him that we survived the storms in Oklahoma. I realized after he hung up that he didn't ask Dennis one question. Not one! That doesn't mean that we don't have a thousand more to ask but that we jumped in the deep end and learned how to swim with it. Thankfully the coaching gods have been very good to us!



The tall one lasted until last night. Perhaps now that we are somewhat calmer about Mary the short one will make it through the summer!


Tuesday, April 8, 2008

From Heaven to Oklahoma

The Pilot and Our Comfort Dog

Today (April 8th) we are crossing New Mexico from Albuquerque across the panhandle of Texas and on to Oklahoma. At the moment we aren't at the end of the earth...but I believe I can see it from here.

On Saturday morning we woke up to a brisk Central Oregon morning. I took Breezy out for her morning walk and when we stepped out of the coach the smell of juniper and sage filled my senses and immediately took me back to my days living in the area. It is the best summertime place I've ever lived. The season is dry and warm and being outdoors riding, canoeing, hiking, biking or just hanging out is such a pleasure that you never want to go inside. Breezy spent fifteen minutes sniffing around the bushes on this sunny morning. She sniffed deer tracks, rabbit doo-doo and big holes where ground critters had made their homes. The campground was next to the Crooked River Gorge a huge cavernous gorge where the Crooked River runs. There was a platform overlooking the gorge where John and Breezy and I went to get a good look the day before. I am working on a Picassa web album that will have lots of pictures of our travels. I should have it posted by the weekend.

We just passed into Texas from New Mexico and into the Central time zone. This time I'm keeping up with the changes on my watch so I don't have to sit down with a pen and paper to figure out what time it is. I'm looking out my window at...nothing. Oh wait...I see a tree beside the road! Wait...oh it's dead. We are back in the land of picnic areas on the Interstates. Baffles me...

Okay, so when we left Central Oregon early on Saturday morning I was pretty sure I knew where we were going. I'd been there before. It was a bit of a distant memory but I had driven there. Our destination was Carson City, Nevada, a little south of Reno. My original idea was to head down US 97 and then cut across at Christmas Valley to Lakeview and drop down onto US 395. After our experience the day before on Santiam Pass I decided that because there is no way out of Oregon to our destination (Interstate 40 to Oklahoma City) without going over a mountain pass, I'd better keep us on the best highways that I could. But neither of us wanted to double back on Interstate 5 so I suggested that we go to Klamath Falls on US 97, take Highway 139 to US 395 through Alturas, Susanville and on to Reno and Carson City. Good plan. So we took off.

The drive to Klamath Falls was uneventful and beautiful. We got on 139 without a hitch. At one point we pulled off of the road so that we could eat lunch and take Breezy for a walk. I took her behind an old abandoned service station and waited while she checked out all of the new smells. A truck passed Mary sitting along side the road and then disappeared into the distance. At that point it occurred to me that I couldn't hear one thing except the sound of the wind and some birds. It was like taking a five minute retreat. It struck me that we have too much noise in our lives. We can't seem to go for one minute without filling quiet space with something. I'm one of those weird people who used go for two weeks without turning on my television. Of course that was before Clinton vs. Obama, American Idol, National Geographic Channel and Planet Earth. High def has ruined me. Anyway, the sounds of silence were immediately calming and appreciated.

After lunch we drove on through some pretty country as I checked maps, weather and altitude and answered pilot questions. I looked up and saw that we were coming to a stop sign. There was a huge sign that pointed to the left that said, " RENO" and an arrow pointing to the left. The real road sign said "Susanville 88 miles" and pointed to the right. John asked, "Which way to we go?" I was stumped. I had an instinct to go left but wasn't sure. We have kept Tom Tom programed and on MUTE practically since the incident in Georgia when I thought we lost the car. We've only referred to it as a useless piece of shit a few times since then. So this time, like an idiot, I ignored my intuition and deferred to Tom Tom. It said to go to the right. We went to the right and headed into a pine forest and immediately started gaining altitude. The road narrowed and I said, "I hope to hell this isn't a cow trail." John just drove on with eyes riveted to the road, without comment. We went higher and higher and until we drove past a sign that said, "Adin Pass, 5175 ft." We both took a deep breath. The road was very narrow and bumpy without guard rails and the cliffs were very steep. And there was no traffic. I was glad on the one hand but a little disturbed by it on the other. Why wasn't there any traffic? We continued to climb and twist and turn. I looked at the map again. We were due to make a turn onto a lesser road. It crossed my mind that I didn't think that a road could be lesser than this one unless it was gravel...or dirt. You know how on maps the more major the road the heavier the line that represents it? Well the line for 139 to Susanville was faint pink. Barely visible. We couldn't turn back if we wanted to so we drove on.

John made the turn on to the faded pink line and the road got bumpier but the scenery got better. As we thumped and rattled along we actually started to laugh about the fact that we had essentially made a wrong turn (thank you very much Tom Tom) and were making lemonade from it. The views on both sides of the road were very serene and beautiful. We were in cattle country; grazing land and pine trees and winding creeks. And as we jiggled along hugging the center line quietly appreciating mother nature's gifts we looked up and saw a large turquoise body of water dead ahead. Eagle Lake. It was such a treat that it made the entire side trip through the boonies worthwhile. From there we wound down out of the high altitude to medium altitude and came to Susanville. We found our way through the mountain peaks into Carson City and settled in for a terrific night of sleep.

First View of Eagle Lake

There is a peculiar thing that happens to Sleep Number beds when you travel through high altitudes. It's one that can cause a lot of trouble if you don't pay attention. This is our first experience with Sleep Number and we are both thinking that it is a pretty neat invention. John can adjust his side to a firmness that he likes and I can do the same and be really comfortable too. I think the claims that you get a better night of sleep are true, at least for us. But when you travel with one you need to deflate both sides before you drive to higher altitudes. When I went to get into bed that night my bed had pumped itself up from 40 to 100. I was tired and looking forward to flopping into bed. When I flopped it was like flopping on a table top. "Crap!" I hollered and sat up. John came running, "What's wrong?" The bed is possessed!" I said as I stared at the sleep number remote adjuster. "It's going to pop!" He nodded. "That's right! Bill Tomin said his bed popped when they went skiing one time." It makes sense. The milk cartons expand anything bagged or sealed expands, why not air mattresses? Visions of an exploding air mattress danced in my head as I dozed off.

We just passed into Oklahoma and passed a rest area. I had a revelation; I haven't had to use a disgusting toilet since we have been on the road. Guys probably won't get this but women's public bathrooms in rest areas are very scary. I always feel like I may have contracted bubonic plague or Ebola when I have to use one. And we haven't had to throw good money into a flea ridden hotel so that they would take our dog (who is better behaved than most people's kids) for an overnight stay. Life with Queen Mary has wonderful benefits.

On Sunday morning we got up early and got ready to make a long drive to Needles, California. I finally figured out why it was named Needles. Needle Mountain is close by. The peaks are very sharp in the little range of mountains. Anyway, we left Carson City and headed south. As I said earlier I was sure I knew where we were going because I was sure that I'd been there before. I was wrong. I hadn't been down 395 from Reno to Barstow I had been down 95 through Las Vegas and then on to Phoenix. Big difference. BIG difference. We dropped south through Gardnerville and out into Antelope Valley and by Topaz Lake. We found a little piece of heaven. As the day progressed we found bigger and bigger pieces of heaven.

We are getting close to Oklahoma City now so I have to stop here and resume my navigator responsibilities. Finding the right entrance to the fairgrounds could be a challenge. The Camry had a dead battery yesterday morning so we don't want a repeat performance of Baytown. Another thing we learned (yesterday morning) is that you need to unplug the car from the coach when you stop or it drains the battery. The transmission monitor people in Wakarusa failed to mention that, like they failed to mention that if you warm the car up before you hook it up it will stop the monitor from howling at you for a half hour. Details, details...

April 9th

We found the RV parking at the fairgrounds with the help of a nice lady who took pity on us when she saw us circling the grounds...lost. I flunked navigation yesterday. John had spoken to Charlie at the RV office yesterday and he informed us that it cost $25.00 per night to stay here. We are sitting on asphalt with a 50 amp hookup, sewer, water and cable television (which doesn't seem to work). We have a perfect view of Interstate 44, complete with sound effects, and an electronic billboard that I'm sure will illuminate the bedroom nicely at night and we are sitting down in a hole. There is major construction going on close enough that I could hit the backhoes and jackhammers with a rock.

The grounds are very nice and John says the horse show facility is great. I haven't been out of Mary today except to take Breezy to the grassy area across the parking lot a few times and to empty the garbage. Today I'm cleaning up from the dust storm in Barstow. More on that later. We are in the land a little south of Oz and have been listening to reports of "severe storms" coming through Oklahoma City today and tonight. These storms include some or all of the following: High winds, heavy rain, small hail, LARGE hail, thunder and lightening, flooding and the possibility of tornadoes. John speculated that if we had a tornado we should get in the back closet over the diesel engine. I speculated that if a tornado hit Mary we would probably want a front seat view of our trip over the rainbow. It's been raining complete with thunder and lightening for hours. Perhaps the airbag system that Mary sits on can double as pontoons should the hole we are sitting in flood tonight.

Charlie stopped by first thing this morning to collect the rent. He tapped on the door. John was gone to the arena so it was just Breezy and me. I opened it and looked down at a man in grimy navy blue coveralls with a receipt pad in his hand. "You ready to pay your rent?" he asks. I was speechless for a second. Then I saw "Charles" on an embroidered name tag on his coveralls. There was a smudge of grease on the "L" so it took me a second to decipher his name. "You must be Charlie," I said. He grinned revealing a rack of tobacco and coffee stained teeth. "Will you take a check?" I asked. "Yeeeep. Check'll work." I asked, "How much do we owe you?" He asked, "How long you stayin'?" I was thinking that I was ready to leave immediately. "Two nights," I answered. "That'll be ninety bucks." Pretty steep rent for parking in a asphalt hole and twenty bucks more per night than we were quoted. I decided that it was worth the extra money to get Charlie out of my life.

The last time I took Breezy to the grassy area I noticed a small sign that the wind had blow over that said "VIP parking $45.00 per night". I was glad I didn't argue with Charlie.

Back to our trip through the Sierras. So as we proceeded along US 395 around every turn and over every hill was another treasure of nature. The Sierra Nevada mountain range is by far the most beautiful that I've ever seen. We agreed at the end of the day that neither of us had been on a more beautiful drive than we experienced that day.

Eastern Slope of the Sierras

We reached altitudes of over 8,000 feet. I saw the sign at Devil's Gate which is a little over 7,500 feet I remembered the Sleep Number bed. I bolted out of my seat and ran for the bedroom with visions of spending the rest of our trip sleeping on the platform under the air mattress. I grabbed the remote adjuster and poked the button and it read 100. I deflated one side and then the other which was also at 100. Whew...close call. Our highest point was at Deadman's Pass, altitude 8,036 feet above sea level. We stopped at Mono Lake and I read where the highest and the lowest points in the United States are just 80 miles apart, Mt. Whitney at 14,494 feet and Death Valley which is 282 feet below sea level. I've always though that California was the most diverse, beautiful and interesting state I've ever been in. This trip really confirmed that.

As we eased out of the altitude we encountered small towns and valleys of green grazing that were full of cattle. In Bishop if people had a blade of grass growing they had a cow to eat it. Even in town there were two fat steers scratching their backs on a billboard that was planted on a tiny patch of grass. I looked out Mary's windows with binoculars completely enjoying the scenery as we descended. Then we came down by the China Lake Naval Weapons Center and started encountering dry lake beds. They look like giant salt flats. We continued to descend and finally approached Barstow. The wind picked up considerably and I could see John muscling Mary's steering wheel with each blast of wind. We made the turn at Four Corners and headed toward Barstow for fuel. Our destination was Needles. This was actually the longest we had gone without buying fuel and John was calculating our mileage and remaining fuel with the Aladdin system as we drove. We were good to go to Barstow.

The wind picked up more. As we got closer to Barstow I was relying on a memory (a dwindling resource) from our last trip through Barstow when we fueled up. There was a Flying J and a Travel America. But I was having trouble trying to remember whether they were on Interstate 15 or Interstate 40 which come together at Barstow. I rattled my brain but nothing was coming to the surface. Then I looked out the window my attention was redirected. A dust storm was blowing across the highway in front of us. By this time we had been through a bug storm and Mary's windshield was a mass of yellow bug guts. Now I was staring at a blast of white powdery dust and we were driving right into it.

"There isn't enough money in the world to make me live out in this wasteland," John says. I concur.

And it got worse than this..

What passed through my mind, besides the fact that it looked like we were driving into a blinding dust storm was what that dust was going to do once it seeped through the cracks and crevasses of Mary. Leave it to the housekeeper to concern herself about cleaning when things get dangerous. Not only that by the time we drove through it and came out on the other side I realized that it actually was Kingman, Arizona where we fueled up and not Barstow and we had passed through without seeing any truck stops. It was a middle age moment...when you thump yourself on the forehead and say, "I can't believe that I forgot that!" Anyway, the truck stops really are there but just not where we were going. So our next challenge was to find a truck stop between Barstow and Needles. I got out "The Next Exit" and found one. It was a Texaco with a diesel truck station. John eased Mary up to the station and found that all but two of the pumps were out of diesel and the cost of what was left was $4.29 per gallon. I'll resist my urge to launch into a tirade about the cost of fuel and why it is so high. We got 25 gallons, enough to get us to the Kingman truck stops the next day and we drove on to Needles where we found a charming little KOA. The spaces were separated by Oleander and Bougainvillea flowering with white and red blooms. It took us five minutes to set up and three minutes to pour the scotch.

I just heard that we don't have any tornado watches for the Oklahoma metro area at the moment. I was relieved. And then the weather man said that we could have them around 4:00 in the morning. That will make for a restful night of sleep.

John accuses me regularly of attempting to re-write "War and Peace" and I'm sure he would (and will) say that about this blog post so I will stop for now. I'll update next on our trip from Needles to Albuquerque and our impending trip from Oklahoma City to Oz.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Mary Goes to The Mountains

Santiam Pass

On Friday, April 4th we wrapped up our business and our fun and prepared to leave Springfield. We went to the barn in the morning and Breezy and Buddy had their last romp together before we said our goodbyes to the Arcuris. Then we set off for Central meet the Arcuris for dinner. We were in Terrebonne less than 24 hours but once again we had a wonderful time. After we got there.

I had been checking the weather reports and travel cams on the mountain passes for two days. I used to live in Central Oregon and made many, many trips over Santiam Pass over the years so I am aware how quickly the weather can change up there even in the spring months. John has driven Mary in the rain, the wind, the dust and the sun but we hoped to avoid driving her in the snow. So I checked, re-checked and checked again obsessively. I checked twice before we left on Friday and had the weather cam on the Pass up on my computer desktop as we left the farm and headed out on Highway 126 to McKennzie Pass. It was raining lightly when we left. Twenty minutes later it was raining harder. Forty minutes later it was raining cats and dogs. When we left, the weather cam on the mountain said 28 degrees. Twenty minutes later it said 30 degrees. Forty minutes later it said 31 degrees. Things were going well way up there on Santiam Pass even if they were deteriorating quickly down where we were. John was skillfully negotiating the wet roads and the wet weather while I quietly obsessed over whether we would get over the pass without encountering really bad weather.

I must say here that my husband is getting quite good at driving this huge vehicle. He has managed to put it in tight spots and get it out and drive it in all kinds of road conditions. It was probably just this side of insane for us to take off on a six week long trip knowing next to nothing about this motor coach but it has turned out very well. We haven't hurt it (that we are aware of) and the coach (and Dennis and Bob and a few dozen other Monaco technicians) and some friends and acquaintances and even a few strangers along the way have taught us so much about how to handle her and about all of her systems. I must also say that we are not totally confident with her yet but when I think about how completely inept we were when we left Florida a little over a month ago I'm pretty impressed with all that we have learned. We can distinguish sounds that are normal from sounds that are not. That's big. It cuts way down on adrenaline rushes. That will lengthen our lives considerably. If the adrenaline rushes had continued at the level at which we were experiencing them in the first two weeks we would have been dead a week ago. If I had to equate our current knowledge to the kindergarten through graduate school system I would say that we have graduated to at least....well...the third grade! But John is much more advanced than that in the driving end of things. That would be partly because he drove horse vans and horse trucks and trailers all of his life and partly because he hogs the driving of Mary all to himself. Remember when I said that I might get to drive her when we crossed West Texas? Well I haven't driven her yet. My job is navigation. A subject for another blog post.

On another subject...Buddy, the cutest Basset Hound alive, was a little depressed after Breezy left. Tim said he sat in the office and stared at the door for some time after she left as though he though she might come back through the door at any time for another romp in the arena together. So that means that we must come back soon. We can't let Buddy down. Of course Breezy, being the femme fatale that she is, has gone on as though nothing has changed. I like to think that down deep she has given Buddy a special place in her heart and she longs to return at some later date to Springfield to rekindle her relationship with him. Or she may be one of those fickle types leaving a string of broken canine hearts across the country and back. Time will tell.

So we continued on our way over McKennzie pass while I checked the traffic cam on Santiam Pass. To my absolute horror I see that the temperature has not only NOT continued to is falling. And each successive look at the cam tells me that it is getting foggier...or snowier up there on the top of the Santiam Pass. I decided it was fog. The last time I looked it had dropped from 31 degrees to 28 degrees and the view on the cam was nonexistent. It looked like a photo of dense fog. I checked the weather report for the 400th time. It didn't say anything about snow. Okay. "We're fine," I mutter to myself.

A note on denial: It is alive and well. Even when I know that I should say..."You looks like it is getting colder up there and we may run into trouble," my mind says, "Well it's probable that we will get over the top without a hitch and then we will enjoy the time with Tim and Jean that we planned..." It truly didn't matter because at the point where I determined that there may be trouble it was too late to turn back.

Next the rain turned from plain old rain, to thick rain. And then to rain and snow. And then it turned to snow. I tried to update the travel cam but I had lost my Internet connection. Too far out of range. And then in no time (I mean FAST) the road went from wet to snow-covered and Mary was grinding up and down hills and around big curves in the snow. I said, "Well I guess as long as we don't have to stop we will be fine." John maintained a neutral expression and attitude. I was bolstered. If he wasn't freaked out by the weather then I wasn't freaked out by the weather.

Of course it was totall fallacy. And I knew it but once again denial was coloring my thinking. Thankfully I didn't find out until later that in his mind he was FREAKING OUT...and so was I. But neither of us wanted to freak the other one out because of the weather. Breezy snoozed as we chugged through the snow...freaking out...quietly.

Mary with all of her weight and can do (anything) attitude ground through the snow like a giant snow plow and John eased her through along like he had been driving motor coaches in the snow all of his life. We were good. We were fine. As long as we didn't have to stop we were in great shape.

Then we rounded a curve and our eyes popped. Murphy was back, sitting right behind my seat...snickering. There was a line of traffic ahead of us. All I could see was red brake lights. There were cars, trucks, and RV's and up the line a fifth wheel that was moving at about two miles an hour ON A HILL. I groaned. "Oh (expletive)." Feel free to fill in the blank. John eased Mary down to a crawl and eventually had to stop. The problem? The fifth wheel pulled by a dually truck was crawling along up the hill slowing all traffic to a near stand still. One by one cars and trucks eased out into the oncoming lane and passed the fifth wheel and we eased along until we got behind it. John glanced in the mirror and said, "There is a snow plow behind us." We looked at each other with knowing looks. "*#$%!@@ Murphy," I said. "A snow plow behind us is not going to help much."

In the mean time the person who was driving the fifth wheel was obviously scared poop-less or was a total simpleton. It was snowing harder. The hill seemed to be getting steeper. We followed along behind this idiot hoping that the snow plow would find a place to pass us and actually start helping us get over the pass. We broke over the hill and started down the other side. We followed the fifth wheel going 20 miles per hour up and down a few hills until out of the blue, in the middle of the damn road the idiot in the fifth wheel stopped. Dead in the road. Stopped. We couldn't see around him well enough to pass so we stopped too. The blessing in this was that the snow plow got sick of the both of us and passed us. We sat there cursing the idiot in the fifth wheel until we could get around him and when we did I looked out my co-pilot's window and saw a man about 99 years old with his window down waving and smiling like he had good sense.


So we fell in behind the snow plow. I turned and flipped Murphy off and we moved on to ascend the steepest part of the pass. Mary handled it all like a champ. The Camry, which I had considered washing before we left the farm in Springfield, didn't fare as well. When we stopped I got out and looked at the coach and the car. Mary is sort of colored like the red cinders that they use on the road to provide traction so while she was really dirty the poor little car was absolutely filthy. It got dragged along behind Mary while she was kicking up all of those red cinders and dirty snow. It looked like it had been in used in a mud bog race. It still does. And Mary is sporting cinder/snow muck and bugs collected from Florida to Oregon and half way back. We can't wait to get her home and clean her up!

On The Descent

We made it to Terrebonne and set up at the RV park at Crooked River Ranch. When I called the office for directions to the park the woman who answered the phone gave me the rights and lefts and road names and then she told me that we would come to a sharp turn just before we drove down a steep hill to the park. She said, "Now I'm telling you, please slow down and be very careful on that turn. It's one of those 'Oh my God' turns." I thought that was a little odd...until we came to this turn. It is a 15 mile per hour ninety degree turn to the left and a guard rail that would keep the average vehicle from driving off a 500 foot cliff straight down to a golf course. Of course Mary isn't the average vehicle. She is huge. Once we made the turn and started down the hill we looked at each other and said in unison, "Oh my God," and then cracked up.

We had about an hour to settle in before we changed clothes and drove out to Ranch at the Canyons at Smith Rock and met Tim and Jean. They have a lovely home with a perfect view of Smith Rock. Then we went to Bend and had a great meal and a great time. We drove back to Terrebonne and greeted our wonderful little coach dog who was thrilled to see us. We both stopped outside in the cold evening air and looked up at the sky. It was a mass of sparkling stars against an inkt black sky. In all my years on the planet I've never been anywhere where you can find a night sky like that. It is spectacular.

In the morning we got up early and headed south. In my next blog I will describe a trip through the Sierra Nevada Mountains that was the most beautiful drive that either of us has ever taken. We are on a march to get to Oklahoma City for the Oklahoma Centennial horse show on Tuesday so we haven't had much time to stop and smell the roses but we have completely enjoyed the trip from the windows of our magic bus!