Saturday, April 30, 2016

My Day in the ER

We spent a glorious four days at Staysail RV Park in Oak Harbor on Whidbey Island. We were there to visit our dear friends Dan and Sherrie, and as we always do, we had a blast.

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Zoe, Dan, Steven, Linda, Sherrie and Dan!          The view from our window at Staysail RV Park.

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Steven finally gets to drive!!                                 Scoopy gets a bath.

We are now in Bellingham, four days away from the official start to our trip to Alaska. The "To Do" list is long, at least in our minds. The problem is we don't always write it down, so we're left wondering what is it we really need to do. So rather than actually doing things, we talk about making a list. :)

Remember that whole “plans written in Jell-o” thing I wrote about previously? Yeah, that nearly happened. An unexpected issue came up that almost put the big kabosh on our entire trip. I happened to take my blood pressure Thursday morning and man, it was sky high. We jumped in the car and drove to Rite-Aid to confirm my little machine hadn't gone off the rails. It hadn't. Long story short, this high blood pressure event caused Steven and I to decide a trip to the ER would be the prudent thing to do.

First there was the ER doctor and then two cardiologists were called in, one for the consult and the other for the testing. As you can imagine, I blew through my very high insurance deductible in a matter of hours. :)  I spent the day there having every test imaginable. EKG, chest X-ray, even an exploratory angiogram. The nurse handed me a nitroglycerin pill and I ask, "what for?" She said, "for your chest pain." I said, "I don't have chest pain." That was the end of that pill.

My blood pressure fell dramatically while I was in the ER. The nurse said it's like taking your car in for repair and the mechanic can't duplicate the issue. My EKG was perfect, my angiogram showed no blockage (big, fat arteries, they said…) and my chest X-ray was fine. I do have some moderate calcium build-up, which isn't surprising considering my history of smoking. Even years after quitting it comes back to haunt me. (Don't smoke, people!!)

In the end, I came home with blood pressure medication. One of the cardiologists gave his best elevator speech (twice!!) for why I needed to take statins every day for the rest of my freaking life, but that prescription went unfilled.

The good news is that I have been cleared for Alaska!

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WE’RE GOING TO ALASKA!!!

The bad news is that the doctors basically told me to sit on my ass for a couple of days, so I am not really getting much done. We did make a trip to Trader Joe's today, but that's about all we've accomplished. Oh wait, before we left Oak Harbor we did wash Scoopy. That was a big damn job, but I figured if that kind of exertion didn't give me a heart attack, then I'm golden.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Into the Great Unknown

What is it about driving to Alaska that seems so daunting?

The distance is definitely a consideration, over 5,000 miles in Scoopy, and countless more on Toadie over 12-16 weeks. That's a lot of travelin' in a fairly short amount of time.

The roads are always a cause for concern, of course. Depending on who you ask, they either suck and will destroy your RV and tear up your tow or they are great and there is nothing to worry about. There are lots of ways to add protection to our tow ranging from very expensive kits to the homemade "Mad Max" variety. We fall into the latter category. A yoga mat. A couple of tarps. Paracord. Hardware cloth. I can only imagine how poor Toadie will look when we are done with our "preparations". We also got brand new tires for Toadie while we were in Oregon. But, in case our efforts fail, we also have a good supply of rock chip repair kits and a roadside assistance plan. In the end, the universal advice is to slow down and enjoy the ride and, for the most part, that's our plan.

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We come well-armed against the mosquitoes.  We can also Zoodle our way across Canada.

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Tire check! Scoopy’s are A-OK!   Toadie asks, “Does this garage make my butt look big??”

Of course, all our preparations will be for naught unless we are allowed entry into Canada, and in order to do that, we have to get past the legendary Canadian border guards. They are mythical creatures with X-ray vision who can shoot laser beams from their eyeballs. (That laser thing may just be a rumor, I don't know for sure.) These agents defend their borders from a bunch of stuff. Chicken. Booze. Citrus. Terrorists. Really, no one knows for sure (although terrorist is probably a given...) and these guys have absolute power when it comes to boarding your rig and poking around and taking stuff!! The question that keeps most of us up at night is "will they?"  

The US Border guards have the same reputation, except maybe no laser beam superpower, but they too can and will come aboard your rig and relieve you of stuff if they so desire. The rules, it seems, are constantly changing, and are difficult to keep up with. One agent's "meh" is another one's, "pull over". I think they like to keep us guessing, and boy do they!

It's always a huge topic of conversation among those heading north and there are horror stories that make the rounds every year, particularly with regard to alcohol. We RVers are a boozy lot any talk of confiscation sends us into a tailspin. Alcohol in Canada is expensive, apparently. Among the happiest RVer posts in the forums and on Facebook are "Whew, we just made it into Canada!! WUHOO!!!", and then everyone freaks out and asks how much alcohol they had on board.

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There are only two left now.

It's a particular conundrum for those of us who live full time in our RVs. This is our only home, what exactly are we supposed to do with that Full Bar and the case(s) of wine we carry on board?  We actually unloaded most of it at the ranch, except for the wine, but we'll polish that off in the next few days. Our plan is to cross the border booze-free, or at least within the allotted limits. We still haven't quite figured out what those are, but we will find out one way or another. :)

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Bottom left, four dead soldiers at Dan & Sherrie’s house on Whidbey Island. Our stash is nearly gone!

Living in an RV generally requires some preparation and forethought as to what lies ahead even if it's just looking at a map and finding a place to stay. But when Alaska gets tossed into the mix folks seem to go into overdrive. I get it. I mean, I'm a planner (control freak) by nature, so I assumed I would plan our trip six ways from Sunday and think through every contingency. Plan A, B, C & D. Surprisingly, this has not happened. I looked at the map and we discussed our route, but that's about it. We have no spreadsheets of fuel stops or campgrounds, basically, we're just going to wing it.

In ten days we cross the border into the abyss. Our first stop will be about five minutes away, at Costco, where we plan to stock up on booze. I guess we did some planning after all, eh?

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Where Am I?

You know that sleepy split second when you first wake up in the morning, before reality kicks in? The first thing that enters my mind is "where am I?".  In the past few weeks we've camped in the desert, by the ocean, near the redwoods, behind several Elks Lodges and in a repair shop parking lot. Is it any wonder I get confused?

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Boondocking at the Salmon Harbor Marina in Winchester Bay, OR. I love the views here!

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One of these is not like the others.                           Repair shop boondocking!

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Mt. Hood is visable from the Sherwood Elks.           Parked “nose in” at Champoeg State Park.

Today we're back in the Seattle area, at Lake Pleasant RV Park in Bothell, to be exact. This is not our usual campground here, but since Zoe graduated from Western and moved to Seattle, this is the closest place to her, only seven miles away. We've been here a few times to visit traveling friends when we lived in Sammamish, but we've only stayed here once, a few months after we adopted Scoopy.

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Dan, Zoe, Steven and Linda reunited in Bothell!

We thought it would be fun to spend Thanksgiving here, thinking that if the kids wanted to eat, they would have to join us at the campground. All three of them actually showed up, in separate cars. That still cracks me up. And did I get a single photo of our entire family enjoying a holiday meal in Scoopy? Nope.

I posted on Facebook a few days ago how much my idea of the perfect campground has changed since we became fulltimers. I imagined myself as the ultimate Pavement Princess. All hook ups, all the time for this gal. I have surprised myself that nothing could be further from the truth. I am happiest either on the move or parked in the middle of nowhere with a gorgeous view, where neighbors are a respectable distance away. Hook ups be damned. It irks me to pay exorbitant prices for a tiny space in a commercial campground. But hey, welcome to the big city.

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Scoopy is feeling a little claustrophobic here in Bothell.

Tomorrow morning I'll wake up and think, "where am I?", then I’ll remember and be irked all over again.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Elking It Up The Coast

Over the past six weeks we have slowly made our way up the California coast into Oregon where we are happily parked at the Salmon Harbor Marina in Winchester Bay. We are boondocking again, which we haven't done since we left Rincon Parkway.

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Scoopy at Salmon Harbor Marina in Winchester Bay.

I'll tell you, once you get a taste for hook-ups, full or otherwise, your boondocking chops fall by the wayside. While we've been able to manage our solar very well (thanks to some beautiful sunny days!) we have let slip a few little tasks that we would typically do, like unplug stuff we don’t need. I think we need a checklist, but it would go into the black hole that is Steven's iPad where all our other checklists are buried.

As we traveled we honestly thought we had missed El Nino altogether, in spite of the constant and dire warnings for Southern California. We did, in fact, have gorgeous weather for weeks in SoCal, but El Nino finally caught up with us when we rolled into the San Francisco area. With only a few exceptions, it has stayed with us ever since! 

In fact, it rained so much that Scoopy sprung a leak when we were in Napa! Water suddenly came streaming through an A/C vent in the ceiling. Steven sped off to Walmart to get a tarp while I grabbed a bucket and worried. Steven got out the ladder and went up top to secure the tarp and managed to stop the leaking. 

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Rain, rain, rain kept us inside our rig at the Napa Elks.

Funny story about that ladder, though. Later that evening we planned to meet friends Mark and Abbe for dinner at Bouchon, a fun little bistro in Yountville. We decided we didn't want to be driving at night, in the rain, after enjoying some adult beverages, so we hired a Lyft driver to deliver us to the restaurant. A fabulous time was had by all, and when it was time to return home, we Uber'd it back to Scoopy. 

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Our friends Mark and Abbe at Bouchon.

By this time it was very late, and raining very hard, and we had both indulged in the aforementioned adult beverages. There we were standing outside Scoopy getting drenched in the darkness while Steven fished around in all his pockets looking for the door key. Nothing. He repeated the process. Nada. His pockets were empty. Toadie was right there with a spare door key inside, but both of her keys were in the rig! What to do....what to do.

Steven finally recalled that he might have left a side window unlocked. I think we both had visions of one of us trying to boost the other through that window, and not being very happy about that option. Then he remembered the ladder! Five minutes later we were inside warm and dry, and oh, so happy! The next day Steven had a few extra keys made, and two days later the Lyft driver called to say he had found our key. We arranged to have it mailed to Zoe in Seattle.

Napa, of course, is all about the food and wine and believe me when I tell you we indulged. A couple of days after our key incident, Laurie and Odel drove from their home for an overnight stay in Napa and we ate and drank our way through the countryside. We had a great dinner in town and a lovely picnic at the V. Sattui Vineyards, all in celebration of friendship and birthdays, mine and Odel's. As always, it was so great to hang out with them!

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Living it up in Napa with Laurie and Odel.           Garlic fries and wine: Lunch of Champions!

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Sweet and savory offerings at the beautiful shops in nearby St. Helena.

We ended up staying an extra day in Napa waiting for our Eternabond tape to arrive. When it did, Steven fixed the leak on Scoopy's roof and we were off to wander north!

Even though we traveled up the California coast in the low season, staying in state parks and commercial campgrounds is expensive. One of the smartest things we did before hitting the road in 2014 was to join the Elks. Many lodges across the country offer RV facilities to traveling Elk members at a cost significantly lower than local RV parks. The amenities vary greatly from lodge to lodge, from those with full hook-ups, Wifi, full bar and restaurant, laundry rooms and showers, to those offering a parking space in a gravel lot behind the lodge. In the time we have been on the road, 20 percent of our stops have been at an Elks Lodge. 

Our first one after the Rincon Parkway was the Santa Maria Elks, which had full hookups, free Wifi and all the amenities. After weeks of boondocking, we were so excited to be there! Very few of the Elks take RV reservations, but Santa Maria happens to be one of them. We stayed for nine days but both of us had colds so we spent most of our time trying to recover. We wanted to stay longer but had to go because someone else had reserved our spot. We took off to Salinas Elks, which was a great place to stay while visiting Monterey, Pebble Beach and so many other beautiful places. We also visited the National Steinbeck Center in town and really enjoyed it. 

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Day trips to Bixby Creek Bridge and Pebble Beach Golf Course.
 
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While at Salinas Elks Lodge, Steven’s favorite place to photograph was Pismo Beach Pier.

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Downtown Salinas and the enjoyable National Steinbeck Center.

Because we were so close, we drove north in Toadie to check out three Elks locations in the south San Francisco Bay area to see where we wanted to stay next. Santa Clara was first, and while we could have stayed there, it required a loooong backing in process that we would rather not have to do. Next up was San Jose, and we didn't care for that one at all, it was right next to the highway and, frankly, a little junky. Finally, we visited the Fremont Elks and decided that was the one. It's in a great location and we were able to visit friends and take the BART into San Francisco from there. 

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San Francisco and the giant Redwoods are just some of our favorite places to visit in California.

After Fremont came more Elks camping - Napa, then Ukiah, and Eureka. We crossed into Oregon and stayed at the lodge in Brookings so we could visit the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. Most Elk’s facilities are "First Come, First Served" and we are always nervous that we won't get a spot. It's a game we play - "will we or won't we?" – but most of the time we're surprised to find plenty of room. Between boondocking and Elks Lodges, we've become sort of allergic to commercial campgrounds and avoid them when possible. We've only been to one this year and it was Passport America, so 50 percent off. About the same as an Elks Lodge. 

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Two things we love about Oregon; coastal views and the company of friends. Here with Gordon and Juanita.

We are still on track to head to Alaska this summer and we're pretty darn excited! More on that next time.