Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Long Drive Home

It's been more than two months since we arrived back on Freeman Road.

It was a bittersweet ending to a most incredible journey, a journey which took us to 44 of the 50 states, and 5 Canadian provinces, racking up 51000 miles on Gigantor's odometer, about 40000 of which were under tow.

It was bitter because of the finality of selling our rig and leaving it behind, and because after we left our relationship with the buyer deteriorated (long story). It was sweet because it was nevertheless a perfect ending to arrive back at home without the burden of needing to sell truck and trailer in New England at the end of the camping season.

The drive home was long: 2800 miles in six days; around 7 hours driving per day. The first drive might have been the best...
...we had great scenery as we drove past, and through, the mountains of central Utah, and we had an excellent lunch stop (at a campground, of all places) near Fremont Indian State Park in the Fishlake National Forest.
Coming down out of the mountains and into the desert we were treated to a broad desert panorama seething with thunderstorms. It took a while, but I caught a lighning strike "on film":
Day 2 took us over the Rocky Mountains, past Glenwood Springs, Vail and over Loveland Pass. We lunched on the shores of a lake where a bighorn sheep observation structure had been build. The sheep were not to be seen (probably hiding behind rocks, sniggering and butting each other), but it was a great place for a break, and gave Toby the opportunity for a hike and a swim before settling in for another haul, across the rest of Colorado and into Nebraska.

The third day the driving began to get old.
Most of the day was spent cruising past field after field of endless waves of grain. We crossed the border into Iowa and guess what - looks just like Nebraska!
On the fourth day things began to green up a bit. We crossed the mighty Mississippi River, and ended the day in South Bend, Indiana, not far from the Notre Dame campus, and an area familiar to me because I travel there to visit my employer in nearby Elkhart. This familiarity was like catching a whiff of home, and with only two more drives it was like the end was now in sight.

In the morning we went out for breakfast, and it was a good thing we did, because on the way back to the hotel (a drive of maybe 1/2 of a mile) our moving truck engine overheated! All of the engine coolant had leaked out overnight. We called Penske, thankful that they had a facility in town, but fearful that we would have to re-pack in a replacement truck. Instead they sent out a repair technician who found and fixed the problem in roughly 43 seconds. He then spent a while coaxing the thermostat open so that he could refil the coolant system, but once that was done we were back in business. All told it was less than two hours lost. We tore down the highway as fast as the speed-governor on the truck would allow, crossing most of Indiana, all of Ohio, and into Pennsylvania. Here we stayed at a marginally better hotel and treated ourselves to a room service dinner.

The last drive: back into the northeast proper; back into New England. It warmed us to be getting so close to the end, but aggrevated us to be back in the land of competitive driving. A construction project in New York state brought us to a standstill. Once we finally crept over the border into our home state of Connecticut we were welcomed by our fellow nutmeggers passing on the right, weaving through traffic, neglecting to use the turn signals on their european sports sedans...

And then there we were, driving slowly down our tree-lined street, past the golden hilltop meadow, along our own Firefly Field sloping down to our frog pond, the split-rail fence lining the lawn and driveway. The smell of oaks, cut grass and fresh water wafted in through the open windows. The buzzing of Cicadas and chirping of songbirds filled the late-summer air. We had arrived, back to stay... home.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Hurricane, Utah: Sale of the Whale

It was with mixed emotions of excitement and wistfulness that we packed up for one last tow. We automatically set about our routine of de-cluttering, stowing loose items, lashing the TV and chairs, raising jacks, running in the slides,disconnecting water and electricity, and hooking up the truck. This was certainly not our favorite part of living on the move, but it was unique to this lifestyle we've been living for most of the last two and a half years. This last drive under tow would be different in another way: Nancy would not be in the passenger seat of Gigantor - instead she would be following in the Penske truck. It was an easy drive - all highway - but we used our two-way radios for communication, like when and where to stop for lunch. We arrived in Hurricane, checked in, and backed into the site next to the buyers, Steve & Maria.

That first afternoon and evening were pretty much just what I'd hoped for. The four of us excitedly walked around and through the Whale, and that evening Steve and Maria hosted a nice dinner of bruschetta, grilled fish & squash. We talked over wine and cocktails, sharing stories and plans for the future. Nice.

The next day wasn't so much fun. Nancy and I still had a lot of cleaning and packing to do, and the moving truck was already very full. We were running out of boxes, and getting to more difficult items to pack. But the real source of stress came from Gigantor. Steve had noticed some wetness from oil under the engine. I was aware of it, but paid it no heed as it had been that way for so long and had gotten no worse. But Steve wanted it checked out, and suddenly we were afraid that they wouldn't buy the truck. We had naively assumed that the sale would go through without a hitch, had paid a lot of money for the moving truck, and were not prepared to take Gigantor home with us.

We dropped the truck off at a repair shop, and busied ourselves for a few hours, taking care of chores, including the wire transfer from Steve to the bank which held our lien on the trailer. That part went well anyway.

When we returned to the shop to hear the prognosis I was full of dread. It seemed that sometime in the truck's past someone had damaged the upper oil pan, and repaired it with epoxy or something. This repair was failing, and oil was now leaking through cracks in the patch. But, for $650 it could be put to right, so I agreed to absorb the cost, and Steve agreed to buy the truck. Not too terrible an outcome.

That night we retired to our separate quarters, all tired from the emotional impact of the day. Nancy and I were upset by the unexpected truck issue, wishing we'd had it checked out and fixed beforehand, so that we'd have arrived confident and with no lurking problems. We also had the question of the trailer title to deal with. In retrospect, we should have borrowed from ourselves, paid off the trailer, and shown up to the sale with a clean title. But, time was tight and its hard to get mail when we move so often. Plus, by having Steve pay the bank directly, then the title would get issued directly to him in his name, thereby avoiding the step of taking our signed-over title to Utah DMV for reissue. But, Steve was wary of the process, and wanted to hold back the balance of the combined sale price until he had title in hand. We didn't want to leave that much money behind, along with both truck & trailer. A compromise was reached that we would leave behind just $1000 as insurance that the title arrived as promised.

And so, after a last flurry of packing and cleaning, we piled into our rented Penske truck and pointed its nose toward Connecticut. It would take us six days, driving 7-8 hours each day, to cover the 2800 highway miles to get home. We were eager to get started, as we were eager to have it over with.

Much more full than expected - somehow all this was neatly tucked away in The Whale:

New owners, Steve and Maria:

Our six days of driving home were not without their moments, and I'll tell those stories in the next post. But this, now, is the end of the story of our adventures with Gigantor and The Whale. If that comes across as anticlimactic, that's because that's exactly how it felt.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Pocatello & Provo

It was with great reluctance and a sense of resignation that we left Sun Valley and headed southwards. Our first drive took us to Pocatello, Idaho, where we just spent an overnight. It was hot there, but we still took a walk on a multi-use trail adjacent to the campground, and went into town for mediocre Thai food.

We drove south again to Provo, Utah, where we would begin cleaning and packing truck & trailer for handoff. The heat was almost unbearable, more so because we were moving around a lot, packing up, cleaning and waxing. I did outdoor chores like waxing Gigantor early in the morning, and in the heat of the afternoons we hid indoors and packed boxes.

We got boxes for free by stopping at a nearby industrial park, where, with permission, we took 20 or so in "like new" condition. Saved nearly $50 over buying them at Home Depot. We picked up our Penske moving truck in Provo, too. A 12 foot box truck, it was actually smaller and easier to drive than Gigantor. We began to fill it right away:

I had originally thought that our payload would just cover the floor of this moving truck, but it quickly became apparent that it would be filled two or three boxes high. Amazing how much stuff we had tucked away in storage in The Whale.

Move moving and selling stories in the next post...

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Sun Valley

This would be, for all intensive purposes, the last stop of our incredible adventure, and what an amazing relief it was to be in Sun Valley. To escape from the heat and stress that we suffered in Boise, and relax into the relatively cool and wild beauty of this riverside, mountainside forest service campground.

We camped at Wood River Campground, 10 miles north of the mountain-resort town of Ketchum. It was a great site, although I think all of them were. We even had just enough Verizon signal for our Wilson amplifier to make usable internet, although not enough to have a phone conversation. That was fine with us.

The warm, long days and cool nights were perfect for living off of our batteries, and we only ran the generator for a few hours each day to charge up the house, computer and cell phone batteries. Pleasant as it was, we cooked over a wood fire each night, and kept it burning until bedtime.

We met a really great man, Lowell, and his companion, Carl, a miniature schnauzer. Lowell and Carl would wander by each afternoon or evening. Lowell would talk to us about Sun Valley and the Sawtooth Mountains, past and present. He was in his late 70's and a widower, having lost his wife to cancer several years ago. He still comes to camp in Sun Valley, and visit the memorial bench that he installed on the river not far from the campground. We enjoyed talking with Lowell, and watching Toby and Carl play. This connection made our visit here more special.

Lillian also tracked us down here. She was still in Brookings, having stayed until after Samantha's baby was born, and now came to visit us on here way back east. She stayed two nights with us, and during the day that she was there we drove up the valley, over the mountains, and into the lands beyond:

The sawtooth mountains:

Cooling off in the Salmon River:

Little Redfish Lake:

Wildflowers were a'bloom:

Boulder Mountains:

Our other days we spent walking Toby on the Harriman Trail which bordered the campground, and I went for a couple of excellent mountain bike rides. One was on a singletrack network just north of Ketchum, where steady climbing yielded rewards of views of the valley and an awesome descent back to the trailhead:

The other ride was at the Sun Valley Resort, where I twice rode the gondola 3200' feet up to the 9100' summit of Bald Mountain, to ride the singletrack trails back down. Unlike any other lift-service riding that I've done, where the ride down takes no longer than the lift up, in this case the trail back down was more than 12 miles long and took an hour! So I only did two runs, but it was awesome!

Sweet singletrack carved into the mountainside:

Actually, the second run was much more fun than the first, as I knew what to expect, and had learned how to float the bike over the loose & jagged shards of shale that covered sections of the trail surface. It was fast riding and amazing views, including of the town of Ketchum, thousands of feet below on the valley floor:

This was such a great place for us to have our last real stop of our trip. From here we would be en route to deliver the rig to Hurricane, spending most of our time cleaning and packing in the hot sun. So we are so glad that we took the time to go to Sun Valley, enjoy and reflect upon our amazing journey.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Burns & Boise

It came time to begin our trek to Hurricane, but we wanted one final destination before we relinquished Gigantor and the Whale to its new owners. We set our sights on Sun Valley, Idaho, and it would take use three drives to get there. First was the dusty little town of Burns, in eastern Oregon. The Old Camp Casino allowed dry camping in their parking lot for free, so we pulled in to check it out. Turns out it was better than many private parks we've paid good money to stay at.

Although it was hot when we arrived, we pulled into a shady area, and the dry desert air cooled off after sunset.

We spent a pleasant evening there, and almost wished we could stay longer.

Continuing eastward we arrived at a campground in Boise, Idaho. We were in for a surprise though, as when we stepped out into the searing heat, we found one of our trailer tires was flat! We slowly rolled into our site, and, dripping with sweat, I removed the bad tire and installed the spare. I then inflated the bad tire and found a puncture, which I repaired with a plug kit I've been carrying around for 2 1/2 years. Adding air once more, however, I found that the puncture was not the only problem - the steel belting within the tire had failed, so the tire was completely destroyed.

The next day, another scorcher, we tried to get the bad tire replaced on warranty, only to find that trailer tires are apparently not warranted by their manufacturer. The dealer we bought these from would have replaced it, but they are in Indiana, so we just had to find a local tire shop and buy a new one, which we did.

The heat was so bad - blazing sun and 100 degrees, that our air conditioner was overwhelmed. We even hung a tarp over the sunny side to help keep control of the inside temperature. The only relief we found was to walk down to the river which bordered the campground, and dip our feet in its cool waters. We'd bring our camp chairs and a pair of gin & tonics down there and sit until we felt human again.

Desperate for exercise, I got up early one morning and got on the bike trail that stretches for over 20 miles along the river that cuts through Boise. Along the way I passed a bike jump park, where I gave myself a refresher course in table-top jumps...

...and stopped to watch white water kayakers play in the wash below a breached dam:

I made it into downtown, and rode up the city streets to the capitol.

Boise seemed like a pretty nice little city. Too bad it was so freakin' hot, or we would have explored it more thoroughly. Maybe next time.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Bend & Sisters

I went to Bend last year while Nancy was back home on business, and I had wished that she’d been there with me to experience all that the area has to offer, especially visiting with my cousin Bruce and his wife Cathy. Like last year I had trouble finding a suitable campground, the best ones being fully reserved, and the nicest not having electricity. It was unfortunately very hot while we were there, so we needed to run our air conditioner. So, we went where I’d gone last year, to Crooked River Ranch. It’s an OK place to camp, but was very busy. This time the crowd was there to golf. We were gone on outings each day, so weren’t there when it was hottest.

The first night we met Bruce in the Old Mill district of Bend, had a walk around, and grabbed a bit to eat. Lots of folks were out floating or paddling in the river, or strolling along the paths at its banks. The next day Bruce and Cathy had to work, so we entertained ourselves by driving into the town of Sisters, then south up into the mountains to Three Creeks Lake, which Bruce had recommended. It was such a beautiful place, and nearly 20 degrees cooler than at the ranch. We launched our kayaks and had a nice paddle in the lake, admiring the snow covered peaks which surround it.

Some snow still remained on the north facing shore, and I dragged my boat up the slope a bit, sledding back down and right into the lake! I tried to post a video of it here, but it didn't work, so I've just captured a screen shot of the moment of impact...

On the drive out to the lake and back Gigantor’s battery light was on. The charge gage read low, and I was concerned that the alternator might be bad. Sure enough, the next morning the truck wouldn’t start. I tried to jump it with the camper’s batteries, but she wouldn’t have it. AAA came out and got her going, and I immediately drove down to buy a new alternator. It was an easy replacement, and put the truck right once more. That evening found us in Bend where we had a nice visit and with Bruce and Cathy at their home. It was great fun to meet their newest family member, an English spaniel named Baxter. Toby and Baxter got along great, and we were pleased at how Toby holds up playing with such a young puppy.

Cathy cooked another excellent salmon dinner, and we had lots of good conversation. When we left for the evening we didn’t go straight back to camp. Amazingly, my favorite guitar player, Jeff Pevar, whom I’ve seen play dozens of times back in Connecticut, was playing with Ricki Lee Jones at the Bend Summer Music Festival! Jeff lives in Ashland, Oregon now, so it wasn’t as remarkable as it would have been had he still live in CT, but still, pretty amazing. So, we went down to the park where they were playing and saw the last half-hour of the show. As they left the stage I called out to Jeff, and he came over for a moment to say hello. It’ll be fun to see him back east and laugh about this coincidence.

Now, it was about this time that we learned that we had buyers for Gigantor and the Whale! This meant that instead of taking the next six weeks to camp our way back home, we would head south to Hurricane, Utah, and then haul our belongings back to CT in a moving truck. It also meant that we didn’t have to rush away just yet, so we moved over to Sisters for a couple more days. We arrived on the day of the International Quilt Show, so we had to get into town early to avoid sitting in traffic. Coming in as we did from CRR we avoided most of it anyway – SO glad we didn’t come from Bend as Rt. 20 was backed up for many miles until early afternoon.

I wanted to take Nancy to the Peterson Ridge Trail network which I had ridden last year, and knew it was right up her alley. We biked through town to the trailhead, had a nice ride, then back.

After showers and lunch we rode back into town to browse the show. There were a few rain sprinkles as we pedaled over, and we just had a chance to see the town streets lined with hanging quilts before it started to rain in earnest. We ducked into a shop where many other quilts were displayed, and soon it was coming down in buckets! A Quilt Rescue Team deployed at the first sign of foul weather, and in no time the town was stripped of hanging quilts. The streets were like rivers, small hail dancing on the sidewalks. Thousands of people fled the town and the show was essentially over, just like that. Oh well. How long can you really look at quilts anyway?

The next day Bruce, Cathy and Baxter came out to Sisters, and, after stopping at Sister’s Bakery for their melt-in-your-mouth fresh cake doughnuts, we all drove out to the Metolius River, stopping first at its source. This river originates underground, like an enormous spring. From a hollow in a hillside pours forth a full-sized river! Very cool!

We proceeded to park at a large fish hatchery where we would hike along the river, but first we wandered among the pools to see the millions of trout being raised there. An overflow pool held escapees which had grown into large adult fish. The Metolius is a beautiful river, and its color is striking. We enjoyed a nice hike up river a ways, then back, before making our way back to Sisters. A really nice afternoon and visit.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Crater Lake revisited

Heading east from Brookings took us first down to Crescent City, California, where we had to endure another agricultural checkpoint. Thankfully we’d saved our paper from the first time, and we were quickly on our way. Driving northeast from there, through stands of old-growth redwoods, we came at last to the Crater Lake RV park, in Prospect, Oregon.

We’ve stayed at this park before, just over a year ago, when it was called Prospect RV park, and this is where we had met Zack and Bekah, who were hosts there. They’ve moved on to host at another park, and we're sorry to have missed them, but this park remains one of our favorite private campgrounds, as it is laid out in the manner of some of the better state parks – nice deep, wide sites in a well treed park-like environment.

We wanted to visit Crater Lake again, having been so enchanted with it last year. It was a beautiful warm day when we went there this time, and the perfect blue waters were every bit as magical as we remembered. Regardless of having taken many photographs previously, I couldn’t resist and took many, many more. This time we also had a nice hike along the rim trail which afforded us some panoramic views that we hadn’t seen before. What a gorgeous place. You should go there.

Rolling in snow on a hot summer day!

Click to enlarge:

The other highlight of our stay was the trail that follows the Rogue River, and is accessible right from the campground. I enjoyed this rolling trail last year, and rode it with Zack as well. This time I took Nancy out on it, and she loved it. We rode it all three mornings we were there. Great fun.