Monday, March 30, 2015

Evil GPS, Loving Friends, Sunny Acres and Tiny Mountain Roads

Friday, March 27 - Sunday, March 29

They say "That which does not kill us, only makes us stronger." 

Okay. I'm a much stronger driver now.

GPS maps on the IPhone look so innocuous. Flat, logical routes to follow. Neither are true in Tombstone, AZ.

We turn off the main highway on to a "street" that is maybe 200 feet long before it turns sharply to the left and then immediately down a very steep, very narrow, very washed out sort-of-asphalt trail (road would be a huge exaggeration). The GPS cheerfully says to turn right at the bottom where clearly there is no road or trail or goat path, just some old abandoned cars. We are now at the bottom of a deep bowl maybe 50 yards wide with the only exit a slightly smoother, but twice as steep, driveway that comes out behind an old building.

Choices? Not really. Bill is a rock, doesn't hesitate to say "You can do it."  So up we go. We make it with no problem, there's room at the top to pull all the way out and stop at the highway. I don't stop to cry with relief.....

We can't reach Donnie for real directions so we give the GPS another try.

Nope. Another narrow road leading to a sharp left turn at the bottom of a hill and then back up to a ball park on a dirt road. GPS says turn down the dirt road. Jodee says no.

I have no qualms about driving the rig on a dirt road. We will do so a lot when boondocking. But I'm not trusting the GPS another foot at this point.

Bill now reaches Donnie who says "None of those roads go through although all the GPS systems think they do, we'll come get you."  I like this option.

Now some things one needn't share on a blog, but it really did help lift the "slight tension" I had built up over the last 20 minutes......Bill rode the rest of the way on the potty. You know, sometimes you just can't wait.

So up and down hills and around just made me laugh knowing he was back there :-) I'm a bad person.  He still loves me.

Donnie and Anna have a lovely home with a nice, level parking pad out front. The angle is a little challenging but at this point backing the rig up to that pad was nothing!  Bill got everything set up and we spent the evening with our wonderful friends, getting caught up over basketball and yummy steaks.

Another sweet mooch-dock spot

Saturday morning was a brisk 50 degrees and we took advantage of the big shower and lots of hot water before breakfast. Packed up, pulled out, hooked up, said our good-byes, and were on the road before 8:30.

It was highways and Interstate the whole way so even if the wind found us we expected an uneventful travel day to Las Cruces. Almost.

I've seen lots of check lists that RVers use for pulling out, setting up, at each stop. I have not seen "check rubber seal around windshield" on any of them. Fortunately when ours came loose it was the section right in front of the right rearview mirror, and the only place either of us could have seen it while driving down the road.

Pulled off at the rest stop and made our first roadside repair. We check it often and it is holding fine. Will put it on the list for the dealership next week.

We need the fancy "matching" duct tape

My only priority for a stop in Las Cruces was green chili. I remembered that Hans and Lisa had stayed at a little park in town that they liked so I had reservations at Sunny Acres for one night. It did not disappoint. Very clean, big sites, nice trees, sweet dog run.

Large sites
Larger neighbors

Lots of stories for Tessa to read

Nicely maintained

The park host's recommendation for green chili around the corner at the High Desert Brewhouse was spot-on as well. While we weren't impressed with our beer choices, the green chili stew and nachos were delicious. Definitely a local hangout where everyone knows each other, slightly beat-up tables and chairs, and a dog-friendly patio - it was perfect.

High Desert Brewhouse, Las Cruces, NM

Sunday we were due at the family reunion location in the mountains of Ruidoso. In the morning I checked three different maps for the final route to the small guest ranch, and none of them recognized the address, or the road. Even the website map was confusing. Oh boy.

We can be taught. Found a spot to park the rig just past downtown and unhooked the Jeep. Bill spoke nicely to the GPS and when we couldn't reach the ranch by phone we gave it a shot. We found it! And were so glad we unhooked the Jeep before trying it with the rig and towing.

The ranch owner was here when we arrived at noon, didn't know anything about our bringing a rig, the one hookup spot is occupied by their maintenance guy, maybe we could just park it "over there". 

Okay. Our family of almost 40 are the only ones here, we also have a cabin, we'll put the rig where it fits, and all will be fine.

Back to town for groceries and a few other things - oh, and the rig.

Bill leads with the Jeep and we take our time, and both sides of the road, to get back up the tiny mountain roads to the ranch. 

Now we can relax and enjoy family for four days before taking on the road again.  Life is good.

Ruidoso, NM

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Pre-Launch Adventure Begins!

Wednesday, March 25 - Friday, March 27

I walk across the street and get the rig from the PetsMart where we parked it overnight (with permission) so we didn't have to wait for the storage lot to open at 9:00.  Wind was likely and I wanted to get ahead of it as much as possible.

Loaded up directly from the garage (Bill is so smart), and hooked up the Jeep for the first time. Easy process. Looks a bit intimidating when it's all put together, but we are so excited to be heading out on our 10-day adventure!

Ready to go!
While the traffic is light heading East on Hwy 210, the wind is not. We pick it up around San Dimas and I'm not a happy driver. Having driven I-10 in the desert in March/April I know the potential for a very nasty drive.

Taking a back road along the freeway we find ourselves in a wind tunnel, buffeting the rig around like a paper airplane, driving at 25 mph it feels like we'll be landing in Oz at any minute. This does not bode well for the Interstate ahead.  We continue onward.

We find a small, very dilapidated 3-Sisters Truck Stop to try fueling up in the truck lane. Hoping for faster speed and easier access we aren't impressed with either as our driver's side fill won't take more than 12 gallons without regurgitating every other drop we attempt.  This must be why there are two fillers and sure enough the other side graciously accepts another 35 gallons. We wait five minutes for a break in the trucks to pull back out on the road. Geez, give me a friggin' Shell station on the corner!

Fortunately we leave most of the chaos behind when we get back on the freeway.  Winds are manageable as I get comfortable with the sudden gusts that enhance the already 20 mph steady crosswinds.  Bill gives constant encouragement, avoiding the "Stop whining and just drive" that I'm sure is what he'd like to say. Instead he says "I'll drive."  Which is much more effective in getting the desired result. Some day I must learn to be a passenger.  Today is not that day.

A quick road-side stop for lunch outside Palm Springs, and by 2:30 we're parked back at our friend's place in Lake Tamarisk.  The winds had increased the last 25 miles, so the exit sign was a very welcome sight! 

Our great mooch-docking spot in Lake Tamarisk

Unhooking the Jeep is as easy as hooking it up, and we are already so happy with our Sterling Towbar.  We enjoy a relaxing evening on the patio. It feels different than our maiden trip here. Bill's retired.

Thursday morning we're back on the road before 8:00.  The wind is much lighter but it's still there all the way to Gila Bend.  The Palo Verde trees and Brittlebush are in full, heavy bloom, and the desert is a vivid yellow everywhere you look.  The red Ocotillo blossoms are beautiful as well, but yellow is the "it" color this season :-)  We enjoy an uneventful drive and find the Holt Shell Station RV Park before 1:00.  A Passport America park at $11.99 for FHUs and a large gravel site. Really, I just wanted to say we stayed at a gas station......but it's quiet and clean and just fine for our needs.

Quiet, large, cheap - it works for the night

There are two non-chain places to eat in "town". We choose the Mexican place with a patio and are the only ones there. It's mid-afternoon in a tiny place, we don't judge.  The food is fine, the lemonade wonderful, and we finish our meal before the flies make off with the plates. 

Room for 1/3 the population to join us

It is nearly 93 degrees and the AC runs nearly all night.  We sleep very well.

The sites back up to open desert and Friday morning we walk Tessa just after sunrise. The Palo Verde are incredible here as well, and there are dozens of Mourning Dove and Quail. 

Even with just a little sun the yellow was bright

This morning is another milestone. Bill hooks up to the sewer at our site and dumps our tanks.  I stay in the rig and get things ready to leave. The AC is off and the windows open.  I hear nothing.  He comes in and reports "It's fine."  He also shares that at the early hour he was careful not to swear loudly.  Perfect.  We now know we can dump our tanks.  It's a big deal, but it is early so we quietly acknowledge the moment and head out after hooking up the Jeep.

Our next stop is Tombstone, AZ, where we are staying with one of our brothers from high school and his wonderful wife.  We've been looking forward to this visit, they are both such great friends! 

We have been relying on our IPhone GPS and early in the day Bill says when we get back we're getting a real RV GPS. Works for me, the little one got us into some weird spots before, and I don't want that to happen with the rig. Towing the Jeep.

Too late.  Nerves and skill are put to the test as soon as we arrive in Tombstone.

To be continued.......

Palo Verde give way to Saquaros as we move south

Friday, March 20, 2015

Retirement - Check!

Bill retired today.

After counting down for the past two years, he said good-bye to the crew, the responsibility, the paperwork, the schedule.

Instead of some evening shindig, his boss and coworkers set up tables and tarps in the parking lot of the shop, lit the barbeque, iced the beer and sodas, and made room for the motorhome!  Just what Bill wanted :-)

BBQ at the rig

In addition to the crew, lots of vendors and former co-workers and customers showed up to wish him well, share the awesome meal, and take a tour of the rig.  With his chair set up under the awning, and a cold one in his hand, Bill modeled his future for all these great folks.  It was very fun.

Guarding the beer bucket

Boss's BBQ'd ribs were awesome!


It's the people you'll miss

It was nearly perfect, but after six years, he's come down with a cold over the last few days!  The man missed almost no work over the years, and his last week of work and he was out a day and a half :-(  I think his "systems" were just ready to go early!  Still, he felt fine for the grand event and enjoyed getting to say his good-byes.

They made a video for him and it was even more fun because we piled everyone in the rig to watch it on the flat screen!  It was snug, but apparently we can fit 15 people (who like each other) in the living area.  Good to know these things.

Everybody else still had to work so we helped clean up and with two loud toots of the air horn we pulled out of the driveway for his last time.  About every two hours he says "I'm retired!" 

One thing left on the list, Richie's (youngest) graduation on June 2.  The next day - we launch :-)

Tuesday we leave for New Mexico for a family reunion in Ruidoso so I'm looking forward to a post from the road - just TWO retirees living the dream!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Those Jello Plans Everyone Talks About

While different full-timers live the life in different ways, all talk about the importance of making plans in Jello. Change is inevitable. The left fork may be a lot more fun than the planned right one. You can always go back and see it later. Flexible is good.

Planning committee

Over the past year I have occasionally gone back and read my blog post from the same week in the previous year. I notice that I have been pretty careful about not saying "never" or "always". I've avoided "will" in most cases, using "plan to" in an attempt to recognize that some stuff just happens in its own time. Or not at all.

Reading the March 14, 2014, post I smiled at what I thought this month might look like. The smile was because we are so much farther along than I ever dreamed! The very best kind of Jello.

Good stuff that Jello

Instead of a few weeks 'til retirement, Bill retires in 6 days. Instead of a storage unit, our saved items fit in three trunks stored already with our son. Instead of starting paperwork on the house, we have been in an apartment for three months because the house sold in December. Instead of a motorhome on hold, we have a motorhome already purchased. Instead of the anticipated jumbled mess, it has all been relatively smooth.

It's interesting to note that we are all talking about how early "summer" came this year. But in that same blog post we were expecting 89 degrees last year at this time as well.

There have been some big detours in the last year, one being the choice of rig. We're both happy with our choice of the Thor over the Tiffin, and glad that we stayed open to finding something better if it came along. Getting an apartment was not something we even talked about a year ago, figuring we wouldn't be selling the house until May. Again, we're very happy to have that well behind us now!

Probably the single biggest inspiration for me to take on this lifestyle has been Howard and Linda Payne of RV-Dreams. For the past couple years I have looked forward to attending one of their week-long educational and fun rallies, and we booked a cabin at the Spring Rally in Tennessee for next month. Everything is paid for and all reservations are confirmed.

We aren't going. Until next Spring. When we can take the rig. There were other considerations as well, and as sad as I am to miss this one, it's the right decision for us now. Still Jello :-)

Not nearly as good, but okay.

We still have plenty on our calendar before we launch, including another wedding tomorrow. With Bill finally retiring we plan to extend our travels around our upcoming family reunion in New Mexico, and our high school reunion in Laughlin, Nevada. There's two more weddings as well, and some California friends we want to hang out with.

Recognizing how important it is, how right everyone has been about it, we're glad that the whole Jello-planning thing is already working for us!

We can do this!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Magic of Love and Oak Trees

Photo by Paul Silva
We've all been to weddings over the years, and for the most part they all look, sound and feel the same. Not in a bad way, tradition is wonderful, and we grow up wanting to "have our day".

But our traditions aren't the only traditions, and throughout the world there are many, many lovely and fun ways to proclaim our commitment to one another.

When Brian (oldest son) and Shalise were engaged last year they naturally started gathering ideas for their big day. They knew they wanted to be outdoors, and very quickly decided on Malibu Creek State Park. The date was chosen by the availability of the space and the only open weekend in their time frame was March 6-8. Done.

Once the time and place were set they began researching different traditions and ceremonies, knowing more what they didn't want, than what they did. The result was three days of love, family, friends and fun.

In Germany couples are legally married the day prior to the wedding ceremony - because legal affairs are not allowed inside the church (true separation of church and state, how wonderful!). The couple felt this was a great tradition that was also very pragmatic, and they invited their immediate family to join them on Friday for the "legal part."

Becoming husband and wife

From there they headed to the group campground to begin set up for the weekend's festivities. My youngest, Jeff, flew in from Seattle and after picking him up from the airport that afternoon we all met at the site.

The photos don't truly capture the beauty of this place. Lush green hills with old growth oaks and clear blue skies. Nearly impossible to believe you're still in Los Angeles County!


Location, location, location
Got the Jeep unloaded, did some set-up, and rehearsed the ceremony. The stars were bright and beautiful as we headed home.

Saturday was clear and warm with no wind. And everything else was just as perfect as the weather. All of it. Magical.

Picnic tables for seating under the oaks

Gravel clan coming together

Brian and Shalise spent weeks preparing the material, and their family (four parents and two brothers) "performed" the ceremony. The bride was stunning in sage green as her handsome groom walked up the aisle to meet her. 
We each read something they selected, and introduced a tradition from several different cultures. Warming of the rings by everyone in attendance, hand washing, drinking from the love cup, and by far the favorite of the day was sawing a log (good size!) in half with a saw her stepfather made for them. I can't wait to see the video because it was so much fun!!

Loving cup

Saying their vows

Explaining the analogy of cutting a log to the challenges of marriage

Everyone brought kebobs for grilling and salads and side dishes to share. The reception line ended at a table of cupcakes - including several vegan selections baked by the bride :-). Prior to the traditional toast they announced the gender of the baby and we all cheered for Baby Boy Smith! Jeff gave a heartfelt and beautiful toast to his brother and his wife (I am a blessed mom), followed by tearful words of love from the mother-of-the-bride, and the "formalities" were complete.

Did I mention how magical it was? Under the old oaks, green valley spread out below, and tall hills surrounding us, it was like being swept away to an enchanted land. As the sun set, the lanterns came out and the music began.

Most everyone was camping there until Sunday afternoon so they were able to build a nice fire and celebrate all night! What a great way to continue the happy. To share the joy of the special event.

We weren't staying (no place for the rig, not feeling the tent thing much anymore), and we had a good drive so we left Jeff with his tent and headed for home.

Is there anything more wonderful than seeing your children happy, in love, and preparing to bring their own child into the world?

Cheers to love!



Monday, March 2, 2015

Beach Day for the Bride

Between us, Bill and I have six boys. No daughter-in-laws and no grandkids.  Until now. Almost.

The oldest, Brian, is getting married on March 7! 

Brian and Shalise
Shalise is a delightful young woman who we adore. They are wonderful together.  In the middle of wedding preparations came the great news that they are expecting!  Baby Smith is due the middle of August!!

They have been working hard on all the pre-wedding stuff and a day of relaxation was in order.  Shalise and I headed to a beach house in San Clemente to meet her mom and girlfriends, while Brian enjoyed a day of doing absolutely nothing - bliss for both :-)
The parking lot for our lunch spot was the smallest I've ever seen, but it did have one thing that really stood out for me.

A personalized spot just

After waiting for our table and a bit longer for the rest of our party we enjoyed a delicious brunch at CafĂ© Rae. It is a bright and cheerful little place with tasty organic offerings.  I forgot to get a photo, but everybody loved their choices!

Knowing it was likely to rain we got a condo with enough space for everyone to hang out indoors.  We couldn't check in until 3:00 so we took a chance and headed to the beach.  The stormy skies were beautiful and gave the water a most wonderful color.  We walked down the sand, turning over smooth stones and looking for non-existent shells. The sun peeked out occasionally and the light breeze was refreshing.  Getting to the beach meant descending a very long series of stairs, many that were broken. As soon as I got to the bottom I was already dreading the climb back up!

Storm threatening over calm waves

Many stones but no shells - and no crowds

Bundled up while finding treasures

Killer stairs
After making a "pit stop" at the parking lot, we took the walking trail back. It is well maintained with lovely flowers.  We found a different staircase that looked maybe a little shorter, and definitely in better shape being solid concrete.  Still very steep, I had to make several stops including resting on a bench with a little street art to enjoy. Made it to the top alive.  I really have to work on my leg strength and stamina if I'm going to be hiking all those cool trails!

Flowered path

They are much steeper than they look!

Groovy street art

Shalise got the key, opened the door, and we all said "Wow!" at the same time. The view was incredible!  Lots of big windows and a small patio overlooking water and sky for miles. 
Others started arriving, including the massage therapist, and it started to feel like a real celebration. 

Huge living room, everyone in the kitchen

Made me laugh

The colors changed continuously with
the movement of the clouds
Unfortunately I had to drive back (Shalise's mom was bringing her back in the morning), so I headed out before it got dark.
We had no rain on our drive down and no more than a few drops at the beach. It was dry most of the way back as well, but the sky to the north was definitely looking angry.  About Griffith Park both the rain and the traffic started. I arrived safely home a short time later.

Out of a wall of gray the sunset burst like a wildfire on the horizon!

It was a wonderful day at the beach celebrating the bride-to-be.  A week from now I'll be a mother-in-law!