Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas on the Gulf Coast of Texas

We arrived in Port Aransas, TX on a breezy, cold day.  Our path took us right through Corpus Christi, and as we passed the big plants and negotiated heavy traffic we worried that we'd made a huge mistake by committing to our site for a whole month. We were hoping for peace and quiet, tropical breezes and warm sticky days on the beach. Once we got on the East side of town we found the island and beaches we were looking for and breathed a sigh of relief that we hadn't inadvertently booked a spot downwind of a refinery for a month.

Missing chunks where Harvey took a bite - a common sight
Every time we commit to a month somewhere some disaster happens.  We hoped to break our unlucky streak by picking a place that was already pre-disastered and this part of Texas was hit with Hurricane Harvey just a few months ago.  From the looks of it most of the island took heavy damage; the folks are working hard and fast to bring the homes, businesses and roads back up to snuff, the resulting cacophony of noise could hardly be called restful but at least it is productive and we are impressed with how quickly they are progressing.

About four days ago it finally stopped raining and warmed up. It's now in the 70's and breezy and a little sticky, I think this is more normal for here, and that we arrived during a strange cold spell for the region. We are right on the beach and the sand is super silky and fine and white, it's absolutely beautiful. The dog gets to run on the beach several times a day with one or both of us. The slightest breeze disturbs the sand on the surface and it makes the most beautiful designs on the beach. All in all it feels very tropical and we don't even care that we vacuum the sand out of the rig several times a day between Lance's boot and Chloe tracking it in. I leave my flipflops outside.

Last weekend I discovered the National Park at South Padre Island. The turtles that come ashore there to lay eggs are called Kemp ridley sea turtles and the females weigh in at around 125 lbs. I sure wish we could see one but they lay eggs in the Spring and they hatch in August so we missed them.  
Office space progress
We have used the downtime and a solid mailing address to get some projects rolling.  The new office design has tested well this week so I will proceed with sanding, paint, and applying the fabric to the surface soon. We made friends with the maintenance crew here at the park and they offered us use of their workspace and their belt sander.  We ordered some new cushion guts for the settee chairs, and some parts to repair the blinds and curtains here and there. All of these are little things that go wrong with a 20-year old RV, I suppose, and still significantly less hassle than my house was on its best day.

We made reservations at a swanky fish restaurant with a view for Christmas Eve dinner, and we intend to graze through Christmas day here at the beach, Lance may slow cook a roast or maybe not.  We are learning the quirks of our convection oven and the metal plate my Mom bought us is turning out to be quite handy for one-dish meals.

They allow beach driving here, probably not during turtle season though. Lance took the motorcycle out for a run down the beach the other day and came home with a huge grin, it inspired him to buy a drone camera with a Follow Me feature, so we will get some footage of both of us riding on the beach in the coming weeks, and maybe paddling on the Gulf ICW too if it arrives in time.

Folks around here are big birders.  They've got me hooked on looking for this one bird now called a rose spoon billed something or other. It is pink and sort of reminds me of a short fat flamingo, with a spoon-shaped bill it uses to stir up the water and filter feed. I look for it all along the waterline nowadays and am charging the Porta-Bote battery to go in search of one in the ICW soon. The water there is only 4 feet deep, shouldn't be a problem for the Porta Bote with its shallow draft, and the quiet electric motor should allow us to sneak in on the bird colonies undisturbed. Chloe in the bow is another story... she does love to bark at and chase birds. I got her a new lifevest with a solid handle on the top so the next time she falls off my paddleboard it will be easier to lift her back on.

We campaigned hard for a space on the Florida Keys for February but it looked like we weren't going to get in anywhere, snowbirds book FL a year or two in advance. We were well into laying out Plan B when we got a surprise call back from someone with a cancellation and we're in!  The problem is that it wasn't the schedule we wanted, so we'll be rushing from here to there and bypassing New Orleans and a lot of other cool stuff I really wanted to see/do. We have 1400+ miles to cover in 7 days, our preferred distance for a bus day is 200 miles so we won't be collecting any dust on the way down. All we could get secured there was 2 weeks so when they boot us out in early February we can meander back through the places I wanted to see at that time.  I expect it will pay to be flexible.

In the meantime, we are enjoying the Southern hospitality of Texas until mid-January. Folks are friendly and the weather is perfect, and it feels good to pump some money directly into the local economy while they rebuild.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Gila Cliff Dwellings

How to Drive Carefree

Classic trailer in Silver City NM
I love our new carefree lifestyle, go where we want when we want, fill the fuel tank and go...right? Maybe not so much. We are currently in the middle of our circumnavigation of the US and I thought I would give you a glimpse into the process we use to pick our next destination. To be honest I still don't know where I'll be in a month. We are shooting for Florida, but if we can't find a spot that works for us we'll have to wing it.
Windmill & well at Seminole SP in TX
First, it has to be fun. I don't want to spend a month in a parking lot looking at a Walmart; so a nice view and something fun to do. NO SNOW! Don't mind being in it, don't want to drive in it. We like 70-80 degrees, great temperature for motorcycling and paddling kayaks. OK, now distance, a three hundred mile day is about the end of the world for me more or less, depending on the quality of the road. How far is our next destination? Do we need to break up the trip into smaller bites? If so, where do we stay, and how long? What about Shawna's work schedule? Will she need good quality internet while we are in transit? What about after we arrive, does the park have good WiFi, or do we need to use one of our cellular data plans? Is there a large town or city nearby in case we need to service the RV? Is it likely to be on fire when we get there? All this gets baked into our decision when we move. 
Old timey graffiti in Gila Cave Dwellings

The process looks something like this, open Google Maps for the area we are interested in, search for RV parks in the area. Ask locals for a recommendation if possible. Read the reviews on Google. Switch to satellite view to make sure we aren't booking a spot in an industrial area or a dirt lot. Don't see anything we like, move on to apps, RV parky and the like. Read the reviews, check them out on street view. Find a place we like, now it's time to check Verizon, Sprint, and ATT's coverage maps (these are the carriers we have available on board). We have found that park wifi is usually spotty at best and I like to have two backups. Shawna's work doesn't require a lot of bandwidth but it has to be solid. One of the things we've found to be hard to find while on the road is propane. We have a large tank, but we still need fuel about once a month. Some parks have a mobile truck that comes by, some don't. Put a propane stop in our plans if necessary.
Gratuitous photo 
We are still caravaning, we pull a ten foot utility trailer containing our motorcycles behind the bus and drive our Subaru. So we need to know about parking, in a pull through spot we can usually fit the whole shebang. If not the trailer goes in overflow parking. Are we carefree yet?  We have a place to stay, viable internet, now how do we get there? We bought a RV-specific GPS, basically you enter the size of your rig and it's supposed to route you around low bridges, bad roads etc. In practice it's been a nightmare. It has routed us over dangerous mountain passes when there was a perfectly good road that would have shaved over three hours off our trip. So now before we leave we have to do a reality check using an app called Trucker Path. Why I haven't thrown the GPS in the trash is just a testament to my cheapskatery, I keep hoping the next update will solve all my problems and we will live happily ever after. So that's about it, place to stay, work resources, and a viable route to get there. Fun Travels!

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Silver City NM, land of the Gila Cliff Dwellings

Our stay in Silver City New Mexico was brief, as the nights are getting colder.

A friend recommended we make some time to see the Gila Cliff Dwellings, and it was good advice.  These cliff dwellings were built around around 1230 AD, accurately dated by the core samples of the wood used as supports in the structures; an early prelude to rebar, and the visible wood within the caverns still looks very good.

From their prime location on the New Mexico cliffside, these people had an easily defensible space which took advantage of the winter sun and summer shade.

Gila Cliff Dwellings

The ride out there from Silver City was only 44 miles but it took over 2 hours because it was very windy and steep. We decided to leave the motorcycles and take the car, this decision was heavily debated but decided to be in the best interest of Lance's foot, which still isn't quite healed.  The dog was the big winner here, getting to join us for the ride instead of waiting on the bus.  We were glad we brought plenty of water and snacks because this turned out to be an all day venture and there was nothing to be purchased anywhere.  We are getting smarter about this, as it seems to be the recurring theme for our National Parks.

The RV park we chose in Silver City was Rose Valley RV park, which was spacious and beautifully maintained.  We certainly couldn't complain about the neighbors making noise... some of these graves go back to the 1800s, I can't imagine the day-to-day challenges life as a pioneer and miner must have dished up around here.
Very quiet neighbors
We love this little town but can definitely feel the icy breath of Old Man Winter right behind us, it's time to hit the road in the general direction of South and East.

We made reservations in Corpus Christi TX for a whole 30-day stint, it's right on the beach in the Gulf of Mexico, we expect tropical-like conditions there.  It's over 849 miles from Silver City NM to Corpus Christi TX, we intended to break it into easy 200-mile days, but after elbowing our way through El Paso we didn't find much to slow us down so we just kept going, covering over 400 miles that first day and coming to rest in Marathon, TX before pushing on to Del Rio, which puts us less than 300 miles from our destination on the Gulf Coast.

It's good that we paused here, as we seem to be in the sweet spot for the current weather. The neighboring towns are suffering snow and overnight freezing but we're snug and dry here in Del Rio.

Thursday, December 7, 2017


I don't know about you but I keep a mental list of all the animals I run into. There is nothing I like better than adding an animal to the list.
Elk Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon didn't disappoint, nothing new for the list, but a few old friends.  Elk so tame they didn't even react to Chloe the wonder dog. A bald eagle soaring overhead, crazy Tassel Eared squirrels, coyotes vocalizing at night, all free for the price of admission. As we travel across the country the fauna is slowly changing.

Wild Turkey Bodega Bay
 The finches here in New Mexico have a splash of red on their heads, just a little different from the ones at home, the jack rabbits are much larger than their cousins in California. When I first started diving I was astonished at the diversity of life in the kelp forests along the North coast, seals, sea lions, jelly fish, wolf eels, abalone, black sea bass, moray eels, rock fish, the list is endless. Hundreds of dives later I am never bored. I don't think I'll be adding to my list quite as fast as I was when I dove regularly, but they'll come.
Big Horn Sheep Joshua Tree 

A late addition! An 80-pound javelina tried to commit suicide into the bus on highway 90 outside of the town of Del Rio, no photo, too busy pooping myself. One more for the list.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Scottsdale AZ and Wiley Coyote cactus

Scottsdale has an interesting sense of style.  Sort of like if Orange County and Las Vegas had a baby and it really liked to golf.

The homes here tend to be single-level adobe ranch-style homes. The yards tend to not have any lawn, just the local granite-rock dirt and the occasional cactus or a small, pretty collection of succulents.  Simple. Beautiful. Lots of room for the circular driveway on which to park your multiple shiny cars.

And there's golf courses everywhere.  The lush, green lawns juxtapose sharply against the red rock and yellow earth of the natural landscape.

All the chain stores you know and love are here.  I rejoiced in finding an REI and a Total Wine where I spent a grand total of 4 hours shopping and bought a grand total of one dog life vest (to replace Chloe's that disappeared on garage sale day) and three bottles of liquor to replace our depleted favorites. Shopping requires a significantly different approach when every purchase must fit in a small space. I tried on everything at REI but didn't love anything enough to justify first evicting something I already owned from its closet space.
The pool area at our swanky RV resort in Fort McDowell
We are on the East side of Scottsdale in a little town called Fort McDowell at a super swanky RV resort that only had a few days availability for us. Everybody here are the resort looks at us with the same wide eyes and frightened expression and mutters comments like "the snowbirds are coming, the snowbirds are coming". I've never met one, but from the expressions on everyone's faces here in Arizona I imagine snowbirds must be like zombies or locusts, consuming everything and laying waste to all.  I expect we'll find out soon enough, we've been warned to start booking our January and February spots early. So we should probably put a real plan together soon, I suppose.
Saguaro Cactus at the RV resort
The area around here is straight out of a Wiley Coyote cartoon. The cactus closest to our park spot is easily 30' tall and the mountains seem to sort of repeat on a loop - jagged or pyramid shaped, flat and melted-looking, rounded and smooth with colorful rocks spilled around, repeat.  At night you can hear the coyotes storytelling to one another around the valley, little yips and songs from one part of the valley to the other, it's beautiful and a little haunting.  Stewie and Starfish are showing less than the usual amount of interest in exploring outside so they must have some survival instinct left despite their domesticity.

After work this morning we are moving on to New Mexico.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Grand Canyon Thanksgiving

When we started this traveling life, the one place we HAD to be, booked seriously far in advance, reserved even before we had bought the bus, was the Grand Canyon for Thanksgiving.  The plan was to meet our cousins there for dinner at the lodge Thanksgiving Day.  It shaped our whole route for the Fall.

Then, at the last moment disaster struck.  The cousins got sick and we abruptly became a party of two.  Oh well, the reservations were made, we'd been looking forward to it so we soldiered on without them.
Chloe on the South Rim

The Grand Canyon is beautiful.  Stunning.  No pictures can properly do it justice. It's just so indescribably... huge. Majestic. Breathtaking. Mind-boggling. Well it appears no words can do it justice either.

We've been there before but this was our first venture in an RV.  We stayed at the Trailer Village, full hookups that came with a daily family of elk wandering through the campgrounds.  Based on prior experience we weren't expecting to find much in the way of cell coverage, so it was a good week to disconnect and take a real week's vacation.
Elk in our campsite every morning. Chloe was not amused.
Thanksgiving dinner was at the El Toval, the lodge build by the railroad company, it seems every National Park has one of these amazing lodges. So far all the ones I've seen are stunning so we were really looking forward to the dinner, and it was fabulous. They don't take reservations which caused us some angst, but it worked out fine.
The dining room at the El Toval on Thanksgiving
The only downside to the week was the crowds.  Apparently all of Southern California and most of Arizona come to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon for Thanksgiving weekend so we struggled to find breathing room and ended up skipping the more popular areas of the park. That's OK we'd seen it before.  We found plenty to explore right around our campground and on the nearby bicycle path.

I'm grateful that Lance got the heater fixed before we arrived. The weather was sunny and warm in the day but downright cold at night.  We departed Monday after Thanksgiving, with a fierce and chilly wind that slapped at us all the way to Scottsdale. The Grand Canyon was our last stop within the comfort zone, from here on out we're truly without a plan. Without direction, but not rudderless.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Pioneertown, CA

We are still meandering South and East towards the Grand Canyon, our Thanksgiving destination.  We have some time, so we decided to spend a few days in Pioneertown on the way.

Lance and Chloe relaxing on Mane Street in Pioneertown
Pioneertown is an adorable Western village built for the purpose of movie-making in the 60's.  After the filming was done, why not just make it into a proper town?  It's easy to find, just 15 minutes NorthWest of Palm Springs, an easy drive from LA.

The bus and trailer in Pioneertown, we probably won't be needing the boats for a few days
There's an adorable little motel, a small downtown with dirt streets, wood sidewalks and buildings, live gunfights on the weekends, horses, goats and chickens, and anchoring it all is Pappy & Harriet's restaurant and bar.  During the summer months there's live music nearly every night. This time of year they are sold out far in advance as everyone comes out to enjoy the perfect weather.
Pappy & Harriet's Bar
Some friends came out to meet us and we all enjoyed the dusty little village for a few days. There's plenty of room to spare, endless dust and desert.  It gets pretty cold in the desert at night, I'm glad we have good heat in the RV.  Wait... on day 2 of 3 one of the heaters stopped working. Uh oh. Well... it's a fur pile on the bed then for this last cold night here, bring on both cats and the dog...

Stewie sharing the warmth on a cold desert morning

Friday, November 10, 2017

Hooray for Harvest Hosts

 This week we tried out two more Harvest Host locations: Vista Ranch and Cellars in Merced and Agua Dulce Winery in the Santa Clarita Mountains.

Harvest Hosts are farms, wineries, or museums that allow RVers to stay overnight on their grounds, generally for free, mostly all they want in return is for us to participate in whatever they're doing.  So far the three we've stayed with are all wineries, so the activity of the day is therefore wine tasting, buying snacks, and hanging out with the winery folks telling stories.  All are things we love to do so this is really working out for us.  At first glance staying at a Harvest Host location appeals to Lance's cheapskate nature, but in fact we find that we generally spend the same or more drinking and eating than we would spend on a comparable campsite and an evening's activity, which also works out just fine with me.

Settled in for the night at the Vista Ranch and Cellars in Merced
Occasionally there are power or water hookups, but mostly the parking is primitive dirt lots.  We have really been appreciating a little elbow room and an escape from the structure of a formal campground as sometimes it means there's a little room for Chloe to run.  At Vista Ranch and Cellars she made friends with their barn cat and was actually a little sad when we pulled away, whining at the window until she couldn't see her new friend any more.

As it turns out, our cousins are wine club members at Agua Dulce, and they were close enough and had some time to hang out.  Their dinner selection for the night: Le Chene which is a meaningful venue for them and was a tasty surprise for us.  The menu arrived on a chalk board, it's so fresh they don't even bother printing it on paper.

Sipping wine on the gazebo patio at Agua Dulce
Lance has been driving the bus this week, I'll take my turn starting tomorrow.  Tonight: wine, dine, and early to bed.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Motorcycles, steak sandwiches, and dog drama

My foot is healing up nicely, so I finally felt ready for a ride. We unloaded the bikes and started following our noses.  Turning left out of Duck Island RV park we headed North on Highway 160 toward the historic town of Walnut Grove, sunlight reflecting off of the water on our left and wide open fields and vineyards on our right. We encountered perfect riding weather, no wind, which is a rarity out here, and temperatures in the mid-70's.

Tony's in Walnut Grove
After a short ride we came across Tony's, a block off the highway at the bottom of the levee. Lunch is served! 
The best steak sandwich 

After a cocktail in the bar it was over to the restaurant for the best steak sandwich I've ever had. This is what our new lifestyle is all about, finding these little jewels before they are all replaced with cookie-cutter chains. This area is fascinating to me, the history here seems near the surface, the old buildings in Walnut Grove and Locke with the Chinese and Japanese segregated (historically) on the east bank and the white folk on the west bank.  We passed some giant transmission towers, well over a thousand feet tall! From the look of them they can probably cover most of the Central Valley.  The levee roads aren't technically challenging but the view of the river and the old towns and drawbridges make up for it. 
Pausing for a quick break to admire the levee drawbridge 

After a relatively short ride (foot still not 100%) we headed back to Duck Island, where things got a little unpleasant. Due to what we assume is a very primitive booking system we were asked to move from our spot to a new spot midway through our stay. The new spot was literally two spaces away. Not a big deal, but there seemed to be a lot of confusion about who belonged where. Two days after our big 30 foot move we were awakened by shouting and cursing from our next door neighbor.  Apparently he had arrived home with his pitbull at 2am to find he was locked out of his 5th wheel.  He settled in for the night under the shelter of the front of the rig, with his dog off the leash. Come morning a particularly barky and unpleasant poodle rounds the corner on his morning walk and is immediately attacked by the pit. I think the poodle survived, they were able to separate them when the pit let go to get a better grip. To the park owners credit the pitbull's owner was asked to leave and animal control was called immediately. The fact that so many people travel  with their animals makes it so important to have them under control at all times.  Even Chloe the wonderdog has been known to get aggressive around smaller dogs occasionally, hence the leash.  

The Sacramento Delta region is worth a visit if only to see the gently decaying remnants of what it used to be. Oh, and a steak sandwich at Tony's in Walnut Grove is a must-experience.

Sunday, October 29, 2017


On Tuesday we saw the podiatrist for the (hopefully) last time ever.  Lance's foot is healed!

Well, there's one tiny little spot left.  So insignificant the doctor doesn't even want to schedule a follow-up.  It feels so strange to finally be free to go wherever we want, finally.  It was October 3rd 2016 when the first surgery was conducted on the right foot, a grand total of one year and 20 days passed until we were given the green light for two normal shoes.  We toasted our newfound freedom with a cocktail at sunset on a beachmat at the river's edge.

Our peaceful riverside retreat at Duck Island RV Park in Rio Vista, CA
Our new spot at Rio Vista is a slice of riverside heaven; peaceful, and not on fire, thankfully, at least not yet anyways.  Let's hope that means our curse is broken.

This morning we pulled the motorcycles out of the trailer.  First we had to wash the Oregon wildfire ash off of them, then we went for a ride along the levee, a simple and easy ride to get reacquainted with the bike.  I was just getting into the rhythm of the ride and was appreciating the way the light made the corn on the riverside glow while it waved slightly in the light breeze. I was feeling at peace when I got to giggling remembering...

A couple of years ago I took a slow-speed motorcycle handling course in Pasadena CA, Betty was the only KLR.  All the other bikes were sleek city bikes; fast, light, and low.  And then there was Betty and me. I never did fit in with the rest of the Angelenos. I'm too big and I don't care a lick for fashion, the latest trend or whether there's grey in my hair.  My motorcycle is tall and has an especially large front wheel - she's designed for all terrain.  In fact, one of the things that attracted me to this bike is the fact that she can go ANYWHERE, and KLR owners take their bikes adventuring all over the world. I can just about push her into any bike shop anywhere in the world and someone there will know how to fix any potential ails she might come up with, if I can't figure it out on the trail myself, and the parts are likely on hand.  Simple.  But that day in motorcycle school it was painfully obvious what outsiders she and I were among the sleek city people and their sleek city bikes.  One of my classmates made a crack "what, are you riding that thing out in the cornfields or what?" and snickered.
Betty and the street bikes
So here I am today riding along the levee and appreciating the light on the cornfields and the slow moving river and thinking to myself... I'm free and I'm just exactly where I belong.  I could totally ride off this levee and onto the dirt fields if I WANTED to, or anywhere in the world at all.  Finally Two Shoes Lance is free to ride with me, and we can go anywhere.  It got me to giggling, and I just couldn't stop myself, this is what freedom feels like.  Right about then I see Lance pump his fist in sheer joy.

We are free.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Napa, On Fire

So here we are settled in at the Napa Fairgrounds, and last night just before bedtime we smelled smoke.
"Not again" we said as we looked at one another, and ran outside to see the hills behind the fairgrounds aglow.  It's like Brookings, all over again. The fires seem to be following us.

This morning we got some new neighbors, homeowners from the hill we saw glowing last night.  They were evacuated overnight. Just a few days ago, luckily, they accepted delivery on a new Airstream trailer, which they purchased with hopes of escaping stressful jobs to enjoy fun weekends, and now they are using it as a home base while they await word on the survival of their neighborhood. They slipped past security this morning and confirmed that their house is still standing, some of their neighbors were not so lucky. The scene they described was "three or four houses completely leveled, then a miraculous survivor, then the next one burnt to the ground again, with no apparent rhyme or reason".

At midday today Chloe and I walked around the fairgrounds, and noticed the directional signs posted around, this will be the new base of operations for the Cal Fire response team for the fire which has grown to several individual fires, collectively being called the Napa Complex Fire.

The high school 4-H kids have taken over the animal pen part of the fairgrounds and have safely ensconced goats, horses, a pony and some 20 or so pigs.  They have organized food, shelter and safe housing for these animals and are standing watch in a very organized manner, taking turns for meal breaks and animal checks.  These are very impressive kids, they seem to have their part of disaster recovery well in hand, but they do not yet know the status of their homes.

By dinnertime tonight the large equipment started arriving to our fairgrounds.  About 15 or so PG&E trucks line the back of the fairgrounds, ready to go, silently waiting their turn to rebuild as soon as it's safe.  Large fire-fighting equipment is pouring in from everywhere, accepting dispatch and taking off again, kicking up dust clouds from the large fairgrounds open lot where the rides and tasty goodies reside on happier days.  Big diesel pickups towing horse trailers hurry in, deposit their cargo and take off again.  I heard today there are some horses trapped in Calistoga and hope they managed to get them out, for all I know these same trailers hauled them to safety today.

Behind us Napans are pouring in to the arms of our Airstream-owning friends and sharing stories, there are tears and long empty silences as some stories do not have happy endings and a lot is unknown still.

And, throughout all of this, our RV neighbors to the left have a small campfire and are drinking and laughing; typical campground behavior but it just feels so wrong, this bit of normalcy and joy in the middle of the sudden crisis.

I became abruptly aware that we are strangers in our little bubble.
Part of the land we inhabit but not really of it completely.
Napa will always be our home, to some extent, but today I feel like an outsider looking in.

The view looking East from the top of the Imola bridge at about 4:00 on 10/9/17

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Napa, 14 years and one earthquake later

I left Napa fourteen years ago for a job in Southern California. While visiting over the years I got a snapshot of the changes going on in the town I grew up in; some good, some questionable. First the good. The restoration of the wetlands at the south end of town, Napa over the years has been subject to severe flooding. Removing levies, obstructions, and low bridges allows the Napa River to follow a more natural course to the San Pablo Bay. It seems like every time I visit the riverfront trails are getting longer and better connected.  The food here is outstanding and you no longer need to go upvalley to get a nice meal, but be prepared to pay for it, it ain't cheap.  This brings me to the not so good, the Napa I grew up in was very working class.  People worked at the shipyard, Kaiser Steel, Napa State Hospital, a winery, or any one of dozens of small businesses.  That Napa is gone, pushed out by the restaurants, hotels, and boutique shops that the tourists come to see. The shift to lower-paying service jobs means more people moving to cheaper outlying cities like Vallejo or Fairfield.  This coupled with tourists coming from the Bay Area means traffic. Lots of traffic, not LA traffic, but way more than I'm used to. Damage from the earthquake is still evident; the old courthouse is still covered in scaffolding and there are now vacant lots where buildings once stood. I'm reminded of the old saying "You can't go home again", I think you can if you realize it's a moving target.  In many ways the city feels younger, lots of 20-somethings coming up from the city to see grapes, the scene is a lot like the west side of LA.  Eating, shopping, and drinking wine are the entertainment here. There are about four hundred wineries with tasting rooms in Napa Valley alone. 
This red-tailed hawk was exercising right in front of the bus

We are here during harvest, the busiest time of year in the wine industry, and for those who are interested in more than just drinking the wine, the most interesting. Red grapes are being crushed, inoculated with yeast, fermented, pressed, barreled down, and put away to age about 18 months. White grapes are crushed, pressed, the juice put into barrels or tanks, inoculated with yeast, and barrel or tank fermented. This adds up to a lot of activity and the smells are amazing. If this process is something you are interested in I recommend visiting the smaller wineries as the process is less industrialized. All the marketing aside, wine making is a process no different than any other food production. The larger wineries usually have a "show" area with perfectly stacked barrels beautifully stained with red wine, upright wooden tanks with maroon painted steel bands, soft lights, etc.  The real work is done behind closed doors, forklifts, large stainless steel tanks, filters, dozens of pumps, hoses, and bottling lines staffed by cellar workers. If you do visit please be respectful of the cellar worker's time, it's not uncommon for them to work 10-12 hours a day with maybe one day a week off.

The last couple of mornings the marine layer has been missing, perfect for flying hot air balloons. I woke up yesterday with seven or eight flying over south Napa.  All in all there are worse places to be in the fall.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Hwy 29, with a rebel yell

"Let's go the direct way, the Garmin says we can" I tell him.

His eyes widen and he smirks at me. "It's a great motorcycle road, but with the bus and trailer..." he trails off with a worried scrunch in his eyes.  It's my week to drive the bus. I wonder for a moment if it's scarier to actually drive the twisty road or WITNESS the driving of the twisty road. Based on my experience following him down Scott Mountain, I think the witnessing might be more gut-wrenching.

We compared Waze, the Garmin, and Trucker Path.  All say we are green-lighted for Highway 29 from Lakeport to the Napa Valley.

I lived in Napa for a dozen years or so a long time ago; he grew up around here.  He knows this road well.  I am brimming with overconfidence.  Finally he shrugs.  And we're off.

The first 3/4 of the ride up the mountain the roads are beautiful, wide, and freshly paved.  I'm wondering what the big deal is.  Then we reach the foot of Mt. St. Helena and he says over the radio "here we go", and sure enough, shortly after we started into our first 10mph curve.  There were a lot more after that.  At many points the front left tire of the bus was on the yellow line and the right rear tire of the trailer was on the white fog line. But I managed to keep it all in my lane, and sort of maintain a reasonable speed.  Most of the time.

We still haven't fixed the stereo on the bus, so when I started getting nervous I started humming to myself. Which eventually became outright singing. And it got louder.  By the time we reached the final turn which was a long horseshoe 10 mph bend I was singing With A Rebel Yell at the top of my lungs.  Stewie glanced over at me from the passenger seat and blinked, unimpressed.

Hello Napa Valley.  You're so beautiful in the Fall.

The view from Skyline Park on the South side of Napa

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Old friend, great cider

One of the things I struggle with in our new lifestyle is flexibility.  We paid for a month in Brookings and dammit I wasn't leaving 'til I got my money's worth.  When Shawna woke up with a headache from the smoke for the 6th day in a row, the law was laid down. WE ARE LEAVING! I've heard that tone before, this is not the time for a discussion, this is the time to start packing.  Napa is on the horizon, might as well start moving. We loaded up and started rolling. Step one get out of the smoke, we drove South for about 100 miles 'til the smoke cleared, as well as our coughs and headaches. Over a good lunch at Kabob Cafe in Arcata, we started planning. I wanted to carry on to Ft. Bragg, another five hours or so.  This is where the flexibility thing comes in; Shawna picked this moment to be inflexible.  She said no. "Arcata is far enough for today, I'm tired and my head still hurts".  Understand, I had no good reason to go to Ft. Bragg other than familiarity. What I am beginning to discover is that most RV parks will have room for you for one or two nights with little or no notice.  Let some flexibility in!  We stayed at Redwood Coast RV park on the South side of Arcata, about 5 minutes from where we had lunch.  After we settled in I remembered a friend and former coworker who had recently opened a cidery nearby. I reached out on FB messenger, long story short, we got together for breakfast at Renata's Creperie (Great Crepes!) and got a tour of Wrangletown Cidery. Being flexible allowed me to reconnect with an old friend and drink some great cider.  Wrangletown makes a great DRY cider, like a dry white wine.  They also make still wines under the North Story label.  Ask for it everywhere you go to drink fine wine and beer. Seriously, Pat is pretty much a one (wo)man band and her business is helping to preserve traditional cider apple orchards on the lost coast.
Our view of Konocti Mountain at the end of the day, with some cider

After our night in Arcata, the original plan was to continue on to Fort Bragg but we were unable to locate a suitable site.  I decided to flex my new-found flexibility muscles and diverted us to Clearlake where we found a rough but very friendly park right on the lake.  We settled in for the night with some cider.

Redwood Coast Cabins: $$$ A little overpriced for what it was (lots of long term tenants with piles of stuff lying around, dog shit on the ground in our site when we arrived)
Food: Never had a bad meal in Arcata
Kabob Cafe $$ 
Renata's Creperie: $$
Internet access (campground):
Calyx/Sprint 7Mb down 740Kb up
Verizon: 6Mb down 440Kb up
ATT: Not tested