Wednesday, August 29, 2018

15,000 miles with a hole in my foot

The hole in my foot is kicking my ass. Ever since we started full-timing the hole in my foot has been a constant companion. At it's largest about the size of a quarter, at it's smallest about the size of a pinhead. Never healed from the surgery in October 2016. It has kept me out of the water in the Florida Keys and off my motorcycle. It prevents me from walking any distance. The hole in my foot is a diabetic ulcer.

Our idea when we started this journey was to motorcycle, kayak, fish, hike, sail and explore, posting photos and videos of the things we discovered. Instead we have experienced setbacks, some gear related but most hole-in-the-fucking-foot related. I say we because when I'm laid up Shawna has to pick up the slack. I can't walk the dog, get groceries, shoot video, or take still photos.

Most recently I noticed an infection in my foot while we where in Maine. Quick trip to the ER, some indifferent attention and off to New Hampshire for a month. Infection returns, off to the ER again. This time x-rays, blood work, and IV antibiotics. Enough is enough, time to get this taken care of. We decided our best bet for treatment was a state with Kaiser Medical, where my coverage is reciprocal. We chose Colorado, we have friends here and good motorcycle riding in the Rockies, because I expected some antibiotics and some basic wound treatment, and expected to be out exploring again quickly. Instead, the new doc took one look at it and hospitalized me.

I'm going to jump in here folks because Lance is struggling to finish this post. The bottom line: we're probably looking at another round of foot surgery. I'll spare you the photos. I tallied it up the other day and came up with 12 surgeries/overnight hospital stays in the 18 years we've been together... so we're pros at this point. In any case we've certainly covered the "in sickness" part of our contract. Now we need to take a break from our tour and focus on the "in health" part, whatever that turns out to mean, be it surgery or something else, be it here or back in California or somewhere else. We'll know more after the cast comes off next week and after another round of meetings with the surgeon.

We have learned some things about the traveling lifestyle and healthcare.

Kaiser has a "traveler" phone number. They are generally helpful but not always on the same page.  We have received contradictory advice on subsequent phone calls, and have found our best course of action is to keep calling until we get the answer we need. Perhaps this is because the rules are flexible, or because the staff is not trained consistently, or perhaps the phone staff is empowered to make allowance decisions based on the dire needs of the individual patient on the fly. I don't know but we rarely get the same answer two phone calls in a row.

When you are at a hospital that is out of your service range (ie New Hampshire or Maine where there is no Kaiser), do not give them your payment up front - tell them "bill me". In New Hampshire the IV antibiotics services they asked us to pay up front for ended up being covered by our plan as part of the emergency program, and so the $1400 x 2 they wanted us to pay upon admittance as a "cash patient price" at the hospital became $290 copay total to us in the long run, after Kaiser paid their portion and disallowed most of the rest of it. We paid the bill promptly when it did arrive, and got an early payment discount, bringing that payment down to $262 total, a significant savings over the original quote.

You need an ambassador. At Denver Colorado's St. Joseph Hospital there were two Kaiser Internal Medicine doctors there assigned to Lance. Their job is to coordinate Kaiser's allowances with the St. Joseph staff's plans for Lance's care, and even though it's not a Kaiser hospital they work onsite there wearing a Kaiser badge on their labcoats. They were able to smooth many of the bumps for us.

Home Health Care is a problem in a tiny house, but not for the reasons you'd think. The Case Management team from the hospital kept throwing roadblocks at us because they just couldn't wrap their heads around the concept of follow up visits for Lance in our 272 square foot space. In the long run I ended up driving him around for follow-up care instead which is fine (it's a good thing we hung onto the car). In reality, recovery is turning out to be easier in our tiny house because most everything he needs at home is at his fingertips, and even when I'm working at my computer I'm still peripherally aware of everything that's going on and can reach it quickly if he can't reach it himself. The end result is that he does a lot less hopping around than he did in previous casts in our home when I was out of earshot in another room or outside.

The Foot

In the meantime we'll take drives out to see the beautiful Denver area and more of the Rockies when Lance is feeling up to it now and then between appointments. We're also using this downtime for some vehicle maintenance - we found a Yamaha shop willing to take on the random electrical gremlins haunting Lance's bike since North Carolina. The silver lining is that we'll get some unexpected bonus time with very good friends that recently moved to the Denver suburbs.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Colorado weather: even crazier than your ex-girlfriend

SolTerra, Littleton and the Rockies. Red Rock Ampitheatre is just behind that first ridge to the right. The air is smoky because of the wildfires but well within range of tolerable today. The lightning storms of the last week surely aren't helping the firemen with their fight.

Since arriving in Colorado we have experienced  - frequently - days that went from 90 degrees to hailing/snowing and back again in the same day.  I downloaded a Red Cross app to my phone for early storm warnings and ended up silencing it because it just goes off all day, every day.  "Deadly Thunderstorms coming your way! Golf Ball Sized Hail Expected - Seek Shelter or Die", usually followed shortly thereafter with "Threat Over, You're OK, Unclench".  The first time we got one of these crazy alarms, within minutes of installing the app, we moved the car next to a brick building to shelter it, pulled in the slide and stowed the chairs and grill, then after a dozen or so we just sorta watched out the window for a while before shrugging and going about our day.

Yep that's snow - or hail - on the side of the highway. It was 89 degrees less than 2 hours ago.

After a short pause in Sterling CO we moved on to Littleton, CO, a suburb of Denver, nestled against the Rockies. Good friends from SoCal recently moved here, just one reason of many we wanted to spend some time in the area. We found out quickly it's nearly impossible to get campsite reservations in this part of the country in the summer - the folks of Colorado enjoy camping and every weekend was booked up for months out. As it turned out, our best bet for landing a spot was becoming members of the state park reservation system (always a last resort as the state park website system is unwieldy at best) and living on that website all day every day until an opening became available. Our first stop was Chatfield State Park, very close to our friends' place. Then we moved on to Bear Creek Lake State Park, right next to the Red Rock Ampitheater.  All within easy reach of some beautiful countryside and also downtown Denver.

You know you're in hail country when the hoods of the cars that park next to you look like this

While spending a little time in older Downtown Littleton, I was directed to an ice cream shop where they whip up their own crazy flavors onsite. There were two adorable teenagers running the counter, and in the corner a woman with a clipboard in her 50's doing math, clearly the manager or owner. She came across as a normal adult woman, perhaps a young grandmother, a business owner or manager and less than 10 years older than me. Noticing her water bottle had "Judas" printed on it by a fat black marker, I casually asked her if she married into that name or if she was born into it, because it's an awesome last name. She paused to consider her response for a moment, clearly picking up on the fact that the teenagers were leaning closer to better overhear our conversation, and I filled the awkward silence with "or did someone print it on your water bottle without your knowledge..."  Her response, after a brief pause... "it's my roller derby name - I'm Judas Beast".  To which the teenagers responded "no way!" while they hooted and whooped. Apparently roller derby is a big deal here, the local version is flat-track. And I learned not to judge a book by it's out-of-context cover. This amazing woman makes crazy ice cream, runs a successful business, and is a total badass too! You GO Judas Beast!

Bike Path connecting two parks on either side of the highway

One of my favorite things about this area is the never-ending bike paths, separate from the cars and treated with reverence. A person could live and work and go about daily activity pretty much without ever having to drive, as long as the weather is good. And if it isn't good now, hole up in a coffee shop or someplace similar for 10 minutes or so and it will surely change.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

The Unlikely Names of RVs

As I look around the park, I have to giggle. RV manufacturers have bestowed their rigs with the most implausible names. See if you can spot the fictional one:
Road Warrior
and my personal favorite, Intruder

Not to mention the collection of things that you hope to never actually experience with your motorhome:

Of course then we have the location-aspirational names, which only gets me giggling when we are in crowded or very well-groomed parks, the kind with lots of HOA-type rules, as they seem to demand spacious boondocking spots with sweeping views:

As to which one was a made up name...? None of them. These are all real RV names I see on a regular basis.

I suppose this is all handled by Marketing Geniuses, if they were to name them realistically, nobody would buy:
Slow and Wide
Never-Ending Mortgage
Nowhere Canya Park It
Bring All Your TVs with You
Stop Breathing On Me

Makes me appreciate the wisdom in simple, logical classic names that endure:
American Dream

Ah... the things that grab your brain when sitting around the campfire with time to let it wander freely...

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Colorado Bound, Lickety Split

We decided we wanted to be in Colorado and the forecast was more cold rain for a week anyways so we left New Hampshire a week earlier than planned and quickly scampered through Vermont, New York (paused for 3 days here near Niagara Falls), Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, and Nebraska.

Here's what I can tell you about Vermont: it's breathtaking, even in the pouring rain. Everything you've heard is true; more than once I found myself staring open-mouthed across the view and had to force myself back to reality (oh yeah - don't forget you're driving an 11 ton rig - doh!) I can only imagine how mind-blowing it will be with Fall colors. We stopped at the Ben & Jerry's factory, which was crazy crowded so we spent some time visiting the flavor graveyard and otherwise fled the mob scene. Their website advertises RV parking, and they do have it, but getting into/out of it wasn't for the faint of heart; it was possible, but I'll not be doing it again.

The ice cream puns at the flavor graveyard are delicious, too

Upstate New York was relaxed and beautiful. We settled in to celebrate a few days of unexpected sunshine at the Elks Lodge in Lockport NY, an adorable little town right on the Erie Canal. The river walk goes along the canal edge for miles, probably along the same path where the mules of long ago trod pulling barges.

Buildings along the Erie Canal in Lockport NY

Lockport was also a short drive along the river's edge to Niagara Falls, so we took a Maids of the Mist boat ride right up to the falls. The amount of power the little boat used to keep us in place against the stream was unbelievable. They hand out ponchos as part of the tour price, and we dutifully put them on but there wasn't much point to it as we got soaked anyways.
Getting soaked by the spray

Up close and personal to the Niagara Falls, the boat straining to keep us in place against the current

For the ride West we debated the cost of the toll road Turnpike Highway 90 against the time it would save us, and ultimately decided to pay the bill (final grand total bill was $120). The E-Z Pass New York transponder covered all of the tolls from New York through Illinois, although after some drama at one of the early toll plazas we moved the transponder in the RV down from the as-instructed top/center of the window to the bottom/driver side of the window so it could be read by the automated reader. In New York, Ohio and Illinois the turnpike is very well maintained; not so much in Indiana, but you still have to pay for it anyway, rrrrrgh. The Turnpike 90 road quality across Indiana is now tied with Pennsylvania for the dubious winning title of Worst Road In America.
Congratulations Indiana!

In Ohio they have off-ramp plazas fully equipped with 50amp RV service, a trucker rest area separate from the RVer rest area, showers, an RV dump, you can stay overnight and enjoy the 50amp service for the cost of a $20 ticket issued by a vending machine. There are also restaurants, a roomy fuel dock, and a pet run area onsite. When it comes to handling road-weary travelers - Ohio really gets it!

50 amp service in the overnight RV section of the Blue Heron stop on the OH Turnpike.
It's clearly marked max 40' but larger rigs stayed here too and everyone worked around it.

Iowa is beautiful and has some slightly rolling hills, which became flatter as we moved West. The folks there decorate their barns with cubist paintings on wood panels they call barn quilts. Somewhere around Des Moines we started playing a game and the winner would be whomever could spot a crop that wasn't either corn or soy. Endless agriculture as far as we could see for hours in every direction, and it wasn't until Lincoln Nebraska that we saw a hay field, followed immediately by a Christmas tree farm. That's a lot of corn and soy!

Somewhere around Chicago we exchanged the 90 Turnpike for Interstate 80 West and rolled on, stopping along the way here or there whenever we got tired. One of our night stops was at the Prairie Oasis in Nebraska. We'd been running from yet another storm (it's been raining for what seems like forever) when it became obvious we weren't going to outrun it and we opted to just hunker down and let it pass over us. The staff simply shrugged and said, "Meh, it's probably not hot enough for a tornado". They were right - no tornado but we did get some serious rain.

The pond at the Prairie Oasis park in Nebraska, after the rainstorm

We experienced squalls twice on this leg of the adventure, so here's what I learned about squalls. If you see a horizontal stripe in the clouds that looks like someone drew it with a fat black marker, button down everything, 'cuz you're about to get soaked. The rain comes down with such force that it's hard to tell where the sky ends and the road begins, from the low vantage point of the Subaru I lost nearly all visual cues and was able to keep up only by focusing on the blue kayak on the top of the trailer. From the RV Lance was high enough to see above it. The tactic if you're in New York is just to turn on your emergency flashers and continue driving at 70mph. If you're in Vermont you can expect to slow down to 20mph or so less than the posted speed limit, and use no flashers; in both places you continue on your merry way and just hope no moose wanders out in front of you in the meantime.

We're looking forward to drying out in Colorado for a while.

Good internet access overlooking a lake at the state park in Sterling, CO