Part I: Circling back from Ontario
The last blog installment left us visiting our daughter and her family in Ontario Canada in the fall of 2020. It is now the spring of 2021 and we are entering the last month of our first experience as “snow birds” travelling in the American Southwest in Salish Airstream. We project that we will get home to Salish Aire about the first of April when huge changes are afoot (skip to the end if you can’t stand the suspense).
From Ontario we headed south into New York. We crossed the bridge over the Niagara River and found it weird to see only one other vehicle approaching the border into the USA because of the Covid border restrictions. Everything went smoothly at the border UNTIL the guard noting our travel trailer just added a simple question, “do you have any firewood?” to which we honestly answered “yes, we have two pieces we purchased at an Ontario provincial park” figuring that if it was a problem they would simply dispose of it as they do prohibited vegetables. They may not allow firewood to cross the line but they have no plan for disposing of it either (if we would have known it was going to be an issue we could have tossed it off of the bridge or had a campfire on the bridge right at the international border but we never even considered it might be a problem). Our only options were to floor it while towing a 6000# trailer or turn back to Canada. The later seemed a better choice so we went back through the serpentine concrete blocks set up to slow would-be terrorists (and scratched Salish Airstream in the process – a terrible sin in the world of Airstreamers) and re-entered Canada where the border guards were polite (as always) but incredulous that we had been sent back. The problem was that they also had no approved way to dispose of firewood and now we were asking to cross the Covid closed border without one of only a few acceptable reasons. The international crisis was elevated to a higher level with station supervisors consulted and finally an un-official solution was offered. We would be allowed to travel 1 mile (excuse me, 1.6 km) back onto Canadian soil (via a toll bridge) where there was a small park with garbage cans that could unofficially accommodate two sticks of prime Ontario cut firewood. After tossing the now very expensive hunks of oak we turned back south and this time were allowed into our native country without further delays.
We spent a night camped in back of a farm stand as part of the HarvestsHosts.com program and took advantage of the fresh produce they sold to restock the larder we had emptied before crossing the border. Travelling through upper New York we often found ourselves following the route of the Erie Canal which has fascinated me for years as an engineering feat. Our plan was then to try to catch the maximum of the fall leaf color as we headed through Pennsylvania and down into Ohio where a close friend was collecting mail for us. We found a highway that led east through what was reported to be one of the prettiest routes in the state. We often find that the routes we end up on following our GPS to some destination we are seeking for the night turn into pure serendipity while routes we expect to be amazing aren’t. This route was one of the latter as the trees were pretty much brown and the multitude of political flags supporting a losing presidential candidate were distressing to me to say the least. We eventually set our GPS to take us to a reported state recreation area that was along our path. This new route took us on a very rural road (paved but only 1 ½ lanes wide) off through the northern woods to a campground in the middle of nowhere with a stream that had been dammed for a wading pool surrounded by a picnic area created during the Great Depression by the WPA. We were likely the last users of the campground as it was expected to close the next week but it was a lovely get away and despite being far from any town had power (free) outlets at each campsite.
New lock and rebuild "historic" lock on the Erie Canal (New York)
There was one rather humorous event (at least in our minds). Jarvis uses CBD oil derived from cannabis to treat his chronic leg pain. We purposefully left his supply in Canada as there were big signs as we approached the border reminding travelers that cannabis was not universally legal in the USA. We figured that New York was a fairly liberal place but quickly figured out that they still consider cannabis to be an illegal drug. Once in Pennsylvania we asked if it was legal and were told by a young woman that “no, that stuff isn’t allowed here”. Once I explained that we needed it for Jarvis she suggested we check a pet store. Sure enough we stopped at a rural farm store and they had CBD products for animals in every form your pet could need from chews to oil all nicely displayed on the front counter.
Once in Ohio we visited for a few days with one of our “unofficial God daughters” (she overheard us referring to her that way over the phone and told us she was very very honored to have that title). Finally we had caught up with the leaves near their peak of color which was something we simply do not get at home on the west coast. We had hoped to stop at the Airstream factory which is not far from her home on the way out of the state but Covid had closed the tours so we moved on and will hopefully get to see how Salish Airstream is constructed at a future date.
One of our more interesting stops in Tennessee was Fuller State Park just outside of Memphis on the Eastern shore of the Mississippi River. The history of the park was that it was one of the first parks built to be used by Black folks at a time when they were not allowed in other parks. Along the way we found ourselves on the Natchez Trace Parkway which was a land route that followed the Mississippi River. Boatmen would take goods down the river on rafts and then walk back up the trail to get their next load. Eventually we stayed in the campground that is part of Hot Springs National Park. The campground is located along a stream a ways out of town where most of the park’s areas of interest lie. The town of Hot Springs Arkansas is located at the base of a hillside from which flows numerous hot springs. The waters from the springs were collected and piped into huge spa/hotels along the main street. Historically the town attracted the major league baseball teams who did their spring training there during the days and caroused in the bath houses in the afterhours. It was said that Al Capone had a special deal with the Hot Springs mayor that he would not cause trouble if he were able to enjoy the town’s amenities in peace. We found only one of the 47 springs that ran where we could put our toe in the water and decided it was too hot for comfort.
There was a predicted cold front crossing the country that was expected to bring snow as far south as the Texas panhandle. Since our whole purpose of keeping to southern routes was to avoid towing the trailer through any snow we decided to route clear down to Fort Worth where a good friend from my junior high and high school days lives with her husband. We parked in front of their house and were the talk of the neighborhood for a few days including Halloween. Kim made sure we didn’t starve (letting your guests starve is apparently the greatest fear of a Southern host and so they WAY over compensate). I had visited Kim the prior year for a few hours between airplane flights and she gave me the at-a-dead-run tour of the town. This visit she was able to show Clarice and I Fort Worth at a bit more leisurely pace. When we did get to a county park to camp in the panhandle there were branches down everywhere and a large pile of melting snow in the local Walmart parking lot. We were told that we had made a wise choice in waiting out the storm at Kim’s place. We moved on through West Texas making sure to visit the “Grand Canyon of Texas”, see plenty of oil wells (and wind turbans) and get up close and personal with local long-horns.
Moving from into New Mexico we were immediately taken with the scenery and wished we could loiter a while and enjoy it but the New Mexico government had other ideas. With Covid hitting the native reservations exceptionally hard and with stubborn non-mask wearing neighbors to the east and to the west (even Texas and Arizona finally caught on when their death rates spiraled upward), New Mexico made it clear that tourists were not welcome this year. To even stay in a State or County Park required a driver’s license with a New Mexico address. We didn’t want to cross the state without rest so we checked in with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) office in Albuquerque who pointed us to a BLM campground a few miles off the main freeway. The site was lovely and being a federal campground we got our old folks 50% discount and it was a great deal.
Arizona was more welcoming but with its spiking Covid rate we didn’t want to be anywhere there were a lot of people (often without masks) if we could help it. About that time we decided that with the winter weather starting to make itself known, and Covid rates increasing we would start to move back towards Puget Sound and home for the holidays. We arrived back at Salish Aire on the 12th of November after leaving on September 14th.
Part II: Home for the holidays (Covid style) and then on to the desert
The clear message from the CDC (which too many people chose to ignore) was that large group gatherings for the holidays should be avoided to keep from spreading the virus (the beginning of the year spike in cases was dramatic). Our choice was to meet with family members in small groups and to do everything we could to avoid being the vectors from group to group. The good news was that we were able to see the people we really wanted to and no one contracted the virus. We watched the rain fall and prepped the boat to be left alone and prepped the trailer for long term travel.
Part III: Back on the road
On January 8th we headed to Portland to get a chance to visit with our son and his family for a few days before heading out. A big part of our visit was to participate in our grandson’s 18th birthday celebration. From Portland we headed into Northern California where another Airstream owner in Redding offered that we were welcome to spend the night in front of her home. Since virtually all parks in California were closed by order of the governor we knew we had to be creative as traveling California from north to south is a long drive. The next night we stayed near Bakersfield with a HarvestHosts.com host. Our last day in California was spent boondocking in the Mojave National Preserve which meant we had crossed over the Sierra Nevada’s without incident.
On previous trips we had camped at Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada and it had become one of our favorite places. On every other trip we had felt rushed and we only stayed a night or made a day visit from Los Vegas but since this was our trip of leisure we spent several days there and took time to really enjoy all the park had to offer (it is also one of the few parks where dogs are OK on trails so Jarvis was happy as well).
Our plan when we left Olympia was to stay on the BLM open camping lands around Quartzite Arizona. We did enjoy that it was free and we found some interesting places to visit in the desert. We had read that in a normal (non-Covid) year that for the last two weeks in January Quartzite becomes RV central of the SW USA with a huge RV show and thousands of RVs parked in the desert. We can only say we were glad it was off year as there were still to many RVs and people for our tastes. We did go to the the remainder of the Ham Radio swap meet (we were told it was also only shadow of the usual event). In any case I found a nice used base radio (HF and VHF frequencies in one radio) and a good quality handheld VHF to replace the very cheap one that had died. I was very proud of what I had acquired at a reasonable price – sadly the antenna I bought in Phoenix almost doubled the investment.
We needed to get some mail forwarded to us and figured that with Quartzite being Snow Bird Central that the post office would be really well set up for deliveries to General Delivery. Clarice went into the post office to find out what we needed to know and was not impressed. There was a heavy rainstorm going on outside and inside of the post office (water was coming out of a light fixture) and the postmaster indicated that general delivery mail was only made available for 1 hour a day out the side door. We instead chose to have the mail sent to a small town over the hill from where we were camped. The idea was good the execution not so much as mail that we expected to arrive in 3 days ended up taking over a week and involved a number of extra driving miles before it was in our hands.
A bit of a back story: Before we headed north for the holidays we were in a remote California campground and received an email from one of our blog readers asking for information about Nordhavn 46s such as Salish Aire. This was not an unusual request and as we usually do we phoned the folks who emailed and spent about 2 hours on the phone answering their question. At the end of the conversation they indicated that they had pretty much decided they wanted to buy a boat like ours but noted that there simply were none on the market. At the time of the call they were in their RV in Port Townsend in Northern Puget Sound and about to head south to Arizona. We offered that if they would check and make sure that Salish Aire was OK they could take time crawling around an N46 to see if they were really sure about their plan. After looking at the boat they called back with more questions and over time we got to feeling that we knew them well even though we had never met in person.
Eventually we agreed to meet about half way between where they were camped near Tucson and we were camping near Quartzite which put us in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument near the Mexican border. The campground is lovely and the scenery and trails kept us all entertained until my Urologist suggested that I needed to have some lab work done to try to assess why I was having ongoing pelvic pain. So we parted a day before we planned and headed to Phoenix to visit an urgent care clinic.
Which brings us back to Norman’s crappy health 2020 -2021. I had been having aches and pains that mimicked a viral infection for months. This was along with sudden spikes in my heart rate and other symptoms. I finally set up a phone visit with my PCP back in Everett. He listened and concluded that I was still suffering side effects of the Lupron shot I had back in March as part of my prostate cancer treatment. This was consistent with what I was learning from an on-line support group for prostate cancer survivors which was that Lupron shots last months beyond what we are told and the side effects are more extensive and really wear on you over time. The good news is that most of the symptoms initially were controlled with a prescription from my PCP and eventually went away. I continue to have pelvic pain that is helped by a prescription from my urologist. I mention all of this in case another guy like me tries to put up without saying anything and frankly finds himself fairly depressed as I was. There are options to help and my mood is dramatically improved now that most of the symptoms are under control.
As we wandered about in Arizona the Covid epidemic eased a bit as folks finally got the message that simple precautions such as wearing masks in public and spacing out from other people really worked. I think having a president out of office that made not wearing a mask a political statement among his faithful also helped. This led to the partial opening of previously closed campgrounds and businesses in California. Another of our favorite places to visit but where we have never stayed for more than a day at a time is Death Valley National Park. By a bit of luck I happened to check the park web site the same day they opened their campground reservation list. I jumped in and was able to get us several nights in the main campground in Furnace Creek. We toured the valley and as always were amazed at how beautiful sheer bareness can be. My brother keeps commenting that my photos from this part of the country “look pretty brown” (which they most certainly do after being in the Evergreen State) but on the other hand we decided it’s like looking at Mother Earth in her naked glory.
We continue to hang in California first visiting a pretty cool (but underutilized) campground in the Mojave National Preserve and then on to another favorite place, Joshua Tree National Park. Finally we headed to friends house in San Diego where we camped in their driveway and enjoyed wonderful conversation after a year of minimal social interaction. We needed to catch up with some mail and some other big city stuff. While we were there we were able to get appointments in the San Diego area to get our first Covid shots which has caused us to enjoy several San Diego county parks on both sides of the coast range. Today we got our shots and are hoping to visit with boating friends who are in town for a parts run before we head back west.
So what about the huge changes that are afoot? We have decided to take advantage of the very very hot market for our model of boat and sell her. We have enjoyed every minute of our almost seven years living on her as she carried us from Alaska to Mexico but we now are starting to recognize we are feeling less wanderlust and more the weight of keeping and operating her. We decided that selling her when we don’t want to “get rid of that damn boat” but instead are leaving her with some sense of sadness is better. We keep coming back to that it usually takes at least a year to sell a boat like Salish Aire and in the meantime the seller’s costs continue to mount. Remember the people who visited her several paragraphs back? When we offered them first shot at buying her at a fair price they let us know within an hour that they want to close the deal. Our current plan is to pass off ownership in late April unless something unexpected comes up (in which case we will continue to call her home and take her out on the sea where she belongs).
Some last looks:
Some last looks: