Saturday, July 31, 2010


If I were a humpbacked whale
Would I sing?
And who would I sing for?
And what would be my song?

I listen to their voices on my tape.
Their music calls to me,
Its meaning hovering
Just beyond the fringes of my awareness,
Tantalizing me with its nearness.
It stirs a fiercely yearning ache
That seems to cry
Sing with us.
Reach through the clouding of a mind
That only understands the words of men
And join us.
You can!
If only..."
To my eternal sorrow
They do not tell me how.

The All-Purpose Greeting Card

I love brisk and sweatered mornings,
Sun rising red upon my day,
Wild geese calling while close passing,
And just one more chance to say:


Hi! I care. I miss you.
Would you think of me today?
Happy Birthday! Please feel better.
(And is the check upon its way?)


Silence is golden.

Silence is passive-aggressive.
I will feed it into your anger
And make you my villain.

Silence is the peace in me
That says I don't have to
Say anything
To anybody.

Silence is the sure sign
The kids are into something.

Silence is my treasured reward
At the end of my day.


One, Two, Three, Four

For me, three's a crowd.
I do not function well in crowds.
One's OK. One is me.
Two is fine.
Two's a one-on-one.
But three's a one-on-one
With one left out.
I find four,
When three are children,
Is a zoo.
Then I must recall
Each child was once
My one-on-one with life
And I must seek that joy
With each of them

It Went Without Saying

It goes without saying
I'd think
So I wouldn't say it.
And nobody knew
That it went without saying;
They all figured
It just wasn't there.


Ah, my friend,
You are grasshopper to my ant.
I do not deny
I find you enticing
As you sparkle your way through life.
When I have my grasshopper moments
We meet
And I sparkle with you briefly:
Together we sparkle much more brightly
Than each alone.
But there is too much ant in me
For us to be together long.
Ah, my friend,
I am so glad
You have been there with me
In those moments.
Ant though I am,
I treasure knowing
The world finds room
For grasshoppers.

My Cave

I crouch here in the blackness of my cave.
I crawled in here alone
With just a tiny push:
What it was, it does not matter.
I am here.
I dwell in darkness, looking out.
There is a tiny piece of light
And should I look that way
I see feet passing
But none stopping at the trail I left,
No one stooping, looking in
To see if I survive
The nastiness of my surroundings,
The bleakness in the black pit of my mind.
Movement --
Crying out --
They both elude me.
I huddle with my back against the wall.
But some day that wall
Will open up
Behind me,
Open up the blackness of
Please, don't leave me here.
Somebody, care:
Reach in a hand
When I can't reach one out.
Don't leave me here.

* * * * *
Luckily for me, that was a long time ago, and a lot has changed.

But I still remember.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Meeting Little Sir Echo: A Skit

"Little Sir Echo" is a song from my childhood, taught to me by my mother. I seem to associate it with being in the kitchen doing dishes. This means I don't remember my brother being around to learn/sing it too, but that's just my memory, very self-involved back in the day.

Several years ago I needed an idea for a skit for a talent show, and my creative silly-bug bit. I needed a "straight man", someone who could both sing and play a musical instrument (a guitar in this case), and who would put up with following along with my idea. I asked Jan, a friend at that time and in the same group I was, and she consented. Unlike me, she has a genuine musical talent. My part was perfect for a musical wannabee.

This is the skit as I developed it. Cast: two, one to sing well and play an instrument, one not so talented but who can mostly carry a tune and who can "play" with the music, or riff vocally to be the echo/fool. Set: a small stage with a chair, and if the room is large, a mike. A curtain backdrop is ideal.

It starts with the musician introducing the song "Little Sir Echo" as a very old song learned in childhood, and suggesting to the audience that if they are very quiet, they might actually get to hear the echo. After a quick tuning of the strings, the musician starts: "Little Sir Echo, How do you do. Hello..."

She pauses, expectant, waiting for the returning echo. It doesn't come. She shakes her head like something has gone wrong, retunes a string, clears her throat, and starts over. "Little Sir Echo, How do you do. Hello..."

When again the echo fails to sound, she frowns, tells the audience maybe they are being too noisy, since it's a very shy echo, and starts a third time. "Little Sir Echo, How do you do. Hello..."

Very quietly, from back stage, a rusty voice repeats, "Hello."

Singer: "Hello..."

Echo, a little bolder, "Hello."

Singer: "Little Sir Echo will answer you. Hello..."

Echo, fully confident: "Hello."

Singer: "Hello.."

Echo: "Hello"

Twice more to the melody the singer offers "Hello..." and the Echo answers, with the last one peeking her head out between the gap in the curtains, looking shyly around. The singer sees her, smiles, and continues the song, now looking fully at the Echo.

Singer: "Won''t you come over and play...?"

Echo steps fully out on to the stage, repeating, "And play..." but now instead of just echoing, takes off with the music, up and down, dancing through themes, up and down scales and warm-ups, all the while getting cockier and more dramatic, having a wonderful time singing the word "play" until finally ending up in the laughing part of Mozart's "Queen of the Night" aria with full operatic flair until the highest notes, where suddenly the notes are missed because they are beyond the echo's range, the voice cracks, the facade crumbles, the confidence vanishes along with the voice. Echo suddenly looks wildly around at the audience as if seeing them for the first time, struck with humiliation, and quickly runs to hide back behind the curtain.

Singer, who has been amused and pointedly, overbearingly tolerant of Echo's attempt to steal the show, just smiles, picks up her guitar again, and picks up the song where she left off: "You're a nice little fellow, I know by your voice. But you're always so far away..."

In a very small voice, a chastised Echo replies, "Away."

Thanks, Jan, for helping me realize a small dream and doing it my way. I hope you are still playing and enjoying your own music these days.

The Girley Scout Song

Steve was to teach a bunch of camping girl scouts how to fish today. Unfortunately, the camping part got canceled last night when storms rolled through, so there were no girl scouts today to teach. However, just the mention got me thinking about my years in scouts and my time as a troop leader of one very reluctant Brownie. I'm sure a lot of things stuck with me from all those years, stuff I can't exactly recall but have adopted as part of the code of how I live my life. There is one thing, however, that's indelibly etched in my brain, not only because it's a song, but because of the mischief imbued in every line (in contrast to all those lessons).

I can't write down music, but I can write down lyrics, and it's almost as enjoyable that way. If you can dig up the tune, it's a great giggly campfire song. I'd love to know who wrote it for proper attribution, and if anybody knows, please let me know. It goes, to the best of my memory, as follows:

Oh, I wish I were a little marshmallow, marshmallow.
Oh, I wish I were a little marshmallow, marshmallow.
I'd be sticky sticky sticky
And make everybody icky.
Oh, I wish I were a little marshmallow, marshmallow.

Oh, I wish I were a little sip of Coke, sip of Coke.
I'd go down with a slurp
And come up with a burp!
Oh, I wish I were a little sip of Coke, sip of Coke.

Oh, I wish I were a little slice of orange, slice of orange.
I'd go squirty squirty squirty
Over everybody's shirty.
Oh, I wish I were a little slice of orange, slice of orange.

Oh, I wish I were a little bar of soap, bar of soap.
I'd go slidey slidey slidey
Over everybody's hidey.
Oh, I wish I were a little bar of soap, bar of soap.

Oh, I wish I were a little mosquito, mosquito.
I'd go bitey bitey bitey
Under everybody's nighty.
Oh, I wish I were a little mosquito, mosquito.

Oh, I wish I were a little Girley Scout, Girley Scout.
I'd go trampy trampy trampy
To the Boy Scout Campy.
Oh, I wish I were a little Girley Scout, Girley Scout!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Twins Game

My dad still loves the Twins. At 96, with his disabilities, he can't go to Target Field to see the new stadium and watch them in person. Nor can he enjoy a televised game, with his poor eyesight. In fact, he much prefers the radio, listening to the play-by-play just aimed at the people like him who have to rely on their imaginations to see the game, as fed by verbal cues from the announcer.

Last night I came home just as the game was starting, 7:00 PM our time. I excused myself and headed to the computer, telling him to enjoy his game. I don't happen to be a fan. I had other things to do.

A short while later he came over to the den door with his walker, offering to let me watch TV if there was anything on I wanted to watch. Between the summer schedule and the DVR taking care of the few offerings of interest, I declined his offer, as usual. But I noticed how early it still was and asked him what happened to his game? Were they rained out?

No, it was just the end of the first inning. but the score was already 6-0, Twins leading, and it was over as far as he was concerned. I laughed, suggesting that if they'd made six runs, there was lots of time for more to happen, and he might as well enjoy listening. He made his way back and turned his radio on again.

Around 9:00, his usual bedtime these days, he stopped by on the way to bed. I asked about the game. He informed me it was the 7th inning, and the score was now 14-0, Twins. I teased him that there really had been something worth listening to. But it was late, and since the game was now really and truly over as far as he was concerned, he was going to bed.

In the morning, part of our routine is watching/listening to local news and weather together. I knew they'd been forecasting severe weather for today, and figured that for the lead story. Instead, it was the final score of last night's game, 19-1! He'd managed to miss six more runs!

Monday, July 26, 2010

20 Years of ADA

It was all over the radio today. Talking heads were spouting opinions on our progress or its lack, folks calling in were mostly complaining how it's not being implemented, and I'm listening and just beginning to form opinions.

I just qualified to have my handicap sticker renewed, after a "trial period" of two years. Now I get it for another six years minus a month, or as long as I can get it without my doctor stating it's permanent. She gets why I'm not having surgery - the same reason I don't see her for other things as often as she'd like. It's called lack of insurance. She's optimistic that I'll get it taken care of before the six years are up. Me? Not so much. Sure, I'll qualify before then, but there's also the factor of taking months off work, unpaid. That's a matter of planning ahead so the bills can get paid even when I'm not. The upshot is that for me, the sticker is a solution for the long term. I won't have to walk so far.

I've already changed my lifestyle in many ways. Shopping doesn't happen in stores with no electric shopping carts unless it's a particularly good day or what I need is close to the door and the lines are short. That's all a tall order sometimes. The one exception, and one I highly resent, is Target. They have made absolutely no progress towards having enough functional electric shopping carts. Nobody bothers to see that they get plugged in. And nobody is willing to stock more carts in the store so that there is always one ready for the customer. Maybe it's time to switch both my father's and my prescriptions over to WalMart. Then I won't have to go to Target again.


Work presents its own set of challenges, and those are ones I mostly put up with in the cause of continuing to earn a buck. There are way too many fancy new buildings with huge fancy lobbies where you have to walk about a block from your car to the elevator, because nobody does business from the ground floor anymore. I hate them all. Well, nearly. I do bless the post-9/11 paranoia that makes some companies restrict our access to the dock mailroom for both pickups and deliveries. While they mostly have several stair steps for entry, they usually require only a short walk after that. In fact, they prohibit access past that. I'm OK with that. I don't worry about bombs or anthrax or any other variety of terrorism. I'm just trying to limit the pain.

The obnoxious companies are the ones who make you take your heavy package halfway through the building to the exact office in the exact department because they can't bother the important person with a phone call to come get their stuff or set up some kind of internal mail/delivery system. Those spots are never close to the door, and it never seems to happen when it's just a small envelope. It's always things like the huge ungainly container - DO NOT TIP! - with the cryogenically frozen cells in liquid nitrogen that weighs 20 lbs. with the tiny handle for carrying which digs into your fingers, and corners that knock against your calf the whole way so you come away tired, sore, bruised, and thoroughly pissed off.

I'm getting better at saying, "No." Eventually they will learn that I'm much better at driving than walking.

Public accommodations, as I understand them as covered in the ADA law, would include campground showers, for example. That would include the three I found on this last trip that had steps or lips, either of which would limit access to anybody on wheels, and keep it hard enough for us limited walkers. Do they think we just don't need to get clean? Maybe it's time to let those folks know I won't be coming back for another visit.

And maybe it's time to let Rocky Mountain National Park know it's doing a great job! Could be better, of course, but I have to admit, those mountains are always going to be a wee bit too hilly for me to really wander over them the way I'd like, no matter what anybody does with making smooth level paths and gentle ramps.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Still Unamerican Airlines

I gave the after-five-days-lost guys a call this morning. (If that confuses you, read yesterday's post.) This guy had a slightly less thick accent than the other people I'd been dealing with. No judgments here, except perhaps that the airline is going for the cheapest labor pool available.

I explained my problem and the frustration of having a child all on her own half a world away getting stuck with this problem. At least his apology sounded sincere, not the I'll-say-the-words-so-you-go-away apology I got last night. But that was the last good part of the phone call.

First, when I explained I had been informed the suitcase had been dropped off at the hotel, he checked the file and insisted that it wasn't possible as the suitcase hadn't even been found yet!


I would have to fill out a claim.

Wait a minute. Jordan already did that. It's why I have a file number on the suitcase.

Oh, but this claim is for the contents of the suitcase.

Hey, I didn't pack it, I have no idea what went in it, and I have to wait until mid-August for her return to find out what all she packed. Communication is kind of an issue where she is, you know.

Nonetheless, he'd have to send me a form. Did I have a fax?

Oh yeah, right, sure, everybody has a fax at home. Get real. Don't you have email?


Wow! Really? How backwards is this place you work? I recited my street address for him.

He said he would have to call the airport and see if they had the suitcase.

Wait, it was lost on the 6th and you haven't called them?

Now where would you like the suitcase sent to if we find it?

Well, that kind of depends on when you find it, doesn't it? This week she's in Thailand, the next two she'll be in Cambodia, and I don't have any addresses or anything.

Do you have the phone number of the group she's with?

Not with me, but you can look them up online and get one. You do have internet there, right?


So he got my phone number, and if they find it, they'll call and I'll give them the latest where-to-send-it info.

I'm just not holding my breath.

At the Franklin Street Bakery

The Franklin Street Bakery in Minneapolis - 11th and Franklin - is a wonderful place. Award winning, in fact. I got introduced to it by my daughter who lives a block away. Lucky her.

I used to go pick up their 12-grain sourdough bread, which I swear comes in 4 pound loaves. Heavy and delicious. A couple years ago their quality control slipped a bit and I quit going. It's likely fine now, but my budget took a plunge at the same time, and I hadn't been back since, making do with grocery store offerings.

I could stay awake drooling about their specialty chocolate cake, called something like Oncho Diablo. It's two layers of very dark chocolate with a little bite of heat, separated by gnosh in a light chocolate, and covered with a smooth chocolate frosting. We tend to get it for special occasions since it cost $30 last time I priced one. But so-o-o-o-o worth it! Order in advance.

Today I noticed I was going to end my workday in that neighborhood in a timely manner and decided to venture over and see what was on their 5:00-6:00 PM half-price before closing special. Arriving a few minutes before five, I parked and waited... until 5:03 for good measure. I had a good book along for company.

Third in line as I arrived, I looked over the goodies and made about seven choices, and with some time remaining, whittled that down to two: almond croissants and cranberry-orange scones. I took 4 of the former, half of what they had, and six of the latter, that being what they had left. We'd have some treats this weekend!

While the fellow behind the counter started bagging my order, a woman about three behind me in a line that had been steadily growing started to complain. "Is she going to take all the scones? I had my mind set on scones tonight. That's so selfish! Couldn't she leave some for me?"

I didn't bother turning around. I was sure I'd say something equally rude to her if I did. I just smiled at the counter guy as he completed my order, paid for it and left. Let her notice that I'd not touched the raspberry and white chocolate scones, if she would. I let the counter guy remind all in line that it was, after all, first come, first served. I almost hope the next in line finished the rest of the scones ahead of her.

Selfish? How about her expressed wish to take away from me what she wanted for herself? I was there first, but had it been the other way around, I would have just acknowledged my own bad luck with my first choice and my timing, and made a different choice without a fuss. It's happened before, and I've never suggested that the one ahead in line give up their choice because I wanted it too. That's life.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Unamerican Airlines

I'm mad at them right now. My 17-year-old granddaughter is in Thailand, between visiting Laos and Cambodia, and her suitcase isn't.

She filed a claim. I have the number. When I got back from camping, in the door about 20 minutes, they called me asking me to confirm that she'd gotten it. Huh? First I heard of it. I've been out of touch.

A couple days later they called again, same question. This time I asked them a couple of my own. I was given a number to call back on and the information that they thought it had been delivered to a hotel in Thailand. Cool, because she was in Laos.

Communication is slow between countries when one party or the other isn't near a computer for a week. While I haven't heard from her, I have heard from the "Country Director" for the outfit that's sponsoring the travel opportunities. He says the suitcase is not at the hotel, which he knows because he is, but Jordan is holding up well. "Maturity" is the word he used.

Goodie. I am suitably proud of her, yada yada yada. Impressed even. Now where's the suitcase?

I called Unamerican Airlines back to let them know she doesn't have her suitcase yet. I was informed I was calling the wrong number since it's been over 5 days since she filed the missing bag claim. Hey, it was already over 5 days when I was given this number! Can't you guys keep track of your own policies? As politely as possible under the circumstances, I let the person on the other end of the call know that I was unimpressed by their level of helpfulness. Her voice took on that oh-so-polite tone that tells me she doesn't give a shit. I was not reassured.

I have to wait until tomorrow to call, (hours as of central standard time, don't call on their lunch break) when I'm not near a computer and have no communication with Thailand because everybody there's sleeping, so I can't tell anybody where to send the thing so she'll actually get it before she heads back home on August 13th.

Of course, I have to assume this is all worth it because they haven't already lost the suitcase again. What is it they say about making assumptions?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Summer Job

MPR is doing a series on summer jobs right now, and I found myself going back to that one real summer job. It's not that I didn't work before or since, but this was the only summer-only job.

I took it the year I graduated from high school, after somebody in the counselor's office pointed out the ad to me and suggested that I apply. For me it was the first chance to get further away from home than church camp on a lake in the same town where I lived, and stay away for more than a week. It involved working on a resort in Wisconsin called Hughes High Haven. The couple running it were Ken and Helen Hughes, an elderly couple - to a 17-year-old, anyway - who hired two young people every summer. I, the girl, was hired to clean cabins mostly. What's-his-name, the guy, took care of the golf course.

While I don't remember his name, I do clearly recall feeling highly uncomfortable cleaning his cabin when he left out the love notes from the young girls who stayed at the resort. (Somehow there were always young teenage girls staying there but nobody interesting in the male department. So much for any fantasies of a summer romance!) I will admit that my discomfort didn't stop me from reading enough of them to figure out what they were. I'm not sure if it was cause and effect with his romances, but he left suddenly halfway through the summer, and I got his job too. Not more money, mind you, just both jobs.

His was better.

The golf course was across the road from the resort, a cute little nine hole course with sand greens. I knew nothing about golf, and thought being left-handed kept me from ever trying the game since nobody ever had left-handed clubs. What I did know said that greens were usually grass. It's how you see them on TV. Sand greens were unheard of at that time, at least by me, and I've not seen one since. My main job at the golf course was "carpeting" the greens.

I usually did it once daily, in the morning before the golfers showed up. On a day with really heavy use, I might have to do it twice. It involved dragging a heavy frame around with a hunk of carpet attached, starting in the center at the hole and spiraling outward until all the footprints -including mine - and other markings were smoothed over and it was ready for the next set of golfers. It was fun, mostly because I liked getting out and away from everybody. Late in the summer there were ripe chokecherries around the course which I was allowed to pick and eat as long as I kept on working.

To get the heavy rig and myself over to the golf course, I got to drive. I had taken drivers training, but never pursued it and had no license. I was told that it didn't matter since I was to never leave the property. They glossed over the part where I had to cross a public road, and I just was careful that nobody was in sight when I did. It was the only car I ever saw that had a push-button transmission.

The other job I had at the golf course was both more interesting and much less fun. The turf had an invasion of grub worms, the larval stage for june beetles. During the night, skunks would come in and neatly roll back pieces of sod in their hunt for the tasty buggers, and it would be my job to roll them back and tamp them down, just like an ordinary divot, pretending like nothing had ever disturbed the grass. That part wasn't so bad. It was when the skunks didn't finish their treat and left grubs behind that was the problem. The crows would descend and tear the neatly rolled back sod into tiny bits, scattering it all over and making my job miserable.

I remember my bonus job much more clearly than the cleaning cabins part. I have to assume I did my job sufficiently well, or they wouldn't have kept me on.

I lived in my very own cabin for the summer, and it came with a bonus. In its closet, tucked back in the corner in a plain box, was a supply of Playboy magazines. In the evenings after work I devoured them cover to cover. Yes, I read every word, loved the cartoons (especially the series on sharks in unlikely places like bathtubs), found the philosophy and dating advice weird (having never gotten past french kissing myself, which I also found weird), and marveled at the perfection of all those other women. This was back in the days of airbrushing everything, so it wasn't all that much of an education in anatomy.

There was one other advantage to this summer job: Mrs. Hughes was a great cook. We were introduced to all kinds of fare that I'd never heard of, as well as the usual standards. The guests paid to eat, but the help ate free. It worked beautifully except for one very memorable lunch. She made cucumber sandwiches. Cucumbers? Really? In a sandwich? With no protein? I kept looking around for the real food to appear, but nope, this was it. How was I supposed to work after a lunch like this? Nonetheless, Mom had raised me to be polite, and I didn't make a bit of fuss. Somehow, however, I must have conveyed my opinion of the meal, because she never wasted such fine delicate fare on me again.

In the fall, I returned home to start college, a whole $300 richer than when I left.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Trip: Other Thoughts

There are observations that don't fit in with any particular day or event on the trip, and yet were a significant part of the experience. They needed their own spot in a blog where the trip was organized chronologically.

For example: smells. It was a subtle thing, but under the big pines of, say, Rocky Mountain National Park or Flaming Gorge, there was the delightful scent of pine in the air, the kind that can never be replicated by an air freshener, which only manages to produce something repellent. In sagebrush country, that was the predominant scent, although dust and dry air tried hard to mask it. And for some odd reason, the minute we crossed the border back into Minnesota, the air smelled sweet, the lovely scent of cornfields growing and nearly ready to start tasseling. I hadn't noticed such an abrupt change in the content of the fields, but my nose told me otherwise.

My favorite summer scent was missing, though my eyes told me otherwise. I refer to sweet clover, those tall plants along roads and fields and even mountain meadows with the spikes of tiny yellow blossoms. For me it is the forgotten scent the rest of the year that, once noticed, says summer is truly here. One trip in the badlands years ago when the rest of the gang was out doing something, I just sat in the car downwind of a large planting of it and simply inhaled deeply as possible the whole time. This trip I saw it all over but nearly never smelled it, possibly due to the dryness of the air. Or perhaps the nose, vain as I am about its capabilities, formerly as strong as my mother's used to be, is simply growing old. That would be a tragedy.

There were some stark differences in crossing state borders. Going from Nebraska to Colorado, it was geographic, and as stark as flipping a switch, going from cultivated fields to open range lands. Changing from Iowa to Nebraska there was an abrupt cessation in wind turbines, from dense wind farms to nothing. I had to think politics played a large part in that, since the wind certainly isn't that choosy. Speaking of politics, once out west there was a whole lot of conversation that assumed everybody in the room was a Republican-of-course. I've had a lot of training in holding my tongue, and was raised with the idea one doesn't argue politics or religion with the one at whose table you are being fed. But everybody in the room was not a Republican!

I have to think politics had a hand in another difference. Road construction was ubiquitous. However, here in Minnesota there are nice orange signs posted informing the passerby that this project is funded with ARRA funds, better known as the Recovery Act. I can't recall a single such sign out west. Are they finding other funding or just not posting the signs, something my daughter informs me is illegal? I hear callers to radio shows expressing their views that there are no new jobs out there from the government spending money, but perhaps it is a lack of signs telling them when they are passing an ARRA project?

Another thing I thought was universal country-wide is accessibility. Apparently I was wrong, especially when it comes to camping facilities. The world seems to assume that only the young and able like to camp, not just when it comes to bathrooms and showers, but walkways and paths and scenic attractions. More ramps and fewer barriers are needed. We boomers grew up on camping, not all are rich enough to travel more expensive ways, and we are aging. Those who run accessible campgrounds and who can point out accessible trails and visitor spots, and advertise that about themselves, should do an increased business in the future. Then those of us who are reluctant to travel can be assured there is a place for us to enjoy a favorite activity. We'll beat a (gently sloped) path to your doorsteps. (Steve and I have fantasized about winning the lottery, using the proceeds to set up a travel bureau specializing in locating and/or developing accessible travel spots around the country.) I should repeat that the handicapped camping spot we had at Rocky Mountain National Park was terrific.

With no AC in the RV, I came to re-appreciate something now long-disappeared from cars: wing vents! Why do we no longer have them? They are great at funneling outside air into the vehicle without messing up hair, the way an open window top does. Our RV is actually so old it has them in it. Will somebody out there please bring them back?

While I learned something about my fellow travelers, I also learned some things about myself on this trip. I can get so focused on the best way to do something, meaning the most efficient or logical or best use of a space, that I can forget about the other person who is trying to accomplish the same thing in a different manner. I can get cranky, impatient, forget we are all adults and all trying to be helpful, and become simply trying. I needed to apologize several times: slow learning curve. It seems to be something that gets worse as I get older: after all I've had all these extra years to figure out the best ways for myself, and forget that knowledge does not travel by osmosis, and that just as I had my own opportunities to figure things out - sometimes very slowly - others should get theirs. It's embarrassing, actually, not living up to my own standards of perfection. Not that I actually ever do, of course, but usually not so publicly.

Speaking of fussy, the older I get the more fussy I am about where I sleep. The slight elevation difference in my bed from side to side was more than an annoyance at first. I couldn't prop myself too well against the slope, since that would have meant using my bad shoulder. A bit of sleep deprivation helped cure that somewhat, but it's still great to be home in my own bed. If one could take the home bed along when traveling, it'd be so much better.

Sleeping while camping is further complicated by sleeping bags. I'd gotten a new one for this trip, made by Eddie Bauer. I was intrigued by the statement that it was good for either hot or cold weather camping. I thought they meant it had a removable liner, like a bag inside another bag. That wasn't it at all. What it had was a removable cover, zipping down both sides. The first couple nights I absolutely hated it. I couldn't figure out what to zip or not, where to insert myself for comfort, how to keep my feet from poking out the bottom, and why I needed the hood part over my head under any circumstances. I didn't want to get into the main part of the bag because that has a flannel lining, and those are designed to prevent the sleeper from rolling over in the middle of the night by sticking to whatever you are wearing. They may be better - I say may - at staying out of the zipper than nylon linings, but I find no other use for them. However, the extra piece is nylon on both sides, nice and slippery so you can move at will. Then, once I figured out to zip both sides of the extra piece partway down and pull it back up like a blanket, using the hood part like an extra pillow, I was all set for a comfy night's sleep and fell in love with the bag. The exposed feet part I dealt with by scooting the sleeping bag a bit farther down on the bed so the end dropped down, keeping the feet covered by using gravity.

I also learned something about how I compartmentalize. Once on the road, I could completely shed thoughts of home and responsibilities there. Something would jog me into remembering to call and check in on how things were going and give updates on our progress. It was otherwise put completely aside. In that sense it was a true vacation. However, once back, I am periodically flooded with mental images from the trip. It could be the mountains, or one of the animals, or a meal around a campfire, or any of a number of things, and not just while I've been recapturing the memories blogging about them. I'll be driving down the road and suddenly remember some part of the trip that I enjoyed, being both places at once. It still hangs with me, almost as if I'm back on vacation for a moment. So: cut off what you're escaping from, but bring the escape back with you. It seems like the very best way to compartmentalize.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Trip: Day Thirteen

I checked our campsite in the morning before heading off to the showers and there was absolutely no sign anything had gone amiss. It was cleaner than the showers I was heading to.

It's not so much that everybody was dragging in grass clippings on their feet, and nobody had yet taken care of it. It's also not that there are only two shower stalls for all the campers, and I had to wait - sitting on the only seat around, the toilet. No, my disappointment in the showers was an engineering thing. There is a concrete lip in the front one had to step over. Just a minor nuisance, as long as one is able to step over and doesn't need wheels to navigate. But I found out it serves another function.

When the concrete was poured, the floor in the shower stalls was sloped away from the drain. This means the floor in the dressing area was wet. Not just wet, but standing water, grass clippings, soap, and what-not. I try not to speculate on the contents of the "what-not." One had to be very careful when dressing and undressing that no speck of clothing hit the floor. After I was finished with everything else, I headed over to the picnic table set up outside to dry my feet and put on shoes and socks, even though it meant gingerly making my way through a bed of rocks which were not all river-washed and nicely rounded.

Breaking camp took extra time this morning, since we started preparations to unpack and store the RV as we were packing. Breakfast dishes were done and put away, clothing was all located and packed back into its original containers, rather than allowed to sprawl all over for ease in use. The water tank was emptied into black and greywater tanks for their final flush, and orders given that nobody use sink or toilet in the RV the rest of the day.

There was one final photo op: the rest stop on the hill overlooking the river from the opposite side, with views of the river and its many bridges. That done, we were on our way.

Like the first day, I figured I could have written the rest of this day before we had even left home. Drive drive drive. Heat heat heat. Snooze if you can. Hit Friday summer-weekend rush hour in the Twin Cities, try to be patient, try not to mind that vacation is over, mountains are just memories now. Begin making those mental lists that really tell you you are home again: chores to do, bills to be paid, the upcoming work schedule, calls to make, appointments to keep, grass to mow (by Paul of course), groceries to restock....

Paul wanted to get the RV in to a mechanic to get the engine checked. I vetoed that. It's emptied, parked "in storage" on the driveway, and the insurance pulled off. Next year, once we plan a trip, will be soon enough to start looking at mechanical things, like what's wrong with the electrical system, cleaning the carburetor, checking if there's a hole in the muffler. That's IF we plan an RV vacation next year. At the moment, I'm all RVed out.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Trip: Day Twelve

Before leaving our Wi-Fi endowed campground, Maria looked up the Black Hills for us and, having picked out Bear Country USA as our tourist stop for the day, got us directions: Take exit 61. Lucky for us, that exit also hosted a tourist information stop, so we made lunch while Paul went inside and procured a full area map and more complete information.

While eating, a car pulled alongside us (in the truck parking area), a man got out and offered us free camping in the area. Having absolutely no plans to stay, we politely accepted his brochure to get rid of him, discovering upon reading it that he actually offered a timeshare arrangement with a mandatory 90 minute sales pitch. That was in the fine print along with an income level to qualify that eliminated us anyway.

Oh shucks.

We headed down to Bear Country USA, paid our admission, and proceeded inside with cameras at the ready. It was great fun touring, or became so the second we broke their rules and opened windows. It was absolutely sweltering inside the RV with no air circulation and no AC. Slowly as we were going and in full sun, I can easily make a claim for it being a health issue.

It was also a photography issue. Pictures are so much better when taken without the filtering effect of an extra layer of dirty glass. The windows were all high, and we were always alert for any critters that might approach for a quick window-close, and we proceeded completely without incident. I also noticed that several other vehicles had open windows. Many animals were already distant enough that there was never an issue, and the cougars were completely sealed in behind sturdy fencing. The bears were busy ignoring us even before the truck came noisily through tossing what looked like bread on the ground for their feeding. While that attracted most of them on site to one area, we liked their more natural actions before the feeding started.

Our one incident had absolutely nothing to do with open windows. Maria was moving seat locations when there was a sudden need to stop, and fell in the aisle. She hit her hand on something as she went down, but luckily we had abundant ice for an ice pack, and that was all that was needed.

Her camera was unharmed.

Once we were ready to leave, we had the option of touring a building where young animals were visible. Did we want to? The unanimous vote was no, but a request was put forth: Could we head just a bit more away from the freeway and visit the Big Thunder Gold Mine in Keystone? Two of Steve's sons are really big into panning for gold, and he wanted to buy each of them a bag of panning dirt, guaranteed to contain some gold or your money back.

It was quickly located on the map, and away we went. I was thinking about black hills gold jewelry, if some were affordable in the shop, and enjoying the scenery. Others were thinking restrooms, in addition to their own personal buying goals. (We had no time for more than a quick stop, so couldn't tour the mine even if we had wanted.) The billboards along the way were very good, up to telling us where to turn and when, so the route was easy, especially with four pairs of eyes spotting.

Once there, it was my knees that gave me the advantage over the others. I had to sit before heading into the shop, and again on the way out. Right there on the deck were tables, one unoccupied. It was a chance to watch panners in action if you wanted, but having already done that on several occasions, I looked around instead. That gave me the opportunity to be the only one to catch a glimpse of Mt. Rushmore, though only two and a half heads are visible from that angle. It was such a long enough walk over and back that I'd made my selection, spotted Paul, and handed him the money for my purchase before going out to sit down again before heading back. Naturally I wasn't interested in fighting my way back through the crowd in the store to find him to mention the view. I'd completely lost track of the others as well by this time. Once back at the RV, nobody was interested in heading back to the store for the view, especially me.

Shopping done, it was time to head on, no further stopping except for gas. We had another 200 miles to cover before hitting our campsite along the Missouri River in Chamberlain. The drive was exactly what you expect from South Dakota: hot and boring. We did, however, pull in in good time, set up camp, hve supper, and go for our swim and hot tub soak. The pool was open until 10. It was an inside pool, located in the resort part of our campground, so we drove up. Steve elected to stay at the campsite with his favorite chair and pipe and just watch the river flow by and get acquainted with our neighbors for the night. We left him with a bottle of OFF!

Cedar Shores gets one thing wrong, and I never figured it out until presented with it after my knees went bad. Instead of steps down into their pool, they have ladders. The ladders have very low hand railings to support yourself when getting in and out. I mostly fell in to the pool, rather than climbing in, but it was warm enough that it was fine. Nearly an hour later, however, wanting to use the hot tub while there were a few minutes before they closed up, climbing out again was another matter. It took about five minutes, even with Paul's help. The water level is low enough that I couldn't just put my arms on the pool edge and hoist myself out. The ladder was OK enough for the first step, less OK for the second, and gave absolutely no leverage for that last one. My shoulder hasn't healed enough for him to be able to pull on both arms, and there was no good way to shift my center of gravity and climb out that last step. I finally went to my knees on the pool edge and stood up from there.

It wasn't fun.

The hot tub, at least, has steps. Paul is more of a sauna guy, but Maria and I enjoyed our 15 minutes in the massaging jets of hot water, even though they were poorly placed to hit what ailed us. Unless, of course, you get off on foot massage. For that they were wonderful.

We finally returned to the RV for our hottest night of the trip, ready for our hottest and final day. Of course, we had to have our last disaster first.

Maria had left a lot of dishes to do, and Steve and I assured her that we could make our beds and sleep while she used the RV kitchen for the task. There was no dish sink in the camper facilities. What I had forgotten was that Maria likes to run lots of water while doing dishes. Mostly, I just hadn't paid that much attention. Suddenly Paul popped his head in to report that the RV was leaking water all over the ground. The greywater tank was overflowing. Luckily, we had a dump station right on our site and didn't need to move to hook up in the dark.

The procedure is to dump the blackwater tank (from the toilet) first, then flush the system with the greywater contents, usually considerably cleaner. Something went wrong with the hookup, and the blackwater tank contents went all over the ground instead of down under ground. Luckily it was by now full dark, and most of our neighbors were either asleep or at least retired inside with windows and shades drawn. Paul used the hose to dilute and scatter the mess, hooked up again, and now emptied the greywater tank. Maria finished dishes and went to bed. Paul set his alarm to get up again around 5AM to pick up toilet paper after it had a chance to dry a bit.

Zipper baggies make great gloves in a pinch.

Trip: Day Eleven

It was all downhill from here. Quite literally, in fact, but emotionally as well.

Leaving the campground, we headed back into Alpine to top off on gas and refresh ice. There was still one real photo op coming up for us, as we headed up to the Tetons before hitting Moran Junction and aiming east. They were still as impressive as ever, although quite quickly a pesky cloud settled around the top of the highest peak and insisting on staying there, allowing only very infrequent peeks to show there was something more than cloud there.

According to the map, the route to Riverton, Shoshone, Casper, and up to Buffalo provided the flattest and thus fastest route. Mostly the map was correct, but it didn't really show the pass we were heading into when we left the Tetons in the rear view mirror. I never did look it up properly, because I'd already given it a name: Construction Pass. Major work was being done, and there were plenty of one-lane roadways and halts for traffic the other way to proceed. During one stop I had time to notice an impresssive rock wall rising in the distance, and managed to get off a few shots while we were moving. Since I've been using all my free time now we're back for blogging, I've not taken the time to check them out to see what I got.

The cameras pretty much got packed away again at this point, anyway.

Two other things were memorable. First, pronghorns were abundant as soon as we hit the flat country, covered with sagebrush. A few stood close to the road, and we noted several roadkills, but most stood back a ways, calmly grazing in small groups. I estimate that within an hour I viewed over a hundred of them.

Second, the RV decided to start acting up again. We'd tried to pretend it was fine all the time at Alpine. True, an engine that's not running for two days also isn't missing and backfiring. Plus in the back of my mind an idea had been forming for a solution. It's not just that I didn't want to spoil anybody's holiday by trying to get it looked at. '86 means carburetor, not fuel injectors. They used to gum up a lot, meaning they needed to be cleaned. A rebuild was extreme and hopefully unnecessary. What we needed was jet fuel! In case you never noticed, that's what's in those tiny bottles of fuel injector and carburetor cleaner: jet fuel. At our late afternoon stop, we put two of them into our 30-gallon tank, and added another with the next fill the next day.

It worked! However, until it did, there was a lot of slow driving, put-put-putting going uphill and slowing on long hills to about 35 mph.

Buffalo was, as the map suggested, snuggled low on the eastern side of the Bighorns, out in the flat, great for driving, not so much for scenery, after where we'd recently been. The campground brochure promised a swimming pool heated to 86 degrees and we'd been looking forward to that all day. I managed to get in down to the second step before giving it up as a terrible idea. The pool was freezing! Where was our promised 86 degrees? When I inquired at the check-in desk, I was met with, "Well, it was very cold here recently. I'll have to have it checked out. But nobody else has complained." The last was accompanied by a look that strongly hinted that we were just way-y-y-y too fussy and maybe we just ought to put our attitudes in order, thank you very much!

We settled for hot showers. They were pretty nice, except for having to climb up several stairs to get into the building. Each shower had a toilet with it behind its door, making it convenient. However, mine also had a very nice bathroom rug, soaking wet from previous campers. Not so appetizing.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Trip: Day Ten

This was parting day. Max, Alta and the kids were heading back to Salt Lake City, and we were heading up into Bridger National Forest to camp along the Greys. Paul, Steve and I had done this once before, either '95 or '96, and it had been highly memorable. We'd neglected to pack in water and had to treat stream water with Campden tablets - ick! There is no electricity anywhere within miles of the place, meaning that when I popped out of the tent in the middle of the night to head for the pit toilet, it was black as tar all over, except for the sky. That was decorated with the most impressive display of stars I'd ever seen in my life! I almost forgot what I was doing out there.

I'd managed to misplace the flashlight I'd parked right next to the tent door before heading into my sleeping bag, but came up with a surprising alternative: my Indiglo (Timex) watch face! With the button pushed down, my path was lit enough to get me to and from the toilet, as well as finding the necessary things within.

Having told those stories often, and fondly remembering that night, I was very much looking forward to this reprise of that long ago night. Plus, at that time Steve and I were just friends, and both wanted newer memories of a very special place.

Before we could start out, of course, we needed to head over to Max and Alta's RV to say our good-byes. Plus, I had not seen the inside yet, and had heard it was impressive.

Boy, was it! To start, anything that had an actual bedroom with an actual bed in it, not a converted something-else, had my instant vote of approval. The bathroom was not only large enough to move in, it boasted a small tub. The kitchen had a microwave, the dining table nested inside a bench that surrounded it on three sides, and the far end was a bedroom with four bunks for the kids. Even better, it had a door that closed! We weren't sure if the sofa was convertible to a bed, or a loveseat recliner - what I'd ask for given the choice. I didn't even care that the RV had a TV, or an outside flip-down gas grill, or.... This was the way to travel!

Of course, if it meant traveling with the kids, I might retract that.

At this time, I wasn't so much irritated with them, and hadn't been all that much during our interactions, as semi-amused by them. Perhaps it was how short our time together was going to be, although Steve was heartily glad to be done with them by the time we parted. Much before, in fact. Perhaps it was that I'd taken on the roll of assistant parent instead of passive witness (victim?) during our encounters. Then again, maybe it really was that they'd soon be gone. I'd also been amused by Steve's conversations with his daughter, assuring her that she and her brothers had been just the same at that age.

I'm not going to discuss my kids in this context.

In order to facilitate leaving camp soonest, I'd promised to buy everyone breakfast at the cheese shop, breakfast being defined as the ice cream cone of their choice, both size and flavor(s). This meant several things: Paul and Maria got to see Star Valley, I got to shop for cheeses as well to restock our larder, Steve got the rest of his birthday present, and Maria got her birthday present early. Well, plus the ice cream was yummy, Paul got time to fudge shop, and I picked up a souvenir sweatshirt.

Heading up Greys River, we made the priority a photo op day. Stopping frequently was a good thing, since the washerboard gravel was much meaner to the RV that it was to a van with its modern suspension, and the dust had to have time to settle both for shooting purposes and for our lungs. As early as we got out on the road, we did not manage to beat the 4-wheeler ATVs whose sole purpose seemed to be kicking up as much dust as their machines could manage. While there were fewer than the day before, the 5th still being officially a holiday, there were still an overabundance of them for our tastes. Perhaps if it had rained recently enough to settle the dust, we'd not have minded.

We took advantage of nearly every pull-out, even stopped on occasion where there were none. The river is incredibly scenic, particularly from the higher vantage point of an RV, blue water winding back and forth around curves, shot from up above to maximize the water, mountains rising in the distance, and nearly always a leaning pine at a strategic spot along the river for accent.

The hope had been to make it up to the headwaters of the Greys, and we likely would have had we just driven. As it was, by late afternoon we'd made it 25 miles up the road, turning around by the Deadman Ranch and heading down to our camping space. With no electricity, outside or inside, I wanted that done with plenty of time to spare. On the way up, I'd spied the location where we'd camped years before, and I directed us to that.

Apparently I was the only one who recognized it. The official campground sign was gone, paths were unmowed, the pit toilet, while still standing, was not serviced. Trees had grown much taller. Picnic tables and fire rings were still present, however, and we claimed the same exact spot we'd had before. It worked well. The campground had one added advantage: since it was not officially maintained, camping was free, just like at any other unofficial spot you could pull off and park to camp on.

Paul took off with the camera after the tent had been set up, and came back with an armful of firewood. Some previous camper had left a large supply of cut and split wood down at the end of the road in another spot, and we helped ourselves, adding to the supply we'd bought that morning in town. It was a good thing, because evening chill drove both Steve and me into the RV for an early night in our sleeping bags despite the fire. It was our coldest night of the trip, and we dug out long johns or sweats for PJs inside our sleeping bags.

Paul and Maria stayed around to enjoy the deer that wandered through our campsite, eating the tops off the blooming phlox scattered through the open areas. They would calmly stand and munch withing twenty feet of us, unconcerned so long as we made no sudden moves. Our roasting hotdogs or cooking corn had no impact on their movements, nor did normal conversation. I am not sure how many different deer there were, or if most of them were a single doe moving in and out of our area. After we elders went to bed, Paul and Maria reported seeing a group of adults with a pair of fawns.

Only one expectation remained unmet. Our previous visit, after the sun dropped behind the western mountain tops, an elk herd had descended from the trees and down a long meadow to eat and to drink from the river. This visit we heard one, twice, from further downstream of our site, but "our" meadow remained unvisited, except by deer. Possibly part of the reason was some idiotic fellow camper, well out of our sight, being as noisy as possible for well over an hour making the worst elk imitations on some brassy-sounding thing that we'd every heard or could imagine. If I were an elk, it would certainly keep me well away!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Trip: Day Nine

Laundry Day!

The building housing the bar also housed on the back side the restrooms and showers, and a central laundromat, coin operated. When I left the RV, I took not only my towel and toiletries but a folding lawn chair and book, a sack of dirty clothes, soap and quarters. Not enough quarters, however. I'd peeked inside very briefly the day before, noticing every machine was front-loading - just like home - and some required $1 and other $.50. What I didn't notice was that they were all dryers, and the washers were on the other side, hiding behind the door. Not to mention requiring $1.75 a load. Dang! Another trip!

To top it off, the dryers saying they charged $.50 actually needed three quarters. Apparently somebody pulled a newer sign off from an older sign. Very funny.

I'd announced to the others that I was going to stay there and watch/cycle laundry for everybody who was washing their dirty clothes that morning. After my shower, I set up the chair in the sun, where I had the choice of freezing and burning simultaneously, or just freezing if I moved it into the shade. I settled for changing my mind frequently. Eventually my hair dried, Paul brought over my jacket, and I could sit in the shade comfortably. While I watched laundry, he cooked breakfast and brought my plate (pancakes, fried eggs and bacon) and mug of mocha over for me!

Afternoon plans for Paul and Maria included whitewater rafting on the Snake River. Alta drove them over to Jackson Hole, in hopes of an opening so she could join them. (I found out later that Max had offered her a choice: either go rafting, something she really wanted to do, or take care of all four kids for the afternoon while the rest of us went fishing. She made the smart choice, and was rewarded with a spot on the raft.)

Max, Steve and I, four kids, cameras and fishing gear were loaded into the van and we headed first out for lunch, heading down Star Valley to "the cheese place" that we all remembered from long-ago previous visits. There was a very nice restaurant that had a corner booth where we adults could take the outside seats and trap the kids on the inside seats. That mostly worked. We were very lucky that the staff and fellow patrons were in a tolerant mood that day.

I think my most neutral description of those kids is "high spirited." Steve has a few other adjectives. Suffice it to say all four were vying for Daddy's attention every minute, and he was trying to catch up on what was going on with his brother, keep the kids in line, order food they'd all tolerate, find his own menu choice, keep the crayons on the paper (shirts were decorated), and just maybe keep the noise level within safe limits. It didn't help that our food was delayed, that Ashley and Daniel each tried to monopolize all the crayons, or that when Ryan's mini corn dogs finally arrived they were so hot that he tried to cool them by putting them in his glass of ice water.

The food, however, was delicious.

Star Valley is absolutely beautiful, at least this time of year, with everything being lushly green, from the valley floor to the rounded mountains rising on either side. Behind them an occasional snow-covered peak was visible, though the snow was limited to narrow ribbons draped over the tops. Max informed us that the middle of the valley is the border between Wyoming and Idaho, and spoke of a job opportunity in Idaho he was hopeful about. Among other things, it could make this area more accessible for vacations.

The mountains on our east were the Greys, and after lunch we headed back into Alpine to catch the Greys River road, heading up through them to a fishing spot. Steve's and Max's dad loved this area, bringing the boys here on fishing trips - individually, with their great difference in ages, and Steve more than Max.

Max had gone up with the family the day before and spotted a likely spot to pull off where everybody with good legs could stretch them and those with fishing poles and licenses could drop a line in from a very shallow bank. Having brought everything but a chair, I proceeded to find a stump to sit on and film from while everybody else did their thing. Unfortunately, the stump had been chainsawed in a beaver imitation, and the resulting point was not only full of tall jagged ends but the angle left to perch against was quickly very uncomfortable, like after about three seconds.

Steve found his spot and parked himself there in his camping chair for the duration. Hayden grabbed a pole and hiked down near me and the stump, making this spot the center of recording activity. By this time I had developed a sincere lack of sympathy for his instigation/complain-to-the-parent pattern, which alternated with his instigation/step-in-himself-like-the-parent pattern. Instigation is his case meant tormenting a sibling - usually Daniel, always good for rising to the bait, and stepping in himself usually meant roughing up said sibling. For a while there I thought my new mantra was, "You're not the parent," spoken in stern tones to Hayden. I figured if Max wanted to step in when one of the kids leashed out when provoked, he was perfectly capable of doing so. I was content to play lieutenant, reminding the kids of Max's spoken rules and of my observations of their breaking them. I wasn't above tattling when he was busy, and also reminded the kids of this fact.

When the opportunity came to tape Harden attempting to cast when his lure wouldn't travel more than a foot from his pole because something has hanging it up, I availed myself of it, for about the full five minutes it took him of repeated failed castings before he marched down to where the others were fishing to find a fix for the problem. I must add that normally he was a very good caster. Capturing the fluke of bad luck tickled my funnybone.

Ashley stayed very close to Daddy for the afternoon, Hayden stayed down by my end of the pullout, and Daniel and Ryan wandered back and forth. Ryan occasionally got the pole himself to try his luck, but usually, like Hayden, "caught" rocks or snags. Daniel - well, Daniel was just being Daniel. Of the four kids, he is the one who is absolutely driven to mischief at every opportunity. While I didn't see any maliciousness in it, there was certainly something inside constantly pushing it out. He'd been given the net, in the overly-optimistic hope that someone might catch something that needed bringing to shore.. He took a moment to bring it over to where I was sitting, after having gotten it dripping wet, and took a big swing with it that missed me by inches. The water still attached to it, however, didn't miss, me or the camera. I was unappreciative.

Go figure.

Once I finally gave up on my backside and decided to make my knees miserable instead for a bit, I wandered down to where Steve, Max, and Ashley had staked their territories. Just after I arrived, so did the game warden. I displayed my camera, saying I'd been shooting, not fishing that day. He checked everybody else that day for fishing licenses. Luckily, they'd all gone to the local store earlier and taken advantage of Wyoming's $14 a day license policy. He was friendly, staying around a bit to chat, mentioning that the Greys River was still flowing a bit too heavily to be good for trout, suggesting the Little Greys for fishing instead. We'd passed on the way up the spot where the two joined.

I headed for the van for comfortable seating, still able to get a few shots off from there. My favorite, etched in my memory the way some shots are from the moment you take them, are of Ashley and her dad, sitting back-to-back on the river bank, poles pointing in opposite directions. Both are wearing white or near-white, and lush greens surround them, all drenched in sunlight.

Ryan came over to the van after a bit, taking out his dad's camera and taking his own pictures with it. He took a few of me, but since it was a Nikon, I knew exactly how to delete them. I suggested instead that he use the camera to get shots of the rest of his family, which he did. Ryan actually managed to impress me as being the thoughtful one of the kids, at least as he interacted with me.

A bit later Hayden came over to the van, pulled out the camera, and started shooting anything and everything. Click-click-click, click-click-click-click-click. And on and on, until finally Max had had enough! I'm not sure Hayden was doing anything but getting attention. Ryan's pictures, on the other hand, were few and captured his subjects well.

Pretty soon the group gave up on this site and decided to take the game warden's advice. The drive up along the Little Greys was beautiful, even more so than what we'd already traveled that day. There were numerous sightings down to the river where deep blue pools waited along bends in the river, no doubt harboring dozens of hungry trout.


There was just one problem. Not only was there nowhere to safely pull off the road to stop, but the road uniformly ran along a 6 to 12 foot bank - or worse - above the river. It was definitely not a place for someone with bad knees to climb down to, nor safe for young children. We contented ourselves with some serious daydreaming and drooling over possibilities, eventually turning around to head back to our camp for supper.

Max had promised to cook for us, in a dutch oven over a campfire, a blend of potatoes, carrots, onions, chicken, mushrooms, and green peppers, all simmering in a can each of cream of mushroom and cream of chicken soups. His estimate of an hour cooking time proved very optimistic, and while tasty, it could have used, say, some powdered onion soup for some zip. But that's just my taste buds talking.

The center of the campground had a large green, an area used for tents, picnics, and bonfires. This is where supper happened that night. The fire was built back up before being allowed to die back down for s'mores for the kids - of all ages. Alta and Max had to run food and dishes back to their RV, leaving the kids around the fire. Luckily they had lots of adult supervision. Everybody wanted to throw some kind of fuel in to the fire to feed it, but there was a limited supply both of fuel and adult patience. As the parents left, they warned that if they heard that anybody at all put anything more in the fire, it would mean being sent to bed immediately without s'mores! Now I'd heard plenty of threats of consequences the last couple days, with almost none being imposed. At this point I had no hesitation whatsoever in stepping in with the comment leveled at all the kids in my firmest tone, "And you all know that I'll have no problem tattling on you!"

It worked. It also helped that we found them a new activity. The firewood was doing a lot of popping, kicking out lighted sparks in all directions around it. The boys had been doing a good job of stamping them out, as we pointed sparks out to them. Now Ashley wanted to participate too, so I announced the next spark was hers. We still had to hold two of the boys back from "helping", but she did get to stamp out her spark. We then announced the next one was ______'s, and then ______'s, etc., and enforced it. After all, we outnumbered them five to four, even with their parents gone. Luckily for peace, there were four sparks left in that fire so each got a turn.

By s'mores end it was time to turn in. Even if it hadn't been time for sleep, it was time for a break.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Trip: Day Eight

Morning arrived bright and clear, and provided us with a whole new form of entertainment: laughing at a group of fellow campers.

The previous evening we had noticed a group of young adults with a few actual adults straight out from our front windshield. Several tents were scattered on their site, parking had room for two vehicles side-by-side, and extra tables were set up for their dinner, which was still going on when we turned in.

Once we dropped our front privacy curtain, an amazing sight met our eyes: boxes, bags, bottles and coolers of food scattered all over the tops of those tables! This was not only idiotic, we thought they were extremely lucky no bears had happened to pass through the area during the night! In fact, we also were very lucky they'd attracted no bears! But as it was, they did have their fair share of visitors. We could clearly see the little critters were still scampering around when we first got up, somewhat before they started to rouse themselves.

The comic pantomime was repeated in much the same form with the arrival of each new riser or pair of risers. They'd frown, walk all around the tables, staring at everything laid out, pick up something, look, and set it down before going on to the next item. My particular favorite was one fairly large box. Everyone would pick it up and hold it way over their heads, as if to marvel at the holes which had magically appeared in the bottom overnight. Or perhaps they thought the culprits might still be inside, nesting.

Speaking of, I'm sure all the rodents in the neighborhood were grateful for their unexpected feast. Knowing them, I'm sure many of them even left behind presents to express their appreciation: tiny black oval ones.

Now it may seem cruel for us to be sitting back and laughing at them. We would cheerfully have been laughing with them, had they not failed to uphold their part of the bargain by participating in the laughter. But we were mightily entertained, not the least of which was thinking that, with all the things that had tried to go wrong on this trip so far, at least we hadn't been that stupid!

And hey, we, at least, enjoyed a good breakfast.

Once on our way, the roads were fairly level and straight for mountain roads, nothing like, say, Trail Ridge. Much as I love mountains, I hate mountain driving. Traffic was extremely light this holiday morning, which allowed us a unique opportunity. At one point, just off to our left side by a snow fence, there was a small herd of pronghorn antelope. With nobody visible on the road in either direction, I was able to come to a stop while everybody whipped out their cameras and took pictures to their hearts' content. Unfortunately, it was the stop which alarmed the herd, and they headed off past us, crossing the road and heading up the hill on the other side until disappearing over the rise. It took perhaps five minutes, still not another vehicle in sight. It was our first close sighting of them on the trip, and the first of any that we all got to enjoy together.

Our goal was Alpine, Wyoming, and we were hoping to be there early enough to set up camp, take showers, and change for a dinner theater reservation with Steve's brother and his family. It was all going smoothly until we left the gas station where we stopped in Pinedale. Suddenly the RV started jerking as we rolled down the road, and we could hear the engine missing, even backfiring. Once we hit a spot of construction - the usual one lane at a time, slow crawl on pavement-free roadway, it pretty much settled down. By the time we hit our campground, however, it was back.

No matter, we'd made it, plenty of time to spare.

The big drawback to this location was that the office was in the bar, and so were about a dozen patrons, all with lit cigarettes. As a nonsmoker spoiled by Minnesota's smoking bans for public places, I almost couldn't breathe long enough to make our needs known and fill out the forms. I did manage to take the extra few seconds to find out the location of Max's campsite and verify they were already here. Once we parked and plugged in, we were set not to move for two days. Max had brought two vehicles and had promised to do all needed driving (with Alta, his wife) for all of us while we were there.

The dinner theater was just outside Jackson Hole, with the Bar J Wranglers providing the entertainment. And entertaining they were. They started out talking to us about the history of the place and the food, highlighting how today's menu differed from authentic chuckwagon trail fare. It's located on a real working beef ranch, and adding chickens to the menu provided some challenges. None of the cowboys wanted to switch to being called chickenboys, and when branding time came, every one of the chickens on the place died! After the very good meal, they switched to music with their brand of comedy, starting on this holiday with the national anthem and adding old favorites like "Old Man River" and a bunch of cowboy songs I hadn't heard since I was a kid. Since Steve's brother's wife's niece was engaged to the Wranglers' newest member, we got seated at a front row table, with her and her young daughter joining us. Luckily the table had room for all twelve of us.

Did I mention Max and Alta have four kids? Running in age from 10 to three, they are Hayden, Ryan, Daniel, and Ashley. On the ride over, I sat in back (Steve had the front next to his brother) with Hayden and Daniel. Hayden couldn't wait to grill me on seemingly every movie ever made that had a rating allowing him to see it at his age. This included some made by a group associated with the Mormon Church, and thus completely unheard of by me. It was a masterly display of movie trivia knowledge on his part, not so much on mine. Some I didn't recognize titles, some I couldn't remember plots or locations or cast or dialogue.

After I broke down as a conversationalist to meet his standards, Hayden took to interacting with his sibling, alternately tormenting him and tattling on him to their dad - something I observed as a dependable part of his pattern as our days together passed. I knew there was also a daughter, but was surprised to discover yet another brother sitting at our supper table. We were to all get better acquainted the next day.

When the performance was over and we were heading home, we all took the opportunity to head into Jackson Hole in hopes of finding a spot to view their fireworks display without having to actually leave our vehicles. This time I rode with Alta in her van, as the pickup Max drove was a steep climb to get inside for my knees. After driving around for about 15 minutes, getting separated in traffic in a strange town and using cell phones to reconnect, we finally found a parking lot with two spaces left where we could face the fireworks without any of us actually having to leave our vehicles and walk somewhere, great for Steve and me. The kids, however, piled out of both vehicles and up into the bed of the pickup to watch for a few minutes, until they got bored and started coming back to the van. Last in meant first out, and we quickly cleared traffic in town and headed down to Alpine to sack out.

Trip: Day Seven

Grand Junction is a whole lot of flat between low walls of nothing very special, and hot besides in the summer. If that seems unfair, we had Rocky Mountain National Park on one end of our trip and the Tetons on the other to compare it too. It stacks up well enough against Minnesota topography, I suppose, but that's not where we were. We were happy enough to move on to new sights.

We headed a bit west to Loma to pick up our north-bound road. Tonight we were leaving Colorado and sleeping in Utah, at a place I'd managed to never hear of called Flaming Gorge. It may sound as if I had ambitions for great scenery for this leg of the trip, but my real ambition was to accomplish it without incident. It was July 3rd, the start of a long holiday weekend. Who'd be out working if we needed help with something? I'd had enough adventure and wanted to go back to having a vacation.

It's just as well I wasn't looking for spectacular scenery. On the plus side, the roads were a bit straighter and faster, less nerve-wracking. Plus, our lunch stop timed itself out to coincide with a short stop at Dinosaur National Monument. We refreshed ourselves at the Visitor Center, taking a look around at the exhibits and shopping for mugs and refrigerator magnets. Smoking addictions were allowed for, restrooms were inspected. There was a shady bit of wall to sit on with a nice view of the water fountain, where we watched a family fill up every water bottle they had, and once they had gone, saw a least chipmunk scamper up and have a drink as well. It occurred to me to wonder what they might think of sharing their fountain with a rodent, however cute, but it wasn't worth the effort to chase after them to ask.

We were informed there were no tours of the actual dig today, but if we wished to stay until tomorrow.... We didn't.

Soon we were able to say, "Look, we're in Utah now", which seems to be its only recommendation. There was one town with a pretty blue reservoir, though looking back from higher ground showed a very lively green one as well, caused by mining operations.

Flaming Gorge should be entered from the south. That's the pretty end, down near the dam, the lake, and the red rock. It costs you $5 to stay there and use the area, done by putting cash in an envelope where you enter and putting your vehicle info and area of use in the accompanying info and setting a tear-off on your dash. We stayed at firefighter's memorial campground, surrounded by lots of scenic rocks that left few choices for tent locations, and shaded amply by Ponderosa pines. I didn't leave the RV much at this stop, my knees becoming significantly worse by now with all the stairs and twists, but I did emerge for the quintessential picture of the we-were-here beautiful campground shot, and later for supper and a bonfire.

Did you know that Ponderosa pine cones all but explode into full flame? Our campsite was covered with them, prickly little things, and we checked out just how much of a fire hazard it would be if one of them caught fire. It's no wonder forest fires are so hard to control. We cleared a bunch back away from the fire ring and relaxed for the evening.

One little thing though: our newly-fixed electrical system worked just fine, but only when it functioned to relay somebody else's electricity through a 30 amp hookup. This being a non-electric site, it was dark.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Trip: Day Six

I had been hoping for a morning sun lighting up the other side of our canyon walls with the beautiful reds in the rocks like we'd seen the previous night when we were all too busy to take pictures. Fat chance! The sun was up, all right, but the rocks just didn't gleam as red. Perhaps that was more fitting for the somber tone of the first part of the morning.

Today was short in driving distance, since we'd built in events instead of distance in our planning. One of those was immediately put aside. It had been going to be a stop at the hot springs in Glenwood Springs, pointed out to the rest of us by Steve as we'd passed it the night before. However, when we mentioned our plans to his cousin the previous evening, he gave us a reality check in the form of current pricing. We decided it didn't really need to be on our itinerary. There were hot tubs for our first and last nights, and that would have to do, no extra charge.

There was, however, the scattering of Sylvia's ashes to take care of. The Crystal River between Carbondale and Redstone was one of her very favorite places to sit and meditate, soak up the beauty of the place, and refresh her soul. This is where she'd wanted her ashes scattered.

After breaking camp, we started downstream, pausing at whim for pictures of the rocks, the river, and whatever else took anybody's fancy. The closest place of the three possible ones we picked out the night before seemed ideal, so we stopped there. There was a small widening of the road to pull off the RV, and a sturdy narrow bridge across the river, not, as others were, marked, "Private". I took out the camcorder, Paul the Nikon, and Steve and Maria took out the box of ashes. Paul disappeared, though I found out later he'd gone down to the river bed where there was a dry rocky area for him to stand and take pictures from below. They actually showed the ashes falling into the river when I saw them later.

As we other three were heading out to the middle of the bridge, a Forestry vehicle crossed the bridge, clearing us slowly with a foot on either side. If the driver saw and identified the box and our purpose, she didn't object, and she didn't return until our business was finished. I stationed myself on one side of Steve and Maria, leaning against the bridge railing, and let the tape roll. First Steve said some words I didn't hear clearly over the noisy river, but I did hear most of what came next: "Hello Dolly" sung by Steve in the low gravelly style of Louis Armstrong. Both the location and the song were Sylvia's final request of her brother.

Then the box was opened, and slowly, bit by bit, the ashes dropped off the railing to fall in the water and start flowing downstream for her final journey. Some few landed on the outside of the bridge railing, some few landed over on the bank. A very small bit were saved to place in tiny vials for Maria and her brothers, a way of keeping their favorite Aunt close. Just as Steve was putting the bag away, a last tiny bit blew out and landed on Maria's arm for a moment, before falling away. For them it seemed as if a final part of Sylvia reached out to touch her and say, "Thanks."

Once on our way again, it was a very quick drive to our next campground in Grand Junction. We had decided to call an electrical RV repairman, to see what was wrong with our system. At least a diagnosis, if not a complete fix, was what we hoped we could manage to fit in. We'd gotten names and numbers of two repair places before we headed out, and while stopped for lunch, called the first one. They assured us they could fit us in - in three weeks! However, they did recommend an electrician for RVs who did house calls.

Wow! House calls? They do that?

I called, explaining the problem, our destination, and approximate ETA. He told us to call again when we arrived.

Upon checking in, I mentioned the problem also to our campground hosts, and it turns out they recommended the very same fellow, handing me his business card. We made plans while setting up. We had been invited to another of Steve's cousin's for dinner here, and had in fact met them the night before at the barbeque. They had traveled all the way over for that too. But I had no idea when the electrical guy would show up, and didn't want to spoil anybody else's plans. I volunteered to stay behind until whatever it was got taken care of, and if it were early enough, call for directions and drive over in the RV. The cousin would come now and pick up the other three, while I waited for the repairman to answer his voicemail.

I really was hoping he'd answer and come soon, as I knew there was absolutely nothing in the RV that I felt like cooking that could possibly compete with the meal I'd be missing. I was totally prepared for a pity party. About twenty minutes after they all left, I tried the other number for the guy, his home phone, and got his wife. She was assuring me that his phone was working and he ought to be calling me back soon when I heard a voice outside the window accusing me,"You never called to tell me you'd gotten in." I ended the call with his wife, told him I'd left voicemail, and listened to him while he checked his phone and realized that yes, I had actually called. It seems that the office had informed him that I was looking for him when he checked in with them on another matter.

Whatever. He was here.

I re-explained the problem, and showed him where things were, at least as far as we knew to find them, and watched while he checked everything out. I'll cut through the jargon about inverters and converters and 9 volts vs. 12 volts and just say he figured we'd thrown a circuit breaker. Where were they?

We had no clue. Could he find them for us? It took a heap of hunting, but finally there they were, behind a door we'd opened twenty times this trip at least, having managed to never actually see the box with the three circuit breakers sitting behind it. Flip, plug in, and LIGHTS! FANS! Plus a little bill for $45.00, cheerfully paid.

Now it was time to call Elaine for directions. Only she didn't answer her phone. Hmmmm... OK, call again, maybe she didn't her it. Voicemail again. Dang! OK, postpone the pity party, I knew Steve and Maria had taken their cells along to plug in for recharging, so I'd call them. Voicemail. And voicemail. Double dang! Well, I left messages. By now I knew that they both charged their phones while they were on. Somebody would call.


Eventually somebody did, passing the phone to the person who could best give directions. That turned out to be Pat, since Elaine mentioned when she was taking directions to come over to pick up the others that she wasn't very good on the east-west thing. Pat's directions turned out to be perfect.

Except it was the first stoplight instead of the second. And two miles wasn't, quite. And the left turn was a right turn. But in spite of that they were perfect, because she'd done exactly what I needed: given me street names and a house number. I made it there just before dinner was served, which turned out to be delicious. And the company turned out to be even better than the night before.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Trip: Day Five

We knew the plans we started out with were ambitious for this day. We were to break camp, head out over Trail Ridge (including construction delays) with few stops built in including the store at the top, down the back side, hook up with I-70 before the Eisenhower Tunnel so Steve could show Maria what he'd helped build many years ago, get off at Glenwood Springs and head down to Redstone to our next campground. It's not so much the number of miles, but the slowness of most of them.

The plans got changed even before the trip started: Steve got an invitation for us to join cousins of his for dinner ("barbeque") in Basalt along the way, just a few miles of detour and a few hours extra.

It started well enough. My internal alarm clock works well, and sunshine is its trigger. Once out of camp, we were starting up Trail Ridge and enjoying - if that can be the word - the marvelous vistas dropping off below us. The "dropping off" part tends to give me the willies more and more as I get older, since I want to look as well as drive at the same time. I compromised with the pullouts for photo ops, telling myself that I've seen the scenery before. We did manage to miss the pullout where the pikas can be seen, but we'd just stopped and time was pushing me onward.

Luckily the construction delays weren't all that bad, since the early hour meant that not too many vehicles had started up from the western side yet to wait behind the flagmen in long lines, making our lines go quite quickly. In fact we barely had time to get the cameras out for the great bull elk showing off his velvety rack in the perfect spot for a great shot while we sat behind the flagman.

Pulling into a handicap parking spot at the visitors center was the last moment of peace we'd have for hours on this day. I reached for my purse for a little tourist shopping and...

It wasn't there. OK, so somebody please hand me it from the overhead bin? Not there either!

If ever there is a time to panic this is it: just a few days into the trip, hundreds of dollars cash and three credit cards inside, my driver's license, and - because I never misplace it - Social Security numbers for the family where I can reach them when I need them. I just knew it had been stolen at some point when we'd been away from the RV for a few minutes. It could have happened any time in the last couple days, with my not needing to spend a cent even on gas the whole time since the stop at the HQ Visitors Center. Everybody pitched in looking for it, with no luck. I asked Paul did he have enough credit to cover the remainder of the trip so we could finish it, and he said it did. That was just a teeny weenie comfort at that point. After everybody looking everywhere, my churning guts informed me that I was staring at a restroom sign and by golly I better get out and use it NOW!

Returning to the RV, and still no sign of it, I headed into the Visitor's Center to see if they had any kind of phone so I could see if I'd managed to leave it behind when I'd bought the hat and postcards. Yes they did, sort of, but it was next door. By the time I reached there, my knees rebelled and I sat for a few moments. That's when I met Ranger Greg.

I must have looked absolutely sick, since he came right over asking was I all right? I understood the question since lots of folks get altitude sickness at around 12,000 feet, and assured him that physically I was fine. However, I explained the situation and asked was there a way to find out if we needed to head back the way we'd come to pick up a left-behind pocketbook?

Well, the answer was kinda yes, kinda no. It's a technology problem. On top of Trail Ridge they have to rely on satellite phone. Sounds easy enough, until you realize that it's a communication that's on for about 20 minutes, off for about 20 minutes, on for.... When it's in off mode, there's a radio system that works in multiple relays going down and ditto coming back up again. It all worked like this:

First, the sat phone called the HQ visitors Center store, where they had not seen my pocketbook. Nevermind the confusion about him misunderstanding when I actually might have lost it. Once that confusion was cleared up, Ranger Greg realized he'd have to contact the park's Lost and Found instead to ask his question. Now, however, the sat phone was down, so on to the walkie-talkies. He asked the next guy, who asked the next guy (this much we could hear) who asked the next guy, who asked.... There would be a wait for whatever answer came to be relayed back up to us, one person at a time. One sincerely hoped it wouldn't be like that school game of telephone where garbles multiplied by the number of relays until the answer came back that the fish fry was being held at Aunt Bertha's house.

While we waited, Ranger Greg had me fill out a lost and found report, and assured me that whatever was located would be returned intact to my specified next location. Since that was a moving target, I specified home. He in turn suggested I call to verify whether or not it turned up in the next few days. I was completely pessimistic, sure that I'd been robbed. It was the only answer that made sense to me. He advised me that when I arrived at the next town, I stop in at the police station and fill out a report, then get busy notifying credit card companies, the drivers licence folks in case somebody got picked up using mine, and all the other little things one needs to do in such a situation. Once our answer came back in the negative from the walkie talkie relay system, we left, busy figuring out how to get all the information I needed to accomplish what I needed. It was enough to thoroughly spoil my appreciation of the magnificent scenery on the way down the western side, so thoroughly steeped was I in my problems.

It didn't last long. There was a distraction.

Several turns down from the top, Paul pulled us over on a long stretch where there was a relatively straight and level spot to pull over. He needed a long spot. We had nearly no brakes!

Never, never ask yourself what else can go wrong! An answer will always come to you.

We got out, inspected break lines for leaks (none), located the brake fluid reservoir (one of those old double-lump-top metal things with a metal wire/handle that pulls over it to hold it down, hard), and found it was full. The thing had made a funny noise when Paul pulled it out of park and into drive last time, and he feared something had broken and was interfering with the braking system.

Have you maybe noticed that by this point we just weren't trusting the mechanical integrity of this old machine?

Since we were on a long pull-out with a gradual slope, he warned us he was going to pop it into neutral and once it started moving, test the emergency brake. After all, we were on our own here, no cell contact, no traffic yet, no help for miles and miles. I was just telling him that nobody (except me) ever maintains or repairs emergency brakes, when he checked it and it worked! At last we had some hopes of making it down from the mountain OK, perhaps keeping it in 1st gear and using the emergency brake as need. Of course, 4-way flashers going the whole time.

Now all this while we were worrying about the brakes, there was another something going on in the back of the RV. Steve had made a comment earlier, and it was circling around in Maria's head, triggering a very dim memory. He'd commented that when Maria hid something, it would take a miracle to find it. Maria was already struggling with the idea that maybe she'd had something to do with the disappearance of my pocketbook, but she just didn't know/remember what. And the thing had been searched thoroughly. She asked if it would be OK if she tried again, as long as we were just parked. It was the "take a miracle" that finally triggered it for her, and within five minutes, she emerged with my pocketbook in her hand!

Whew! She earned herself a huge hug! Now, if we could just survive the trip down the mountain, I'd have some money to spend, and need waste no time with police reports or canceling cards or any of that other stuff! We did have a discussion of what each other meant when the phrase "hide it" was used. To me, it meant "in my usual place right there." To Maria it meant "hide it so well it would take a miracle for a thief to find it." So she had.

OK, everybody buckle in tight and prepare for what could literally be the ride of your life. Paul eased it into 1st gear, did a little preliminary pumping on the regular brakes, and...

What's this? Brake pressure again? From pumping the brakes the old-fashioned way? Yeee-haaaa, ready to rock and roll! Let's head ourselves down a mountain, folks, and start enjoying our vacation!

(We figured that an air bubble must have lodged in just the wrong place in the brake lines, expanded at the high altitude, and vanished with the pumping. Whatever. It was cured.)

Of course, the emotional roller coaster I'd just been on sent me straight to the bathroom, with apologies to my traveling mates. Some things the digestive system just isn't meant to handle, and yesterday's food on top of all that stress was over my limit. I spent a good part of the rest of the ride down stuck in there, because just when I was ready to emerge, we'd hit construction, and the ride was too bumpy to do anything but hang on to the sink and ride it out. Everybody else thought it was hilarious, of course, and I guess with the plethora of good news, I didn't really mind being the butt of some jokes.

So to speak.

The rest of the day was smooth driving, especially after we hit the freeway heading towards Glenwood Springs. The canyon was gorgeous, and once we turned south towards Carbondale, views of Mt. Sopris kept us entertained. This was both Steve's and his sister Sylvia's favorite mountain, according to Steve. We were favorably impressed.

We connected with his family in this area (look for the red pickup at either mile marker 17 or 18, and follow it to the house), and were treated to a wonderful "barbeque" dinner. I put that in quotes, because to me, it's barbeque if it's a meat covered in barbeque sauce. Apparently in this part of the country it means meat cooked on the gas grill, and tonight it was a choice between brats and steaks. And of course, fruit salad, corn on the cob, raw veggies plate, chips, and lemonade tea, followed by ice cream and strawberries for dessert - unless that was the next night's dessert. I may be confused here.

Much reminiscing was going on, but not so much that Paul and I felt excluded. The family were great storytellers. Still, I was starting to chomp at the bit before we left. We still had a 20-something mile drive to our campground and set-up to do, and I wanted it all done before dark. This was an electric site, but I still wanted to be done by dark. This night I was tired!

Redstone Campground was pretty easy to find, following directions on the website. (I'd printed them out for all our sites before we left.) We followed the Crystal River up through a beautiful red rock canyon - hence the name - until we were there, and all along the way were looking for just the right place for scattering Sylvia's ashes the next day. This became too much for Maria, who was suddenly reminded of why we picked this stop in our itinerary, and jarringly reminded how much she missed her aunt, currently riding in a box in one of the RV's cupboards. We had always referred to the box as "Sylvia" and not "Sylvia's ashes", technically more correct. It just made her more a part of this venture. By the time we reached the campground, Maria was crying and needed some time alone before she was able to help with set-up.

It turned out that the delay gave us all time to do something important: change our site. Our original site was diagonally opposite the bath house, all the way across the campground. We were able to switch for the handicap site, not reserved until the following evening. As it happened it was a blessing for more than the obvious reason. The RV wasn't done playing with us yet.

As the sun was kissing the tops of the red cliffs behind us a sweet good-night, we plugged into the electrical outlet, fully expecting to now have interior lighting, the ability to charge electronics, etc. Yeah, right. Nothing. Zip. Nada. Darkness all the way. We still had flashlights for setting up for the night, which we made good use of. We also had the light from the showers/bathroom building, but with a modest hitch. The external light was motion- activated, and lasted for nearly a minute at a time.

You'd be amazed how fast that passes when you are trying to put up a tent, find sleeping bags, PJs, and all the other little things one must do before sleep.

One of the most important of those was catching a shower, something missing from the daily routine now for over three days. I must say the facilities at this place were great: clean, neat, accessible, close, and abundantly full of hot water, however skeptical we were of the latter upon hearing they were solar showers. They were not, however, wasteful of their energy supply, for heat or light. The showers turned off by themselves unless you pushed in the button again: no biggie. What I didn't count on was the motion sensor light in the shower, activated as you entered. Of course, what you entered was a combined toilet/dressing/shower room, laid out in a string of cubicles, all private behind a single door. The light was over the toilet. So was the motion sensor. By the time you undressed and got halfway through your shower, the light went off. This meant you left the shower, walked back to the toilet area, waved your arms to activate the light again, and returned to your shower.


But dang! it felt good.