The Last Blog Post: Home! (plus, the Shadow Blog)

Last day

‘Sal, we gotta go and never stop going till we get there’

‘Where we going, man?’

‘I don’t know but we gotta go.’

                                    —On the Road by Jack Kerouac

And go we did. 4024 miles, four states and two Canadian provinces later, we are back in our little house by the sea, a needy cat making her presence known. The laundry pile is impressively and oddly large for a pair that essentially wore the same thing for 3 weeks. Dudley mentioned that it’s nice to drink out of a glass.

This year’s trip was a little harder than the last–the weather wasn’t as cooperative, and our destination wasn’t as clear. Because we traveled essentially in one area of the country, we saw how the West is burning up: it’s dry and devastated. But we had a wonderful time and met many traveling souls who would agree with Kerouac—they were just going until they got there, wherever It is. Like us, they were out there crafting their lives:  finding joy in nature, meeting people and seeing the world.

As Kerouac also wrote, “There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars.” We rolled all over the Northwest, through the volcanic Cascades, along the mighty Colombia River, into the desert of Washington and into Idaho. Then north across the border to the glaciated mountains and aquamarine lakes of the Canadian Rockies. We went everywhere until ended up back home in Moss Beach and although we were joyous at seeing the stars in so many beautiful places, it’s nice to see the stars, here, too.

PS. See below for the non-sentimental segment of The Last Blog. Spoiler: It’s the seedy underbelly of living in a van and traveling 4000+ miles with one other person.

Shadow Blog

Last year after our trip, we posted what was known as the shadow blog. It told the unseemly side of traveling in a van with 1 person for 3 weeks.

This year’s shadow blog isn’t very shadow-y. We contemplated why and decided it was because we included the shadow as we went along: if the weather wasn’t good, we told you. If we were kevetching about the van, we wrote about it. If Dudley didn’t see the point of stopping for food, we mentioned it.

Here is as shadow-y as it gets this year:

  1. Dudley and Laura went through some heavy existential dilemmas regarding travel while in the Rainbow Campground outside Estacada, OR. For Dudley, travel mostly means to stay off highways and see as much as possible. From the car window. Laura likes to get out of the car.

We had decisions to make, weather to contend with, people who wanted to see us and whom we wanted to see. Covering 4 states and 2 countries. In 3 weeks.

We are fussing and pouring over the map and kicking around ideas for at least an hour after a day of driving for 8 hours.

“It’s a journey,” opines Dudley, metaphysically, during a break in negotiations.

Laura (lovingly and tongue-in-cheek) might have said something like, “Oh shut up. Don’t give me your new age California bullshit.”

  1. Laura lost her sunglasses about 5 times a day. “Have you seen my sunglasses?” was the most-oft-heard Laura question.
  1. “I don’t need to eat. Do you need to eat?” was the most-oft-heard Dudley question.
  1. Dudley secretly turned on the air conditioning rear vents for Taylor, his guitar. Gotta take care of my girl, he was heard to whisper.
  1. Dudley is the most optimistic person on the planet. If he loses hope, look for the apocalypse soon after. That’s what happened on Friday morning in Jasper. It had been raining for 15 hours and the weather had teased us mercilessly: It’s raining. It’s brightening. It’s raining. It’s brightening. Dudley started getting bitter: The museum is boring. I don’t want to hike anymore. Laura had to leap into action: we need to get out of here. So we did. Phew.
  1. If Laura sees another peanut/almond butter and jelly sandwich before 2016, it will be too soon.
  1. Dudley and his slight OCD, moving the van 78 times (1 inch at a time) to get it just right in the campsite.

Kitty’s Kitchen Is Christmas Forever

the sistas!

The dawn greeted us at the Cape Disappointment State park, and we were up and out, cruising south on highway 101 along the northern Oregon coast with its lighthouses, rocky cliffs and endless ocean. The coastline has so many towns to explore…. Tillamook. We went for the free cheese samples. People are crazy for cheese. Lines for samples, lines for Tillamook memorabilia, lines for having your kid get his picture taken in the cheese-van driver seat. We were frightened by all the people; no cheese for us. We ran out of there in 5 minutes after patiently waiting for Laura’s turn for her picture in the cheese van. We were later waylaid in quaint Wheeler at a fabric store and a deceptively enormous Antiques & Oddities shop full of mason jars, old tools and end tables. Heceta Head Lighthouse, one of the most photographed lighthouses on the coast, was also visited.

We were winding our way towards Reedsport, a small town on the Oregon coast. A billion years ago, Laura spent a summer at her cousin’s restaurant, the Harbor Light. She needed to get off the Coastside and spent July and August being a go-for to her talented chef-cousin, Lauree. Many vegetables were chopped. The tradition has continued over those 20 years, and various other cousins have spent the summer in the kitchen.

It turned out to be a unexpected mini-family reunion! The current crop of kitchen help is Laura’s cousin, Anna. Her sister Karly is a veteran of the Harbor Light, too, and happened to be visiting on vacation. Flying in from Colorado was their mom, cousin Patty, or “Pat” to her daughters. Or “the Patster” to Patty herself. Rachel, another cousin and Reedport local, rounded out the herd of gals.

What a fabulous time with fabulous weather: we had a dinner and lunch at the Harbor Light Restaurant, we picnicked at a local lake, Laura got to briefly reprise her sous-chef side-kick role for Lauree, and we got the flavor of living in a small town: When no one really wanted to drive 90 minutes to Eugene, OR to pick up Patty, who had just flown in from CO, we ordered her a shuttle service and could they just drop her off at the Little Brown Hen Restaurant in Florence, OR? Great, thanks. The shuttle driver and Patty became fast friends and would have stopped at an estate sale on their way to Florence, but since they were already behind schedule, they decided regrettably to pass.The gang2

In search of a pie for the picnic dinner, we called Kitty, of Kitty’s Kitchen Is Christmas Forever, a combination pie shop, Christmas boutique and hot dog stand. And the lemon meringue was on its way!

We camped in the driveway/back lawn of Lauree and Rachel’s house and were alert for a cougar (a real one!) that had recently peered into a bedroom window. Anna photographed it. We’re not sure we wanted to meet it or not.

It was a great time to spend with family; hilarity was had by all. What a fortune that so many were there at one time. Heceta

Van Confessions

Look closely at the photo on the title page of the blog. You will notice our house and how much of the van is artfully hidden by a purple agapanthus flower. In another post, the van door is open, but it’s tough to tell what the ‘theme’ is. If you are new to the blog, you might have noticed that our transportation is riotously painted. If you are a veteran to the blog, know that we have been holding out on you regarding the details of the paint job. We admit to purposefully censoring the van.

Let us explain.

We rent the van from a company called Escape CamperVans. Their ‘schtick’, if you will, is that their vans are all painted: floating eyeballs, trees, birds, Jimmy Hendrix, abstract. It can be anything. You get whichever van is ready to go; you don’t get to choose.

Last year’s van was named CanLove and resembled the Partridge Family van or a lavender Mondrian painting. It was harmless, and we got lots of ‘thumbs up’ and ‘dig your van, man’ comments. (You can see photos on last year’s blog.)

This year’s van is called Monument and features two Native Americans and paintings of Monument Valley’s iconic mesas and buttes. We picked up the van and were skeptical. We parked it in the driveway. Friends and neighbors ‘hmmmm’d’. We ‘hmmmmm’d’. We will be traveling through Native American territory in a van that features clichéd (although historic, yes) pictures of Native Americans. Would the van offend anyone? How would we be received, as drivers of the van?   Could we trade in the van? Should we avoid tribal territories? Maybe we should cover it with Post-its.

There had been some gnashing of teeth; but we knew we would need to accept the van.

We had great trepidation about the van, especially when a 5 year old boy pointed at the van and yelled, “Injuns!” Oh boy. Then we entered Klamath Falls, OR. In the parking lot of the Big 5 Sporting Goods store, a man walked by us and gave us a big thumbs up and said he liked the van. We came out of the Big 5 and two teen boys were taking a picture of the van with their phone. Big smiles from them. All of these men could have been Native American. In the parking lot of the Crater Lake Lodge, we are prevented from getting to the van because a Honda is sidled up to the driver’s side, its occupants taking photos.

A few mornings ago, Laura is in the van and Dudley is in the gas station taking care of business and big, burly, bearded Harley-driving men kaloomph towards the van. Laura tentatively rolls down the window. “Can I get a picture of me with your van?” Sure, she says. Photo op taken, the van rolls away. We see the Harley men pointing and appreciating the van, Confederate flags waving from the backs of their hogs.

A man in the Safeway parking lot told us he ‘liked the motif.” One middle-school aged girl told her parent, “I want to have a car like that. Do you think he bought it like that?” Dozens of people–park rangers, other drivers, hippies, suburban moms– have smiled and given us the ‘cool van’ nod.

This van elicits far more response than last year’s van ever did.

We are still trying to accept the van. When people say, Hey, like your van, we respond thanks, but we still always follow up with, It’s a rental. We are still trying to make it our van. To that end, here are beauty shots of the van, in all its uncensored glory.

FullSizeRender(1)Van 1

Dead Man’s Cove at Cape Disappointment

Dead Mans Cove

After weeks of tortuous weather, bouts of starvation, and a vague sense of direction, we have reached the Pacific Ocean and the mouth of the mighty Columbia River! Phew! We celebrated by visiting the Lewis and Clark Museum in Cape Disappointment State Park, WA and learned of their struggles, too, to reach the Pacific Ocean.

They had a harder time and no van.

Mount Rainier

flowermtn2“I don’t need to eat. Do you need to eat?” asks Dudley.

Thus begins our 7:12 am travel day-assault to Mount Rainier. Dudley is staring at Laura and ready to go in search of a camping spot. Eating will slow us down.

“Yes,” Laura responds calmly. “I need to eat.”

We slow down for a drive-through espresso shop in Cashmere, WA that also happens to have boxed, ready-to-eat oatmeal. Hardly a moment wasted.

A splendid 5 hour drive ensued, and we snagged a terrific site at Cougar Rock Campground. The weather could not have been better during our two days—slight breeze, low 70s, clear skies, and sun. We could see Mount Hood (in Oregon) from our hikes. It’s THAT clear.

Because we are headed out tomorrow, we packed several days into two: We currently have our feet up at the National Park Inn in Longmire, WA as we enjoy a beer and gin and tonic after hiking the iconic Skyline Trail which skirted parts of the base of Mount Rainier, took us through massive sub-alpine fields of magenta monkeyflower, aster, hellebore, purple lupine and—our favorite—Pasqueflower Seedhead, [which looks just like Thing 2 and Thing 1 from Dr. Seuss’ stories] and mountain streams, and got us up-close with the lower 48’s largest glacier. 1700’ elevation climb. It was a glorious hike.   Although the snowfall this year at Rainier was the lowest on record, there were several mountaineering groups heading up to the snow to practice their glissading and one group that was heading for the summit. [About 10,000 people attempt to summit every year.]

After we finished the Skyline Trail, and because we were excited, we took another hike, the Pinnacle Peak Saddle trail, for a different view of Mount Rainer. It was steep and exposed, but it was worth it. It has been a full, fabulous day. Later tonight, if the 9 mile hike and gin and tonic allow, Laura will head to the ranger program in camp, as she did last night, when she learned more about mountain goats, picas, and hoary marmots.

If you travel, you know that you meet interesting people along the way. Today was no exception. We met Neil, who is a retired Chevron engineer and lives in Orinda, CA. We shared part of a hike and enjoyed a beer after we all found ourselves at the historic Paradise Inn. He grew up in Jamaica, played cricket in England, was schooled in Canada, and, recently divorced after a long marriage, is traveling a bit. We shared travel stories and, as a person in his early 70s, he had wisdom to impart to us: get out there and enjoy before you can’t. You don’t need as much money as you think you need. Try to enjoy it with people you like and love, but if you can’t, get out there anyway.

We head out tomorrow with someone we both like and love. Maybe we’ll stop for breakfast.


Best Camp Spot Ever!

Lake Entiat

10 hours in the car, shut out of 2 full campsites on this busy Saturday, getting crabby. And it’s hot! Going down the road, feeling bad, to quote the Grateful Dead.

We lit out from Wells Gray Provincial Park early this morning and headed back into the US. (Good grief—the border is like Fort Knox: multiple cameras, a huge facility, insisting on our rental agreement, investigating inside the van. When we left the US, the Canadian border was a guy in a booth who chatted with us and then waved us through.)

So it’s 95 degrees out and we’re (unsuccessfully) looking for a place to land, crisscrossing through Washington’s vast and highly-irrigated apple- and cherry- growing region. Then we came across Steve. Ah, Steve, the camp host at Entiat City RV Park. It’s on Lake Entiat, WA (which is part of the Columbia River) and the sites are at the edge of the lake. Steve is reclining in his lounge chair with his yellow lab at his side, reading a book about boondocking in an RV. We pull in—why not?—and inquire. All he has is one RV space left. We consider taking it. He asks if we have an RV. No—just a van, we need no services.   He tells us to park in the far dirt lot and stay overnight—no charge.


So we are set up in a city park at the far end of a dirt road. We unloaded chairs and sat by the lake, Laura took a swim and as the park emptied of its day use folks, we are left alone. Turns out that Steve is a retired independent catastrophic insurance claims adjuster/inspector. We had a long conversation with him. We learned that AAA and USAA are terrific companies if you have a catastrophic loss (the other big companies are terrible). He spends a lot of time on the road as just an interested traveler and as a camp host.

So we rest tonight on a beautiful lake in a city park full of RVs and plastic water toys and boats and kids and parents playing outside and swallows catching bugs. It is lovely, and we are lucky.