Tuesday, September 22, 2015

RVs, BATS, Trucks, and Travel Plans

It's a sunny day today in Arcata, California. In fact, most of our five days here in Arcata, on the California coast just North of Eurkea, have been sunny. We're staying at an RV Park just between the coastal plain and the mountains. In the mornings the fog sits on both the coast to the west and the mountains to the east, but usually we're in the sun. By mid-day the fog has blown or burned off either the mountains or the coast (usually not both) and we can go exploring.

The RV Park, Mad River Rapids RV, our first, has been a pleasant surprise. Everyone has been friendly, and very accommodating to our changing plans. We originally pulled in for just two nights while waiting for R-POD plates to arrive. The RV park is almost always sold out but worked with us to extend our stay when the plates were delayed and again when other changes (see below) meant an
BIG two man chainsaws!
even longer stay. The guys here have also been helpful with various RV tips and tricks that we need to set up the R-POD. They also had recommendations for places to check out.

Yesterday we  went out to the Somoa Cookhouse, had a lumberjack-style  lunch (family style) and visited their lumberjack museum. I haven't mentioned the logging out here much, but it is a significant part of the West's past and present. It's hard to ignore it's effect on the present (the clear cuts, the disappearing redwoods, overt references to snowy owls, lumbermills, mill towns current and dead, etc.). It was interesting to see the old photos, artifacts, and images from the past.

Rolling coastal farmland
Friday, the fog burned off the coast and we went for an excellent bike ride through seaside dairy and sheep farms, over converted railroad bridges (below which we saw a family of otters in the river), and along the Pacific coast.

Saturday, the clouds lifted off the mountains and we drove south through the Avenue of the Giants, a 26 mile road through what we've come to call BATS (Big Ass Trees). While we decided against paying the fee to drive Bruce through a privately owned BAT, we did stop at the excellent Humbolt Redwoods State Visitors Center and admired the Nash Quad Travel Log, a 1917 truck with a hollow redwood for its body. Built by Charles Kellog who imitated bird songs, and a campaigner for the protection of the redwood forests. (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1521510) The truck layout is nice, maybe a little cozier than the R-Pod, but definitely cool. Also a bit heavier.
Travel Log (photo from mnn.com)

And speaking of the weight of the R-POD. We purchased the R-POD for a number of reasons, one of them being it suitability for towing by Bruce, the Dodge Caravan. After towing the R-POD from Coos Bay, Oregon to Jedidiah Smith, CA we had a nagging suspicion that Bruce might not be up for the job. Our next run, 60 miles from Jedidiah Smith to Arcata, CA confirmed that suspicion. It's not the Bruce couldn't do it, it just that he might well die trying. The hills weren't that big, and Bruce made it, but thinking ahead to the Sierra's...we just kept envisioning a groaning Bruce chugging up one side of the pass, and the smell of burning rubber as we smoldered down the other side. It is with great sadness, but total belief that it is the right thing to do, we used our time in Arcata to go truck shopping. The dealer was able to order the one we want and on Wednesday, September 23, we trade Bruce in on a 2015 Dodge Ram 1500 Eco-Diesel. (Please refer all follow-up questions on the truck to S.D. I know nothing other than it is silver, it has the 'tow package', will get significantly better fuel mileage, and according to the guys at the RV park, "We won't even know we're towing anything." ).

After that change, we hope once again to be on our way. Thursday we'll drive east and with a few stops along the way, with plans to be on the east side of Yosemite by Saturday. It's starting to get chilly there but we hope to have a week or however long we want to explore there before heading further south to Death Valley.

Tenative travel plans are as follows:
Death Valley
Staircase Escalante
Monument Valley
(with lots of stops in between!)

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Wrapping Up Our Pacific Coast Visit

Fern Canyon
It's been roughly a month that now that we've been traveling along the Washington, Oregon and Northern California coasts and rain forests. The coast is beautiful, the forests grand, the wildlife impressive. In all that time however, we've probably had three to four solid days of sun. The rest have been cloudy and or foggy, and with or without rain. And it's starting to wear a little on our attitudes. For instance today was supposed to be one of the sunny days. It's cloudy, and as I'm sitting out here typing, it's just started to rain. Not that it was 'dry' to start with so I guess actual rain doesn't really matter all that much...except that I feel grumpy either way. 

The book"Mountain Weather", which in addition to a discussion of mountain weather around the country, also details the four major North West Pacific Coast weather systems. Each one brings rain to the Pacific coast from Northern California, all the way to British Columbia. The only differences seem to be how much rain and wind will accompany the front, and if there will be a thin layer or a down comforter like blanket of fog accompanying it.

The people here like it that way. They love the rain, and are comforted by the fog. Yes they appreciate sunny days too, but only as a rare and sparkling phenomena. It's the rain that makes the Redwoods, the rain forest and the coastal dwellers happy, not so much the sun. Tuesday we hiked to Fern Canyon. Not because we have not seen plenty of the seven different kinds of ferns that grow on the famous fifty foot high "Fern Wall", but because we're afraid the information services person at Jedidiah Smith Redwoods Park will be extremely disappointed if we do not. We can "either hike the 12 mile canyon hike or drive down to the mouth of canyon but you can not leave without going!" she implored us. As promised, the canyon was pretty cool. Lots of ferns, moss, a stream, banana slugs, redwoods, and rain.

S.D. contemplates the Rain Forest
They also love their fog. Route 101 follows the coast, sometimes right above the ocean, and often in the fog. Last Thursday we had driven south along 101 from Coos Bay, OR to Crescent City, CA. Yesterday we drove continued South from Crescent City to the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park near Orick, CA.  On both days the coast was blanketed in fog. But even though you can't see much there were always cars pulled off into the overlooks. Folks are out, peering off into the distance or hiking down the cliffs to the beach. (Atlantic Ocean folks please note - no one here swims at the beach. I've been told by more than a few locals that the idea swimming is "just silly". However, the water seems a little warmer than the Atlantic water off Maine.)

Personally I'm more interested in running into the rutting  Roosevelt Elk that are supposed to be everywhere in the Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. Late August through early October is prime mating season and coastal locals (from Port Townsend to Crescent City) have insisted we have to hear the bull elk mating calls. We've seen the elks, but so far they've been silent and calm.

Currently we are hanging out in Arcata, CA for the next few days. Waiting for the R-Pod license plate and registration to arrive from South Dakota. Once we get that in our rain soaked, fog covered little hands we are turning due East and hopefully the sun.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Back on the Road...With an R-Pod 171

Written September Saturday, 12th

R-Pod In the Redwoods
After a brief hiatus visiting with family and shopping for the perfect RV we are back on the road. S.D., myself and our R-Pod 171. Tucked into a nice spot between the towering coastal redwoods of Jedidiah Smith State Park, CA, things are looking good.

It's the third full day in the 'Pod'. After picking it up in Coos Bay, Oregon and two nights in the fog at Sunset Beach State Park, we headed south. We're starting to feel like the 'pod' will do what we need. Provide a good home base for our adventures, eliminate the need for hotel days, allow us to stay 'out' longer, and let us get in some bicycling too! At the same time, unlike other RVs we looked at, it won't insulate us from the outdoors or enlarge our 'footprint', nor our opportunity for adventure too much.

S.D. in the Redwoods
If you've ever lived in a small boat, that's what living in the r-pod is like. It seems a good compromise between being outside, and still having some of the comforts of home.  Maybe it has more headroom than a boat and with a rectangular berth instead of a v-berth, but they're still very similar. There's just enough storage space for everything to have it's place, provided there isn't too much. One person can stand and cook in the two burner, one sink galley or get dressed, so long as the other is sitting down at the settee/table, or outside. There is a functional head (bathroom) but it's easier to use the shore facilities.

This morning after brewing coffee inside, and enjoying it outside, S.D. and I hiked through the redwoods, along the banks of the Smith River. The Redwoods are as amazing as ever, the Smith River clear and inviting. We returned home mid-afternoon. It's been three months any place felt like home but the r-pod is definitely in contention.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Time For a Change?

S.D. Making the Coffee
Really, it was the coffee that was the tipping point. Up until the morning at Gathering Grounds when the owner emphatically urged us to get the Hario coffee grinder  we'd been happy using pre-ground coffee. Every morning (each one suddenly becoming successfully colder than that last) one of us would bundle up in every possible piece of clothing, crawl out of the tent, open the car hatch, carry the kitchen gear box over to the picnic table, get the gas stove out of the car, open it up, pump up the fuel tank, light the stove, dig the kettle out of the kitchen box, go back to the car, fill the kettle up with water from the jug, set the kettle to boil, warm up the coffee mugs, set up the pour-over with coffee, bring the water to a boil, then do the pour over - just as the other one of us crawled out of the tent. The idea of adding freshly ground coffee to the routine was appealing, but just too much work to add to an already lengthy process.

We needed a way to simplify the coffee routine, and for that matter it would be nice to do something about the cold. Tents are great at keeping out the rain, bugs and dirt but not so good at keeping you warm. And have we mentioned that using the solar shower in the cold was starting to get tricky? Sure it would heat up in the sun. Somedays even up to 104 degrees but by then it would be 4:00 or so, and the air temperature would be dropping into the 60s.

So when the coffee guy suggested a coffee grinder a small RV began to really make sense. We'd (S.D. especially) had been already thinking about RVs and been researching the options. He'd learned that Bruce's towing capacity was very limited. Any RV we got would have to be small. That seemed fine as we really didn't want anything that would limit our ability to stay at the backwoods campgrounds that we most enjoyed. We also didn't want to complicate our adventures any more than necessary. At the same time, a coffee grinder, maybe a small grill, maybe even our bikes, not to mention a warm bed and shower could be great additions to our adventures. A little more 'luxury' could make also make our adventures a bit more sustainable. Something we'd be happy doing longer. 

And so, still hiking and exploring our way around Washington and Oregon, our search began.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Library in a Milk Crate: Reading on the Road

The Library is in there - somewhere
No matter how exciting a life on the road is, life without books is unimaginable. Back in the day, when we lived in a house, in a town, with a library, we visited the library every other week, picking up six to seven books each time. We also had a bookshelf full of cookbooks, trail guides, local history and general info. There were also a number of books on my kindle, and when desperation struck, and there was an internet connection, there were plenty more to download. When we left Massachusetts, we left with one milk full of reading material, our Milk Crate Library. As a librarian I'd mentally subdivided the library into three sections; cartography; containing maps of Michigan, Oregon and Washington; the reference section, containing Oregon bike routes, Canyonlands hikes,etc and general reading; both fiction and non-fiction. As our adventure has continued, we've had to discover sustainable ways to keep the material fresh, relevant and still keep it in a milk crate.

General Reading
Since there are no library cards on the road, and no internet connections in campgrounds it was only a week out and we were hungry for some new books. Desperation is a good motivator and it only took a few more days for us to secure a reliable means of obtaining books. Library book sales. Almost every public library takes book donations and has at least a book trucks worth of books for sale. Now, whenever we're in need of new reading material we locate the next largish library on our route and pull all our read materials out of the milk crate. We donate the 'old' books, and then buy 'new' ones from the book sale carts and shelves.

This section has grown rapidly since leaving New England. While we generally picked up and disposed of state maps as we drove across the country resulting in no net gain there, we have also been buying Forest Service maps. These are detailed, often water resistant maps showing roads, campgrounds and hiking trails. Invaluable for truly exploring any backwoods area we find that we are unable to weed (a library term for removing non-usefully items) them from the collection. The map section of the milk crate now contains over 13 maps.

This section is also growing and while the local and state hiking books can be considered part of the rotating library we've found some books that are always useful, as any good reference book should be! For instance after spending hours hypothesizing about the identity of various birds and wildflowers, S.D. surprised me with two excellent guides as birthday presents. We also re-purchased "Mountain Weather" the one thing so far that we regretted selling back in Massachusetts. If we keep growing this and the cartography section at the current rate, we're going to need a second milk crate...and where will we get the space to keep it?

Friday, September 04, 2015

John Day, Dayville, John Day River, the John Day Wilderness, and the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument,

There are many ways to get a place named after you. In this country one of the most successful strategies seems to be having been the first president. There are Washington states, districts, counties, towns, roads etc, everywhere.  That option having already been taken the next best method seems to be 'finding' and naming it yourself.   Apparently however there is one other option that works particularly well in central Oregon.  Get yourself robbed and stripped naked by Indians. That's what Virginia trapper John Day did in 1812 and subsequently he now has a whole slew of towns, rivers (there are 4 forks of the John Day River), a National Monument and a Wilderness area named after him. We drove into John Day (town) early in the morning after a long night of discussing what exactly all this traveling was about.
John Day Fossil Beds - Outhouse

We didn't have any real expectations aside from maybe finding a grocery store and a shower. What we found was the John Day (river) running through the high desert, and a way of life and land that was totally new for an Easterner like myself. Here was a place where water, even more than high temperature and dry air, and millenniums old volcanoes, are the major players. Many thousands of years and hundreds of volcanoes (see the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument) ago the area around John Day (town, river, monument, wilderness) was a flat volcanic plain. Then the John Day Rivers started running, starting cutting down through the volcanic layers, creating deep river valleys and wide flood plains. Revealing the fossils of the National Monument and creating the rich flood plain soil of the valley. Today, even while the erosion continues, the river and the underlying watershed are tapped to irrigate the crops of area ranches and make human high desert life possible.

Slide Lake - source of the John Day River
After locating both the grocery store and the all important Shower at the Clyde Holiday State Park (no idea why Clyde was the namesake), we drove west through the valley and along the John Day river to the Fossil Beds. Hiking up green, blue and red canyons, and visiting the Canto Ranch in 90 degree heat. Sure the weather was hot, but this was all too amazing to miss. Beside, we stopped in Dayville (named after our favorite trapper and also containing the Murderers Creek State Wildlife Refuge) on the way back for a Huckleberry ice cream cone.

The next day we drove east through the valley and along the John Day River to the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness, the source for the John Day River and hiked up through huckleberry bushes (keeping an eye out for bears) to Strawberry Lake and then along a steep canyon wall to Slide Lake. Another great day of hiking, followed by happy hour brews at the 1188 Brewing Company in John Day (town)

On the third day we drove north and then east, checking out the areas around the North and South
Granite!! trail in the Elkhorn Range
Forks of the river and eventually setting up camp at Anthony Lake in the Elkhorn Mountains. The following day we hiked up into the North Fork John Day Wilderness. Walking up, into and around those rare western granite peaks was spectacular, and it felt a little like being home. Being granite, the plant life and trail resembled the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Unlike our hikes into volcanic based mountains, here we walked along rock solid outcroppings, and along numerous bogs. The plants too felt more like home, the trees a bit smaller and with a larger percent of rhododendrons and laurels in the understory. The views however, were still western. Large sweeping panoramas of valleys, volcanic mountain ranges, buttes and plains. The perfect capstone to a week with John Day.
A man, a really un-historic event, many amazing places and a legacy that only goes to show that sometimes really bad days can get you associated with some awesome places.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Three Month Anniversary!

Ozette, Northern Washington Beachfront
It was either the migrating geese or the "eeek" of the osprey that woke me. We're the only ones at Fish Lake, Oregon this first morning of September, it's 38 degrees and there's no doubt that it's fall.

It's been three months that we've been 'on the road'. Early summer, the first month, we drove from Boston to Ashland, Oregon, exploring Michigan, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Idaho along the way. The second month we explored Southern Oregon and Northern California while trying to get ourselves in shape for the PCT, only in the end to decide that was no longer something for us. The third month we left Ashland, looped up through central Oregon, southern Washington, up to the Olympic Peninsula and the south along the coast and back. We're still trying to figure out to best live this life on the Kelly and Dave Trail (KDT) but we're having some great adventures. There have been some amazing places and hikes along the way, many of which I have written about, many more still to tell. But along with all those great places and we've also met some amazing people.

Klamath Falls, the first major town east of Ashland, may be most well known for it's giant inland lake and as a major stop for migrating birds on the western flyway, but it also has an excellent coffee shop. Gathering Grounds Cafe has great coffee, great atmosphere, an a great proprietor. Yesterday when we stopped by he had an awesome Nicaraguan roast, and we got to talking about the shop, Klamath Falls, John Day (an central Oregon town I'll write about later), road bicycling vs backroad bicycling (the shop is a major promoter of all things bicycling), Burning Man (the shop is on route from Portland and Seattle), and life on the road and trail.

Last week, while hiking out to Cape Lookout on the Oregon Coast we hiked with an Oregonian from the Astoria area. Like many Oregonians she loves her state, especially the coast, spends a great deal of time camping and hiking around, and happily shared lots of stories about the area and life as we hiked out to the point and back.

The previous week, we'd run into a Washington couple while hiking the beach at Ozette, part of the Olympic National Park. We were each hiking the loop in opposite directions but we met back up at the campsite later that night. They were retirees from Port Townsend who regularly drove out to Ozette to spend the night and hike. We spent a good two hours swapping hiking stories, getting further recommendations from them, and talking about the logistics of living on the road, something they were interested in trying.

The week before that we'd spent four wonderful days in Port Angeles, houseguests of a family friend. A former mounted policeman for the National Park Service, Jim had some great stories to tell about working in San Francisco and DC along with local dinning and hiking recommendations.

While at the Dalles campground just outside Rainier National Park, way back in the second week of
Trail to Cape Lookout, OR
August, we meet Niles. Niles and his wife Jacqueline had rented an RV and were traveling much the same route as us, but in the opposite direction. Unlike us their main goal was to locate various geocaches, and also unlike us they were German. It's always interesting to get the European perspective on the United States. Trump was just starting to make his 'interesting' comments and was still considered more of a fringe curiosity so we didn't have to talk about that, but guns, politics and the wonders of the natural country all made for very interesting conversation.

Pretty soon we'll be heading (migrating?) south through California, Nevada and Utah. The vague plan is to make a loop through those states returning to Ashland in December for Christmas. Along the way there'll be more logistics to figure out, great places to hike, and hopefully more great people to meet.