Maine: Down East #1

Down East #1

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Mid-summer in Maine and the campground is empty but for three other sites, although the tall fat fella in the white van with a hound dog drove out this morning. Perhaps he’s moving on? Another couple in the big sand colored tent drove by shortly after and it’s not even 8.30. Maybe I’m alone then? Is anyone else around? Time to explore, well, after the morning coffee on the rocks. Rocks on the coast, solid sit-upon boulders, smooth under bum, and slippery under paws (Harold’s).

I’ve been up for hours, the light wakes us around 5am, the lobster trawlers thunder by, deep and low in the water as I sit on those rocks with a plain coffee. The fog is so thick this morning that the boats are invisible even though voices talk back and forth over the rumble of engine and waves, tides and eddies.

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McClellan Park campground is a little known hideaway right on the ocean with ten sites for campers and tents. The road down is winding and narrow through dense woodland but easy on the vehicle, just tight, there’d be no room for anything bigger than a Sprinter. We pull off to let a sedan pass on the way up, and the couple tells me to claim number twelve.

“It’s open, a nice little bit of meadow, and just the other side of the trees is the shore.” She’s missing a tooth up front in that cheery smile of hers, and her husband says something unintelligable. They wave me off. My new neighbors.

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We camped in number twelve as directed with a hundred feet of mown grass, a ring of birch trees and the sound of the incoming tides on the rocks. The fire kept us warm although the wood Dennis, the caretaker, sold ended up being damp and green. That couple I’d mentioned though, they brought me some dry wood one morning.

“I was worried you’d be cold, that other stuff doesn’t put out much heat, does it? Here you go, your cat came by this morning. I saw him in the trees, shy isn’t he? Yes, I told Jerry we needed to bring you some wood, get you warm. It’s chilly today. They say it’ll rain tonight so cover up your stuff, won’t you?”

She’s in striped loose pajama pants, a pink checkered long sleeved shirt, and another purple layer over her shoulders, quite a colorful thick-set woman in her sixites. Her frizzled hair is held back by bright red plastic clips. Jerry wears work boots, pressed blue jeans, and a sweatshirt with Vietnam Veteran in bold white letters. His front teeth are missing, his tongue swallows his words, and his grin is like a ten-yer-old boys, all mischief and innocence. He’s about the same size too, wiry, compact, small as a pre-teen.

“You have to visit Jonesport, it’s pretty. My sister lives in Millbridge, that’s why we come here. We only live an hour away but love camping here each summer. Columbia Falls too, that’s a stop if you’re heading to Eastport. South of here, go see the ferris wheels on the beach. Jerry here was on stage for July 4th. He’s an Elvis impersonator.”

Millbridge is an odd little town in US 1, with very little by way of tourism, just a couple of stores, a diner and a mexican take-out, just what we want on the ocean, mexican food, right? I don’t find anywhere to get clam chowder, a sudden craving on these grey days. There’s a laundromat, library, bank, and a couple of churches, but no cafes or brew pubs that I can see. Bummer. I’ll not be staying here too long then. The supermarket undercharges me for the beer and I say nothing but feel guilty for a moment, and again as I write this. Oh well. I have worse regrets.

The shore is rough with a deep sudden drop from brown-stained rocks into swilling waves below. My brain imagines Harold slipping in and that fear that comes, knowing I’d jump in to save him. Probably kill us both. But I’d have to. It’s Harold. Fuck. “Get away from there!” I startle us both, he slips but not into the Atlantic.

We walk in the mornings, early, mid, late. We walk in the afternoons, every hour or so I jump up from book or laptop, “let’s go, guys.” All three pets bounce up, two dogs and a cat, and off through the trees we go, over the rocks, I sit on the grass to the east of this path and lean back. I can spend hours staring out over the ocean. This calm rejuvinates me, brings me back to myself, and reminds me of the Gower Coast in Wales. The grey skies with occassional bursts of sunshine. The salt on my skin. The damp air curling my hair. I wish there was a way to live on the coast like this, wake up each morning to stare out over the horizon and daydream in the cool breeze off the ocean. Can I? Make this a goal of mine? Why not? Or perhaps just drive along coastlines for the rest of my life? I could do that.

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My brain ticks over, the lists, the stressors, all that needs to be taken care of in the next few weeks. Instead of tackling any of this increasing number of projects and the relevant details, I make another cuppa. This is the week before I move in finally to a rental apartment in Montpelier, start work, and then college. This is problably the last break for a while. It’s time to explore then, isn’t it? So we do. We do. Gratefully.

Mosquitos follow my everywhere but the DEET works well, not that I’d want to live with it on me year in, year out. But who cares about a few weeks here and there? Toxic crap I know but it works. When I go pee though, that was a problem.

McClellan campground costs only ten dollars per site and another five for a generous bundle of (green) firewood. There’s a shower, potable water, trash cans, and a friendly host who lives near by. Yes, come here. Yes, stay a while. Millbridge is within reach of a bunch of interesting smaller villages, one’s you wouldn’t normally come across on you trip across US 1. The camping has been here since 1946, Dennis tells me, but the State only just realized it, so came a knocking over winter, demanding a licence fee, a few changes, and less sites. Dennis just took down a couple of numbers but left the picnic tables and still mows the grass in those numberless places.

“There, done.” He grins, his eyes wrinkle in mischief, “And they left. Not so bad after all. It might help that the Chief of Police runs this place and threatened the guy, but what do I care? Oh, if this fog eases up, tonight we’re meant to be able to see the Northern Lights!”

The fog only thickened though so I went to bed by nine, curled up in the camper with Harold on the front seat, Rosie in her crate (door open) and Stevie the cat at my feet, looking out the sliding window, gazing upon squirrels. We sleep deeply.

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Such utter calm and peace here, looking out over the Altlantic, I’m dreaming of a retreat, a time in a cabin on the waterfront, a deck, some shade, a place to swim, to walk the dogs, and days of peace to read, write, and create more. Yes. I’ll get right on it. Right after I finish my three years of the MFA.

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Next though, it’s Down East/ Up North. Time to find the eastern most town on the United State’s coastline. There’s a brewery there.

Time Out In Marfa, Texas

Published January 2017 with http://www.fempotential.com/marfa-texas/

Here is a copy of the text for you.

January was a good time to take a road trip, the holidays are over and nothing’s going on. Although, I’ll be honest, having been land-locked in Madrid NM for four months with only a couple of weekends away, town was feeling claustrophobic. It was driving me crazy. Winter so far in New Mexico has been pretty gentle with little snow and mild temperatures, nothing to challenge or keep me engaged. My home was finally finished enough to stay warm and comfortable, and with that in mind, I rented it for a week onAirbnb, packed the camper van, and took off south. I needed a break. I needed a plan of action. What next? How can I make a living as a travel writer? Or as a traveling writer? What’s the big deal about Marfa? Why go there?

Marfa, TX is a small town of 2,000 in far western Texas near the Davis Mountains. Big Bend National Park is 135 miles due south.  Would I head that far south? Who knew.

The night before I left town, it snowed. A good few inches covered the roads and Ortiz Mountains and in a 2wd van, the worries got to me and I didn’t sleep so well. Should I take the interstate instead of a country highway? Which would be safer? Highway 285 was shorter but would there be enough traffic to be safe? Ah, to hell with it, I needed an adventure. Highway 285 from Santa Fe was mostly clear but for some slush and a few snow banks, the traffic was light, and my pets cranky. Rosie, a lab mix, couldn’t settle down. She’d sit in the passenger seat, bounce down, push Harold off the bed in the back. Repeat. For nine hours. Stevie, the cat, hid under the bed, sulking. Poor Harold, a big baby of an Akita mix, shrugged at Rosie’s pacing energy. I drank cold coffee and kept on driving. I needed a time-out. Just like Rosie.

So, yes, why did I head to Marfa? Probably because the forecast was for it to be warm enough for tee shirts in the afternoons, plus some good friends of mine love the place. Suzie is an artist and she’d told me some of the history of Marfa. In the 1970’s, a famous New York artist, Donald Judd moved out to Marfa and created an outdoor sculpture garden of his works in concrete. The Chinati Foundation has become one of the major draws to the town, with celebrities, artists of all mediums, and tourists who all flock to the compound on the edge of town. There is also her favorite place, the Hotel Paisano, where James Dean last acted in a movie before his death. Marfa is now known for its history, the Hotel Paisano, the art galleries, the Public Radio station, and even the Marfa Music Festival in March. It has a lot to live up to.

We arrived late that weekend night and set up camp at Tumble In RV campground on the eastern side of town. I’d picked it deliberately for the proximity to town, its claim to having a walkable path into the downtown district (it didn’t), and a space for tents and campers not just RVs. Late at night, a sub-freezing night, after nine hours driving through snow half of that time, I was depleted and yes, as cranky as my critters. Tumble In was not as I’d hoped. The tent camping area is a bare patch of cut tumbleweeds with strips of gravel to show where to park. No shelter, no picnic tables, no grills or firepits. It was basically a parking lot. I hated it. So did the dogs and Little Stevie, my cat. Too many burrs, no shade, nowhere to walk as we were fenced in by barbwire and three-foot tall weeds. The shower in the morning made up for it. That and a cup of coffee.  Then once refreshed and in a better mood, I looked for a camp host but no, there wasn’t one, just a self-check in booth within a vintage travel trailer. Walking the pups around the RV park, I noticed the overflow area to the rear of the land, closer to the railway but away from the highway and parking lot. With no one to tell me otherwise, I set up camp back there and with Stevie locked in the camper, the dogs and I walked along the path to town. We had to scramble quite a bit so don’t expect a clear pathway to follow, we crossed an arroyo and down a sandy bank to get to a paved street.

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It was a Sunday morning, the church bells were ringing, and having drunk a good cup of coffee at the van, my mood improved with the sunshine and clear skies. The railway was surprisingly busy with three trains shipping containers and vehicles eastward all morning, yet I was still able to let the dogs run free along the track for a while. Until the rabbits tempted them onto the highway to the south of us and my tensions grew again. Damn it. I came here to relax, right? Putting them on leashes is never an easy accomplishment –  they’re country dogs and I’m lazy. Oh well. You do what you have to.

Judd’s minimalist aesthetic really has taken a hold of town; it was a quirky mix of old adobe structures, with rusted iron window frames and clean lines of new concrete. I liked the juxtaposition of old and new but how was it for the long-term residents to see their homes and town be so gentrified? The streets were empty though, that sleepy Sunday feeling perhaps? No, the rest of the week there, it was rare to see anyone walking around. There were few options for hanging out or talking to locals. There were few options for distractions from other people at all. I was alone with my thoughts as usual.

Walking down Austin Street, I came across a laundromat with a handful of folks sitting outside sipping coffees. Frama café didn’t exactly advertise itself but word of mouth and being the only café to be found, it stayed busy enough I guess. I got to chat a little to the others sitting outside, one fella brought Harold and Rosie a bowl of water, and we talked art, travels, and Texas. Most of them were new to town with a newcomer’s energy for the place. I still hoped to find a local who’d grown up in Marfa but never did. The latte was great though but a bagel or something to eat would have helped. Ice cream was the only option, and although it was tempting I didn’t get any. Another time perhaps? Nope, I stuck to coffee there for the next few days. It became our routine to walk to town mid-morning, exploring the four corners of town, and finishing up at Frama. Where was the breakfast place? I lived off the odds and ends in the cooler at the van instead. Oh well. My expectations were nicely lowered after a few days and I began to enjoy town for what it offered. Even the Tumble In campground grew on me for being bare bones, with hot water, little interaction and no one watching over my critters running free.

With a full moon, the Marfa Lights were not to be seen. Have you heard of them? First noticed in the 1880s by a cowboy, there is still no solid explanation for these colored lights that dance in the dark nights outside on Highway 90. My timing once again was against me; it was too bright for me to see anything. Next time? I’d better do some research before I head on another trip as this one to Marfa was the most disorganized possible. My timing sucked constantly. The best part for me in Marfa was that we walked everywhere for a week. The rest of my days I filled my notebook with web addresses and contact info for freelance writers. Researching different tangential ideas kept me busy and the sketch book let me switch off the word-brain in the evenings. As there were few businesses open at the start of the week, and little to see with high-end stores offering treats for the wealthy, but still I got to relax. I enjoyed wandering the wide empty western streets. Trucks slowed down for the pups and I, waved at us, and carried on slowly out of town. Wherever I wandered, I’d see the Presidio Courthouse. It’s an incredibly beautiful old three-story building that fills the town plaza with all roads bringing you back to the spires. It dates back to 1886 and I walked inside one afternoon, curious to see if I could climb the tower to look out the windows facing each direction. It was closed for cleaning but still worth climbing the wooden stairs that opened onto lawyer’s offices on each level based around a central rotunda. I was alone and the peace of the extensive views impressed me deeply, a sense of history and wonder.

 

Hotel Paisano was just around the corner and it quickly became my afternoon choice. The Trost building dates to 1929, and opened only just before the Great Depression. It became a place for ranchers and tourists to stay as they crossed Texas. In 1955 Warner Bros came to town to film Giant with Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean, and Rock Hudson. Jett’s Bar is named after Dean’s character and the walls are covered with old photographs from that era. I sat at the bar one day, eating a salad from their limited menu, and chatted to Herb who was visiting. He came from Las Cruces, NM, and was a pilot for a wealthy family who’d come to Marfa for hunting but he didn’t specify what or where.  With a beer in hand, I then sat outside and that’s where I recommend fully. The building is Spanish style with a main courtyard with a fountain and tables in sun and shade. Perfect. I sat and read and listened into the conversations around me. I came back two other afternoons. Now that made me feel like I was truly on holiday. Finally.

The small-town logistics could be challenging for some city folk but since I live in Madrid, NM with a population of 350, this wasn’t a big impact on me. There were limited options for eating out, I didn’t find a decent grocery store, nor ATMs but then again, I’d come with a wallet of cash and a cooler of food in the camper van. I have a feeling my timing really was off, and that in spring and summer, town wakes back up. I’m okay with that though. I like low-key artsy towns. With no traffic lights, Marfa lulled me into a slower pace of life. It worked its magic on me. Afternoons, I’d sit outside the van in the sun and draw out quirky characters or I’d brainstorm on how to keep traveling and writing for a living. I came up with some ideas but it’s hard to make it freelance. I figured out that it’s worth me faking it until I make it. That’s the best I can do for myself.

The Chinati Foundation finally drew me in on the last day in the area. I put down my notebook and we drove over there early one morning. I’d not been too keen to be honest, as a field of concrete sculptures didn’t appeal. It was free so why not, right? I’m glad I went though. With the critters set up in the camper parked in the shade of a huge Cottonwood, I wandered into the main building and asked for the self-guided tour of the gardens. The young woman behind the counter waved me over to the path and asked me not to climb the structures. Nothing more than that, no stories, no information, just “Stay off”.

Okay, okay, so walking down past the other buildings, I strode down the slight hill to the open land with a stripe of fifteen groups of concrete slabs. From north to south, there are Judd’s famous works in concrete, a very minimalistic contemporary feel that reminds me of inner cities in the seventies. Unprepared for the magical energy, I stood and stared at the first group. Three structures made of upright walls of concrete with another identically sized slab across the top. An open-ended room in a sense. Walking to the next group, it occurred to me that I was alone on this kilometer-long pathway. In the field nearby, a small herd of Pronghorn antelope watched me nervously.

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Slowly as I wandered around these works, a peace settled on me, reminiscent of living at a Buddhist retreat in the UK years ago. A calmness came from the simplicity of how Judd played with one size of solid cleanly poured concrete slabs, putting them together in different figurations. There was nothing to explain why it appealed to me so much but an hour later, I walked out of Chinati with a relaxed smile and feeling expansive. Yep, I’d go back. First though, it was time to head north to Madrid, NM, to set up my home for another vacation rental. Yes, Marfa. I get it now. And I had a plan.

Travel can help people in so many ways. One woman took a time out type of trip to Marfa, Texas, and was inspired with a plan for her future as a travel writer.

5 Travel Tips to stay sane on the road.

It’s that time of year when it’s cold enough to make us research next year’s vacation. Or it is for me. Winter, I like it, I like the cold weather and toasty woodstoves, but dreams come thick and fast. The internet catches me for hours as I research new ideas and new destinations. Talking around the fire with friends over Christmas inspired me even more to plan the next big travels. With that in mind, here are five travel tips for the year ahead, I hope it helps.

  1. DO THE RESEARCH:  with notebooks, the web, and a basic outline, I strongly recommend doing some research. Go beyond Google’s first page and look deeper, follow the tangents, discover blogs and forums. Last winter the Expedition Portal caught my attention. The depth and breadth of posts was initially overwhelming but I discovered that although the regional sub forums were the busiest, their focus was more on short day trips and four-wheeling. Go instead to the trip reports and the in progress travelogues for true inspiration. Travelers like myself post photos, routes and even favorite campgrounds along the backroads. Ultimate Public Campgrounds is my favorite app with all the links, directions, photos, websites and even directions for all the public camping areas in both Canada and the US. Great stuff. Benchmark Maps is the other main resource I take with me because of the detailed notes on each kind of road, campgrounds, and historical notations.
  2. DON’T OVER PLAN! No, I’m not contradicting myself, honestly. However, so many people on the road get caught in the trap of keeping to schedules and timelines. For me, an outline, a body of research for options, and then the ability to see a signpost for a lake and follow that side road makes for the strongest memories. My weakness is for a hidden lake in a mountain valley so that’s what tempts me most. What’s yours? Keep your eyes open and itinerary flexible.
  3. STAY ENGAGED: With the road endlessly stretching ahead of you, it’s easy to lose track of why you’re driving. It’s not just get to the next destination, is it? Curiosity drives me, keeps me engaged and when I’ve cut myself off from the environment and focused on reaching the next pit stop, my travels become meaningless, or at least forgettable. With a handful of local newspapers, some novels written set in that area, or taking time to visit historic markers while chatting to residents at the diner, that’s how you’ll feel much more connected to each place and its people.
  4. EAT WELL: In the van the box under the bed is full of the staples that keep me sane or at least full for those days each week when I just don’t want to drive to another grocery store because I like where we are. After months on the road last summer, it became a weekly habit to restock with fresh vegetables, fruit, cheese and even creamer for the morning coffee. I’d eat salads for a few days, then move onto the eggs and veggie omlettes, and towards the end of the week, back to the canned soups, nuts, beans and chiles. When shopping, I planned for a week at a time, knowing that I’d need to eat the fresher foods for a few days, a mix of shelf-stable items, and then left-overs. If you have a fridge, it’s different of course but this mindset will help the backroad campers like us.
  5. BE PREPARED FOR THE UNEXPECTED: Yes, we all know that shit happens but are we ready for the van to breakdown? Will you still have food and water? What happens if the front wheel wants to fall off on Independence Day like mine did? Phone calls to mechanics unable to help, driving around terrified we’d get stuck in Bellingham on the side of a main highway, I drove us to Anacortes, WA, and camped on the marina’s parking lot with their permission. I waited it out, had food, and with the security guard keeping an eye out on us, felt safe to wait out the holiday weekend. And if the pets got sick suddenly? Those two dogs and a cat that I travel with? The smartphone gives me access to finding a vet, and the first aid kit under the bed can take care of more injuries than I’d hope to experience. It’s okay though, this happens, dogs spike themselves, bleed profusely, and still live on. It happens at home and on the road. I sit back, bandage Rosie up, and make a cup of tea. It’s a fact of life, right? Yep.

Now, go out and buy some maps, sit back and plan another trip okay? Then tell me about it!

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Writer’s Life: a morning on the road

Pagosa Springs, my home away from home, thank you for being there when needed.

Mary suggested I post my home on Airbnb since the bus was already bringing in an income. Why not? she said. Okay, so I did just that. I added the homestead, and forgot about it. My smartphone beeped at me. A notification from Airbnb. I accepted without even really reading the information. The next morning, another beep confirmed the booking of my home. My home. Oh shit, I have to clean.

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Two days later, the floors were swept, bedding changed, fridge and oven scrubbed, and new towels laid out. The critters followed me nervously, unsure as to what all this meant. On opening the van and throwing in the cooler and extra blankets, Harold, the Collie/ Akita mix claimed the bed. Rosie, the Lab/ Akita mix took the front seat, passenger as she knows better than to try driving. Little Stevie, a fluffy white cat, popped up onto the top shelf, purring away in time to the engine.

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Pagosa Springs then, you saw this coming, didn’t you? Yes, an easy drive for three hours to town, stopping only one on the way for the emptying of bladders big and small. With a sandwich in hand, I nervously watched the cat follow the dogs into the trees. Trust. You have to trust him, I muttered and then stalked them all.

October in Pagosa is cold. Much colder than I’d thought, not that I’d really thought about it, I’d just loaded us up and left the home in pretty good condition. At Williams Creek Reservoir, the parking area had few vehicles, picnics and fishing rods at hand.

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“The campgrounds closed on the 26th. Three days ago,” says the Texan couple in their thick winter jackets. “You can’t camp here.” She stared at me and the critters who roamed and peed freely.

“Okay.”

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The sunrise that next morning over the lake was incredible. Just us. I bundled up and made coffee outside. Little Stevie was in heaven with trees, grass, and water, and no others to scare the bugger, he wandered around, meowed when he lost sight of me, and ran back under the van when I called, anyone hungry?

How can I just up and go like this? I blame my parents for taking us everywhere in the old Rover and Volvos. I blame my friend Shaun  for reminding me of the restlessness inside me. Casey sat me down at the computer one day and we played online, her showing me how to make an income from writing, editing, talking about what I do and love. It’s like Netflix, people are willing to pay to be entertained and inspired. And yes, I blame Mary for putting my home on Airbnb.

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It’s been a year of making changes, of understanding how to bring in the money to pay for a lifestyle I crave. My books, yes, I have five books out and they sell slowly but surely. Four novels, two of which have won Best Fiction in the NM/ AZ Book Awards, another was a finalist. The travel essays came out this year and took me up and across the NW, selling them as I drove around.
Editing, proof-reading, helping new writers publish online, writing press releases, writing blogs like this, reviewing books, and working on another book of my own. I stay busy.

I admit though, that I get nervous at times. Nothing lined up, just winging it as they say, but I’m more alive now than I have been for the last four years at the job in town. I’m officially self-employed these days. I love it. Mostly.

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After lounging around, making breakfast next to the lake, I wait until Stevie is tired and has gone back to bed inside Van Dreamy. I close the door and whistle for the pups. Time for a hike around the lake. It’s a blustery day, cool, and the trees are turning, leaves fluttering onto the path. I skip though the woods and cross the dam. Yes, it’s October. Winter is coming. I can’t wait.

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The dogs watch me eat. Begging? Us, no, never, oh look at that squirrel! They look away.

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Stevie wanders around, watching the fish flash by in the river.

We walk in the morning frost. I warm up by a campfire and cook again. I settle down for another nap. Life is good. Fear slips in, a moment here, a thought that questions my sanity, and then a golden leaf falls onto the laptop and the spell is broken. The spell is remade. I’m happy.

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In town, I soak at the free hot springs under the bridge. Since August, someone’s built up the rocks, making a twelve foot pond, and my muscles relax into the heat. I chat to a few other van dwellers but happily leave them to it so to walk the dogs around town before hitting the grocery store. The cottonwood leaves are like the colors of pears, mangos, and apples.

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This week away from home is the first since leaving Trader Joes. The first time in four years that I can be spontaneous, hit the road, and know I’m still working in a sense. Back at camp in the mornings, I pull out the table, the laptop, write up notes for Betsy about her children’s book. I check the photographs. I research nonfiction essays, reading from other’s recommendations of past and present authors. I make notes for myself. Then it’s time for another mug of coffee, a walk down the river, another log on the fire, and a braod grin. I’m a writer. This is my life now. Camping, driving, writing. I can do it after all…

Why did it take me so long though? Fear. Laziness. A resigned focus on home and job. It wore me down. This though, the quiet nights either at home or in the van, the reading, the writing, and sending out proposals and ideas, this life wakes me up. The writer’s life is one for me.

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Pagosa Springs, once again, had been a welcome home for the week, but then it was time to head back and see what the renters had done to my place. The money paid for this trip but I worried about the consequences. Rightly so as it happens: I wish I’d known to lock up my papers, my cupboards, but naively I left them to it. Another lesson learned. I’ll tell you later, when I talk about the fears, we can mix and match stories for once…

Anacortes, WA and beyond

Dirt pile. Tall and wide. Thick forests. Cranky cat. Tired driver. Dogs restless. I pull over and let everyone out. We’re hidden behind this huge dirt pile, nose of van poking out, me squatting like Rosie. Finally a moment to stretch our legs after a long and wonderful day. But long. I’d been driving for too long.

We’d left Anacortes earlier that day, not a great place for Stevie, but the marina was good for me. Watching all the sailboats on the water, hearing the chatter from the sails flapping, the chance to do laundry, walk the dogs on a beach, sit at an outdoor bar, yes it was worth $20 a night.

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Taking the ferry across from Couperville to Port Townsend on the July 4th weekend, we were lucky to get tickets on their busiest weekend. Not being sure how the critters would fare on the ferry, I’d stopped earlier on an empty beach for us all to wander round until they chose to get back inside. Perfect. On the ferry, because of the size of the van, I got to park up front, facing out on that grey morning. I tied Stevie down, gave everyone a treat, closed up the windows and left them too it as I explored. Love ferries.

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On the Olympic peninsula my day went downhill. The noise in the van was back, sometimes. The critters were tired of being inside. And I had no idea where we’d camp. That’s what it often boils down to. If I don’t have a plan, I’m stressed, needing a focus point. Which brings me back to that gravel pile on the side of a small road heading west from Clallam Bay across to Ozette, it was the last chance at a campground, all the others had been fully booked and the forest roads were neither obvious nor easy for a van like mine.

A volvo pulled up. Fuck. Really? I wave frantically at the car, asking it to slow down, give me time to grab the cat who is standing in the open. Stevie in hand, I walk back to the van, muttering evil thoughts to myself. Why here? Why not park somewhere else?

“Harold!” A voice calls out behind me. Stevie tucked in the van, I turn to see Dawn climb out of the Volvo, another woman with her. My brain can’t compute. Huh.

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“Dawn? Is this Annie? Dawn? How the hell?”

Dawn’s laughing, Harold is barking, Rosie is running around like a dervish, and Annie says “hello Sleam, I’ve heard about you! Dawn recognised Harold and the van. You’re not camping here are you?”

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Lake Ozette, a little used national park campground, rustic, bathrooms but nothing else, pack-it-in and pack-it-out. I follow the volvo as we drive through the campground once. It’s full. There is nowhere else. Damn. I’m tired and hungry but no longer worried. My closest friend is here, Dawn! She lives in Seattle, we’d met in Madison twenty plus years ago, and she’d even joined me just a week ago camping near Arlington. I’d not expected to see her again for a few years…

“IS that a campsite?” Annie asks as we walk around, stretching our legs. “It is! Quick, claim it, stay here, I’ll go get the car.”

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Dawn and I hang out in the small clearing, and catch up on the last week’s adventures, laughing at the chances of running into each other here, in the middle of nowhere. Annie pulls up, opens up the Volvo, and the dogs find her cooler.

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La Push, and Mora National Park campground is the next day’s goal. Independence Day, and we are lucky to find a secluded site in the trees, with a sense of privacy unexpected in a place with over 90 sites. Stevie gets to run around too, always the hope. The ravens hated him though, would dive at him, crow at him, harrass him, until he froze in the trees and I’d fetch him back to the motel van. Poor bugger. The eagles hovered over the beaches. Washington coast was not a kitty friendly place, just so you know.

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The next couple of days were perfect. Dawn, Annie, and I made great meals, campfires, sat and chatted until tired, and then since Dawn knew the area, we went to her favourite beaches and walked in the rainy afternoons. Yep, I liked it. Rialto Beach is worth visiting. Even on a busy weekend like July 4th, we had the space to run and hang out and not feel the pressure of containing my pups too much.

Dawn and Annie left me there, duty called back in the city. For me, the sea called. The dogs and I walked as often as we could, and in the mornings it was quiet enough to let Stevie wander on the sand with us.
And that my friends is all I experienced of the Olympic Peninsula. Oh, apart from all the signs for that bigotted presidential candidate that made my stomach turn and the van keep driving. Southwards…

What’s in your van?

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The table I moved last Thursday, the bed is now oriented widthways, and the computer sits next to the front seat. A fold-away table now lives under the bed by the back door. Is your van like this? Are you constantly changing it? I shouldn’t be surprised. My home is the same, a constant shuffling and reordering of belongings to suit my current needs. The van though, for some reason, I didn’t expect to change it around as much as I am.
If I didn’t have three animals in there with me, it’d be easy, that’s what I tell myself. However, there is a large plastci container of dry dog kibble, one for cat kibble, a stack of wet cat food cans, a litter box and scooper, foldable cat carrier, hard sided cat carrier, a bag of dog treats, two harnesses, three leashes, and a couple of ten foot ropes. A leash for Stevie the cat hangs by the side door. Oh, and then we have a small 18 by 18 by 24 inch set of plastic drawers full of kitchen supplies. Under the bed, more stuff of course, boots and the such.

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Whenever I see another living out of their camper van, I have to ask for a tour although Van Lifers are a weird bunch. Their eyes are a little too bright, the smiles too friendly. Too bloody happy if you ask me. Then I wonder at myself. Do I come across as holier than thou, now? Are my blue eyes clearer than usual? Is my hair a little wilder and clothes scruffier? Yes, the answer is yes.

Soaking in the hot springs in Pagosa Colorado yesterday, a young man, early twenties is my guess, came in, smiling and happy to be there on that sunny Saturday. We started chatting. Mark is taller than me at 6 foot, skinny and tanned in his cut-off denim shorts. He tells me of his brown van, didn’t tell my what kind, and I thought it was women who only notice color not engine size? Anyway, Mark had bought the brown van in New Jersey a couple of months ago and has been slowly wandering westward. A happy fella but he started to avoid my eyes, slow down the questions, that is until a couple in their sixties joined us. They’re in a Sprinter (white) that’s fully decked out with wood paneling and working kitchen units. Mark relaxed and chatted up a storm. Am I that strange middle-aged woman now? Yes, the answer is yes. Sadly, yes.

My van, a nameless or rather constantly renamed van, is simple inside. I think of all that I could do, given my carpentry skills, plumbing, and electric etc., but I like it as it is. I’d make a desk as bloody writers need a desk. I’ll get to it sometime this winter perhaps? Motel Vera/ Danelle the Vanelle/ Reggie the Regency Dodger, came home with me in May, only a week before taking off for Arizona and beyond. I had little time to modify. The backbench seats were folded down, a sleeping bag and a few blankets thrown on top, and all the stuff of camping life, pet life, went under the bed. I’d kept the captains chair behind the driver for one of the dogs, Rosie. Harold likes the bed in back.

It worked as it was for three months. Now though, I’ve changed it up again. The extra chair is out. The folded cat crate (three foot by three foot) is set up permanently with the door rolled up for access. The small cat carrier is inside with a litter box within, and the cooler to the side. I wanted to use the floor space and still have a place to settle Stevie for those days at the mechanic or in cities. I’ll pull out the cooler, put in his blanket and zip down the door and he’s safe and contained for a while.
On the top of this soft crate is a metal tabletop from a workstation at home. Laid across, it becomes a place to set up the Coleman stove for making coffee inside on a rainy day. The kitchen drawers are to the right and I can pull out the cooler as a bench while cooking. It works. Colorado this week has been sunny all day long until four or five then the rains come down hard. We hunker down inside and enjoy the sound on the roof. Rosie likes to cuddle next to me, so she and I are in the back, Stevie is on his shelf above my head, and Harold claims the driver’s seat. All is good. I wonder how others would set up a small van like this for one human and three owners? I wander in and out of thrift stores looking for a small cabinet or desk to modify but not seen the one I want. It’s in my head, I picture it but drawing is not a skill of mine so I wait and see.
What will I do next week? Where will we be? The deep frost yesterday morning was an intense reminder that winter is coming fast. October, camping in October is doable in the van but still it’s daunting. Back to my cabin in New Mexico until the next visitor rents my place through Airbnb, and then south perhaps? The Gila National Forest? Or Alabama? I’ve not been to Alabama yet and that’s as good a reason as any in my book.

The Mixed Bag Of Washington

 

Washington State, a place of such mixed experiences that I lost the desire to write, worried that I’d offend someone by the over all relief to arrive in Oregon. I look though at my notes and it wasn’t all claustrophobic. Only the Olympic Peninsula, the rain forest, the coastline, those choice places I’d heard so much about left me cold, left me with a bitter taste of claustrophobia.

Spokane surprisingly enough was energizing for me. A busy city environment, traffic filling the roads, construction creating detours, and people everywhere. I liked it. I liked the business and chaos. I day dreamed of moving there and even mentioned that to the cashier at Trader Joes. Meredith laughed and asked where I was from. Santa Fe, I told her. “That’s where I got married!”

Trader Joes, the first I’d visited since leaving work on May 15th at TJs in Santa Fe, was a familiar comfortable place to restock. Dog food that the pets like and treats for Stevie cat and me. Known staples for my kitchen. Yep, I was glad to be there, talking to Nate the Mate who sent his hello to my own manager in NM. It’s a small world at Trader Joes.

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Coffeepot Lake, WA, caught my attention and we headed there for a few nights of BLM free camping next to water. It really was in the middle of nowhere, long open range farmland, few homes, and little traffic. I drove down the slippery gravel and dirt road and turned to corner to see a nice sized reservoir with eight huge cottonwood trees and camping spots between and under each tree. Perfect. The campground is about an hour and a half from Spokane, down Hwy 2, and then south on WA-28 near Harrington. Pulling up into the shaded site, it was time to release the Hounds, and cat. It was safe enough for all to run free. Finally I wore shorts and a tee shirt.

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There was a path leading away from the boat ramp, and with Stevie tucked up in the van, the dogs and I explored the lake in the afternoon sunshine and solitude. A few boats of fishermen dawdled in the warmth. Our walking under his tree irritates a hawk but I keep my head down and follow the pups over a ridge and down the other side. An empty beach tempts me. I strip off and swim near the mallards.

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Washington, yes, the east side I liked more than the western coast which was unexpected. Disappointing really. I’d been playing with the idea of moving to Washington, a place highly recommended by friends and co-workers who know me fairly well. They talked of the mountains, the ocean, the forests, and the places to visit. They didn’t warn me of the political signs, the overwhelming presence of the racist misogynistic presidential candidate. They didn’t warn me of the huge number of churches of all denomination that outnumbered any other type of community meeting places like libraries, cafes, or pubs. Nope. The culture I found on those back roads as I crossed the state was not one I could relax within. I kept my mouth shut, head down, and hid at the North West Overland Rally near Leavenworth.

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It’s been hard to stop still on this trip so far. I’ve racked up so many miles, taking local county roads through small villages and avoiding the cities and interstates, always looking for rivers and lakes but even when I found them, I didn’t relax for more than a couple of nights at a time. Curious. Restless. Call it what you will, but I keep on going…

The NWOR will need a blog of its own; I’ll get back to that. With this travel report from Washington I’d hoped to beat down my reluctance to write about the state and to get through my writer’s block. It’s working.

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Open rangeland, farmland, high desert, huge lakes, and ocean beaches, these are the places that relax me. My eyes widen and yet also half close as the sense of distance, emptiness, and space reminds me of how lucky I am to exist, and how life carries on whether I do or don’t. My insignificance is reassuring.

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I didn’t write much as I crossed from Leavenworth towards Bellingham and Arlington. M notes are incomplete, rough, images and reminders but little worth for anyone else.

Cascades NP

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Methow River valley.

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BLM dirt tracks over mountains with little shade but empty of others. Perfect after the business of a week at the rally.

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Twisp, an amazingly good selection of food at the local supermarket. Great cheddar, organic veggies, and the freshest of peaches and nectarines.

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Winthrop – a cute tourist town on the river that was busy for a Monday morning. I didn’t stop except to grab a coffee.

Gorge Lake campground in the Cascades National Park was free and therefore busy. I found one of the last sites that lunchtime and glad to be able to park in the shade, I set up for one night. Critters out, then cat back inside, as this was bear country, active bear country. I shared my campsite with three others who’d arrived late and tired. I moved the van forward and they put up tents and offered me a beer and conversation.

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Washington was the state where I had van troubles, ongoing noises that worried the hell out of me but no one else neither heard them nor believed how bad it sounded. Typically I’d be alone taking a left hand corner, slowing down, a tight turn and then crunching, clacking, grinding sounds from the front wheel would stop me cold. The wheel’s falling off! Time to stop and smell the rivers.

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Washington was a place of five mechanics, all with different ideas as to what was going on. Each time, something would be fixed, replaced, and then within half an hour or even half a block, I’d hear the wheel complaining loudly. Finally, after a day in Seaview WA at a higly recommended mechanic shop, they’d fixed one thing, sent me off, and yep, by the time I reached the beach five blocks away, that noise returned. I drove back, pulled up, grabbed the mechanic, and took him with us. Clunk. Scrape. Crunch.

“That’s the wheel bearing!” he’s as excited as a kid with a new toy. “I can do that easily. Let’s see what’s going on down there.” He fixed it in half an hour and for less than $150. The noise hasn’t returned.

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Five mechanics. Five bills paid by credit card. Total spent. $786.

Good days and bad days

We woke up as the sun came over the snow capped mountains. I opened the doors and Harold and Rosie ran outside to sniff and pee next to Elk River, full of snowmelt and tree trunks flashing past our campsite. The sun warms me as I set up the coffee and light a fire. The dogs run free. Stevie sits in the doorway, stretching and relaxed. He pops down and follows Harold into the little clump of five-foot ponderosas. Then he catches up with Rosie in the tall grass and sage bushes that cover the open range to the north of the van. The coffee brews as I get dressed and the fire catches light and gives off a warmth that I crave. I hunker down next to it, sipping and watching the critters play together.

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Good days. Yep, we have good days. Like today, we have the safety and space to stretch our legs in peace and quiet. The river’s waves are the soundtrack. The sun marks the time of day. The routines are established. Coffee. Fire. Small walk with Stevie included. Put him back inside the van and close the doors as I feed him. Big two mile walks with dogs. Back for their breakfast, releasing the cat, and second cup of coffee for me. The fire needs tending and I sit next to it as I drink and feed it with down and dead wood found near by. I fill the bucket with ice-cold water and wash myself. I stretch for half an hour but Rosie likes to step under my version of downward dog so that’s not as easy as it could be. The sun is up fully and warm so it’s time for shorts and a tee shirt. The critters find their spots and lie down for another nap. Stevie is most comfortable on his shelf with my clothes, peering down up on us. I wash my smalls (socks and the such) in the bucket and hang them out to dry. Breakfast for me next, chopped veggies, left over chili, and an egg for this morning. I read as the fire dies down, finish the chapter, and wash the dishes.
Not a bad start to the day here in the valley north of Steamboat Springs. It’s taken us five days to cover about 600 miles. This might take a few months to get to Oregon…

 

Bad days. Yep, we have bad days. Two days of them, in a row, and I was exhausted, figuring out if I should head home and leave Stevie with friends. Or would he be happier staying even if fighting us constantly?

Fifty miles or so north of Salida, Colorado, we’re driving up another mountain pass on hwy 24 when the family has a melt down, all but Rosie.

Me: too much coffee and not enough to eat.

Harold: bum tum, needs to get out fast.

Stevie: “Let me out! Let me out! I can’t stand this! It’s too much. I hate you all. I hate you all. I’ll rip you to shreds if you don’t let me out. NOW!”

 

I pull over at the peak of the pass in a layby and let the dogs out. I grab Stevie and attach a leash and a rope to that. I open the door and he makes a run for it, through the trees, heading away from the family and the van that he hates so much. He’s all over the place, panting and wheezing and having a panic attack. I hold the rope and follow him around, hoping he’ll wear himself out. Finally he pees under a pinion and wheezes as he walks slowly back to the van and jumps in and finds his water bowl. I unloop the rope but attach his leash to the crate inside so that he can’t make a jump out of a window or door if he has another panic attack.
I eat some sandwiches, and Harold hides behind the trees making funny noises. Rosie just sniffs and wanders round before begging for the crust. I’m exhausted. How do I do this when Stevie hates it so much? Was it wrong of me to bring him along? I don’t know but that morning was the hardest this week. His anguish tore me up.

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Later that day, we arrived at Crosho Lake, a small 30-acre lake in the Flat Tops outside of Yampa, Colorado. It’s a glorious little deep blue pond surrounded by snow covered mountains and untouched ponderosas and aspens. Local fishers park just past this free National Forest campground and for some reason I’m uneasy. The dogs jump out and explore as I set up camp. Stevie is inside the van still. Harold and Rosie chase something up through the trees behind me and Harold comes back with ears down, looking uneasy. The trucks come and go, loud voices and louder music. I’m uneasy. I’d hoped to stay here a couple of nights but we don’t. I keep Stevie on a rope at all times, even though it means that his morning walk is a scramble through the woods with me trying gamely to keep up. It works though, he’s worn out by the time we get back to the van and he simply jumps up to his happy place, the clothes shelf. His leash is then tied to the crate again. This valley, as beautiful as it is, is not safe for us. I pack up, douse the fire, and we head for Steamboat Springs north of here by only 80 miles. We drive up and down huge mountain passes in the Rockies; the Continental Divide is my constant companion on this trip it seems. The van, known as Vera Danell VanDreamy McLeamy, climbs and descends these mountains without a hiccup. From 6800 feet to 13,541 and back to 7900 feet in half an hour. No worries, mate.

 

In Steamboat, I find a pet store and explain the stress on my poor kitty. Susan finds me some calming treats, but they’re for dogs so she calls the manufacturer and asks about giving them to a cat. No worries we’re told. I also get some Rescue remedy for us all. Susan chatted to me a while, easing my tension with simple conversation. Oh, and next door was a liquor store so I got a six-pack for my own mental health. Rescue remedy in the water bowls for the critters and direct into mouth for me. I take the dogs for a walk downtown and along the river, it’s great, I like the style and the feel of the place. I’ve left Stevie with the special dog treat and laced water, hoping for a mellower cat.

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Susan, from the pet store, recommended Elk River Road, which was on my research list as a place of camping in the forests and it’s good that a local tells me the same. We find the turn off and pull off on the NF 400 dirt road until I see some dispersed campsites by the river. A few others are camped here and I find a space with fire pit and obvious parking spot a short distance away. I step out alone and take a breath. It feels safe. I have no strange fears or creeping nerves. I open the doors and let the critters out. We walk, all of us, Stevie unleashed and free, and he does his happy skip and follows Harold. It’s a good day. Finally.

 

Good days and bad days. I have to listen to my instincts. I can’t keep to a rigid plan if the campsite isn’t good for all of us. When it’s a short term, one night, we have to stop kind of a place; I’m okay with keeping everyone on leashes and ropes. It’s temporary. They all walk pretty well on leash, the dogs follow my lead, and at other times, I have to follow Stevie’s. At night, I research other options, the next places along the route I’ve roughly planned for us. I consider distances and keep our driving days to 150 miles maximum. The mornings are spent with walks, campfires, and breakfast. If we’re staying and it’s therefore safe for us all, the doors are open and we laze around, in and out of the van, napping for the critters, and fiddling around for me. I check out the next destination for reviews online (when I have the Verizon connection) and descriptions, looking for small lightly used NF and BLM campgrounds that are free, or close to. Places that aren’t too closed in but where the dogs and hopefully Stevie can walk safely with no surprises. It’s a process, working out what we need now that Stevie is with us. Shade for the van in the daytime. Little traffic. Quiet and calm. That’s the goal.

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Today though is a good day. Rosie has been amusing herself playing in the dirt. Harold naps on my (our) bed. Stevie naps on his shelf. I did the laundry, read, cooked, and cleaned up before reading some more. The afternoon will be much of the same.

 

 

WYOMING

 

Finally, we made it out of Colorado. It took me a week to drive 700 miles, a roundabout kind of a route through the Rockies and up into southern Wyoming. I’d heard of a small rustic campground in the Dinosaur National Monument but on further research found that the road was severely rutted after winter and hadn’t been fixed yet. My attitude to Vera the Van is slightly more timid and cautious than with Faith the 4Runner. This is my home now, I need to take no extra risks than are necessary. With map and smartphone in hand, the back up plan was to shange directions and head towards Willard, Colorado and then north towards Saratoga, WY. That’s where we are, but again, not as originally planned.
The BLM campground (the turn off is at mile marker 17 on Hwy 130) was so flooded there was no road, no tent sites, and no river as such. It looked like swamp lands of Alabama. I parked near by, took my shoes off, and we splashed our way around, taking photos, and watching Rosie dive in and out of the puddles and running river. Then the mosquitos found me.

Back at the van, Stevie was unimpressed and sat inside. I made a cup of tea, slathered DEET all over me and sat down to work out what next. This is the good side of driving slowly and not very far every few days, I’m not tired or stressed. Hundred and fifty miles at most every other day, this will take months to get to Oregon! The animals are more relaxed and at ease with this pace too, even the cat. When plans change, I have the time to sit and find another place for the night. This time it was to head back into Saratoga to the city owned fee campground on their wildlife reservoir. It’s empty, spacious, and full of birds, including a whole flock of cranes, magestically swooping overhead to land in the water and float by. Over and over again. Peacefull. The slight storm last night kept the sky colorful and the rain soft against the roof. It was a great way to fall asleep.
The doors are open, and all four of us went for a walk this morning along the lake. The mosquitos are the only downside but more goop and they leave me alone. Rosie is sleeping under the table in the shade, Stevie and Harold are in the van on the bed. Coffee, walk, breakfast, cleaning up, and stretching, that’s how I start my days.

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This afternoon, we’re heading into Saratogo itself. There is a library so I can get internet and send off my articels, check emails, and research Lander Wyoming. The other charming thing about this town of 1450 is the hobo hot springs downtown, with showers and a park. That will be my reward for doing my homework, oh there’s a brewery within a block. Yep. A good day.

 

 

 

 

Taking Cat Stephen for a ride

Taking Cat Stephen for a ride. Okay, so Cat Stephen is more commonly known as Little Stevie, a somewhat feral cat that came to our home when only a few weeks old.

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He’s an indoor/ outdoor kitty, a fierce tiger at home. This is his first camping trip. We’ll see how he does. Since I worry about the little bugger at home, I figure I can worry about him on the road as well. He’s wearing a harness these days, and he’s tied up to a thin leash that is attached to the van itself. This way he can’t jump out when I’m stopped for gas or to stretch my legs.

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Day one in the van with two dogs and a cat went surprisingly smoothly. The first mile out of my place is dirt road, shaking up the van nicely, and Stevie was contained in the large soft carrier. He didn’t like the noise. He didn’t like being contained. It was loud. For about ten minutes. He protested. I reassured. Rosie looked out the window and Harold looked worried.

 

North of Ojo Caliente, about an hour and a half from home, I pulled off onto a Forest Service road and let the dogs out. I opened up the windows, pulled down the screens, and let Stevie out of the carrier. With a bowl of water and the freedom to stretch his legs a little in the peace of a stopped vehicle, I left him to it. Five or ten minutes later, we returned, the dogs had run, peed and pooped, and were in a better mood. This was now the test. Attaching Stevie to the leash and opening the doors for him to explore. He didn’t want to, not really. A very nervous tiger he was, he scooted under the van, but it seemed to help him, to hang out with all of us outside, drink a little water, take a break.

When we set off again, I had him attached to his lightweight leash, which in turn was attached to the thin long dog tie-down. This way Stevie could find a favorite place in the van yet I knew he couldn’t escape through a window or door when I would next stop. We drove quietly for another hundred miles and pulled off on FR250 heading into the Rio Grande National Forest. The river flowed thick and fast, flooding much of the valley to the left of the dirt road. After five miles we stopped for a lunch break and the dogs ran through the meadow to the river and soaked up a gallon each, Rosie returned a brown wet dog instead of her usual white self. Great.

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Stevie timidly stepped down and under the van. He no longer seemed as shocked by the day’s events, but more curious. He showed no interest in running off which was great. We hung out in the shade of the van and ate a sandwich, drank water, the usual kind of light meal. Stevie popped back into the van and climbed up on the shelf again, his happy spot.

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I’d forgotten how far it to get to Stunner Pass and a slowly driven twenty nine miles later, along a narrow steep gravelly switch-back laden road we came to the pass of 10,541 feet. Snow hid in the shade of the barren Aspens. Rosie was getting restless. Harold and Stevie were quiet. The campground of five sites had only one other family. I let the dogs roam free, attached Stevie to the tie-out, and opened up the doors, settling in for a few days here. The Alamosa River is full of snowmelt and the constant roar reminds me of the ocean. This is stunning, a deep valley between ranges, with tall pines and a thick forest of Aspens only just beginning to bud out.

In 1892, some four hundred miners set up camp here during the Gold Rush, with a post office next to the river and mail delivered by sled dog for six months per year. By the early 1900’s though, all but a few miners had moved on looking for more gold, more gold, and more gold. There is one cabin at the entrance to this primitive campground, partially restored by the looks of it, but falling down again.

In the middle of the night, Harold wakes me shaking and whimpering as he looks out the window. It’s cold for sure and I figured he’d seen or heard some animal and was scared. With a blanket over him, I fell back asleep. I woke soon though to the sounds and smells of diarrhea. Yep, Harold shat all over the van carpet. Poor bugger. I struggled to find the flashlight and attach Stevie to a leash. Harold leaps out unhappily as I throw out his bed and the carpet matt. I look down to see I’m standing in wet sloppy brown poop. Shit. Yes. I climb out, it’s bloody cold, and I wash off in the dogs’ water bowl. Harold has climbed back inside onto my bed and fallen asleep, snoring. Rosie is still asleep. Stevie purrs.

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The morning at the campsite is even better than last night, a slow moving mist, the roar of the river, a smoky fire and strong coffee. The other campers left early. The doors are open to the van and all animals are off leash, free to roam. Stevie comes and goes a little, all the sights and sounds and smells suitably awe him. His shelf is his happy place. Harold’s bum is still giving him issues. Rosie is muddy again. And I’m tired and my cheeks (upper cheeks) ache from smiling so much.

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Life is good.

Making screens for a camper van

The motivation: Stevie (the cat) and the two dogs need to be contained inside the van at times, and the mosquitoes need to stay outside.

The research: I looked online and didn’t come up with many ideas but one caught. I can’t remember who did it but the basic idea was to use snaps as the way to connect the screens to the van itself. Andrea recommended getting screens from a fabric store, as it’s softer, more flexible than those for doors and windows at a DIY store. Made sense to me. I put the word out before heading to town though and ended up with three kinds of material to use. All are softer, and I can see through them, which I like.

The method: Since I didn’t have any belting to sew onto the edges of the material to stop it from ripping, I found some lightweight canvas. I measured the side door first. Thinking I’m likely to have one of the side doors open and that I’d climb in and out at times, I halved that width. I did add a couple of inches for an overlap.

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First off, I sewed an edge of canvas along the top to the soon-to-be-screen door. It’s not pretty; I’m more of an impressionist than perfectionist…it works though.
I had bought some supposedly heavy-duty snaps from Lowes last week, just in case. They’re small but seem tough and well made. We’ll see how they hold up though. It says 15 pieces on the container but in all only makes six snaps. I’ll have to get more, even for this one small side door.

Using a knife to cut a hole in the material where I wanted the first snap, it fixed in solidly to the canvas edge I’d made. I then held it up to the body of the van, marked the spot, and screwed in the base as directed on the box. I didn’t pre-measure anything but simply held the screen across the top edge, marked the ideal spot on both the van and the screen and went one by one. It works for me. Not the most detailed of workers, the snaps ended up holding the material tightly across both top and bottom.

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I’ll have to pick up more snaps for the sides. I’d like to know that I can fall asleep with the door open and that Stevie, the little bugger, won’t decide to crawl out for another adventure. We’ll see.

Now I’ve sorted out a method, I’ll go ahead and do the other half of the side doors and hopefully I have enough material for the back doors too. For a first attempt, I’m pretty chuffed. It works! Just need a bunch more snaps to play with…

Part two: I have more snaps, but only six of them unfortunately. I did get Velcro though. The plan is to screen off the small windows in the doors themselves, they open outwards a couple of inches, more than enough for a wriggly cat, and enough for a thousand mozzies. Not good either scenario.

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I measured, well, I held the material against the window and cut it a couple of inches wider on all sides. I then cut the heavy duty Velcro both sides of it and lay strips across the top and bottom of each window. Tearing off the protective plastic off the sticky side of the Velcro, I held the screen material across the top and pulled it tight before attaching it to the bottom line. The sides were loose though so I added a couple of shorter pieces of Velcro and stuck it all together, pushing it firmly to stick in place. I left it alone all afternoon and went to the pub.
Stacy mentioned how the Velcro didn’t stick well to the vinyl when she tried to do the same in her own van and that’s exactly what happened when I got home. The whole tape just pulled up and away. But! Now I had more snaps. So adding just one on each corner at the bottom means that I can pull up the screen and the Velcro does its job just fine, with a little help of the snaps that is. Yep, that works. I now have working screens on two back windows and a large one across one of the side panel doors. Not bad for a Sunday.

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Heavy duty Velcro. ($8 for 4’ by 2”)

Heavy duty snaps. (6 for $7.50)

Scissors.

Measuring tape for the more detailed approach.

Screen material from your friends.