Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Memorial Weekend

Memorial weekend was the 7th annual CnC campout at Yucaipa Regional Park. We had the worst weather in the history of the campout, with rain the first day and COLD the whole weekend. About a dozen couples show up, and all their kids. (hard to believe those couples are in their 40s now). So this was a big outing in spite of the weather. I was glad to have the RV as nights were winter-like. Where is global warming when you need it?
Per Jo's blog I took Micah & Sarah fishing. Sarah was very attentive to her pole, but Micah was all done in about ten minutes. (If Sarah catches a fish I think she will be "hooked" for life.) Micah decided to leave but showed up a few minutes later saying he couldn't find his way back to the campsite. No one around us caught anything so pescadorial skills didn't seem to be the problem. The sign said they stocked 1000 lbs of fish only three days before we arrived but I only saw a few fish on stringers all weekend.
Favorite moment... Someone took along some plastic sleds. I think they were snow toys. A steep weed covered hill became the toboggan area for the kids. Sarah took to the event early. Micah and Seth a little later. With no one else on the hill I chanced to glance at the top and see Micah situating himself on the front of the sled, with little arms wrapped around him from behind (it was Seth!), and away the two of them went. They reached the bottom, all smiles. Click on the pix to enlarge and get the full facial effect.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

What's going on?

What's going on? Not a lot really. Mom continues to improve. She still has the congestion but feels well again. I have had my congestion for over a month now, though it abates a little more every day. Almost gone for me. So I expect she will have the same a few more weeks.

Mom babysat Seth Friday. What a turnaround for teh little guy. He didn't want anything to do with her a year ago and would cry for a half hour if Jo left him. Now he climbs up on the couch and snuggles with Gamma. Typical boy, built a tower of blocks and then would slowly put pressure on it til it fell over, then start again. It's a pleasure to have him.

We turned unseasonably hot. Over 100° the last few days. We plan to haul the 5er all the way to Yucaipa Regional Park for the CnC campout over Memorial day weekend. Looking forward to that, especially if the weather cools a little by then. With these fuel prices we haven't had the RV out in many months. John, Jo, and family plan to join us.

We bought a digital-analog converter box for the TV. I'm impressed. I was surprised to see we picked up about twenty more channels (Auto-search found 59 local channels. Including six or seven Spanish, one Japanese). Instead of getting, say, channel 28, we get 28-1, 28-2, 28-3, 28-4, all different programming. The guy at radioshack recommended this Zenith box. I don't know if one brand is the same as another, but this is a trick little tuner with all kinds of bells and whistles.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Hey Doc!

Mom had a scheduled annual doctors appointment a day ago and mentioned her raspy cough and general lack of vitality. Doc (He was GG's Doc) listened to her lungs and pronounced his verdict. Possible pneumonia. Then to the hospital for x-rays. Four and a half hours after we started the health detective process with Doc we picked up a prescription on the way home from x-ray and she started on antibiotics. I felt sorry for Mom not feeling well and having to endure the hospital paperwork mill and wait. Now, thirty-six hours later, she is beginning to feel a little better. She still has the cough and is very plugged in the sinuses, but hopefully is on the road to recovery.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Big Six-Oh

Yesterday, with little fanfare, I crossed into another decade. This one seems different than those previous as the past year has been the first for me actually beginning to feel old. In many ways it was just another day except for Joanna and family inviting us over for her Thai cooking, complete with chopsticks. It was very good. Then the traditional candles on the non-traditional birthday banana cream pie LOL and singing of Happy Birthday, and touching homemade cards from the kids. Two other highlights were phone calls from grandkids in Oregon and Texas. I pick up the phone, hear a second of silence, and then little unsure voices start singing and gradually get more confidence until it's a full blown concert. Gracie did a sweet solo of her heretofore unknown rendition. It's stuff to make a grandparent smile!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

The Naked Truth about Death Valley

May 2007. Lone Pine, California.
Death Valley! The name conjures up visions of risk and parched bones bleaching under a relentless sun. May is usually heating up Death Valley. We are lucky this year. The weather is almost chilly. Our adventure conceived some months earlier when a Park Ranger told a certain buggyholic and myself about the most desolate, remote trail in the Park, and warned strongly against taking it. Talk about waving a red flag in front of a bull. Nine buggies volunteer for a day of the worst Death Valley has to offer. When we turn off the highway we will be headed remote: No cell service, no restaurants, no gas stations. Tow service? Forget it. The number of rugged miles away from help at apogee from civilization: plus or minus eighty-five. Two street-buggy vagabonds from the Texas Club fly into Las Vegas to accompany us on their first off-road adventure, video camera in hand. We invite the father of the fiberglass dune buggy, Bruce Meyers. One can see the desire in his energetic road warrior eyes. Then his 80 year old body exclaims, “You’ll be doing how many miles of desert!?” Alas, he has to help get ready for the main club event on Saturday.

We are on the road quarter-past early. Our first incident happens forty minutes later near Big Pine. We all wait, and wait, while buggy with No Name’s owner searches for Big Pine Hardware. And then wait again while he installs the missing part while blocking a convenience store gas island, in an attempt to get a shock absorber participating in the run again. I secretly wonder what we are getting into as we haven’t left pavement yet. Gas tanks topped off, we head out with purpose. I glimpse a California Highway Patrol behind a berm on the outskirts of town. My fun loving buggy brain says pedal to the metal; max decibels. CHiP ignores us as nine buggies sneak past at less than quarter throttle. In a few moments we are back to warp speed attacking thirty-eight miles of “S” curves on a deserted, narrow, mountainous, desert road. Finally, there they are in the distance, the Eureka Valley Dunes, our first landmark. Now to find the access turn. A solo truck is parked facing the wrong way on the side of the road. It doesn’t look out of place, unless being the only vehicle we have seen in thirty-eight miles qualifies as out of place. The lead buggies find our turnoff and wait for everyone to catch up. Someone has a flat tire. During the tire change ceremony, complete with armchair quarterbacks, Mr. Solo Adventurer from the truck walks over. The desert hasn’t been kind. Seems he has broken four of five wheel lugs on a rear drum. Can we help? We suggest taking one lug from each of the good wheels and replacing the bad lugs. Mr. Solo Adventurer wants to know what tools are, and gives man’s best friend the last of his water. Obviously this guy wasn’t a boy scout. The desert provides unique opportunity for some great ethical debates. Do we give away our lifeline water or not? Our route will take us deeper into the valley of potential demise, we will be traversing unknown terrain, and might need all our water if we get stranded. Han Solo (I’m tired of typing Mr. Solo Adventurer) is on a mapped road. The Park Service has dropped our proposed route from the map because of the desolation and danger to unprepared travelers. Fortunately the day is not hot and we figure this guy should be ok. Not to mention some water remains in his dog’s dish if Han gets thirsty. Our resident surveyor, Jimbo, who knows right where we are at all times, tries a mayday on his Citizen Band transceiver. His radio has been to one of those underground repair shops and is suppose to reach to infinity and beyond. We hear only static in reply. No sense backtracking to find Han help as that would take half a day. Add a few hours and we will hopefully be on the other side of our objective. Bossman tells the guy he will report his distressed location when we finish our run. Time is of the essence. We gotta (sic) cover ground as everyone wants to make it back in time for happy hour. Six miles of washboard later, hardly felt at 50 MPH, we are alongside the tallest dunes in the western hemisphere. Tall or not, “if ya seen one sand dune ya seen em all.” We take a few pictures of the dunes complete with ant-sized homo sapiens from a college climbing toward the distant summit. Good, they will find Han Solo on their way out. Gotta keep moving.

I can’t find the right road. Folks wonder whether I have been out in the sun too long as I take them on a few wrong loops. Oh, there it is. At least I hope we are headed the right direction. Some of the most beautiful variegated mountains I have ever seen are on the left. We leave the sand depository behind and do a gradual ascent along the face of a short ridge when the road turns left up a wash. Dedeckera Canyon? None of us have ever been here and something in the back of my mind wonders whether I am leading lemmings into disaster. The route narrows and snakes the canyon and the walls steepen to semi-cathedral causing endorphins to explode in my brain. All the distance has been worth the trouble. The area is fantastic; buggying at its best. I negotiate a jump-up and find a place to park to watch the menagerie behind me try to make the scramble. Cameras abound. Everyone is doing fine when a buggy named Gadget decides to show off. 2500cc’s should torque the climb. Nope. Back away a little and try again. Nope. Back way way up and…. I think I see the noonday sun under the front wheels as Gadget clears the top. Surveyor chances upon a winch anchor the wimpy jeeps use. Our buggies do us proud. No winches, no sweat. A few buggies later and we are all up. The canyon is so narrow at one point the ranger at Park headquarters advised SUVs can’t fit. We all squeak through the bottleneck. Onward and upward to Steele Pass. I’m losing a little power. We stop for lunch near the top. I pull valve covers and loosen valve lash on my first-time-out fresh engine. Someone is done with lunch early and shows up with a camera. Go away, I’m busy. That approach doesn’t work. I fear I’m going to be a poster child for field repairs. Once on the trail again the power is back.

Miles later I come to a fork in the road. I learned long ago when you come to a fork in the road take it! Being a fan of Robert Frost I take the road less traveled. Very soon my radio starts barking that I have taken the wrong turn. Not wanting to reveal my mistake I pretend to be looking for a place called Marble Bath. Eons of wind and water erosion have carved out beautiful depressions in the colorful rock. But alas, right after Al Gore invented the internet George W. caused global warming which caused atmospheric patterns to change which caused the wind to blow the opposite direction which buried Marble Bath under tons of desert aggregate. I consider for a moment the irony that the same government which created this National Park is now secretly and deliberately plotting to destroy it. But I am pulled back to the moment by the constant squawking of my radio saying I have gone the wrong way. With apologies to Robert Frost I turn around. Sure enough, the other fork leads home.

The descent is boring. No, the descent is long and boring. We endure mile after mile and what seems like hour after hour of scrub creosote and rocky two track. We can see forever. But it’s boring. Gradually the salt flat in the bottom looms larger and a few palm trees begin to dot the valley floor. These are hot spring oasis frequented by Charlie Manson and “family” when they hung out in this remote location in the 60’s. Saline Valley is part of Death Valley National Park now, but the local au naturel visitors haven’t heard that. Or, is it that the Park Service doesn’t know how to enforce nudity laws eighty-five miles from the closest anywhere? Either way, the bare necessities are in vogue here. No one is crazy enough to use the route we came down so occupants aren’t expecting guests from the “backside.” We get close before they hear us. Most retreat at our approach. Quick, where are my dark glasses? Talk about backside. Buggy friends are yelling at my wife, “Look Paulette, Look!” But her eyes are glued to the floorboard. That’s my girl. The many hot spring pools are fantastically beautiful, helped along by some retired tile-setter out boondocking long ago. I suspect he was trying to get an even tan.

Heading west we go past the Batman wind pole (The reader is encouraged to use vivid imagination here. I don’t know how else to describe this man made attraction.) Ahhh. The main road through the valley at last. (“Main” road is not to be confused with “good” road.) The route takes us south with only 65 miles to go. We motor past old tram stanchions, stark sentinels of the value of the mineral content in the valley floor a century ago. The tram took salt over the 9,000 foot mountain to the railhead near Lone Pine. Here several of the fairer sex have need of facilities. Not believing when I tell them there is a McDonalds around the next bend we all separate to allow enough distance on the playa so the scrawny creosote bushes provide some optic privacy. There aren’t many bushes. 400 yards ought to do it. The next landmark is Grapevine Canyon, probably because of the grapevines there. The road is somewhat steep and winding with several decent “yee-haw” water crossings, and some fantastic overlooks. We climb hard into pinion pines for a number of miles, then descend again and cross onto intermittent patches of macadam remaining from some early 1900’s road. These road builders didn’t have the technology to move the mountain. The flat roadbed winds and climbs and winds and descends. The descending unbanked turns are particularly spooky. Add a liberal sprinkling of potholes. Gradually I adjust to reading the road and slalom around the potholes too. The ride becomes fun but requires constant vigilance. I haven’t checked my rear view mirror for awhile and suddenly realize no one is behind me. I turn the buggy around and find all the buggy aficionados competing to see who can donate their gas to a fuel starved comrade. These buggy people have bigger hearts than Oprah what’s-her-name. Then again, gas was only $2.40 a gallon in the Spring of 07 (Oh for the good ole days), and everyone wanted to get back in time for happy hour. OK, let’s go. But Surveyor’s buggy won’t start. Cabo’s Manxter buggy to the rescue. Cabo has wanted to show off his new 1915cc engine all day and he was so quick to throw out a towstrap we suspect he sabotaged Surveyor’s carburetor, but no one could prove it. Dope on a rope (it’s a term of endearment) in tow we head for civilization. Only forty miles to go. Eight miles later we cross onto State Highway, make a right, and zip past the now defunct Joshua tree pictured on the cover of the U2 album appropriately named, “Joshua Tree.” I originally planned to stop but the sun is getting low in the sky. Cabo has a tailwind and is wound out in third pulling Surveyor. We can see the campground twenty miles away. We are a horse heading for the barn. Owens dry lake glides past to the south. Civilization, blessed civilization! We traversed 214 miles, much of it the most remote and desolate terrain in the continental United States. The Texas boys wonder aloud how they are going to convey this adventure to the folks back on the range. Bossman phones the CHP and the rescue of Han Solo is under way. Bummer, we missed happy hour. No problem. These are buggy people, and it’s five o’clock somewhere.
(Everything in this story is true, whether it happened that way or not.)


Because the RV is big I need a special endorsement on my Calif drivers license for the weight classification. I obtained the endorsement last July. It is rare for the DMV to do these, the DMV guy said they only see about two a year, and no one knew quite what was required. They had me take just about every test they had. Plus they wanted a health certificate from my Doc. I studied, took an extra hour of written tests including that they made me take a motorcycle written test (go figure). Then they changed the rules on me midstream. Though I had already taken the tests and passed they apologized and said I only needed to take one of them and trashed the rest. At least I got the endorsement sticker. I showed the endorsement to a CHP I chanced to meet, and he had never seen one and didn't know they existed.

In a few days, on my birthday, my drivers license expires. A renewal never came in the mail. I am lucky I noticed. So I called DMV Sacramento. The rep said something was amis, my endorsement was listed as "pending" and "void" at the same time in the DMV computer, and I had to go to the local office to straighten it out. Not my favorite place. But I made the trip. Fortunately I got a nice helpful guy. After much searching he finally found the "real" criteria, realized I had been forced to jump through more hoops than necessary, and on my word and the fact I had the endorsement sticker reinstated everything. So far so good, until he took it to the boss with the center desk. His boss said I had to take a driving test, one of the few things they didn't require before. I told him that was interesting as I haven't had a ticket in 36 years and have been pulling the 5th wheel RV for 3.5 years. No matter. The Gestapo had spoken. He gave me a temporary license, and now I need to brush up on the driving criteria and make an appointment for a driving test. I'm not paraniod but my big fear is I'll do the test and the next DMV aficionado will come up with a different set of criteria. :-( The Lord must think I need patience. Or I may be paraniod after all.

39th Anniversary Outing

It's been awhile and some of the daughters have been after me to post. We (especially me) are affected by in the current economic uncertainty so I have been spending almost every day working on sprucing up the rental property in an effort to find a new tenant. Feels good to be working, and my arthritis is behaving. That helps. But we canceled all our travel plans including Alaska, Moab/Texas, and Yellowstone.

We did head out for a few days for a buggy run in NoCal with 18 other buggys. Coincidentally it was our 39th anniversary (!), but we didn't tell anyone because Paulette got sick. At first I thought she had the cold I have been battling for 3+ weeks, and assumed she would handle it in similar fashion. We both went on the first run and midway she started feeling poorly. We terminated the run and headed for camp. At her urging I went on the second buggy run and left her to sleep. That night she was quite a bit sicker than I had been. In fact, I think she was as ill as I have ever seen her. She slept most of the remaining time we were in Clearlake, Calif.. Heading for home we drove only about three hours before stopping for the night. That was probably a good thing as she wasn't doing well enroute. The next day was another 7+ hours to get home and she handled that better. Each day since has seen some improvement, and we went out to eat last night, but after a week Paulette doesn't have her strength back to normal. She told me she now weighs less than at any time since we got married, and less than when she graduated from High School. In response I said she needs to add on a few more pounds to look healthy again. If she loses any more weight I'm taking her to the doc. We are waiting for Mom to get better to celebrate our anniversary.

The above is the important family info. Here is a little of the recreational activity. The second day seven buggies did a "technical" run. By that I mean it had a high degree of difficulty traversing 21 miles of dirt. The lead buggy made the ascent to the top of a rutted area and stopped to get pix of the rest of us negotiating the rough. I was last in line. Here is the pix he got of me. We couldn't believe it when we saw the pix. I knew I was bouncing along and powering up the deep ruts, but had no idea the front end came off the ground that far. You get an idea about the angle of the climb by looking at the lake in the background. The guys joked they are going to do a buggy calendar next year and I'll be Miss September. B-)