Precious hours had been wasted waiting for a thaw at our campsite in Williams which clearly wasn’t going to happen that day. We should have packed a sledge hammer and chisel as we were frozen into place.
Completely unused to and unprepared for it, our mental functions weren’t cooperating at 15°F, probably lower taking into account wind chill, but we didn’t need a weatherman to tell us it wasn’t the weather for standing around, scratching our heads and thinking hmmm, now what do we do? More by desperation than determination, we prized the trailer off the frozen ground with a screwdriver, a hammer and swear words and pressed on.
Next was the actual hitching up of the car to the trailer. At some point in the previous months we had taken up divorce free docking, a technique which involved switching roles to keep our marriage intact. Now I reverse the car while Jimmy gives the docking hand signals. This allowed me to appreciate what himself had told me all along, how sensitive the accelerator is when the car is in reverse. Jimmy has learned for himself how difficult it is to position the hitch over the ball on the trailer without standing directly over the hitch and using stupid little finger gestures which need to be visible at all times in one or the other of the rearview mirrors. To eyeball the mission’s progress one must be on a collision course with a car driven by a spouse who has already been snapped at that morning.
Part of the tow kit is two “lead” bars, of a heft and length that might be useful to a gangster, attached to the hitch on the car which Jimmy had put in place the night before for a quick a.m. getaway.
I had been tentatively backing the car on icy ground onto the trailer guided by his confident hand signals when I heard a yelp and he vanished, like a magician’s assistant. Certain I’d run over him, I leapt from the driver’s seat. Expecting to see him trapped under the wheels of the car it crossed my mind, well he told me not to stand there.
I found him doubled over, hands on knees, wheezing and speechless with pain. After some gasping and pointing from him I understood that the “lead bar” had attacked him. We examined the damage to his ankle to find he’d lost a large flap of skin. There was nothing I could do for him, except to think to suggest that we pack the wound with snow to stop the swelling. I kept that little nugget of medical wisdom to myself for about two hours when the pain had subsided and he’d warmed up in the car. He was then able to smile weakly at the thought of the relief it could have brought and the modicum of humor in the situation.
We’d also had some sewer pipe issues earlier which I won’t explain in graphic detail but rigid plastic and seriously cold weather don’t go well together. A stop at the first rest area on the interstate ensured everything was still well contained and traveling along with us to a warmer place where we could get rid of it. The next snowfall at the last campsite would blanket the mishap we had.
Once off the interstate, we crossed the Little Colorado River and mini canyon and bowled through the Painted Desert. Extravagantly colored hillsides flashed by the car window so quickly I hardly took them in. “Look! Oh! That must be . . . awww. It’s gone.”
Disappointment was replaced with awe as we entered Monument Valley. We warmed up and cheered up as the sights took our breath away (the second time that day for Jimmy).
We camped right in Monument Valley on Navajo Nation land. The terracotta earth was dry, the glowing canyon walls rose above us, our view to the east was of a landscape that has graced dozens of western films and the temperature only dropped to 20°F that night – positively balmy.
The contrast between Williams and Monument Valley couldn’t have been more striking. In a country of three and a half million square miles, our journey from one to the other had been miniscule – 207 miles – and yet we’d left a bleak grey/white unutterably cold landscape and arrived in the welcoming scene that is Monument Valley. The valley floor and walls were warm to the touch. Our demeanors soared. The wind had dropped, the air was dry. The setting ebbed the tension out of our bodies.
I would have been able to sit comfortably outside and vegetate if I hadn’t felt the need to start taking the first of the 500 photographs I would accumulate in the next three days. Not a single one of them needed to be deleted.
Please indulge me by glancing at a few photos. It’s so hard to pick just a few!!!
As we continued the long process of leveling and unhitching, plumbing and plugging in, unpacking and tidying up, the aforementioned flies (Poor Judgment) left their shady idyll and came to see what we were doing. We swatted and flicked and didn’t think too much of it until I washed out a few smalls and hung them up. “Oh, look. They’re attracted to pink.” They were also attracted to white and black and glass and wood and chrome and human flesh. They began to set themselves up for the night on the leeward side of the trailer like a sociable Spanish family who will sit beside you on an otherwise empty beach.
It was hot and we were tired so we shut ourselves in for the evening and had an early night. By early night I mean we went to bed, not to sleep. Freight trains plied a steady trade and you could tell even in the dark if they were trundling east or west simply by listening to the whistle.
By 3:oo am I ceased to cat nap between the guess-the-direction-of-the-trains game as the wind had picked up and the awning was flapping and banging its supports. Jimmy had another long drive ahead of him so I left him to doze as best he could while I dashed outside in my nightie to tension the strut on the awning. The flies immediately descended on my bare arms, face and back so I performed a swatting sort of break dance as I pushed the strut, twiddled the knob and hopped back indoors.
Wide awake now I watched daylight begin to seep through the blinds. I opened them and gazed out the window to witness a gorgeous sunrise of violet, orange and pale yellow, as the dazzling orb rose up over the horizon. Examining the golden morning through binoculars I could see clouds of flies swarming in front of the site owner’s house, keeping him company as well.
I watched swallows swooping and feeding their young, nesting in holes of old elm trees. Three vibrant yellow-headed blackbirds paid a visit to feed just outside my window and two pairs of goldfinches appeared. Off in the field I thought I could see rats and squirrels, but with the aid of binoculars I could tell they were prairie dogs, like fat rats, but so cute as they stretched up on tip toe to survey their patch.
My quiet morning nature watch was interrupted at 5:00 am when the daylight coming through the frosted window on the other side of the trailer appeared spackled with black. Opening the blind, I could hardly see out through the seething mass of flies. Unable to contain myself I ambushed Jimmy, yanking open all the blinds, shrieking, “Look! Look!” as he sat up, blinking.
As yet we were not troubled “indoors” by the flies.
An eight-hour drive towing our unwieldy trailer required an unaccustomed early start so we left for our next campsite well before the noon dismissal. We breakfasted, washed, dressed and battened down the hatches; we picked up keys, water, phones, hats, etc. and braced ourselves by the door. One, two, three, go!
Scuttling out and slamming the door quickly behind us we found one whole side of the trailer and the car black with teeny, tiny flies. The plastic cover on our heavy-duty batteries seemed to have a particular electrical attraction as it was dripping with thick lumps of flies. Neither of us has ever seen anything like it or wish to again.
But it got worse. And more comical.
“There is an awful lot of not very much here,” said Jimmy as we drove and drove and drove through the high desert of eastern
Washington – a dry, barren, biscuit-colored landscape. It dulled our senses after the lush, picturesque bank of the Columbia River. We had kept to the north bank of the river except for one brief interlude when the navigator zoned out and sent the driver over a bridge giving us lovely east and west views up and down the river, or so I insisted, and taking us into Oregon briefly.
With only had two tasks to engage my mind over the hours on the interstate I missed the exit, and failed to find a suitable campsite for the night. It was like choosing a line in the supermarket; I narrowed it down to two possibilities in the camping directory then chose the wrong one, but how do you know?
Our first clue that I’d made a bad choice should have been when we drove over an unmanned railroad crossing 50 yards before the entrance to the site. The alarms bells did not go off in our brains as they would in our ears later.
We’d unhitched the trailer from the car and plugged in to electricity before the first WHOOWHOO! WHOOWHOO! DING!DING!DING!DING!DING! Four locomotives and 110 freight cars rumbled past. Jimmy and I just stared at each other in open-mouthed stupefaction. That was strike three against the campsite. We’d already had a run in with the owner of the site for daring to drive on to his campsite and had tried unsuccessfully to outrun the flies.
It had appeared to be a pastoral, tranquil campsite with individual sites lined up along a lake, half of them under the trees and half in the open. As soon as we stopped under the trees, flies descended on us so Jimmy wisely chose to move further along to an open aspect.
He pulled forward into a field ready for a reversing maneuver as I skipped from site 19 to site 20 to site 18 and back to 19, evaluating the merits of each – level ground, good view of the lake, pretty tree outside my bedroom window.
“Make up your mind!” he yelled. His demeanor deteriorates after eight hours of driving.
Just then the owner bowled up to me in a golf cart. “Can I help you?” he began, almost pleasantly. I would have thought it was obvious why we were there.
“We’re just trying to choose a site.”
“Well you should have come to see me first,” he spat. “I’ve got a lot of people coming in.” It was five o’clock on a Thursday and I looked up and down the line of 38 empty campsites.
“The office was closed.”
“You can’t expect me to sit in there all day.”
Oh no? “As the office was closed we took a late registration envelope to pay our fee,” and I waved it at him to confirm that we hadn’t tried to sneak in behind his back.
“You have to register first. Didn’t you see the sign?”
“I saw the sign. How can we register when you’re not in the office?”
“I was on the phone in the house. You should have waited.”
How am I supposed to know that? “We phoned you for a reservation but you didn’t return our call.”
He ignored that and continued his rant. “You can’t just park anywhere.”
“Where can we park?”
“How long are you staying?”
“Well get set up here and then come and register, but you’ll have to leave by 12:00 tomorrow.”
Oh trust me, I thought, we’ll be long gone before then and why couldn’t you have asked that question first?
And that was just strike one.
I made fun of Jimmy. No change there then he would say. Walking to the Pacific shore from our secluded campsite on a sheltered path amongst scrubby shore pines, he stopped suddenly, grabbed my arm and said, “Listen. Sea lions.”
“Yeah, sure,” I said laughing.
“Yes. I heard it. Don’t be silly. It’s not sea lions.”
“Yes it is.”
“Well where are they? Hiding in the sand dunes? Camouflaged by the sea grass? Sunbathing on the beach? Arguing over brunch in their RV? There must a dog kennel over there somewhere.” I waved my hand in the general direction of the barking and waltzed off not taken in with his fanciful imagination for one moment.
It’s funny how, at a certain age, information surfaces in the brain, briefly, and then sinks without trace, but if you can hook it, reel it in and throw it into the hold of memories before it sinks it could stop you making a fool of yourself.
The next day, driving towards the local town of Newport, Oregon, I saw a sign for the Historic Bayfront and remembered having read something fascinating about it in the guidebook before we set off on our trip. But what? It wouldn’t come to me.
We swooped off the main road and parked in town beside the picturesque fishing fleet. As we got out of the car a cacophony of barking sea lions filled the fishy sea air. There were dozens of the blubbery creatures, some reputedly weighing up to a tonne, wallowing on the rocks and low-lying jetties, sunning themselves and napping. Like so many giant slugs, a great heap of sea lions appeared to form an island in the middle of the harbour. They slept on their backs. They slept on their fronts. They held tricky yoga poses. They lifted their faces to the sun, eyes closed, like New York office workers on their lunch break. But the sea lions that weren’t napping were barking. Just like dogs.
Oh yes, I remember now. I read about that in the guidebook.
I have to say, Jimmy did not gloat with triumph as I would have done. It was definitely this barking we had heard the day before and the sound had travelled a good four miles to us on the beach. We admired them from the fishing wharf until we were too cold, went for a walk, had some lunch and came back to see that many of them had not moved.
You might think one sea lion looks much like another but number “95” – distinguished by a brand on his butt – had not given up his prime position with his harem. Apparently a bull will protect his cows, as many as thirty of them, and go for weeks without food to herd them because the cows are not particularly faithful! The greedy devil! The cows!
So I stand corrected. He did hear sea lions. I was wrong and he was right, but don’t tell Jimmy. He likes to write down these occasions in his book.
I tried to spell the barking noise. Is it EU! EU! EU! or EUW! EUW! EUW! or OOOH! OOOH! OOOH? I guess you had to be there.
Our first stay in our brand, spanking, new trailer was at Fort Stevens, an Oregon State Park on the coast. We stayed from Monday to Friday to endure all the previously mentioned disasters/mishaps/stupidities and then returned to our apartment. On that Sunday the Pacific delivered one of its howlers to the west coast, downed many tall trees and knocked the power out from thousands of homes in Washington and Oregon.
We returned to Fort Stevens with the trailer a week later as a staging post on our way further south congratulating ourselves that we had ridden out the storm in the relative safety of our apartment. On arriving we discovered that in just one small loop of the 495 site campground, six once-soaring conifers had been blown down, hoisting their alarmingly small root systems from the horizontal to the vertical. The downed trunks, what was left after the rangers had been busy with their chainsaws, pointed this way and that, but amazingly none of them had come down across a campsite. Nevertheless, we were unnerved.
The campground was almost unrecognizable with more light penetrating from the now thinned tree canopy, branches piled high on the roads and verges, and the occasional unscathed RV surrounded by tree rubble looking like a ship tossed up on the beach after a storm.
The fir tree’s root system seemed not to be enough to cope with the fir’s towering height, the tallest in the area except for the coast redwoods. It is possible for densely grown trees to interlock their roots. Would that mean that should there be more ferocious winds they would hold each other up or would one weak link bring down its whole circle of friends?
We maneuvered carefully through the tree detritus and looked for a site out of range of the remaining trees. Not possible. We chose a spot, prayed that our tree neighbors had re-established their grip in the week since the storm and had a very uneasy night.
The next day the rangers were still working to clear the sites of brush and ankle-deep needles. I approached Ranger Bob and asked him, “So what kind of damage do these trees do if they come down on you? Would they slice through your trailer like butter?”
“Oh, yeah.” he told me candidly.
“So you could be killed then?”
“Oh, easily!” he told me with glee. We moved on right after breakfast . . . . . to a campground with smaller trees.