Back from a trip to the UK, we were no further forward. To complicate our already fuzzy plans, Jimmy had come down with shingles. Nerve pain, numbness and weakness in his leg forced him to walk with a stick which seriously curtailed his activities.
Should we continue? Could we continue? Could I take over the heavy process of hitching and unhitching the trailer? Desperate not to give up on our grand plan of seeing the contiguous 48 states while looking for the perfect place to live but considering Jimmy’s infirmity, we did the obvious. Nothing.
Blessed with sunshine in May and June in Washington, a state of great beauty but often dubious weather, it was a perfect excuse, if we needed one, to do nothing. In late July the weather reverted to wet with grey skies and cool temperatures which forced our hand.
We considered moving one state south to Bend in Oregon and to dither there for a while. It was on the list of places we were considering as a home port so it would be a constructive move, even if not in the right direction as the plan had been to head east.
One benefit of staying put for several weeks had been the convenience of swimming regularly. It gave me the opportunity to boost my sluggish metabolism and to try to lose a few pounds.
“Your arms are looking good,” himself told me.
“How do you mean?”
“You’ve got muscles.”
“You mean I’ve got big arms?”
“No, you’ve got nice arms.”
“Just bulked up.”
“I’ve been swimming to try to lose some flab around my middle. Not only have I put on weight, I’ve gained shot putter’s thighs and now you tell me I’ve got weight lifter’s arms.”
“What I said was that they looked good.”
“I guess there are worse things,” I said, making my bicep twitch a little while trying to work up some pride in my new sturdy physique.
“Yes, there are worse things, like bingo wings.”
“Well anyway, (after a pause where he’s thinking I wish I’d never said anything) I think you’ve got lovely arms and thighs and this bit too,” he said, poking his fingers three knuckles deep into my stack of spare tires.
I sighed in defeat. “I’ll just have to eat less.”
“You eat like a bird as it is.”
“Birds don’t have three glasses of Chardonnay with their dinner followed by ice cream and then chocolate before bed.”
“True.” At this point and before I could respond, his attention was totally riveted on the TV with the lowered brows and jutting chin that says, Don’t talk to me. I’m trying to listen to this.
It was Sharon Osborne on America’s Got Talent. He can’t stand either.
I know your game mister but I’ll let you off. I hadn’t much cared for our conversation anyway.
“So,” I began on a new topic, “shall we stay or shall we go?” That got his attention away from Sharon.
Next installment – Bend and Crater Lake.
“What?” I asked in the alarm voice that blurts out whenever himself takes a certain tone.
“The weather in Oregon! 30° tonight.”
“Well that’s nothin’ for us,” I replied, relieved. “We’re veterans of 5° nights.” Not that I’d ever want to do that again.
“High of 35° tomorrow with snow showers, 20° tomorrow night, then more snow and it won’t get above freezing the next day,” Jimmy read off the computer screen, as a gnawing dread crept back into my stomach. Three hundred miles of Oregon lay between us and Washington State.
“Maybe we should leave California right now.”
We’d had a good run of pretending it was summer right through the winter with October in Tennessee,
November in Myrtle Beach,
December in Florida,
January in Texas,
February in New Mexico and southern Arizona
and only coming a little unstuck at the Grand Canyon in northern Arizona with killer colds nights and ankle deep snow.
As we’d traveled east and then west, south and then north, sea level to high altitudes and back, we’d vacillated between using the furnace and the air conditioning, wearing swimsuits and shorts and then hauling out our thickest fleeces. But there were always blue skies.
We were prevaricating in California, unwilling to head back to Seattle for booked flights to England. Out of a sense of puerile self-satisfaction, we frequently checked the weather back in Olympia where we lived for one and a half years. As we (mostly) basked in sun and warmth, Jimmy would look it up and say, “Guess what the weather is in Olympia? Showers today, showers tomorrow, rain on Thursday and cloudy with rain later on Friday.” We took pleasure in our good fortune.
Our plan to hang out in the good weather for as long as possible and then tow the trailer 600 miles in two days needed revising. Roller-coaster-ride roads frosted with snow and ice were ahead of us. Jimmy is the wagon master so showing great camaraderie under duress, I locked myself in the bathroom with a cup of tea and my makeup box to let him figure it out.
“We dmff hv wo!!”
“We dun ho wor!! Hahaha!!” and he giggled. Jimmy never giggles. Odd.
The fan heater and radio were both on and I couldn’t make out what he was saying through the closed door. “I can’t hear you!” I bellowed, too idle to turn and open the door as I was in the middle of the delicate process of matching one eye to the other with a rainbow assortment of eye shadow.
The whole trailer then wobbled as Jimmy trotted from the dinette to the bathroom door (all of three steps) to shout through the door, “We don’t have to worry! I thought I looked up the weather in Salem, Oregon, but I looked up Salem, Sweden.” Then we both giggled. “There’s no snow or freezing weather in Oregon.”
He’s usually quite precise but sometimes I feel like a mum who should be checking Jimmy’s homework.
“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.
From an email to those back “home,” wherever that is.
I can’t quite believe we’ve made ourselves homeless for a second time. The first night in our new “home” has just hit me after the anxiety of moving out of our apartment. There will be no going back to comfort: long hot baths, endless running water, a forceful toilet that doesn’t store its contents for us to deal with later, a dishwasher, washing machine and dryer, thick pile carpet, rooms with doors that slam satisfyingly when annoyed, ample electricity (Ha! Lots of amps. Geddit? ) a swimming pool and space – lots and lots of space. Even a two-bed apartment seems roomy now compared to our all-in-one bedroom, dining room, sitting room and kitchen, with a bathroom in a cupboard.
We stuck it out for a year-and-a-half in Washington and witnessed torrential floods which caused millions of dollars in damage, wind storms prompting kamikaze conifers that took down electricity lines and left us in darkness, and day after day of grey skies, cool temperatures, drizzle, showers and cats-and-dogs rain.
The weekend we chose to move out of our apartment boasted sunny skies with a temperature of 101°F. Unhelpfully, a neighbour commented, “At least it isn’t raining so you get all your stuff wet.” Well we didn’t think of it in those terms when drenched in perspiration as we packed boxes and half dead with the heat we got a bit snappy with each other.
“Do you have to stand there? I can’t get past.”
“I’m standing in front of the fan.”
“I can see that. Can’t you move the fan?”
“No.” And that was that. There was no more energy to argue.
Now our second lot of big “stuff” is in storage and our trailer is crammed full of little stuff, not necessarily stuff we want but what was left after the removal guys took away our carelessly packed boxes. Tomorrow we’ll drive along the Columbia River which forms the border between Washington and Oregon. We’ll cover part of the Lewis and Clark trail, only in slightly more comfort than them (central heating, hot and cold water, sprung mattresses, a gas cooker, a toaster, paved roads, a vehicle with an internal combustion engine, reliable maps albeit with an unreliable navigator) when they wintered there in 1805/6 having trekked from St Louis to the Pacific.
As I lose the skin off my knuckles once again making up the fiendish bed I am unable to appreciate their hardship.
Your pathetically indecisive homeless friends
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.
After two years of “caravanning” in Europe you’d think we’d have made every mistake, suffered every disaster and be RV experts when taking it up in the U.S. For instance I’d sat on the keys on the sofa and turned all the electrics off in the caravan. Who knew a little button on the key fob could do that? And who left the keys there anyway? Fuses blew regularly with the injudicious use of a hair dryer. Always my fault. The trailer got away from us once and impaled a neighbor. I was an observer for that one. The smoke alarm was a frequent accompaniment to cooking in the tiny galley. Usually my fault. But there were still more learning experiences to come.
The day of departure for the Oregon coast in our new toy, a travel trailer:
“What’s that noise?”
“I don’t know.”
“Is it coming from our trailer?” The screeching, on a similar pitch to my tinnitus, was difficult to track down, but upon opening the trailer door a din escaped that was so loud that it knocked us both back.
“It’s the gas alarm,” Jimmy said and leapt to check the gas bottles, “but they’re turned off!” Meanwhile the racket filled the confined space in the trailer so fully that all senses were baffled. The noise was exploding out of the door.
There are three alarms on the trailer: gas, smoke and carbon monoxide. The gas alarm is near the floor – gas heavier than air – you knew that. Not convinced the gas alarm could be at fault I hopped into the trailer, got on hands and knees and put my ear next to an innocuous looking plastic box. Now, not only was my head reverberating as though it had been caught between two symbols, I was stuck in the fetal position with my hands over my ears and Jimmy had to come in to haul me up.
As our heads came up level with the battery gauge, some spark of inspiration prompted Jimmy to check the charge and discovered the heavy duty trailer batteries had died. Explain to me how, when the batteries had been draining for the six weeks since we’d abandoned the trailer in storage, the alarm chose that moment to squeal so heartily*. It wasn’t caused by human gas as one post-er claimed!
Jimmy disconnected the dead batteries, which silenced the alarm – again that made no sense* – took the batteries to the battery shop only to be told that they were kaput. Another lesson learned. Disconnect the (two $100) batteries when not using the trailer. Jimmy’s now got tinnitus to remind him. We’ve also learned that if gas leaks in the trailer, we won’t sleep through the alarm!
I blame the RV dealer – bunch of cowboys – for giving us cheap batteries that weren’t fully charged to start with. After all, why take the blame for something when you can blame someone else.
Favorite saying: “I didn’t say it was your fault. I said I was blaming you.”
*So go on. Tell me.