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Happy Trails, Part 48

Not quite four years ago I wrote a blog post worrying about the potential advent of in-flight cell phone use.

As far as I know, the Federal Aviation Administration hasn’t allowed passengers to gab out loud at 35,000 feet into their cell phones.

Which brings me to this point: My wife and I are planning to spend the vast bulk of our retirement years tethered to terra firma traveling in our RV across North America.

Air travel has become difficult enough as it is. We have been fortunate and blessed enough to be able to travel by air over the years since 9/11: Greece, Scandinavia, Israel, Germany, The Netherlands, Belize, Hawaii.

Almost all of those flights have been pleasant. The one that will stand out for the rest of my life was the flight from Frankfurt, Germany to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport while sitting across an aisle from a toddler who screamed at the top of his lungs for 10 whole hours.

I cannot fathom for a single instant how I might have reacted had I been forced to listen to some yahoo blabbing on his cell phone for that entire time, too.

I trust the FAA will keep its wits and never in a zillion years allow such in-flight idiocy to occur.

I do know that my wife and I plan to continue our travel aboard our pickup and fifth wheel RV. There will be no such nonsense to endure while tooling along our nation’s highways and byways.

Please, please, FAA: no cellphones in flight


Happy Trails, Part 47

EUGENE, Ore. — Our retirement journey took us “home,” or a place we used call it such.

We aren’t spending much time here. Our drive from central California was spectacular in the extreme.

What made it so? I guess it was the topography.

I told my wife today en route to the Willamette Valley that “I think we’ve lived in Texas for too long. I have forgotten how tall those mountains and that timber are around here.”

Don’t misunderstand something. By “too long,” I don’t imply any regrets about moving to Texas. We left Oregon in 1984 so I could pursue a career that turned out all right. Our first Texas stop was along the Gulf Coast, in Beaumont. You don’t see any mountains anywhere near that part of the world.

I remember a conversation I had with one of my sisters, who asked me not long after we moved to Beaumont, “Can you see any mountains there?” My answer: “Yeah, maybe, but only if you get waaay up on your tiptoes.”

Our fifth wheel is a reliable traveling vehicle that we intend to take virtually everywhere in North America. On this leg of our extended retirement journey, we managed to cast our gaze on some of God’s most gorgeous creations.

Mount Shasta anyone? Fall foliage, too? The Sierra Nevada? Rivers with water rushing along them? Many miles of conifer-coated mountainsides? They’re all out there. We saw them up close.

Yes, there have been the fires in Santa Rosa, Calif., and close to where we parked our RV in Grass Valley, Calif.

Retirement has enabled us to load up and hit the road to some awesome locations already: Twin Cities, Mount Rushmore, Washington, D.C., Blue Ridge Parkway, Durango, Nashville.

And on and on it goes … and will go from here.

This return to a place we once called “home” has been quite special so far. The Pacific Northwest is a beautiful place, to be sure.

I’ve heard a few of my High Plains friends tell me they get “claustrophobic” driving among all those mountains and tall timber. I get it. I actually can understand why they might feel that way.

I am not there. I likely expect to never get bitten by the claustrophobia bug.

Gold mining not exactly ‘safe,’ but the lack of loss is stunning

EMPIRE MINE STATE PARK, Calif. — Whenever I visit historic sites, I try to take something away from each visit.

We came to this mining exhibit in Sierra Nevada and discovered something quite unusual.

After they struck gold in California in 1849, they opened the Empire Mine and began digging the precious metal out. For 106 they mined gold at Empire Mine. The takeaway?

Only 26 miners died during the entire time the mine was operating.

I heard that statistic and was astounded.

The mine was primitive by the standards we know today. They lugged the metal out from deep within the surface of the planet by hand. They brought mules in later, treated them very well, and used the pack animals to haul it out.

Of the 26 miners who died while the mine operated from 1850 until 1956, only a handful of them — fewer than a half-dozen — died from rock falls. Cause of death might have been equipment failure or perhaps even mine-related illness.

The state park system has established a wonderful exhibit here, in Grass Valley, that gives visitors a marvelous look into the past. The offices contained an upright typewriter, an adding machine, table tops with T-squares and protractors and a vault that looked vaguely like a washing machine.

We stood at the top of a mine shaft that sank hundreds of feet into the dark. The shafts are now filled with water to about the 450-foot level below the surface, we were told; the water table here has filled it naturally.

Hundreds of men worked the mines at any one time. When you think of the thousands of men who toiled deep in the belly of the planet, I find it astonishing in the extreme that only 26 of them died doing this torturous work.

They were paid in the beginning $3 per day; they worked 10 hours a day; they worked six days a week. A state park ranger told us “That was good money in those days.”

They were sturdy, industrious men, to be sure. I quit long ago trying to imagine myself doing that kind of work, given that I live in the moment — today, in the here and now. Perhaps I could be a miner had I lived in that day and in that era.

A corollary question might be to wonder how those tough-as-nails men might fare in today’s world. My hunch is that they likely would fare about as well as we would being transported back to that era.

These men and women are doing heroic work

GRASS VALLEY, Calif. — The nation’s eyes, ears and hearts are dialed in to the tragedy that’s unfolding a bit northwest of here, in Santa Rosa.

Fire has destroyed thousands of homes and killed dozens of people. The death toll is expected to increase. Firefighters have poured in from all over the continent to assist in that terrible fire.

My wife, Toby the Puppy and I came to Grass Valley on vacation. En route to this marvelous place we learned of another fire. We half-expected to drive to a site full of smoke; we thought we might have to purchase surgical masks to keep from inhaling all that smoke and dust.

We arrived to find the sky relatively clear, unlike what we saw in Chowchilla about 180 miles south of here. Then we pulled into our Nevada County Fairgrounds RV park and found quite a sight: dozens of firefighters roaming around; rows of firefighting equipment; tents full of supplies (food, clothing, blankets, etc.); one-person tents pitched everywhere.

They’re fighting these fires fiercely. They seem to have caught a break with the weather. The winds were calm upon our arrival, although we heard from several folks that the previous day brought choking smoke to the area.

We visited with a young man who appears to be a senior firefighting officer. He guesses about 1,000 firefighters are on hand. He said they are coming in “from all over. The Midwest is the farthest away.” Jail inmates are fighting the fires. They’ve got CCC crews on the task, too.

He estimated that the fire has burned about 14,000 acres.

It isn’t yet contained, he said.

What’s more, the efforts of these men and women are not going unnoticed by the community. They have made signs on the chain-link fence bordering the fairgrounds. They have earned the community’s gratitude and wishes for God’s blessings to all of them.

On our way back to our RV site, we encountered four young firefighters: three men and a woman. “Where you from?” I asked. “Northern Idaho,” came the response from one of the men.

“We just want to thank you for all you do,” my wife said. “That means everything to us,” he responded. “We sure don’t do this for the pay,” he joked.

These young heroes are here apparently for the long haul, or as long as it takes.

God bless all the firefighters scattered throughout this fire-ravaged state.

Fire, smoke everywhere … everywhere!

CHOWCHILLA, Calif. — We’ve heard plenty about the Santa Rosa fires that have killed more than a dozen people and destroyed thousands of homes.

We ventured north to this town about 40 miles north of Fresno expecting to perhaps see a hint of trouble farther along the highway. We found something quite different: smoke choking everything here, although not to the tragedy that is unfolding in California’s famed wine country.

We learned upon arrival that an almond processing plant caught fire and firefighters are battling that blaze. Smoke is blanketing region all around Chowchilla. Indeed, we began noticing it in Bakersfield, 100-plus south of here.

Oh, but the Santa Rosa saga is being seen all around us here. We ran into some firefighters as we ate burgers and fries at a local drive-in. I asked if they were “fighting the fire that’s causing all the smoke around us.” Oh, no, a young man told us. He was heading up north to fight the Santa Rosa fire.

“Bless … your … heart,” I responded. “God bless you and be safe out there.” He smiled and said he surely would do that.

And so California is fighting the elements.

Indeed, we are heading toward Grass Valley in the morning. Our RV park has turned into a “fire camp” as firefighters are staging there to battle yet another set of blazes near that picturesque community. We have checked in with our RV camp hosts to ask them if the park would be safe, that it won’t be “overrun by fire sweeping through the place.” She couldn’t assure us of anything like that.

That all said, we’re going there anyway. She did suggest that firefighters are making progress in that particular battle against the flames.

If only the firefighters battling the Santa Rosa fire could offer even a hint of hope that they’ve turned the corner.

It feels considerably more frightening to us as we venture in this part of the country. We have heard about the fire, winced at news of the tragedy.

We aren’t anywhere near the center of the inferno. However, even seeing the outskirts of its effect is chilling to the max.

God bless those men and women who are thrusting themselves into harm’s way.

Ride on, convoy

NEEDLES, Calif. — As the saying goes about some places on Earth, this place isn’t the end of the world but if you get up on tippy toes, you can see it from here.

But it’s not without its charms. Tall mountains loom in the distance; palm trees dot the landscape. The weather’s pretty nice, too — except during the heat of the summer.

But my wife and I encountered a most interesting group of fellow travelers. They belong to a club that restores military vehicles. We noticed about a dozen of them at an RV park where we parked overnight.

One of them was a Royal Australian Air Force Mercury truck. (See picture with this post.) The gentleman who owns the truck, an Aussie from Queensland who now lives in Abilene, Texas, said the Merc is a 1951 model that was assigned to the Australian occupation force in Japan from 1946 to 1953.

Another fellow traveler, a woman from Truckee, Calif., said the group was traveling along Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles. Needles is near the end of their journey. “So, you must have gone through Amarillo,” I said to her. “Oh, yes. Lovely place,” she answered.

Most of the vehicles were half-ton or three-quarter ton trucks.

My thought was twofold: How cool to save these military vehicles and how what a marvelous journey to embark with friends and acquaintances across the country.

Our own journey continues as well. We’ve been more or less winging it as we work our way north from “the end of the world.”

Happy Trails, Part 46

GALLUP, N.M. — This retirement journey we’re on has taught me a wonderful lesson, which is that this big ol’ world of ours is actually quite small.

My wife and I don’t usually plug in to cable outlets when they’re available at RV parks where we stay. The RV park where we stay in Gallup has cable, so we tried it out. We usually rely on antenna reception, which is normally quite good.

We hooked up the cable. We got snowy pictures on all the channels. Lousy reception, man. I went back to the office to ask for some guidance from the RV park manager. He gave me a tip. I went back to the RV. Still no good. I unplugged the cable.

Then someone knocked on our RV door, sending Toby the Puppy into a barking frenzy.

“Hi. You were asking about cable TV?” the gentleman asked.

“My name is John,” he said. Hmm. I thought, “That’s a coincidence.” Then he added, “and I’m from Oregon.” Why he said that is beyond me. “Well, so am I,” I responded. My wife told John I grew up there. “Oh, really? Where?” he asked. “Portland,” I told him.  “I live in Corvallis,” he said.

He walked me through a couple of things about the cable hookup that I didn’t know. We tried to hook it up one more time. Still no good.

But I guess the real point of this brief blog post is to remind you all yet again that RV campers are among the nicest people on Planet Earth. They are willing to help. Such as John from Corvallis. He overheard me talking to the RV park office staff about my cable reception, so he decided to take matters into his own hands. I appreciate his thoughtfulness.

Plus, he’s a home boy from Oregon. That’s pretty cool, too.

It’s ve-wwwy quiet around here

I’m going through a touch of withdrawal.

You see, I am addicted to cable TV news shows. I cannot watch them in my house. Why? We’ve pulled the plug on our cable TV. And our land line. Soon, the Internet will be disconnected.

Our retirement journey is taking us into uncharted territory. Our fifth wheel RV is nearby. We were able to watch a couple of our favorite prime-time broadcast TV shows in our vehicle. But soon, we’ll be locking it up, starting the ignition in our pickup and heading to points north and west.

We’ll return eventually to our house, even though our RV is going to be our “home” for the next bit of time. The house will be as quiet as it is at this moment.

Our 4,000-mile journey — and that’s an approximation — will include stops that may or may not have cable TV. Those stops that do will enable me to get my cable TV news fix; those that don’t, well, I’ll have to settle for antenna reception.

I’ll be honest about something. I’m actually enjoying the peace and quiet around here. Yes, the withdrawal is real, although I’m not breaking out into a cold sweat; my hands aren’t trembling; my throat isn’t dry; I’m not snapping at my wife or at Toby the Puppy. It’s all good.

We’re preparing for the next big adventure, which includes a bit more work on the house and some decisions on how we intend to handle the moving of our worldly possessions from the house to somewhere to store all this stuff.

Then we finish touching up this and that, we put the house on the market, we live in our RV, wait for the house to sell and then …

The next — and final — adventure begins as we plot our relocation to a destination south and east of the Texas Panhandle.

As Elmer Fudd would say in the meantime: It’s ve-wwwy, ve-wwwy quiet around here — which is not an altogether bad thing.

Happy Trails, Part 41

DURANGO, Colo. — I want to proclaim that RV campers are the friendliest, most cooperative, most helpful and most eager people my wife and I have ever encountered.

We pulled into our RV park in the middle of a magnificent setting in southwest Colorado. We thought we had a pull-through site reserved for our 28-foot fifth wheel and Big Jake, our 3/4-ton Dodge pickup.

Wrong! All they had were back-in sites. We quibbled only for a moment with the park host, telling him we were promised a pull-through site when we made the reservation a couple of weeks ago.

“Can you back it in?” he asked. “Sure,” I said. “We’re not expert at it, but we’ll make it work.”

“I’ll be out in a minute to help,” he said.

We didn’t need him.

We pulled up to our site and began the process of backing ‘er up.

Then, suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere came two gentlemen. They were roughly our age. They began guiding me back. They were barking out instructions. My wife was left merely to stand there, smiling and chuckling at the fellows’ wonderfully noble intentions.

I tried to tell one of the fellows that I am not a complete novice at this, that I am able — with some thought and patience — to back the rig up. It didn’t matter. He actually reached into the truck while standing outside the driver’s side door and began cranking the steering wheel to get our fifth wheel angled just right to back into our site.

Meanwhile, the second fellow stood at the back guiding the first fellow toward where the RV was supposed to go.

After just a couple of mid-course corrections, we got our fifth wheel lined up properly with our utility connections.

Mission accomplished!

I want to mention this because it is one of the many pleasures my wife and I have discovered as we have begun our serious travel journey throughout North America.

I’m pretty sure there are many more of these types of guys awaiting our arrival. And, indeed, we intend to offer our own knowledge and RV experience to other newbies as we meet them along the way.

Happy Trails, Part 39

Our retirement trail is going to take us west quite soon. Indeed, we’re going to put ourselves and our RV and pickup to a fairly stern test.

We’ll be parked for a few nights in Durango, Colo.

The test will occur on our way there. We expect to climb significantly in a fairly short period of time.

We’ve been through Durango already — years ago. We haven’t spent any significant amount of time there. This adventure will provide us proof that our truck is, indeed, strong enough for us and our fifth wheel. We already believe it. We just sort of need some affirmation of it.

We are inching our way toward (more or less) full-time RV living. Family obligations likely won’t allow us to be living exclusively in our RV while we hunt for a new home. But we intend to spend significantly more time in our RV exploring this and/or that bucket list destination.

North America, as you know, contains a number of towering mountain ranges. The Rocky Mountains loom huge out there just to our west; farther out west are the Sierra Nevada and the Cascade Range. We’ve hauled our RV over the Appalachian Mountains and the Ozarks and, yes, we’ll go back … again and again.

But as we prepare for this next big adventure in our lengthy life together, we are looking at this moment for one final road test that will give us complete confidence in our vehicle assembly’s ability to take us to wherever we intend to go.

It’s a big world out there. We intend to see every single bit of it that time will allow.