Our Odyssey

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The 3 by 5 Card versus Reality

I live by 3x5 card. With my calendar, it is my main organizing tool. I’ve actually saved a few; one from my wedding day (pick up flowers, hairdresser, etc), one Abi made when she was five years old (clean bedroom, read), one Will made for planning my birthday (buy groceries, bake cake…). For this trip to the Bay Area, to visit colleges with Abi, I made a trip schedule. We left the field station on Tuesday and the kids are taking the train to meet us on Saturday (today). We will visit colleges and San Francisco Saturday through Monday, then head back home Tuesday.

Here is the 3x5 itinerary I wrote for the coastal drive we planned (I also have 3x5s of the campsites I’ve selected, things I need to do on the trip, and a couple of others):
Tuesday: Drive to Cambria via 101
Wednesday: Visit Hearst Castle
Thursday: Drive to Half Moon Bay via Pacific Coast Highway
Friday: Drive to Chabot Park, outside Oakland
Saturday: Pick up kids at train station in Oakland

Here is what actually happened.
6:30 Begin preparing for planned 9:30 departure.
8:30 Talk to Al and decide to drive up via the eastern Sierras rather than the coastal route.
9:00 Drop stabilizers. Discover a flat tire.
9:30 Decide to drive out of the field station on 5 of 6 tires before calling Good Sam, our RV service provider, to change the flat, as we are based 5 miles from a public, paved road.
10:00 Cautiously reverse onto the wash. Immediately drive over two rocks of exactly the right size to wedge between the two back tires opposite the flat.
10:10 Search unsuccessfully in the station shop for a crowbar. Attempt to remove the rocks with what appears to be a 19th century flensing tool.
10:30 Find a crowbar, Will scootches under the RV to unwedge the rocks. Lays on a camouflaged chunk of cholla cactus. Shrieks like a girl.
11:00 Will drives verrrrry slowly out of the wash and onto the road, I precede in the mini-van.
11:30 Park at the Living Desert, on hold 20 minutes for Good Sam operator, request tire assistance.
1:00 Good Sam mechanic arrives, tells interesting stories while changing the tire.
2:30 FINALLY head out.
9:30 Pull in to the campsite at Bishop. RV dies.
9:50 RV restarts. Pull into campsite. Pour a glass of Jack Daniels whiskey (JD).
10:30 Sound asleep.

7:30 Take the dogs for a long walk through empty sage scrub, staring up at majestic, snow-covered mountains. Agree that RV life is the best life.
9:30 Pull out of the campsite onto the 395, the four-lane, main road through the eastern Sierras. RV dies across all four lanes of traffic.
9:31 Will tells me to steer while he pushes RV off the road. I refuse. RV rolls off the road without Will’s help. We remember to breathe.
9:35 RV restarts, Will drives it along a side road while I call a mechanic. Only diesel mechanic in town (Britt) is in the opposite direction we are traveling.
9:50 Will manages to get the RV across the 395 and to Britt’s.
11:30 Early lunch at Raymond’s Deli, found via Yelp. Great food, great atmosphere. Overhear conversation between locals about chicken-sitting while friend sees the world. Decide to move to Bishop.
1:15 Mechanic tells us that the only problem is a loose battery cable. Sheepishly pay $85 and drive out toward Truckee.
1:45 RV slowly climbs 2000 feet in elevation then dies. Pull to side of the road, of which there is very little, and stare at each other.
2:15 No phone signal. The RV eventually restarts and we crawl another 1000 feet in elevation and into Lee Vining.
3:00 Pull into Shell station in Lee Vining. RV dies. Mechanic informs us that the only diesel mechanic nearby is Britt. In Bishop. From whence we came.
4:00 Find Mono Vista RV park down the street. As we turn into Site #1, Will says “I have never been so happy to drive into an RV site.” RV dies.
5:00 Manage to wrestle RV into the site. Pour a large JD.
6:00 Feeling calmer. Call Good Sam for assistance. On hold 20 minutes. They suggest we go to bed and arrange to call us back at 8:00 am.
9:30 Sound asleep.

8:15 Get tired of waiting for Good Sam to call, so call them. On hold 20 minutes. They will find a nearby mechanic and call back.
9:00 Good Sam calls back. Britt from Bishop will be sending someone to us.
10:00 Take dogs on first of many walks through the snow and sage. Amazed by glorious views of Mono Lake. Decide to move to Lee Vining.
12:00 Call Half Moon Bay to cancel campsite reservation. Arrange to stay another night at Mono Vista RV park.
2:00 Mechanic arrives. Fuel filter is full of algae. Charmingly embarrassed that he did not check this while we were in shop. Replaces both filters. Also checks solenoid (sticky) and oil pan (dinged up by previous owner, replacement cap is incorrect size, hence minor leaking). Tells many interesting stories about diesel engines, growing up in Mammoth, photography, uncle at NASA.
3:00 Test drive RV with mechanic. Will comments on its peppiness, I note the lack of tow vehicle, Will does wheelies to impress me.
3:30 Mechanic departs. We are $300 poorer.
4:00 Pour an extra large JD.
9:00 Sound asleep.

9:00 Pull out of Lee Vining, to Oakland via Reno. Have been assured that the 395 north is much less torturous from here out.
9:10 Begin incredibly steep climb out of Lee Vining. Quickly reach over 8000 feet elevation.
10:00 Driving through Sierras. Agree that the RV life is the best life.
12:00 Hear shrieking sound from rear of RV. Look back to see refrigerator door tearing from its hinges.
12:10 I move the refrigerator door to the hallway, glass jars onto kitchen floor, while Will continues to drive. Observe the bumpiness of the 395.
3:30 Drive into Sacramento and westward as rush hour begins. No words.
4:30 Call Chabot Campground for directions. Ranger has not heard of Reno, so cannot help.
6:00 Turn onto Redwood Road. Ten miles of narrow, winding terror. Collect a flotilla of cars behind us, because there are no turnoffs.
6:30 Arrive at gate. Observe that cars leaving park turn in the opposite direction, suggesting an alternate approach. Discover the campground is two miles further in.
7:00 Make several attempts at reversing into campsite, nicely situated deep in eucalyptus grove. Eventually successful. Walk dogs. Will ingeniously fixes refrigerator door.
7:30 Late for JD, so pour a double. Become philosophical about life’s choices.
8:30 Sound asleep.

4:30 Wake up with headache. Realize that kids are arriving at 9:35 pm, and park gates close at 10 pm. Consider pouring a JD.

PS It is now Tuesday and we are at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. We will visit the Steinbeck Museum tomorrow, then spend the night in Pismo Beach before heading home. At least that's what my latest 3x5 says. Oh, and the RV can no longer reverse, so I have to find a campground with pull-through sites.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Desert Bighorn at Deep Canyon

I stalked this guy along a wash at the base of of rocky ridge – I dropped my camera bag and took off my boots as I got close to sneak up without making any sound, but then he climbed up a little outcrop and took a good long look at me from just overhead.

More of the same flock, grazing on the shrubs.

Mother and child, shot the previous day, in the shadow of the mountain.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Thanksgiving morning - Maggie climbed on the bed and kept trying to sneak a paw onto Anne. Anne didn't want Maggie lying on her right then, but Maggie kept trying. I got up to get the camera, and the situation soon devolved into this: all three little dogs climbing onto Anne, and Bodie doing his best to join the crowd.

Shortly after Ben showed up and climbed in, Anne having succumbed to the inevitable.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Three Stooges Do America

This journey has been marked by slapstick from the very first day. Will pulled the RV up our driveway to begin loading a year’s worth of clothes and books and dishes and bedding from the garage. I went into the house to talk with Laney, who was going to be renting our house for the year. After Will moved in a few loads he decided to make the bed. Suddenly he felt a lurch and the RV began rolling back down the driveway. He raced to the front of the RV and pulled on the brake just as it was rolling into the street.

I looked out the living room window as the RV began to roll by and idly wondered why Will was moving it. Was it not close enough to the garage? Why didn’t he ask for my help in reversing? I wandered outside and saw Will gripping the wheel tightly, eyes wide. That was the last time he forgot to put it into gear when parking.

Bodie, of course, has been the source of much of our slapstick. Every time we go for a walk he manages to wrap himself around someone. Once he pulled me straight out of the RV, missing all three steps, when he was in a hurry to get outside. Ben is wakened most mornings by Bodie landing on the bed next to him and then flopping his head – as big as Ben’s own – onto Ben's chest. Bodie sleeps at the foot of our bed and when I have to get up during the night, which I invariably do at least once, I have to step over him. This startles him, even when I try to warn him I’m coming, and he jumps up and runs toward the kitchen. But he jumps up between my legs, and he is tall, so I end up riding Bodie halfway down the hallway most nights.

The most recent incident (besides the nightly Bodie rides) was in New Orleans. Ben needed to get something from the car after dark, so he grabbed a flashlight and headed out the door. We heard a crash and Ben started yelling for us. Will and I jumped out of the bed – luckily Bodie had already headed for the door – and ran to see what had happened. Ben was rolling on the ground, holding on to his leg. I saw that the RV steps had not come down, which they should do automatically when the door opens.

I jumped down from the doorway and knelt next to Ben. I felt his legs and arms and decided quickly that he had not broken anything. As I pulled him up, my bare feet began to burn horribly and I realized that I had stepped into a fire ant nest. I hopped from foot to foot as I pulled him inside. In the RV, Will cleaned his wounds and plastered him with band-aids. I tried to help, but kept yelping as I discovered more fire ants crawling on my feet, continuing to bite. Almost a week later, I still have a dozen blisters on my feet that itch constantly.

Are you wondering why Ben didn’t notice that the stairs were missing? Particularly as he was carrying a flashlight? I wondered that too. I asked him why he hadn’t used the flashlight to see the stairs, or lack of stairs in this case. He said that he wasn’t looking at the stairs because he was looking around for (I’m not making this up) “rabid squirrels and grenades”.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Ben's Three Questions

Tonight we pulled into an RV park just off the I10 north of Houston. We are aiming for Waco tomorrow, so we haven't unhitched the minivan or unpacked much at all. After we pulled in, Will and Ben walked the dogs and then took a spin in a paddleboat on the pond next to our RV site. I got on the internet right away, checking our route since our GPS stopped functioning in New Orleans, and looking at weather reports. There is a storm headed our way, so Will decided to empty the tanks before dinner.
Busy night. I asked Ben to prepare dinner, because I was still trying out a few alternate routes on Google maps.
"Ben, will you please open a can of corn and a can of green beans?"
Question #1: "OK. Do we have a can opener?"
"Um, what? You've been living in this RV for four months. Do you think we'd be here without a can opener?"
"Oh right. Never mind."
Ben begins opening the can of beans. Question #2: "So what are these for anyway?"
"What are the beans and corn for? Really? Well, the dogs aren't going to eat them, and it's almost dinner time. What do you think?"
"Oh yeah. Never mind."
I asked Ben to put the beans and corn into bowls and microwave them, and to heat up a bowl of leftover pasta bolognese.
Question #3: "So, is this all we're eating tonight - canned food and leftovers?"
Still haven't quite figured out how to answer that one...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Target Practice

On Friday, me and mom’s friend Brian went to a firing range in west Virginia, a new state for me! The entire experience was very exciting to me, since I had never shot a real gun before in my life. I enjoyed myself very much and every single part of it was exciting to me. I would like to thank Brian for taking me and teaching me how to shoot the different guns. Even the trip to the firing range was exciting, especially the end, with the terrifyingly curvy roads. Once again, thank you very much Brian.

We left around 9 o’clock and were immediately on the road, with a good breakfast of mini wheats in my stomach. We were short on some of our different kinds of ammo and I had no sound-blocking earmuffs, so we stopped at a Wal-mart to pick up said equipment. We arrived in the sporting goods section to find that their ammo cases were dry of the 30-30 bullets that we so craved. We left the store empty-handed and vowed vengeance as we left. Our next encounter with a Wal-mart would hopefully be more successful than the last.
And it was. We picked up ammo, sound-blocking goggles, and some extra targets for good measure, then were back on the road, sun blazing on our backs. Brian showed me some of his favorite music (and good music it was) as we drove through the beautiful state of Virginia. After a while of driving on highways, we hit a beautiful mountain road that twisted and turned. Soon we hit the west Virginia state line and 30 minutes later, we were in the firing range, unpacking our guns (only one other guy was there, and he had a beautiful muzzle-loading .50-caliber rifle)
We set up our targets, checked our guns and loaded clips. I was ready to take my first shot.

I sighted down my scope, aimed for the middle and took my shot. Up and to the left. This pattern continued, and I slowly corrected the lens. I put one of the green and black targets right on top of the other one ad took my first shot. Right through the middle. I finally had the rifle sighted in correctly. I finished the clip and set the rifle down. I tried some shots with the pistol, got some in the target.

After some time with the pistol and a few shots with the 30-30 rifle while Brian blew up some plastic targets with his revolver pistol. We finished up and packed up, put it all in the car and began the return home. On the way home, we saw an awesome swarm of bats fly overhead. We got some very late lunch and came home. I enjoyed my time on the firing range with Brian and when we see Brian again, I would love to do this again. When we got home, mom and will were at a party, so we chilled awhile.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The High Water Mark

Yesterday, Will and I went and visited the battle of Gettysburg. It was a very interesting and strategically important battle due to the fact that Lee committed so much of his forces to a daring attack, which was called Pickett’s charge. Some people believe that if this attack had succeeded, and Lee’s army had broken through the line, then it could have been a completely different war. That is why people call this spot the high water mark of the Confederacy. And, while that may be the namesake for my story, that is not all that happened at Gettysburg that day.

The view the Iron Brigade saw as the Confederates advanced toward them. (The barn on the right was present during this battle)

On the first day, a single Union cavalry brigade arrived in Gettysburg, scouting out for the Confederate forces that had been following the Union army on the other side of a mountain range. Soon enough, on the day after they had deployed, Confederate forces began to stream in from Chambersburg. After some intense fighting, the unions reinforcements, the iron brigade, finally arrived. The iron brigade were some of the Unions crack troops. They were allowed to wear their own special hats as opposed to the regular ones that the regular Union foot troops would wear.

On Little Round Top, looking toward the Confederate assault on the second day on the left flank of the Union army.

On the second day, both full armies arrived and set up. The Union had their forces set up in a fishhook, with their right flank, facing north, being the tip and their left flank, facing south, would be tied to the line. The Confederacy, meanwhile, made a line that matched theirs, but instead of having the valuable hill cover that the Union had gotten, they had occupied Gettysburg as the center of their fishhook. That day, Lee ordered General Ewell to begin to attack the Union right, while General Longstreet attacked the Union left, battling them on the round tops.

The stone wall Confederate troops stormed over, led by General Armistead, and held briefly at the apex of Pickett's charge.

After these attacks had failed, General Lee decided to attack the Union center, after the Union army had reinforced both of their flanks. He sent in general Pickett, with 12,000 men on a mile-wide attack to the Union center. The Union defenders were only 7,000 strong, but they had the advantage of being able to fire their guns more than once, because the Confederates were on the charge, so they couldn’t after some intense fighting, the confederates finally broke through, but within minutes, they were pushed back out of the union line. This was a devastating blow to Lee’s army.

The Custer memorial, at the East Cavalry Field, a rarely visited but significant cavalry battle on the final day at Gettysburg.

The overall outcome of the battle was the end of Lee’s second campaign. Many believe that the battle of Gettysburg was one of the many deciding factors of the civil war. This is so because Lee’s massive army of northern Virginia had gotten considerably mauled during the battle of Gettysburg. Today was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed learning more about this battle and finally getting to see the battle for myself. I had heard so much about it, but I couldn’t have imagined just how awesome the real experience of being there was. Thanks so much Will!