Teardrop Travels


Still in the driveway!

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Jeep, Command Central.

If you want to follow us, just type your email address into the “subscribe” box on the right—> and you’ll get an email ping whenever I post something new. I expect to post once a day, barring any special circumstances (like living in the moment or, you know, facing imminent exhaustion/dehydration/heatstroke/hypothermia).

Today, our final prep day, we’ve spent packing, organizing, filling the fridge, freezer, and cooler, and making another last-minute trip to the store for incidentals. I should probably clean the house, too, but whatevs. Oh, and I also made sure the hermit crabs would be good for a week with food and water. (Kermit is up from his molt–yay!) Tomorrow is the full moon, so there could possibly be some mating going on while I’m gone. Won’t know until I get back if anyone got their crabby little freak on, but I am still hoping to get another shot at hatching babies this summer/fall.

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Our galley, well stocked.

Didn’t sleep particularly well last night–too many pre-trip info-dumps racing through my brain. Yesterday, I finished the meditation pack on “change” and started today on “happiness.” Seems appropriate. Although, I must say, having this trip in the works for more than fifteen months and now being only 15 hours away is causing mixed emotions:

 

 

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Bed, with fish pillow.

“Yay, we’re leaving on an adventure!”
“Yikes, so many things could go wrong!”
“Yay, we’re going to be free from responsibilities!”
“Yikes, we’re going to have complete responsibility for water, food, vehicle, maps, etc.”
“Yay, we’ve got the coolest setup!”
“Yikes, what are we forgetting?

You get the idea. Doesn’t make for the most relaxing night’s sleep. But that will perhaps work in our favor as once we hit the road, we will be experiencing much…shall we say…closer accommodations. Best to be completely exhausted like we always were when backpacking. When the sweaty, dirty smells didn’t register through the haze of exhaustion and relief. We shall see.

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Jeep, back view.

Anywho, we leave at 7am and hope to make it to Buck Creek State Park in Springfield, Ohio, where we may or may not fix dinner, depending on how long it takes to get there. If we’re behind schedule, we’ll eat along the way and save that time for figuring out where the heck we put everything and how to find what we need. I’m sure it will be a process. See you from the road in the virtual world!

 

 

 

 

DAY ONE

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What’s round on both ends and high in the middle?

We made it to Buck Creek State Park around 4pm. There’s a “Meet the Naturalist” event tomorrow and all of the electric campsites were full (guessing it’s not from that event, but who knows?). We don’t need to have electricity for our setup, but the feeling was sort of along the lines of “Why not stock up while we can?” Plus, the fridge seems to be using a lot more juice than we thought it would. We’ll definitely need to fiddle to get that sorted out for the extended backcountry trips.

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Campsite 109, locked and loaded.

We have one neighbor in an adjacent campsite, a family with two young children that are stubbornly and insistently fascinated by our setup and keep wandering over. One is a young boy in a diaper, maybe 15 months old, the other is his older sister, maybe three years old. The parents, beleaguered by everything, keep yelling obscenities and threats at their youngchildren. This hurts my heart, but there’s not much to be done in this situation. I do wonder what the lure of camping is if you’re just going to yell at your kids the whole time. Our window fan may come in handy tonight as white noise.

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Resting under the shade of the Sunseeker awning.

Lessons from Day One: Be prepared for the fact that new gear (even from a quality company like Rhino Rack) may be subject to issues right out of the box. This was our first time actually using the awning extension wall and one of the strap tabs pulled out, having not been fully caught in the fold during the sewing/manufacturing process. That’s not a big deal, but a bit annoying, and genius-me didn’t think to pack a sewing kit. “Doh!” I have the feeling that’s going to be the word-of-the-day for the next few weeks.

Note to Self: You remember, don’t you Mare, that the first night sleeping in any new place is always tough? (Backpacking, traveling, Dominica, moving?) In Dominica, it was roosters, feral cats, mosquitoes, and tree frogs. It’s always something, but it gets better. Wait for it. Also: pack more fresh fruits and remember to take your shower shoes to the the shower.

Random Gearhead Facts:

  • The solar road shower is reading 93 degrees after sitting in the sun on the road all day.
  • It’s 78 degrees (air temp) in the trailer at 8pm, with the sun angle pretty low in the sky.
  • The tongue weight was a little uneven, so we moved two gallons of water and a heavy bag of snacks back to the galley to offset things a bit.
  • The refrigerator is taking time to reach some sort of equilibrium. A freezer full of frozen solid items seems to influence it, but it isn’t quite clear if it makes it run warmer or cooler (mostly because I neglected to snap the lid completely closed this morning after I tried to add my kombucha, but spilled it because the lid wasn’t completely on and had to clean it up, virtually as Len was pulling out of the driveway).
  • A sign that reads “Absolutely no bobtail parking” means that you can’t park the cab of a tractor trailer in that spot, but a teardrop trailer is AOK.

 

DAY TWO

The rising sun and boisterous Ohio birds woke us up about 5:30 but we were eager to hit the road, so it wasn’t a problem. (We had already taken down the awning the night before, much to the dismay of the Dancing Baby one campsite over.) We showered at the campground showers and headed out at 6:30. Found a Dunkin Donuts in Springville and had coffee and a bite while Len uploaded a timesheet for work (he’s putting in some part-time hours to ease the transition for the new person). A rosy sunrise over the lake was our parting tableau.

By noon, we were hungry and had hummus and veggies (sweet pepper slices and long radishes from our wonderful, local, Root Down Farm), a cheese stick each, and some turkey pepperoni. All of which is incredibly boring to read about, I’m sure, but when you’re stuck in a vehicle all day, the big highlights are: thinking about what to eat, eating, then describing what you’ve eaten.

grand old barnWe hit lots of road construction outside of St. Louis which delayed us by about an hour—or forty-eight minutes, depending on which of the dueling GPSs in Command Central you choose to put your faith in.

MTNF signWe arrived at a VERY dusty Mark Twain National Forest at 5:15 local time. Had a bit of trouble finding the spot but got personally guided in by a Forrest Gumpish fellow who was super talkative and exacting in his details and directions. It seemed to disappoint him when we chose the “wrong” campsite according to his thoughts of what we needed, but he was cheerful enough about our flawed decision-making processes. He then chose his own site just through the woods and proceeded to erect what must have been a steel-frame, two-story cabin. Over the course of 45 minutes, many, many metal stakes were completely, thoroughly, and cheerfully pounded in.

Tire art (dust)

Tire Star, dust and rubber, 2017.

Our actual campsite (#8) was a quiet spot (after Forrest was done), elevated from the gravel road and designed for horse trailers but worked great for our handy-dandy TC Teardrop. We backed in (and up) then cranked the car and trailer into a 90-degree angle which seemed like a good idea…except the fuel rotopax then obstructed the Jeep hatchback, and we had our first minor bloodletting while attempting to maneuver a way to open the Jeep hatch. Lesson learned.

galley saladsDinner was a fresh salad (I packed lots of pre-washed greens and cut up accessories so the whole thing was pretty painless) with cheese and smoked turkey and that was enough for us both. Sitting all day, it turns out, does not burn many calories, especially when it’s 89 degrees out. I did some yoga on my new, cushy outdoor mat, much to the confusion of some good-old-boys en route to their campsite.

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Len, with wine and solar light.

The evening’s entertainment was provided by a hyperactive Whip-poor-will and a sexed-up bullfrog who serenaded us into the wee hours. In other words, a delightful symphony by which to fall asleep. Thanks, Nature!

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Peekaboo!

Notes to Self: My daily meditation suggested focusing on empathy as a way into happiness, but empathy is not usually a problem for me. If anything, I need to tone down my empathy so as to get through the day without feeling the suffering of every drowning bug, wilting plant, or overheated cow. I do find myself having some trouble with meditations that involve visualization, though, which seems odd for a fiction writer who has to visualize entire made-up worlds. But I think I’ve figured out that at least some of the issue is with what I’m being asked to visualize. An expanding circle of light isn’t “concrete” enough for my brain, but I’ve found that if I change that to a flickering violet flame, it works much better. Must be the wilderness backpacker/potter in me. Fire, I get.

Random Gearhead Stuff:

  • TPMS (Tire pressure monitoring system) sensors on the Jeep are driving us batty. Pressure is fine, sensors keep going off. Grrr. Too much technology! Also, my iPhone decided to freak out and force me to do a cold reboot which has never happened before, so there’s that. I’m relying on it 100% for photos and uploading. Sure hope that was a one-time glitch.
  • The solar panel on the toolbox has become my baby. Each time we stop for fuel or for the night I check to see if it needs cleaning. Can’t make solar energy through a layer of dirt.
  • During the night, our fridge cut off because of “low-battery strength.” Quite alarming, that, since we have a ton of food in the freezer, but Len checked the fridge manual and it’s a safety setting designed to keep from completely draining your battery. You can choose the threshold (Low, Medium, High) for when it cuts off so he changed the tolerance setting from 12.2 to 11.2. (Lowest being 10.2)
  • The trailer battery has fluctuated a ton, anywhere from 14.1 to 11.8 (Len says it hasn’t gotten that low, but I swear I thought I saw that reading.) It drops when the fridge cuts on then seems to recover a bit, but last night was a bit long without power or sunlight (it was a shady campsite). Still lots to figure out with this puppy.
  • Our fuel efficiency (mostly highway miles) seems to hover in the range of 14.5mpg. We’re content with those numbers and aware that they will likely drop when we hit mountainous terrain.

 

Day Three

(Destination: Lake Scott State Park, Kansas)

D3 leavingWe left the Mark Twain National Forest/Forrest Gump campsite early and drove into town to wash the dust off of everything and add another bag of ice to the cooler. We found a Panera’s and had coffee and oatmeal with a side of WiFi then hit the road.D3 prairie

This was our last extra-long travel day and honestly it was pretty grueling. If we planned it again, I think we’d allow two days to cover 520 miles instead of one. We didn’t make the campsite until 9pm and my body does not care for long days of sitting. These Jeep seats start to lose their comfort factor after about six hours (like all seats, everywhere).

D3 Kansas scenery

Typical Kansas scenery.

I’ve been thinking a lot (flat, straight Kansas roads are good for that) about what this route we are taking means in an historical sense. So much of America’s westward expansion took place in roughly the same corridor that we are passing through. The Oregon Trail, the Santa Fe Trail, the California Trail, the Mormon Trail, the Bozeman Trail…and those are just the big ones. Lots of people died on these trails, searching for a better life, room to breathe, adventure, infamy, big money, or religious freedom. It’s a sobering thought.D3 rock house

I’ve also been thinking about how little “respect” these areas of the country get: the flyover states. Just a place to skip over or pass through, but less often a destination. And I know that rankles Midwesterners, but it seems like that has always been the fate of places like Kansas—even back in the 1800s. Explore, experience, pass through, but try not to settle down.

World’s Biggest Czech Egg

On a related note, I’ve been struck by the sheer number of “World’s Biggest” signs we’ve seen along the side of the road. The list of Kansas’s World’s Biggest attractions includes: the world’s biggest Czech egg, the world’s biggest ball of twine, world’s biggest rocking chair, wind chimes, easel, hand-dug well, prairie dog (??), and…wait for it…the world’s biggest hairball. (I don’t think I even want to know what that looks like. Except … given that I’m now coming up on three days without a decent shower and shampoo—hey, wait! It’s me, isn’t it? I’m the world’s biggest hairball! Dang it!)

So what is this small town fascination with bigness? Is it a desire to be “on the map?” For something? Anything? And how big is BIG? Can you see it from space? As humankind expands our frontiers, will we soon see stipulations of The Universe’s Biggest Hairball? (Still me, I’m pretty sure.) Is this longing for bigness part and parcel of Trump’s broad appeal in these areas? Trump: the biggest flyover hairball of all…

On Route 83, a beautiful male ring-necked pheasant ran across the road in front of us, looking for all the world like he was being chased by Wile E. Coyote. A few miles later, a tumbleweed tumbled into us and I’m here to tell you they are not the lightweight ephemeral things you think they are. (Clunk!)

As the day wore on, major fanny fatigue set in, along with an absurdly large number of semi-hysterical cow-themed jokes. I was dying to stretch my legs so we found a large Home Depot and went inside. I longed to speed walk the aisles for exercise, but people kept asking if they could help us find anything and Len was clearly embarrassed by his hairball wife striding up and down every single aisle, so we cut it short and got back on the road.

As the sun began to drop low in the sky, so did the quality of our cow jokes. We got so punchy toward the end of the day that the following conversation ensued:

Me: “Wow! Look at those cows over there. They’re completely white.”
Len: “Huh. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a completely white cow.”
Me (singing): “Who bleached the cows out? Who? Who? Who? Who? Who?”
Len: (singing): “Moo! Moo! Moo! Moo! Moo!”
Me: [Laughing hysterically]
Len: “You leave those cows out all night, you know they get pasteurized, right?”
Me: “Please. Send. Help.”

D3 campgroundOnce we got to the long-anticipated campground, it was actually pretty unpleasant. Sites were super close and mostly filled with giant (and I mean GIANT) RV setups with generators and lights and AC and awnings and front porches and verandas and fences and dogs and…okay, maybe not verandas, but everything else. For the record, I don’t have anything against big RVs, per se, but when you are a tiny, eco-friendly, small-footprint teardrop amongst giants (one trailer was literally being pulled by a big white tractor-trailer cab—I kid you not!) it’s pretty easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume-whirring-blinking-blinding-hum of all that massive machinery. I feel the same way when we stop at rest areas and park among the idling 18-wheelers.

D3 JeepAlso, despite having reserved and paid for a specific campsite online IN ADVANCE (through Reserve America), a large family was thoroughly and comfortably set up in our very spot (three vehicles, a trailer, a tent, and five kids). We would have had to be pretty big jerks to expect them to move all that, so we took a spot one site over. It appeared to be first-come-first-served regardless of reservations. As Len said, “It’s like the wild west out here!” It was beastly hot (93 was the high for the day and the wind was howling across the plains) and we still had to make dinner. We were sweaty and filthy and stiff so I quickly whipped up another salad and then we went to check out the showers, which at first were only open air, no curtain or door, and no light. After mildly panicking, we realized that was the bathhouse for the lake day-use folks. We then located the campground showers which were messy but considerably better in terms of privacy (I had a door). I was so looking forward to a cool shower to clean up and cool down, but the water was only one temperature—BLAZING hot. So I scalded my skin and scrubbed down and walked back among the humming giants, found our cozy nest and crashed.D3Lake Scott

Lessons learned from Day Three: 1) If you are the driver, put sunscreen on your left forearm, hand, and upper arm. You’ll be sorry if you don’t and it’s tricky to lather up while driving. 2) Designate a “special spot” for really important things like keys (and chapstick—yeah, yeah, I know, but trust me chapstick IS of utter importance when it’s 93 degrees and a hot wind is blowing 40 mph.) Or, better yet have three special spots like I do (pocket, dashboard, trailer shelf), so that if I have to search, it’s a relatively short search. You’d think that living in a small space would actually make it harder to misplace things, but you’d be wrong.

Len’s Notes to Self: Bring lots of quarters for the self-service car wash to remove the horse poo and dust that gets kicked up on remote trails. On a related note: If you see something brown and hard on your toolbox, don’t assume it’s mud and then proceed to scrape it off with your fingernail. Also Len: If you’re sitting in a coffee shop and you think something doesn’t smell quite right, it might be time to go ahead and move on to your next three-day outfit just a bit ahead of schedule.

 

Random Gearhead Stuff:

  • About 520 miles traveled today. Passed the 1,000-mile point halfway through the day. The trailer is holding up GREAT. Finally starting to get over our PTSD from the first trip’s wobbling-wheel event. Every little sound is no longer something about to blow up or fall off.
  • Also, a shout-out to the NFSAR folks: To date, we have NOT lost our bearings. We remain cautiously optimistic. (Ed, you’re on speed-dial, just in case.)
  • For cheap gas, try central Missouri where it’s $1.93 per gallon.
  • And just in time because we’re now averaging 13mpg thanks to moving through the Ozarks. (Make that 12.7 with a heavy crosswind.) (And now 12.3 in Kansas with a crazy headwind!)
  • Cell phone signal booster (weboost) is helping a lot. It’s a must for Sprint customers, especially out west. Ours is a multi-user, 3G signal enhancer and it’s been great.

D3 Denver sign

Looking ahead: Day Four we’re on to Colorado and our first mountain campsite outside of Idaho Springs.

 

 

Day Four

First things first: Happy birthday, Mom! Hope it’s a good one. Last year at this time it surely was. 🙂

D4 wiper maintenance

Bug removal/wiper maintenance

Yesterday we left the Lake Scott State Park campsite at about 6:30, happy to leave. Nothing really to recommend there unless you’re a fan of super close quarters with strangers, dust, and “amenities” that don’t amen. From there, we drove into Colby, Kansas and found a Starbucks where we could get some high-test covfefe and a bite to eat. Turns out that Wifi, whenever possible, is going to be essential as I am using up a ton of data already, in only four days. The posts without Wifi will need to have fewer pictures, I fear. Can’t afford a bazillion dollars in overage fees.

At Starbucks, we also reconnoitered and changed our plans for the next night’s stay. With the fridge/battery issues and our general road-weariness from an excess of miles covered, we decided to go online and reserve a spot at a KOA campsite in Central City, Colorado. D4 The RockiesFrom Colby, we drove another incredibly flat stretch for ages. When we hit Denver, Len wanted to drive through the city. He used to live in Colorado and was excited to see how it had changed. The area around Colfax Avenue, though, had changed quite a bit in 35 years (surprise!) and he was sad to see how rundown the area had become. We found a grocery store and picked up a few items then went on a search for red wine that proved fruitless.

“Glamping” at its finest.

The KOA, when we finally got there, was (just like the last campground) filled with giant RV’s, but this place was awesome. SO well kept, so organized, with amenities galore. Not a place we’d want to stay in for a week (just because we like wilderness and fewer neighbors) but for a night it was a perfect place to shower, wash clothes, cook an actual meal (salmon, couscous, and salad), and sit a bit and enjoy the scenery. The only campsite left to us was a “premium” campsite (high up on a hillside) that gave us water, electricity, a picnic table with umbrella, a stand-alone porch swing, a fire pit, and a heck of a view. It was very nice to relax and just wind down. (As into luxuriating as we were, we still couldn’t bring ourselves to soak in the clubhouse hot tub or order a fresh-made pizza that gets delivered by golf cart. Just, NO.)

D4 mining

Abandoned mine.

Overheard from an older white guy in Starbucks opining to a table of his friends: “They used to tell you to get your head out of the clouds; now they want you to put stuff INTO the cloud!”

Note to self: Stop wondering what the hermit crabs are up to. They’re FINE and they surely don’t miss you. Well, maybe Kermit does … and Miriam, if she’s back up from molting. But the others are happy for the peace and quiet with no crazy woman staring at them while they eat, climb, bathe, and engage in antennae wrestling.

D4 King of the Rock

King of the Rock

The only downside to this campsite had nothing to do with it and everything to do with two pernicious words: Altitude Sickness. Blech. We’re at about 8,000 feet and the ascent was too rapid for my body to acclimate. I’m drinking tons of water and taking it easy, popping Ibuprofen (some online sites said it might help), but still experiencing quite a headache. I slept fine and have no nausea, so I’m assuming it will be short-lived and I’ll acclimate soon enough, but for now the head is very unhappy and I’m moving a little more slowly through the world. (By the way, Len also has a headache, but he “can’t” be altitude sickness, because that wouldn’t be manly. His is merely a sinus headache because, apparently, he’s immune to venom.)

Also, I think I may have figured out how to allow comments. I received one comment yesterday (Thanks, Randy!). If you can see a comment box, would you try to leave a comment? It will help me troubleshoot. Thank you!

 

Day Five

June 13: Happy birthday to my big brother. 🙂

D5 KOAofficeAltitude sickness symptoms persisted, but eased once we dropped about 1,000 feet later in the day. Len got up early, but I slept in until seven (we’d crossed another timeline and gained an hour so it was really eight), had granola, coffee (Len had it ready when I got back from showering), and grapefruit juice. D5 KOAWe sat in the sun, put the umbrella up for shade, and then, because we had WiFi, spent some time online. While we were working, someone at the campground began to play Taps on a bugle, then Reveille, then The Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B, then Reveille again. I found it rather entertaining—both the music and Len’s irritation with the music.

We checked out and cruised down into Central City, hit the Safeway for that sewing kit I’ve been wanting, as well as a few more incidentals–all entirely boring everyday stuff that most of us take for granted until we’re roughing it and suddenly soap becomes the most miraculous of luxuries.

D5Argo mineAfter re-icing the cooler, we took a tour of the ARGO Mine and Mill, a fascinating historical site from the industrial revolution. Our guide (Wyatt) was a young guy, knowledgeable and personable, and he didn’t shy away from any of our questions—and we had a ton. Most of the mine was still intact (although some of the larger cast-iron machinery had been taken and repurposed for the war effort during WWII.) We were the only ones on the tour and he took us through everything, including into part of the mine, through every level of the five-story mill building, and at the bottom we panned for gold. I had four gold flakes and Len had five (but who’s counting?). I also had a tiny grain of bright red garnet (Tomato!). In the gift shop I bought an ammonite fossil, 390 million years old. I’m such a nut for fossils and the natural world as it existed in a geologic time–as far removed from us today as the surface of Jupiter. It’s like staring into space and trying to fathom what we’re seeing (including light from stars that may already have died). Mind blowing. (And no, I have not been sampling the legal weeds of Colorado, merely getting by on much less oxygen than usual.)

D5 road crap

Road gunk.

Don’t tell Len, but I had a man named Boyd Crowder on my mind all day. Given all the mining stuff we saw (drills, dynamite, shakers, slurry, smelting, sledgehammers), I suppose that’s Justified.

We had sandwiches on the road, Len went to a car wash after all the dusty switchback roads, and then we turned into Golden Gate Canyon State Park, only to find that they had just put down a heavy layer of black oil sludge on the road for “dust-reduction.” If you D5 road to campsiteknow Len, you can imagine how thrilled he was—in his newly washed white Jeep and white teardrop trailer.

D5 campsiteOur campsite was lovely, 9,100 feet in elevation. Feeling pretty good, just a little tired, but that should pass. The wind was howling, though, so instead of the planned salad–we’d have been chasing it all over the picnic table—we had a Tex-Mex dish with ham and corn from the freezer, hot sauce and spices and chopped scallions from my garden back home.

Campsite reading: The Heaven of Animals by David James Poissant. So good!! (Also, ceck out my old-faithful leather hiking boots–a pair Heaven of Animalsthat I’ve had and loved for years and worn for hundreds of miles of trails–they’re no longer any good for the sustained heavy weight of backpacking, but still great for daily wear, especially after Len oiled them and spiffed them up while I was in Florida.)

Random gearhead facts: If there’s ever a second Overland vehicle in our future it will have a gas tank larger than 13.6 gallons and definitely have more than four cylinders.

Lessons Learned: The Coleman stove we bought sucks. Let me count the ways: the push-button ignition is intermittent; the windscreens collapse in the slightest breeze; it has two burner levels (OFF, and FOREST FIRE); lots of heat is wasted and it takes forever even for water to boil; the burner controls don’t lock into the off position so it’s easy to turn on the propane and get a rush of gas before you’ve thought about turning the knob to light it. Yes, a higher quality camp stove is definitely in our future. We can keep this one for when the power goes out at home.

Next Up: Visiting friends in Lakewood on our way to Mueller State Park.

 

DAY SIX (An Aside)

Preemptive PSA: The following post is not the normal recap post–that one is still to come–and, fair warning, this post is going to be ALL ABOUT ME.

If you don’t like reading confessional posts about meltdowns, skip this one. You have been warned. And if you DO like reading confessional posts about meltdowns, what is WRONG with you?? Just kidding, make some popcorn and settle in.

The turn for the worse started at midnight when a certain effluent urgency began to assert itself. We’ve been “keeping hydrated,” so Len was feeling a similar urge. Being a man, he quickly addressed the matter and climbed back into the trailer. And I have to say, at times like this, I am hit hard by the great injustice that exists between male and female plumbing when it comes to evacuation in the woods. There, I’ve said it. Use the word “envy” if you must, I’ll own it. All the rest of the time, mind you, dangly plumbing just seems awfully inconvenient and slightly dangerous–but in the woods, I envy it in the worst way.

I should also say here that I consider myself somewhat of an expert at peeing in the woods. I’ve been doing it ever since I learned to walk, and probably even before that if I was ever carried into the woods, as a babe, which I surely was. (See what I did there?) But last night I just wasn’t feeling it. It was a wooded campground, but the moon was out and very bright and it was also quite cold and very late and the bathroom was 1/4 of a mile away. So I stepped out and Len assured me that I was nothing more than a dark smudge against the black trees. So I squatted and did what Nature would have me do–in a slightly more awkward and gymnastic position than is my usual, because I was trying to take full advantage of the tree’s shadow. Then I climbed back into the trailer … only to find that the left cuff of my flannel pajama pants was wet. Okay, soaked would be more accurate.

Somehow, this was the straw that broke this twitchy camel’s back. Long days, rough days, blazing hot days, cold nights, near-constant dusty winds, a new site every night, a hinky cookstove, and altitude sickness all combined to push me over the edge. But I was in a very small, very quiet trailer, very close to my dear husband who has looked forward to this trip for so long that I really didn’t want to cry. Except I DID want to cry–in the worst way. But I didn’t. I tossed my wet-cuffed sleep pants out the door onto the ground and I lay there, silently berating my poor aim, and determinedly not crying for hours.

(Also there’s this: I’m a super private crier. Lots of people want a shoulder. I don’t. I want a small room with a locked door, preferably soundproof walls, and lots of tissues. I want to emerge later, face washed and emotionally cleansed, ready to get back into the swing of the world. Crying, for me, is not so unlike that earlier midnight urge. It comes on, and I gotta find a way to make it happen–preferably in private.)

Morning finally came (43 degrees and windy), and if anything, I felt an even greater desire to have that good, cleansing cry, so I decided to brave the campground shower, which would at least have a door and a little bit of privacy and some sound-muffling water. I also knew (from checking the night before) that the shower would cost me 25 cents a minute. For two dollars, I figured I could get in an efficient 8-minute Wash-N-Cry.

So I did all the prep work one has to do in a public shower prior to turning on $.25/minute water. I stripped down, put on shower shoes, arranged towel and washcloth, shampoo and soap, a spot for dry clean clothes, a spot for dirty clothes (never the twain shall meet), jacket, hiking boots, and socks, all arranged just so, to avoid the spray from a cement-no-curtain cubicle shower. It’s trickier than you might imagine. Then I dropped in my eight quarters full of optimism and ready to shed some serious and speedy tears. Hello, catharsis.

The initial water was ice cold, of course. I get that it has to warm up, even if there is NOWHERE TO HIDE in a cold cement cubicle. Then, ah, some blissfully warm water, so I went ahead and wetted down everything in preparation for speed-lathering. For a good thirty seconds I actually had warm water–12 1/2 cents worth of warm water, to be exact. But at thirty-ONE seconds, a switch flipped somewhere, and instead of warm water, I was delivered Rocky Mountain snowmelt, direct from the distant peaks.

Now, I realize that a certain kind of person finds a cold shower exhilarating–perhaps even intoxicating–but I am decidedly NOT that person. This, following so closely on the heels of the midnight pee tragedy was almost more than I could take. I washed my hair–part only–as my scalp reduced in size by one-third, thanks to the great contracting powers of frigid water, then turned off the shower and listened (with no small amount of frustration) to the timer count off my remaining seven minutes (no refunds) as I redressed and held back what was now a Hoover Dam size amount of unshed tears.

Back at the campsite, shivering, I asked Len if he’d had hot water. “You didn’t?” he said, shocked, as he reached forward to offer me a hug and that was all it took to breach the dam. Not that I wanted him to have had a cold shower, mind you, but I really didn’t want to continue feeling cursed above all others in the universe (which is how self-pity feels, no matter the actual size or weight of the problemI realize this was such a minor thing to lose my shit over, but I did). I climbed into the trailer to try to get warm, and cried buckets, giving new meaning to the term teardrop trailer. I’m sure the trailer was rocking from the force of my heaving bosom and poor Len was making coffee as fast as he could, hoping to both warm me up and calm me down. He was fixing it on the fender of the trailer, and when I saw his shadow take a sip from the cup, Poor Pitiful Me was certain he had made his own coffee first and here–here!–was further proof that I was unlovable after all. (My pity breaks are brief, but ridiculously intense–I’m just trying to bring you along for the ride.)

Anyway, it was all over quickly enough and I moved on, slightly sheepish, through the rest of the day, which was extraordinary and lovely in the way of the weird emotional-highs-and-lows-world we live in. I will recount THAT in another post, with pictures, thereby allowing the emotionally squeamish to still hear about our day without having to wade through my bucket of tears.

Those of you still here, thanks for going on the journey with me. I just felt it important to note that even the best of trips are not all sweetness and light. Stay tuned for the actual Day Six Recap.

D6 morning sleep pantds drying

The infamous sleep pants drying in the sun.

 

DAY SIX

D6 lunch

Fresh lunch!

D6 Frank and Carol

Selfie stick portrait.

We packed up and left the Golden Gate State Park site, which was a perfectly acceptable campground site despite my meltdown. It was windy the whole time and all of the pine trees were shedding pollen and dust was flying, so most of our clothes and belongings (including this laptop) are now adorned with a fine golden powder. The campground area was called Reverend’s Ridge, and we thought of you, Reverend Leonard. We hit a Panera’s to make yesterday’s post and check email, then hurried on to meet our friends Frank and Carol Keeney in Lakewood, where we were treated to a marvelous (FRESH) lunch and great conversation and catching up.

D6 scenic viewAfter lunch, we got gas, bought more ice, made some changes to our upcoming campsite plans and reservations, then drove to the new campground (Mueller State Park) which was so awesome. We were in the Revenuer’s Ridge campsite area, in site number 21,

D6 Just arrived

Just arrived, and leveled.

which is right near the showers (but not too near) and water, and some areas with a view. Plus we have a recessed area with picnic table that is out of the wind and more private. We had to level the trailer jsut a bit, but that’s more common than not. D6 Dinner

Len meets selfie stick

Len meets selfie stick.

Dinner ensued fairly quickly, a one-pot meal of ground beef, scallions, and instant mashed potatoes which we doused liberally with Wegman’s hot sauce. We’ve had Wifi here the whole time (with the help of our private hotspot) and so I was able to upload a few more pictures and post to Instagram a few times. I used my selfie stick twice in one day (and Len tried it, too) and I’m starting to get the hang of it. The evening was wonderful and relaxing and we got a little bit caught up, although moving the campsite every day continues to be hectic and time-consuming. I’m looking forward to three days in The Valley of the Gods.

 

DAY SEVEN

D7breakfast

Breakfast at Mueller State Park

We were sad to leave Mueller State Park. The campsite was wonderful, the park was quiet and beautiful in high-alpine woods with 44(!) hiking trails and great privacy at each site. Most of the time it felt like no one else was around. I’m sure it gets busier on the weekends, but weekdays appear to be the perfect time to visit. The road splits in each camping area, which gives more space between campsites and makes turning trailers and campers around so much easier. The whole state park seemed to have a very careful design and thoughtful layout with the ease of campers in mind.

Distant dunes.

Distant Dunes

For breakfast we had yogurt and granola (and coffee) and hit the road for Great Sand Dunes National Park knowing it would be a long drive. We could see the sand dunes from at least fifty miles away—the highest dunes can reach 14,000 feet—such an amazing land feature. But it takes forever to drive there and the last twenty miles is basically nothing but state roads.

D7 Sand Dunes

Those black dots are people

We passed through the San Isabel National Forest which was beautiful and stopped at an Ace Hardware to purchase a longer propane hose (so we can cook on the table and not just on the pull-out shelf), and a rubber mallet in preparation for staking the awnings in The Valley of the Gods. Then we drove into the Pike National Forest land for about 30 miles. The panoramic views and wide-open spaces, high plains, valleys, the photos we took just don’t do it justice. So we are trying hard to soak it all in and just enjoy it in the moment. And it is glorious.D7 Dunes and People

About three miles before we hit Great Sand Dunes National park, we were approaching a cattle gate (for those who may not know, it’s the metal pipes in the road that freak out cows so badly they refuse to cross them). So we slow from 55mph down to 50mph, and at the same time a rickety 1980s RV hits the cattle gate from the other side. When the RV’s front driver-side wheel hits the cattle gate, the hubcap shoots off and heads straight for us. Now, I’m pretty sure he was also going at least 50mph, which gave the hubcap a combined impact speed of 100mph. With only seconds to react, I did my usual helpful thing (gasped and grabbed the dashboard) and Len managed to swerve just enough—but not too much, given that he’s towing a trailer and still has to get it and us between two fence posts and over a cattle gate.

There was a pretty loud clunk (almost as loud as my gasp) and we looked at each other as the color left our faces and images of destruction played through our brains. Len pulled over onto the shoulder and we both got out to see what had been damaged/lost. We checked the Jeep and trailer over like a cowboy checks the flanks of his horse, but we couldn’t find anything—not even a scratch or a nick! The best I can figure, Len must have hit the hub-missile with the side fender of the Jeep at just the right angle to deflect it and send it careening off in the opposite direction. Lucky, lucky us.

D7 Len GrylsGreat Sand Dunes National Park was amazing. Like most Grand things, the pictures don’t do it justice (Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Grand Ole Opry … okay, maybe not that last one, but you get the idea). Medano Creek flows (seasonally) below the dunes and it’s got a mysterious tidal action that they don’t quite understand (the creek water comes in waves and even ebbs). We took off our shoes and waded through it and walked toward the dunes in the distance. D7 Mary DunesWe got about three-quarters of the way there, but the sand was hard walking, the day was getting late, we still had at least a mile to get back to the vehicle, and we still had to drive to our campsite, set up, and eat dinner. So we headed back to the vehicle. The museum and gift shop was already closed, but fortunately we had bought a couple of postcards, a shirt, AND a sticker for the galley—our first! (We plan to put stickers all over the raised part of the galley marking the places we’ve seen and loved.)

The Alamosa campsite was nothing special, although we were camped next to some interesting Aussie dudes wearing bike shorts who (it turned out) are biking across the US. Don’t we feel like slackers, now! They were very interested in our trailer and Len gave their driver the tour.

The evening was so windy we each put a plate over our salad to keep it from blowing away between bites. I’m beginning to tire of the wind. We were supposed to have free WiFi at the campsite, but there was none, nada, zilch, so that’s why this post is coming at the end of the day. We’ve been on the road, in remote areas, and just couldn’t make it happen until now.

Things I learned today: Len isn’t planning to adjust his watch for the time difference, even though we’re going to be here for the next three weeks. He insists it’s easier to just look at the watch and subtract two hours. To which I say, “Sure it is … NOT.” (This is a man who adjusts his compass for declination, his radios for reception, his pillow for softness, but not his watch for accuracy. And this is a concrete example of the way different minds think. To me, it’s a basic concept: know what time zone you’re in, have your device correctly “calibrated,” and give your brain one LESS thing to have to think about in a string of days that involve SO much thinking, planning, and execution. But he says it takes more effort to change the watch (and I will admit that he has one of those super complex watches that talks to the International Space Station and requires an owner’s manual to set) than it does to just subtract two hours.

In an effort to prove my point, Mathematical Mary begins calculating. So. Say you check your watch a minimum of twelve times a day, seven days a week. That’s 84 time-checks a week. And your trip is four weeks. That’s a total of 336 watch checks. You with me still? Now say that it takes you five seconds (conservatively) to register that your watch isn’t correct, realize that you have to subtract two hours, mentally subtract them, and come up with the actual time. That comes out to 1,680 seconds and that’s 28 minutes, right?

… Okay, never mind. He’s right. It does save time—especially given that he didn’t pack the owner’s manual. But he DID pack two other watches. Three watches to go west and rough it. By way of contrast, I brought one pair of EARRINGS for four and a half weeks. Who’s the real fashionista in this marriage, hmm? (Although I did bring a bottle of aqua toenail polish. Will I ever find the time? Who knows. They’re starting to look pretty mangy, though, especially after the rough sand dunes.)

Random Gearhead Stuff: We’ve got a partial data-use solution. Len is now taking most of the pictures (especially the landscapes) with his Nikon (way better quality than my iPhone pictures—speaking of, is there a setting on iPhone for landscapes?). Then he gives me the SD card to download them onto my laptop. Much better than emailing them to myself from my phone and the uploading them again. Doh!

Tomorrow: On to Valley of the Gods.

 

DAY EIGHT

D8 Naked woman

1920s Life Magazine Cover

The most astonishing thing happened in the Alamosa campsite bathroom: I encountered a completely naked woman standing in front of the mirrors brushing her hair. Okay, not completely naked—she had on shower shoes—but as I entered she turned my way and calmly said, “Good morning.” I responded in kind, as if it were an everyday occurrence for me to see a stark naked stranger on my way to the shower. But the most astonishing thing about this naked stranger was that she must have been seventy, at least—she was no spring chicken, in other words—and yet her body was the body of a twenty-five-year-old swimsuit model. I could have looked at it all day. I could have made a sculpture of it in marble. In fact, her skin was so smooth and milky white it looked like marble. But her face? Her face showed every one of her years—and they weren’t easy years—and her hair was coarse and bleached by sun, but that body!

D8 Great Divide

Spanning The Great Divide

As she kept brushing her hair, I unpacked my shower bag, determinedly not looking, even though I wanted to look because I couldn’t get over the strange wonderfulness of it all. Then I started to think that if I were 75 and had the body of a 25-year-old, I’d probably stand naked in the most (legally) public places I could find, too. I mean, why not? Use what you’ve got, right? Share your gifts. And the more I thought about this, the more I got inspired. Not inspired to stand naked in a public bathroom—that’s not really my thing—but inspired to be more confident in whatever my thing IS and wear it (or bare it) proudly. She of the fearless, shameless, clothesless body kind of made my day. So, thank you, Anonymous Naked Lady of Alamosa. You rock. And who knows, I just may carve you in marble one day.

D8 tunnerl

Tunnel Vision

We ate a quick breakfast at McDonald’s (pickings were slim, but the coffee wasn’t bad and I’m a sucker for anything on a biscuit). Len had to submit a time sheet, so I was writing in my notebook (about the Naked Lady of Alamosa) when a woman one table over asked me, “Are you a writer?” I considered showing her what I was writing and letting her decide, but the question caught me off guard, mostly because she seemed so sure I was a writer before I confirmed her suspicions. We talked a bit about writing. She said her father had been a writer and had written about his experience in Burma. I told her I had an uncle who had flown the hump and then told her about the non-fiction book I’d written about my co-author surviving banishment to Siberia. It was a quick but interesting encounter.

D8 runaway truck

Sorry, runaway truck guy!

We got back in the Jeep to head to The Valley of the Gods (a six-hour drive) and crossed the Continental Divide which was pretty cool. On the way down, Len asked me if I’d ever seen a Runaway Truck Ramp before and I said, “Yes, we have them in Virginia on the steeper Interstate roads, but I’ve never seen one used. I’d kind of like to see what that looks like when it happens.” And about five minutes later, we came upon a truck that had just used the runaway truck ramp. He was up to his axles in sand, standing beside the truck, staring and scratching his head. I grabbed my camera as quickly as I could (apologizing to him from afar) and snapped a quick shot.

D8 repairs

Repairs

We passed through Rio Grande National Forest, and made a few stops for gas. We’re starting to realize we need to add time into our daily trips to account for all the people who ask about our teardrop trailer. We get stopped all the time. And it’s interesting how different the reactions are. The older women usually say something along the lines of, “It’s so cute!” The older men typically want to know what all the added gadgets are for. The younger dudes say anything from, “That’s a badass trailer” to “That’s a sweet ride,” but never to us—the dudes always tell it to a friend within our earshot. And one such dude, when we smiled at his comment said, “That’s your ride? Congratulations!” as if we’d won it in some great teardrop lottery.

In the city of Cortez, pulling into a gas station with our windows down, we realized the passenger-side wheel of the trailer was making an unpleasant squealing noise (I wanted to blame the hubcap-missile.) Since we were about to go into a very remote area, we decided to have it checked—sooner rather than later. So we called around and go

D8 butte

Bluff? Or Butte?

t the name of an RV repair place: Western Equipment, LLC. The guy was super nice on the phone, told us to come right in and they’d check it out. They took off both wheels and found a spot on one where it looked like a small stone had gotten into the hub between the brake pad and the drum. This may have been the source of the squealing as some obvious rubbing had occurred. On the other wheel, they found a loose axle nut creating a subtle wheel wobble that might haunt us in the future. They put things back together quickly, re-greased the bearings, and pronounced us good to go. They only charged us $65 bucks! The owner was super impressed with our setup and told us he’d happily take it off our hands if we didn’t want it any more. We left feeling relieved and fortunate.

D8 road repair

Colorado Traffic Jam

At 4pm we hit the Utah border and the thermometer read 99 degrees. The Valley of the Gods has almost no trees and lots of wide open rocks, so we wimped out for the first night of our three-night stay and found a room in a sweet little motel in Bluff, Utah. The room had an “evaporative cooling” system (aka swamp air, but it’s wonderful) which pumps in cool, moist air. After the dry desert air, I have to say it was pretty heavenly. We bought Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and microwave dinners (Lean Cuisine–ha!) at a local grocery and settled in to catch up on our Internet stuff. We really do want to rough it, but 99-degree heat three for days in a row sounds more like a stint on Exile Island than a post-retirement vacation. We’ll head to The Valley of the Gods tomorrow and get set up in time for our guests to arrive and join us there for dinner on Saturday.

DAY NINE

D9 Panorama

Figured out my panorama setting just in time.

“The problem is not that there are problems, the problem is expecting otherwise and thinking that having problems is a problem.”
~Theodore Rubin

D10 VoG rearview mirror

Feeling reflective.

D9Recapture Lodge

Leaving Recapture Lodge

We checked out of the lovely and gracious accommodations of Recapture Lodge at 10:30 am and headed into The Valley of the Gods–finally! This destination was one of the ones that we’ve been looking forward to ever since we started planning this trip 15 months ago. Unfortunately, Utah is having an unusually hot spell of weather and the upcoming days are all expected to be in the 100s. So, intrepid travelers that we are, we took a ton of water and bravely set out.

D9 Campsite distant view

A dot on the landscape: Perspective-R-Us

As soon as we entered the area controlled by the Bureau of Land Management we were awed. The setting is wild and beautiful and harsh and picturesque. Red sand hills, giant rocks perched precariously at great heights. It was majestic and moving and soul-expanding. It really does feel like a special, spiritual place. I’m probably going to have a lot more pictures than text for the next few days.

D9 Awnings Deployed

Awnings deployed!

I will say that as beautiful as it was, it was beastly hot. I think we hit 98 air temp, which doesn’t take into account the radiant heat from hot rocks, the hot wind that never ceased (as long as the sun was up), or the greenhouse effect inside the trailer, and no shade unless we made it ourselves. There really was no place to escape it. We were drinking water constantly and yet the air was so dry we couldn’t even feel ourselves sweat.

We struggled to set up the awnings in the wind and ended up using lots of rocks around the base of the poles to help keep everything in place. It was a little hard to stake them, but we did that, too. The substrate was either rocks or sand and neither one is great for driving in or retaining stakes.

D9 spire and road dusk

Castle Butte, from our campsite.

With the super high temperatures, we were also having trouble keeping the fridge/freezer going without draining the deep-cycle battery. Len kept moving the extra, portable solar panel to catch the best sun angle for maximum capture. We decided to remove the freezer compartment and just make the whole thing a fridge to keep from sucking so much energy. That also meant that our freezer stuff would start to thaw, so we

D9 Jeep with guywires

Guylines by a clever guy

did a quick assessment about what we could stand to lose if they thawed and wouldn’t keep until we ate them. So we pulled out the four bacon-wrapped filets so they wouldn’t go bad. As the sun went down (yes, finally, thank the valley gods–site-appropriate term) we decided to put the awnings away so we wouldn’t have that to worry about while sleeping if the wind kept

D9 Sun going down

Shadows falling

howling. Fortunately, the wind died down, the air cooled, the crickets came out to serenade us, we pulled out the stove and cooked up our dinner: epic views, filet mignon, and red wine. Bummer, right?

D9 sun setting

Red rock rim

DAY TEN

“Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.” ~Oscar Wilde

 

Words seem inadequate in the face of Nature’s wild grandeur. I’ll let her do the talking today.

D10 awnings down

Awnings down for the night.

D10 Castle Butte with road

Castle Butte, view from our campsite.

D10 distant formations

Changing colors as the sun goes down.

D10 red rocks

Red rocks.

 

 

 

D10 screen door

The screen door, first use, much cooler.

D10 Spire with moon

Castle Butte under a moon.

 

 

 

 

DAY ELEVEN

D11RandM get hit by the selfie stick

Randy and Martha get hit by the selfie stick

Our temporary traveling companions (Randy and Martha) arrived yesterday amidst the brutal heat, in the 100s, and the sun and wind continued to sap our already limited reserves. By the end of the day, we all kept saying, “I’m exhausted and I didn’t even do anything!”

Except we did. At 6am, Len was up helping the local tow-truck woman put our trailer onto a flatbed to have it serviced in Blanding on Monday. We’d heard some troubling squeals in The Valley of the Gods that a couple of motorcycle riders assured us was the sound of a bad bearing (our worry, too). So we limped out of the Valley of the Gods and back to Bluff (at 20mph) and called to arrange transport since the wheel was sizzling hot to the touch.

D11 DeGaul and Troops

Rock formation name: de Gaulle and His Troops

(Spoiler alert: As it turned out, it wasn’t a bearing but a brake adjustment/brake controller interface issue–somewhat better news, really, and now we knew what was causing the noise and heat. The combination of the brake controller–initially set high as we were having trouble getting it calibrated per the instructions–and the brake adjustment setting caused the brakes to intermittently be applied all the time, resulting in squealing and a very hot hub. As you will recall, our hometown experts didn’t find an issue, the experts in Cortez didn’t find one, and the Blanding mechanics (RV and 4wd experts) didn’t figure it out for a long time–Len had to keep explaining what we’d experienced as well as driving up and down route 191 to test different combinations and try and heat it up so they could troubleshoot.)

D11 MoquiThe good news in all of that was that once we uncoupled (not the Chris Martin uncoupling) we had the Jeep, unfettered, to explore the area with Randy and Martha, so we drove the whole loop of The Valley of the Gods and showed them our campsite from the night before. That tiny blue dot beneath the rock formation is Martha, by way of comparison.

After that, we drove up … and up … and up … wait for it … The Moki Dugway. If you don’t know what that is, google it … provided you have a strong stomach. The Moki Dugway is a narrow gravel road with sharp switchbacks and an 11% grade carved into the side of a 1,200 foot mesa. It is (apparently) one of the ten most dangerous roads in the US (we didn’t know this before we tackled it–or maybe Len did, but he wasn’t telling). There’s no guardrail, no side edge of any kind, really, and no runaway truck ramps, either. I made a short video (as much as I could stomach) at about 1,000 feet up. You can view it here.

D11Moki Dugway terror

Moki Terror

It really was a spectacular, once-in-a-lifetime driving/riding experience, but I don’t know that I’d want to repeat it. I’m not a big fan of heights and my palms were sweaty for about twenty minutes even after we’d reached Cedar Mesa at the top with a grand view of the Manti LaSalle Mountains and no indication of the horrors that lay behind us. As Randy said, “I wanted to look, but a couple times I just couldn’t, and since they say you tend to drive toward where you look, that’s probably a good thing.”

D11 Anasazi

Anasazi cliff ruins

We passed Salvation Knoll at 7,110 feet, where Mormon explorers got their bearings in a snowstorm and were thereby saved from death. Since we had only recently been saved from Moki death, we decided to skip that stop. On State Route 95, The Trail of the Ancients, we stopped to study some Native ruins. Since Randy teaches Oneida Indian Nation history in schools (and is Oneida himself) and had just come from a Native language conference in Flagstaff, he was a great one to offer extra tidbits of knowledge about the Pueblo lifestyle. The Anasazi Ruins at Butler Wash were worth the short .5 mile hike (even in 100-degree heat).

D11 Navajo-Taco

Photo credit: tsgcookin.com

D11Twin rocks diner

Twin Rocks Cafe under the bluffs of Bluff.

After all that, we came home, showered off the dust, and met for dinner at Twin Rocks Cafe, located just beneath the bluffs of Bluff. Three of us had the Navajo Taco (and the smart one, the actual Native American, had a Greek salad). The Navajo taco was–not unlike the Moki Dugway–an experience I’m glad to have had, but not one I’m likely to repeat anytime soon. It was delicious: frybread topped with chili, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, black olives, onions, salsa, and sour cream. But later that night I was still so full I had a date with Senor Alka-Selzer and it took a while to get to sleep. I can’t say I hadn’t been warned–Randy made sure I knew what I was in for…and I dove in anyway, fork-first.

In other good news, without the trailer to pull, our gas mileage shot up to 17.8 mpg.

In other not-so-good news, my personal writing time is really suffering. (Sorry Zoe!) Must get back on track.