We all do it, buying too many bananas or just not getting to eat them before they go “banana-bread-ready”.
I came home from my second work hardening shift at Amazon (only worked 6 am – 11 am) and was welcomed by 3 such bananas. I searched online for a banana bread recipe, and then remembers that I ditched the loaf pan. So, muffins it would be!
I adapted a recipe from The Plant Strong Vegan. I felt the original had too much sugar, and didn’t have chocolate chips or oats, which I consider a must in any sweet treat!
BANANA CHOCOLATE CHIP MUFFINS
3 very ripe Bananas, mashed
2 cups Flour (can use for gluten-free flour)
½ cup Organic Sugar, or coconut sugar
½ cup Unsweetened non-dairy milk of choice
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
1 tsp Baking Soda
½ tsp Cinnamon
¼ tsp Salt
¼ Cup vegan Chocolate Chips
¼ Cup Oats of your choice
Preheat your oven to 350° F
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda, salt & cinnamon.
In a medium bowl, mash-up your 3 ripe bananas with a fork, and add milk & vanilla.
Fold the wet with the dry and mix well.
Mix in chocolate chips and oats.
Fill muffin cups with approx 1/4 Cup of batter.
Bake for 22-25 minutes or until golden brown and cooked in the middle.
Not totally oil-free eating if you do this, but if you are so inclined:
Top with a dollop of peanut butter and some banana slices
PREP TIME: 5 minutes
COOK TIME: 25 minutes
If you make these, share your feedback in the comments! I’d love to hear how they came out, and if you made any additions/modifications to make them fit for you. (Like using Pumpkin Pie Spice instead of Cinnamon).
In October of 2012, David and I were working our first Amazon CamperForce job. There was a fellow Camper who had just finished working the Sugar Beet Harvest (SBH), and his description of the job – short term, good pay, lovely part of the country – has always stayed with us. In fact, we submitted applications in 2014 and 2015, but then declined due to other obligations. This year was our year to check off another RV’er Bucket List Adventure – The Unbeetable Experience!
So, what is the SBH? The American Crystal Sugar Company/Sidney Sugars hires 1,300 people each year, through a temp agency called Express Employment, to help with the sugar beet harvest in Montana, and the Red River Valley of North Dakota and Minnesota. These migrant workers come in their cars, vans, bus conversions, and RVs. There are also locals who use their vacation time to make extra money.
The actual jobs available for this workforce are described as follows:
Helper and Sample Taker
Collects beet samples and assists Pile Operator in cleaning. Helper will also communicate with drivers to ensure safe and accurate unloading of trucks. Pile Operator
Maneuvers pile control switches, orchestrates repair work and supervises and assists in the clean up of daily operations. Skidsteer Operator
Operates skidsteer. Must be able to lift 50 lbs.
Now, to the uninitiated, these job descriptions don’t sound so bad. Experience will tell us differently.
The shifts are 12 hrs long, generally 8 am – 8 pm, or 8 pm – 8 am. The harvest work starts on Oct 1, and the worker commitment is for 15 days, or until one is “released”, whichever is first. In 2015, the harvest in MN/ND finished in 9 days.
The pay is the big draw. Starting pay for first year workers is an hourly wage of $12.86 for the first 8 hrs, $19.29 for the next 4 hrs of each workday. Saturday pay is $19.29/hr for the full day, and Sunday pay is $25.72/hr for the full shift. If one is dismissed from work early due to weather or other circumstances, they are paid for a minimum of 4 hrs. Rehires, pile operators and skidster operators make a bit more per hour. A completion bonus of 5% for first year, and 10% for returners is also paid. And finally, a full hookup campsite is provided. The Express Employment ads make these claims:
Fred and Yvonne from AZ
earned over $4600
Kay from NM had an
average wage of $16.42/hr
Butch and Judy from SD
earned over $7100
Paul from SD had an
average wage of $17.88/hr
One can see why people would travel to work the SBH!
Those are the nuts and bolts. The actual experience is a little bit greater than the parts.
The application process was easy. While working the Amazon CamperForce booth in Quartzsite, AZ in January 2016, we were once again next to the Express Employment booth. We turned in our completed applications with the couple there (who, as we understand it, get a $150 referral bonus for each person who completed their work commitment). Sometime in June, we were called and asked if we were still planning on working. In August, we were told that we were assigned to a campground in Stephen, MN and would be working in Kennedy, MN, a short drive away. Our expected arrival date was September 24. This early arrival was because David was expected to be a Pile Operator, and therefore would need to attend training before the actual harvest began.
We drove from Maine to Minnesota, and arrived on the 23rd. The campground is owned by the city of Stephen, and is actually quite nice. A sign was posted with our name on the site, which happened to be directly next to the wifi router (score!). We have had excellent, unlimited high-speed internet for the entire campaign.
On Saturday, Sept 24, we drove to the Express HQ in Drayton, ND to complete paperwork and watch an orientation video. We also had the pleasure of meeting up with two couples that are friends from Amazon tours in Nevada and Texas.
Here is a map to help keep the locations straight. Yes, we commuted 20 minutes each way to our work site.
We were not needed again until Tuesday, Sept 27, when we received 2 hours of onsite training in Drayton. This training actually was just a visual, standing around a piler, but there were no trucks and no beets, so we really just got a feel for how cold the wind could be, and how many more layers we were going to have to wear! We were also issued our spiffy, clean PPE’s (personal protection equipment): a hardhat, a safety vest, and goggles.
David had piler training at Kennedy on Thursday, Sept 29 for 2 hours, and I had onsite training that same day. For those keeping track, we have now been in MN for 7 days, and “worked” a total of 6 hours. We were questioning why we had to arrive so early, and how we were going to make our 2 weeks worth of food last, as the local grocery stores did not have much to offer. But we took advantage of the time to walk around the town, and to batch cook and freeze soups, beans, rice, and muffins in preparation for the 12 hr shifts scheduled to start on Saturday, Oct 1.
There was a mix up on job assignments before we even got to work on our first day. When I awoke on the morning of Oct 1, I noticed a voice mail from the Kennedy site. Apparently, I had been assigned to the Night schedule, even though no one had contacted me. I called in and said that I was working days, and we were on our way. When we reported to work at 7 am on Oct 1, I was listed on both the day and night schedule, and David was not listed on the schedule at all. Everything looked correct when we left training on Thursday, so we have no idea what happened between then and the start of the campaign.
Day 1 ended at 12:45 pm, as the temperature was too warm for the beet harvest. Apparently, the outdoor temperature cannot exceed 68°F , or the beets will be too warm in the pile and rot. Oct 2, our work day lasted from 8 am to 12:30 pm, again due to heat. This was a bummer for multiple reasons, but primarily because those two days were premium pay days, and thus our opportunity for maximum income was reduced. But this is farming, and mother nature does not always cooperate. These short work days helped break our bodies in to the process, so it was not all bad.
We were surprised to find that David was not assigned the job of pile operator even though that was the training he received, as there was a returner assigned to that position instead. In fact, on the first day, David and I were assigned to different pilers. This made life a little more complicated, as the pilers are not close, and one or the other of us would have to walk a good distance to get to the truck for food and water. This was remedied the second day when we asked the foreman for a switch. David joined me on piler 3, and that completed our crew of two couples. David was relief for our pile operator when he needed breaks and for lunch.
The weather did not cooperate for the SBH for three more days. We had Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday off completely. We took time to meet up with friends for lunch at a brewery in Grand Forks, ND and to restock the pantry and fridge. We have now been in MN 12 days, and worked a total of 16.25 hours.
Finally, on Thursday, Oct 6, we have the go ahead to report to work at 11 a.m. for an 8 hour shift. We dress in layers, as it is cold and windy. And the truck won’t start. The batteries are dead! It took two trucks (thank you, fellow work camper Walt!) to get us moving. We recharged on the drive into work, but needed a jump at the end of shift to get us on the road back to the closest Walmart, in Grand Forks (1 hr drive). Two new batteries later, and we were driving home, and in bed by 11 pm. That was a complication that really could have buried us!
From Friday, Oct 7 through Sunday, Oct 16, we worked every day, 12 hr shifts. What did our jobs entail? Well, here are the tools of our trade:
And our workstations? Well, they were the sample taking station:
The Truck Area:
And the Piler Tower and End Dumps:
Now to explain what the actual job entails. As this was our first year, the couple that was working with us, returners, set the stage for how our piler would operate. Piler 3 had a crew of 4: the piler operator (Karl), the boom operator (Colleen) , and two additional grounds people (David and I). A truck full of harvested sugar beets would come through the end dump and stop. There are end dumps on either side of the piler, so David was on one side, I was on the other. I primarily worked the side with the boom and the sample taker. We would greet the truck, write the number of our piler on the trucker’s receipt, and take a sample ticket from the trucker if he had one. The operator would signal for the truck to dump his load, and the conveyors would sift the dirt from the beets, sending the beets up the boom to end up in the growing beet pile. The dirt, or tare, would be returned to the truck and the truck would drive away. We would help direct the trucks forward, backwards, and then clean around where they ignored us. And repeat.
Before, during, and after the unloading of the beets, we would use shovels to keep our work area and the area where the beets would be piled, clear of dirt and other organic material. If it rained (and it did), the area would become more slippery than ice. The dirt is amazing, a black mix of clay that is sticky and globs with amazing thickness. We had dirt and hydraulic fluid raining down on us all day, and were thankful that we were wearing clothing that could be ruined – because it was!
The sample bags would weigh about 20 – 25 lbs each. I could barely lift one when we first started, but by the end of the run, I had no problem with them.
The shoveling, standing for hours, and sheer physicality of the job surprised us. We had been told by many previous “Beeters” that it was the elements that would be most challenging. The wind, the cold, the rain all proved tough, that is for sure. But we layered up, and had really good boots that got us through that part. We probably could have done with better gloves, but once I layered some good fleece gloves under my work gloves, I was much more comfortable.
The length of shift was tough, too. 12 hrs outside is a long time, but we got to see the sunrise and the sunset most days. An incredible bonus was the view of the Northern Lights we had one night on the drive home. It was too spectacular for a picture, so this sunset will just have to do:
It was a challenge to keep David fueled. He burns calories faster than I do (clearly), and I worried about how cold he was. I will let him talk about the effect of the job on his Parkinson’s, if he is so inclined, in a separate post. For me, I burned about 3,000 calories a day, and lost 10 pounds. My fitbit showed around 30,000 steps a day.
When the trucks rolled through at a good pace, the time seemed to go by faster. When we were down to one truck every 15 – 20 minutes, it was tough to stay warm. But we tried to keep moving and keep cleaning.
We had an outside-of-work challenge thrown at us while at work on the 12th. We came home to find that there was no water in the campground. And when we got up on the 13th, it still wasn’t on, so I called the City to discover that they had turned it off and winterized the pipe, with no intention of turning it back on again. They did, however, leave it on in the shower house. That’s two stalls for women, two for men, for a full campground of 24 hour workers. Not ideal. The people at Express arranged for a water truck to deliver water to our rig, but the communication still lacked, and it was Friday before we had a full tank of water to cook and bathe with. If we had some notice from the City, we would have filled our tank. Lesson learned. But the situation did cause some to lose work hours while they relocated to another campground.
The majority of the farms in our location were wrapping up by Friday, the 14th. Remember, we have a 15 day commitment to receive our bonus. There were two large farms that were waiting until the last possible minute to harvest, so work extended into the weekend of the 15th and 16th. We decided that the 16th was our last work day, but could have continued for a couple more days, whether it would be to help process beets or to clean the machines post-harvest. But we were pretty much out of food and energy, so we fulfilled our commitment, plus one day of premium pay, and should finish with around $2,500 each/$5,000 couple in our pocket. Eventually. We are told that the orientation time and the bonus are not paid out until December, but we should see the majority of the pay by October 28.
Here is David’s video summary of our time on Piler 3:
Would we do it again? The jury is still out on that one!
We look forward to hearing what you have to say about this post. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.
It is 42°F outside, and we are taking it easy as we rest up between jobs. This is exactly when I get the baking bug! David loves pumpkin pie, but I have not made a vegan version yet, and am up to the challenge today.
When we went grocery shopping the other day, we noticed the display of pumpkin pie making supplies – and then read the label on the pumpkin pie filling. Since we weren’t going to be adding sweetened condensed milk and/or eggs to our diet anytime soon, we decided to just get a couple cans of pumpkin and see what we could do with them.
I searched Happy Herbivore for a pie crust recipe. Found one that is incredibly easy, which is a good thing since I have minimal experience making pie crust. I was almost going to use the recipe for cornbread and make THAT the pie crust, but changed my mind.
Discovered that I don’t have a pie pan, so a rectangle pan is going to have to do.
I whipped up the crust recipe, then pressed it into the pan.
I was then in search of a no-oil, vegan pumpkin pie filling recipe. I didn’t find one, so I improvised and married two different recipes together.
Here is what it looks like going into the oven:
And this is what it looked like coming out of the oven:
Here are the recipes:
1 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 whole banana, cold
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt (I omitted this)
Combine flour and banana (a slightly unripe, still greenish banana is best) in a food processor, pulsing until there are no whole banana pieces left. Roll out on clean surface, or press into pan.
2 3/4 cups pumpkin puree
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened plain milk of your choice (I used soy)
1 Tbsp chia seeds, mixed with 1/3 cup warm water (let sit for 15 minutes)
2 1/2 Tbsp cornstarch
1 3/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice (or sub mix of ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg & cloves)
Combine all ingredients in a blender, and blend until smooth. Taste to adjust spices, as necessary. Pour filling into crust. Bake at 350° for 60 minutes. Out of the oven, let cool for 2 hrs or refrigerate until ready to serve.
David’s opinion: Two pieces are gone, so I think that means he likes it!
It’s Fall, the leaves are turning, and I am succumbing to the Pumpkin Spice movement!
Here is a healthy recipe that I found online, and made even healthier by modifying it to be WFPBOF (whole food plant based oil free). It’s how we roll. When you make these, please let me know what you think in the comments section.
Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins
Adapted from recipe by Cookie and Kate
Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 25 mins
Serves: 12-14 muffins
1/3 cup unsweetened apple sauce
1/4 cup maple syrup or honey
2 chia seed eggs (2 Tablespoons chia seeds in 2/3 cup water. Let sit for 15 min)
1 cup pumpkin purée
1/4 cup milk of choice (I used unsweetened soy)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, plus more for sprinkling on top
1/3 cup old-fashioned oats, plus more for sprinkling on top
1/4 cup vegan chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 325° F.
In a large bowl, whisk together the applesauce and maple syrup or honey. Add chia seed gel, and mix well. Mix in the pumpkin purée and milk, followed by the baking soda, vanilla extract, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and allspice or cloves.
Add the flour and oats to the bowl and mix with a large spoon, just until combined. If you’d like to add any additional mix-ins, like nuts, chocolate or dried fruit, fold them in now.
Divide the batter evenly between the muffin cups. The don’t “grow” much while baking, so it is OK to fill towards the top. Sprinkle the tops of the muffins with a small amount of oats, followed by a sprinkle of cinnamon if desired.
Bake muffins for 23 to 26 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into a muffin comes out clean.
Place the muffin tin on a cooling rack. These muffins come out cleanly when they are cooled, but will break up if you try to take them out too soon.
MAKE IT GLUTEN FREE: Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free all-purpose blend works well instead of the whole wheat flour. STORAGE SUGGESTIONS: These muffins keep well in the freezer. Store them in a freezer-safe bag and defrost individual muffins as needed. CHANGE IT UP: You could really go crazy with add-ins here! Fold in chopped dried cranberries or crystallized ginger. If you are not nut-adverse, try chopped nuts like pecans or walnuts. And my friend Barry suggest trying peanut butter chips (but they are pretty hard to find in the vegan variety).
From Sydney, we headed towards Brisbane, NSW and the Gold Coast.
Our intention was to route through Canberra, the capital of Australia, but we decided to save that for our return trip, since it was more “inland” and we wanted to go along the coastal route as much as possible.
We got a pretty late start out of the caravan park, so our first day was a relatively short one. With the help of our WikiCamps app , The Rock Roadhouse was chosen as our free, overnight stop. We were the first of the van dwellers to arrive for the night, but were soon joined by many. Upon arrival, most chose a respectable distance between vans, and all was good in the world until about 11 pm when a rental van of three girls from Germany decided to park between us and our neighbor, and proceeded to open and close their doors and speak at full volume for at least the next hour. Even in RV living, or camping, we have all had THAT neighbor once in a while.
Yes, that is a gas station/restaurant that has been made to look like Uluru. Hence the name “The Rock” Roadhouse.
After a quick breakfast, we headed to the Seal Rocks lighthouse to see what we could see.
On the walk up the very steep path, we took a break to let others pass:
The views were stunning:
Back on the road and heading up the coast, we came upon a lovely beachfront town by the name of Port Macquarie. It had numerous free camping opportunities, as well as a reasonably-priced caravan park. There were surfing beaches and hiking trails listed as points of interest, so that it became our first real stop for the state of New South Wales.
Here is what Town Beach looked like upon our arrival:
The first night, which was really supposed to be the only night, was spent in a parking lot along – you guessed it – by the river, next to a hotel. It was quiet, and had public restrooms just a quick 3 minute walk away. There were two or three other backpacker vans, and we were treated to an evening show of flying foxes heading out for a hunt. There seemed to be thousands of them, and David tried to get a picture with his camera on the night vision setting:
Here is what they look like during the day –
That is a picture I pulled from the internet, as I did not seek them out during the day. Suffice it to say that they are very large, and there is a plentiful colony that lives in a nature reserve in Port Macquarie. The night show was impressive.
The weather in Port Macquarie is magnificent! One would not suspect it is late Fall, with the water so lovely and inviting, and the days around 80-85 degrees F.
We expected this to be an overnight stop, but the beach and town were just so lovely, that we spent the next 6 days lounging around, hiking, getting caught up on library wifi, and generally feeling like we were really on vacation, or “holiday” as they call it here.
The town is really cute and has a little something for everyone – major chain grocery stores and a mall, a lovely library with free internet, a modern art center that doubles as a visitor center, boutique shops and day spas, as well as numerous ice cream and coffee shops. The jewel in the crown was the magnificent beaches and walking trails. All of this was within walking distance of our overnight parking places.
One could see why this is the home of the Australian Ironman competition, which unknown to us, was completed the day before our arrival. The competitors cleared out by our day 3, and we felt as if we had the town and beaches to ourselves. The township of Port Macquarie was established in 1821, with many buildings from that time still intact.
As Port Macquarie became our home for 6 nights, between the great caravan park and the urban camping friendly parking lots, we averaged $7.60 AUD/night. Of course, that does not factor in our daily shared $5 AUD soy decaf flat whites. Yes, David has not only stopped giving me grief about drinking coffee, but I am sharing my drinks with him. It is a change in attitude I can live with!
Some of the highlights of our time here:
The Town Beach and an ocean that I actually went wading into, multiple times. (I don’t swim, and rarely go into bodies of water, so this was really meaningful to me. I even got knocked down by a wave, but got back up and still played some more:
The Koala Hospital and the Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail were both sources of entertainment. The Koala Hospital allowed us an up-close look at the care and rehabilitation of sick and injured koalas. It is the only facility of its kind in the world, and is run by donation and volunteers. The Sculpture Trail comprised of 50 unique koala sculptures placed in various places around town and the outlying area. These sculptures were created to celebrate the largest coastal koala population on the east coast of Australia. While I did not go about seeking these out, I took a snap of each one that I encountered along my way:
The Coastal Walk from Town Beach to Lighthouse Beach was a doozy through beaches for all kinds from surfing to fishing to dog-friendly to naked, with a rainforest canopy and a goanna sighting at a birthday party! The reward for hiking 10 kilometers across beaches and through rainforest paths: steps to the lighthouse!
On our final morning in “Port”, we shared Town Beach with our mothers, as we called them to wish them a Happy Mother’s Day. One last look:
It’s been two weeks since we have seen Hannah, and I am ready to invade her space again. We probably won’t take more than 3 days to get back to Melbourne; at least that is my hope.
We arrived in Sydney on a Sunday afternoon, and expected traffic to be less hectic. Along that same thought, we headed to famous Bondi Beach. After paying $7/hr for parking, we walked around, took some pictures, and wondered what all the fuss was about. I guess we are a little jaded, or maybe because the beach wasn’t filled with sunbathers and merry makers, but we just didn’t see the draw. It felt excessively touristy, but we did find the pool at the edge of the beach a neat touch:
It took us over an hour to get out of the city and into our caravan park. It was so nice to be parked in a lovely site at Lane Cove River Tourist Park. The park staff was very helpful at check-in, the amenities blocks were clean and plentiful, and we were given a nice site with lots of room. The park was quiet, while also providing free internet access in the game/TV room. For $37 a night, it was a bargain for the location alone. Everything else was icing on the cake.
We headed into Sydney on the train the next morning. Thank you, Alex and Sarah (previous owners of Spotto) for the Opal card with credit on it! We will pass these on to Hannah to use up the balance when we leave. The trip took about 30 minutes, and it was a relief not having to deal with traffic, parking, etc.
A free walking tour of Sydney started at 9:00 a.m., so we joined it. Our tour guide, Lydia, grew up in Sydney, and had historical tales and secret passages to share with us. The tour was 3 hours in length, but we left it halfway through, as we were near the Harbor at that point, and wanted to go at a quicker pace than the tour. But we would recommend it to future Sydney visitors, as it is a great way to learn about the city.
Here are some of the places we visited:
Forgotten Songs was an alley art installation. “Forgotten Songs commemorates the songs of fifty birds once heard in central Sydney, before they were gradually forced out by European settlement. The calls, which filter down from the canopy of birdcages suspended above Angel Place, change as day shifts to night; the daytime birds’ songs disappearing with the sun, and those of the nocturnal birds, which inhabited the area, sounding into the evening.” If there weren’t so many people talking as we walked through, we would have really enjoyed it. And we tried to find this on our way back to the train station, but could not locate it.
A little tidbit about the Coat of Arms of Australia: the two animals, the kangaroo and the emu, apparently cannot walk backwards. Well, that is what our tour guide told us!
Of course, we visited the Sydney Opera House. One can’t miss it coming over the bridge on the train, and it was a major part of our visit.
One can’t really see the size when viewing it from across the water.
But once upon it,
It is clear that it is many pieces.
Here is an up-close view of the outer shell of tiles whose reflection makes the buildings shine:
It was a beautiful day and we walked all over the downtown and harbor area. On our way back to the train, we spotted these fellows enjoying a game of chess:
Now that we have experienced Sydney, we are pretty much finished with going into downtown areas for awhile. The highlights of the day were the meandering walks through the botanical gardens and the trek around the harbor and around the opera house. The lowlights were definitely the search for vegan food (we ended up with veggie sushi) and the packed malls.
We are now off to the Gold Coast, in search of some sun and white sand beaches.
We decided that while Hannah recovers from her torn plantar fascia injury, we will transform from parents to explorers in a van, and really make the most of our time in Australia. We set our sights on Sydney, a mere 1,000 kilometers to the northeast.
One our first day out, we came upon a town by the name of “Stratford on the Avon”. Since David (and the other Keane’s, including his father Harold) grew up in Stratford, Connecticut, we decided that this was a must-see. We were not disappointed.
This Stratford has an art walk, complete with an audio guide, an MP3 player, and a speaker, all available for pickup at the local theater.
Here is the Globe, the first stop on the art tour:
And the marker for Connecticut:
Here are some of the art pieces along the 1 hour walk:
It was great to spontaneously take part in the tour of the town, and we were invited back for the weekend Shakespeare Birthday celebration that is apparently the highlight of the year. We weren’t sure how far down the road we would be, but kept it as an option.
That night, we had a truly beautiful free camp site thanks to the town of Metung at the Chinaman’s Creek park. Here is the view that awaited us in the morning:
Our next destination was Raymond Island to go on the Koala Walk. A short ferry trip:
And we were on Raymond Island, following the Koala Walk. Koalas were introduced to this island in 1953 when Australians were concerned that the population was dwindling. The koalas that live on this island are very used to people, and are not spooked by the many walkers and photographers that come over on the ferry to take the short 1.5 km walk. As you can see here, David was able to get very close to his subjects:
Here are some of the special koalas we spotted on our hike around the island
In addition to the koalas, we spotted many birds
And about the birds on the main photo: these are the Tawny Frogmouth. What we first thought was just the top of an old tree, came to light upon closer inspection. They were very well camouflaged! We thought they were maybe owls, but a little research and we discovered their true identity.
On the ferry back to the mainland, we spotted many jellyfish, and had fun trying to get a good shot. Not the most cooperative photo subjects!
Our next two days were pretty much just travel and find a pretty place to stop for the night.
First, along the famous Snowy River:
And then in the town of Genoa, where the town provides a superb free campground:
We stopped in the little town of Tathra, NSW were we came across the cutest coffee shop/bakery called “The Wharf Locavore” and treated ourselves to a cup of tea before we tackled a little hike.
Just look at how cute this place is:
And the tea:
Yes, I could have stayed there all afternoon with those views and the tempting pastries. But, we are just hours away from our Sydney-area destination, and we must move on.
Visitors come to the center of Australia – called the “Red Center” (or, for you Brits and Aussies the “Red Centre”) to view and hike through some of the most wondrous land masses in the world: Australia’s most recognizable landmark, Uluru is also known as Ayers Rock; next to Uluru is Kata Tjuta, also known as the Olgas; and a few hours down the road is the stunning Watarrka, or Kings Canyon.
We were originally just going to hike around Uluru and Kata Tjuta, but then decided to add Kings Canyon to the mix since we are here, and it is, too! We were very glad that we did.
With the temperatures getting up there to around 100 degrees F, we knew we needed to get an early start, as the trails are closed if the temperature is 36 degrees C (96 degrees F).
Kings Canyon is part of Watarrka National Park, with walls about 350 feet high. With three hikes to choose from, we started with the longest, a 6 km trail that goes from the base to the top of the canyon, with a dip down into the Garden of Eden, and finishing through a sandstone landscape that made us feel like we were walking on Mars.
Reading some of the placards on the trail, we learned that this canyon is an aboriginal sacred site in places, so we were encouraged to stay on the trails. After visiting the Alice Springs Reptile Center (https://rvgetfit.com/2016/05/05/alice-springs) you can rest assured that we were not going off trail! We found it interesting that the first European expedition to explore the canyon was in 1872 – which, once again, reminded us of how “new” Australia is to us non-aborigines.
The hike starts with Heart Attack Hill – and there were plenty of people looking up the winding steps wondering if they shouldn’t just wait for their tour partners in the bus. This was steep, and not for the faint of heart!
The colors of the rocks were just amazing.
And we felt that we were pretty much the only people out there
The route would take us up to the top of the canyon on the left side, around the rim, down into the canyon to the watering hole and oasis called the Garden of Eden, then back up to the rim for the right side view, before returning to the parking lot.
The canyon walls started to come into view
and we could see hikers on the other side
There were some steep ledges, with warning signs:
And it might have been the heat, but we were cracking up when we saw this one:
Some other highlights:
the textures were amazing
the stairs and the Garden of Eden
And, on the other side of the canyon, as we walked along the…
We were met by another goanna, as seen in the photo at the top of this post. Yup, two days after being bitten, David must have been sending off some serious goanna pheromone, because we had not seen much wildlife on the hike, and then this 6 foot long specimen saunters on by. Here is another view:
We finished up the main trail, and noted that the path going the opposite direction was closed due to the temperature.
The hike proved to be quite the challenge, with the heat and the flies! Oh, the flies. They were so pestering that we stopped at a visitors center to buy fly nets to put over our hats for the hike around Uluru and the Olgas the next day.
We consulted our free camping app, and found a nice place to shower for $3 AUD, and then went on to camp at the Sandy Way Rest Area for the night.
The next day, we were up early again and on to see Uluru and the Olgas. As we drove in, you could see it in the distance:
Uluru, or Ayers Rock, is a sacred part of aboriginal creation mythology, and is considered one of Australia’s most recognizable natural icons. A large sandstone “island mountain”, it is an isolated remnant of the slowly eroding mountain range, and is thought to be roughly 800-850 million years old. Seriously.
We got to the big rock, and suited up! It was already hot outside, and the flies were relentless, but we were ready this time:
It should be noted that we intended to walk AROUND the rock, not to climb it. The aborigines have asked that visitors not climb their sacred rock, and we saw no reason to go against this wish. Some believe that if they are going to spend the $25 AUD entrance fee for the park, they are entitled to do whatever they want. Yes, it is a struggle for the park. There is a huge sign next to the carpark explaining the history and the position against climbing. And still:
The base walk is 10 km, or 6 miles, and we really enjoyed it. Once again, we went counterclockwise, and saw only a handful of people during the 2.5-3 hrs we took to explore.
So glad we had our nets, as they kept the annoying flies off of our faces; the rest of our bodies, not so much. David felt compelled to take this shot:
There were some caves
Some really cool erosion marks
Some shade structures if one wanted to take a break
The texture of the land was so interesting, and the colors changed as the sunlight shifted
We finished the Uluru base hike, and then drove the 53 km/32 miles to Kata Tjuta. There, we took the Valley of the Winds hike, which was another 7.4 km. Most people probably don’t do both hikes in the same day, but it is late Summer/early Fall, so we have the daylight to do this.
Kata Tjuta, or the Olgas, is a collection of monoliths. The hike was much more strenuous than the base walk of Uluru.
Here is some of the scenery we enjoyed:
According to my fitbit, this was a 37,775 step day for me! I don’t plan on surpassing that anytime soon, but you never know where this Australian adventure will take us.
The big question we had for each other after the hike was, “How do you pronounce ‘Uluru’?”
Some of you may not be aware that David’s undergrad degree is a Bachelor of Arts in Geography, from Keene State University in Keene, New Hampshire. Yes, he did attend a college, and live in a town, with the same name (different spelling) as his own. But that isn’t the point. The point is, that he has retained more of his undergrad knowledge from 1977 than anyone I know. Especially for someone who did not go on to work in that field.
A little nugget that he carried around in his brain is that Alice Springs, in the geographic center of Australia, should be visited, if for no other reason, then for it’s geographic-centerness. Totally sounds like a reason to drive 2,300 kms/1,500 miles to check it out in person, right?
And so, we did. On the fourth day of the Trip To Alice Springs, we actually arrived! And what a sight to behold! It has lived up to the hype, I tell you!
Kit (our oldest child, who is almost finished with his doctorate in Biology. Yes, we are so proud!) told us that Alice Springs has a Reptile Center (link: www.reptilecentre.com.au), so naturally we MUST visit! After a 4 day road trip, I know YOU would go straight to the see the snakes, frogs, and reptiles of the Red Center.
The Reptile Center displays over 100 reptiles of 60 different species. Open daily from 9:30 am – 5 pm, with demonstrations conducted at 11 am, 1 pm, and 3:30 pm, we arrived just in time for the 1 pm session led by a young lady named Grace, who presented several of the Center’s inhabitants.
First off was Ruby the Goanna; she roams the center freely, and is very used to people, we are told. Next, we had a bearded dragon, and blue tongued skink, then a python. The last half of the presentation was an instruction on the proper actions to take if one is bit by a snake while in the Australian bush. This was complete with a demonstration on how to wrap one’s limb in a bandage to constrict blood flow and thus to slow the advancement of venom in one’s system. It was all presented well and reminded us that we were now in the wilds of Australia, home to a ridiculous number of poisonous reptiles. It also made me pretty nervous about the next few days, when we intend to do some considerable hiking. On the positive side, the first aid instruction will be fresh in our minds.
Now that show and tell was over, we were given the opportunity to hold some of the reptiles. The skink was passed around the room, as was the bearded dragon.
I decided to be brave, especially since I was such a wimp all those years that our late son Kevin had reptiles (A monitor lizard, numerous bearded dragons, frogs, swifts – you get the idea).
Here I am holding the bearded dragon:
Please don’t ask why I have two pairs of glasses – they are for my pair of eyes, of course!
And here is David:
I decided to really go for it, so I stood in line to hold the celebrity of the bunch. David was on standby with the camera, because if I was going to do this, I wanted a picture to commemorate the event. I finally get to the front, handed my prize, turn around for the shot – and there stands David, with a skink in his hands instead of his camera ready! I had to wait for him to hand off that little guy, and was losing my nerve pretty fast. So, here you have it:
So many chins…
That was enough hands-on time for us, so we started about the rest of the center to see the displays. Ruby the Goanna walked up to David, and started using her tongue to smell his foot. We don’t know why she was doing this, but it was interesting to see this huge reptile and it’s super long tongue. The next thing we knew, she bit him! Yup, we were surprised and concerned. David quickly moved away, and Ruby turned to me. I took this picture of her at my feet so you can get an idea of her size:
David started bleeding from the bite pretty badly, so we sought out Grace the Presenter for some first aid. After she immediately put Ruby away, she explained that the goanna’s bite actually contains a chemical that inhibits the blood from coagulating. This is why David was bleeding so much. David cleaned the wound and put some bandages on it, and we went through the exhibits. It startled him more than it hurt.
This is what it looked like the next day:
My favorite reptile in the center was the Thorny Devil. I chose this as the “Feature Photo” for this post. Just look at this beautiful creature!
We spent a couple of hours in the Reptile Center, and David took loads of pictures to share with Kit when we see him in Tulsa later this year.
After a trip to the grocery store, we drove to the Caravan Park that we had intended to stay in, and just drove right on by. This place had people loitering around the entrance, and was really dirty and run down. We just did not feel comfortable staying there.
Souvenir shopping was next on our agenda – I really wanted a shirt that said “Alice Springs” to go along with my collection (which includes 44 North Coffee and El El Frijoles in Maine, University of Tulsa and San Diego State University, and of course, Amazon). But, this being Easter weekend, the majority of shops were closed.
We stayed the night at the Temple Bar Caravan Park about 10 km outside of town. I needed to do some laundry, but their washer was rusty, so I chose to wait until the next day and go back into town. There were many permanent residents in this park, mostly in small cube houses that looked more like tool sheds than homes. For $22 AUD, we had a grassy, unpowered site with water. Oh, and the view! See for yourself – here are our neighbors:
The next day, back into town we drove to do laundry before heading to our next destination. While we weren’t too sure what to expect from this remote location, I would say that we were surprised by the poverty and general unsafe feel of the place. It may have been because all of the stores were closed, so we couldn’t see hustle and bustle of the town; it felt like a ghost town. The landscape and red rock was lovely, but we were definitely ready to head out quickly, and we did.
As David’s foot started to heal, we headed to some serious hiking among some of the most beautiful and unique landscape we have ever seen. That will be our next story.
The following describes Spotto’s electrical system as far as I know. I’m sure there are aspects of the system that I missed or don’t know about so please cut me some slack. Thanks.
Spotto has two 12 volt batteries. The first is a regular car-starting lead acid battery that lives under the driver seat. This battery is sealed so I don’t need to add water – thank goodness. The second battery (house battery) is an AGM Deep Cycle battery. It’s also sealed and is an Exide MSDC24 92Ah 20hr. The starter battery – does just that – it starts Spotto. The house battery powers all the lights, the inverter, the USB port, the water pump and the refrigerator. There are two banks of three switches, there is a volt meter to check battery level, a USB port and an outlet powered by the inverter. The inverter is a 300 watt pure sign wave inverter that lives behind the head of the driver seat.
The first bank of three switches (left side) control the following from top switch going down:
1. Dome light close to cab
2. Dome light above bed
The second bank of three switches (right side) control the following from top switch going down:
2. USB Outlet
3. Not used – until now!
I converted one of the unused switches so that I could cut power to the refrigerator at night right before we go to bed. Previously I had to get up, open the slider and go out to the back of the van, open the rear door and push the off button on the fridge itself. The fridge isn’t accessible from the inside of the van. A real hassle when you are about to fall asleep. We have to turn the fridge off at night because unfortunately the house battery does not produce enough Amp Hours (without being charged) to keep the fridge running that long.
The Charging System
As normal, the van’s starter battery is charged by the alternator. The house battery is connected to the starter battery via a Dual Battery Isolator. It is also charged when the van runs – same as the starter battery. I also purchased a portable 120 watt solar charger that I hook up when it’s sunny and we are not moving. I connect it directly to the house battery so only that battery gets charged. The portable unit comes with a built in PWM solar charge controller as opposed to an MPPT controller. A PWM controller is usually better for small systems. Finally, we have a voltmeter with a toggle switch to check the current voltage of each battery.
In this photo: the house battery and, in the back, the Isolator. This battery lives on the floor below our cabinets directly behind the drivers seat. Notice our spare 25 liter water tank to the right.
I don’t want you to get the impression that we are just blowing through the bank account and spending those hard earned Amazon and KOA wages with reckless abandon. Yes, we bought the van, but that will prove out to be less expensive than if we had rented one, or a rental car and lodging. Yes, we are taking a road trip that is over two weeks long, and driving thousands of kilometers. (What? You don’t follow the metric system? 1 kilometer = 0.62 mile. Or 1 mile = 1.6 km) But we are saving money by using an app called Wiki Camps that helps direct us to free or inexpensive parking sites along the way.
This frugality is measured by a couple of indulgences, too. But because we don’t generally eat out (who can find vegan, no oil meals in the Australian Outback?), fuel and groceries are our greatest expenses. We will see how many nights we can stay in free sites vs paid. That is part of the fun.
The town of Kingston SE in South Australia sponsors a free campground right across from the town jetty. We stayed here and walked about 8 km/5 miles down the walk/bike path along the water’s edge, and around the town.
In the morning, David went for a run while I walked through the little downtown area. I know you will find this hard to believe, but of the 4 coffee bars/cafes that I found, only one was open before 8:00 a.m. What a sleepy little town! But honestly, it was probably for the best. I mean, check out the presentation of this “mini” donut and coffee:
Looking through this selection, I took away a Hot Cross Bun:
And as we rolled out of town, I grabbed a picture of another slice of Australia – the Giant Lobster. I wonder if the Bar Harbor KOA would like one of these?
Continuing on the free camping tour, we next stopped at Spud’s Roadhouse outside of Pimba, SA. This is technically a rest area sponsored by 4 local towns, but Spud’s is there to sell Gatorades for $5 AUD, juice popsicles for $2.50 AUD, and other good stuff at crazy prices. We popped in for $15 worth of silly, and caught up on the local news while we avoided the flies outside. These flies would be our constant companions for days, but we did not know it at the time. They apparently are on the tour of South Australia, too!
As we continued on towards Alice Springs, we stopped to get diesel in Coober Pety, the opal mining capital of Australia. While I was paying the tab (Did I mention that you pump first, then pay? They even have signs that ask you not to move your car before paying. Remember when we weren’t in such a hurry?) David was approached by George Baker, a local Aborigine miner. George wanted to know all about David and his van, and then asked David if he had any money. George received a $5 AUD bill, and David asked if he could take George’s picture. George instructed David to take a picture with him, then one with the van. He was difficult to understand, but David took the pictures as instructed. When I came out and climbed into the driver’s seat, George asked me for $10 for his children. I used to get very scared and completely stressed out when strangers approached me, but time on the road has made me realize that we are all in this together, part of the human race. I did not give him more money, but I did shake his hand, chatted with him as best as I could understand, and we were on our way.
Here is George Baker and Spotto:
Our night’s stop was at a Caravan Park in the town of Marla. For $20 AUD, we had a safe place to pull out the solar panels, get showers, and cook up some dinner. It was a nice place to take a break, until the police helicopter started buzzing around, and two police cars parked near the little motel onsite. It turned out that we were smack in the middle of a search for a missing healthcare worker, whose stolen bush ambulance was stopped in Coober Pety that morning, and had been tracked in the area where we were staying. But that activity was soon replaced by the 8 fishermen, two boats, and various camping cots that were being assembled near us. We moved, and had a solid night’s sleep.
In the morning, we walked past the live news crew who decided to set up their remote in front of the restroom building. Hope they got my good side!
Another day of driving paid off with our arrival (finally!) in Alice Springs. The story of our visit to the geographic center of Australia will have to wait until our next post.
Making the trek to Alice Springs more about the journey than a sprint, we set out on a leisurely pace, and decided to stop when we saw something that might be of interest.
As we passed through the town of Mount Gambier, a Point of Interest sign directed us to the “Umpherston Sinkhole”. Who could pass up a sinkhole?
Now, as we will see, this is no ordinary sinkhole. A beautiful park surrounds this geographic anomaly, and, as this is my first physical sinkhole visit, I suspect this one is very unique.
For those of you reading this on something smaller than a 52 inch screen, the sign reads:
“Welcome to Umpherston Sinkhole
This park is the remnant of a late 19th century garden of which the sinkhole was the focal point. The garden was developed by James Umpherston on part of his property known as The Caves…
The park has been developed by the City of Mount Gambier in accordance with Umpherston’s original intention to establish the sinkhole for the enjoyment of visitors and the townspeople of Mount Gambier.”
We read the sign, went past the limestone statue,
And what a sight!
This is huge! And what a great way to develop something that could be ugly and unsafe into a beautiful, useful place.
There was a lovely platform and seating area, too, as well as a bbq/picnic area. I thought it would be a popular place for a wedding. David thought it was completely inappropriate for that kind of ceremony. “It started in a sinkhole, can’t get much lower…” Maybe I should set up a poll. Discuss.
Driving a few kilometers down the road, we are pointed to Blue Lake. Now, back in 1992, David and I had the pleasure of bicycling around Crater Lake as part of our Cycle Oregon route, and so we have seen the biggest, baddest blue lake there is. So, we were game to see the Aussie version. Up the observation tower we climbed:
Maybe it was the cloudy, sprinkly day, but this little guy was blue, but not very photogenic.
And with that, we hit the road again, excited to see what next random stop we will make.
Spotto has a simple fresh water system built into her kitchen. It consists on a 40 liter container with a bottom brass fitting and a clear plastic hose connector to a small 12 volt electric pump. The pump pulls the water from the tank and pushes it through the faucet. The drain water is collected in a removable aluminum bowl set into the kitchen countertop. There is no drain. Drainage is performed by manually “picking up the aluminum bowl and tossing the water”. Like I said – it’s all very simple. The hardest part is refilling the 40 liter container which lives under the bed. I fill it with another 40 liter container that I keep next to the house battery compartment or from a couple 10 liter bottles we use for drinking water. I use a funnel to pour from one container to the other.
The only problem we have is that the pump loses its prime. There is an air leak that I can’t find so I solved the problem another way. I added another clear plastic tube to the top (fill point) of the 40 liter container. To re-prime, all you need do is blow into the tube. This adds pressure into the tank and forces some water into the line between the tank and the pump. This clear plastic pipe is easily accessible under the bed just behind the kitchen counter.
Spotto has a built in kitchen in the back. Most of it is only accessible via the rear hatch door. From the inside we can get to the counter top but that’s about it. The kitchen has a sink with an electric water pump that pulls water from a 40 liter tank that lives under the bed (see post on Spotto’s Water System). There is a 14 liter Waeco Thermo Coolpro Cooler that works on 12 or 24 volt DC. The kitchen itself slides out about two feet from the back of the van. Two small wooden pegs hold the kitchen in place. When the pegs are removed the whole thing slides out on two roller tracks. Also, the Cooler/Fridge slides out on it’s own tracks. There is ample storage for dishes, utensils, spices and such. We have a portable propane single burner cook top. The propane canisters used by the cooktop are easily purchased in most grocery stores. The canisters are not cheap but they are simple to use and very convenient.
The van also came with another one burner propane stove that sits upon a 1lb propane tank. We’ve never used it but it’s a good back up. The counter top space it quite large and has worked great for us. It’s really nice that the tail gate door opens upward and protects you from rain while working in the kitchen. The only issue we’ve really had has been the wind blowing out the cook top flame. We’ve learned to point Spotto into the wind when we know we will need to cook. This way the cooktop doesn’t get wind whipped and go out.
We purchased a 2004 KIA Pregio Campervan on April 7, 2016 in Melbourne, Victoria. The previous owners named it “Chookie”. We changed her name to “Spotto” after the game (you can Google it). Since Spotto is brilliant yellow, she appeared to be quite clean. It was a deception. As the song goes, “we were blinded by the light”. After we took ownership and were able to look at her closely, we realized that she was very, very dirty. So, it was off to the car wash for three hours of scrubbing. We were even warned by the car wash owner that we were not supposed to hand wash our vehicle. Alas – she took pity on us and let us continue to hand wash when she saw all the dirt we were scrubbing away. Or, was she just happy that we kept putting dollars in the machine to power wash the van 7 times between hand scrubbing? Whatever the case we “gott’er done”. Next, we hit the vacuum station and sucked out a few kilos of dust and stuff. Spotto was beginning to look a bit better.
We got her home and I began to apply “Nu Finish” liquid car polish. If you apply it carefully it will clean and polish all at once. It’s not really a wax but it works like wax. I’ve been using it for several years and really like the results. Spotto was looking great now. Any water that touches her paint just beads right up.
To finish up with the exterior I still had some fine tuning to do. I purchased a small can for high gloss black paint and painted the rear bumper bar. It was crusty and rusted even if I can’t figure out what it’s purpose is. The high gloss paint worked wonders. I also did some touch up on the front bumper where some wires rubbed the black paint off. Finally I scraped off the company logo sticker on the “Roo” Bar. I hate stickers.
Next, it was on to the interior. The inside really was filthy. Again, a cursory look and you would think it just fine. A closer look turns up dust, grime, stains and muck. The worst was the driver’s seatbelt. It was supposed to be silver but it was brown. It also weighed about 2 kilos – seatbelts don’t weigh anything, what’s up with that? My first inclination was to order a new one. When I checked the cost I changed my mind and decided to tackle cleaning it some how. I tried several cleaners and nothing worked. I went to an auto parts store and bought a cleaner they said cleans everything (like Totally Awesome). It was called “Disol”. It didn’t work. I was about to give up when Nancy said, “try a degreaser”. So we bought some degreaser at the local home store and Nancy went to work on that belt. It’s now just about the cleanest thing in the van!
I started with the front driver door and just soaked everything in the cab with cleaner and scrubbed and scrubbed. Most of the grime came out. The seats were a mess so we decided just to buy some cheap “one size fits all” seat covers. Unfortunately the passenger seat is a dual person bench so only the seat back portion of the cover fit. I cut it away and then cut the bottom cover so it would at least cover the passenger’s butt.
There are some switches on the dashboard and some lights I’m not sure what the heck they are for. I couldn’t find any explanation online, nor could I find an owner’s manual. One dial I figured out increases/decreases the engine idle speed (handy). There are all kinds of symbols that light up when I start the van. Oh, about starting the van – before I can start it I need to press the “Immobilizer” button on the fob (this is a thing that all cars registered in the state of Western Australia need to have). I then have about five seconds to turn the key just far enough until the dash lights come on. Then I have to wait (sometimes up to five seconds) for this one particular light to go off. Then I can turn the key to start the van. The previous owner explained to me that since it was a diesel it had “glow plugs” instead of spark plugs. Before you turned the key in the ignition the “glow plugs” had to warm up. Well, okay. I just know that if I wait too long, then I have to start the whole stupid process over by pressing the button on the “immobilizer”. Yes, this is all really odd but then heck, they drive on the freaking left side of the road here so why the heck can’t they have an “immobilizer” and a car you can’t just turn the key to start. The emblem of the light that I need to wait for kind of looks like a rams head with the curled horns. What this has to do with “glow plugs” I’ll never know.
There is one more switch I can’t wait to use. If you noticed in the pictures the van has this huge aluminum pipe thing going on in the front of the van. That’s what’s called the “Roo” bar. No one has told me exactly why it’s called a “Roo” bar but I suspect it’s for when those fuzzy guys bounce out to try and meet Spotto while she’s going 100 kph down the highway. It will keep the windshield and Spotto’s occupants clean. Anyway, attached to the “Roo” bar is this big, hunking spotlight. Again, although I see them on lots of vans I really don’t know it’s purpose unless it’s used to really piss-off some oncoming driver by flicking it on just as they get to you. Or maybe it’s the ultimate revenge for the driver coming at you with their high beams on. “Here you go buddy – you think your high beams are bad take a look at this!”
Now that the inside and outside was relatively clean, we switched our focus to the mechanical aspects and to the interior living quarters. The first thing I did was to check all the fluid levels. Then I checked those filters that I could – air filter and cabin filter. The air filter was dirty so I replaced it. The cabin filter had completely disintegrated. Finding a replacement was a challenge and even after contacting the KIA dealer I was out of luck. It was time to think outside the box. I still had the plastic frame of the filter which was grid like . I just didn’t have the filter material which used to be between the grids. It was off to the hardware store. We found a “Bunnings” which is the Australian version of “Home Depot”. I tried to think of what I could use as filter material. Something that was thin enough that I could cut to the right size. The first thing I thought of was furnace filter material. I went right up to an older gentleman worker and asked where the furnace filters were. I instantly knew something was wrong when his eyes bugged out and he took a step backwards and reiterated my words, “furnace filters”? He then asked, “what are you doing with a furnace”? I asked “what do you mean”? He said, “furnaces are only used to cremate people”. “Was I going to cremate someone”? I said, “no I wasn’t cremating anyone – I just want to know where the furnace filters are”. I asked him, “don’t people have furnaces in their houses for heating”?. “Furnaces are only at Crematories” he said. I could tell this conversation wasn’t going well. I then explained what I was looking for and he said, “there is nothing like that in this store”. Ok, this is a store the size of Home Depot with all of it’s thousands of products. There has to be something I can use for a filter material. I obviously freaked out this gentleman and he just wanted me gone. So – I moved on and finally settled for some synthetic steal wool that was thin enough to cut and stiff enough to stay upright in the filter opening. As I learned later – this did not work very well. I will have to come up with another solution.
I called the KIA dealer to make an appointment for oil, oil filter and fuel filter change. I also wanted a general check over of everything. They quoted me a ridiculous price of $440.00. Wow, I knew some things were expensive in AU but that was too much. I didn’t make the appointment. I stopped in a local Kmart auto service center where they mostly do new tires but also general auto servicing. I realized Spotto didn’t need to have her fuel filter changed – just oil and oil filter and the general going over. They quoted me $160 AUD. That was more reasonable. I had the work done and they said everything checked out except she needed a couple taillight bulbs and new windshield wiper blades. I said, “go for it”. The total bill was $206 AUD and she was basically good to go. There was one final mechanical thing I wanted to check before we headed to the interior bush – that was the air conditioning. I made an appointment with a radiator place that the mechanic at Kmart recommended.
The next morning at the radiator shop they took a look at the A/C. They said it was bad. To get it to work they would need to replace the A/C radiator (fins were all bent), the compressor and possibly the A/C control panel. The guy said it would probably cost more than the van was worth. He suggested one of those 12 volt fans for the cab. I asked him how much I owed him for spending the hour and a half and he said, “just take it and have a great holiday”. I thanked him profusely.
Finally we did a bit of shopping and picked up an emergency porta-potty (it looks a little like this “Luggable Loo” ) and a few odds and ends for the kitchen. “Spotto” was now ready to “road trip”.
There are some iconic Australian road trips calling out to us, and we have a break for Easter where Hannah does not have any matches. Spotto is loaded and ready to hit the road, and so are we!
Having left Wilson’s Prom and reconnected with Hannah, we caught her evening match, complemented her on her efforts, and bid her adieu. Our first stop was a rest area outside of Geelong, which was a great little find. There were many campers parked there when we arrived around midnight. We basically brushed our teeth and rolled into bed.
In the morning, we were greeted with a lovely sunrise:
The parking spot:
And it was fun to note the name of the caravan in front of us, which reminded us of our HitchHiker left behind in storage:
After some breakfast and tidying up in the spotless BP station restroom (with a free shower!), we headed towards the Great Ocean Road.
Our “Australia’s Best Trips” guide tells us that we could take 5-7 days following one of the most beautiful coastal road journeys on earth, following the western Victorian coast and passing famous surfing beaches and iconic landforms. In true Keane/Roudebush fashion, we will cover it in a day.
The drive was truly lovely, and it reminded us of a drive down the California coast. There were some towns that I really wanted to stop in and visit the shops, grab a flat white, and just chill. Luckily, we have time to revisit this area, as it is only about 1.5 hrs from Melbourne, and we would love to bring Hannah along for a day trip.
We admired the views of the majestic ocean:
and did see a large area that was hit by a brushfire on Christmas Day.
There was a turnout where there were many people stopped, and it was not listed as a point of interest. A quick peek out my window, and I directed David to find a parking spot. I then sent him out to take pictures. You will see why:
Right up David’s alley! When I asked him if he added to them, he said no – he will make one in a less conspicuous place.
We took the 12 kilometer side trip to the Cape Otway lighthouse. This is the second most southerly point of mainland Australia. The oldest surviving lighthouse on mainland Australia, it was built in 1848. It seemed like a good spot to stop and stretch our legs, too!
The road was a narrow, forest road, reminiscent of a drive in Redwoods National park, with eucalyptus and gum trees replacing the sequoias. Cars were parked in some random places, and we realized the people were looking into the trees to see:
What? You don’t see it?
Let’s go a little closer:
We could have spent hours watching this animal sitting in a tree. Instead, David spent 15 minutes chatting up a British couple in a rental Class C about their 3 month trip around Australia. He got some good pointers on places to explore, too!
Heading back onto the Great Ocean Road, the next point of interest was the Twelve Apostles.
As our book tells us, there are seven stacks; there never were 12; they used to be called “Sow and Piglets” but some brilliant marketing mind changed the name and now people pay $145 for a 15 minute helicopter ride to see them. We were good to spot one from an observation spot:
Tour buses had deposited their hundreds of passengers at the real lookout point, as well as at the points for the Island Archway and the Loch Ard Gorge. We puttered along to our campsite destination, in hopes to get there before dark.
Yambuk Lake Caravan Park has, for $20 AUD, unpowered sites right along the lake, and only 500 meters from the ocean. Parked as level as possible on a hill, we set up and David cooked up some dinner:
We watched the pelicans along the lake, and had a lovely dinner and sleep. Hot showers and a walk to the beach await us in the morning.
Wilson’s Promontory is a national park in the Gippsland region of Victoria, Australia, located approximately 157 kilometers southeast of Melbourne, and is one of Victoria’s most-loved places.
At the southernmost tip of mainland Australia, it offers spectacular scenery of huge granite mountains, open forest, rainforest, sweeping beaches and coastlines. With hikes from under an hour to over three days, visitors can camp, caravan or stay in huts, cabins, wilderness retreats or lodges at Tidal River where there is a general store.
The day we drove to Wilson’s Prom, or The Prom, it was raining and the wind was howling, so bad that we just wanted to get there and huddle and wait until the next day to explore the park. However, when we arrived at our planned campground (Shallow Cove Camp Ground), we were turned away. Not only did they not have power (not a concern for us, since we have nothing to plug in) but they also had trees down and felt that we would not be safe there during the storm.
We then went to the next campground up the road, Shallow Cove Caravan Park, where we were turned away for a second time, for all of the same reasons. This sent us up the road to Yanakie Caravan Park, where the office was unmanned, as the manager was off buying lanterns for the cabins, since power was out there as well. There were a couple of young backpackers, a French couple in a rental van, and Spotto, all hoping to get inside the gate and have a place to ride out the storm. We figured out how to get the safety gate up, and found a lovely site to stay the night. Dinner was really gourmet, as you can see:
In the morning, we took advantage of the kitchen that was available. This is common in “caravan” parks: stove top, refrigerators, microwave, electric kettle, sink and hot water – all open and available for camper use for no additional charge. They even rent kitchen sets for $5 in the office, if one comes unprepared. Take a look – I know some RV’ers who make do with less than this:
We settled up with the manager for $28 AUD, and headed into The Prom. Our day consisted of hikes to Tidal River Visitor Center, Tidal Overlook, Pillar Point, Squeaky Beach, and then back to the Visitor Center. It was a tad over 9 miles of hiking, and we had some beautiful views:
The Tidal River Visitor Center has a campground, and the showers there are free. They were quite welcome after that day of hiking, and we cleanup up and then returned to Shallow Cove Campground to take advantage of the $15 AUD camping spot. This was not as glamorous as our first night’s accommodations, but did have a lovely beach that which we had all to ourselves for a sunset dinner of dal that David whipped up.
Wildlife sightings for the day included a wallaby so close we could touch him, a dead wombat on the side of the road, and two emu grazing in a field. Bonus points for anyone who remembers a U.S. children’s show with an emu.
Day two of hiking took us to a large mangrove forest at Miller’s Landing and another hike straight up to the summit of Mt Bishop. The view was spectacular, and we could see where we had hiked the day before. In all, it was another 9+ mile day, and another trip to the free showers at the Visitor Center.
Instead of returning to a caravan park or a campground, we decided to head to a free campsite (call it a rest area, really) which put us about 1.5 hrs away from Hannah. This is on Sunday night, and we promised to take her to an 11:30 a.m. appointment, as well as spend time with her just hanging out before her 8:30 p.m. soccer match.
The stay in the rest area was easy, we made it to Hannah and chauffeured her around for the day, and attended her match with really no issues to speak of. It was a long day, but the weather was fair for the first day of Fall. The match was a nail biter, and she had a brilliant assist. The play-by-play commentators spoke highly of her efforts, and she now has an Easter break from matches which will give us the opportunity to go on an extended road trip.
The above picture was sent to Hannah via Snapchat by one of her teammates who had “spotted” the van in the parking lot just after we purchased it. Thanks, Amy!
David has a little story to tell that he will add as another post, but we decided to go with the bright, happy yellow van that was owned by Alex and Sarah, a French couple who spent 7 months touring Australia. We have named the van “Spotto” because of a game played here (maybe elsewhere), much like Slug Bug, where one calls out “Spotto” when they spot a yellow vehicle. Of course, there are rules: can’t be a taxi or a work vehicle, you must be in a vehicle when you call it – you get the idea. We basically see people pointing and smiling at us all day – in a good way. It is not because we keep using the windshield wipers as turn indicators or leave the blinkers on too long.
The process of purchasing a vehicle got a tad complicated. A wire transfer from the US to the seller’s Aussie bank account, completing title and registration paperwork, getting auto insurance, and then actually cleaning, cleaning, and more cleaning. It took us a good week to get to the point where we felt comfortable taking it out for a tour.
David washed and waxed the outside, and took it to a mechanic to have some things checked out. We probably should have done this before we bought it, since this is how we found out the air conditioner really didn’t work, and the cost to fix it will likely exceed the value of the van. The interior was mine to clean. It is understandable that the cover of the futon would need a solid bleaching, and we were lucky that our rental accommodations had a wash machine at our disposal. It took a few wash cycles, but finally, I had the cover looking and smelling fresh. A comforter and a set of pillows went straight to the rubbish bin, and we weeded through some of the kitchen supplies too.
I failed miserably when it came to cleaning the curtains. I put them through a nice, hot wash. And they melted together is a big, sticky pile. As I tried to peel them apart, the plastic backing, which was not apparent when I put them in the wash, tore away from the material and caused huge holes in the backing. I will absolutely need to replace these now. Here is what they look like until then. This view is from the inside:
Life just isn’t right for us unless we have solar power, so David found a solar panel dealer and we picked up some portable panels – enough to charge the second battery that will keep the cooler cold and our laptops charging.
I originally felt that I had rented the Airbnb studio for one week too many, and was really itching to get exploring, but in the end, it was good to have the home base while we worked to have the van road worthy. It will now be our home away from RV home until June 1.
David took advantage of the unlimited internet access to plan our first couple of destinations and parking places.
We have successfully crossed the Pacific, reunited with our youngest child, burned through a week of Airbnb lodging, and successfully navigated across, over, and through Melbourne without wrecking our rental car.
That right there, my friends, is a great first week in a new country. But it gets better! Let me start from the beginning:
Day 1: March 01
Today, we put our RV, Hannah’s Honda CRV and our Ford F350 into storage. They join the “guest house”, the Trail Bay, outside of Yuma, Arizona. We are very fortunate to have this much space available to us in a single storage facility.
We picked up the rental car in Yuma last night, and this will take us to LAX for our flight tomorrow. We saved $400 on our flight purchase, as well as the cost of long term airport parking, by booking this one-way rental through Costco travel.
While working at Amazon in Fernley NV during Peak 2014, we met a lovely couple named Dan and Marlene. I tell you this now because we were lucky enough to visit with them and tour their RV lot home in Indio on our way towards Los Angeles. They have a beautiful set up, and we were able to visit for a couple of hours. This didn’t make up for bailing on them this past Peak (we were supposed to join them in Campbellsville, KY), but it was a treat!
With our flight not leaving until 10:15 pm on March 02, we head to the Hyatt Ontario for a night. My mom was nice enough to arrange this stay for us with her Hyatt points, and we really appreciate it! The room is a suite, and feels larger than our RV!
Day 2: March 02
We still have a good amount of time to kill before we catch our flight, so we sleep in and make a quick return to Costco before heading to Venice Beach. Because, why not? We walk the beach for a while, and it just don’t really do much for us. The boardwalk is quite dirty, and nothing about the beach or area is very inviting.
Looking for a place to grab a bite to eat, we see that there is a Café Gratitude in the area. This is a vegan chain that had an outlet in San Rafael years ago that we would treat ourselves to when in the area for soccer. They are known for being accommodating of special dietary requests, and they offered a vegan-no oil option for David. The meal price was pretty high, but we guess this is just getting us primed for vacation expenses.
Once at the airport, we had a very smooth transition of rental car return, luggage check (one bag each, thank you very much!) and then we watch our plane join us at the gate.
Day 3: March 04
Where did March 03 go? Well, during that 16 or so hour flight, we crossed the International Date Line, so March 03 just didn’t happen for us this year. What did happen? A few movies: The Danish Girl, The Big Short, and part of Carol. Also, a vegan dinner, snack, breakfast, exit row seats in the middle of the plane that allowed us to stand at our seats and stretch, and the friendliest flight crew I have ever experienced. It was a pleasure to fly Qantas.
Upon landing, we had a bit of trouble getting our rental car. The reservation was through Hotwire, with Alamo. But once at the rental car center at the airport, Alamo was nowhere to be found. When we asked the desk attendant at Hertz, they said that we needed to take a shuttle to an offsite rental area. The man at the shuttle stop told us to take the Black Van. The driver of the Black Van phone his office to double check that they serviced Alamo, and they told him, “Yes”. So, a 15 minute ride later, we stood in an office that had no Alamo signage, and a person behind a desk who stated that no, they don’t actually handle Alamo, but that they could give us a car at the going rate. Thanks, but no. So, a shuttle ride back to the airport, and another request at another rental car agency, and they suggested “Redspot” inside the parking garage. And there, behind all of the rental car pickups, was a tiny building with the Alamo signage.
Seems like all of those episodes of “Amazing Race” have not made me any more aware of particular traveling pitfalls. But I digress. A show of hands for those of you who knew that rental cars in Australia have a $4,000 deductible – payable immediately – upon incident or if any ding, scratch, damage is discovered upon return. I didn’t think so. Just to let you know, I will have major anxiety the entire week I have this car! As if having to drive on the other side of the road, from the other side of the car isn’t bad enough. My biggest hurdle, truth be told, is to not turn on the windshield wiper every time I mean to use the turn indicator. Nothing says, “rookie” like the wipers going off as one goes to make a right hand turn on a beautiful sunny day!
Even though we printed a map and directions to our Airbnb (click on the word for the link), we are lost. What should take 15 minutes takes us an hour. But, we have finally arrived, and the place is pretty close to “as advertised”. The bathroom is designer, and it includes a clothes washer, which will come in handy. There is a clothesline outside for drying. We take full advantage of the wifi, and see where the closest grocery and electronics stores are.
First off, we buy SIM cards for our phones. $60.00 AUD (Australian Dollar) = $44.27 US, and we both have 3 GB data and unlimited text and Aussie calls. Whew! Next, we head to JB HiFi for a GPS system. $149 AUD ($109.94 US) and we are now much more confident to move about! Yes, it is a crutch, but it was much easier to find than actual paper maps to purchase.
A few groceries from Woolworth’s (Woolie’s) and incredibly reasonably priced fresh produce from a market in the mall, and we are calling it a day!
Day 4 – March 05
David spent a great deal of time on a website before we left the US called Gumtree (oh, another link! Click on the word to go there!) looking at Campervans. Why? Well, it seems that many extended-stay tourists buy converted vans and use them to tour Australia. When they are finished with their tour, they sell it to the next “Backpackers”. This would enable us to have shelter and transportation in one, and is much more reasonable than the rental car and Airbnb splurge we are currently on. Today, we are looking at the first van for consideration. It is a bit more expensive than we would like, but gives us a good starting point.
The older man who is selling it has used it for 10 years to take his wife and grandkids off on weekend camping trips, but it is not outfitted to our liking. Now, we have a soccer match to attend.
It is the first match of Alamein Soccer Club in the PS4 NPLW, and after scoring 11 goals in the preseason, Hannah is looking forward to finally getting her Australia career officially going. And we are looking forward to seeing her play in person for the first time since the NCAA tournament in 2014.
The reunion with our youngest is sweet, and meeting her host family is also a treat. Hannah has a younger sister, Jess, and a younger brother, Lokie. Mom and Dad, Colleen and Alan, have given Hannah not only a home, but a support network. As for the match, it isn’t pretty. Alamein loses, and Hannah isn’t happy with her performance. She is so hard on herself! We take her grocery shopping as an excuse to hang out together, and then deposit her back with her Aussie family. And now, for a night-time drive home. Why did we choose lodging for two weeks that turns out to be over an hour away from Hannah’s house?
Day 5 – March 06
It’s all about the vans today. 4 appointments to view contenders, and we hope one of them will be a match. It doesn’t need to be a perfect match, just something that isn’t too rough or difficult to resell when we go to leave.
First, we meet two German guys at a park about 45 minutes away from us. Thank you, Navigator! Here is a picture of what they brought to us:
Alex and Sarah met us near a Costco. Since we arrived early, we decided to see the Melbourne version of our beloved Costco. Hey, they have the dates that are grown just outside of Yuma. They go for $7.99 US at home. Only $19.99 AUD/$15.00 US – That’s a healthy markup, but then again, it is a bit of a trip to get here! But this is my official Aussie Costco find:
Now, back to the van shopping! We watched this video (you got this, click on the word “video”) in the US, and so thought this would be a good van. The couple have spent the last seven months exploring Australia, and working on some of the farms. The van presented well, and is a contender!
We swing by Hannah’s and pick her up, then head back to our “house” for a 2 pm meeting with a sweet French couple. I didn’t take any pictures, but here is their ad: Antoine’s (yup – I am full of links!). It was the same type of van as the yellow one, but the kitchen set up made the back windows closed off when driving, which I did not like.
Our last appointment is at 4:00 pm along Prince Phillip Bay. We are going to see “Rusty”, so named because the ad states that the van has some rust issues. Let’s just say that this is the understatement of the week. While we are looking at this van, which is parked next to the owner’s house, her son is kicking a soccer ball which keeps hitting the side of the van! The cobwebs (inside and out), and the general feel (will it even start) makes this a 5 minute look and we are out of here!
Hannah has scoped a nice beach walk for us to do before we take her back home. Itis lovely to walk at Point Cook Coastal park:
Tonight, we will discuss the van situation. Have we seen enough? Do we need to keep looking? Do we need to travel to Syndey and see the greater selection there? What are the logistics of THAT? We have a lot to think about.
This is not my mid-life crisis. Some would say that selling the house, becoming nomads, and living in an RV for the last 4 years fits the definition of that.
David and I have been spending a lovely summer as workampers at the Bar Harbor Woodlands KOA. Just an hour away from Deer Isle and David’s parents and sister, the job allowed us to work for KOA and visit family for the summer.
The location also afforded us quick access to amazing hiking and biking trails in Acadia National Park. It really has been a wonderful experience.
KOA (Kampgrounds of America) owns two campgrounds in Bar Harbor: Oceanside, which has many RV sites and Deluxe Kabins, and Woodlands, which is more for tenters and rustic Kamping Kabins. Both campgrounds are managed by one person, named Barbie. She interviewed and hired us back in January, for a position that runs May to mid-Sept. We didn’t know which campground we would be assigned to, but found out later that she really has a knack for finding the right match of people to job and location.
Here is Barbie walking in the Bar Harbor Independence Day parade:
When we arrived at the end of April, there was still snow on the ground, evidence of the hard Maine winter. The trees were so bare, I really thought they were dead.
Assigned to Woodlands, we moved to our site and started the work of clearing the campground of trees and debris with 3 other couples. The store was dusted, vacuumed and stocked. Kabins (starting with that KOA “K”) and restrooms were scrubbed, and we welcomed our first visitors on May 21.
Each of us has a specific role. There is a lead couple, Kevin and Dodi. I really could not have done this job without them. They both encouraged us to take the reigns and allowed us to work off of our own initiative. That resulted in David planting a garden for everyone to enjoy, and for me to learn the reservation system, store set up, and even opening, manning, and closing the store alone. For someone who has never worked retail, I was surprised by how exhausting it can be. It’s hard work being nice for 8 hours a day!
This is Kevin and Dodi. For those of you who know my side of the family, Kevin reminds me very much of my little brother – neither of them has ever met a stranger. And Dodi is all about just jumping in and getting it done. My first day in, when she found out I had not driven a golf cart before, she jumped out of the driver’s seat and “made” me drive. She defines “Just Do It”.
Tom and Christine had worked at the campground before, and were there to help open it. Christine forced me into answering the phone, and taught me about retail placement. I learned that it was ok to make a mistake, because everything could be fixed. Tom was great at showing David the campground ins and outs. Here is a picture from our opening day:
Bob and Donna are our amazing Housekeeping team. Seriously the unsung heroes of the campground. It’s easy to greet customers, sell firewood, and give directions to island hot spots. It’s darn hard work to keep bathrooms, Kabins, and Deluxe lodges shiny. The last to be praised, the first to be criticized, Housekeeping is a thankless job. Just think how frustrating it must be to clean a bath house of eight shower/toilet/sink rooms for a hour, then watch a group of campers destroy it in 10 minutes. But Bob and Donna keep doing their best to stay ahead of it. On top of that, they are some of the most genuine people you will ever meet.
There are other couples that work with us, too. Tom and Lou, Fred and Margie, Val and Paul, Kate and Allie, Susie and Dave, Donnie and Pat, Larry and Barb…they all have varying degrees of KOA experience, and are doing their best between the two campgrounds, to give the customer the best vacation experience they can. And that is no easy task.
We read the reviews on the KOA website, and are sometimes surprised by the feedback. That is both good and bad, I must admit. But I know that David and I are both richer for the experience that we have had this summer.
Which brings me to where I am now…on a plane…by myself…doing something that I never thought I would have the opportunity to do.
About 2.5 weeks ago, I received a call from Amazon and offered a position in the HR department at the Haslet, Texas fulfillment center. This is a seasonal position, as a member of CamperForce, to launch the CamperForce program in Texas. The opportunity for this to become a permanent position is very real, and the position has never been held by a Camper, in other locations, that I know of. I was humbled by the offer, but the position started immediately, and I was committed to KOA until Sept 18. We had not planned on joining Amazon for our usual CamperForce jobs until late October. So I declined.
And then I told David about the call and my answer. His reply was, “Are you kidding? You would rock that!” *This may not be a direct quote, but you get the idea. So, I called Texas back, and then went to chat with my KOA bosses.
Barbie, Kevin and Dodi were so supportive! Even though I was leaving them during peak for the camping season, they encouraged me that it was OK. David is finishing his commitment, and then helping to close the campground. He will join me in late September (I am hoping to fly back and drive with him to get the rig to Texas).
So here we are today. David is staying in Maine with the RV, the cat, the KOA job, and more time with his family. I am flying on three planes to get to Dallas Love Field, where my 30 day Hotwire rental car awaits. I have a hotel room for 6 days, and must find shelter until my guy and my house on wheels can join me. Orientation is at 8:30 a.m. tomorrow, and I will not have much time to learn the job – the first campers are supposed to start in a little over a week.
Since Sunday, April 19, we have been quick-tripping across the US from Oklahoma to Massachusetts. Tomorrow, we will arrive at David’s sister’s home in South Hadley, where we will attempt to park in her driveway (a first for us)! This will give us a few days to visit with her, her husband Bob, and David’s parents, Betty and Harold.
This speedy way of travel can get old fast! It is not that it is particularly hard, it is just that we are not fond of sitting on our arses day in and day out. We would much rather take the slow track, stopping and experiencing the areas that we are traveling through. But, there are loved ones to visit with, and a job to get to in Maine, so we will just have to revisit the areas some other time.
It also is not the first time we have made this trek, so we know what to expect. One aspect of this method of long, day-after-day trekking, is the luxury of parking for free at a Walmart. Now, there are many people who take issue with Walmart, and I suppose we could also overnight park at a Cabela’s, or a Home Depot, or a Lowe’s, as these all allow for RV overnight parking. But Walmart works for us, as I am always able to run in and grab some fresh veggies, salsa, fruit, to get us to the next location. These RV fridges are just not that big, and I appreciate the convenience of having a grocery store in my yard, so to speak.
We have had a mix of weather, as well. We seemed to be running in front of it for the most part, but were greeted this morning with cold wind and rain in Pennsylvania, and never really got away from it until we were in Connecticut. The snow was lovely, and we certainly found winter, but dang, it was (and is) cold. The shorts are put away, and I can feel my tan fading fast!
Here is what our route has been:
Day 1225 – April 19: Route from OK to MO
We left Keystone Lake State Park outside of Tulsa, OK and drove to Missouri on our first day. Our first night was supposed to be at the Walmart in Eureka, MO, but we discovered upon arrival that they did indeed, NOT allow overnight parking. The fact that they were a mile from Six Flags St Louis should have been our first clue. Luckily, we had a backup plan, and “landed” at the Ridge Point Walmart instead. Probably should have checked Allstays before we arrived, instead of just looking at Google Map’s aerial view. Live and learn.
Day 1226 – April 20: Route from MO to OH
Spring was definitely starting to make an appearance, as seen in these flowering trees all along our route:
I know I spent the day with my laptop and phone, trying to figure out why my phone memory is showing that it is nearly full, while have most apps and photos and videos going to my sd card. Additionally, I ran some of the KOA training videos so that we could get a taste of what is to come. And, we topped it off with the episode of “Undercover Boss” that featured Jim Rogers (https://youtu.be/ONGRxuyPk38) – Now we can’t wait to get to work in May!
The highlight of this day’s driving was Amazon Prime Music, specifically the Simon & Garfunkel channel. We had a blast, as David tripped back to his days of corduroy bell bottoms and Crosby Stills Nash & Young “Deja Vu” 1970 glory. Yeah – I was 6. Don’t remember it. Still, the music was good, and it was so much fun listening to David sing along.
Departure Time: 10:24 am
Drive Time: 6:13.26
Miles Driven: 340.6
Gallons Used: 28.1
Avg MPG: 12.1
Arrival Time: 5:44 pm
I was really itching to cook, and I was rather productive – dinner, milk and cookies!
Dinner was savory groats. Here is my adaptation of a Martha Stewart recipe:
Savory Oat Groats and Kale
1 small onion (1/2 cup), finely chopped
1 medium leek, white and pale-green parts only, halved lengthwise, cut into matchsticks, and rinsed well
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 small carrot, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 cup oat groats
1 cup homemade vegetable stock
1 cup water
6 ounces Tuscan kale, stemmed and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-wide strips
Freshly ground pepper
Crushed red-pepper flakes
Saute onion, leek, and garlic in water-lined stockpot. Cook, stirring, until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in carrot and groats; cook 1 minute. Add stock and water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, covered, 25 minutes.
Stir kale into groats. Cover; cook until liquid is completely absorbed and groats are tender but still chewy, and kale is steamed, about 15 minutes more. Season with pepper and red-pepper flakes. Garnish with nutritional yeast.
I made soy milk for the second time with my Soyapower machine, and had the okara that I wanted to use (the okara is on the left):
A quick Google search for recipes, and I found one that I could modify to meet our needs:
In a bowl, thoroughly combine
1 cup white whole wheat flour
1/2 cup oats
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
3/4 cup chocolate chips
In a second bowl, whisk
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup applesauce
1/2 cup okara
1 Tablespoon molasses
1/2 tsp. vanilla
until thoroughly emulsified.
Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir until they are thoroughly incorporated. Drop by the Tablespoonful onto a cookie sheet (Silpat or parchment-lined).
Bake for 14-15 minutes at 350°F.
Day 1228 – April 22: Route from PA to CT
Woke up to this (yes, it was as cold as it looks):
And warmed up with breakfast on the road:
We had snow for the first hour of our drive. Our biggest concern was the solar water heating system, since we have not drained it, as we were not expecting freezing temperatures. I know, what were we thinking? We kept the pump on, so that the water was circulating as we traveled. It looks like it faired just fine.
The positive of the day: The Beast (truck) and The Tardis (RV) both got a nice little wash, since it rained the entire time we were on the road. We got a break just long enough to go for a walk.
Departure Time: 11:00 am
Drive Time: 5:44.26
Miles Driven: 304.8
Gallons Used: 26.1
Avg MPG: 11.7
Arrival Time: 5:00 pm
After our walk around the rest area, we each set about doing our own thing. This means that David did some stretches (as well as he can with the slides in), and then started working on some paracord bracelets. I went to the kitchen to make a batch of veggie burgers using the rest of the okara that I had in the fridge.
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup yellow onion, minced
1/2 cup carrot, minced
1/2 cup yellow bell pepper, minced
1/2 cup broccoli slaw, minced
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/8 teaspoon turmeric
2 cups of okara
1/2 cup of flaxseed meal
1 cup of stale non-dairy bread crumbs (I used gluten-free bread crumbs found in the baking section of Walmart)
Mix minced vegetables in a large frying pan, and saute them over medium heat in a thin layer of water until tender. Add in spices and okara, mixing thoroughly. Slowly add in flaxseed meal and cook the mixture for another couple minutes until relatively firm. Remove mixture from heat and allow it to cool for a minute or two.
Preheat oven to 350 and form mixture into patties. Coat the outsides with bread crumbs, and place on a Silpat or parchment-lined sheet, and bake for 15 minutes. Carefully flip burgers and cook for another 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve warm. This recipe makes about 6 burgers.
Where are the pictures, you ask? Ummm, we ate them faster than I anticipated, and missed the photo op! But, there will be a next time!
Sorry for such a long winded post, but had to get up to date! There are many posts sitting there waiting for me to finish, so be sure to sign up for the email updates, as the posts will be in date order, but behind this (and future) post!
I’m glad that we could have this chat,
The last 4 days:
Drive Time: 27 hrs
Miles Driven: 1,456
Gallons Used: 122
First of all, David survived his overnight backpacking trip. In fact, he was really quite the happy camper when he got home. I will let him fill you in on the details, and he has some great photos. Hopefully, he will write his own blog post soon.
Today, we started our annual Eastern trek. We first watched the Newcastle United vs Arsenal English Premier League match on TV because Hannah was in attendance. Didn’t really expect to see her on TV, but wanted to see what she was seeing on the pitch. She did send pictures from the sponsor suite, and really enjoyed the VIP treatment. It reminded David and I of our first date in the CalFarm suite at Arco Arena all those years ago. And while Hannah had a chef make her a special vegan entree, David had to settle for a hot dog bun as his vegetarian option at the Kings game in 1989. Certainly is a good example of how eating habits have changed over the years.
We had a lovely visit with our friends Anna and Louis, and got our quick goodbyes in before they headed out for a walk around the lake; David grabbed a picture of them just before we left. They head back to Canada next week.
I gave Anna the last of any soap that I was still holding onto, so I am really motivated to get a new batch made. Perhaps when we stop in Texas…
I have to brag about this couple a little more. Anna made both David and I the most lovely hand warmers. Check them out:
These are going to keep us toasty in Maine, that is for sure! And you notice those jars on the counter? Well, they contain goodies like apple sauce and a berry syrup that I can’t wait to put on pancakes. Yes, I get spoiled by friends on the road, just like I did at home on Markham Way. Life is good, I tell you!
After we visited the dump station and filled with about 60 gallons of water, we headed to Highway 8, and after a short drive (by RV-travel standards), we parked at RoVer’s Roost, a SKP Co-op park outside of Casa Grande, AZ. This no-frills park offers dry camping spots for a deal: $5 for the first night, and FREE for the second. We are going to drive into the Phoenix outskirts to visit some friends for the day tomorrow, and we wanted to be parked someplace secure, so this park is going to be great for that.
Upon setup, we chatted with a lady named Georgia, whom we happened to meet in the dry camping area of another Escapee park called Jojoba Hills. I guess we are just destined to run into people we have met along the way, since we are now in our 4th year of RVing. It does just blow me away by how small the world is, though!
Tomorrow will be a busy day, so I will just sign off with this – dinner was quick and easy, and I really need to get to a Trader Joe’s, Winco, REI…oh, hello civilization! I feel a shopping fix coming on.
The day started with a surprise rain storm. It is one of those things that happens rarely in the desert, but we have been witness to it at least four times this season.
Our day was spent inside getting our place in order, preparing to leave, and with a few projects. David has been planning to hike up one of the nearby peaks, and did indeed head off around 4 pm today. He had his backpack loaded with water, food, a tent and sleeping bag. Yes, it is a solo overnight hike, and as I type this at 12:50 am, he is up on some mountain, and I suspect he is getting more sleep than I am.
I really encouraged him to go. One, because I think it is important that he see that he can still do these things on his own. We do so much together, and this trip is proof to me, too, that his health is good, and that it is OK to not be hovering around him all of the time. It is strange to be alone for so long, though. I am sure that I will eventually get tired enough that I fall asleep, and then morning will come, and he will return with tons of pictures and stories. It gives me a chance to update this post, too, which is something that I have been struggling with. Time, energy, focus, structure – these are all my unstructured-life challenges.
For my project today, aside from burning a bunch of personal papers that I have sorted through and logged into Quicken, and after I made some muffins for David to take on his trip, I had a new soap project to complete. Here are the carrot/apple/raisin/walnut muffins I made:
David would tell you that they needed more spice, and that they could have cooked a little longer. I will tell you that this did not stop him from eating them.
Now, for the soap project. About twice a year, Brambleberry (a soapcrafting supply company) has a “Soap Swap”, where one signs up to swap 10 bars of soap with other soapcrafters. There are only so many soapers to get into each swap, and I was lucky enough to get into this one. I have been wanting to try something called “rebatching”, so today was the day to do it. Rebatching is taking a batch of previously-cured cold process soap, and remaking it into something new.
I started off with taking the unscented soap that I had on hand, and shredding it:
I purchased this shredder at the local Thrift Store for 50 cents!
Next, I put the shreds into a pot:
And melted it down slowly over a 2 hour period.
I then added a fragrance, and put it into a loaf mold. Next, I topped it with some dried rose buds:
I am hoping this texture on the soap calms down a bit, and that it doesn’t turn out to be a globby, flaky mess! If it doesn’t turn out well, I will have to make a different batch of soap for the swap, and that is not in my travel plans for this weekend!
The daylight part of the day was wrapped up with a lovely sunset, and a text from David that he had made it to the top of the mountain. I looked for him, but couldn’t see him. Honestly, I don’t even know for sure which peak he was going to.
I am sure David will have lots of photos to share tomorrow.
As for me, I binged on many episodes of “Hot In Cleveland”, ate a vegan Boca burger for dinner, and am letting the cat sleep on the bed. Seems like an all-around good wrap up of a day.
Our time of living life leisurely parked in the desert of Arizona, living off the grid, is rapidly drawing nigh. We must pack up our things, store Hannah’s car, and start heading towards the East Coast of this lovely land.
We are in the planning stages, and this is what we have so far:
Sunday, March 21: Meet up with friends outside of Phoenix, AZ for a bike ride and some bingo!
Travel towards Texas – plans open, but we have a deadline…
Thursday, April 2: Annual exam Dr appointment in Buda, TX (scheduled)
Friday, April 3: Annual Neurology appointment in Houston, TX (not yet confirmed)
Hopefully spend the next few days visiting with family in the Austin area.
Then, head on up to Tulsa to see Kit and Tamara.
From there, we will head towards South Hadley, MA to see David’s parents and sister, then head to our job in Bar Harbor, Maine. Our expected arrival there is the last week of April.
At least, that is what we have planned right now. We do reserve the right to shake, rattle and roll, boogie woogie, or slip slide away the days, depending on the radio station and what catches our fancy as we head down the highways and byways.
I have many update posts up my sleeve as well, so I will just say that I am working on it, and leave it at that.
Do you remember our friend Linda? She lives in Silverton, Colorado during the nice time to live at 9,305 feet in elevation. But when it isn’t nice to live there (say, October – April) she is an RV’er. Linda and her late husband John were some of the first friends we made when we started working at Amazon in December of 2012. They introduced us to this LTVA (Long Term Visitor Area), and we have looked forward to seeing them whenever we got the chance.
Linda is now adjusting to flying solo, and we have had the pleasure of her company a couple of times this season. She is currently traveling in a Class C trailer like this one:
It’s just the right size for her and her dog, Hope, but it can be a bit large to run around town in. I had been looking at the local events calendar to see what she and I could do for a girl’s day out, and we found a craft fair that was scheduled on the same day as the farmer’s market, so we made a plan and off we went.
David was so sweet to stay behind and provide doggy day care to Hope (Linda’s miniature Australian Shepherd). But honestly, who was watching whom? Hope’s job was to make sure David didn’t go up on the roof while we were gone!
Linda and I put on real going-out-in-public clothes, and I even put a little mascara on so that I didn’t scare people too much. Then we were off to the Farmer’s Market at the “Mall”. It wasn’t a large market, but we definitely scores some sweet deals. I picked up an assortment of 3 red/yellow/orange bell peppers for $1.00 – for all 3, not each! Also, a head of cauliflower for $1.50. And finally, a bunch of asparagus ) labelled “Sparagus” for $2.00. Linda found some lovely tomatoes, too. It was a good haul for a short and sweet stop.
Well, all that shopping left us parched, so we hit the Starbucks drive-thru. I think this was my first Starbucks of the year (I have chosen Dunkin’ Donuts, Coffee Bean & Tea, or something local) and an iced coffee hit the spot. Next, we headed to the Yuma Potpourri Artists Arts & Crafts Show at the Foothills branch of the Yuma County Library. The facility was just beautiful:
The crafts show was very small, which surprised us, as this was advertised heavily. We may be spoiled by the size of crafts shows we have attended in the past. There were three self published authors, several beaded jewelry makers, pressed flower cards, a pastels artist, and a lady who sold recycled aluminum cutout ornaments, like the butterfly you see in today’s featured photo. I purchased this lovely butterfly for $1.00. I thought it was appropriately made from an Arizona Iced Tea can. It is now affixed to the screen door of the rig.
One of the cutest moments of our day out was when David sent us a text from Doggy Day Care letting Linda know that Hope was doing great and that they were out on a walk. That was so considerate of him!
Linda didn’t find anything that she couldn’t live without, so we next went off to find the Foothill Shoe Store, home of an endless offering of shoes by Keene, Birkenstock, and SAS. We didn’t look up the address, but since Foothill seems to be a smallish area, with really just one main drag, we figured it would be easy enough to find.
And this is where the day got really interesting. As we hit the end of the main business artery without spotting the shoe store, we went to turn around and discovered a lovely new-ish RV/residential development called “El Rancho Encantado“. Now, I don’t want to turn into a salesperson on you, but if I was in the market for a lot to park the rig on, I probably would have written a check. This place was gorgeous! Linda and I walked around to each of the lots that have been built on and are for sale, and looked at the second phase lots. Here is an example of a 754 sq ft casita that is built on a lot. This still allows for 2 RV full hookups.
Like I said, we are not in the market to buy, but Linda is looking at where she is going to start her next chapter; maybe it will be here. And if it is, I know there are hookups for when we visit (and David is always available to work on that outdoor kitchen or sunroom).
After we swooned over this development, we google mapped where the shoe store really was! Just one exit down the highway, and we were squeezing into a packed store. They were having a sale where they pay the 8.25% sales tax, so it was a popular place. Linda found what she wanted, and we were out of there as quickly as possible.
Now, with grumbling tummies, we decided on…you guessed it…Chipotle for lunch. Mmmmm.
Our last stop was at Imperial Date Gardens to pick up one of their 11 lb boxes of dates to share. These are just so yummy, and they freeze well, so I decided to get a box before they were sold out.
Once home, it was really time to get cooking!
With the latest episode of “Glee” playing on my laptop, I decided to make the recipe that my friend Sharon posted on my Facebook wall for Spicy Buffalo Cauliflower. It was tasty! And HOT! I served it over a bed of fresh spinach, but did not make the ranch dipping sauce, as I have not found an oil-free Veganaise.
It was a full day, topped of with watching the boy’s high school soccer AZ State Championship match on TV. Yes, that is reaching for entertainment!
I hope you had a good day, and night, and that the Hallmark holiday didn’t get you down.
I have been slacking. I truly have no excuse for not keeping up. In fact, I have started writing posts every single day – in my head, as I wake up each morning. And then, well, I get up and get going and suddenly it is 2 pm and I have very little idea how I lost track of time, or why I didn’t have the discipline to sit and write out my thoughts and experiences.
Am I in a funk? I don’t think so. I actually think I am doing well with this whole empty nest thing. Except that I am keenly aware that I am in need of being needed. Now, I have managed to do things for Hannah (and to a much lesser extent, Kit and Tami) practically every day. And I am in constant contact with the girl even though we have a 7 hour time difference. And it would not be a far stretch to say that I check my phone as soon as I wake up to see what little note or update I have received (thanks, “WhatsApp”) from jolly ol’ England.
But there are many, many things that I must get wrapped up, and stop all this dilly-dallying.
The first of which – what did we do yesterday (which was Thursday, Feb 12, 2015)?
Well, in my head I wrote the post about the need for Structure. With a capital “S”. But you see how well that went (not posted). David and I then went for our every-other-day run/walk. I tried to push it harder than I have in the past, as David gave me permission to run at my speed, as he feels that I have the ability to run faster than he does at this time. It is only for one minute at a time, so there really isn’t that much distance between us. We are running on a narrow, rocky path, so it is exceptionally hard to run side-by-side, which means one of us has to be in the lead. I am fatter than David, so I feel like I need to work harder to get in/keep in shape, so I need to expend more effort on these runs. We added two more run intervals, and even tried one stretch of running for 2 minutes at a time. This means that we are both getting back into better shape. Not In-The-Prime-Of-Amazon-Season shape, but definitely better than Sloth-In-The-Desert shape.
We had our usual morning oatmeal and (for me) coffee breakfast, and I ran down to the Christian Service Center to pick up a package for David. (Ah shoot. Post Day 1145 is still in Draft, so this sentence does not make sense. Roll with me on this. I will update that next, I promise).
David continued to work on his solar hot water heater project, and I got going on bookkeeping. That lovely FAFSA is due any day now, and I am feeling the pressure.
The winds are coming and going here, and the temperatures have remained in the 80’s. I mention this not as filler, but so that you can share in the questioning of the wisdom of baking biscotti when it is warmer outside than inside, and one does not have the ability to fire up the air conditioner.
I make biscotti because David loves it, and I am trying to fatten him up. The problem is that it really isn’t very high in calories, since it has no oil. But it is high in fiber, which sometimes is not the best thing for a person with Parkinson’s (PWP). So, I make something he loves to eat, but he needs to increase his fluid intake to go along with the consumption of these hard cookies. And that, my friend, is a challenge. Even though we are in the desert, with all this flying sand particles, he just does not seem to increase his fluids as much as I would like. When I say something, he points out that coffee is a diuretic, and that I drink way too much coffee, and there you have it. Male Brick Wall.
Lunch salads were made, and we had leftovers burgers for dinner.
After dinner, I went online to Zenni Optical to have a go at ordering glasses online. David wants another pair of glasses, going back to his titanium frame, and a full strength prescription. Amazingly, his glasses are costing me a total of $27.90 – that is frame, lenses, and a sunglass clip-on! (http://www.zennioptical.com/318612-bendable-memory-titanium-half-rim-frame-with-stainless-steel-bridge.html) That is for a single vision lenses. We will see how this goes. Compare that to the over $200 for the Costco frame and lenses we purchased in 2012, and it really isn’t a risk.
The morning is getting away from me again, and I can feel the pressure to get up and get moving. I will just say that I will try to be kinder to myself today, and hope you can do the same for yourself. The pressure we put on ourselves is always greater than the pressure from those around us.
As you may know, our son Kit has been living in Tulsa, OK, since July 2011. He moved there because he had the opportunity to study at the University of Tulsa. His goal was to receive his Masters degree in Biology, to go along with his Undergrad degree in English Lit from UCLA and his CA teaching credential from UC Davis. (Yup, I am bragging about his accomplishments!)
I am fuzzy on the timeline, but somewhere along the way, he was switched from the Master Program to the Doctor of Philosophy in Biology program. He has truly been having the time of his life studying the prairie mole crickets, and has finished his required courses. All that he has left now is research, research, and more research.
While studying at Tulsa, he has been a Teaching Assistant, a Lab Assistant, a Research Assistant. He has taught Lab classes, and spoken at conferences.
So, basically, he was working, attending class, and doing research. Here is the really good part. He has received a fellowship, the Bellwether. Per TU’s website, “Bellwether Fellowships are to assist TU doctoral candidates in the completion of their degree. The selected fellowship recipients are expected to be leaders in their respective disciplines and trendsetters for The University of Tulsa doctoral degree.” This will allow him to focus on his research, and not have to worry about working a position on campus, too.
His next step is to find a postdoctoral position. But that is after graduation, and can be anywhere! We are so proud, and very excited for him. He has truly made the most of this opportunity.
So three cheers to Kit!
We now return to our regular program:
Today was pretty much a stay-in-and-catch-up day.
There was soccer on the tv to watch, breakfast potatoes to be eaten, blog posts to write, emails to run through.
One such email was from Kathie. She sent me some photos from Maine, and reported that her glasses from Los Alogodones have arrived. First, the soap that she took home from Yuma:
I just love the color swirls, and will try to replicate this. I still think this is a hot process soap, since it is so textured. The soapmaker was not in the shop, so I couldn’t ask in person.
And her view out her front window:
This is what that view looks like in July:
It’s not an exact comparison, but you get the idea. Brrrrrr.
David spent most of the day up on the roof, repositioning one of the solar panels, in anticipation of adding the solar hot water panels. He also put some time in searching online for a small travel trailer to possibly fix up and keep here as a second bedroom. You know, for when we have guests (or one of us is in the doghouse).
I am going to wrap this up early today, and take myself for a walk. It is a lovely 85 degrees with a slight breeze. Just seems like what I need to shake the funk that a quiet house brings on.
The day started off with a fantastic run on the trail. It was so nice, in fact, that I made David promise me that we go out on a run at least every other day. Let’s see if we can stick to it.
I spent my morning navigating through Amazon UK vs Amazon US, Puritans Pride UK vs Puritans Pride US, USPS Flat Rate box to England vs ordering online…you get the idea. What it came down to is this: The 4 jars of peanut butter, 4 vegan chocolate bars, and 2 bags of flaxseed meal that I purchased at Trader Joe’s for Hannah would cost $50 in postage to send to her. BUT she gets Amazon UK Student for free, so it was more cost effective to order said items online and have them delivered (one day shipping!) to her. Now, what to do with all that chocolate and peanut butter. I heard that they taste great together. I’ll have to try that.
Last challenge to be figured out for her, and I hope she can resolve it soon, is how to get a UK-based credit card so that she can order home delivery for her groceries. It may come down to finding a Visa or Mastercard that can be preloaded, but can’t be a “gift” card.
I was reading the Yuma Visitor’s Guide and ran across a picture that made me think about my dad. Here it is:
Now, this goes along with today’s title, “Man Bliss”. My dad was quite the marksman and outdoor enthusiast, and if they had this clay pigeon cartridge around “back in the day”, well, as my brother would say, “Oh, Momma, I want to turn my shoulder into hamburger.” I can feel the kick of the stock just looking at this pic. Thanks for indulging me.
The other part of the “Man Bliss” theme, and going along with today’s featured photo, was to take up the rest of the day.
David had a very long, detailed list of items to be found at either Home Depot or an RV supply store. These items were as simple as O-rings for the water handle in the shower to as complicated as a 1/2″ Pex check valve. We drove to Yuma, and spent – no exaggeration needed – 3 hours in Home Depot. Not to be sexist, but he was surely having a better time than I was. I mean, if I spent 3 hours in a single store, I would come home with a great deal more than PVC pipe, Pex fittings, drill bits and something called “Rectorseal”.
We had a bite of lunch, because heck, we used ALL of our energy in that big ol’ warehouse of a store. Then, it was off to the RV supply store. Thought we found what we were looking for (a lighted switch for the water pump switch in the vanity area), but now that David tried to install it, I will get to make a return.
There was still laundry and a propane tank fill to be done, but we burned too much daylight. I will have to cover those errands on another day. Mulling over which Farmer’s market I want to hit, so I may wait until Sunday.
The day started with not only a lovely moon set/sun rise, but also a call with Hannah. It seems that she has discovered that UK peanut butter is disgusting, that she is experiencing a real winter (vs the born-and-raised-in-California winter), and that “old” buildings in the US are not really old compared to what she is seeing in York and Sunderland. You can read more about it here, if you are so inclined: http://keanepointofview.tumblr.com/
After a lovely morning walk with David, we both got to cleaning and organizing, something that we have not really focused on while we had Hannah and Kathie as guests. Boy, do we have our work cut out for us. There is a very strong urge to do a complete sweep of the RV, and purge again. Lookout Goodwill, local Thrift Stores, etc. We will be dropping off to you soon!
It took me an inordinate amount of time to clean up yesterday’s blog post. I tried to do it on my telephone as we were driving to Phoenix, but when I got a look at it on the computer, I knew that it was not going to cut it. So, please forgive me for that one!
David continued to work on his latest project, the solar hot water heater. He is designing it himself, and doing prep work. I asked him to do a complete write up when he is finished with it, much like the solar write up.(http://rvgetfit.com/2014/04/08/solar/)
We received information about our next two jobs. First, we will be working at the Good Sam Rally in Phoenix, AZ Feb 25 – Mar 1 for Amazon CamperForce. (http://therally.com/) The corporate program manager, Pamela, let us know that our parking spot was secured, so we will get to stay onsite, which is very exciting.
Next, we received an email from Barbie at the Bar Harbor KOA, confirming our tentative dates (May 1 – Sept 18), job duties, and the names of other Workampers. As it turns out, Doug and Patty, a couple we met last year in Livingston (fellow vegans) will be working there, too! Now, they have worked for KOA before, but have not been to Maine. This is going to be fun!
The rest of the day didn’t bring any real surprises, and the weather is starting to heat up. We want to take advantage of the full moon, so we are planning on getting up around 4:30 am to do a moonlight hike.
The day started before the sun came up. 4:30 am was our wake time, for we had a day of travel and time constraints that kept us on the move.
We took David’s sister Kathie to the Sky Harbor International Airport on Phoenix to fly back to her home in Maine. Although we tried to keep her with us longer, she knew she had a small window of travel opportunity between winter storms. The airport had even sent her an email reminding her that she was traveling on a very busy day, what with the Super Bowl being in Phoenix and all. So, we headed out early, just to be sure she made her flight.
As the sun rose, and the moon set, we had beautiful southwestern landscapes that seemed to be saying, “until next time” to Kathie.
Oh, the things that we exposed her to! Quartzsite, RV’ing, Friends and More Friends, Dry Camping, Mexico! Hopefully these warm memories will keep her spirits high as she returns to the frozen Maine tundra, as shown in today’s featured photo.
Here is a little taste of what she saw in Quartzsite:
After seeing Kathie off at the airport (no small feat, since we were pulling her rental trailer through the departures lanes at PHX), it was time to return the trailer. A “quick” drive to the outskirts of Phoenix, to the home of the private party owner, and we were free to get a little shopping done before we headed back to our RV.
Trader Joe’s, Walmart, Sprouts all had something that we just HAD to get. Really, it was mostly food. What can I say? We are picky eaters, and sometimes we have to go to multiple stores to find what we need.
We returned home before dark, and Kathie successfully navigated her Phoenix-Las Vegas-Reagan National-Bangor flights.
Once all of the groceries were put away (and I re-organized the fridge, freezer, and pantry), I made a simple stir fry. We were pretty toasted, so we were in bed by 10 pm.
Tomorrow, we will be making lists and getting ourselves organized. We have been so fortunate to have first Hannah, then Kathie, with us since December. But we have some cleaning and projects to get moving on!
Kathie and I ran into Yuma on her last full day with us to fill her rental RV’s propane tank and to do a little exploring.
The guy at Cactus Storage Propane and Laundromat was smiling and friendly as always. The line was not long, and we were off to Martha’s Date Garden (http://www.marthasgardens.com/).
We thought we were going to have lunch in the little courtyard there, but they didn’t have anything that appealed to us.
They did have this interesting horse sculpture, though, as you can see on today’s featured photo. Here is a larger view:
Our ultimate destination was the Old Town area, so we plugged that into the GPS and then Kathie selected a Mexican restaurant from the list. As I was driving, I asked her the name of the chosen restaurant.
“Del Taco” she replied, which prompted me to laugh – and change destinations. You see, Kathie doesn’t know that Del Taco is the McDonald’s of Mexican food. They don’t have them on the East Coast.
We then found Mi Rancho Restaurant, which proved to be a great lunch. Kathie had the fish tacos, and I asked for a veggie burrito.
There was a group of snowbirds having lunch behind us in the big room.
I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by my burrito. Grilled broccoli, carrots, cauliflower and onions filled the fresh flour tortilla. No cheese, beans or rice. It was no Gordito burrito (my 30 year Sacramento addiction), but this was a yummy 2nd place.
With full bellies, we moved on to find the Bare Naked Soap Co. (http://www.barenakedsoapco.com/) I didn’t take any pictures there, but did come away with two bars of soap. You know I am very picky about my soap, so if I bought two bars (large, and $5 a bar) you know they had to be exceptional in some way.
The bar I purchased for David was scented with Lemongrass, one of his favorites. The bar I gave to Kathie was called “Desert Sunrise”, and was uniquely colored with mica powder and annatto root. I now wish I had taken a picture before she packed it away.
Edit: I found this picture on their facebook page:
This is the Castle Dome series, which reflects the Colorado River, desert and Castle Dome, which we see on the distance from our parking space.
There were also lovely salsa bowls.
The potter was so nice, and she and Kathie talked shop…gas and electric kilns, glazes, and how to get that lovely opal shade. She even gave us a tour of her workshop and kilns that were firing away out back.
One of the most unique offerings she had was a coffee scoop. Kathie purchased one, and will take it back to M & M at 44 North Coffee. This would be a great addition to their shop, and Kathie has a flyer for them to put them in contact with each other.
Here is an interview video that I found with the help of her website:
We filled up the CRV at Sam’s Club at $1.77/gal, and then returned to the RV to get it dumped and tidy for a return in Phoenix bright and early in the morning.
One last sunset stroll…
And a quick dinner. That 4:30 am alarm, 3.25 hr drive to the airport, and post Super Bowl travelers await in the morning.
David started the day with a walk on his favorite trail here in the LTVA, and I caught up on yesterday’s post, and messaged with Hannah.
After breakfast, Kathie, David and I loaded up into the CRV and headed to the Painted Desert trail in the Imperial National Wildlife Refuge, which is just on the other side of the Yuma Proving Grounds. A 1.3-mile self-guided trail, it is an opportunity to see desert plants and wildlife, and goes through a rainbow of colors left by 30,000 year-old volcanic activity and features a panoramic view of the Colorado River valley.
We were the only car in the lot.
The trail is clearly marked.
It was a lovely hike.
From the hike brochure: “Twenty to thirty million years ago, volcanic eruptions of viscous, hot lava and ash dominated this region and created the landscape you see today. Named for the multicolored mounds that surround you, the Painted Desert Trail is comprised of rocks tinted by minerals. Iron creates the rusty color, for example, while copper appears green.”
The rock formation in our featured photo is a hoodoo. This natural column of rock was created by water eroding from several directions.
When we came out of the trail, this was waiting for us. This one is for you, JT:
We had passed a sign for the Visitors Center, so we went back to visit it after the hike. It had an observation tower where you could look for wildlife around the Colorado River.
We then drove through the “town” of Martinez Lake, which turned out to be a real hodge-podge of RV’s, boats, very vintage trailers, and crazy-fancy houses. Fisher’s Landing RV is listed as a Resort, but I think they prove that the term is overused. The roads were not paved, let along RV-friendly. There were dry camping areas for $5/day, but I do not think I would drive my rig that far on a dirt road just to dry camp.
Once we returned to the RV, we turned on the Super Bowl. I streamed it on my laptop, which was plugged into the TV via an HDMI cable, since we cannot access local stations from our location. After the Super Bowl, (which, really – that last play call by the Seahawks was just dumb) we watched the replay of the men’s final of the Australian Open. All of us knew the result ahead of time, but it was good to see it from the tie breaker to the end of the match.
Tomorrow will be busy getting Kathie’s rental trailer ready for return. Her visit with us has gone by too quickly. Maybe her East Coast trip will be delayed due to weather on Tuesday.
The day started of with a run with David. We have this thing where we start off walking, and then after probably 10 minutes, we run intervals. Now, these are not the intervals of David’s racing years, so I can keep up. That is one thing about Parkinson’s – it is the great equalizer when it comes to me being able to run with David. We run for one minute, then walk for two minutes, run for one minute, walk for two minutes…you get the idea. We do this until we get up to 20 minutes of running. But we are building up again after being off the pace for a bit, so today we did 10 runs.
We returned to the RV for breakfast, cleaned up, and headed out. Our goal was to take Kathie to Los Algodones, and to share the little town with her. My personal goal was to go to Meyer Optical and get a proper eye exam and prescription. The readers are just not cutting for me, and I know that I need glasses that will address each eye individually.
Along the drive from Imperial Dam to Highway 8, we pass farm fields and groves of date palms. There is a very popular store that sells date shakes, so we stopped and took a look.
The date shake is made from dates, vanilla ice cream, and milk. They had no alternatives, so we passed and Kathie partook. She “mmmmm’d” all the way through that shake, so it must have been good.
They also had a great deal on lovely medjool dates – 11 lbs for $18.95. We will return for a box of those shortly.
It was then on to Los Algodones. We stopped short of the paid parking, and walked in. The weather was lovely, but windy.
Kathie has been looking for silver bangles, a hat, and a leather backpack, so those were the items that she was hoping to find. We stopped and talked with many vendors on the streets, and found some bangles that she really liked. We didn’t have much luck on the hat or backpack front, and thus made our way to Meyer Optical. (Just a quick aside – I have never seen so many mexican blanket backpacks with Seattle Seahawk logos in my life. The Pats were truly under-represented on the streets of Los Algodones. Sorry, didn’t take a picture.)
I paid $20 for an exam and to take my prescription with me. Because Kathie bought her glasses there, her exam was free. If I choose to return to Meyer in the next month, the exam fee will be applied to whatever I buy. I am going to compare prices to see if they are the best deal for me, but the frames I liked were only $45, and if I choose to get bifocals, then the lenses start at $70. Kathie’s frames and progressive lens were under $200, and will be shipped to her in Maine.
With the business end of our trip completed, it was time to get a little snack. As you can see in today’s featured photo, that snack consisted of margaritas and chips. David got a bottle of water. I thought the chips and guacamole were a tad pricey ($7.50) but that might be because I am used to Chipotle prices. The $5 margaritas reminded me of the cheap margaritas we used to get in college in Sacramento at that place on Arden Way near Togo’s. You remember that place, don’t you? (Kico’s Mexican is still there, according to Urban Spoon. Who knew?)
We felt like our Mexico experience was properly wrapped up, and we headed out to get in the line at customs to return to our native country. One more stop at one of the liquor stores to see what all of the fuss was about – and they have tequila tasting in the store! I tried a coffee flavored tequila, and an almond tequila. That one could be deadly because it tasted just like a La Bou almond croissant. I am heavy on the Sactown references today, aren’t I? Settled on a bottle that was probably just as cheap in the US, but I was happy, and THEN to the customs line we went.
Except that there was no line. 3:30 pm, and not a soul (or sole) in line! The town was pretty empty, and we had no explanation. Generally at this time of the day, you would have at least a 30 minute wait to have your passport looked at.
The fine men of US Customs allowed us back into the US, and we then set off to grocery shop in Yuma. (David drove, in case you were wondering.) The Fry’s on Frontage Road was packed to the gills! It was like the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. The fine people of Yuma must take this Super Bowl party stuff seriously.
We headed back to the RV’s with yummy goodies, and I made fajitas burritos for dinner, which we ate while watching the Women’s finals of the Australian Open on TV. All of that fun wore me out, and I was in bed by 9 pm. I know, I am such a lightweight!
Just a couple more days of having Kathie with us, so we are looking to make the most of it. Can’t wait to see what we do tomorrow!
The day started with an early morning goodbye to Linda and Hope, as they were traveling to Tucson, which is about 250 miles from here.
We had our own little travel adventure planned, as we drove Kathie to Anza-Borrego State Park. This is where we have spent many days hiking and exploring, and we really wanted to share this with her. The weather was a tad overcast and cool, so we thought it probably wasn’t the best idea to hike into Palm Canyon, as we originally had planned.
Instead, we visited the Visitors Center:
We read the exhibits, watched a movie, and then walked around looking at the lovely desert plant life.
We then went into the town of Borrego Springs, where we had a lovely lunch at the Red Ocotillo. The lunch was yummy, and I would go back there again.
Our next stop was Ghost Mountain, the home of Marshal South. “For 17 years, from 1930 to 1947, poet, artist, and author Marshal South and his family lived on Ghost Mountain—a remote, waterless mountaintop that is today within California’s Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Over a period of nine of those years, South chronicled his family’s controversial primitive lifestyle through popular monthly articles written for Desert Magazine.” (http://www.desertusa.com/desert-people/marshal-south.html) This was our third visit to the remains of the homestead, and while it is a short one mile climb to the homestead from the parking area, the 3.5 mile dirt road drive is one that I only make when I have the Honda. The Beast (our F350 dually) is just too big and a really hard ride to go down that road.
The photo at the top of this post (the “Featured Photo”) shows Kathie and I checking out the remains of the homestead.
Can you imagine raising a family on the top of this mountain, with no running water, sewer, electricity, RV, solar, Amazon Prime….?
It was close to 4 pm when we were on the top of the mountain, so we headed back down. As we walked, Kathie noticed that the agave leaves showed unique striations that we did not notice on the way up:
See if you notice them in the wide open view:
The drive home along the Great Southern Overland Stage Route of 1849, through the town (if you can call it that) of Ocotillo, CA, and back home to the RV was quiet and uneventful. We talked about the diverse plant life and hard life in the desert, and were happy to settle into our beds after a dinner of a bowl of cereal (Trader Joe O’s for Kathie, a mix of Shredded Wheat and Heritage Flakes for David, and Gingersnap Granola for me).
Here is what our drive looked like: (you can be in awe of my map embedding skills. It’s OK)
I just might have to sleep in tomorrow, as the rains are coming again.
Today I was bitten by the cleaning bug. I woke up and started dusting and scrubbing, just getting my little world tidy. This usually hits when I really should be doing something else – like my mom’s taxes, my bookkeeping, exercise, etc.
David tilted the solar panels to get a little more juice, as we have been a tad cloudy and not getting past 86% charged. He also trimmed some pieces of wood to finish the sofa project. Kathie enjoyed a leisurely morning of vacation time, and we were all pretty much in our own routine until lunch.
After our lunch salads, David and Kathie went on a hike through the gorge that is right here by our campsite. I was going to do some sorting, and then hit the internet for the latest version of Turbo Tax and start gathering tax forms from various places. I feel guilty being online or working on my “stuff” when we have guests!
As David and Kathie were walking away, in pulled our friend Linda and her dog, Hope, in their class C. We visited with Linda briefly in Quartzsite, and she is on her way to Tucson to stay with some Silverton, CO friends of hers. We were so happy to see her, and Hope came right inside our trailer, and Hobbie was totally chill about it. Which is a good thing, since Hope jumped right into Hob’s empty bed, as you can see in today’s photo!
I can’t tell you much about David and Kathie’s hike – I will have to steal some of the photos from their adventure, and may get David to write about the hike in his own post.
But I had a lovely visit with Linda, and once the adventurers returned, we headed down to the showers at Squaw Lake. With three of us, this is the best way to get clean and still conserve water and limit the dump station runs!
Linda joined us for dinner, and we had a truly lovely time. Of course, dinner consisted of the leftovers from last night, and we pretty much polished off the lemon pie, too!
We will get up early in the morning and head out on a field trip to Borrego Springs tomorrow. We are looking forward to sharing one of our favorite places with Kathie.
I woke up with a great need to get moving, and we all wanted to explore the trails around us. After breakfast, David led Kathie and I on his favorite “loop” near the base of the Chocolate mountains. It took us a little over two hours, but it was lovely.
The rains, of which we have now seen more of than in our previous years combined, are helping the desert floor start to bloom. The spring flowers are going to be amazing!
After I saw this picture that Kathie took, I felt compelled to buy some hiking shorts.
We were treated to a couple of burro sightings. This little guy was being guarded by Mom pretty tightly.
See, I told you it was a lovely day for a hike!
We returned just in time for lunch, and really enjoyed our salads. It felt so good to get out after the rains and see how the desert is doing. I will certainly take that walk again.
After lunch, we all went to do our own thing. Kathie set up on a lawn chair and did some sketching. David started stacking rocks around our campsite, as well as setting up our solar lights. The area is rocky, as you can see, and he tried to level out the area around our door to eliminate tripping hazards.
Bill and Elyse, a lovely couple that we meet each year at the Hitchhiker gathering in Quartzsite, gifted us with about 10 pounds of fresh lemons from their neighbor in Mesa, AZ. I decided to use some of these to try my hand at a vegan lemon pie. And I am glad that I did.
I ended up having one of the most successful cooking days ever! By the time the dust settled, I had made a lemon pie and a soup for dinner that was just out of this world. The recipes are at the end of the blog today.
The lemon pie came out so yummy and tart, and the Grape-Nut crust was just what it needed. I will certainly make it again. I was caught a little short on the cornstarch, so I had to use 1 tablespoon of chickpea flower in its place. And I went to almost 1 cup of lemon juice, since I wanted it to be extra lemony.
While that was chilling, I went looking for a soup. I am so glad that I found this recipe for Curried Potato Soup with Corn and Red Pepper. It was thick and creamy, and really filling as well as tasty. The picture below is of Kathie’s bowl, which happened to have some white cheddar shavings on the top.
Yes, I spent about 4 hours in the kitchen, but I had some marvelous results to show for it.
Here are the recipes:
1 – 1 1/4 Grape-nuts cereal, or enough to thinly cover the bottom of a pie plate
2 – 3 Tablespoons frozen apple-juice concentrate (it spoons out quite easily)
Preheat oven 350°
Pour Grape-nuts into a 9 inch pie plate, add apple-juice concentrate, and mix until the cereal is moist but not wet.
Press Grape-nuts up side of pie plate and bake for 10 minutes, until crust nicely browned, watching constantly.
Cool crust in freezer or refrigerator until ready to fill.
Lemon Pie Filling
Recipe adapted by: Susan Voisin (From Fat Free Vegan)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup + 1 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 cup water
1 cup fatfree soymilk
3/4 cup lemon juice
grated rind of 2 lemons (about 2 Tbsp.)
Combine sugar, cornstarch, and salt in saucepan. Stir in water and soymilk and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook 3-4 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and slowly add the lemon juice and grated rind. Pour into a fatfree pie crust. Chill.
8 servings: 195 calories per serving (without crust), 0 fat
Curried Potato Soup with Corn and Red Pepper
This is a hearty, healthy soup with the added warmth of curry spices.
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and diced
1 large red bell pepper, seeded and diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 large Yukon Gold potatoes (about 1 pound), peeled and chopped
3 ears corn, kernels removed (about 2 cups)
4 cups Vegetable Stock , or low-sodium vegetable broth
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 batch No-Cheese Sauce Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 green onions (white and green parts), sliced
½ cup chopped cilantro
Place the onion and red pepper in a large saucepan and sauté over medium-high heat for 7 to 8 minutes. Add water 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time to keep the vegetables from sticking to the pan . Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the potatoes, corn, vegetable stock, and curry powder and bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, covered, for 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. Add the No-Cheese Sauce and cook over low heat for 5 minutes. Season with salt and black pepper and serve garnished with the green onions and cilantro.
Sroufe, Del; Sroufe, Del (2012-08-14). Forks Over Knives—The Cookbook: Over 300 Recipes for Plant-Based Eating All Through the Year (Kindle Locations 2204-2219). The Experiment. Kindle Edition.
This low-fat sauce makes great Mac and “Cheese” or Baked Ziti . Best of all, it only takes about 5 minutes to put together. It may seem as though this recipe will not work in a blender, but with a little patience it does. If your onions are strong, blanch them in boiling water for a few minutes, or sauté them over medium heat for about 5 minutes before adding them to the blender.
MAKES ABOUT 2 ½ CUPS
1 large yellow onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 large red bell pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons cashews, toasted , optional
1 tablespoon tahini, optional
1 cup nutritional yeast
Salt to taste
Combine all ingredients in a blender in the order given and puree until smooth and creamy, adding up to ½ cup of water if necessary to achieve a smooth consistency.
Use an equal amount of roasted red bell peppers in place of the raw pepper.
Combine the prepared sauce with a jar of store-bought salsa or a recipe of Fresh Tomato Salsa, and use as a dip for vegetables.
Add ½ teaspoon of nutmeg with the salt.
Sroufe, Del; Sroufe, Del (2012-08-14). Forks Over Knives—The Cookbook: Over 300 Recipes for Plant-Based Eating All Through the Year (Kindle Locations 1020-1034). The Experiment. Kindle Edition.
We topped the day off with more Australian Open tennis, and then called it a very nice day at Imperial Dam LTVA.
The rain started about 11 pm, and it kept up what seemed like the entire night. We woke up to a sloshy, muddy mess all around us, and were thankful that we chose to relocate yesterday, rather than today.
The usual breakfast fare was produced, and David and I sat at the table, each lost in our computers. I decided that I should tackle the laundry and get drinking water and groceries in Yuma. David had another window blind to fix (the strings fray and break), and he did not want to go. I went to Kathie’s trailer and asked if she was game, and she was. After a bite of oatmeal and a gathering of her laundry, we set off to Yuma.
We first stopped at the fresh water kiosk on our way into town. I get 5 gallons for $0.50, but realized that I only had 4 containers with me. So, I got 4 gallons for $0.50 today.
The 8E Laundry in Yuma is a coinless laundry, and it is the cleanest laundromat in the country (that I have encountered, anyway). It was very busy today, but we were in and out of there in a flash!
Next stop was Chipotle for lunch. Kathie had never been to a Chipotle, and after she chose her bowl, our server told her that since it was her first visit, it was free for her. I think it made it even more tasty! My Sofritas was yummy, too, and the fact that I can bring my receipt back anytime between tomorrow and Feb 28 for a free entree made for quite a deal.
Fry’s grocery was our next stop. We were surprised to see that their gas was $1.79/gallon, so we topped off the tank before heading inside to grocery shop. They have a really nice selection of produce, and the store is clean – reminds me of a Raley’s in Sacramento. We got what we needed, and navigated our way out of the store. It was packed, as I think the rain must have let up a little, and people headed out while the getting was good.
One last stop, the drive-thru of Dunkin Donuts to get a coffee for the road, and we were back to our house by 5:45 pm. I made Kathie a lavash bread pizza, and David and I had our Chipotle.
Desert was watching the Australian Open, although it was not nearly as entertaining as it was last night. We checked the weather in the East to see how bad it must be for family in Maine and Massachusetts. Hopefully, they are staying inside and are warm and toasty.
We may head to Los Algodones tomorrow, but will see how Kathie is feeling. She was feeling cold while we were warm in the RV tonight, so we are hoping she isn’t coming down with something.
The weather forecast stated that rain was on it’s way to the area on Monday, so we figured we had better get out of Quartzsite on Sunday to try to beat the storm. Pulling the RV in wind and rain is no fun, and we are a little challenged right now, since we need to pull both our RV and Kathie’s rental. The rental is too large to tow with the Honda, so that means we have two vehicles, two trailers, but only one winning combination!
The first order of business for the day for me was to complete job applications for the sugar beet harvest this Fall. A company called Express Employment Professionals hires workcampers to help with the sugar beet harvest in Minnesota and North Dakota each year. The work can be completed in 2 – 4 weeks, and the money is supposedly very good. It is another example of utilizing a transient workforce to supplement the locals during peak season. See http://sugarbeetharvest.com/ for more information. We figured that it would be better to get our applications in now, since they had a booth right next to Amazon’s at the Big Tent. So, it was off to the tent for me.
Meanwhile, David and Kathie took the trash, sofa bed frame, and mattress to the transfer station just outside of Quartzsite. Then, they filled up the truck with $2.69/gallon diesel and returned to get the rigs ready to travel.
After I dropped off the applications, I said goodbye to Pamela (the leader of the Amazon Camperforce program) and stopped for a quick chat with Barb, another Camperforce worker from our last two years in Fernley. She is a fellow vegan, and she had been working in the parking area for the Show. That task was ridiculously boring, so she switched to working for a vendor in a booth selling Bloody Mary mix spices and a fishing tool that tied knots. I am not sure how these two are related, but I wasn’t paying attention, either. I should have grabbed a bag of the mix while I was there – I thought I would get back before we left town, but I didn’t, so I missed out. But at least I got a sample of the non-alcoholic Bloody Mary, and it was exceptionally tasty.
I filled the Honda up with $1.99/gallon gas, and reunited with David and Kathie at the campsite. We hooked up our trailer to the truck, and the Keane siblings travelled in the Ford while I followed in the CRV, as shown in today’s, you guessed it, featured photo.
Imperial Dam LTVA was the intended destination. Once we arrived there, David went to the dump station to empty our tanks, and then moved to the water station to fill up with fresh water. Kathie and I took the CRV to locate our parking spot, which turned out to be the same one that we parked in last year, across the “street” from the lovely Anna and Louis Hausleitner. We are in the Florida Flats neighborhood once again. After a quick bite to eat, David and I left Kathie, Hobbie, the CRV and the Hitchhiker, and headed back to Quartzsite for the rental trailer. Before we picked up the trailer, we stopped at Barry and Carole’s rig to get a hug goodbye (and to check out the new, beautiful, Pergo floor they put in their Class A). I also was promised a beer and an extended visit in Imperial Dam in February. I will hold them to it!
David and I hooked up the trailer (my first time backing up to a trailer to connect). Boy, did that backup camera come in handy! I never could have done it blind. It was just about dark, and we still needed to drive back to the LTVA. So, our goodbyes with Roy and Linda were quick, and then it was down the rode we rolled. It looked a bit like this: https://goo.gl/maps/1uXNl
We were treated to a beautiful mix of colors, but I didn’t get a picture. When we arrived home, Kathie surprised us with a lovely dinner of brown rice and a kale/onion/garlic saute. I was so appreciative to have a hot dinner ready at 8:30 pm after a day of running around. I am one lucky girl!
The storm rolled in pretty quickly, and it got cold, so I headed to bed without much thought. What a day!
Saturday, Jan 24 was our last assigned day to work for Amazon at the Quartzsite booth. David and I leisurely ate our breakfast oatmeal, visited with his sister Kathie, and then stepped outside to say goodbye to one of the remaining Hitchhiker couples that were leaving shortly.
The tent had a completely different vibe than it did on our first three work days. I don’t know if it was because the show was winding down or what, but people were just WEIRD, hard to read, disinterested, challenging…I could go on, but you get it.
The hours dragged a bit, and we were very happy to scoot out when our shift was over. Upon arrival back at our home, David hopped on the internet to research his latest idea: swapping our RV fridge for a Residential fridge. I look forward to his blog post on this one!
While we busied ourselves at the Big Tent, Kathie had her own adventure with Joel from the Escapees SOLOs (the Singles Club). He is a nice guy who lost his wife 6 years ago, and has already taken Kathie to a dinner with the group. Today, he wanted to take her to the Desert Bar, which is shown in today’s featured photo. A trip to the Desert Bar has been on my list, so I am glad that Kathie got to go. (To read about the bar, go to TheDesertBar.com) She was not only treated to dancing and socializing, but she also got a tour of Parker and points along the Colorado River. She seemed to really enjoy her day, and was home before dark, like a good girl.
We topped the day off with a campfire with the last remaining couple from the gathering, Roy and Linda from Alberta, Canada. They are a kick, and we really enjoy our time with them.
Tomorrow looks to be a travel day, so I best be getting to bed.
Today, Kathie and I went to the Quartzsite Improvement Associations’s annual Rock and Gem Show with Minerals (http://www.qiaarizona.org/POWWOW-Show.html). It was basically a flea market of stand after stand, table after table, of rocks. You can get an idea for the level of excitement this venue produced by studying today’s featured photo. As you can see, these gentlemen are fighting hard to keep their composure.
Now, I really don’t know rocks, but some of them were quite beautiful. Others were not so pretty. Some booths had jewelry that was very well made, and were interesting in how they used rocks and stones. But it really was some place that I only need to visit once. It was nice to walk around outside, although it was a tad cold at times. After a couple of hours of browsing, we moved on to Tyson Wells to find some lunch.
Tyson Wells is another area that resembles a flea market, and it was packed with people today. This is across the street from the Big Tent, and since it was lunch time, I really should not have been surprised by the sea of humanity and lack of parking. We finally lucked into a spot, and I was thankful to have the Honda CRV to drive around down there. It is so much easier to park than the Ford.
Lunch was a fish taco for Kathie, and a veggie taco for me. There may have been a County Fair Cinnamon roll for dessert. Once we finished eating, we thought we might browse the stalls of the market, but decided to return to the RVs instead.
David was very busy while we were out. He dismantled the sofa bed mattress and mechanism from the sofa, and had the mattress outside, ready to go to the landfill. The frame was a bit more of a handful, so he was waiting for me to help take it outside. Both of these pieces will be disposed of on Sunday at the landfill.
We had decided to remove the bed portion of the sofa because it was not comfortable to sleep on, and we have an air mattress for guests to use instead. By ditching the mechanism, we save weight, and by adding storage containers in its place, we utilize the space. This is what it used to look like:
I haven’t taken a picture of the new space, but will post that tomorrow.
We also spent a bit of time chatting with Hannah. It was her first call from England, and she sounded pretty tired. It was wonderful to hear how she was getting on, and all of the things she has done in just two short days in the UK. She now has bedding and a coat appropriate for the weather, and is adjusting. As expected, her biggest challenge is finding food. She is going to have a rough time of it, trying to maintain her vegan lifestyle, but she seems determined.
Once we wrapped up the call with Hannah, David and Kathie went for a walk to enjoy the afternoon sunshine. I walked over to the Monaco group to visit our friends Carole and Barry Read. They arrived yesterday, and I will have to get a picture with them before they leave. They are another fun couple that we met at Amazon in 2013.
The sunset was once again amazing. Don’t just take my word for it, see for yourself:
The colors just don’t come through completely in this phone picture. This was taken from Barry and Carole’s parking spot.
Dinner consisted of leftovers and watching part of the Australian Open action. David worked on researching the feasibility of using a residential refrigerator with our solar power system, while Kathie and I searched the internet for rental properties that compare to hers. If you know of anyone who is looking for a wonderful place to rent this summer, send them here: http://www.theislandagency.net/rentaldetails.php?rental_id=42&id_item=38
Tomorrow is another Amazon workday for us, and Kathie is going to join back up with Joel of the Escapees Solo group for a trip to the Desert Bar. I am sure she will have a dandy time!
Many of the assembled Hitchhikers departed today, and we are now down to 4 rigs. It is strangely empty now, with three couples at the campfire tonight. David is still out there, as we “speak”, likely talking solar water heaters or some new project.
The day started with a lot of goodbyes to the people who were heading on to their next stop. Some were going to sticks and bricks, some to their home “parks”, and some others, on to wherever the wind takes them. Speaking of wind, it was cold and breezy this morning, so everyone was bundled and didn’t linger long.
Once we got a good frost on, David, Kathie and I decided to go for a walk. We happened upon the rig of a couple that David and I really enjoyed talking with at the Amazon booth a couple of days ago. They have a custom built truck which carries their two Harleys, as well as a very large Montana 5th wheel. We spent 15 minutes or so with them, then hurried back home to have some breakfast, shower, and head to the big Tent.
It was past noon when we finally go into Quartzsite. We met up with our friend Linda, who we have not seen since the passing of her husband John. (Well, we did see her briefly the other day when we were at work, but that didn’t count.) She is one of our favorite people that we have met on the road, and it was good to see her again. She brought her 8 month old puppy, Hope, with her to the tent. The four of us walked around and decided that the tent was just too full of people avoiding the wind, so we headed out. As we walked the perimeter, we saw this guy who was really enjoying his ice cream cone. The line for these cones is always long, regardless of how cold it is outside. And that explains the feature photo of the day!
Kathie and I shared an Indian Taco, David lost us for a bit, we found out that we have one more day (Saturday) of work at the Amazon booth, and we were done with the tent.
The La Posa South LTVA has water, sewer and garbage drop, so we headed there to fill up the containers in the back of the truck. We don’t drink this water, but we use it for everything else. The drinking water was refilled at the Salt Free Water kiosk, and then we headed back home.
Kathie had a note on her door reminding her that she had a dinner date at 4:00 pm at the Solo’s. Of course, we got home around 5:30, so that was a bust.
Dinner tonight was a vegan Cornbread Casserole:
15 ounces diced tomatoes (undrained)
1 small onion, diced
2 celery stalks, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 teaspoon Cajun Seasoning
15 ounces kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup cornmeal
1½ teaspoon baking powder
1-2 tablespoon(s) raw sugar (optional)
¾ cup nondairy milk
¼ cup unsweetened applesauce
Note: Any bell pepper will work here, but green bell peppers will provide the most authentic experience since they are a key part of the “holy trinity” in Cajun cuisine.
Preheat oven to 400˚F. Grease a square 8 or 9-inch baking pan or casserole dish.
Drain tomato juices into a skillet and chop tomatoes into smaller pieces, and set aside.
Add water as necessary until a thin layer of liquid covers the skillet.
Sauté onion, celery, garlic and bell peppers over high heat until onions are translucent, bell peppers are tender and all of the water has evaporated, about 4 minutes.
Turn off heat and mix in Cajun Seasoning, tomatoes and kidney beans, stirring to combine, and set aside.
In a small mixing bowl, whisk cornmeal, baking powder, salt and additional Cajun Seasoning if desired (several dashes so the flour looks speckled when stirred). You can also add 1-2 tablespoon(s) of sugar for a sweet cornbread topping. Then stir in nondairy milk and applesauce. It should be thick, but spreadable like hummus and not dry.
Pour bean mixture into your baking dish and pat down firmly with a spatula. Spread cornbread mixture on top and bake 30-35 minutes, or until the cornbread is a deep golden, cracked and firm to the touch. Let sit out for about 15 minutes before serving (it continues to firm as it cools). Serve with hot sauce, such as Tabasco, on the table.
And that has now brought us full circle for the day.
Our little gathering of Nuwa Hitchhiker RV’s has blossomed. First, there was just David/Hannah/Hobbie and I. Then, Bill & Elysa. A day later, Rick & Virgie and Jim & Ginny. Judy & Howard came in their SOB (some other brand), and rightfully parked behind our group. And then, with the end of the Blythe Bluegrass Festival, a flood of HH’s (Hitchhikers) came: Jeff, Debbie, Randy & Sharon, Sallie & Mike,…it probably topped out at 12 rigs. That doesn’t sound like a lot, especially when I look at the count of the rigs at the Escapee’s Boomerville – 113 as of yesterday!
What this does equate to is fun talks, a little wine around the campfire, catching up with where everyone has been since we last gathered in 2014, and the guys getting together to talk solar, LED, propane heaters, etc.
This socializing was interrupted today by 20-25 mph wind gusts. Even when it is 65-70 degrees, no one wants to be sandblasted around the chat circle. So, there weren’t too many people out today.
David and I had a busy morning. We had a job interview with a campground in Bar Harbor, Maine at 7:30 am AZ time. It was tough to get up and not sound croaky. All of the talking we did at the booth for 3 days straight left us both a little raspy, and then we were chatting with Kathie from the moment we picked her up, until we went to bed. So, I had barely enough time to make some chai tea and get the phone plugged in and the interview started! That was a one hour 45 minute interview! I had no idea it would go so long, and it was a positive experience, but wow! We came out of it with the ball in our court, and offered a job for the summer. We have some thinking to do, that is certain.
After that, it was the usual morning routine – oatmeal, coffee, visit with the neighbors, etc. We found out that Kathie froze in her little trailer – not enough blankets for the drop to 46 degrees last night. And her smoke detector went off around 1:30 am because it needed a new battery. Poor thing. She was already sleep deprived and off her game after having a full day of travel. An afternoon nap was on her agenda!
We were expecting another call from a second potential summer employer, but we didn’t have a set time. This made us want to stay near the rig, so we started cleaning and organizing. After having Hannah here for a month, we definitely needed to put things back into their place, and to load her car up with the items she left behind. A trip to her storage unit in San Diego will occur before we head to Texas/Tulsa sometime in April. But for now, life is tidy and organized once again.
A buddy we made at Amazon, Mike, was camping with the Escapee’s Solos group, who happen to be parked near by. As you can imagine, the Solos are people who travel as individuals, either by design or choice. Mike and his friend Joel walked over to meet Kathie and to take her back with them to show her their set up and gathering. The wind was keeping most of their lot inside as well, but Kathie got to have a nice walk and a visit with RV’ers, who really are very social creatures. I did feel like I was sending a lamb off to the wolves, though. I could tell that both men were jockey for Kathie’s attention. She was the belle of the ball. She came back, took her nap, and ended up going back over there for their group dinner.
We had our second interview of the day, and were VERY excited about the opportunities presented to us. I can’t say more until I make some phone calls tomorrow. Then you will be excited with us!
Dinner was flatbread pizza – yes, I call it pizza regardless if it is or not, you pizza aficionados. I used Trader Joe’s whole wheat lavash bread as my base. Mixed chopped garlic in tomato sauce, and smeared it all over the bread. Topped it with spices, mushrooms, kale, freshly made caramelized onions (thanks for the suggestion, Sharon!), sundried tomatoes, olives, and nutritional yeast. It was yummy! Sorry, no pictures, as we ate it before I remembered to take a snap.
I also missed the sunset since I was cooking, so I stole this sunset picture from the facebook page of the Escapees Boomers. Photo credits to Mike Clouse, whoever you are.
And before I wrap this up, let me tell you that Hannah arrived safely, and was greeted by the University of Sunderland welcome wagon. She has six flatmates: two guys from Germany, one guy from Australia, one guy from France, one girl from New York, and one girl from Georgia. She has her own bedroom, but I don’t know what the restroom setup is. We are communicating through the “What’s App” application so far. Tomorrow is her first day of orientation, and since she is 7 hours ahead of us, her day is done when ours is starting, so there should be time for a nice chat each day or two.
For us, tomorrow will be a day of exploring Quartzsite with Kathie. We hope to meet up with our friend Linda, too. Should be a lovely day!
As we drove back from Phoenix tonight, we were treated to an amazing sunset. And it was just what I needed.
Today has been long, emotional, and comforting.
It started off with breakfast with Hannah, and all of us loading up into the Beast (our Ford F350 dually) and heading to the airport in Phoenix, roughly 2 hours away. But first, a “I’m off on a grand adventure” pic of Hannah in the morning light:
I did check flight schedules, and Hannah’s flight from Dallas to London was delayed to the point that she would miss her connection from London to Newcastle. Rather than leave London at 8:40 am, she will now have to wait until 15:50 (3:50 pm) – which makes for a very long day. Hope she is able to sleep on the plane.
We had about 2 hrs between dropping Hannah off and picking up David’s sister, Kathie, who was flying in to join us from Maine. So, as I was feeling uberly out of sorts, I found the nearest Einstein Brothers Bagels to feed my sorrows.
Then, we ran to Walmart to do some grocery shopping, and back to the airport to pick up Kathie.
Next, we took Kathie to Trader Joe’s, which was a new experience for her, one of many “firsts” that she will have over the next two weeks.
We then went to the far reached off Phoenix to pick up her rental trailer. It is a little dirty and used on the inside, but we hope she will find it comfortable. Here she is with her rental home on wheels.
As we drove back to Q, we witnessed the most amazing sunset. I tried to capture it in the photo that begins this post, but it really could not be captured.
Upon our arrival at the Q and Q, we got Kathie’s bed made, and then ate a quick meal. I will have to look up the wine that I bought at TJ’s…it was spectacular.
Hannah is still out there flying, but I need to sleep. We have a summer job interview over the phone bright and early, so I can’t stay up to watch her flight online. I am sure she will be fine.
Our last assigned day at the Amazon CamperForce booth in the big tent at Quartzsite couldn’t be finished quick enough. Not because it was hard work, or noisy, or that we were tired of being around so many people and talking about the fun we had at Amazon, but because today was Hannah’s last full day with us.
The RV Show crowd was truly awesome today. We saw so many people from our time in Fernley, and we got to reconnect and share smiles and stories. This is one of those perks of being part of this silly program. Where else do you see people gathering at an employer’s booth at a show? The only other time I have experienced this was when David and a big group of competitors from Eppie’s Great Race would get together in Folsom to relive the race.
As for Miss Hannah, we drive her to the airport in the morning. She is scheduled to be away until June 30. It will be an adjustment for all of us, that is for sure.
So, I am off to hang out with her for just a little while longer tonight, and then I will hopefully sleep. Last time I sent her away to England, I knew it was for only 10 days. This time, it will be 161 days. And I am already counting!
Hannah, if you read this, please know that Dad and I love you so much, and are proud of you and know that you will just thrive out there on your own. But if you need us, you have Kit, Tam, Dad and I who will do anything for you at a moment’s notice. We have your back!
I spoke to THOUSANDS of people today, I really did. I have no voice left, and there are still two more days that David and I will be working in the Amazon Camperforce booth at the Quartzsite RV Show.
And I am exhausted! 9 am – 5 pm, and the place was PACKED with people and their dogs. So many dogs. I may just spend part of the day tomorrow taking pictures of people and their dogs. Some were in strollers (the dogs, not the people), some were on leashes, some were in purses, and some were in baby carriers. But one of the best dogs to visit the Big Tent today was Jake.
Jake was a little camera shy, but his “mom”, Marlene, posed for a picture with me, and that is my featured pic for the day. Marlene and her very funny & silly husband Dan, were our Amazon Camperforce Buddies this past year in Fernley, and they surprised us with a visit today. She really faked me out, since she had posted on my fb page that they were coming out on Wednesday. This is really a lovely couple, and we were so happy to see them today!
David was great today! It was so fun to watch him in action, and to see him smile so much. We both had fun, and really enjoyed hearing everyone’s stories.
Hannah went for a bike ride, then did the laundry and got us fresh drinking water. When we came home around 5:30 p, she was doing a trial run of packing her bags. This makes me sad because I am spending the last of her days here with us working, but that is the way life goes sometimes.
Dinner consisted of leftovers from last night, and some quick burgers, topped with some leftover mushroom gravy. It wasn’t the most creative of dinners, but it was quick, which is what I needed.
Spicy Bean Burgers
Makes 4 burgers
1 15-oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
1⁄2 tsp garam masala
1⁄2 tsp chili powder
1⁄2 tsp cumin
1⁄2 tsp onion powder
1⁄2 tsp garlic powder
3 tbsp ketchup
1⁄3 c instant oats
Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and set aside. In a mixing bowl, mash beans with a fork until no whole beans are left but not so mashed that they’re pureed like refried beans. Add spices, ketchup, and instant oats, stirring to combine. Taste. If you want a more pronounced Indian flavoring, add another 1⁄4 teaspoon each of chili powder, garam masala, and cumin. Mix in oats. Divide mixture into 4 equal portions and roll into balls with clean hands. Flatten with your palms and place on your prepared baking sheet. Use your fingers to shape them into a patty. Bake patties for 10 minutes, gently flip over, and bake for 8 more minutes. Flip a third time and bake for another 5 minutes if necessary, or until the burgers are firm.
Modified from a recipe by Nixon, Lindsay S.
Another work day looms for us, so I hope you had a great Saturday, and can enjoy your Sunday. Hannah says that there are some great futbol matches, starting early.
I’ll leave you with a picture from her bike ride today:
We spent the day getting settled, and we did not drive the 1.5 hrs to Havasu City for the Balloon Festival. It would have been cool to go, like 48 degrees cool, and we decided to play around here instead.
David and I started our day with a walk. There are so many RV’s around us; it is fun to check out the rigs, and see how each group sets themselves up a little different from the next. Our group is small at the moment – 3 rigs. Once the Blythe Bluegrass Festival wraps this weekend, we will surely see a few more Hitchhiker friends. This is what we looked like around 9 am:
After breakfast, I drove Hannah around town, and we looked for a place to drop off our garbage. That proved to be very difficult, as we could not seem to find an unlocked dumpster for the life of us. I think I need to check the dump schedule, as we did pass a transfer station. I am sure the good people of Quartzsite would like us RV’ers to take our trash to the transfer station rather than fill up the dumpsters behind the businesses in town.
The town was really hopping, and the “Show” doesn’t start until tomorrow. We were going to stop and look at some of the booths at the outdoor market, but parking was already an issue, so we skipped it for today.
Once we returned to the RV, David and Hannah took off for a ride. They just went down the road towards Bouse, and were all smiles upon their return, as you can see.
While they were out, I made David’s favorite biscotti. Since we are going to be working for the next three days, I figured this was the last chance that I would have to get some baking done. I baked some potatoes while I was mixing the cookies, then after I baked the cookies, I moved right into dinner. I didn’t really have to make dinner tonight, as David and I had a Amazon training dinner to attend, but as you can imagine, it is quite a challenge to find food at a restaurant that follows our eating habits. It is usually in our best interest to eat ahead of time.
This is one of those meal ideas that has its origins in a recipe that I grew up with, and then I modified it for us. My mom used to make “Little Pizzas” – Pillsbury biscuits, flattened on a cookie sheet, topped with tomato paste, ground beef cooked with onions, and topped with cheese. Baked and devoured!
For my updated version, I take a roll of polenta (found at Trader Joe’s or Walmart) and slice it. The slices are put on parchment paper on a cookie sheet. I then mix minced garlic with tomato paste, and spread the paste on the polenta rounds. Next, I add veggies. Tonight it was sliced zucchini, a kale greens blend and onions. I season it all with a rosemary garlic blend, some Italian seasoning, and top it with nutritional yeast. This is baked for 15-20 minutes at around 350 degrees. If I have just pure kale as the topping, I cook it until the kale is crispy.
I also experimented with some to the potatoes that I baked earlier, as seen in this picture.
David and I then left to attend our training dinner with the Amazon team. As we drove to the Mountain Quail Cafe, we witnessed a gorgeous sunset:
as we were driving:
I just wanted to stop and watch it; the colors were so interesting.
Once at the diner, we waited for the rest of our group, then had a nice meeting in the back of the restaurant. The place was packed, and the wait staff seemed surprised by the volume.
We are now ready to start our 3 days at the Big Tent. See, we are official:
This should be fun! I’ll let you know how it goes tomorrow night.
That is the map of our trip to Phoenix today. It probably came out to more like 200 miles of driving, and we were quite thanksful to have Hannah’s Honda to zip around in. We arrived in Phoenix around noon.
Our first, and primary stop, was Integrity Staffing Solutions. This is the temp agency that Amazon uses. We will be under their employ while we work 9-5 Saturday – Monday in the big tent at the Quartzsite RV Show. I am really looking forward to wearing one of my CamperForce t-shirts and answering questions from potential team members for the coming peak season. Yes, we just finished work on December 19, but the hiring process has started for Peak 2015, and we are fortunate to be a part of it.
Once we completed paperwork and provided a copy of our passports, we were on our way. The next stop was Bill’s Propane. David had called ahead and confirmed that they did, indeed, have a 1/4″ Male Pipe Thread x Female POL. This part could not be located in all of Yuma, so we were skeptical. But, not only did Bill’s have the part, they also crafted a hose with a regulator to David’s specifications. He was practically skipping as he came back to the car.
Next was a stop at REI. The lovely boots you see in today’s feature photo are Princess Boots. These special boots could not be found in any stores (especially in size 11) and thus had to be special ordered. They will keep my Princess warm and cozy in cold, damp Sunderland. They were waiting for pickup at the REI in Phoenix because it is near the airport where Hannah will be flying out next Tuesday (sniffle). Rather than have to go by on the way to her flight, we decided to pick them up today. And of course, there was the pair of sock, and gloves that were on sale. She is going to be the most stylish American at University of Sunderland, that is for sure. Walking REI billboard, she will be.
Well, all this shopping and running around makes a guy and two gals hungry. Chipotle was already deemed our food stop, as it was the last chance Hannah will have to eat her favorite takeout (British variation: takeaway). Trust me, there are no Chipotle’s in or near Quartzsite. One really should try the Sofritas! I did just find a recipe to make my own, so maybe this will be dinner sometime soon (http://yupitsvegan.com/2014/07/16/copycat-chipotle-sofritas/)
David had a prescription of Simvastatin that needed refilling, so I had ordered it online, trying to pick a Walmart that was near our stops. I failed in that department! There was a Walmart in the same parking lot as the Integrity office, but I did not see that when I ordered the refill. So, there was some extra, unnecessary driving. The Rx was ready upon our arrival, so that was refreshing. David went to the automotive section to find the hitch and ball that we will need later in the week (more on that later) and Hannah went looking for a case/sleeve for her laptop. David scored, Hannah struck out. We all grabbed a few food items, and we were off again!
Since David found what he needed at Bill’s Propane and Walmart, we eliminated the Camping World stop, but added a stop at Best Buy for Hannah’s case and we were FINALLY on the road back home. There was no time to bug Denny Brewer at work, or call my girl Jany to surprise her. I will have to try again – whether that is on Tuesday when we take Hannah to the airport, or later.
Once back to our site at Q and Q, we noted the arrival of two more Hitchhikers today! Looking at the Forum, I see that one of them is Bill & Elysa. We believe we met them last year. Don’t know who the is in the other rig – but it is dark, so we aren’t going knocking!
Now, the big dilemma. The Havasu City Balloon Fest starts tomorrow morning at 6 am. It is a 1 hr 20 min drive from here. None of us are compelled to go. In fact, at this time, both David and Hannah are sound asleep. And knowing that we have to be at a dinner with our Amazon boss at 6:30 pm tomorrow night, I think the Balloon Fest is not going to happen. I’m not sure how I feel about that.