Monday, March 30, 2020

Thirty days and counting

Thirty days ago while traveling the southern states, we were in Tumacacori, Arizona and the coronavirus situation finally got fixed on our radar. 
Forgot what I was looking for.

We were staying with our friend Leo and had a strong internet signal for the first time. We spent hours poring over news from around the world.  In Phoenix we shopped for masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, and zinc lozenges finding next to nothing.  Such was the same as we made our way west, staying in Joshua Tree then the central valley of California.  It was pretty easy to maintain our distance from people as we were staying in remote campgrounds in our own little space and we limited our visits to the facilities to one per day. 

North over the Oregon state line we landed in Medford, Oregon and bought dry goods, toilet paper, and 16 bottles of wine. Driving through the snow and sleet to Olympia, we checked into our boat at the marina.  Our house had tenants until April 1st so we opted to stay on Traveler for the remainder of March.  14 days later our wine supply was dwindling as was our fresh fruits and vegetables. We still have plenty of TP.  It was time to resupply.

We got ourselves organized and set off for Grocery Outlet and the COOP to replenish our fresh veggie and dry goods supply.  Got the list, got our bags, got a plan. 

At Grocery Outlet there was not much of a crowd and we found what we needed and some things we didn’t.  In the cookie aisle we both fought the urge to rub our eyes or touch our face. I’ve got this one wild eyebrow hair that likes to curve into my vision and that has proved to be my biggest challenge to leave alone.

The author writes in his mobile office / navigation station aboard the escape pod, Traveler.

At the front of the store was a stand with spray bottles of bleach and hydrogen peroxide and some towels to use to wipe off your cart.  At the checkout, there were no lines on the floor to mark where we should stand apart in line and the checker didn’t seem to be taking the distancing thing too seriously… but we did. We got our case of wine and other sundries then drove to the COOP.

I loved how seriously the COOP was taking all this.  One of the board members met us in the parking lot where we waited in a short marked line - six feet apart - for our turn in the store.  He explained how we would shop while he was sanitizing the shopping cart for us.  Be organized, move quickly.  People are waiting. Then we were required to wash our hands in an outdoor sink singing Happy Birthday so as to get the required time with soap to kill bacteria and viruses.  When the next person exited the store, it was our turn.  Only seven customers were allowed in the store at one time.

Blood red storm clouds overhead at the marina
Remember those little clipboards with paper and pencils at the front?  Nada. Grab and Go. Nope. We made our way through the fruit and vegetable line, Connie finding produce and telling me the bin numbers and PLUs.  As we were buying a lot of food, a woman needed to get by us but she asked permission before moving swiftly by, her head ducked to the side.  The produce stocker patiently waited until we were gone before she resumed her work.  Usually we would bring our own plastic bags for produce and bulk.  Not now.  We felt like environmental sinners using fresh plastic bags. 

At the checkout we piled our food onto the conveyor belt then had to stand three feet away so the checker could scan everything.  When I needed to scan my membership card, she stepped back to allow me to come in.  We self-bagged and used a credit card so as to avoid handling cash.  As we left, the store locked its doors to take an hour to restock without having customers in the way.  Our parking lot buddy took our cart and started wiping it down. 

We loaded our groceries into the back of the pickup truck then used a spray hand sanitizer before getting inside for the drive home.  At the marina, we got a dock cart and loaded our groceries to take to the boat. At the boat, I handed each bag to Connie down below who set them on one counter.  Then we took about an hour to wipe every single item down with a bleach solution.  My last job was to stow the case of wine in our deep dark wine storage locker.  Twelve more bottles… twelve more days till our next shopping adventure.  Less days if we “lose track” of our wine bottle count. 

When hearing about the spiraling number of cases in New York, I’m glad Governor Inslee has put in place strict distancing measures.  I’m glad the COOP is going above and beyond to protect us and their employees.  And I’m glad that after fifteen days social distancing in Olympia, we are still symptom free.  It seems that the  world is burning down around us.

Looking up out of the abyss, there appears to be a blue sky.

Sunday, March 22, 2020


Lake Shasta
Picking up where we left off in northern California.....

To escape the noise at the Buckhorn Recreation Area, we drove north into Redding and talked to the staff at the ranger station who advised us about camping just north of town at Lake Shasta.  We checked out one of the undeveloped lakeside camping areas then opted for a facility with bathrooms. We pulled into Antlers campground with plenty of time for a relaxing afternoon in the semi-quiet park.  Through the night we could hear the freight trains carrying supplies north to the besieged cities of Portland and Seattle.  I imagined freight cars full of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, rice, and beans.

Beautiful Mt. Shasta in Weed, CA.

Our days of sun and warmth were coming to an end as a storm front was approaching from the south.  We followed the Sacramento River north to Shasta and the lovely town of Weed. Up and over Siskiyou Pass before the expected heavy snowfall later in the day, we dropped into the Rogue River watershed and found a Grocery Outlet store in Medford Oregon where we stocked up on canned goods, dry goods, toilet paper, and wine.  

Siskiyou Pass

With a cold snap expected, we treated ourselves to an Airbnb room which turned out to be just the right place for us at the time.  Normally we don't go for the Airbnb rooms in a house where the owner does not actually live.  Sometimes people buy a house for the sole purpose of Airbnb-ing the individual bedrooms inside.  It's a way to gain equity while maintaining enough income stream to keep everything afloat with some profit on the side.  Anyhow, this house was a new one on the Airbnb site but the host had another property with lots of great reviews.  

Having the house to ourselves, we sanitized the door knobs, bathroom and kitchen surfaces.  Then we unloaded the truck contents into the house and set about sanitizing every item we'd just bought at Grocery Outlet.  Sometime in the night someone (or two) came in and occupied the back room.  We packed up the next morning and left without seeing our fellow tenants.  

Driving north, the storm front brought rain, snow, and hail.  We pushed on through Portland, and made it to Olympia by late afternoon.  We'd been gone about four months total.  The town looked deserted. It seemed as if an epidemic had come to town... and it had!  Being that we were early getting back, our home, the one at 1910 Giles Avenue still had tenants in it for the next two weeks, so we trucked our gear down the ramp of Dock E at the Swantown Marina and thankfully collapsed into our dear boat, Traveler.  Our friends Noreen and Myron had turned on the heaters for us so we had a nice cozy place all ready.  I selected one of the 18 bottles of red wine we'd bought in our provisioning extravaganza and we settled in for a completely different kind of existence, one of social distancing; worried about the future, worried about our friends and family.  

A few days later we couldn't stand the endless hours holed up on the boat, reading the news, and letting the events of the day swallow us whole.  We cast off the lines and motored north out of Budd Bay, rounding the point at Boston Harbor in the bright sunshine.  Off the east shore of Harstine Island we had dolphins playing off our bow wake, a sea lion raised it's huge head up out of the water, (at first we thought it was a whale!) and Bufflehead ducks diving the crisp green waters around us.  Today we are at the Jarrell Cove state park dock.  

It's been fun restarting our blog for this winter trip.  It's given me some focus and provided an outlet for occasional frustrations.  We've come off this adventure knowing better how we'd like our future winters to unfold.  But gosh, now that we have that figured out, here is this whole other thing right smack dab in our face.  If it ain't one thing, it's another.  Thanks for listening.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Human Interactions On The Road

Note: As we publish this blog we are actually back in Olympia.  Since then, we're dealing with "you know what" just like everyone else.  No matter, let's get back to our journey..........................
Over the last month, I had been boat shopping online and trying to arrange appointments to see boats I had found in Mexico and southern California.  We were excited about making the run down to San Carlos to see a Cooper 41 sloop.  As we approached Arizona we found that someone had just made an offer on it.  That would have been a great boat for us.  At a very reasonable price of ~37k, she has two separate staterooms and all the gear we have on Traveler.  Well, we missed out on that one. The lesson learned is that if you find a boat you are interested in and it is a good price then you’d better get there fast and take a look.

I was also chasing a 1986 C&C Landfall sloop in San Diego for 39K, a Bob Perry designed Polaris 43 in Long Beach for 39K, and a 1980 Cheoy Lee Offshore in San Pedro for 29K.  Over the course of a week, the Polaris got an offer, the Cheoy Lee got an offer, and the agent selling the C&C Landfall could not seem to commit to an appointment with us.  

Colonel Allensworth Park.  Note the leaning shelter supports.
All this was happening as we drove across the country.  The coronavirus outbreak was getting more and more serious and the stock market was starting to tank.  Switching gears again, we decided that it was not in the cards for us to be boat shopping in an uncertain market.  In fact, it was time to go home.  We headed north through the central California valley.

At Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park we found an interesting campground ($18) at the site of one of the first black American settlements.   Surrounded by endless flat farmland, we slept to the sounds of coyotes and freight trains.  Half of the camp/picnic sites were roped off because the prairie dogs were busily digging holes around the shelter posts and paved drives.  The shelters were leaning and the pavement was collapsing.  Those little dogs were taking back the park!
From Allensworth, we ran north to the town of Colusa a few miles east of I-5 and grabbed a night at the city campground there ($34), taking advantage of their electrical to charge our house battery.   An hour west of Colusa we drove the beautiful highway 20 into the hills, the same highway we used to drive to get over to Potter Valley where we helped out with the seasonal marijuana harvest.   

Off of highway 20 is highway 16 and the free camping area of Cowboy Camp.  As we drove in, we found the south camping area closed until April 1st.  On the north loop we found a pitched tent and two camping vans so we decided that camping here was allowed.  While we pondered where to park the rig we saw a hunter appear from the direction of the river.  He was a youngish man in full camouflage brown and green pants and jacket, knee high waders, and a small backpack.  He was carrying a big rifle. Scraggly bearded and curly haired, he had a fierce look about him and we kept our distance.   He opened his truck and sat on the tailgate eating an apple, staring out into the distance, paying us no mind.

There was a great spot there at the edge of the turnaround that would give us a good view of the valley below.  The trouble was, this fellow’s big truck was blocking our way.  I hitched up my courage and approached the ruffian.  “Find anything?” I asked.  “Saw some sign down below, but no deer.” he said.  “Hmm”  “What a beautiful spot, huh?”  I said.  Then he told me about coming over a ridge and finding 20 or so Tule Elk staring him in the face.  We had a wonderful conversation about his work with the California Fish and Wildlife Services and his job prospects working on his uncle’s tuna boat out of some place on the east coast.  This crazy looking hunter turned out to be a complete sweetheart.  I asked him over for dinner but he had places to go and people to see. Don’t judge a book by its cover…right?

We set up our rig looking out to the west across the river.  At sunset we saw the herd of Tule Elk settling down across the way in the shelter of some oaks.    

The next day we hiked around and tried to cross the little river.  Each time we found a narrow spot that looked like we could jump across we hesitated.  Would we be able to jump back?  Off in the distance the golden hills and oaks beckoned but we were stymied so we settled in at our campsite.  I watched a couple in the tent and wondered if they were homeless.  The man loaded the family (him, her, infant, and three year old) into the car and off they went.  Later he came back with the kids.   After being buoyed by the conversation with the hunter, I ambled over to talk to the man and found him speaking Russian to his small children and his service dog.  We talked about camping on BLM land, which he kept referring to as BML land and he told me about their most recent month long stint on land just outside of Las Vegas.  I asked if they were living in the tent. “Yes.”  I asked if he needed anything and for a moment he looked sad, then he told me they were OK.  Then he asked ME if we needed anything, which I thought was very sweet.

Later that afternoon, he piled the kids back into the car and I presume he was making the drive down to the nearest town of Williams to pick up his spouse.  Soon, a white forest service truck pulled up and yet another scraggly bearded young man got out.  He put on some bright blue surgical gloves and approached the tent, knocking on the frame and announcing himself.  Getting no answer, he unzipped the fly and looked inside.  He then got a camera from the truck and took some pictures before writing some notes.  The ranger drove up to us and I approached the vehicle to talk to him through the passenger window.  “I’m sorry sir, but you cannot camp here.”  he said.  We discussed why and where and had a short pleasant conversation the gist of which was that Connie and I were going to have to pack up the rig and move on.

Then I told him about my conversation with the man with the kids and what I thought might be their situation.  His face brightened up when he heard that the tent was occupied and thanked me for telling me the situation.  He had seen the tent one week ago with no one around and seeing it vacant now, assumed it was abandoned.  He was preparing to take it down and cart it away.  I asked him where the family could legally camp and he figured that they could park the car in the upper lot and walk into the lower campground which was closed to vehicles  but not to camping.  I then asked if he was going to leave them a note.  “I think I’ll do that.”

Later, after we had our rig all packed up and ready to go, I asked Connie if we should leave the homeless couple something.  At first she said no, that we didn’t know what their real situation was and that we would not want to assume anything or potentially enable a bad situation… A few minutes later she came up to me, put her arm around my waist and said, “If you want to leave something then you should go right ahead.”   I dropped a twenty into an envelope with our boat card and a short note and placed it inside their tent next to the note from the forest service guy’s.  His note kindly explained how they should move their tent down to the lower campground.  Good people abound.

As we got into our truck ready to drive away, a car with two women pulled up.  The driver rolled down her window and asked if we could get our rig out if she pulled into the handicap parking space.  “No Problem.”  As we drove out I shouted out, “Look across the valley and see if the Elk are there.”  She replied, “That’s where they usually are, but usually at sunset or sunrise.”  We smiled, they waved.  She pulled herself out of her car, grabbed her walker and proceeded to the overlook.   Evidently she’d been coming here for years.  We’d come back here.  It’s a good place.

After getting skunked out of our site at Cowboy Camp we drove north to provision at Orland then headed west to the Buckhorn / Black Butte recreation area.  Being a national rec area, we qualified for half price camping at $10 per night.  At the end of the loop we found the best campsite ever, overlooking the water to the south.  We set up the rig, paid for three nights, and set out our solar panels to catch the last bit of energy from the sun.  Above us, across the drive, a large couple sat at their picnic table outside their trailer.  As we settled in we could hear the rock music station they were listening to, much too loud.  They were blessing all the other campers with their music selection as the sun was heading toward the horizon.  After a long time of putting up with it, I finally, went around our rig and looked up at them.  I pointed to my ears, made a gesture like I was turning down a very large dial, and then raised my hands asking WHY?  We stared at each other for a few minutes then the lady went to the trailer and turned the music off. 

Connie was playing the ukulele while I started the coals on the grill to make dinner. One of our favorite things to do in camps with built in grills is to start a small wood fire, get the coals going, then lay in some charcoal.  Once the wood burns down, the charcoal is lit and we can grill corn, veggies, and chicken.  After dinner, we toss more sticks onto the glowing charcoal and we've got a nice fire to cozy up to.  

We had the wine in the glass and the flame to the fire when the man in a camper to our east started up his generator; a loud generator.  Connie switched to the accordion so as to drown out the sound as I grumbled, and started to make the lamb patties.  Two hours later, after dinner, as we were trying to watch the remaining sunset, I could not take it any more so I approached the man’s RV and could see him sitting inside watching television.  I knocked on his door. He answered and I asked him if he could turn off his generator. I had to shout over the din of the machine which he had covered with a blanket to muffle the sound.  His immediate reply was that the campground rules said he could run his generator until 10 PM, 30 minutes away.  When I protested, his reluctant reply was just, “OK, I’ll turn it off.”   That’s when I had more words to say about just how long it should take to charge a battery, was he leaving tomorrow, and other such niceties.  He kept repeating, “We’re done talking now, good night.”  As I walked away part of me felt that I should not have said anything at all and should have just waited for him to turn his generator off at 10 PM.
All the lakes, everywhere in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California are low now.

Back at our campsite we watched the moon rise and then cleaned up the dishes.  After stoking the fire we settled into our folding chairs.  Just then a car pulled into the lower lot between us and the water.  The car radio was up full blast and we could hear them scanning through the stations; car idling, lights on, radio blaring.  That’s the final straw.  I’ve had enough.  I start to march down the hillside.  Connie comes with me.  Blocking our way is an older couple out walking their dog and as we start to converse, the little car down below drives away.  The Vancouver couple thanked me for talking to the generator guy.  “I wish I’d had the balls to say something.” he said.  Well now I’m feeling better about my rash actions.  We talked about camping on BLM land (a common subject) and about boats in general.  The full moon rose, the clear sky brought in cold air and we retired for the night.  I lay awake for a long time thinking about all the people we’d recently met and had interactions with.   Off in the distance I could hear the coyotes yipping and yapping.

At 7 AM we heard the first generator start up, coming from somewhere up the hill far away.  At 8 AM the rock music people camped above us started up their generator and we spent our breakfast hours grumbling about things.  But then by ten o’clock the only sound in the campground was from Connie playing away on the accordion. 
Connie playing accordion in our Magical, Mobile, Monkey Palace.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Joshua Tree

Note: As we publish this blog we are actually back in Olympia.  Arrived six days ago to a very strange place and we're dealing with it just like everyone else.  No matter, let's get back to our journey.......................... 

 Our story left off with us headed toward Lake Amistad near Del Rio Texas We chose one of the northern campsites there and spent two nice days dry camping and having fires at night.  I drove to town and found internet at McDonalds so we could make an Airbnb reservation in El Paso, our next destination to the west.  As we head toward higher altitudes and gorgeous mountains we'll find freezing cold temperatures so a warm room was a good plan. We were driving down Highway 90 the next morning when the tire blew.   Boom! Flap, Flap, Flap.  Connie pulled the rig to the side of the road and we had a wonderful hour playing with jacks and tire irons.  

The end of the day found us 400 miles westward in El Paso where Bill, at Marten Tire, fixed us up with a new trailer tire.  Our Airbnb was a private room and bath in a small apartment up in the hills.  The young couple, trying to make ends meet, were actively renting out their master bedroom.  We self-checked in, showered, watched a Netflix movie, slept, and the next morning, cooked ourselves breakfast in their kitchen, which they so graciously offered per a note on the guest info board, never once setting eyes on our super hosts. She works nights at Walmart, he works construction in the day.  Our paths never crossed.  We left a tip to compensate for the unexpected, free breakfast.  Thank you, nice people!
 Chef Leo in Tumacacori

A long day’s drive took us across New Mexico and into Arizona, landing just south of Tubac in the village of Tumacacori where our friend Leo was staying.  We spent three nights there, got in some good hikes, bird watching and enjoyed one evening out listening to live music, and of course, Connie sang a few tunes.  Leo always cooks up a storm in the kitchen so we always eat well when visiting.

Next up was two nights in Phoenix with Connie’s sister, Diane, and her family. Brevin, Connie’s grandnephew, had a swim meet so she spent Sunday pool side.  I caught up on some business at their home with endless internet.

Another long drive took us into California where we were lucky to find the last available campsite (#13!) at the Belle campground in Joshua Tree National Park.  Lucky 13 is right next to luckier 12.  Lucky 13 is always the last to fill because it has a ten degree tilt to the south and its right up next to #12’s parking space.  A strong north wind blew all night and kept us awake as we kept sliding down our tilted bed.

Planning on staying four days at J Tree we were up roaming the campground the next morning looking for a more sheltered and level spot.  When the rig pulled out of site # 10 we moved ours over there and tucked the tent trailer into the south face of the three story pile of rocks; a beautiful campsite.  Later that evening, right at dusk, we watched a pickup truck with a small R-Pod trailer circle around.  All the sites were full.  The driver, a single California woman, stopped and I had a talk with her.  She was tired of driving and didn’t really want to drive another hour south to the overflow camping on the southern border of the park.  I had an idea.  We both walked around to lucky 13 and 12 where each site now had one car and one tent.  We approached the two young women in #12. I made the suggestion that since each site could have a maximum of two vehicles, there was room for the California woman to park her rig there just for the night if they didn’t mind.  They immediately agreed and approached the single man at #13 and before we knew it, our California woman was backing her trailer into the sloped Lucky 13 spot.  She then got to spend the night sliding down her tilting bed.  All was quiet that night at Belle campground, except for the yips and yaps from the coyotes as they frolicked in the night.

Early the next morning the California woman moved her rig and the two car campers left.  Then she pulled her rig into #12 and went to the pay station.   Later we saw that she’d payed and reserved both spots…. even though she was there by herself.  When we talked with her again later she said her friend was coming out to join her that evening or the next day.  “Oh, that’s why you are taking up two spots.”  She grinned like the cat that got the mouse.

That day we had a nice hike or two and all the time I had a little sadness in the back of my mind about how we helped that woman and now she was taking more than she needed.  I guess my thoughts finally filtered over to her camp because that night at 7:30 she stopped in on her way to drive to 29 Palms in the pickup truck to make a phone call.  “You know, I’ve thought about it and if you see someone who really needs a spot, feel free to let them know they can stay in #13. My friend isn’t going to make it tonight.”  All afternoon people had been driving around trying to find a site.  In the waning light I saw a white SUV circling.  I stepped out of our tent trailer and flagged them down.  At first the driver drove past me but then stopped and backed up. “Are you looking for a place?” I asked.  “Yes! We’ve been through every campground between here and Black Rock and there is nothing open.”

“I’ve got a place for you.” I said.  The young man driving smiled.  His girlfriend actually started to cry with happiness.   We got them settled into Lucky 13.  Later the California woman returned and met them.  I happened by and approached her and told her that I could see her Karma aura spreading up from her head.  She laughed. I laughed.

Let’s talk about Joshua Tree.  I want to write this down because we’ll be back and I’ll want to remember the lay of the land.  There are eight camping areas in the park. Four are reservation sites that can handle small and large vehicles.  The other four are first come, first served spaces and meant for smaller vehicles.  We could not get a reserved site online because they book up early.  Even trying a month ahead of time, we could not find a reservation spot for four days in a row.  On the south side of the park the Cottonwood campsite is reservable but, of couse, was full when we arrived except for single nights.  Just south of the park is a large area of BLM land that is designated as overflow camping.  We saw about thirty rigs parked there as we approached the park.

I used to be a rock climber and always wanted to climb at J-Tree
We drove 30 miles north through the center of the park on a smooth winding road to find the White Tank campground, a first come first served place.  The campground loop runs amid large boulders with little sites tucked into the rocks.  It’s a beautiful spot.  Length restrictions were at 25 feet so we were too long to stay there.  We saw lots of tents and four wheel drive vehicles.  Rock climbers like staying at White Tank.

Next up the road is Belle, also first come first served.  And the length limit is 35 feet so mid-sized vehicles fit.  That’s where we found Lucky 13. Like White Tank, Belle is an amazing place with the sites grouped around massive rock structures.  Fifteen miles up the road is the park boundary and the town of 29 Palms.  The park visitor center there has good wifi, cell phone coverage, and drinking water.  I found a young couple there with backpacks and gave them a ride into the park, saving them the entrance fee since they were with me and my senior access pass.  They got out of the truck and started backpacking into the hills for a few days of primitive camping.

Heading west from Bell, the first campground is Jumbo Rocks, a reservation site and it is chock full of RVs big and small, all crammed together in the scenic boulder field.  Clearly, this is the favorite campsite in the park for the big rigs that need to reserve a space ahead of time.  Jumbo Rocks is a busy place.
Key's View of pollution rolling in from L.A.

Further west is the first come first served camping area named Ryan.  It sits just below Ryan peak, a popular hike in the center of the park.  West of that is the last first come first served area of Hidden Valley where 44 sites sit among the rocks.  From there you can take a seven mile drive south to Key’s View at 5,185 feet  elevation where you have an amazing view a hundred miles to the south and west from Salton Sea to Palm desert.  When people arrive at the overlook, their cell phones start chirping as they pick up signals from the valley below.  Sadly, you can see the pollution pouring in from Los Angeles to the west.
See the head?
The remaining two campgrounds that take reservations are on the northern border of the park at Black Rock and Indian Grove.   We stayed four days in Joshua Tree and enjoyed the scenery and the hiking.  We had no cell service and had to bring in all our own water.  We liked the smaller campgrounds because they were quieter.  People tenting don’t usually run generators
Our next time through our plan is to reserve ahead of time one night at one of the big sites.  Then we’ll break camp early and watch for people leaving the first come first served sites. That’s how you get a site there, we’ve learned.   And, who knows, a smile and a conversation can often get you squeezed in even when there is no room left in the house. 

Monday, March 16, 2020

We Join the Birders of South Texas

We've got a carved captain just like this one on the boat.
Note: As we publish this blog we are actually back in Olympia.  Arrived Saturday to a very strange place and we're dealing with it just like everyone else.  No matter, let's get back to our journey..........................

“Taxi!”  We stood blinking in the sun at San Antonio International Airport.  While loading our bags into the trunk I gave the taxi driver the address of the storage yard.  As normal, in Mexico, I asked, “How much?”  He pointed at the meter and said he was not sure, maybe $25 or $30.  “Pesos?” I hopefully asked.   Connie said, “We’re in the US now honey.  Put on your seat belt.”

Not yet noon, we had time to hook up the rig, air up the tires, eat a sandwich, provision at the store with food, wine, water, and ice, and point the rig southeast towards Corpus Christi.  Humming “On the Road Again” we fled to the coast.  In Corpus, just to make a long, complicated day a little easier, we found an Airbnb king size bedroom in a family house and a place to plug in the battery charger for the tent trailer’s house bank so as to give it a good topping off after sitting in a dirt lot for 50 days.  The Thai food restaurant was quite a treat, after eating Mexican food all that time.

Padre and Mustang Islands are thin strips of land separating the myriad coastal passages from the Gulf of Mexico.  We took the bridge out to the island and found Mustang Island State Park where we just missed out on grabbing the last camping spot available.  This was just as well because a strong wind was coming ashore from the southeast making it pretty uncomfortable.  Just off shore we could see the line of oil rigs.   Just inshore we couldn’t miss the miles of refineries dotting the horizon.  Those same refineries have polluted Corpus Christi bay to the point where people are advised not to swim in those waters.

Port Aaron's Ass

We drove up island to Port Aransas, which we kept calling “Aaron’s Ass”, saw the sign that said they were taking no RVs on the ferry because of extreme low tides,(it was the full moon), and got in line anyway. We made it on. The tide cycle was at the high.  A set of five small ferries plowed across the 100 yard wide body of water called Humble Basin.   Towering oil rigs sat waiting to be towed out to sea.  Across from Port Aaron’s Ass is Aaron’s Ass Pass, a town still suffering from hurricane damage.  We made our way up through Rockport and across the bridge to Goose Island State Park.

“Nothing available.  Would you like to stay in our overflow parking lot?”  Reluctantly, we set up the tent camper and got our nest organized after being away from the rig for almost two months.  Through the night we heard huge engines pushing a barge (or oil rig) out to sea.  Trains, trucks, and in the morning, jet boats and the early morning garbage truck attacking the dumpster just steps away from our sleeping quarters. 

Being told that we could only make reservations online, I went to the park office and found internet and was in the process when I got a cell call from the agent in that same office.  “I think you are standing outside.  Somebody had to abandon their reservation because their rig was too big to fit in the space.  Do you want it?”  Badda badda boom, we had a spot for two days.

Goose Island is a good birding area (86 species spotted in January) with nice hiking paths and we enjoyed our two extra days there and wanted to stay a couple more.  I went to the office to sit out front and use the internet.  I got online and found another available site for Monday and Tuesday but there was a glitch with my Texas park pass and I could not book with my discount.   The web site advised me to call the reservation line to sort it out.  The reservation line is closed on weekends.  The attendant at the office could not help me because all future reservations have to be made online.  But the online booking service could not process my pass.  I decided to wait until Monday and hope for the best.  Texas, there’s gotta be a better way!

We now realize that we should do our research and book our stays ahead of time so we’re not stuck in a parking lot with nowhere to set up.  I went back up to the office to research our future stops in south Texas and the internet was down and stayed down all weekend.  OK, this is a game we are playing and we’ve got to get better at it.  Come Monday, we sorted out the problem with our park pass (The parks department had installed a new reservation system), got our next two days reserved, then I drove to the nearest McDonalds to find reliable internet to start working on the next three weeks of reservations.  While trying to book at Big Bend National Park, that booking site went down and stayed down for two days.  Looks like the feds are taking Texas’s lead in how not to run a reservation system.

Our traveling in Texas now goes like this:  We have our tea and breakfast and watch the wildlife.  Then Connie practices her music while I go off in the truck to find internet or water or propane.  I spend a few hours researching and booking camping spots and catching up on blog entries.  We join back up around 1:00 PM and have a light lunch.  Then we go for a long hike.  In the afternoon we find firewood and get the fire ready for starting.  At 5:00 PM we have a glass of wine and watch the birds.  Just before sunset we might take another walk then we light the fire and sometimes add some charcoal so we can cook on the grill.  After dinner we sit around the fire for a while, and retire to bed with a book or a movie on the laptop.  That’s our life right now in South Texas.  Not bad.

After Goose Island we went to Laredo and the International State Park there where we camped among some odd vehicles which we finally figured out were rigs used by workers in town for the big carnival.  We were living with Carnies!  They had brightly decorated trailers advertising candy corn and funnel cakes.  We’d see a picnic table full of dumpy guys drinking beer and cooking on the grill, waiting for the weekend and some work.  They’d whoop and holler in the evening then quiet down pretty quick and get up early the next morning to drive to town to do their shift setting up the midway.  We were surrounded by clowns!  We felt right at home.

On the weekend the sleepy park came alive as the locals arrived en masse with beer, BBQ, fishing poles, and kids on bikes, kids on inner tubes, kids in strollers, kids playing in the mud.  Saturday evening was joyfully active, Mexican music everywhere.  By Sunday night, all was quiet again, except for the clowns.

I’ll say this for Laredo, it’s a pretty good provisioning town. Shrimp and crab at the H.E.B. store, cheap wine, and some organic produce.  Driving through downtown, we made it to the border park that sits at the Rio Grande.  Do not climb the fence!  People poured across the bridge.

Border Patrol trucks hovered. We noticed a pair wet under wear and pants on the USA riverbank… hmmm… potentially swimming illegals?

Our next stop was Falcon State Park, about two hours south of Laredo.  We provisioned well, knowing there were no good markets close to that lonely area of the border.  Here at Falcon we have good trails and many birds and many people looking at birds.  This whole area of South Texas near the Rio Grande is a wintering destination for hundreds of species. This is the point where I’d normally insert a beautiful picture of the colorful birds that frequent our site.  I guess we just don’t have what it takes to take a proper picture of a bird.  All our shots are at the tail end of a bird making its way out of the frame.  Zoom in and you’ve got a smudgy blot that only we know is a very attractive bird.  Oh well.   

We’ve got a nice little quiet camping spot where we do our daily routine.  An extra treat here is watching the banded peccaries root their way through our campsite.  These look a little sleeker and cuter than their Javalina cousins we saw in Arizona.  Being bigger and slower, we have a few pictures of these.

Day one and Day two the afternoon temperatures soared to 90 degrees.  We lay in the tent camper trying not to move, following the Mexico example of taking a siesta when it becomes overwhelmingly hot.  I wake to the sound of a mighty diesel pulling up alongside us.  The truck stops and idles… for a long long time.  The wind is coming from the south and waifs the diesel exhaust right into our sleeping quarters.  Finally, we accept the fact that HE is not going to turn off that engine any time soon.  I get up, get dressed, then approach the gentleman who is chatting away with my neighbor.  I was curt and to the point, asking him to turn off the rig.  He looked forlorn, sad that he had offended... didn't realize.

Connie had given up and was walking to the restroom.  He got in his truck and left… and evidently went up to the same restroom where Connie was, where he let that rig idle while he was doing his business there.  Connie returned feeling pursued.  I felt guilty for a while for jumping on the guy’s case.  Later, we googled the phrase, “Why do men let their diesel truck engines run too long?”  The simple answer is that there is no good reason, it’s a manly thing to do.

Yes, this is the border fence at Laredo Texas and that is the Rio Grande

After sweating it out for two days, the rain came and the temperatures dropped from 90/70 to 55/42.  Now we’re huddled around the fire and running the heater nonstop inside the camper.  Fearing that we’d run out of propane, I decided to make the run south 20 miles to the town of Roma Texas to provision.  The only propane store in Roma was closed.  We drove east another ten miles and found a farm store to top off our propane tank.  On the way back we found a water kiosk and filled our drinking water jugs.  Then we looked for and finally found the one liquor store in the town of 10,000 people.  A couple of dozen dusty bottles of liquor, in a small shop that had to be unlocked by the clerk in the adjoining convenience store, was the extent of the city’s liquor supply.  “Any place to buy wine here?”  “Walmart is 20 miles down the road.” 

Inside the convenience store we met a Hispanic man. We did the usual,“Where are you from?” thing.  He had come here from Appalachia eight years ago and was working putting up wind mills.  Wind turbines, I call them. Yes, the horizon is beautifully scattered with them, something that makes me feel better being that the rest of the state is stuffed with oil derricks and pipelines.

“Yep, we’re putting up more windmills every day down here.  Can’t wait, though, for the border wall to start.  That will be a good job.”  Connie couldn’t help but say, “Isn’t Mexico going to pay for that?” “Oh no. WE aren’t going to pay.  The Cartel is going to build it.”  I had to extract Connie from the conversation so we could choose our dusty bottle of liquor.  Pulling her away, I noticed the guy’s cap with the words, “Fuck You”, surrounded by five point stars. We tried to sort out his logic on the drive back to the park.  Even after numerous swigs from our dusty bottle of rum we could not figure it out.

It’s cold on our final day at Falcon State Park and it’s 11:00 AM and time for me to go in search of internet.  Connie is already at it with the accordion.
Our next stop will be at Lake Amistad near Del Rio. There is good birding there. Then it’s on to Big Bend where we hope to luck into a “first come first served” site for about four days.  After that, we’ve got three nights at Hueco Tanks, just east of El Paso.  Then we’ll be done messing with Texas, and it will be about time! Time for Cool Breeze to hit the road.