Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Best of the Trip

A reader writes: Give me point A to point B, how many miles and where Art's favorite campground or state park is, and where your favorite roadside store is. Favorite food? Favorite people? Favorite no-guardrail road. More. What you would do differently? What you would do again?

Tough to hit all those marks,but we'll try. First let's talk about what we learned, we who almost always hit the road right after Labor Day for a range of reasons: warm autumn light, vacant campgrounds, no insects.

Failure of imagination  Living in Chicago, it never occurred to us that people camped between the Christmas and New Years holidays. But in California, where temps were ten degrees higher than normal in some places (in the 80s), they did. And they did in droves, with kids who were on holiday break. We wouldn't do that again, but it was a fun ride while we were figuring it out.

Here's a favorite state park for both of us, Harris Beach State Park on the very tip of the southern Oregon coast. This was the view out the door of our camper.
And this the beach. Extraordinary.

Favorite food  (Art says "anything Heidi makes," along with his holiday eggnog and rum. Nice). But again for both of us, the seasonal Dungeness crab were a true highlight.

Best no-guardrail road  Without question, Highway 101/Highway 1, which has occasional guardrails but, frankly, not enough for this passenger. I wanted to get out of the car and walk this magical coastline, but in most places that's impossible. Northbound is far more relaxing in my view, given the extra lane of highway between me and certain death. Needless to say, this is southbound.

Will definitely do it again: Rogue Rover  We were reintroduced to Oregon's Rogue River from terra firma after taking a boat trip on it more than 20 years ago. This camping spot, quiet except for the riffle of the river over rocks, was a highlight of our winter tour, absent all people save the ones who ran the place. We learned this part of Oregon is called the "banana belt" because of its moderate temperatures.

Point A to B...and the weather  We took Amtrak to Portland, picked up the camper, and drove south, hugging the coast, ending in Anaheim after a wee diversion east. 1500 miles and some change on the truck. A little light rain fell in Portland, but none thereafter. Outdoor nirvana.

Tillicum Beach Campground in the Siuslaw National Forest, midway between Newport and Florence, OR. This one tops our list as well, for its campsites nearly as close to the Pacific as shown below. Another federal site that costs $7 with a senior pass.

Campground quality uniformly inversely proportionate to cost  As we traveled we stayed at some commercial campgrounds--more than we ever have because I needed a strong wi-fi connection to occasionally transmit work on this trip. Bottom line: commercial campgrounds invariably cost more and rarely deliver the kind of beauty and stillness one finds in state and federal parks.

Witness...Joshua Tree National Park at dawn  No cell reception, no wi-fi, no distraction from its essential splendor.
Avenue of the Giants in Humboldt Redwoods State Park  We took the auto-tour on xmas day, 30 miles through the coastal redwoods--the oldest trees on earth--feeling like a couple of specks in a grand universe (and feeling like we wished the nice guy who made this picture would have shot it vertically).

More highlights: seeing our extended family Kathy and Caroline in Portland.

 Powell's Books

And who could forget the bird in a syringe

Most unusual new year's eve: celebrated at noon Dec 31, 2011, at Lake Casitas in California, 80 degrees, blue skies, Myer's and citrus on ice. Happy 2012.

Favorite people would have to feature Lionel, new owner of Robert Redford's Airstream. And so many more.

And Amtrak, a trip in itself.
With luck, Art has a video or two to come. Meanwhile, follow the speed limit and we'll be right behind you...

Friday, January 13, 2012

Home is Wherever I'm With You

Home. Let me come home
Home is wherever I'm with you

Thanks for riding with us, friends, but that's not all. Trip wrap-up coming soon.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

What's Inside the Avion Truck Camper?

All the time people ask to see the interior of the Avion camper. Maybe you'd like a peek inside too.

Up there above the passenger door is the bed, positioned over the truck cab. 

And just below is the comfy booth-like eating space with table. That table drops down to the level of the cushions to make another bed, the cushions rearranged to provide the mattress. Not that we use this space for anything other than eating, computer work, and reading. Note storage above.

Here's the opposite side, with 3-burner range, sink, and a generous food prep area. Plus a lot of storage above and below. Behind me is a closet, a fridge, and a bathroom. We don't use the bathroom on this 45-year-old camper, though we could. Note the crank windows, which let air flow freely in all directions (the rear door has windows too)...one of the things I love best about this tiny living space.

The truck is a 1975 Ford F250 camper special, meaning it's set up for a slide-in camper like this one, a 1965 Avion C10, made in Michigan (by the way, most people think it's an Airstream that's been cut down). 

The designers were hunters working for Avion (which made trailers like this one) who talked their employer into letting them design this truck camper. 

In a nice symmetry, the grandson of one of those original designers, Chuck Cayo, still works on Avions (including ours, when Art can't figure out what's wrong) at his shop in Watervliet, Michigan.

The water tank holds 20 gallons and the small but serviceable fridge runs on propane, AC, or DC. We travel with a cooler too, and 5 gallons of extra water. There's also a furnace, though we rarely need it. Most of all, having our home on our back permits us to get into areas that are off-limits for trailers--towing can be a challenge on rough back roads.

This little rig is extraordinarily comfortable.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Breakfast with Phyllis and Aaron

We awaken to the smell of fresh coffee in our sleeping car. Outside our window, cool tones of the snow-dusted desert between Winslow AZ and Gallup NM.

Community seating for meals is what it's all about on Amtrak, though this train is so sparsely populated it's never crowded. Angee our sleeping car attendant tells us the holiday season was packed with passengers, this lighter load a welcome break.

This morning in the dining car we share travel stories with East Chicagoans Phyllis and Aaron--smart, talkative, and on their way home after a three-week visit to California.
Phyllis' husband and daughters are pleading for her quick return so she can resume cooking for them. She rolls her eyes and tells us how she's tried to teach her daughters. Meantime, Aaron's enjoying his French toast--and he loves to cook. Way to go, Aaron!

Easy too to take a few good snaps out the window from our breakfast table.

Our next stop with time to walk around (these are rare) is Albuquerque. Since we're running early, we have about 40 minutes. Art says this is one of the nicest Greyhound stations he's seen. Amtrak, too, of course.

The first nations vendors are out on this chilly day, selling their wares. I bought a buffalo nickel key chain from this adorable girl.

We stroll the immediate station grounds, intrigued by this sign.

I can't quite dope out how the old Alvarado Hotel relates to this one, but here's a clue.
Later, in our room, fresh fruit from our cooler.

An endlessly scrolling landscape makes for a lazy afternoon.


This just in, from the National Association of Railroad Passengers...
"The current atmosphere of severe federal budget cutting is having devastating consequences. Despite continued record-breaking ridership for Amtrak, a House Appropriations Subcommittee recently approved a 60% cut to Amtrak’s operating grant in 2012, a level so low that it would force a total Amtrak shutdown.

In fact, even the usually supportive Senate Appropriations Committee approved a 2012 funding level that would force Amtrak layoffs and a reduction in service quality."

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

All Aboard!

But first, a few hours to kill near the station. No wi-fi available for me to download Dr E's health tip for editing, so we walk to the Fullerton, CA, library. I love libraries (and I'm blistering mad Rahm Emanuel closed our libraries on Mondays. Uh, what about that TIF reform?)

Big thanks here to the people I work with--best colleagues in the world--for rolling with our month-long trip, sometimes connected, often not. If you're in Chicago and need some good doctoring, WholeHealth Chicago has it, from David Edelberg, MD, to Paul Rubin, DC, and everything (acupuncture, nutrition, herbs, homeopathy) in between.

Back at the train station, the call is made for the Southwest Chief to Chicago. "All aboard!" the announcer says, and a family on the platform echoes "All aboard! They really say it!" Train travel is fun.

Here's Angee, our sleeping car attendant. "I've been expecting you--welcome," she said as we boarded. How nice is that? This, friends, if why we travel via Amtrak. I could snark endlessly about the airlines, but suffice it to say nobody has ever said those words to me in an airport. Amtrak employees are almost uniformly friendly and capable.

This photo was taken at a later stop, with Angee showing off her upper body strength from pulling down and pushing up all those upper berths. She took very good care of us.

I'm ready to settle in with my book...
...but the dining car beckons, with tablemates Tom and Carol, he a former Lt Colonel in the Marines and now a car salesman. Carol's got a gig at Kohl's, and we enjoyed the conversation. They'll disembark in Kansas tomorrow night at 3 am. Yikes.

Store the Rig...Meet the Mechanic...Laugh in the Cash Cab

We met some beautiful people today, just when we most needed them. Here's Mehdi, who Art met while we were stowing some luggage at the Amtrak station in Fullerton, CA, Saturday morning ahead of our 6:50 pm departure. Would he pick us up from the RV storage place in two hours? He'd be delighted.

This is a tiny treasure of a train station, on the National Register of Historic Places.

Bags checked, we head off to the storage place Art had IDd from Chicago, with a Mercedes Benz shop next door. After checking out the storage site yesterday, we'd asked if we could use the Benz place air compressor to blow out the water lines in the Avion and they'd said sure. Today we meet one of the owners, the affable and capable Roger.

Art asks if there's any chance he'd be willing to start our truck every couple months to keep the batteries charged. Certainly, said he. And then as we talked we discovered he'd once had a truck just like ours, so...boys under the hood once more. Art left a list for Roger, including sourcing new rear tires.

A charming man, with a shop whose floor you could have lunched on, plus some screamin' Ford metal inside (boys under hood, redux).

Well, that was propitious. Happily we park the rig, sadly we say goodbye, and then it's off to meet Mehdi, who's waiting at 3 o'clock sharp just outside the gate.

I can't tell you how much fun that taxi ride was. Mehdi had a boisterous laugh and a positive outlook. Noting his ID--Mehdi Sharreshtedari--we asked where he'd been born. "Guess!" he said, laughing as he drove. "Turkey," guessed Art, and Mehdi replied "Very close, very close, my friend."

And the CashCab ride was on.

Now came the geography challenge. "If you guess close, I'll give you 90 points out of 100," Mehdi said. Could I use the ipad? "Of course," he said, laughing all the way. "Turkey is the bulls eye--I'm from a neighboring country. And if you guess correctly I'll still give you 100 points."

A quick google later, we won (there are eight countries bordering Turkey, so not bad). Mehdi hails from Iran, an elegant Persian who made our trip back to the station fly.

Big fun, big tip. Thanks, Mehdi, and thanks for making this picture. We'll call when we return.

Best Tool for the Navigational Job: ipad

We might be the last two people in the US without cellphones, but we do OK without them.  The ipad, however, does come in handy for city navigation, and nowhere as essential as in Anaheim, where we have three key destinations and we'll be bumping around among them.
So here I am in heavy traffic routing us from the RV storage place to tonight's campground near Disney and ultimately to the Fullerton (LA) Amtrak station.

It's a beautiful thing.

I don't care for it to navigate larger distances, where seeing the lay of the land is vital, and I have paper maps galore for that. But with the 3G connection/GPS, the ipad was indispensable for city streets.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

From the Sublime...

Leaving Joshua Tree National Park and hurdling down the LA expressways toward Anaheim felt like a bad acid trip (not that I would know).

We're here at the Anaheim Resort RV Park, just a trolley ride away from Disneyland. But it has what we need--hot soapy water to wash the camper and ourselves, one last laundry fling, and location. Just a couple miles from the RV storage facility Art found where the camper and truck will enjoy some months of R+R in the moderate LA weather before we return to ride it hard again.

This is what we did today: unpacked and cleaned everything inside. Even a tiny camper needs tending.

We walked to a nearby burger place for lunch. Nice guys there.

Then another 10 concrete blocks for a pop into a Mexican grocery, where pastries to celebrate Three Kings Day were stacked large and high. Thanks, Caorlina, our dear friend in Mexico City, for reminding us about this holiday and helping us make sense of the baked goods.

And while the prosaic campground has everything we need to tidy up before storing the camper and heading for the Amtrak station tomorrow afternoon to board the Southwest Chief, once again the very best part of travel is the unexpected.

Meet Jared, who couldn't wait to show us his Darth Maul light saber once he saw Darth on the hood of our Ford (a Goodwill purchase Art made with sketchy knowledge of Darth's Star Wars evil). Jared was really happy to pose for a photo with his light saber. And we were really happy to comply.