Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Changing Course and Shifting Gears: We're Heading East

Look out east coast and Canada, we're coming at you! We've been making serious progress across the country and expect to make landfall in Batavia tomorrow for a brief stopover on our way to Cincinnati for a wedding and then onto the northeast. We are excited to see Ma and Pa LaBoube, take showers, launder our clothing, and try out our new solar panel!

For the most part we have been cruising through the midsection of our nation, but made brief stops at Devil's Tower National Monument in Wyoming and Badlands National Park in South Dakota. Devil's Tower is beautiful and sacred, and of course a must see for enthusiasts of the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind. We camped there one night and met two really neat couples, one from Canada and one from the greater Chicago region (hello!). Both were interested in our rig (we continue to be a bit of a spectacle wherever we go) and we're always happy to meet new people and talk about our setup and our journey. Plus, we always get such fantastic pro tips from RV'ers.

The night at Devil's Tower was followed by a short drive through the Black Hills to Badlands National Park in South Dakota. Our intention was to tour the park and stay the evening, but the weather had other ideas. After unhitching and setting up camp (where we spotted our first T@b of the trip!), we set out to explore the park.

As we were nearing the end of the park, the air had a pre-storm feel to it. Ryan checked the radar, as Ryan does, and there were some storms popping up to our south. We forged ahead to Wall (of Wall Drug fame) for some dinner fixings. Ryan continued to monitor the radar and noticed that the storms were only getting bigger, they were all producing hail, and that two of them had funnel clouds. We were now under a tornado watch.

As I raced us back to camp, we hemmed and hawed over what to do. Do we pack up and go or do we weather the storm? We decided that it was better to forgo our $18 camping fee if it meant we saved ourselves from a tornado, or at the very least, thousands of dollars worth of hail damage to the car and camper.

We only had moments to spare if we were to make it out ahead of the storm and we packed up camp in record time. We headed east and out of the line of storms. We were aiming for a Walmart parking lot about two hours from Badlands. About 30 minutes out we noticed a lot of lightning. It turns out we were headed directly into another severe storm and tornado watch area!

We made it to our parking lot camp in Mitchell (sadly, we didn't see the Corn Palace), at the very edge of the tornado watch box. Without exaggeration, we were within pixels of a tornado watch. After prayers to the weather gods and Tom Skilling, the line of storms gave us one small burst of rain, but we were otherwise unscathed. I have never been so thankful for a weather nerd husband.

Today was driving. Lots and lots of driving, mostly through South Dakota and Iowa. Once again we find ourselves in a Walmart parking lot, tonight is Des Moines, but we have set ourselves up nicely for a short jaunt to Batavia tomorrow.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Sounding Off About Seattle

Happy Father's Day to any dads reading this! Especially our fantastic fathers, Tom and Bob!

Our last stop, for now, on our tour of the west coast was the Seattle area. The stop served a dual purpose for both touring and scouting a potential new home base in life.

Seattle was a lot of fun and we had a great guide in Lenny! We pulled into camp in Federal Way, just south of Seattle, on Tuesday afternoon. The park at which we stayed was OK, but served as a good home base for exploring the area. After unhitching we headed into the city for tacos and some beer with Lenny. We then met up with some of Lenny's friends and went to a super funny comedy show. From there we hit up a couple bars. We played a game of three person pool which Lenny won and then became a race to the bottom for Ryan and me as we struggled to make any shots. We even met another Lenny and the guys had some late night burgers.

At the recommendation of several people we started Wednesday at the Pike Place Market in Seattle, one of the country's oldest, continuously operating public farmers markets. It's a multi-level mix of merchants selling fresh fish, baked goods, clothing, glass, produce, and everything else you can imagine. We also saw the very first Starbucks. The market was bustling with tourists and locals alike and I opted for some organic cherries.

After walking around the market and fueling up with some lunch, we drove around the city to get a feel for different neighborhoods. We generally made our way to the Microsoft headquarters in the suburbs to check it out as well. A sprawling campus of glistening glass buildings, it was much larger than either of us imagined.

Heading farther out of Seattle, our next stop was to see the Snoqualmie Falls and the lodge perched at their edge that served as the exterior shot for the lodge in Twin Peaks. We went back to Seattle for dinner, finally settling on a vegetarian hotdog restaurant that doubles as a cyber cafe (of course!). After some planning and internetting, we retired for the evening, exhausted from the previous late night.

Thursday was for the homeland: Canada! Ryan had neither been to Canada nor had he ever crossed an international border by land, so we remedied both. I, of course, picked the slow lane crossing the border in both directions. We spent our time in Vancouver walking Stanley Park, exploring the neighborhoods (we loved West End), speculating about their strange flashing traffic lights, admiring the metric, and avoiding anything where we might need Canadian dollars. The trip was very nostalgic for me with even the most unassuming things triggering a memory of my grandparents or a trip we had made when is was younger. It was a long day with a lot of driving, so we headed home afterward, but not before trying our first Taco Time. I'm partial to the veggie taco.

Sadly, Friday was to be both our last day in the Seattle area and the end to our west coast tour, but only for now. Given the drizzly, overcast weather, we figured it would be a great day for a museum and made our way to the Museum of Flight. Ryan was ecstatic to see all the aircrafts they had, but was especially thrilled to see the formerly top secret SR-71 Blackbird. I channeled my childhood with the collections on Amelia Earhart, but was most excited for the mockup of a module from the International Space Station (ISS) and the shuttle trainer. While we were able to tour the payload bay of the shuttle trainer, I teared up a little when I learned that we could not tour the living quarters or flight deck. As a consolation, we were able to tour a Concord and a retired Air Force One, which included the safe where the nuclear launch codes were stored during flight (what?!).

After running some errands, we drove back to Seattle for a Hawaiian dinner and some karaoke with Lenny and crew. The Kona Kitchen is an authentic, family owned and operated restaurant and bar. Not only is it a great place, but one of the owners is the man who played the bad guy in the Karate Kid! He even served Ryan our first round of beer! As two karaoke nonparticipants, we had a fantastic time and met some great people.

Saturday began our trip eastward, ultimately landing in Cincinnati, Ohio, for a wedding, but not before a quick stop in Batavia where we will see Ryan's parents and trade out items we have learned we do not need for those we get plenty of use out of. We are particularly excited for the new solar panel that is waiting for us. We currently have a 5 watt trickle charger, but after we ran our camper battery dry in the Olympic Peninsula, it just hasn't been able to get the charge all the way up, especially with Washington's thick cloud cover. We have been camping since Monday without electric and it's just fine, but electricity is our most limiting factor. Our new solar panel should be a sea change for us.
As we make our way back east, we will have a few long days of driving. Last night was our first night camping in a Walmart parking lot. Glamorous, I know, but free, abundant, and easy is hard to beat. Tonight we should make it just southeast of Billings, Montana, for a stay at a KOA (Kampgrounds of America) which we have successfully avoided up until now, but it's slim pickings and we need showers, some electricity, and the internet is a bonus.

Montana is absolutely beautiful and much greener and hillier than I remember. It's definitely a different way of life, though, as clearly demonstrated by the advertisement we saw today for the Testicle Festival. As in, the food. Chicago, all your bacon, beef, and oyster festivals ain't got nothing on Montana.

We've made a note to come back to Montana and spend more time exploring those hills, but for now it's Batavia or bust!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Washington, We Love You!

Friday was a short drive to Seaquest State Park in Washington, just west of Mt. St. Helens and back amongst the people that pump their own gas! Do you have any idea how difficult it is to not pump your own gas in Oregon?

We did a quick tour of spectacular Mt. St. Helens, hiking the Hummocks trail and visiting the Johnston Ridge Observatory. What an incredible volcano! The devastation caused by the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens is noticeable and dramatic, but the landscape is still so beautiful. It's amazing to think what it must have been like.

We awoke to a light drizzle on Saturday morning, but it quickly dissipated, giving way to glorious sunshine. We drove northwest to the Olympic Peninsula and our camp for the next couple nights in the Hoh Rainforest, one of the incredible ecosystems in Olympic National Park. The Hoh is one of the largest temperate rainforests in the US and if you stand still for too long moss will begin to grow on you. After our long driving day, we spent the evening doing a couple short hikes and relaxing  with our delicious Portland beers from my sister.

We began yesterday with the Hoh River hike to Five Mile Island (creatively named because it is 5.3 miles from the trail head). Amazing! The trees are dripping with moss and everything is so green. Many of the trees are bunched together in colonnades because it was the best spot on this nurse log. The hike took us from ancient old growth, through a section of giant cedars, past two waterfalls (cascades), into a  younger ferny rainforest, and along the Hoh River.

Following our hike, we made a quick trip to Ruby Beach to see our old friend the Pacific Ocean. The beach was shrouded in a foggy mist, but we could see the sea stacks, we skipped some perfectly rounded rocks, and dipped my toes in the ocean. On our drive back to camp we were lucky enough to see the elusive elks crossing the road! It was a fantastic, if not tiring, day. 

Today was a short drive to our new camp at Heart O' The Hills campground, at the foot of Hurricane Ridge. We unhitched and headed for the ridge and boy did it exceed expectations! While camp was blanketed with low, wet clouds, we drove above them and popped out into the sun on the other side. We have seen so many black tailed deer today and even saw a few marmots! We hiked up to Hurricane Hill and drank it all in: the snow capped mountains, the green mountain meadows, the fragrant meadow flowers, the snow, the clouds BELOW us, and the wildlife. It was tiring hiking near the tree line straight up a mountain but the views were worth every second of breathlessness. Tonight we splurged on a dinner at a restaurant in Port Angeles and then drove to the Ediz Hook where we could see Canada across the water.

It has been such an incredible trip, seeing so much beauty and learning so much. We are so thankful! It's also interesting to reflect on the fact that we have been to some of the extremes of the continental US from the border in Big Bend and near San Diego to the northwesterly border with Canada. We will soon begin our trip east to hit those corners, too. We are lucky to have such a naturally diverse country, one that has major areas of preservation open to the public. We see so many international visitors at the National Parks, almost more than those from the US and it makes you wonder if our citizens get to see everything that's here.

The Seattle area is next on our list and I'm not sure what's after that! We'll figure it out.

And Bob, if you're reading this, I still haven't used the camper bathroom :)

Team Re-Calculate Conquers Oregon

Where has the time gone? We spent it in Oregon!

First, a note on Team Re-Calculate (TRC). It is comprised of my sister Heather, her husband Seth, Ryan, and me. I guess we're Team Re-Calculate 2.0 now with the addition of my sister's daughter, Beatrice. We originally teamed up four-ish years ago in France while visiting my mother and her husband. We were loaned a right hand drive car with an indecisive GPS and tasked with finding our way from Paris to La Trinite-Porhoet via Versailles. Seth took the helm and the GPS would offer suggestions and then re-calculate as soon as you were following them. We eventually made it, but not after some frustration.

Starting where I left off with my last post, we have been busy, busy, busy; morning, noon, and night. In a good way!

Last Saturday we started off at Stewart State Park on Lost Creek Lake in southern Oregon. We got up early and went to Crater Lake National Park, one of Oregon's seven wonders. There was so much snow! In fact, only the west road around the park was even open. As much as part of this trip is running away from the cold and snow of the Midwest, the snow at Crater Lake was refreshing, but I think that's because the air was above freezing and the sun was out in full effect. It also helped that the air had a strong smell of pine.

The hiking trails were still covered in snow, only open to snowshoers, so we just stuck to the roads and viewpoints. It is a spectacular park and the contrast of the bright white snow, deep green pines, and vivid blue of the lake were striking.

From the park we headed to Umpque hot springs, a pro tip from my sister. There were all sorts of people there, including naked neo hippies who we think were actually living in the park. There was only one pool not occupied and it was hot! We hung for a couple minutes, but it was clearly a scene so we headed out. Glad we went though!

Sunday we headed north, eventually making camp at Champogue State Park just south of Portland, which my sister pointed out is pronounced "shampoo-ee" before we embarrassed ourselves by mispronouncing it to a local. This was to serve as our home base for our stay in the greater Portland area.

We decided to spend Monday exploring the spectacular Columbia River Gorge, known for its gorginess as well as its many waterfalls. We did a hike near Horsetail Falls and were not disappointed. Beautiful! From there we made the mistake of trying to go into Portland around rush hour and got stuck at Forest Park in traffic. By the time we were out it was time to head to my sister's place for dinner and a Team Re-Calculate reunion.

We slept in a bit on Tuesday and our afternoon had a hard stop for a camper maintenance appointment, so we maximized the day with boring life chores like groceries and getting Ryan's measurements for the wedding he's in later this month. We got our camper fan fixed and had the hot water heater removed (to save a bunch of weight and space on something we don't use). We were rewarded for our adultiness with a delicious dinner with TRC 2.0 at Mi Mero Mole and then iced creams at Portland's #1 rated restaurant on Yelp, Salt and Straw. Two thumbs up!

Wednesday was for Mt. Hood. My sister was our guide to the mountain and we hiked to Mirror Lake. It was a beautiful day with great company. After our hike we stopped at Double Mountain brewery in Hood River for a drink and snacks. Afterward, we met Seth and Sapho at a food truck pod where we chose our separate dinners.

Thursday was our last day in the greater Portland area and we spent it by our old friend, the Pacific Ocean. We drove to Cannon Beach on the coast where we saw Haystack Rock, THE rock formation from the movie Goonies. We were lucky enough to be there at low tide and got to explore the tide pools covered in starfish and crustaceans. We drove through a couple other quaint seaside towns and then stopped in Astoria, right across the Columbia River from Washington state. We toured their wonderfully curated maritime museum and lightship (a vessel manned by 10 people, covered in lights and horns, and parked at a dangerous boating area just to warn other ships), and then saw THE house from the movie Goonies. I didn't take any pictures of the house because they were clearly trying to make political statements and I wasn't down with it.

We drove back to Portland where my awesome sister had prepared a picnic dinner for us which we enjoyed on Mt. Tabor, within spitting distance (or urinating distance on some occasions) of one of the city's uncovered reservoirs. And so we concluded the TRC reunion, but I'm sure we'll be back.

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