Tuesday, December 24, 2013

2013 Summarized

It's Christmas Eve 2013 and I feel as though I've been through the wringer this year.  It started out depressing and stressful and hopeful and is ending depressing and stressful.  I AM hopeful for so much for next year but for now, other than my months of doing what I set out to do (traveling), it's been a pretty tough year for me.  That is unusual, as positivity and aversion to drama is something I strive to keep constant in my life.  I've been in a dark place for a few weeks now but I'm starting to see the light at the end of the maelstrom.  I'll have an extensive post about that at another time!!  Once I get into the light, that may be when I can write about it! 

It is pretty amazing that I've been to so many places and seen so many incredible things and haven't encountered any man-hungry beasts or vile humans along the way.  No serial killers, perverts, mamma's boys, bears, cougars, or rattle snakes.  That's pretty fantastic, especially considering everyone else's fears for me!!  It's also pretty awesome how I've come to love the camping lifestyle and have come to appreciate the generosity and hospitality of others when I've always been so independent.

I've driven approximately 18,000 miles in the past 5 months.  The colorful landscape and people were something that I wasn't prepared for.  I had  no idea of the riches awaiting me on my American Road Trip.  It was a gift that both Lillie and I have grown from.

Lillie has met so many people and aliens (children) on our journey.  She tucked her fears away and represented herself as a healer, a friend, trusting, and a teacher to strangers.  She was rewarded with love and attention and, hopefully, has learned to fear less. She's certainly learned to trust more.

From the extensive heat of the beginning of our trip (115F in Arizona being the worst) to cold camping in Maine (mid-40's), Lillie has unhappily learned to deal with parkas and paw protection.  Watching her tip-toe across the hot pavement from shadow to shadow was not comfortable for either of us....so you wear what ya gotta wear!!

Our journey started with us driving from Dallas, TX to Carlsbad, NM.  We then wandered NM to northern AZ to lower UT and lower NV to AZ to an unexpected quick night stop in the San Bernandino Mountains in CA.  From there, we drove to San Diego, CA and followed the Pacific Coast Hwy all of the way up the CA coastline and the OR and WA coastlines.  After being turned away at the Canadian border and staying in Seattle, WA for a bit, we worked our way down through OR, ID, UT, AZ, NM, and back to TX.  Then we drove from TX to AR, TN, KY, OH, PA, NY, VT, NH, ME, MA, CT, RI, NY, NJ, MD, DE, DC, VA, NC, SC, GA, AL, MS, LA, and back to TX.  Yes, I missed Florida!!  I didn't quite make my goal of going the complete west and east coasts...by only ONE state.  By my count, Lillie has been in 33 states!  Including my previous travels, I'm close to having hit all 50!

Tonight, Lillie is happily gnawing on a bone in the place she considers home outside of the Jeep....because it's where we've been the longest for any time during this journey.  Our trip isn't over, just delayed for now.  This lifestyle isn't something you can just quit and forget.  It's an addiction that grows with every different experience, person, and place!  Lillie and I are happiest on the road!

Merry Christmas and Happiest of New Years, Everyone!!


Monday, November 18, 2013

Photo Journal of Fall in New England 2013

My youngest daughter moved back to upstate New York to await her Army husband's return from Afghanistan.  It turned out that the original arrival date wasn't going to be the actual homecoming so she was up there alone.  Since I was traveling....a free bird....I had the time, the desire, and the opportunity to be with my baby girl!!   It turned out to also be the absolute PERFECT time to be in New England for God's amazing pallet!!  Here are just a few examples from New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and Virginia!!!  These are all unedited iPhone pictures.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Along The Way....

Lillie and I have been on the road for over 3 months now.  In the process, through the car issues, lack of accommodations, and so on.....we've managed to be blessed with people.  People we've never met, chance meetings, planned meet ups, and family we've never known.  When you're on the road and you have technology, anything goes!!

While camping, I met some fascinating people with similar goals (ie. travel), as well as folks just getting away for the weekend just around the corner from their homes.  The latter fascinated me!!  WHY would you spend $50 to pitch a tent around the corner from your home???  Answer?  They have kids!!!  That's a pretty cheap getaway!  Also camping, I met young people doing what I'm doing now....one of many things I should have done in my 20's!  I also met mother and child spending quality time together biking, camping, and telling campfire stories.  Older couples, getting out of their comfort zone and learning just how much they love each other in any and all situations!

I watch people.  So does Lillie...just a little more distrustfully!  Lillie didn't like the reckless boy on the bike at all!!  She didn't initially trust the man with the completely complacent dog but he grew on her....as did his helpful sons.  I learned about John Steinbeck's "Travels With Charlie" one day when I was half out of my tent, tying on my hiking boots.  The woman with the son said she was thinking of me.  She asked if I had heard of the book, which I had not.  "It's about John traveling around the US with his dog!", she said.  I bought the book in Portland at the famous Powell's Bookstore.  I haven't read it yet but am excited about it!  Since the trip began though, Lillie has allowed many children (or aliens, as she sees them!) pet her.  It's been amazing to watch!

Couchsurfing, people have given up the comfort of their home to sleep in a tent so that I could have their bed.  They've locked their cats away so Lillie could be comfortable and I could be anxiety free (Lillie and cats don't mix well).  They've taken me on motorcycle rides up mountains, taken me out on the town, gave tours of their city, fed me, entertained me, over fed Lillie with treats, and just plain accepted Lillie and me into their lives.

I've met up with or enjoyed the homes of friends I haven't seen in over 35 years, family I never knew because I was too young, Facebook friends who were alumni in Italy as I was, and strangers who I came to know as friends of the road.  I've also had the occasion of having my meal paid for by a dog fan who had stopped to give Lillie some loving.  After hearing about our travels, she felt we were her "good deed of the day" people so paid our tab!!

Lillie has been way out of her comfort zone where strangers are concerned!  She only trusts me!  She's met countless people and their pets along this journey and has emerged "the sweetest dog in the world"!  Okay...I added "the world"...but they all loved her!   I can't count the number of strangers homes she's been in, the pets who have intrigued her, the cats who have teased and antagonized her, the campgrounds that have bewildered her, or the patience she's had when I couldn't find a place to stay!  Lillie is a "one true love" dog but she's grown to accept that people aren't all out to harm her "true love" so she's relaxed a little bit.

Our lifestyle has been couchsurfing, camping, house sitting, and staying with friends and family. How could life be any sweeter than the generosity of these wonderful people along the way.  God bless every one of them!!  I'm beyond blessed in God's humor and his empathy!! ;)  On we go!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Slow Down and Get Lost!

Traveling overseas, you tend to find yourself lost most of the time; at least, when doing your own thing.  Tours are a rarity in my travel agenda as I prefer the adventure of getting lost.  More important to me is keeping my funds available for other things such as food, drink, transportation, and entertainment of my own choice.

In your own city, you should always TRY to get lost from time to time because you will have the opportunity to meet people who will broaden your soul, your mind, and your horizons...not to mention, diminishing your fears!  No matter where you travel, though, when you get rid of your "gotta get there" attitude and simply slow down enough to see where you are, you truly can find jewels!

Lillie is, at the least, tolerant to my getting lost while on the road....at the most, she enjoys it.  I stop a lot to take pictures so she gets to wander and enjoy all of the new smells while I take pictures in remote country settings. I'm also reminded that she might be thirsty and is deserving of a treat after hours of being on the road. 

When road tripping, it's the easiest thing in the world to go rogue (ie. take random roads then worry later about how to get back on track to your destination).  Just follow a sign that announces something possibly interesting or turn on a road just to see where it goes. Bodies of water, national parks, seasonal scenery, and small towns are all the reason I need to be addicted to it!  I've learned that there ARE essentials that need attention before going rogue...such as GAS!!!  There is nothing that will ruin the entire experience like emergency needs such as restrooms but, more importantly, gas in the tank!!  I've coasted several times out of mountain ranges...praying, pleading, promising....and made it....but also in areas where small towns were close together...because I figured a gas station was around the corner!  I figured wrong for the most part but got lucky!!

 Recently, while visiting my daughter in upstate New York, we decided to head to the Appalachian mountains to see the sites...primarily, the incredible fall foliage!  We just wandered down dirt road after dirt road that, according to her GPS, would lead us to bodies of water (yes, that's cheating a little bit on the "getting lost part").  Anyway, I turned down one extremely narrow road that she wasn't comfortable with and that wasn't on her GPS.  Once I committed to the road, there was no turning back so I drove on.  It finally ended at a house right on the tip of the peninsula.  There was a 1960's rusted Ford pickup truck with Texas license plates sitting to the side of the drive and the door to the shed was open.  As I began to maneuver my turn around, an older man stepped out of the shed and walked towards us. We rolled down the passenger window and we told him that we were just lost.  Having seen my Texas license plates, he asked us where we were from.  It turns out that he is from Austin but this lake house has been in his family for 108 years.  He and his daughter were doing repairs to it before heading back to Texas for the winter.  He then offered to take us on a tour of the outside to which my daughter whispered to me that she didn't think it was a wise idea...I thought differently.

It was a fantastic spot to have on the lake.  He informed us that the crystal clear lake was spring fed so you could drink directly from it!  The "thing" to do on this lake was barges.  His had two chairs and a grill on it and they would just untie it, motor out onto the lake then just float or tie up to other barges.  His land went all of the way to the tip of another peninsula, as well as, a small island.  As we thanked him and drove away, my daughter commented on how she thought that this started out as a possible horror movie scenario but really enjoyed the actual outcome.

Unless I'm on some kind of timeline, I prefer to be off of the interstate.  I could just fall asleep on the repetitiveness of interstates.  Highways and back roads are full of so much more character!  Small town America, abandoned farms and mansions, wildlife, and people.   After driving north on the interstate in Washington for about 30 minutes, I decided to turn off and continue my journey up the Pacific Coast Hwy (I had followed it all of the way from San Diego, CA to Oregon so may as well continue until I couldn't go any further).  It took quite a while longer than I anticipated to drive west enough to reach it but what a gorgeous drive!  Then once I began that
trek up the PCH, I found myself in rain forest!  I certainly hadn't done any homework to even know about what to expect on that stretch but it was quite a surprise.  I do have to say that the Washington coastline was my least favorite.  It was cold, rainy, and I saw little of the actual coast.  However, the result of my choice to leave the interstate resulted in new knowledge and views of this country and ended with Lillie and I seeing an area in northwest Washington that we would have missed...Port Angeles, Whidbey Island, Bainbridge Island, and other small water towns with the Olympic Mountains overseeing it all.

As Lillie and I continue on our road trip across this beautiful nation, I look forward to more incredible sceneries, festivals, rewarding encounters, and life enriching surprises.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Road Trip Nightmares

Yes, **it happens!  And boy did it happen to me!!

Before I started this road trip, I did a couple of test camping trips to Oklahoma (as I mentioned in my Camping for Non-Campers blog).  My daughter joined me on the first trip.  I left the doors open as I removed item after item for my camping needs from the Jeep.  The next day, I decided to drive the byway for some fantastic views only to find that my Jeep wouldn't start.  My daughter jump started it and off we went.  A couple of weeks later, I decided to do a solo run to a gorgeous campsite that I passed on my way home.  I was the ONLY camper out there...it was March, after all.  My Jeep wouldn't start...twice!   Both times, I got lucky!  People came out to fish and ended up helping me.  On the way home, I stopped at AutoZone who tested the battery and alternator.  They said, "They're good but the battery connectors are loose!".  Once I got back to Dallas, my mechanic replaced them.  All is good, right??

Maintenance on the road is a definite requirement; especially with the miles I put on a vehicle!  I knew my tires had been out of alignment for a while on the road and I had been told prior to departure that they only had a few more miles left in them.  I'd say that I'd gone around 3,500 miles when, after breaking down camp and loading up, I happened to look at the tires.  Three of them looked like they could go another couple of thousand miles but the front passenger tire was down to the steel!  I set out in search of a tire store and was lucky to find one just 40 miles down the road in Florence, OR.  $800 later, I was riding smooth and safe!!  You have to replace all 4 tires on all-wheel drive vehicles.  Ugh!

Jump to Portland, OR.  It was time for an oil change.  They took my keys and, several minutes later, returned to tell me that the Jeep wouldn't start.  Though it was very odd that it wouldn't start for apparently no reason, I told them it was the battery and to just jump start it.  They did.  They checked the battery and it was "excellent".  They offered to check the battery wires for a short but I didn't want to take the time. Three days later, it wouldn't start.  I opened the hood, jiggled the battery wires and, boom, it started!  Ha!  I got this!!

The next day, I headed north along the Pacific Coast Hwy and was afraid to turn the engine off.  I did though, once I reached Port Angeles, WA where I stopped for the night.  Fingers crossed, the engine started right up the next morning.  While waiting on the ferry to take me to Whidbey Island, I didn't turn off the engine nor did I turn it off on the ferry!  That was over an hour of idling.  Once on the island, in search of a restaurant with outdoor seating (for Lillie), I found an auto repair shop that wasn't busy so I pulled right in.  Two hours later, after much argument from me that the battery was good, they sold me a new battery for an outrageous sum!
On I drove, heading for the Canadian border.  Along the way, Lillie deserved a little exercise so I stopped in a rest area where we wandered for several minutes.  You got it!  When we were ready to leave, the engine wouldn't start.  Luckily, there was one man still there who was happy to help.  It didn't appear that the jump start was going to work at first, but then it caught.  Rolling on, we arrived at Peace Arch border crossing to Canada where I was told to park and was questioned and the Jeep was searched.  Then I was told I was not welcome to Canada for a number of reasons which I find extremely bizarre!  Anyway, sure enough, the Jeep wouldn't start!  Over an hour later, a tow truck arrived to haul me a whopping .9 kilometers to an auto repair shop in Blaine, WA (this was around 10pm).  That tow was costly but there was a cheap motel right next door to the repair shop, so Lillie and I got some rest and my electronics got charged.

THIS mechanic informed me that there was a loose connector to the starter that he fixed then sent us on our way, lighter of pocketbook!  I had no further problems for the time I spent in Seattle but once I was back on the road, my Jeep started speaking again.  I made it all of the way to the Utah/Nevada border...Wendover is the town...where the Salt Flats are.  I stopped for gas before hitting the salt flats and the Jeep refused to start.  I lucked out that a repair shop mechanic was there visiting with the manager.  He tried to figure it out on the fly but I ended up having the Jeep towed to his shop (this is on Labor Day, folks!!  I felt beyond blessed to have met him!).  Guess what he came up with after proudly announcing having owned his own business for over 30 years?...you got it!....Battery!  Give me a break!!  He talked so convincingly so I agreed to paying for a used battery then was on my way to the salt flats where, no way in hell was I turning my engine off until I stopped for the night!!!!

Well, I stopped for gas and decided to trust the mechanic had an actual clue!  He didn't.  It wouldn't start.  The gas station manager came over and looked at it while I repeatedly turned the key in the ignition.  Suddenly, it started!!  He claimed that all it needed was a look over from him! LOL  I continued on to Salt Lake City only to realize that I didn't need to go past where possible help was available because I couldn't trust the Jeep to start!!  Again, it was Labor Day.  I put out an SOS on Salt Lake City's couchsurfing group, parked in the Walmart parking lot, fixed myself a nice stiff cocktail, and cried.  An old friend on Facebook suggested I go to AutoZone.  I had just assumed they were closed but decided it was better than what I was doing!!  I found the nearest one and, not thinking, I shut off the engine!!  I then walked into the store crying.  I couldn't stop!!!  An older gentleman offered to come see what he could figure out for me.  Two more employees came out to help him.  They replaced a connector on the battery and the Jeep started right up!!  I started bawling again and, though all he asked for in payment was a smile, I couldn't muster one so gave him a huge hug!!

Arches National Park
I continued on to Arches National Park and the tears finally abated.  Only a few  miles down the road, I received a call from a Salt Lake City couchsurfer offering to help.  I told him that it seemed the problem was taken care of.  He said that he and his girlfriend got a good laugh from my post as I had listed the hell I was going through in a humorous way (I figured that I'd have more of a chance of someone appreciating it so much that they would help me!).  Anyway, once at Arches, I found a campsite and reluctantly turned the engine off and, fingers crossed the next morning, I turned the ignition switch.  Success!!  I site see'd my way down the mountain, leaving the engine running when I got out to take pictures or explore for a little bit.  We were almost to the bottom when I decided that Lillie deserved the opportunity to explore and get some exercise while we were in a location with no signs stating, "No Pets Allowed".  Of course, once we returned to the Jeep, it wouldn't start.  A lady was kind enough to try to jump start it.  That didn't work nor did the attempts of several men to figure out what the problem was.  We were between 2 giant rock formations so I had no cell phone service so the lady offered me hers so that I could once more call a tow truck.  Lillie had to remain in the Jeep while it was towed, this time, because the driver was allergic to dogs.  Yes, she's having quite the adventure herself!!

Once we arrived at the repair shop, I again told the entire history of this electrical nightmare and I insisted that I would NOT buy another battery!  A few minutes later, I was informed that the starter was the problem.  It made sense but I required every detail to know what convinced him that a new starter would fix my problem.  Satisfied, I earned more air miles by pulling out my credit card once more.  After $800 in towing, motel, batteries, and labor, my Jeep starts every time....so far.

Just a few miles from the Salt Flats, I was bee bopping down the highway, hopeful in my latest battery when I suddenly smelled something burning.  I thought, "Oh no!!  It IS an electrical issue!"....but then I looked over to see that the passenger seat head rest was on fire!!  I screeched to a halt on the shoulder of the road (almost being rear ended in the process), grabbed my bottled water, and poured water onto the head rest.....I grabbed a dish towel, soaked it, and patted at the hole to make sure the flames were out.  Then I jumped out, ran around to the passenger side, and tried to remove the head rest from the seat (with no success) in hopes of keeping the rest of the seat from catching fire in case I didn't get it completely out.  
Sure enough, it started smoking again and that's when I noticed the beam of sunlight hitting my magnifying mirror and directing that beam to the head rest!!  That mirror has been on the seat the entire trip; however, it had been covered by my cowboy hat!  I had slept in my Jeep the previous night so had designated the hat to the back seat so I wouldn't crush it.  Good Lord, what a freak thing to happen!!  I covered the mirror with SEVERAL items, just to be on the safe side, and was on my journey south once again.

I can certainly laugh about the head rest thing now and I have met so many people due to the electrical nightmare, therefore have some good stories.  However, I really could use a FEW months of no more road trip nightmares!!!  I'm sure that Lillie agrees!

Lillie enjoying good rest at the cheap motel in Blaine, WA

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Wine Country Tasting

I'm such the Wino!  I've "tasted" wine all over Italy; Bourdeaux and Paris, France; Greece, China, and Texas!  In a way, this trip has kind of turned into a wine tasting pilgrimage, though.  I mean, California, Oregon, and Washington are a given but I had no idea that New Mexico and Arizona produced wine!  Apparently, EVERY state does now!

I spent yesterday wine and, oh get this, Sake tasting in the Willamette Valley!  Lillie was along for the ride and was welcomed into a couple of the vineyard tasting rooms but, otherwise, was attached to a table while I imbibed indoors.  Knowing a dog was outside waiting, the proprietors would all take a bowl of water out to her, effectively leaving me guilt free to imbibe longer.

The differences between the various states' wines, the years of the grapes, and the people introducing me to them are so widely varied that it's very difficult to accurately compare them.  I can say that, for me, Napa beat out Santa Ynez, and, some of the Willamette Valley wines have beat out Napa!  If the people were personable, the taste was much more palatable!  Just saying!  Okay...the taste didn't improve but the experience completely improved!!

Thursday, I visited Hip Chicks Do Wine simply because I liked the name.  I bought a very nice Muscat too!  Yesterday, I visited Kason Vineyards, Elk Cove Vineyards, and Kramer Vineyards.  My first stop was father and son owned, Kason Vineyards, where the son, Matt, was the only one in residence when I arrived.  Though his duties included everything BUT giving wine tastings, we had a nice conversation while he provided me with 5 very healthy pours!  As I was leaving, his father, Steve, arrived and insisted that I try the premium wines.  Steve was very generous and I felt as though I was just drinking with a friend.  He educated  me on certain points of the wine making process that I don't recall anyone else ever telling me about.  Though I am in the land of Pinot Noir, it's not my favorite wine but I ended up buying a fantastic bottle!

Elk Cove and Kramer Vineyards had friendly staff, very good wine, and gorgeous landscape!  I limit myself to buying one bottle per day of tasting so I didn't purchase any of their wines and moved on to my final stop, Sake One.  Lillie stayed in the Jeep for the short time that I was in there.  It was only $5 to taste 3 flights and I really didn't need any more than that as I was driving, after all.  It was amazing stuff!!  I thanked them and hurried back to Lillie then continued up the scenic Hwy 47 towards Portland. I completely recommend taking this route..."The Road Less Traveled" as it's dubbed by the "Guide To Willamette Valley Wineries".

The best perks of wine tasting at vineyards (I'm not a great fan of "cellars" or "tasting rooms") are the people you meet, the conversations you have, and the incredible scenery!  Wine country in any country is worth a visit even if you don't drink wine!