And the road goes on forever...

Sunday, August 30, 2009

No Winners

Some you win, some you lose. Today wasn’t a winner. We started off fine, crossing the Columbia River with little wind on the bridge (don’t laugh; semi trucks have been literally blown off the sides of this bridge into the river) and then made the really slow uphill climb out the far side into the plains south of Goldendale. After our uphill/downhill through the pine covered mountains on the Yakima Nation Reservation we arrived in Toppenish and hit the two lane Hwy 97 into Yakima. We had hoped to find a nice fruit stand but they were all on the opposite side of the road so we finally dove off an exit advertising a Super WalMart. Cell signal was good there so we downloaded email; posted the first blog and went shopping.

Shortly after reentering the freeway we soon veered off onto Hwy. 12 with an intended boondock spot somewhere along the Naches River or around Rimrock Lake. Ha; little did I know. The highway climbed cleanly through a narrowing rimrock valley and oaks and willows gave way to more and more pines as we gained elevation. The road was winding but scenic. Heavy traffic would build up behind us requiring Marc to pull over frequently as there were no passing lanes. I saw numerous boondocking spots along the roadside, riverside, and very inviting but by the time we noted them, we were well past. Suddenly and unexpectedly we were committed to the long uphill grind to White Pass Summit with no chances of turning around. After a 6% grade of many miles Marc pulled over at the summit and said he wouldn’t backtrack and pull the trailer back up that hill willingly, so all previous opportunities vanished with the heights.

As many of you might know, the western side of the Cascades is entirely different from the eastern part. Forests become thicker, dirt road offerings non-existent unless owned by private logging companies and gated off. Forest service campgrounds don’t seem to allow for our turning trajectory even if the spaces accommodate our length. So…bitterly disappointed, downward we coasted until arriving in the small town of Packwood. Our lone opportunity presented itself, Deliverance style, with a smattering of 30 year old tin sided single-wide mobile homes and some RVs. For $65 for two days we get to enjoy 30 amp electric (our trailer is 50), no cable TV, no WIFI, and a shower house (not that we ever use one) that looks like a block house prison cell. For the first time ever in memory at an RV park the lady taking my information didn’t ask even what kind of rig we had, for a license plate number or anything beyond my payment. We do have a peek a boo view of Mt. Rainier. Yup, we’re stylin’ now.

Compare yesterday’s pictures to todays and ask yourself why we prefer to boondock? Tomorrow we’ll be $65 poorer; yesterday we came away with a history lesson for free and an entire spice jar full of sage. So for all of you too afraid to boondock—get out there and do it. You have nothing to lose; certainly not money spent for a dreary place to park.

Lost in Sage

North central Oregon is a land of windswept rolling hills making some vistas to the horizon seem short. It’s populated with small juniper trees and sage brush with nary a deciduous tree save for those found in the lonely small towns, but it seems to be booming with windmills now that wind energy has entered a new forefront.

After a late start from Bend, we quickly leave mountains and pines behind and head north on undulating Hwy. 97 towards the mighty Columbia River. After a quick goodbye at the Redmond Home Depot to our son and daughter-in-law, we get back on the crowded highway heading north. We decide at a rest stop lunch that Yakima, our proposed destination for the day, is just going to be too far but Marc knows of a small county park type “rest stop” right outside of Moro, population 160. The park is paved but small; some huge silos with a dirt lot beckoning in the short distance seem a far better boondock for our tastes. We scope it out; Marc backs in; we open the slides up and enjoy. Perched high above us is an empty eagle’s nest. Even the cat likes it here.

We walk the park; it’s a cozy oasis and historical. In 1862 the DeMoss family came out on the Oregon Trail. With their five children, they were a musical family and traveled a rural circuit singing, performing, and preaching. In 1883 they camped here and Elizabeth DeMoss announced “this was to be home”. They laid out a town site. Between 1872 and 1933 the DeMoss Lyric Bards continued to perform across the entire United States, Canada and even made two trips abroad where they performed for Queen Victoria and Czar Nicolas II.

The park today is tranquil, shaded by the largest quaking aspen trees I have ever seen. Big semis roar by but don’t stop. The DeMoss Springs, the namesake for the park, is not much this late day of summer, algae-covered and sluggish. One has to wonder what they saw in this spot to call it home; it sits deep in a draw with only yellow hills and sagebrush for a view; some of them growing so tall they tower over even Marc. Their smell through the open screen door is pungent—nearly enough to overpower the smell of me cooking halibut fish tacos for dinner.

It’s great to be back on the road--there is a romanticism that we can’t deny. By 7 p.m. the highway is practically silent. After all, there are no towns of note for over 100 miles between Madras and the Columbia River. We however, don’t need to fret about towns. We sit in the DeMoss’s backyard imagining the children’s cries as they played on the swings and probably carved their initials in those huge old aspen.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

I Hope to Never See Another Chicken!

We feel we’re on the downhill stretch now to leave Bend in the rear view and head the highways north into Washington. Maybe I can be blogging within short days of wonderful boondocking locations and fun activities instead of all the repairs to just about every moving vehicle we own which also took much longer than we ever anticipated and cost twice as much as we budgeted.

Since we moved the RV out from its normal location to behind the shop for Marc to work on, we have been only feet away from the neighbor’s chicken coop. Every morning at 4:30 to 5 a.m. without fail his two roosters go at crowing at one another and then continue the parody throughout the day. We’re so sick of chickens calling we could wring their noisy necks! Who talks about the quietude of country living?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Picking the Final Resting Place

This week Marc and I took a speed run into California to handle the task of helping my folks buy a burial plot in the pioneer cemetery which contains most of my father’s relatives. Nimshew Cemetery dates from 1861 but was deeded over to Butte County in 1961 and since that point has charged. Previously, being a pioneer cemetery, burial for family members was free. Amid the tangled brush, tall pines, acorn-dropping oaks, down a very tiny dirt road located far off the beaten path, we wound our way until we finally arrived at canyon’s edge. Although I had been here countless times as a child, it had been at least 30 years since I set foot on this hallowed barren ground. Part of the appeal of a pioneer cemetery is that it is all natural; caretaking consists of keeping the poison oak and weeds killed off and trying to stem the natural process of hillside erosion.

We, with help from the caretaker and a large paper map listing plot ownership, found a good spot in the next row directly at the foot of grandfather’s grave. All the previous family graves are regular burial but mom and dad have decided upon cremation and the advantage of a full plot (4’x10’) is that up to four cremated remains may be placed. So, in effect, it becomes a family plot so to speak.

All this led to the consideration of death coming to everyone’s doorstep, whether prepared or not, and the fact that I should be giving my own thought to final resting plans. Marc and I also know we want cremation but Marc prefers to be scattered over Yosemite, an area he visited often and fondly as a boy. I suppose scattering my ashes to the winds would suit me to a fashion—carrying the last of me traveling…as ever I also traveled in life. On the other hand, I now know I also have my prepaid spot in Nimshew Cemetery, ironically within 20 miles (as the crow flies) of my birthplace despite my traveling ways! With in-place burial there would be a plaque to tell the world who I was and how long I lived and maybe even some simple thought like “loving wife and mother”. Scattered to the wind, only the wind gets to remember my name once all my living relatives and friends have passed on; there would be absolutely no physical commemoration of my having ever lived. After all, it's not like I've ever built anything that will last awhile, as Marc has done by building houses, nor have I produced anything of note like artwork which might weather time's relentless march. Now that’s food for thought. And I thought this would be easy.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Package

About three weeks ago or more we sent a Priority Mail large flat rate box of goodies to our son-in-law Brandon now deployed in Afghanistan. Brandon, who wears a unit and company patch on one arm and a Nato patch on the other--the ultimate peace-keeping soldier. It was such a hit we are getting the next one ready to go. We pack things that aren’t perishable and things that a 23 year old would like: many different types of hot sauces to spike up the MRE’s drudgery; nuts, breath mints, waterless tooth cleaner, local newspapers, Guns and Ammo magazine, crotch rocket cycle magazines, beef jerky, many cans of sardines packed in various sauces (with crackers) and canned goods like fruit and raviolis. We heard through our daughter that the package finally arrived yesterday and he loved it!

At the soldier’s base camp at Kandahar they are able to get mail frequently but once deployed to the front lines the helicopter with mail and packages only arrives when full, about once a month. Brandon has been there for over two weeks. It was very upsetting for our daughter to hear he had been fired upon while in transit but since he was in the Stryker (heavily armored) he said the light arm bullets bounced off like paper clips on a rock. Ft. Lewis is providing the major deployment of soldiers for the new assertive shove the US hopes to give to the cave-dwelling Taliban, far up the cliff-sides and out of reach of the Strykers, which require actual roads. What brilliant military mind was it that thought of this battle strategy?

Rachael tells me some soldiers in Brandon’s unit receive nothing from home. Not letters, no packages of goodies, no glimmer of hope beyond that very day in front of them that they won’t die that day in some Godforsaken mountainous desert that no one really cares about. Just what in the hell are we doing there? Can anyone answer? These are tribal people who have never had a political system, let alone a democratic one. They don’t give a shit about the United States or our system of trying to shove down their throats the concept of democracy, freedom, and economic prosperity.

If you would like to brighten a lonely soldier’s day, please feel free to email me and I will ask Rachael for a name and you can send off a card, a note, a goodie box. She has told me of some who have yet to receive anything since being deployed (from their families or friends). Anything… so they know they aren’t entirely alone at the ends of the earth which is known as war-torn Afghanistan. Thank you.

By HEIDI VOGT Associated Press KANDAHAR AIR FIELD, Afghanistan (AP) - More than 100 soldiers in the brigade studied Arabic for 10 months. Their officers boned up on Iraq by reading dozens of books.
Then, five months ago, the 5,000 troops of the U.S. Army's 5th Stryker Brigade were told they were headed to Afghanistan instead.

The Obama administration's decision to switch America's main battlefront from Iraq to Afghanistan is more than a geographic shift. While there are similarities between the two Muslim nations, there are also major differences in language, culture and topography.

The Fort Lewis, Wash.-based Stryker brigade, which arrived in southern Afghanistan last month as part of the U.S. troop surge, is among those scrambling to adapt.

There was only time to give about 50 soldiers a nine-week crash course in Pashto, the main language of southern Afghanistan.

"It was a whole 180-degree turn. It's like English and French: some words are the same but that's it. The grammar is different, the sentences are different," said Spc. John Dazey, a 21-year-old from Vacaville, Calif., who had to fit his training on driving combat vehicles around eight-hour-a-day language classes.

He spoke at the main international base in southern Kandahar province as he waited to deploy out to southeastern Afghanistan.

The soldiers will also encounter a society that is more conservative and traditional than Iraq's.

While two-thirds of Iraq's 28 million people live in major cities, three-fourths of the 34 million Afghans live in rural areas, where conservative values remain strong. Nearly three-quarters of Iraqis can read and write. In Afghanistan, only 28 percent are literate - with rates for women about half that.

All that is especially true among the Pashtuns, the biggest ethnic group and the vast majority of the Taliban. U.S. troops must win over the Pashtuns if there is to be peace in Afghanistan.

Soldiers who've gone through the language course are briefing their comrades on how to interact with the local population - part of the U.S. strategy of building ties to the community.

Dazey has told the men in his squadron to avoid talking to women, or even looking at them - a cursory glance at a burqa-covered woman can be seen by her husband as a lewd come-on.

"The Pashtuns, we've been told the culture is a lot like the Arabic culture except it's on steroids," he said.

Perhaps most importantly, engaging Afghans - and the Pashtuns in particular - requires a different approach.

"Afghanistan is more of a tribal-based society," said Lt. Col. William Clark, commander of the Stryker brigade's 8th Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment. "There are more informal leaders you have to recognize."

Conversely, the brigade faces a tightly organized Taliban structure in Kandahar with commanders and even spokespeople, in contrast to the loosely connected insurgency of Iraq.

The Stryker brigade, named after its fast-moving tank-like assault vehicles, is meant to be a next-generation fighting force equipped with advanced communication technology and soldiers skilled in both fighting and peace-building.

Some of the Pashto-speaking soldiers have been given special permission to grow a beard to better interact with men in a culture where a beard is a sign of manhood.

"The fact that so many of the military guys are so against it shows how much cultural importance a beard can have," Col. Harry Tunnell, the brigade commander, said.

Operating in Afghanistan - a country of few roads, no national electricity grid, formidable mountains and bleak stone deserts - presents major challenges.

Soldiers who have done Iraq tours talk about being wowed by Saddam Hussein's palaces. Here they're lucky if they find a road.

At Kandahar Air Field, a massive truck laid down a metal track sturdy enough for the 38,000-pound Strykers to cross.

"When we were going to Iraq, I didn't think we'd be using these bridges at all. Things are more developed there," said 1st Lt. John Davis as he tested a bridge-laying vehicle.

He said they'll use the bridges to establish new routes over small waterways or gullies, or cross areas bombed out by Taliban explosives.

And while terrain in southern Afghanistan is not that different from the Iraqi desert, if the brigade moves farther up the eastern border, they'll confront mountains and valleys still littered with the carcasses of Soviet tanks from the war in the 1980s.

In Iraq these soldiers would have been taking over from existing brigades, but here they're deploying in a part of the country that has only had a sparse international force and never an American presence.

The Stryker vehicles are flown over. The operating bases have to be built and no one knows for sure how the Taliban will respond in an area where they've never been given much of a fight. This will be the first deployment for the brigade and for many of its soldiers, so many are studying up to make sure they're ready for a different theater with a lot more responsibility.

"If we went to Iraq we'd already have assumed operations," said Maj. Joe Hugh, the executive officer of the brigade's Special Troops Battalion, comprised of soldiers with various technical specialties. "Here it's a Rubik's Cube. We're just trying to figure it out every day."

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Happy Birthday Dad

(written on the 14th)

My father turned 87 today. His feebleness encroaches upon his hearing, his breathing, his heart, his mental acuity, even his ability to stand and walk—despite it all he has managed to live a good long time and make another milestone birthday. This is a tough old bird; a man who fought at a young age in World War II having his destroyer sunk out from under him by a mine during the battle of Okinawa after he had already done duty at Iwo Jima. In what had to be one of life’s greatest ironies, the ship that came to his rescue carried his only brother. In the hugeness of the arena that was the Pacific War, a brother rescued a brother; both Navy men to the core, it must have been something. The old remembrances pepper his talk whenever any of us give him the slightest opportunity; all stories we have heard countless times before.

The family gathered tonight (excepting granddaughter Rachael) for a fine dinner after he returned with my brother John from a fast ride in the old hot rod truck. We all wished him well and many more. Unfortunately, with his major infirmities, no one can know if he will have another. I gave him The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw, and I should have thought to inscribe it for him: “To one of the great men.” I love you Dad.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Work, Work, Work!

While in Yuma this early spring Marc replaced some new tires on the Freightliner he was dissatisfied with with larger and heavier rated tires. He had noted quite a bit of wandering with the trailer so was hoping to mitigate that factor. Although he still noted the wandering during his return trip to Bend, of even greater importance was that the larger tires threw the rig into a bad nose-high towing angle. Hoping to correct this problem, he thought he might as well flip the axles to gain the needed three inches or so that would provide.

What we thought would only be one day’s work has turned into much more because when he dropped the axles and opened them up he found worn out bushings, bolts with their threads sheared, shackles and equalizer thinly worn through; even one spring which appears crushed. Why is it with RVs that nothing is ever as simple as it should be? Those of you with heavy fifth wheels take heed—this is what eleven years of punishing roads will do so check your undercarriage once in awhile!

Now we sit waiting for yet more parts to arrive (an entire wet kit) which will replace the worn ones, save for springs which we can’t afford to replace at this point in time. Our travels are delayed indefinitely until everything is fixed and ready to roll—if indeed we have any money left to travel on once all is said and done!

On another note, we spent another two hours at the Verizon store yesterday, returning and replacing the first express air card for one better suited for my laptop; one which has a PCIM and express card 2 in 1. Marc’s laptop doesn’t have a PCIM slot so he needs a USB type connection. It certainly seems to be working better hooked up to our Wilson amplifier and feels a lot more solid for the abuse I seem to put my electronics through. The first USB styled card was so flimsy we just knew it wasn’t going to last. Since we are buying this equipment outright so we didn’t have to commit to the two year data plan, we wanted something that will function with some longevity. This still isn’t an internet solution we are totally happy with but short of being somewhere we can jump back onto cable internet, it will have to suffice for awhile. The main thing we have to constantly be aware of is our usage, limited to 5 gig/month which effectively leaves out any downloading of music, movies, UTube or even streaming video ads on some news sites like MSN. Other than the forced limitations to my surfing, so far I find it tolerable.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Getting Caught Up

Thanks for your patience but your wait wasn’t for much. You see, we haven’t made it out into the high lakes wilderness, although I did do a reconnaissance trip there one day to note where we might fit. The Cascade lakes were lovely, the sky blue, the fishing not so good but it still would have been relaxing.

Instead, we are still parked at my folks’ place in Bend with Marc involved in a vast array of projects and maintenance. Most recently, he finished putting in a new toilet and vinyl flooring into my parent’s bathroom. Next on the list is fixing the shingles that have blown off their roof. We’ve been getting some hellacious evening thunderstorms with high winds and well over 2500 lightning strikes an evening. It’s been putting on quite a show.

Before all that, having limped back with nearly dead batteries on the RV, we decided to make the financial sacrifice to replace all five batteries. In 2001 we had installed three of the largest AGM batteries to feed our inverter and they had about reached their life’s end. The house batteries weren’t doing much better so Marc decided to replace those two wet cells with AGMs as well. After an easy phone order to a place in Salem, four days and $2300 later, all five batteries arrived directly to our doorstep. Because the batteries weigh so much—165 pounds each—Marc fashioned a lever as a way to help get the old ones out from under the front end storage where they resided. I can recall back in 2001 when the batteries were new, he and I both lifted all three of those suckers into the compartment with much straining and grunting; eight years later it is beyond both of our capacity to do so. Oh, what age does to a person!

Now, we await some part Marc needs for the Freightliner, which was due its share of maintenance too. Tired of not having any internet connection, we’ve also recently sprung for a Verizon air card, a painfully slow process to deal with surfing the web but better than nothing. The Wilson antenna and amplifier Marc needs to vastly boost signal in marginal areas is, of course, stored over in Coos Bay. So, later this week Marc will make a speed run there to pick that up. If we’re lucky maybe we’ll get out of here by week’s end. My next update will cover our upcoming plans. We are definitely going back on the road!