Life on the Road
Keeping things on a schedule has its problems, but a schedule is our way of avoiding doing everything at once!
Observations from two reluctant colonists
Oh! Man! This is gonna hurt!
EDITOR'S NOTE: As summer was drawing to a close we were getting such medical matters taken care of as is prudent before leaving home for several months. Our dentist noticed Melody had a pleomorphic adenoma (uh-huh!) in the roof of her mouth. With travel commitments made there was no way we could accomplish the surgery in Fairbanks. And so it came to pass that we got a referral for a dentist in the Seattle area... we pick up our story, from journal entries ...
By the 'Way" FALL 1997
By the time we reached Seattle we knew that oral surgery was the solution. This growth was not malignant, but who knows? This is too miserable to write about in a newsletter, but here we are.Ê
The surgery wet well, but the pain is excruciating. Worse, there was some confusion about where we could pick up the medicine, it could not be called into the Safeway near dad's place because it was a narcotic, so we had to jump through hoops afire to get the meds Melody needed for the pain as the surgical stuff wore off. We later estimated that what she got was M & Ms!
October 12, leaving Seattle. We have many miles to go before we sleep, as they say! We plan to visit kin back east, drive down the East coast and be in Ft. Lauderdale for a Caribbean cruise. Melody is simply unable to drive.
We set out from Seattle and drove steadily every day, eventually running out of painkillers (M & Ms) around the Utah-Wyoming border. Melody was in awful pain and rested, slept, dozed, whatever you want to call it, most of the time. I drove roughly 400 miles a day, finally reaching Cheyenne, WY on October 14. Why?
Kinfolk on the horizon!
Because as luck would have it, earlier prairie probes had put us in touch with Melody's cousin, Don, a former mayor of Cheyenne. With his help, and that of his wife, we were able to locate an MD who was sympathetic to Melody's plight, and trusted His Honor (Once a Mayor always His Honor, unless the new Mayor is around). So we managed to secure some serious painkillers and visit with family before once again heading down the road. Curious side note, my dad had spent a couple days at a conference in Denver (I think) where he and Don had met. Somehow Don made the connection. Don's recollection was that the two of them were searching for luggage or some such shared quest. Small world!
Driving again, with Melody able to keep company and pull an occasional short shift, we drove around the Great Lakes, again stopping to visit with Aunt Ruth. Now there is an amazing woman. She's like in her 90s and still drives in town. She has figured out how to get from her home to virtually anyplace in town (small town) without making a left turn! Sharp as a tack! Good driver, too. I will always have fond memories of her passion for Long John Silvers. She seldom ate in and had friends all over town. She and her husband ran the local funeral home for many decades in Cannelton. Curiously, this is near Tell City. One of my father's best friends in London during WWII was a fellow living in Tell City and I had the fortune to meet him for lunch the year before he died. He shared a few stories with me about my father's days in the Air Force before I was born!
Friends from the Road
Once again on the road we spent a night in the RV in a Sam's Club parking lot. Man are we getting brave. People do it all the time, but we are just getting comfy with the idea. Our next scheduled stop is Fredonia, NY. There we will see our friends Jack and Donna whom we met at an RV park in Willcox.
Wow! Jack managed to get into the fairgrounds and got us a place to park the RV. Fredonia is a small town and they have lived there for years. They know lots of folks and we were their "friends from Alaska" -- the talk of the town I tell you! We also managed to visit a winery where one could subscribe, sponsor a barrel of wine for a few hundred bucks, and at the end of the season the return on investment was a case of wine --- and --- the oak barrel it was fermented in, branded with the company logo! Hey! Ya gotta have a gimmick!
Ahhhh! Family again!
October 21. Finally we are in the loving arms of family, having made it to Rochester, NY. Jinni and Alex even got their driveway paved anew! They have lived in the same house for their entire married lives... one of the very first true planned subdivisions ever built -- ever! It was farm country back after WWII and even today there are small parcels of land which are farmed. Being a retired MD, Alex was sympathetic to Melody's plight and arranged to have the roof of her mouth examined, whereupon we secured more painkillers. Alex also recommended liquid dietary supplements and suggested things like tapioca pudding to get some nutrition into Melody. She was starting to mend, but well, think about it, they remove the roof of your mouth, can't sew it up or cover it. Toast would be a painful meal!
October 26th. Melody is feeling substantially better and we are on our way south. Once again we stop in Maryland and visit with Sam. Worked on his house, replaced the cupola, mowed that big lawn, went out to dinner a lot. We also drove the Mustang into the nation's capitol, became members of the Smithsonian. We toured the Holocaust Museum. THAT was exhausting! What a display. The world should know. There was quite a line to get in, and we got there early. Had a lovely dinner in Washington. We managed to walk the National Mall and visit numerous monuments including the new monument to Korean War Vets. Whew!
By the 'Way
There is a gas station in Georgia, close to the FL line where gas was an even $1 per gallon. 60 gallons, please! In Melbourne, FL, we managed to connect with some of the kinfolk from the Upper Peninsula, MI, who'd moved south. Nice visit.
Making the Boat!
This last summer Melody finished her second summer working in the HR department for Holland America Line (HAL) in Fairbanks (Left the university after our second season on the road. did I mention that?). The two seasons with HAL entitled her (and her beloved, that would be me) to a free cruise, space available, port fees only). This little bonus is for all HAL employees; but if you come from Alaska, good luck flying all the way to FL, waiting for an available stateroom, and well, by the time it is over the cruise is not free. And most summer employees have winter jobs, shrinking their cruise window of opportunity. We on the other hand, had a place to stay, and we were on the road anyway. So...
November 10: We found a place to stay, got our bearings around Ft. Lauderdale, located a place to board the cats and became, well, more of what we are, tourists. Melody is well on the road to recovery.
By the 'Way
November 1997 Finally! At Sea
Aboard the M.S. Statendam en route, Curacao
Melody can make things happen!
On November 12 we decided to make a dry run to see how we would handle logistics when we got a berth on a ship, space available and unpredictable.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Our images were taken with a 1997 vintage digital camera! Here is a picture of a painting of the m.s. Statendam, and our route through the Western Caribbean.
We boarded the cats and packed our luggage as if we were going. We prepped the RV, securing it as best we could. Then to Port Everglades to investigate our chances for today, tomorrow, next week, etc.
Chances were nil that day, we were told. But Melody the Organizer thought, "If this was a dry run let's play it out." Returning to the RV we loaded the Mustang and drove to the port, ever optimistic. We even put the car in long-tern storage.
We stayed in the lobby area until the very last minute, about 4:45, and sure enough, we got a room. The other Alaskans who'd come to Florida for their employee cruise had already left. The staff said there may be a minor problem with the room and could not "sell" it but they were fixing it. There might be inconvenience while crew accessed our room for repairs. Hah! No problem! (If we were in our room THAT much we were doing something wrong!!) So at 10 minutes to sailing time, AS they were preparing to pull the final gang way, we boarded!
We Made It!
There was confusion! We were racing across the dock, bags in tow. What a sight for the folks on the ship! We got our room just after 6pm, having enjoyed the sail-away party. Dinner was next. We were seated with Beverly and Harvey A. Harvey, with his knowledge of the food service business, loved to ramble on about "how it really is" in the kitchen!
It is said that cruise food is so good, and so abundant, that "you come on as a passenger and go off as luggage!" Mindful of that, we walked the perimeter of the Promenade Deck, putting in 2 miles before breakfast almost every day. Melody also ran, and worked out more than I did in the ship's spa.
There are not many young people on board -- the audience is the same folks who cruise to Alaska in the summer. This is the cruise of middle age and beyond! WE ARE THEY!
We skirted the island nation of Cuba on our way to Willemstad, Curacao. At sea we relaxed, ate, read, took dance classes, and toured the ship.
Talk about gracious! The phones were out in some areas of the ship since we started Once repaired, the captain sent around a complementary bottle of wine with his apologies! Oddly, we had no one to call, so the consideration was really nice, but not necessary. Phone? What Phone? But thanks for the wine anyway, Capt'n!
On a cruise there are times at sea when, to fill the hours, there are presentations, wine tastings, scarf knotting (honest!) demonstrations, art auctions and things to entertain and amuse. BUT, the shore cruise people, while telling you they will explain our ports of call, are often not-so-subtle sales people! While explaining a town or island culture, they are pitching this store, or that, or this tour or that with more than an informational tone! Our shopping guide was Cindy.
Dutch Colony Curacao, Netherlands Antilles - November 15, 1997
Curacao is the modern capitol city of the Netherlands Antilles, which are STILL a colony of Holland. With a population of about 171,000, it has a refinery, a university, and a thriving tourism industry. We loved it!
Going ashore, our first excursion was a snorkeling trip to a park where anchors are not allowed and the boat moors to a buoy to preserve the ocean floor. There was a small sunken tug to explore and excellent underwater scenery.
Here is the floating bridge at the entrance of Curacao Harbor with a bridge OVER the harbor for ships to go under, in the background.
The town's architecture is Euro/Dutch around the harbor. The town is divided by an inlet which leads to a substantial inner harbor. The entrance to the harbor, over 1000' across, is crossed by a floating bridge which can be opened to let vessels in and out. The bridge breaks in the middle, with huge sort of outboard motors mounted on each half. The respective ends of the bridge are propelled, to open the gate and let ships pass. It's like a draw bridge but sideways. The arching bridge in the background is high enough for a cruise ship to go under.
The waterfront is pure colonial Dutch and absolutely charming. on the one side all the expensive shops, the other side is semi-industrial waterfront blended with traditional Caribbean.
On the cruise ship side of the harbor is an older part of town which feels authentically Caribbean. The buildings behind the main street are somewhat run down and the rhythm of life feels pretty third world. On the OTHER side of the harbor is the tourist market with fancy duty-free shops and the like.
"Down de Way where
de nights are Gay..."
Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles - 11/16/97
Klein Bonaire is one of the top SCUBA sites in the Caribbean, the other two are Cozumel and Grand Cayman. The visibility at Klein Bonaire was 80 feet or more. We went down to about 80 feet and spent about 50 minutes in the water and still had about 800# of air left. While diving we saw a green moray eel near the mooring anchor. There was brain corral, sponge corral, and antler type corral, sea lion, etc.
The park system forbids touching, harvesting, etc. of anything. In fact stopping and standing is forbidden not only to protect the corral but to protect the diver from injury. All balance and check out of equipment MUST be done at the dive center before going to the park so buoyancy and everything is stabilized before the dive. It is a wonderful way to protect the park and the quality of the experience.
We dove in a protected park off an small Island once owned in part by Harry Belafonte. It is a flat patch of land with not much vegetation and little to recommend it. Belafonte wrote a neat little song ("This Is My Island in the Sun") about this little place. He eventually gave it to the park system.
St. George's, Grenada
We first visited the Grenadines in 1992, about ten years after the "Grenada War" which was about freeing a bunch of US medical students from a university during an uprising on the island. That was at least a good excuse to make certain that Castro and the commies did not enlarge and take over the island's airstrip. Anyway, during that visit there were still signs of the conflict. Not so much this trip. The stores are cleaner, folks are very up beat about things, business is bustling if not booming.
Shown here is Windjammer Cruises's "Fantome", the "barefoot" cruise ship lost with all souls (crew) during hurricane Mitch eleven months later, October 1998.Ê
On our first visit we were on our barefoot cruise and arrived literally with the clothes on our backs, our luggage lost somewhere between Puerto Rico and ... well, we don't know, it was LOST! The crew of the "Yankee Clipper" outfitted us at cost. That trip was in January so you can imaging what we were wearing when we arrived in "de eye-lans, mon" from Fairbanks, Alaska. Epilog: The luggage was insured. We got $900 for some used clothing, snorkeling equipment, a couple books, and a pair of binoculars. But wait, there's more! 15 months later we got a call.
"Have you ever been to Aruba?"
"No, but we have been near there."
"Well, we think we have your luggage. A green bag?"
"Could be. But we are not giving back the insurance money for that bag of used stuff!"
"No problem, mon, we'll send it to you."
And they did!
By the way, the Grenadines are also known as "The Spice Islands"; and the national flag of the Grenadines includes the nutmeg.
The Grenada National Flag
EDITOR'S NOTE: I found this information on line: The Color Red: Represents fervor, courage, vitality, and burning aspiration. The red border represents dedication to preserve harmony and unity of spirit. The Color Green: Symbolizes fertility of the land, lush vegetation and agriculture. The Color Gold/Yellow: Gold is the color of wisdom; the warm sunshine and people of Grenada, the islands in the sun. The Nutmeg: Represents the economic crop of Grenada, and Grenada as the Isle of Spice. Note that the core of the nutmeg in the official National Flag is the color orange, not black. The nutmeg is on the left side on the flag.
OTHER STOPS: Dominica (Do-MEE-nick-ah): We went on a catamaran excursion. The sailing and snorkeling (without fins to protect the corral) was off an island where underwater vents from a volcanic area warmed the water.
St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands (USVI) We are told this is a shopping Mecca (Cindy must love it!). The place was slammed two years in a row by Hurricanes (early 90s?) and it is still recovering. Odd, but I do not fully understand the relationship of this place to the US. How, several years after a hurricane, can some places still not have roofs? That is what the on-board literature said.
St. Thomas was mostly duty free stores for clothing, liquor, and perfume with jewelry and watches. The bargains are marginal. If one were serious about trying to save money in the duty free electronics areas one would need a good catalog with details of features, model numbers and everything. Just glancing, it did not seem like a lot of money was to be saved. On the two-mile walk back to the boat we got caught in a tropical down pour and were soaked. By the time we reached the boat we were dry! Ahhh the tropics!
Nassau, The Bahamas, is a major shopping area and we had fun comparing prices on liquor and stuff. Same story. People are in a buying mood but seldom are there real savings on these trips.
The harbor at New Providence is quite compact and it was something to see this vessel turn around and back into its slip after entering the harbor bow first.
11/22/97 - Saturday - Ft. Lauderdale, FL We got up early this morning (6am) to witness the arrival of the ship in port, with the skyline in the dawn. It was lovely.
"By the 'Way" -- post-cruise December 1997 Make me Whine! Our first year on the road we met the owners of Casa de Sue winery in Clinton, LA. We stopped to visit again. The pictures in the right margin are from a side trip to New Orleans. This was several years before Katrina.)
Casa de Sue is a play on the family name Cazadessus (Portuguese, I think, for "house of Jesus).
One of Melody's passions on the road is stopping at wineries and seeing how things taste. We have been to the best, snootiest, in upstate NY (Finger Lakes Region around Ithaca), and the funkiest down on the Louisiana-Texas Border). It is a fun diversion and we are learning about wine. Well, the first year we were on the road we got a brochure for this little place way out in the Louisiana woods and decided to find it, in spite of a pouring rain and dirt roads.
It took a few tries, but we were determined, and finally found a little dirt driveway to the place. It was a small farm and we were not even sure we were THERE. So, while I turned the RV around on a soft lawn, bearing about 3" of fresh "dew", Melody went into the barn to ask where we were.
The cottage at Casa de Sue Winery.
By the time I got the RV turned around Melody and JoAnn were emerging from the barn, arm in arm, like two old pals. As I emerged from the RV I heard JoAnn say "And this must be Phil."
It was amazing. We'd never met these folks and here we were, like old friends. They are about our age, married forever, with eight kids. Their youngest kids are just barely teenagers. They lost one child a few years back when she fell off the back of a tractor and was killed. Horrible.
Mac worked for Exxon as a chemist. In 1994 he was planning to retire "in three years". That was this year - and man is he happy about that! Anyway... We got to talking and figured since he worked for Exxon and we were from Alaska (this was not too long after the Exxon Valdez catastrophe), based on that slim connection, that we must be related!!!
We got to looking around their winery and watched a video of their operation and learned a lot about wine, when finally JoAnn said "You guys must be hungry, how about some lunch?" In the course of eating, we learned that they owned the first winery licensed in the state of Louisiana since prohibition. She made sandwiches and we ate and drank and talked and Mac showed us how the entire wine making thing worked. He started with old and rather small equipment, hand operated grape press, etc., and has grown a lot.
One of the many labels from the winery, some of which commemorate the Acadians, Mardi Gras and other regional events.
Mac uses muscadine grapes, as do MOST vintners this far south. Muscadine grapes are resistant to the molds which kill other varieties (specifically vinifera) grapes in this humid climate. Muscadine, of which there are a number (Noble, Magnolia, etc.) have a distinctive flavor. I would call it an acquired taste, but we like it. It reminds me of a cross between raisins and sherry. Good thing we like 'em, too, because everyone uses them down south including large wineries in Florida.
Well after eating sandwiches and talking for an hour and a half we got this great idea... How about some winetasting. So we drank a lot of wine, and then bought some, and moved on. This all took place in a single afternoon and including gifts, smoked salmon, cork pullers, all that stuff. We stopped later that day at another winery in Clinton, which was very fancy and also has a microbrewery under construction. That was fun but not as memorable.
Another label from the winery.
Good table wines which go well with spicy and flavorful Cajun food, and not expensive.
At Casa de Sue we did meet a lot of the kids and it was just good fun. They gave us a couple of partial bottles of wine and we gave them some Alaska smoked salmon. A friendship was born. We went back the following year and stayed the night (They have a full RV hookup behind the winery), drinking wine, eating a great jambalaya, and telling stories as only unreconstructed southerners in the back woods of Louisiana can! They have three kids at home now... one is just going into college and the other two are much younger.
The oldest son at home collects Coca Cola memorabilia, so we mailed him a full six pack of Super Bowl Coke in bottles from Phoenix one year... they mailed us two bottles of wine back!! They are a riot...
TEXAS, a whole other country!
In Texas we visited family, spent time in the Big Bend area, and followed the Rio Grande most of the way to El Paso. Big Bend and the Rio Grande are scenic and fabulous. We also spent a few days in Corpus Christi, TX, bought some huge fresh prawns and drove out to the barrier islands.
An Arizona Cowtown Willcox, AZ We like this little place, Willcox. We have stayed here before. The RV park is about $250 a month and each day includes free waffles and coffee for breakfast.
Every small town has its enduring image. Every person probably has their own enduring image of that town. For me, Willcox is the "last cowtown." I have not been to every cowtown, so I don't know for sure, but hear me out.
Here is a small town on the edge of cattle country, still surviving after more than 100 years. It is a railroad town. It is a highway town. It is a small supply center for a vast area of cattle ranching, fruit farming (pears and apples mostly), and nut farming (pistachios, pecans). We stood in line at the Safeway behind a guy wearing spurs.
There are small businesses here. There are a few of the regional chains like Safeway and Coast-to-Coast Hardware, fast food chains (McD, Pizza Hut, Burger King), and a Rip Griffin's truck stop. There is a Tru-Value hardware and lumber store; but no Sears, J C Penney, Macy's, Dillard's. No Costco, Builders Square, Home Depot, Office Max, Pier One.
Small towns have the best home-grown fast foods. They survive because the locals actually like what they serve. The best pizza joints, best little burger places, and best diners are in small towns or select neighborhoods with home town appeal. You can find good places in big cities, too, it's just harder.
Speaking of food, Rodney's sure makes good fall-off-the-bone, succulent, western beef barbecue. Rodney is a self-described "independent fast food developer." He won't work for the others. He's been in Willcox for just over a year. Prior to that he worked in Sierra Vista, about 90 miles from here for 20 years. But it got too crowded! His goal is to one day have a summer business someplace in the north (Alaska sounded good) where he can work, and spend winters running a little place in Mexico.
Part of good food is ambience. For Rodney's that means sidewalk dining. The diner itself is no more than a storefront and order counter. The seats are on the sidewalk on historic Railroad Avenue. Down the street there is a craft and used book store which supports the local library, then there's a party supply store and rental shop, and on the corner the oldest clothing store in Arizona, the Willcox Commercial Company (WCC). There was a store like this in Seward, Alaska when we were kids. It was called Brown & Hawkins. The shoes were stored on a huge wall with a ladder on a ceiling track which allowed the clerk to get anything stored on that wall, which was about 20 feet high. The WCC specialized in cowboy and farm wear like Carharts, Levis, Wranglers, hats, gloves, dusters, and all kinds of shirts from broadcloth to flannel. Memories.
Ambience at Rodney's is whatever the local parks and recreation department, mother nature, and the Southern Pacific Railroad can muster. Across from Rodney's and the other stores is a little park. It features the usual swing set, a park bench or two, a gazebo with picnic tables, and a monument and statue to one of the last singing cowboys, Rex Allen. On the other side of this tribute to Willcox's favorite son are the railroad tracks.
In my life I have never actually lived in a town where you could not walk AROUND the end of the railroad road (think about it). Both Seward, Alaska, and Fairbanks, Alaska, are on opposite ends of the only railroad in the state. Aside from the barbecue, sitting at Rodney's is a treat for a railroad buff, or anyone who enjoys the power of machinery.
There is something stirring about 4 diesel-electric locomotives rumbling into town, heralded by the crossing bell. The discordant music of the train whistle blows for the crossings which connect the town with the other side of the tracks. The train slows perceptibly. Then the rumble of the Diesels fade, the whistle Dopplers in the distance. What is left is a mile or more of cars clicketing, parallel to Railroad Avenue, past Rodney's, the feed mill, the fertilizer plant and the old train depot, off across the Willcox Playa and the vast Sulphur Springs Valley.
It would be melancholy, except that it happens maybe a dozen times a day. The great steel wheels of commerce carrying containers, and an occasional AmTrak from coast to coast and points in between. And with Rodney's western barbecue as an accompaniment it is quite an event.
Small town America is an anachronism which is, ironically, still struggling, and making it, in the 48th state. Willcox got it's second traffic signal this week.
Well, that's my homily to rural Arizona living.
One of the pleasures of a milder winter climate is hiking. It is not the same as exhausting oneself flopping across the snow on a set of boards. We like the hiking and the scenery, and the warmth.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: These images were taken more recently with our second generation digital, for an upgrade in quality!)
These vertical rocks are sometimes called hoodoos. There are
areas where you can walk among and through them. Our
favorite was called "Wall Street".
Chiricahua National Monument
The Chiricahuas is magical. You are driving across desert foothills, the land is rolling range, vast, open and not unpleasant. Then, a side road. Three or four miles to a gate; and suddenly spectacular rock formations that are simply astounding. Pictures do it more justice than words. Here are a few:
Rocks take on shapes and they get names. This one is
obviously "duck rock."
Another amazingly balanced rock!
Less photogenic, but awe inspiring all the same, is Aravaipa National Monument. Aravaipa is a lovely steep-walled, narrow canyon in the Santa Teresa Mountains, south of an area called "The Table Lands" just west of Safford, about 50 miles north of Willcox.
Due to poor access the area is seldom visited and remains wild and scenic. To get there one follows a paved road about 30 miles north of Willcox (Ft. Grant Rd) until the pavement runs out. Continue northwest following various gravel county roads which slowly deteriorate until progress in a car is no longer possible. At that point hiking about a mile and half on an old farm road brings us to the trailhead.
There is a small fee to visit Aravaipa, and a permit is required since only 50 people a day are allowed in.
Hiking in Aravaipa is a wet business. The rains this year have wiped out much of the formal trail and due to the narrowness of the canyon and the winding of the river, we were constantly crossing the river. It is relatively warm, and the day was hot (in the 70s) so the going was pleasant. The Aravaipa River runs year 'round which is unusual in AZ.
In places the river has carved under the rocks, creating marvelous overhangs. There are vertical cuts in the canyon wall carved by water which comes down from the top, and these vertical gorges look like interesting chimney climbs to the top of the canyon. The habitat is riparian, a blending of desert and river. There are said to be 200 species of birds in the canyon. There seemed to be no biting bugs and it is too early for rattle snakes, although it pays to be alert!
HOMEWARD BOUND March 1998
What a year! We did manage to upgrade the RV (doing the work ourselves) and learned a few things along the way. The electronics for the entertainment center was poorly designed. Fixed. The water compartment has all the right parts, but much wasted space, and our water pump went out. Fixed. One of the four hydraulic levelers sprang a leak and was repaired, covered by insurance. We stored the outfit in Seattle and were back in Fairbanks by early April.
Wanna do this again? Uh-huh, uh-huh!
See you next season!
Other RV Log Pages
RV LOG ONE, winter 1994-95
RV LOG TWO, winter 1995-96
RV LOG THREE, winter 1996-97
RV LOG FOUR, winter 1997-98
RV LOG FIVE, winter 1998-1999
RV LOG SIX, winter 1999-2000
RV LOG SEVEN, winter 2000-01