To Costa Rica! Today!!

Checking off the bucket list!

It was a year ago we had the conversation. If it’s true that we’re not getting younger or healthier, are there places we still want to go? For me it was Costa Rica and Alaska. For D.A. it was Peacock Bass fishing in the Amazon. Actually, our lists are endless, but these topped our lists.

Logistics…

So today, Wednesday, January 23, 2019, starts the adventure: Southwest Airlines to San Jose, C.R., with a layover in Houston to meet up with our darling traveling companion and daughter-in-law, Mandy.

We’re flying from Las Vegas which has a few options for long-term parking other than the airport (we’ll be away almost a month). There are several hotels that offer parking in their lots – just like any other guests – for a discounted rate from what you would pay at the airport. I found it at vegas-airport-parking. We chose the Hampton Inn. You put your name in the book at the registration desk and hop on the shuttle – at least that’s how it happened for us. We gave ourselves plenty of extra time for delays we might encounter, so we encountered none!

I booked our trip through Anywhere because of their great reputation on the Internet and their intuitive website. You pick your dates, the type of trip you are planning, what you like to do, and they come up with a very flexible itinerary. The rep I heard from was Alfonso. I told him we were a three-person family interested in birding, wildlife, outdoor adventures and fishing, wanted private drivers or shared vans – no busses or rental cars – and looking to stay at moderately-priced hotels where at breakfast we would hear six languages. He laughed and said he could do that.

Arrival in “Fantasy Island”

We arrived in San Jose at 9PM. Once through Customs, we found our driver before he found us, and then we had a three hour drive by private van on very steep and foggy mountain roads to the Los Lagos Hotel near La Fortuna and Arenal Volcano. Even in the dark, we could tell the grounds were huge and gorgeous – a combination of Jurassic Park and Avatar movie sets – and we were not disappointed when we awoke in the morning.

Los Lagos Hotel Grounds from dining area
View from our room

Day 2 Arenal Volcano Vicinity

We caught the hotel shuttle down the hill for a sumptuous buffet breakfast, followed by a quick walk to see the cocodrilos, mariposas and tortugas (oh my!). By then our driver was waiting for us for our first Tico adventure… a tour to the LaFortuna waterfall and a hike on Mt. Arenal. We spent the first half of the tour hiking DOWN to see the waterfall – then afterwards spent the balance of the tour hiking UP to see the volcano.

 

At base of Fortuna waterfall
We brought our own mystical Mermaid!

Our guide, Hansel from Rain Forest Explorers, was bright, funny and very knowledgeable of the area’s history, geology, flora and fauna (not to mention pharmaceutical research on arachnids!). We saw and photographed a yellow-throated toucan, 3-toed sloth, many butterflies and flowers, bats, and even had an amazing discussion about the hybrid dairy cows that were from Brahma, Jersey and Holstein stock. He told us the skinny cows were the best milk producers because they converted all their fat into their milk.

We saw our first sloth!

Sloth sighting!

Hansel said that before Lake Arenal was created in the 1970s, the area had been cattle ranches and farms, which all went under water when the valley was flooded. Many people lost their homes and property and were not paid for the land and that is why – to this day – those ranchers and their heirs bring their cattle to graze in the national park.

Returning to the van from our hike, our driver, Minor, had prepared a fruit treat for us, pineapple and watermelon, which attracted a family of coati. Hansel told us how careful they were to clean up and leave no trace, but we were a little sorry to disappoint the coati family.

Treat after Arenal hike

Day 3 Lake Arenal

The following morning was our sportfishing adventure. We were picked up and delivered to Lake Arenal where Antonio awaited. We departed on his homemade fiberglass fishing boat. He took us to some shallow, weedy coves and Mandy, D.A., and Antonio caught Rainbow bass. We had a cup of delicious coffee and I asked Antonio if his family was from the area. He said yes, so I asked if they had been there when the valley was flooded to create the lake. He said yes again and that it was very sad. His family was paid $35 for their home and land, and then they were sold a new house for $250 – which they lost 10 years later when they no longer could afford to pay for it! Because of the valley being flooded, they lost their family home twice!!

Mandy’s Rainbow Bass
Arenal Volcano from our fishing boat

Day 4 Lake Arenal Crossing, Transport to Monteverde

We were actually creating two itineraries at once as we will be going to Brazil following this trip, so while I looked over the itinerary and tweaked until I thought it was fine, I didn’t really pay too much attention to fine details. So, the following morning we checked out of Los Lagos and met our driver who surprised us with the news that we were going back to Lake Arenal for a boat crossing(!) and then would be met by another driver for the trip up to Monteverde – the cloud forest. Once on the boat he told us that the boats always traveled on one side of the lake because the other side had “murder winds.” Also, that the road on the far side of the lake was unpaved for about 18 miles, so to consider it a complimentary Costa Rica chair massage. No joke! Unpaved, rocky, steep… you get the idea.

Transiting Lake Arenal enroute to Monteverde

Arriving at Hotel Poco a Poco, we knew we were in for another treat. If the Las Lagos was awesome, Poco a Poco was spectacular. A small and beautiful hotel with sustainable practices and a great restaurant surrounded by lovely amenities and a huge garden. Already we’re saying we could have spent a month at each of the hotels we’ve visited so far.

Garden entrance to our room
Mandy’s elevated studio

 

Pool area at Hotel Poco a Poco

Somewhere along the way we heard about a popular 3-in-1 tour in Monteverde. The Don Juan Plantation tour included coffee, cacao and sugar cane. We called from Poco a Poco and they said we would be picked up in 30 minutes!

The tour with Alex was very informative as he told us the entire process of growing to roasting coffee. We learned about the migrant workers who come each year from Nicaragua and were welcomed because Ticos no longer wanted to pick coffee. What a novel idea BUT no politics here. Actually, when I asked Alex about Costa Rica politics, he said, “I’m sorry that’s a different tour!!”

Beans are hand-picked – red beans only – from trees about 6-feet tall (tops are trimmed to keep them in reach). The beans are put into baskets with a leather strap that goes around the picker’s waist to free both hands. A full basket weighs about 20 kilos. When the picker turns in the basket, the beans are put into water. Unripe ones float and they don’t get paid for those. Alex walked us through the whole process including removing the outer layer, drying, putting into bags to age for a year, crushing to remove another layer, and ultimately roasting.

And then came my favorite part – chocolate! While the origin of roasting the coffee beans resulted from a fire in Ethiopia, no one knows how the cacao-to-chocolate process began. The cacao beans are fermented, roasted, cracked, crushed, ground into paste, conched (a device that mixes and mashes) and then tempered (heated, cooled, heated and cooled) multiple times. We were surprised to know these seeds only become chocolate when vanilla is added – it has nothing to do with sugar being added.

Moving on to sugar cane, when a frond appears at the top of the stalk, it is ready to harvest. The stalk grows about six 8″ segments in a few months. The segments lower to the ground are sweetest. We saw the juice extraction process and tasted fresh sugar cane juice mixed with lime (which is the only way you can drink it fresh because it starts to ferment immediately).

Day 5 Zipline and Suspension Bridges at Selvatura Park 

Next morning was our Canopy Tour at Selvatura Park, the only zipline built entirely within the cloud forest. The Canopy Tour features 13 cables (two of which must be ridden tandem to create enough weight to reach the long distance covered), including a 1-km cable, 15 platforms and one Tarzan Swing. There is a total of 2.2 miles of total cable length, and tons of uphill and downhill walking between ziplines. That portion of the tour lasted about 2-1/2 hours.

After a delicious lunch at the park restaurant, we met our guide, Jose, at the entrance to the suspension bridges path. He said, “Everybody goes this way. We are going to do it in reverse and you’ll see, nobody else goes that way.”

The Treetop Walkways Suspension Bridges Tour consists of 1.9 miles of trails with eight bridges of various lengths, ranging between 170 feet and 560 feet. Each bridge has a five-foot width and the largest capacity in Costa Rica of up to 80 people per bridge which make the treetop walkways at Selvatura Park not only the longest bridge system in Costa Rica but also the safest and strongest.

Jose was fun and informative. He said, “If the average year has 365 days, it rains here 500 and that’s because many days it rains more than once.” Fortunately for us, the weather couldn’t have been better: Warm, blue skies, beautiful clouds. When we were riding the zipline, we could see hikers on the suspension bridges. Now we were on the suspension bridges watching the zipliners.

Suspension Bridges at Selvatura Park
Watching Zipliners from the Suspension Bridges

Jose told us there were Quetzels (Resplendent Quetzel, Trogon family, found from Chiapas, Mexico to western Panama) in the park and that they are endangered. The reason is they eat wild avocados which are growing scarce due to climate change. We were fortunate enough to see some Quetzels, but they were difficult to spot because their primary color is green in a huge forest of green colors. On the other hand, it was very easy to see the wild avocados because their leaves have a brown tint. Another 2-1/2 hours very well-spent! We were tired and ready to go back to the hotel, but there were other attractions we could have seen, an art gallery, butterfly and hummingbird gardens and a reptile exhibit.

Quetzels are as many colors of green as the trees

Day 6 Manual Antonio National Park

The following morning we were picked up to make our way down the mountains to Manual Antonio, a National Park on the Pacific side, in Quepos. Here we were in a van, trying to pass a van, when a third van passed on the left of a very narrow road. Be advised. Ha!

Along the way, we visited the “Crocodile Bridge” over the Rio Tarcoles. Which are logs and which are crocs? We were not about to find out.

Crocodile Bridge
Costa Rica-Crocodile Bridge

Hotel Plaza Yara, a beautiful hotel and gallery, backs up to Manual Antonio National Park. Sadly, we were only there for one night. We would have liked to stay longer.

In the pool area, we saw a orange iguana, and a blue rope that ran from behind the hotel, over the busy street to the other side – the monkey highway! 

Hotel Plaza Yara, Quepos
Iguana at Plaza Yara Hotel

Day 7 Catamaran Tour and return to San Jose

The catamaran tour was one of our favorite days. Still working on story and photos – check back soon!

We spent our final night at the Adventure Inn near the international airport in San Jose. It was the perfect conclusion to the trip – unique and totally charming – and it made us miss Costa Rica even before we left!

 

In a nutshell… 7 Days is not nearly enough!

La familia que adora viajar!

Random observations, sweet memories:

  • The living fences. Everywhere living fences were planted and could range in size from flowering plants, bushes, even trees. Gorgeous!
  • How many ways can you fry a banana?
  • There was no litter. I don’t know where it went, but seriously, no litter.
  • Costa Rica is about the size of West Virginia. There are five million people (including about 50,000 U.S. citizens – a 67% increase since 2002). San Jose has a population of about 400,000.

Notes in case you go:

  • You can use dollars (often credit or debit cards) most everywhere. If you pay in dollars, you may get colones (or a combination) in change. Breaking bills for change can be difficult but you can often do it at point of purchase. In future, for a week, I would bring $50 in ones, and $50 in fives.
  • Breakfast was included at every hotel – great convenience.
  • The dry season, considered summer by Costa Ricans, is from mid-November to April. Flying insects are rare.
  • Private vans with drivers are certainly not required but such a blessing on a short trip like this. The drivers didn’t speak much English (and it was okay since Mandy’s Spanish is SO much better than mine), but were friendly and fun and went out of their way to assure our comfort. Anywhere Travel offers wifi hotspots in their vehicles (and they usually worked).
  • Speaking of wifi specifically and technology in general, wifi was excellent almost everywhere we visited. It was everywhere. Additionally, our cell service is provider is Verizon. We use TravelPass when we are out of the country. It’s a great service costing $10 per day if you use it and it provides the same level of talk, text and data you would have at home.
  • Speaking in Spanish is always appreciated.
  • Water, fruit, and vegetables are all safe to consume. The only tummy trouble I had was the day after eating a cheese quesadilla for lunch. Absolutely delicious but there was a lot of cheese and I don’t normally eat it. Short term effect, not terrible.
  • There are two international airports, San Jose (SJO) and Libera (LIR).
  • Last but not least, don’t forget that the toilet paper ALWAYS goes in the trash bin, never flush.

 

Alfonso didn’t let us down. We often heard six languages at breakfast. This trip could not have been better. And something else happened… Costa Rica moves off the list. Brazil next week. Alaska next year. But… the process evolves and now we are very sure we should be making one of these “once-in-a-lifetime” trips every year.

Leave a comment and tell me about travels on your bucket list.

Pura Vida!

 

 

Summer in Oregon

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My first thought spending summer in Oregon will always be berries, berries, berries! From July we have picked almost everywhere we’ve visited. Fish always, and now berries – D.A. is calling us Subsistence RVers. Way to go!

Last winter near Lake Havasu we had the conversation about the probability that we were not getting any younger or healthier, and what was still on the list for us. For me it was seeing Costa Rica and Alaska. For D.A. it was Peacock Bass Fishing in the Amazon. We decided to see those places… soon.

In past summers we have volunteered at state parks, Corps of Engineers parks, National Wildlife Refuges and Habitat for Humanity. We had the idea it would be great to let an employer help us with our upcoming travel expenses. We were already aware of camphosting jobs at Portland General Electric campgrounds through our Workamper membership, so I sent off an email asking them to put us on the list for the summer.

I won’t bore you with the details, the story is here, and while the relationship only lasted three months, we had the opportunity to see a lot of Oregon — Mount Hood, Timberline Lodge, Hood River, the Columbia River  Discovery Center. Where we were – near Madras – was great too, just east of the Cascades in the high desert. We spent days off at the Museum at Warm Springs, and in Bend, and all the gorgeous places surrounding it: Sisters, Camp Sherman and the headwaters of the Metolius River, Cascades Lakes Highway, McKenzie Pass and the Dee Wright Observatory.

We were awaiting new eyeglasses at Costco in Bend when we decided to leave PGE, so we needed to stay in the Bend area a short time to take delivery on the glasses. I found a campground through our Coast to Coast membership, and it turned out to be quite an interesting experience. Sundance Meadows is about six miles from Bend. Our stay was free with our C2C membership, and I’m not sure we would have stayed if not for that fact. There was electricity and water to the sites, but no sewer. The sites for visitors (as compared to “owners”) were quite unlevel. As full-timers, our RV is our home, and just like “home” we like full hook-up, level sites. Nonetheless, once I went wandering the property, rustic as it was, I fell in love with the great opportunities for walking. The property was originally developed in the 1970s as a ranch and year-round vacation spot for families.

From there we moved south to Timber Valley SKP, an Escapee park, in Sutherlin, OR. Having been members of Escapees almost since our RVing departure from Tucson, this is the first SKP park we’ve visited.

The Escapee parking system provides a very comprehensive resource with 18 Escapee parks from Washington State to Florida plus a partnership with over 800 commercial RV parks that offer a 15 to 50 percent discount.

I’ve only heard great things about Escapee parks, now I have experienced one. I agree. This would be a lovely place to live (or even spend your summers, though lots of residents stay year around). Timber Valley SKP is a co-op. When owners leave for whatever reason, they can leave their spots empty for casual visitors (like us) to use. In return, the rental pot is split at some point and the owners get a proportional reduction on their annual fees. There is a waiting list to own a lot – about five to eight years. You give them a deposit and they save your space on the list.

For Boondockers looking for a lovely place to park, Timber Valley let’s you park along the boundary of the property – all well-marked spots (about 15 of them), that you can have for $5 a night! What a bargain!! I assume this happens at other Escapee parks also – it wouldn’t take long to recoup your membership cost.

We stayed a month for about $400, made the trip to Astoria and another to Lopez Island in the San Juan Islands with friends from Seattle. D.A. found a great place to fish, Cooper Creek Reservoir, which just happened to have a great hiking path for you know who.

We had two goals coming to Oregon. D.A. wanted to fish for salmon on the Columbia, and I wanted to visit Crater Lake NP. While at PGE, I made reservations for two nights at the end of August at Crater Lake National Park.

As everybody in the West knows, there have been a lot of fires this summer.  Everywhere we went we had smoke to contend with – never terrible but always present. When we joined our friends from Seattle for a few days on Lopez Island in the San Juans, it was really smokey. We kept hoping for minimum smoke for our trip to Crater Lake.

We took that gorgeous Umpqua River Road with all the waterfalls and visited a few each way. It was a glorious day and a friend had suggested we see Diamond Lake. It turned out Diamond Lake would be a perfect lunch spot, but, sadly, by the time we arrived, there was a lot of smoke. The waiter said it was simply a fact of life at the lake in the summer now…

Our first view of Crater Lake was smokey yet FANTASTIC! We had two very full days including the boat tour that comes with a hike described by the ranger on our boat, “One mile down, ten back up.” On the third morning, we awoke, had breakfast, walked to the rim and no smoke! Post card perfect viewing for our rim tour.

Thank you, Oregon. Another summer has passed and just like we felt leaving Maryland, Maine, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin (and a few others). We could spend every summer here!

 

 

Columbia River Salmon Fishing

I awoke suddenly and glanced at the fluorescent face on my wrist watch.  It shines back 4AM.  I bolt out of bed as my alarm was set for 3:45AM.  I feel an urgency as I click on the lamp.

 I am going salmon fishing on the Columbia River!

I draw back the curtains and check the weather conditions.  By the lights of a nearby marina, I can see that it is foggy and drizzling.  I nod in acknowledgement that this is the Oregon coast and that I am in Astoria.  I search for my rain pants!

With a scheduled meeting time at 4:45AM with my fishing guide at his marina, I hurry and complete the packing of my day pack.  I feel excited as this is the second day of the opening of the Chinook Salmon fishing season.

Chinook or King Salmon are the largest of the salmon Species.  They are highly priced for their mild flavor and of course, their size gives them the ability to put up a tremendous fight.  They are a great sport fish!

As I drive to the guide’s boats mooring spot, I run through the information I had obtained from other fishing guides who I had queried the night before as to the quality of the fishing.  I knew that for the entire month of July, fishing for any type of Salmon was closed.  The closure was by the Oregon Fish & Game department as a measure to limit the fish caught and protect the fishery. So, when the sportfishing fishing resumed on August 1st, not a lot of information on fishing quality was available.  The general report from the first day’s catch was that the nearby Ocean was good, but fishing in the Columbia was “slow.”

Graveyard of the Pacific

Not everyone knows about the Columbia Bar at the entrance of the river into the Northern Pacific waters is the most dangerous area on the entire U.S. coastline.  It is called the “Graveyard of the Pacific.” More than 2000 boats have sunk trying to navigate the rough waters where the Columbia River meets the Pacific.

The Columbia is the fourth largest river in the U.S.  When its four-mile-wide waters meet the prevailing winds and higher tides of the Pacific Ocean, waves up to 40 feet are often common and extremely dangerous for even large ships and boats.  I sigh in relief as I know my guide does not chose to navigate the “Bar,” and only fishes the river!

My guide is youthful and bustles around his covered Hewes Boat prepping it for the day’s fishing.  Almost immediately, he says the fishing is slow but reports from yesterday confirm that one area is producing some catches. He validates that we will be fishing in that area and “hopes” we will find some.  I comment that I am a very “lucky” kind of fisherman and have total confidence that we will catch one.

The journey out to the fishing area is uneventful as his 22-foot Hewes river boat handles the waves into a comfortable ride. I am appreciative of the boat’s cover as it has continued to rain lightly.  We arrive at the fishing area with the brightening sky, a fair wave chop on the water and about ten other boats in the area.  My guide, Dan, relates to me that this area will have 100 boats on it as the day progresses.  I state that I guess “We need to catch our fish early and get out of that potential mess!”

Dan finishes rigging two line-counter Shimano reels mounted on two eight foot Ugly Stick trolling rods with a trolling Chartreuse flasher tipped with a cut Herring bait fish.  The idea was to have the Herring bait revolve in a wide circular motion behind the flasher.  We set the line counter down to 18 feet and begin trolling.

The waves begin to increase, and as more and more boats arrive the waters begins to resemble those in a washing machine.  I continue to monitor the trolling rod’s tip as the flasher continues to wobble just above the bottom of the river.

Suddenly, the rod bows and the drag on the reel begins to scream.

I knew by experience this was a fish.  I grab the rod and begin to slowly reel.  The fish surges again and again protesting the restraint of the line and rod.  I let the fish continue his runs and only reel when he is not pulling line off the reel.  I see the fish surface approximately 25 feet to the right of the boat.

Dan offers advice on how he wants me to guide the fish when it gets close enough for him to net.  I follow his orders and he makes a stab at netting the Salmon.  The Salmon sees the boat and the net and responds with a strong run away from the boat! I pray the barbless hooks remain embedded as these last-minute runs by powerful fish often result in lost fish.  I concentrate in maintaining a tight line and for the first time see the Salmon’s size.  I catch my breath and re-double my efforts to bring the fish to the net.

The Salmon is swimming closer and closer to the side of the boat.  I step backwards on the boat’s decking and the net flashes down. With a swift movement, Dan turns the net’s handle and traps the fish within it riggings.  He lifts the Salmon over the gunnel and drops the load onto the boat’s decking.  For the first time, we see the total size.

I announce, “That is a big fish! Is that a Chinook?”  Dan replies, “Yeah, that is a Chinook and a really big one at that! At least 25 pounds!” We high-five as we hoot-out our excitement!

The limit for Salmon during the Summer Chinook run is one adult fish per angler per day.  We are limited out in ten minutes of fishing!

Out of the forty boats that have shown-up in the area, we see no other fish caught.  On the way back to the marina, Dan acknowledges my luck.  I also acknowledge it and quietly, under my breath, state my gratefulness to the providing Universe!

Camp Hosting for Portland General Electric -PGE- at Pelton Park

From High and happy expectations to “how soon can we get outta here?!”

We expected to be camp hosting for Portland General Electric at Pelton Park until September 30, but left at the end of July due to issues mostly beyond our control.

We learned of the opportunities at PGE parks through Workamper, and sent off an email of interest last fall. We were told to register at PGE/Careers as Seasonal Park Attendants. I looked at workamper reviews of working at PGE and they were all positive. Great!

Sometime over that fall-winter stay at Havasu Springs, we had the conversation: “We’re probably not getting any younger. We’re probably not getting any healthier. Are there some things we still want to do?” For D.A. it was peacock bass fishing in the Amazon. For me it was a trip to Costa Rica and also a trip to Alaska. It got us thinking… Why not find out if PGE wanted to help us pay for it?

Sure enough, we were notified about open positions and applied. By the beginning of this year, we were pretty sure we would be offered a camp hosting position. Most of these seasonal jobs pay about $14.50 an hour (which is, as you may know, quite high for the industry). They like couples. The woman works in the office and the man in maintenance, though I think they might be open to other arrangements, and one of the three couples on our team both worked maintenance. Often they pick two couples and a solo.

In spite of our confidence, the obstacles to getting hired by PGE were daunting. They sent us to a local clinic for a drug test and physical. We complied with all instructions and after a long wait were informed they were unable to do all the tests PGE required. Actually they did none of them except the drug test. PGE said they would find another clinic to do the rest of the testing. Lake Havasu City is a town of about 70K, so we were surprised they couldn’t find another clinic nearby. They wanted us to go to Phoenix or Yuma – both more than two hour drives from us. We finally got them to agree to find us a clinic in Las Vegas – which we could visit on our way to Oregon.

During all this, my urine test result came back as inconclusive, so I needed to return to the original lab and take the test again with an audience. Ha! After the process the lab told me PGE was looking for Methadone. Methadone!?! I don’t think so. Needless to say, I passed the second test.

The actual physical turned out to be the most comprehensive I’ve ever had: hearing, eyesight, peeing in a cup, toe touching, squats – you name it. We did it all successfully, but it was a little daunting and the whole time I was thinking, “What could possibly be next?”

On arrival in Oregon at Pelton Park, we were put in a brand new camp host site. It was the first site you would see when you drove into the park, so it seemed a big benefit for PGE. They assured us they were aware it needed a lot of work, that they would level the site and bring a picnic table. Neither happened. The water service had been run from another camp host site and they had placed three hoses inside PVC pipe.  One of the hose connections leaked continuously. It ran down the pipe and eroded the area around the electric pedestal! We brought it to their attention. It was never fixed.  We discovered we had no cell service or wifi. Satellite TV was almost impossible, with no local channels. The worst of all though is we were parked under three huge trees that shed an unbelievable amount of biomass every day. It covered our truck, chairs, awning, screened room and of course RV. We couldn’t help but track it into the RV.

After more than a month in a bad situation, we had a potluck get-together for all the local staff. A long-time PGE employee who is host at a nearby day use area said, “You haven’t seen anything yet. Wait until the sap starts seeping from those trees!”

I told our supervisor we needed to move. NOW! There was another host site in the park, but while much better for us, it took away the advantage of having a second host near the entrance to the park for PGE. We really didn’t care. We moved.

in the meantime, the writing was on the wall but we failed to comprehend it.

I trained and learned the reservation system. The computer was mostly fine, but the wifi speed was dial-up, and the delay in accomplishing a reservation could be disheartening. Also, you could get caught in a loop and some transactions and the system would freeze, so you could do nothing until you shut down and rebooted the computer! The phone was just as bad. We had two lines. The “regular” line for reservations and park business and the other was an “emergency” line for PGE brass and local authorities to contact us.  Many mornings (and throughout the day) when you tried to make a call, the regular line would be dead and you’d have to call its number from the emergency line to restart it!

D.A. had been learning the maintenance duties. He soon noticed a problem with the toilet plumbing – the toilet apertures were so small that when the park was full and there were many people using the toilets, they would clog – maybe 12 times a shift! So, on busy weekends, the crew spent their time driving their Gators between the four bathrooms clearing clogs – no time for any of their other routine duties. We complained, guests complained, but we were told the situation would be considered “off season.” Eventually, management told staff to “do their jobs” and later offered a $25 Amazon Gift Certificate to the crew member who cleared the most clogs! It wasn’t very well received by staff. Nobody applied for the prize.

These issues were compounding daily, with no solutions offered, when our supervisor made a totally inappropriate comment about another crew member. At first I was so mad I couldn’t speak, but eventually took an opportunity to discuss it with him. With one careless and thoughtless statement, I lost all confidence in his abilities and I surely didn’t want to be around someone who thought so little of his staff.

One particularly hot Sunday (Pelton Park is located in Oregon’s high desert east of the Cascades), guests starting arriving at ten in the morning. Check in time was four p.m. We had one guy working, D.A., and he hadn’t even begun cleaning sites by 10 a.m.; he was too busy unclogging toilets! The incoming guests were indignant. They were hot and wanted to unload into their sites before it got hotter. I asked them to return about one p.m., still three hours before actual check-in time. It didn’t matter. They were mad at me, they were mad at D.A., and they were mad at PGE for not having enough staff to accommodate their arrival six hours ahead of schedule. We’re not talking one guest, we’re talking six or eight of them – all furious!

That wasn’t the beginning of the end… It was the end of the end: bad management, woefully inadequate infrastructure, management that never followed through with anything they said, not to mention the significant health hazard presented by all those clogged toilets. We gave notice.

The manager of our supervisor told us there were other staffing opportunities they would like us to consider because they didn’t want to lose us. We said, “No, thank you,” and then we summarized it all – pretty much as I have above. In our remaining days, we never heard another peep out of Corporate.

Would we try it again? The wage is attractive. The reality is not. No. But guess what? The trip to Costa Rica is booked, and from there we go to the Amazon!

 

Havasu Springs, near Lake Havasu City, is our Winter Home

It’s kind of an oxymoron, the words Winter and Arizona

Jude and I always say, “We can be anywhere in the summer, but Arizona is where we spend our Winters.” It is funny to call the season winter when you are blessed with a constant everyday repeat of sunshine, mild temperatures, and gentle winds.  When you check the national weather, it is not hard to see how fortunate we are living in on the shores of the blue green waters of Lake Havasu!

While weather draws us to the Arizona/California state line on the Colorado River, it is not the only positive that exists here.  The Sonoran and the Mohave deserts jostle for territory here.  The Mohave is the driest desert and the Sonoran is the wettest.  The Sonoran desert’s trademark of the Saguaro cactus is scattered here due to encroaching dryness of the Mohave. Throw in towering nameless Basalt thousand-foot rock cliffs that rise directly from the lake’s edge, and the jagged Needle Mountains that create a dark saw blade silhouette against violet blue sky. This place is often beyond words with its stunning beauty!

The Friends of Bill Williams River and Havasu NWRs

Punctuating the beauty along the Colorado River are two National Wildlife Refuges: the Bill Williams River and Havasu.  They are a mere 30 miles apart and offer a wild variety of outdoor opportunities including kayaking, bird watching, photography, and fishing.  But almost as important to us is that these NWRs usually have groups of individuals who form together and support the refuges in ways that the refuges cannot do themselves.  These individuals are a source of community for us.  Early on in our travels, we found that just visiting beautiful places was not enough for us.  We needed the company of other like-minded people who exhibited the same appreciation of these places and would do anything to protect them. We gratefully joined the two refuge’s friends group.

So, beauty and community helped us choose the Lake Havasu, but there is something else: the importance of fishing to us choosing any destination.  Our choice for our winter destination is no different!

I don’t often write much about fishing in our Nomad Travels, but it is one of the most important considerations in us choosing both our summer and winter destinations. The reason fishing is not logged as it is difficult to project what fishing is all about in our travel destinations. When you mention fishing to some individuals, they conjure up a vision of someone sitting on a water’s edge in a lounge chair drinking beer while chewing tobacco. It is one of the most misunderstood sports around!

I have fished all my life ever since I was young enough to follow behind my mother.  Usually little boys are taught fishing by their father, but it was my mother who instilled my love for fishing.  As I matured, I developed a solid mastery of fishing that in no way resembled an over-weight person in a lounge chair.  I was always willing to expand that mastery and that led to being around other fisherman whose expertise was easily transferrable. I was the sponge!

Now I am a multi-species fisherman and enjoy the challenges fishing different waters in our travels.  Each destination holds specific variances and discovering those little differences is exciting for me. Along with these variances is that different species have separate angling approaches. Over the years I have learned these approaches and become proficient in their applications. This sets me apart from most other fisherman who often usually concentrate on single species. Between the Stripers, Bass, Red Ear, and the occasional Flathead Catfish present in Lake Havasu, it is not uncommon for me to come in after a day of fishing with a catch bag of these species.

60 Minutes gave us a head’s up

When Jude and I left on our RV journey, we happened to watch an episode on 60 Minutes that featured some alarming information about the fish for sale in supermarkets. It reported that almost 60 percent of all fish sold in those national grocery chains were fillets that were mis-labeled.  This percentage was due to the long supply chains associated with fish suppliers who substituted like-tasting cuts and sold them as the more expensive cuts.  This percentage increased to 80 percent in smaller grocery outlets.

After years of being a catch-and-release fisherman, I turned to Jude and announced, “I know what species I catch!” From that moment on, I moved forward from catch-and-release to a subsistence fisherman! Oh sure, I catch and release sometimes, but that usually means the freezer is already full.

Fish live in beautiful places

Therefore, we choose our summer destinations with the idea that my love of fishing can produce meals of excellent nutrition for us. These are healthy additions to our diet, but also a filter for all Nomad Travel destinations.  Fish live in beautiful places! Lake Havasu is beautiful!  Its crystal- clear waters are a famed fishery for species including Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass, Striped Bass, and a world class Red Ear population. Warm temperatures, sun-filled days, community and beauty cement our choice for our winter destination.

FINALLY, We Will Summer at Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge

Jude and I have spent a leisurely winter in Lake Havasu.  One of the reasons we go to the “blue green” Colorado River impoundment is the benign weather plus it is a really beautiful. It is close to several National Wildlife Refuges.  We love volunteering for the Bill Williams and Havasu Wildlife Refuges.  That involvement with other people who love doing things for beautiful places has really influenced us.  In fact it has led to this summer’s destination.

Threes years ago in 2013, we were nomad traveling through Minnesota, we happened upon a NWR named Tamarac. It was a natural jewel!  Just driving around this refuge and seeing the Loons, Bald Eagles, and its most famous residents, the Trumpeter Swans were enough for us to send off a volunteer application. We waited anxiously!

We were accepted!  Wow, were we excited and then we got the phone call that started a nearly two year quest to keep Jude’s youngest son Chance on the face of the planet.  He was diagnosed with Glioblastoma which is the most aggressive type of brain cancer. We realized our caretaking duties and called Tamarac to cancel our volunteering commitment.

Chance graduated to heaven on July 7th, 2016.  We began to pick up the pieces after his passing and our thoughts returned to Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge. Located on the western edge of Minnesota near the border with North Dakota, we contacted the Volunteer Coordinator and queried if the refuge remembered us.  They did!  They would love to offer us a position at the refuge. We accepted and were so excited!

After a few times across the U.S. in our travels, we were familiar with deciding the best most direct route complete with our favorite campgrounds along the way.  With our passage determined, we set out from Havasu and arrived in Tamarac May 9th. Our early arrival was timed to assist the Refuge staff with its spring bird festival.

Tamarac Wildlife refuge is famous for its populations of Warblers.  Hundreds of people attend these expert-led adventures into the secret world of Tamarac to not only to catch a glimpse of the thirty-five different Warblers, but the Wood Ducks, Scarlett Tanagers, and Baltimore Orioles.  In the first two weeks of being there, I took nearly 500 photos. That’s how spectacular this refuge is!

Tamarac NWR lies in the heart of one of the most diverse zones in North America.  Here the Eastern Deciduous hardwoods, the Northern Coniferous forests and the Western tall grass prairie all converge.  This convergence creates a rich assemblage of plants, animals and birds. The refuge is well known for its high numbers of Golden-Winged Warblers and its successful reintroduction of Trumpeter Swans.

The sheer numbers of birds was nothing short of magnificent. Equally, the numbers of wildflowers, Orchids, Whitetail deer, Porcupines, and other mammals were impressive.  To put it mildly, there was so much to focus upon (LOL)!  This area was beyond our expectations. We loved our opportunity to work and live here.  We felt so grateful!

As usual, there were some set-backs to the full-frontal nature in your face.  Nature has a few critters that are less inviting.  The Rocky Mountain Spotted Ticks were of biblical numbers.  It was creepy the numbers we found crawling on our clothing.  On our first day, Tamarac staff issued us a small pill bottle filled with Rubbing Alcohol and a pair of tweezers so that when we found ticks we would deposit them in the Tick Hotel” to kill them.  Around the first of July, their numbers declined but Jude and I had deposited over a hundred ticks apiece.  Yuk!

Following the Ticks was a mind-boggling number of Deer Flies.  Everywhere in the forests, you were buzzed by thirty to forty of these biting flies.  When working outside, we were adorned with head and body netting to keep their painful bites abetted. Walking place to place, we carried paperback books to wave around hoping to discourage them.

We had been warned to next expect mosquitos! With lakes, sloughs, and ponds everywhere, we believed the biting scourge of outdoors would descend in clouds, but no, they did not – they never showed up at all!  The colder summer temperatures curtailed their development. All of Eastern Minnesota celebrated!  And we joined in!

On our first summer of being full-time RVers, we traveled from campground to campground in fifteen states.  We found our sense of community was never established.  We would find very interesting people that we would love spend some time with, then either we had to leave the next day or they were leaving!  That summer moved us in the volunteering arena.  We felt that staying in a central place would allow us to develop a deeper sense of community.  We were right!

The staff of Tamarac welcomed us with open arms.  Our continued relationship just grew and grew. Soon they were telling places to visit and things to see not only in Tamarac but in the supporting lands.  Venturing out on their recommendations was an absolute joy. We worked four six hour days leaving us three and a half days a week for exploration.

Mia came for her annual visit, and we even traveled to Winnipeg and visited the Human Rights Museum.

The eight story museum was a slick modern monolith dedicated to record the history of human rights violations. Its continuing theme was equality and acceptance formed the higher road.  We visited each exhibit and were informed at each station the leaders who dedicated and even sacrificed their lives to attain that equality.  I would highly recommend this museum to everyone.

One of the most unique things about nearby areas exploration is the number of statues that are displayed.  It seems that every central town in an area would celebrate its claim to fame with a statue.  Around Tamarac were the world’s largest Turkey statue, Paul Bunyon and Babe his blue ox,a  giant Loon, the World Largest Bluegill or Smallmouth Bass and a fifty- foot Holstein Cow.  These were always announced with a huge sign that was almost equally impressive!

Our 24 hours a week became a blur of visitor services at the Visitor Center and mowing. Because of my experience of being a Trail Crew Foreman in Grand Teton National Park,  I was put in charge of developing a new trail around the refuge’s Discovery Center.

The Discovery Center was the refuge’s educational building. It was a half million dollar building gift from the Friends of Tamarac!  It was the epicenter for adults and children programs. I was privileged to enjoy a photographic wildflower excursion and a Dragonfly identification seminar. The center was well designed for formal classes coupled with guided field trips that would apply the material introduced to practical real-time applications. Both were very enjoyable!

A major part of the children’s programs was walking the surrounding trails around the center and experiencing the refuge first- hand. The trail needed a redesign.  It was the refuge’s hope that eventually the re-design would eventually morph into an American Disabilities Act trail.  That meant reducing steep grades, constructing rest areas, updating signage, and improving the functionality of the trail.  It was nice to bring a skill forward from my youth and build a new trail that would provide a pleasing experience for children and adults for a long time.  It was great to put my stamp on Tamarac that would remain for an extended amount of time!

The lakes and ponds around Tamarac were prolific with wild rice. It is the Americas only natural grain. It is remarkably nutritious and these lakes produced huge acres areas of this natural grain.  It is a staple of not only humans but countless birds. By Minnesota state law, the crop can only be harvested by the state’s Native Americas.  Here on Tamarac, the Ojibwa has the rights for harvest.  It was very interesting watching them gather the grain that they use the crop for their own nutrition and as a revenue crop.

They used narrow canoes and pushed them into the shallow waters with long poles.  The wild rice stalks are over three feet high and densely-spaced. Accessing the areas is very physical and difficult. Then, once the canoe enters the green-walled rice areas, a person in the middle of the boat bends the rice stalks inside the boats and beats the stalks to loosen the grains into the canoe’s bottom.

This is only part of the process.  Then they take the load and knead them to loosen the flax around the kernels. They then toss small amount into the air to separate the flax and then parch the kernels.  Here’s where the different types of wild rice are produced.

When you see packaged Wild Rice, it is either rather dark, almost black to light brown.  The darker variety is parched (dried) with propane heat while the lighter variety is parched with wood fires using cedar.  The gas parched wild rice requires longer cooking time while the lighter variety does not require so much energy.  We found the wood parched to be more flavorful.  Yum, Yum!

Rice gathering season is the beginning of the fall.  Already the Signet Trumpeter Swans are flying, and the Loon calls grow more haunting in the foggy colder morning mists!  The solid green canopies of the deciduous trees are punctuated with larger and larger areas of red, orange and yellows!  I call this the cusp of fall.  It is so beautiful and at the same time, sad.

We gather our belongings and pack them away.  Our volunteer time here at Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge is ending.  While it is sad that we are leaving, it is also exciting as our nomad travels are taking us to other roads and to a winter destination that we also love, Lake Havasu, Arizona.

The call of benign Winter temperatures, the contrast of the “blue-green waters” against the towering Basalt granite Colorado River mountains is truly a beautiful area.  I think of the Winter friends Jude and I will soon connect with; I think of the future angling experiences on Lake Havasu and my sadness turns to anticipation. I turn the key and start the key to the mother ship. We close our wonderful time here in Minnesota.  And once again, our departing emotion is gratitude.

 

 

Second Winter at Havasu Springs

Jude and I have spent the winter at Havasu Springs resort nestled on the southern end of Lake Havasu.  We arrived in early December fresh from our Amazon Camperforce adventure.  We welcomed the more benign temperature here in western Arizona.  It was a balmy 19 degrees when we left Campbellsville, KY.

After enduring the snow storms with our cross county trip, we welcome the 70 degree days and bring out our shorts.  There is somethings so comforting as to wearing shorts and t-shirts on Christmas day!

We settle in but it soon becomes apparent that this will not be a normal winter in Arizona.  The first clue is the amount of rain that comes in waves throughout January and February.  Normally the Sierra Nevada mountain ranges suck all the moisture out of the storms and leave very little for the Mohave Desert.  This year the Pacific storms overpower this barren and unleash their plentiful moisture on the steppes and mountains.  It is still warm but the desert southwest is not behaving as a desert but more like the Amazon rainforest.  We look at the radar when making plans.

With the increased precipitation, we are soon rewarded with an explosion of bloom.  The desert has what is called a Super Bloom.  This has not happened since 2006. It is so spectacular to see this phenomenon.  It is just another reminder that the nomad life has such unexpected rewards at time when you least expect it.  We are grateful and look for our plant identification books.

Havasu Springs is a resort of snow birds and golfers but they are also drawn to its shores because they like to fish.  I don’t talk too much about fishing, but I love fishing!

We’re Going to Work at Amazon

After 20 months in California, I fire the mothership’s V10 engine back to life. We have spent the last weeks severing the roots that just magically seem to appear when a nomadic life becomes more sedimentary in nature. It is just a reality that the stationary life style produces more possessions. An important step in reviving our nomadic life is the shedding of those anchors.  We lose weight and plot an eastward course.

Jude’s youngest son, Chance graduated to heaven in July.  It was a hard fought 20 months with alternative and standardized treatments but in the end, the seemingly alien cancerous life form in his left temporal lobe finally conquered his and those around him will to keep him on the face of the planet. Jude had waged an all-out assault with everyday commutes to his Oakland home, transportation to and from appointments, and placing him into spiritual development situations.  Our little HHR Chevy tow car has weathered nearly 80 thousand miles.  It was costly and depleted our nomad travel savings. We look for solutions.

When the spirit is willing, the universe will answer.  Suddenly, we became aware of an opportunity to help replenish our savings.  Everyone knows how Amazon dominates the online purchasing market, but we learned that they use RVers as a labor source for their holiday seasonal high demand periods. On investigation of their Camper Force program, we found it to be a perfect fit for us to help generate some savings recovery.  Amazon hires seasonally until December 24th. They are very appreciative for a labor force that is punctual, dedicated, and mobile to their site locations where they cannot fill their labor needs locally.  We apply. Since we are still able to walk and talk, we are hired on the spot!

We are going to Campbellsville, Kentucky. Looking at the map, we discover it is located directly in the heart of the state.  It is an hour and a half from both Lexington and Louisville and while near both metropolises, it is touted in the Amazon brochure as being rural.  We like the exploration opportunities as it nears many recreational areas and Mammoth National Park. We accept the employment offer and turn onto Interstate 40 for a 2200 mile trip.

Leaving California is a steady climb. It continues nearly through the entire area of Northern Arizona and New Mexico. Only when entering Oklahoma did Interstate 40 cease to be a steady uphill grind. Now the route features more and more farming fields edged by old growth Oak and Cottonwood trees still cloaked in their summer coats despite the late September time frame. The driving is easier and we enjoy the open landscape capped with soft billowing cumulus clouds.  We enjoy a magnificent sunset completely engulfed in soft pinks; purplish hews that frame the western deep red and oranges of the retiring sun. We surrender to the beauty.

The openness of Oklahoma disappears into the tree-lined highways of Arkansas and Tennessee.  It is similar to byways of New England, only the names of the trees have changed.  Farmlands only become a glimpse and a brief opening to the lands that lay beyond the walled Interstate.  We travel on seeking our Amazon adventure.

We arrive in Campbellsville, Kentucky.  It is connected to the outside world by curved winding highways that pass through the foothills adjacent to sporadic outcroppings of the Ozarks Mountains. The small town is spread-out over the landscape with its main commercial area separate from the older red brick downtown buildings.  Its supportive residents are tucked back away from the town’s byways almost out of sight.

Their homes are a mixture of columned porches with similar downtown brick construction to aluminum sided homes or just wood.   One thing they all have in common is the lawns surrounding these homes are all mowed. Throw in the white rail fencing and it gives the whole community a sense of a Thomas Kincaid portrait.  Mixed in that portrait are a noticeable number of churches.

They range from minuscule one room cabin types to multi-storied large red brick structures. Although different is size but they all flourished white steeples and adjacent graveyards. This is the first time in our travels that we have noticed that churches having graveyards surrounding them.  In our western American experience, graveyards are distinctly separate from any church dominion.  Viewing these, visions of “Eleanor Rigby” and Father Mackenzie leap to mind!

There are a number of Baptist churches but they proudly shout their names as “Primitive, Separate, or First” and I silently wonder the difference besides the size of the graveyard or the parking lot supporting them. Regardless, the local paper has a whole page dedicated to their respective times of functions and services. I conclude we are immersed within the Kentucky contingent of the “Bible Belt.”

Exploring the surrounding country, it is easy to know when you approach a different community.  All are distinguished by their hundred foot towers that are the heart and soul of the communities’ water system.  Each water tank has the name of the city in a fifty foot font and some even have their individual high school mascot emblazoned on them.  You can see them on the Kentucky skyline miles away. Kentuckians have a heightened pitch southern accent and are very friendly. They wear an equal number of supportive jerseys, hats and shirts pledging their allegiances to the Universities of Kentucky Wildcats or Louisville Cardinals.  Most loudly tout their support to their favorite university and while they love all sports their university initiates, make no mistake; this is basketball country. Both universities produce National Champions and have Hall of Fame Coaches!

Our first look at the Amazon Fulfillment Center does not impress. It appeared modest is size when viewed from the front.  Even the cars parked in the newly asphalted parking lot seem few in number.  I was wondering what was beyond the front door and how this modest building was a superstar with the online giant.  We park the mothership at the Heartland RV campground that is located across the street from the fulfillment center. We are anxious making the short walk to the front door. We open the door and step inside to our Amazon adventure!

This is not a modest building.  It is actually four buildings. They are four stories high with giant circulating fans with blades as long as our RV in constant motion.  It has docks where the trucks come in, receiving lines where the items are coded and robotic trains which ferry coded merchandise to the different floors where it is scanned and put in bins.  Pickers then come and take the coded item when it sells, place it on one of conveyers and it travels to the place where the item is packaged and sent to outbound trucks.  The conveyers themselves are 12 miles long and there are 12 million items stored in the warehouse bins! It takes a full 10-12 minutes of brisk walking to cover the warehouse from end to end.  This is a major industrial operation.

After a day of orientation, we are assigned to stow positions. We will join an already constructed stow team.  They are the ones who take the received coded merchandise and place in cardboard bins. This fulfillment center is 70% apparel with the rest being called “Tech” but actually consists of everything else from baking pans, Oakley sunglasses and Wrestling Mania action figures.

We will work evenings from 5pm to 3:30 am. Our four work days are 10 hours from Sunday through Wednesday and we will receive $11.50 per hour each. There is ample demand for extra work which will pay time and a half.  Our season will be from September through peak ordering time of Black Friday to Christmas Eve.  We will also receive a dollar bonus for every hour we work after we complete the season.  They also pay our parking space at the campground.  We happily sign the dotted line.

We undergo a shortened week of training and what they call “hardening.”  This refers to conditioning the legs and feet to the constant exposure of working on their concrete floors.  We are told that our positions can expect to walk six to eight miles a day. This means Amazon has become our personal fitness trainer for the coming months.

Anticipating this ordeal, Jude and I have purchased a full body massage pad for a zero-gravity chair we already own, then partnered it with an Isqueeze machine that treats the lower calf and feet. We are silently confident that these mechanical massage additions will help us weather the difficult hardening process.  After a few weeks of daily exposure to the concrete and our massage partners, we know we made a great choice and are extremely happy with the ease our bodies adapt! We walk with ease and recover quickly!

As the weeks go by, we began to understand the sheer magnitude of physical exertion that the position entails.  Often we are required to lift heavy boxes.  There is a 49-pound weight lifting limit, but many boxes are 48 pounds.  This with the additional breaking down boxes and the constant repetition of scanning and stowing items, we are exhausted at the end of every shift.  I make a mental note that I have not worked so hard since I was a beer distributor, but that was when I was a lot younger.  We really understand why these positions are hard to fill from the local labor pool.

The Campbellsville Amazon Fulfillment center is basically new and as we approach the peak seasons of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, it becomes really apparent that the center is not receiving their anticipated order levels. That meant they had a labor force that was far beyond the work they had.  The stowing team was asked to take voluntary time off.  Then suddenly they asked if any CamperForce Members would like to end their season early and still receive their season-end bonus.  Faced with decreasing cold temperatures from Polar air masses sliding into the mid-west states, we jumped at a chance to make the trip back to Arizona and the promise of more benign temperatures.

We leave Campbellsville, Kentucky in early December and slide into Tennessee all against a backdrop leaf-stripped trees stretching towards cold gray skies.  It looked like scenes straight out of a Tim Burton Halloween movie. Our course is not the more northerly Interstate 40 but a longer more southern sojourn across I-10 hoping to avoid any approaching cold fronts. This means a total traverse across Texas rather than a glancing trip across the panhandle.

We burst on the Texas spaciousness with the similar confidence MacArthur had when he waded ashore in the Philippines.  The mothership with its V-10 engine is cruising seemingly without effort but I see we are headed directly into threatening lowering clouds.

Our luck runs out near Big Springs, Texas and we run into a four letter world most RVers cringe to experience. SNOW!  And when that is accompanied with its evil twin sisters, Cold and Windy, I turn up the defroster, nestle into truck conveys and push on towards El Paso.

Texas coats their roads with chemicals that slow the icing of the highways.  It also provides a sticky coating on both our tow vehicle and the Mother ship.  When we burst into the sunshine near Las Cruces, we look like two dirt clods moving steadily back to Arizona!

After a nine hundred mile Texas, we make short work of New Mexico and enter Arizona.  Its welcoming signs fill us with a sense of accomplishment.  It holds the promise of re-acquainting ourselves with friends and a long well deserved rest in beautiful Lake Havasu.

On the way to our lakeside resort, we receive word from Tamarac Wildlife Refuge that we are accepted to become their volunteers for the upcoming summer season.  We see wonderful adventures ahead.

Holidays of the Highest Highs and the Lowest Lows

The days shorten and it is different with the move back from Mountain Daylight time.  It is now dark at 5:00 pm.  As Thanksgiving approaches, Jude and I are grateful that Chance has survived for over a year.  Ninety percent of people diagnosed with Glioblastoma do not survive a year – nine to 11 months is the usual prognosis.  We are grateful for living in a beautiful wilderness and still being able to be a major support of Chance’s treatment.  We are grateful for our all of our friends and their support during a difficult time.  We are grateful for our health.

Chance has long wanted to spend Christmas in Lake Tahoe.  We make plans to rent a house and gather friends and family to celebrate this family holiday.  Jude and I look forward to a new year.  We are as committed to this survival battle as we were on the first day of hearing the diagnosis. Chance is alive!

Jude and I do not know the outcome of this battle nor do we know the course of our nomad travels.  One thing for certain is that our lifestyle has led on a journey that was never dreamed of three years ago when we started up the mothership and headed out on the highway. Even though our well thought out plans of visiting Minnesota went array, we were totally blessed for our 2015 nomadic travels.

Hard as it is to admit, it is apparent that the tumor continues to grow.  Nothing seems to slow the steady progression in its size. Last September we learned Chance was not a candidate for further surgery because of the location of the tumor – too close to his language and memory functions, meaning the result of surgery could be worse than no surgery. The handwriting was on the wall. We could not bear to read it.

Chance had long promised his daughter he would take her to Hawaii. The plans came together and they traveled in early April.

Brain tumor patients live in segments between MRIs. For Chance that was every 90 days, then every 60 days, then every 30 days. It was difficult in May of 2016 when the neuro oncologist starts speaking of making plans for hospice.  I am not sure of what to expect, but I know it is concerning to watch Chance lose physical dexterity, the vision in his right eye, and being able to form sentences.  I worry and lean heavily on Jude.  She is the rock and offers insights to the future. My anxiety is calmed.

Chance walked 10,000 steps a day.  That was his daily goal.  Even as his right leg started to drag and he tripped often, he picked himself up and continued to march along.  He continued with this until the a few days before he graduated to heaven.  His determination was so inspiring!

When Jude’s mother passed away in October of 2012, the last six days she hardly spoke a word to Jude and me except to mumble “Thank You” to us or her hospice caretakers when we made efforts to make her comfortable.  Her gratitude never wavered.

Chance’s passing in July 2016 left me another admirable trait.  Gratefulness to the end plus quiet strong determination in achieving his goals has enriched my life.  Thank You, both!  You are physically absent now but these traits will live on forever in me!

Summer on the Delta

I always think that Jude’s and my positive attitude leads to positive results.  We needed a place to stay that had total “reachability” by phone AND internet.  We put out our need and found a local rancher near Rio Vista that needed a caretaker for his animals while he traveled.  He offered a free place to stay for return to care for his two horses, one dog, three cats and light landscape maintenance duties.  We visited the couple and accepted their position.

This gives Jude and I closer access to Chance and his appointment needs and care.  It is also close to the Sacramento River/San Joaquin River Delta.  This area is called “The Delta” and is one of the best fishing destinations in the United States. It is a thousand mile wilderness complete with countless Blue Heron, Great Egrets, Mink, Beaver, and Sea Lions and River Otters. I clean my camera’s lens and organize my tackle with anticipation.

It is hard to conceptualize that California is in a drought when you live on the Sacramento/San Joaquin River Delta. The River confluence is wide and mighty as it flows into the San Francisco Bay.  It is a beautiful wild wilderness that is separated from the urban sprawl by thousands of miles of levees, sloughs, and side channels. Its irrigation water supports millions of acres of seed corn, alfalfa, wine grapes and strawberries. When all of California is brown and dry, this area is alive and a vibrant emerald green.

Over the next few months, we perform daily feeding of the horses and cats and some light watering of trees and lawns. Of course, when you water, you have to mow but it is a small lawn.  It is actually the very first lawn I have ever mowed.  Also, I am in charge of horse shit, dog and cat shit, but I am blessed for not having to deal with any bull shit!

As soon as the diagnosis was given last fall, Jude set off on a determined effort to research Glioblastoma and what survivors were doing to treat their own specific tumors.  She quickly discovered that if patients strictly follow their Oncologist’s “gold standard” care protocol that feature surgery, Temador chemotherapy and targeted radiation, it is a death sentence!  She finds that long-term survival depends on the patient formulating a supplement regiment that has tumor suppressing properties that can partner with standard care to aid in Glioblastoma cancer survival.

Not only does Jude find direction with regards to the administering of a specific “Drug Cocktail” she find support from medical researchers who have concentrated on brain cancer.  With their support and direction, Jude formulates a supplemental regiment cocktail to aid Chance’s battle with Glioblastoma brain cancer. With unrelenting focus, Jude finds a research- based path and a plan of attack that is not merely grasping at straws but designed by renowned knowledgeable medical individuals who help Jude design that specific cocktail that focuses its aggregate properties towards tumor suppression. There is nothing more intense than a mother’s research to save her child.  I am in awe!

Chemotherapy sucks! That is the only thing that can be said about that standardized cancer treatment.  I have always struggled with the concept that you have to get terribly ill in order to get better.  It just seems illogical.

Chance is one tough individual.  He absorbs the chemotherapy punishment with grace partnered with strength.  At one time, Chance was taking 194 pills a week that was part of the tumor treatment suppression regiment.  It laid him down often but his strength and fitness rises above the chemotherapy sickness and he prevails. Jude now focuses on a cure!

Clinical trials seek that cure.  These trials for cancers are increasing focused on immune therapy. These trials seek the effectiveness when tumor cells receptors accept a virus that is known and recognized by the body’s immune system as invaders.  This recognition by the body then allows the immune system to attack the tumor and destroy the infected cells.  Chance is accepted into UCSF’s TOCA 511 Clinical Trial testing where that immune therapy works against this insidious cancer. It gives us hope and hope is a wonderful thing!

As the days pass into late summer/early fall, we move away from the ranch and settle in a RV resort next to the Mokelumne River. It is a third river system feeding the delta.   We enjoy being closer to the water and now we are blessed with a daily spectacle of countless thousands of Geese, Sandhill Cranes, Hawks, and Blackbirds filling the Pacific Flyway.  The chorus of calls is raucous and loud. The flocking behavior of tens of thousands Brewer’s Blackbirds is just a visually pleasing experience.  I have never seen such a continual massive migration before. The daily migration stage is ever-changing and magnificent.