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Archive for January, 2018

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Painted Buffalo robe at Agate Fossil Beds National Monument

And the saga continues…

Day 2 started early.  In the night, I had woke up to the sound of rain on the tin roof but I was warm and dry so I rolled over and closed my eyes.  By morning the skies had begun to clear.

“March 19, 2017 – Friday – 6:00am – I left the campground after a stop at the outhouse.  Everything is so wet here that the toilet paper was like a roll of Wet Wipes!”

I was still feeling lousy but at least the thought of turning around and heading home was no longer as appealing as the night before.  It’s funny how a little sunshine can change your whole attitude.  I tried to turn onto interstate by the campground but after a 10 mile detour through a twisty, residential area I realized two things. 

#1 – the people who live here must not get many flashy campers like mine in their neighborhood.

and #2 – there wasn’t an on-ramp for the east bound lane anyway.  So I turned back onto Hwy 30 until I could find one. 

I usually don’t mind driving on interstate but for some reason that day it felt wild and out of control.  Maybe it was because a semi blew past me causing the cubby door on the side of the camper to pop open and flap like a broken wing till I got pulled over to close it.  Or, it might be because 50 miles down the road the check engine light came on and glowed like a neon bar sign on my dash.  Dang! 

This had happened a couple of months earlier and our son, Morgan had checked it out for me.  He said it was nothing to worry about but 500 miles from home that’s all I could do – worry about it.  So I pulled over, googled mechanics and found Kearney Ag & Auto Repair.  Of course they were totally swamped when I arrived but a very nice man grabbed a hand-held tester and came out to see what my pickup’s computer had to say about the whole thing.  It turned out it was a small problem with the emission system.  The very nice man said the exact same things Morgan had said,  “Don’t worry about it…  It won’t leave you stranded on the side of the road…  It’s a common thing for Chevy’s.” and finally, “Stay out of California because they will make you fix it right away which will cost over $600”.  Then he smiled and said “No Charge.  Have a nice day!” and waved as I pulled out of his lot.  So, if you’re ever in Kearney, NE with engine problems, I would highly recommend this place! 

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I have this photo in my camper – I took it one evening on my way home from work.  There were 2 newborn antelopes that dropped and hid right in the middle of our driveway and I happened to have a camera.

Since interstate travel hadn’t gone well earlier, I decided to stick to smaller roads where I could putz along at my own speed.  My next stop was for gas in a little town on the edge of Nebraska. 

“Mileage 626.7 – There were 2 gals running the gas station I stopped at and they were fascinated with my camper.  I think I saw their noses pressed against the window while I was gassing up.  I went inside to buy some lunch and they dropped everything and sprinted out the door when I offered to let them see it.  They did ask one of the customers who was eating lunch if he would keep an eye on the place while they checked out Nadine though – which he seemed surprised at.”  

I hope he didn’t rob them blind while they were oohing and aweing over my camper.  Nadine was a mess as there were wet clothes and blankets draped everywhere to dry but these gals were so excited by the thought of having a little camper of their own that I wouldn’t surprised to hear that they were the proud owners of their own campers before the end of the week.

By mile 633.0 I was in Kansas.  Kansas is a very friendly state.  I got waved at more in the short time I was there than any other state I traveled through.  It always amazes me how many times you cross a state line, visible only on a map and suddenly, the whole landscape changes.  You’d swear sometimes, that you’d crossed into a whole new world.  That happened on the Nebraska/Kansas line.  One of the first things I noticed were the irises in the ditches.  All of them were a beautiful cream color and I must have hit during the peak of the bloom.  I rolled past one huge clump after another then began to think that these were probably very old plantings as most were in front of old farm houses.  I imagined homesteaders planting the irises as they moved west, settling in this beautiful country far from the loved ones whose gardens the rhizomes probably came from.  It’s a romantic thought and I don’t know if it’s true but you can bet your bottom dollar I’ll be planting cream colored irises in our ditch next spring.

From the sand hills in Nebraska I drove into the rolling hills of Kansas. They were especially beautiful in spring with the huge old trees sending out new leaves and the wide sweeping furrows in the fields showing new shoots – most about 6″ tall.  Kansas farmers are experts at planting every inch possible in their fields while still following the contour of the hills to slow water runoff.  They were beautiful fields with curving furrows that ran in all directions but never once crossed another row.  I would have stopped to take pictures but the roads didn’t have shoulders to pull off on so I tried to be content with enjoying the views that appeared over every hill.  Several times I considered slamming on the brakes and screeching to a halt right there at the top of a hill to snap photos like a crazy woman but I didn’t – not even when I started seeing barns with painted ‘quilts’ on them.  It was great.  There were so many patterns and colors to see.  And then I noticed the spectacular home gardens everywhere.  In South Dakota I wouldn’t dare plant the outside garden till June but here they were well on their way.   And Marysville, Kansas – you people got style!  I loved the large, painted squirrels.  They are everywhere – on street corners and in front of businesses.  They were great, I’m just sorry I didn’t get a photo!

Things were finally looking up, but it didn’t last.  Before long I was back into drizzle and eventually rain.  Since I still had the leak on Nadine’s front windows to contend with I found a hardware store and stocked up on weather stripping and Great Stuff – just incase the weather stripping didn’t work, then spent 15 minutes sealing up the leaky windows.

“Mile 845.0 – Atchison, KS – I was going to stop here for the night but I feel like driving further to see if I can get out of this rain.  I was getting desperate for gas as well but entered town through a residential area that didn’t seem to have many gas stations.  The one I saw was so tight I didn’t think I could wiggle Nadine in.  I decided to pull over and Google one when I saw my sister had sent me a message.  It was still raining hard and the only place I found to pull into was a curb with at least 6″ of water running down it.  I was lost in suburbia hell in the middle of a flooded city, nearly out of gas and afraid I would be washed away!  I was about to panic when I read her message asking if I was OK.  Somehow she knew I wasn’t.  I didn’t have a very strong signal so we messaged back and forth and she started navigating for me – from 800 miles away, which was just what I needed.”

She led me to the nearest gas station where I put over 23 gallons of gas in my 25 gallon tank.  We eventually did get to talk and she had me laughing before we hung up.  As it turned out, the station she sent me to was right at the intersection for the road I needed to turn onto for the next leg of my journey – even though she didn’t know that at the time.  She’s a pretty good navigator – maybe next time I should take her with me!

I had planned to see Emilia Earhart’s house in Atchison but it was so hard getting around on the narrow streets in a downpour during rush hour that I headed out of town, crossed a huge bridge and somehow managed to find Missouri.  I never saw a single sign saying it was the Missouri river I had crossed or that I had entered the state of Missouri but I knew I had.  

Once again, crossing a state line changed the scenery completely.  

“Instantly, I was in heavily wooded country with small hills.  The trees and shrubs are so thick I’m not sure you could even walk cross country.  The roads are crazy – up, down, twists, turns – it’s like driving on a roller coaster.  I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, Toto.”

“Mile 864.0 – Dear Lord,  I just barely missed running over the biggest damn toad I’ve ever seen.  He was huge and sitting in the road.  At first I thought it was a rock but right before I went over it, it turned it’s head and looked at me!!!!!!!  It was as big as my hiking boot!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

If their toads are that big I can only imagine the size of the insects they eat.  From there it was a veritable Who’s Who of roadkill wildlife – muskrats, opossums, snapping turtles and armadillos flashed before my eyes.  I don’t know if it was because it was spring and the animals were more active or if this ‘Roadkill Armageddon’ was normal but after a few miles it appeared the local drivers may have had something to do with it.  I didn’t know that ‘No Passing Zones’ were just a suggestion but apparently in Missouri they are.  Somehow, after a few new gray hairs I made it to Watkins Mill State Park where I got one of the last camp sites available and managed to back my camper in without mishap. 

I don’t know if it was my hair standing on end, my wild, bloodshot eyes or my never-ending nose blowing that made the manager take pity on me but I got the  better of the 2 remaining sites for half the price.  You should have seen the couple that showed up 15 minutes later and got the last site.  That site was a nightmare.  It was on a hill, turned sharply off the road and it didn’t help that the rig that pulled up was at least 35′ long.  But the old guy driving it was obviously a professional.  His wife stepped out, waved her hand a couple of times (possibly at insects) and the fifth-wheel camper slipped into the angled, narrow, twisted, hillside site like it had angels guiding it.  I swear the trees lifted their branches as it passed.  I was impressed  but exhausted so I was thrilled to get a hot shower, a little supper and into bed early.

Tomorrow…  St Louis.

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I started to write this post at least 3 times but have let other things get in the way before I could finish, but not today.  As I mentioned in a previous post I went on an amazing trip last spring.  I traveled the Lewis and Clark Trail with the Sisters on the Fly and it was one of the most incredible things I have ever done!  There is so much that I want to write about that I’ve been a little overwhelmed.  After all, I did come home with 4,500 photos!

May 18, 2017 I pulled out of our driveway with my camper, Nadine – a 1972 Nomad that I (with help from Hubby and our boys) totally overhauled.  First, I headed to St Louis, MO, where I spent 2 days touring the city with good friends, Wanda & Jon before meeting up with the ‘Sisters’ to follow the historic Lewis and Clark Trail all the way to Astoria, OR.  In the end, it was 37 days and 6,967.1 miles.  I was one of 115 women who took part in some or all of the adventure with 49 of us making it the whole way and earning the dubious title of ‘All the Way Girls’.  Of that 49, 10 were over the age of 70 and if that isn’t impressive enough, one of those gals did the whole trip on her Harley Davidson trike.  What an inspiration!

Those of you who know me, know that I am a worrier. My husband says I worry too much, but I remind him that I have had many years of practice and that I am very good at it.  But even I feel that when it came to this trip, I brought my level of worry to new heights.  I worried about the camper.  I worried about the pickup.  I worried about the money, the tires, the weather, the road conditions, the animals I could hit on the road, the people I would meet and mostly, I worried about the fact that I had torn this camper apart and put it back together mostly by myself.  What if it fell apart along the way?

Images of trailer trash blowing down a desolate road ditch haunted my dreams but when it came right down to it Nadine performed wonderfully!  We traveled lonely gravel roads in Kansas, cruised at 70 mph on South Dakota interstate, dodged potholes in North Dakota, climbed mountains in Montana and braved narrow city streets in downtown Portland, Oregon.  We drove through fog, mist, rain, sleet, and blizzard conditions with snow & ice – and that was just Nebraska!  But Nadine held together and never hit anything, which is a big plus in my book.  Sure, there were water leaks, check engine lights and a wheel bearing that ran hot but I couldn’t have asked for a better trip.

Before I left home I made a promise to myself, I would keep a journal of this adventure because who knows if I will ever go on another trip like it.  I bought a new Steno-pad notebook to jot down quick notes while traveling and several nice notebooks to write in at night – expanding on my travel notes.  I also threw a handful of pens into the cubby hole of the pickup and another handful in the camper so I wouldn’t run out of ink.  I was ready but as it turned out, Linda D. – the hostess for our trip, was way ahead of me and presented each of us with a beautiful, leather-bound journal our very first night at Eureka, MO.  Here’s what it looked like, along with the compass and canvas bag they came in.

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And here’s how it looks now.

Who knew I would remember how to do beadwork?  Not me.  The last item I beaded was a belt I’d made in high school.  But gazing at so many beautiful beaded pieces in the museums along the way convinced me to try again.  And it must have been fate that I would find a wonderful bead shop less than a mile from our campground the exact day I decided to start.

The finished journal is broke-in now.  The cover’s a little beat up, there’s stains on a few pages and it’s so full of ‘stuff’ that it’s hard to tie shut but I love it because…

It’s crammed full of postcards, with sayings and quotes.

Messages, wishes and pictures of boats!

There’s hair (must be Bigfoots’) and memories galore.

With paintings and stickers and ribbons and more! 

Wow!  I sort of slipped into a Dr. Seuss alter ego for a minute there.  LOL!

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Yet every night (in my own little camper, in my own little chair) I used the scribbled, wonky notes from the Steno-pad to write about everything that had happened that day.  The days were so full that some nights it was midnight before I finished – but thankfully, I did finish.  Otherwise I would have forgotten so much of it, including some things that might be better forgotten, such as the first day which also turned out to be the worst day.

Day 1 – Ready to go.  I kissed Hubby and the dog goodbye, circled the camper one last time, kicked the tires and climbed into the pickup.  I zeroed the trip mileage on the odometer and opened my Steno pad to the first page where I wrote:

“And so the adventure begins.  May 18, 2017 – Thursday.  Odometer Trip reading 0.0 Left home at 7:00 am, terrified at what I am doing.”

And I was terrified.  I drove to the end of the driveway, tears running down my face, wondering (not for the first time) what the Hell was I doing.  I stopped at the mailbox and sat there, suddenly realizing I had never traveled by myself for more that a few days at a time.  This trip, if I made it to the end would be 5 weeks long!!!  Could I do it?  What if the worst happened?  Who would help me if I got into trouble?

I wished Mom was going with me!

Mom would have loved this.  She was always ready for an adventure and we had been on many together – family vacations, quilt retreats & watercolor painting classes and just about any excuse we could think of to hit the road, but Mom passed away 4 years ago and ironically, I hadn’t been on many trips since then.  There I sat – 55 years old and wanting my Mom.

There was only one thing to do.  I wiped away the tears, looked up to the heavens and said, “Get in Mom.  Let’s go.”

And we did.

Now I admit, I don’t know anything about what happens when we die but I have always believed it’s like going home.  One elderly lady I knew a long time ago believed dying was like falling asleep in the car when you were a kid.  You never remembered how you got there but you always woke up safe and warm at home, in your own bed.  I love that.  I can’t prove that Mom joined me for another adventure but from that point on I didn’t feel so alone and throughout the entire trip odd, little things kept happening that made me think just maybe she was there.

For 2 weeks before I left, Hubby had been basically bedridden with a head cold and for 2 weeks I had cared for him while stubbornly refusing to get sick myself.  So of course, 3 days before I left he was feeling better while I was hit full-force with the worst cold I had ever had in my life.  By the time I left I was basically a walking pile of phlegm looking for a place to curl up and die.  But even with aches, pains, a sore throat, sever congestion, and not much of a voice left I was determined to go.  The weather wasn’t helping either.  It was foggy when I left home and the fog became as thick as pea soup by the time I made it to Wind Cave National Park – my first stop.

Trip mileage 47.0 – “I purchased a National Park passport and it was desperately in need of it’s first official stamp so I stopped and got it.  Yippee!  Ok, I’m a nerd… but I’ve had a real US passport for 10 years and never did get a stamp in it so this is big for me.  I didn’t take a tour of the cave today but I did buy a ‘walking stick’ medal which I have decided to nail to the inside doorframe of my camper.”

From there I traveled through Hot Springs, SD and turned south to Cascade, SD and Cascade Falls, a small roadside picnic area.

Trip mileage 95.0 – “Crossed the state line into Nebraska.  The weather is growing worse and so is my cold.  There is no more ‘drizzle’ just rain that comes in sheets.  The wind has also picked up and it seems like no matter which way I turn the camper is hit by a strong cross wind.  How is that even possible?”

I got lost (twice) in Crawford, NE (a.k.a. the Bermuda Triangle of the Midwest) and passed through Ft Robinson State Park even though I couldn’t see it through the sleet and fog.  From there it was on to the Agate Fossil Beds National Monument.  I had planned to take one of their hiking trails to stretch my legs at this point but the sheet of ice on the front of my camper convinced me to just tour the nice, warm visitor center instead.

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I was really looking forward to seeing their ‘corkscrew’ fossils which are actually the ancient tunnels of a prehistoric ‘prairie dog’ like rodent known as Daemonelix.  They lived 19 million years ago and are actually related to beavers.  I watched the movie and enjoyed the great displays then bought a pin at the gift shop (because they didn’t have walking stick medals) and got another stamp in my Parks Passport.  Whoo-who, two stamps in one day, I’m on a roll!

Back on the road the weather had turned into a full-blown blizzard.  Snowflakes as big as horse turds blew across the road and stuck to the side of the camper.  I was sicker than a dizzy Daemonelix but I pushed on and made it to Oshkosh, NE where I stopped at a gas station across from a storage unit named the Cramalot Inn (no, I did not make that up) then drove to North Platte and the Buffalo Bill Ranch campground for a total of 418.1 miles.

I managed to park fairly straight and plug in the camper before dragging my rain-soaked carcass into to the camper where I discovered Nadine had developed a leak.  The pickup tires had been picking up water off the road and blowing it into the bottom edge of the front windows which no longer sealed tight.  Water had soaked into a couple of books, a blanket and my shotgun.  Yes, I’m armed and dangerous when I travel but frankly by that time, it looked more like a water gun than a threat.  Thankfully, the bed was mostly dry so I used towels to wipe everything down then went to get my PJ’s.

Surprise, another leak!!!  Apparently, the gasket on the running light outside the camper wasn’t completely sealed either.  My PJ’s, on the top shelf of the closet, were as wet as my shotgun.  I pulled out the driest set and used the coffee pot to heat water for my supper – Chicken flavored Cup O Noodles.   As I waited for the noodles to soften in their Styrofoam cup, I seriously considered heading for home in the morning.  It sounded very appealing as I sat in my damp pajamas, writing the days events in my soggy notebook and blowing my nose every 5 seconds, but even with everything that had happened I can be a pretty stubborn old broad.  I grew tired as the heater filled my leaky, little palace on wheels with warmth.  Either I was delirious or there was a tiny glimmer of hope because the last entry in my journal for Day 1 reads:

“Tomorrow will be better.”

And it was.

Thank God for stubbornness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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