Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Welcome Home?

After a month on the road, I walked into the house to find the temp indoors to be a steamy 86 degrees.  I must admit, I harbored a momentary hope that my son had taken to a sauna fetish, but a quick look at his discouraged face told me that wasn't so.

While the two of us were in Minnesota enjoying an extended family reunion the previous weekend, the AC unit at the house froze up.  He turned it off to let it thaw when he got home, but the damage had been done.  I called in my favorite furnace crew, and they were able to come out that same evening.  $200 later, I had a unit full of freon and it was running as best it could.

But it didn't sound good.  It groaned as it started up, and vibrated the entire house as it tried to seek balance within.  (I can relate to the unbalanced thing some days...)  We turned the thermostat up the next morning, to tax it as little as possible, but to no avail.  When we came home that evening, with the temp outside only in the lower 90s, and turned down the thermostat, it gave up the ghost.  I have to give it credit; it tried.  It moaned.  It rattled.  It gave one last spectacularly loud bang, and quit altogether.  My $200 had bought me almost exactly 23 hours of additional time.

You win some, you lose some.

But, the sales guys were on it.  They came out the next day, spent a good two hours measuring, and I had a quote by Friday morning.  (Actually, I had quotes from two companies, both in the same ballpark, but the one I declined was selling York furnaces; I have to admit a preference for Carrier, the brand I purchased.)  Joe and I spent the weekend taking the old ductwork out of the basement.  (The old ductwork had to go because it was a carryover from the original gravity furnace installed when the house was new in 1922, and could not be modified to properly heat and cool the house.)  The installers showed up Monday morning to start the job.

They did good work - Monday, they removed the old units and remaining ductwork and started installing the new system.  Tuesday, another scorcher, I came home to an operating AC unit - the ductwork to the upstairs was not yet installed, but the new system has an overpowered fan, and it was able to get enough air to the second floor that it was comfortable.  Wednesday, they finished up the job, eight days after the system failed.

Just in time for the temps to cool off and the humidity to drop.  (**sigh**)

Now, I'm normally not one to leave the AC running if it's much below 90, but this time I made an exception.  My excuse was that even though it was cool outside, it was still humid as all get-out...  Not great as excuses go, but the new system does SUCH a better job of evenly cooling the house, I just wanted to enjoy it. And so I have been.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Left Tailrace

Left Trailrace Campground, SD
It's a great name for a campground; I have no idea what it means.

It was my last night on the road without family.  I wanted to drive about halfway across South Dakota, and picked the campground because it was a state park and not too far off the freeway.

It turned out to be a beautiful little spot.  As I pulled in, there was a guy standing there, signing up for his camp site.

He told me I looked familiar.  I said, "probably not".
He asked if I was going into town later.  I said, "no".
He took a look at my bike, and said, "Marin.  Nice."  I said, "you know how to fix a front derailleur?"
He said, "yup, used to work on bikes all the time."  I said, "you may get into town after all."

So, we went back to the camp sites, and he took a look at the bike.  The derailleur had frozen because I hadn't been riding the bike enough.  He oiled it some, had me work it back and forth while he went to take a shower, put it back on and tada!  Worked like a charm.  I took him to town to pick up a six pack and some OJ.  Fair's fair.

We came back and started talking.  Bill turned out to be a fascinating fellow.  He's a self-proclaimed narcissist, seventy years old, and when we met, had been on the water for three months, canoeing his way down the Missouri river.  (I asked how far he intended to go, he said he had no idea...)  The day we met, he'd traveled over 25 miles down river - to go .6 miles by land.  He gets up in the morning around 5, canoes until shortly after noon, then stops for the night - in a campground if one is available; on the riverbanks if it's not.

I don't think I could do it - he's lived for three months with the stuff he can fit into a good-sized waterproof rucksack.  Which might not be so bad if one didn't have to fit the tent and sleeping bag into the thing.  Talk about traveling light; makes my camper van seem downright spacious.

I had to admire him for taking on the journey.  What an adventure!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Crazy Horse Monument

Crazy Horse model
I stopped for two nights in the Black Hills, to make up for having to rush past Zion National Park because of the heat.  This meant I could just sit back and relax when I got to my campsite - and a beautiful place to sit it is - and I had a whole day to visit in the area.

I decided to visit Crazy Horse rather than Mt. Rushmore and the presidents.

They have set up a bike trail along an abandoned railway that runs through the town of Custer and up to the Crazy Horse Monument, about six miles away.  (it also goes another 100 miles or so in either direction, but I didn't explore that part of it)  The trail is beautiful, running through pine-scented valleys and the weather was perfect.

Along the Mickelson bike trail
Starting in Custer, the entire six miles of trail to Crazy Horse is a gentle but inexorable incline.  I did pretty good for the first three miles, but then my asthma and the altitude kicked in, and I had to stop.  Since it was a bike ride, and not a race, that was OK with me.  When I couldn't breathe, I'd hop off the bike and walk it along until my heart rate subsided, then hop on for another stretch. 

As a bonus, when you get to the monument, the entrance fee is only $5; half of what it is if you are in a car.  I spent a couple of hours in the park.  I watched the movie of how the monument got started.  (The sculptor started work back in 1948, his family has taken over the project since his death.  I have no idea when they plan to finish - it may well go into the next generation.)  I looked at the museum.  I admired the finished portion of the project.  I bought a llama wool jacket.  (Probably not the smartest thing to do if you don't want to wear it home and you're on a bike, but I managed with the help of the back rack...)

Once I finished looking around, between the walking and the ride, my legs were a bit tired.  I was not looking forward to the ride back to camp, but need not have worried.  That gentle incline I rode up?  On the way back, I didn't have to hardly pedal at all.  I pedaled easily or coasted all the way back to town.  Now, THAT'S a way to end a bike ride!

Campground Lottery

When in the camper van, I tend to travel day by day, not making reservations ahead of time; I'd rather see where the road takes me.  While this mindset serves me well most of the time, it's a little risky on weekends, especially holiday weekends when the state campgrounds that are my preferred stopping places are all booked well in advance.

When this happens, I end up picking from the lists of commercial campgrounds on my Woodalls app.  I take a look at the campground layout, the pictures posted, if any, and just pick one.  Since this weekend was a holiday weekend, I played it safe and called ahead to make reservations before leaving in the morning, to make sure I wouldn't be left high and dry.

Fort Caspar Campground, Casper, WY
 Well, when you do this, you lose some,

Big Pine Campground, Custer, SD
and you win some.

Either way, it's an adventure...

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Wyoming II

Eastern Wyoming
So, I'm driving along today, still poking around at that sore spot I found yesterday.

I realized that the events of the past eighteen months have shaken both my trust - in myself and in God, and my self-confidence - I don't trust myself to make the right decisions for myself.

As I once again reached out to God in wordless prayer, I moved to pass a truck on a long hill.  I had to punch the accelerator, and as I reached the crest of the hill, my 'check engine soon' light started flashing.  It stopped shortly after I eased off on the gas, but my heart was already pounding.  I checked my gauges, all were fine.  The engine was still running without a hitch, so I just kept going.

There I was, in the middle of God's country, on a beautiful road where I saw a passing car only once every ten minutes, if that.  All sorts of scenarios started running through my mind; how far can I really ride my bike if I need to?

About thirty miles down the road, I came to a gas station.  Across the street was an open NAPA Auto Parts store.  Now, I don't know about you all, but as far as I'm concerned, it was the closest thing I was going to find to an open service station on a Saturday afternoon.  I pulled in, and after checking the oil and transmission fluid levels (they were fine), went inside.  I described what had happened to the war hero in a wheelchair behind the counter, and he said it was probably a clogged oxygen sensor or something like that.  He offered to come out and put the code computer thingy on the van to see what it had to say.  (Note to self:  if you're going to have car trouble in eastern Wyoming, a Chevy truck is a good model to be driving...)  I, of course, took him up on the offer, and he rolled on outside to take a look.  The codes turned up clear - he even showed me the little green light that said nothing was wrong.

We went back in, and he sold me a can of expensive engine cleaner to put in my tank the next time I need gas - said, if it was a sensor, the stuff should clean it off.  And if the problem was water in the gas line, or bad gas, it would take care of that, too.

I went on my way with my fears eased - and realized that God had answered my prayer.

I am not alone, even when it seems like I am.  I can learn again to trust myself and my decisions and the road I'm on.  It won't be trouble-free, but I will make it through.  Baby steps....


Wyoming hills
As I was plotting out the general outline of my trip, and my finger was tracing the route through Wyoming, the friend I was sitting with observed, "It's a whole lotta nothing out there."

She was right.  It's been a whole lot of nothing.  A lot like western Kansas, only bumpy.  It's not as striking as Utah, yet the drive is still beautiful.

Yesterday, as I was driving along, I finally got into the thinking zone.  I was listening to the radio, and a country song came on, something about "Jesus, take the wheel".  And I found myself in tears, which is always a good clue that I've stumbled across a sore spot.

So, I poked at it a bit, to see what would come up. 

A feeling that no one's in control of my life right now, and I wish someone was.  I'm behind the wheel and steering along as best I can, but the past eighteen months have left me uncertain and unsure of the direction I am or ought to be going.

I'd like for God to be in control, or at least, pointing out the right road.  But, unfortunately, I have no sense of God's Presence, either.  I pray, but the prayers just die out in the emptiness.  (I envy those with a sure sense of God and Her Love.)  And I'm not putting it all on God, either - perhaps there is a response and I don't know it when I see it.  It's very possible.

definitely a sore spot.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Bryce Canyon

My fridge died this week.  It started acting up when I left Colorado Springs, and wouldn't work on electricity any longer.  I stopped at an RV service center there to get it fixed, and was told they'd need to order in any parts, and didn't have a new fridge of that size in stock.  In other words, I was out of luck.  However, they took time to test it for me, and it still ran just fine on gas and battery, so I decided I'd replace it when I got home, and went on my merry way.

This worked until I got to my campsite at Snow Canyon.  There, after several minutes of trying, I was still unable to get it to light.  Which meant the gas option was now also out.  The battery option is really only good for kinda-sorta maintaining the temp as you drive; it doesn't actually work to cool things down.   (Did I mention it was 105 degrees in the shade?)

I pleaded with God to let it light just one more time; I promised I'd stop and buy a cooler and ice in the morning.  I tried it one more time, and lo and behold, it worked!  But the fridge was warm now, and I feared my milk would not survive the night.

Bryce Canyon, from the rim
So, I gathered up my courage and knocked on the door of the camper next door to ask them if they would do me a favor and keep the milk until morning.  Jerry and Sandra, Canadians transplanted to Phoenix and on their way home to Calgary for a visit, turned out to be the accommodating sort of people, and were happy to stash the milk for me.  We got to talking, they asked me where I was going next.  I said, "North, where it's cooler."  They couldn't believe I was going to be this close and bypass Zion Park and Bryce Canyon.  Although Zion was still too hot for me to handle, it didn't take much to convince me to stop at Bryce Canyon.  It's up at 8000 feet - things are cooler in the mountain air.

Bryce Canyon,along the trail
The canyon, which I'd never heard of, turns out to be a red-rock kingdom of giant chess pieces carved by the gods.  I took a three-mile hike from the rim down into the depths of beauty.  It was a bit strenuous - what goes down must come back up - but well worth the hike.  Magical even.  (Unfortunately, I stopped about halfway through to have someone take my picture, and they bumped the camera setting.  I didn't notice, and so all my pictures from there on out were overexposed.  **sigh**  and they were so beautiful!)

Along the trail some more...
I'm having trouble actually being grateful that my fridge is out, but I am most appreciative of the silver lining that came from my wish to have cold milk for my cereal.  If I hadn't knocked on their door, I'd have driven right by what will be the high point of beauty for this trip.

It would have been a shame.

Heat Wilt

My impression from afar of Los Angeles has always been that of traffic, crowds and Rodney King.  During my visit this past week, I didn't change my view one bit on the traffic, but was shown a gentler side of the city by my cousin who lives there.  It was a trip into the Beach Boys "Endless Summer" album.  I saw Palisades Park, and drove on Sunset Boulevard - way fun.  I must say, though, my favorite part of the visit was the trip down memory lane I took with my aunt.  She told me much I never knew of her growing up years - if my life turns out half as interesting as hers has been, I'll consider myself a fortunate person.

Calico Ghost Town, Yermo, CA (at 6AM)
From L.A., I had intended to spend some time in Nevada and southern Utah, but got chased away by the heat.  I stopped for the night at a tourist-trap ghost town (Calico) after leaving L.A., and discovered the heat pump in the camper van doesn't work on cool if the outside temperature is over 110 degrees.  (go figure!)  Since Las Vegas and Lake Mead were at 115 and above, I regretfully passed them by to head north.

Snow Canyon S.P., Utah
I found an unexpected gem of a spot near St. George's in Utah - Snow Canyon.  There I found beautiful rock formations, and because of the heat, was able to snag a prime camping spot - all I could see from the south side of my camper were rocks and trees.  I had a great evening amidst the quiet despite the heat.  My campsite was partially shaded, and if I sat real still and didn't breathe too hard, I didn't sweat too profusely.