Friday, August 24, 2012

First year rolling in the Big EZ

August 24, Corvallis, Oregon

vic life is good

I’ve been under a wee bit of pressure the past few weeks to take a turn at sharing my perceptions and feelings about our travels in the Big EZ. Today marks the one year departure from Corvallis, Oregon, beginning our “walkabout” to see the United States and Canada. 

I have for a very long time, since age 11 or 12, wanted to see the United States. This desire was further fueled by my years as a high school social studies teacher teaching U.S. History. I didn’t think it was ever going to happen until one day in the summer of 2009, Pamela wanted to stop at a used car lot in Corvallis and look at a 2008 24’ class C motorhome. She was so impressed with the quality and comfort that she thought it would be a fun way to travel and visit places in the U.S. BINGO! The possibility to travel and see the U.S. was back in play. We just had to visit many RV lots and RV shows plus some campgrounds to finally decide on what exactly would work for us and our 2 Portuguese Water Dogs. This process took us about a year and a half of research and in March, 2011, we purchased our new 2010 Class A 36’ Tiffin Phaeton. Pamela retired in June, 2011. In July we sold our house and about 75% of the possessions in it, put the rest in storage and began our journey a month later on Aug. 24th.

front driver angle

Having never owned any type of motorhome, the learning curve for both of us this past year has been steep. We have a lot of manuals that came with the MH as well as technical support we can call if we have a problem or question we need to solve so we can understand what can be done to correct the situation. Not being the most mechanically minded person, it was invaluable having all this support available in our travels. Fortunately we have had very few problems and nothing that held us up anywhere. The MH drives and handles great over a variety of roads and we have never found it too difficult to find a spot to park for a day or more. One of the unexpected delights we have enjoyed about the MH is the very large front window which gives us fabulous panoramic views from the pilot and co-pilot seats during our travels. Two amazing views that stood out were going over the Continental Divide into Paradise Valley in Montana and crossing over the Canadian/U.S. border into Maine to see the blazing fall colors. Just spectacular and breath-taking views.

paradise valley

moose river

What has stood out for me in this first year of travel? The first thing that comes up is that I love not being a homeowner with a mortgage and all the demands of homeownership. Being a rolling stone that moves at our own pace and direction has been great. I like that we have had no set timetable to be someplace or that we could only stay x amount of time. We traveled to some parts of the U.S. for some very specific reasons and others parts just to see what the area was all about. We used the interstate highways very little and mostly traveled on state and county highways/roads. Occasionally this proved challenging but we managed by relying on a trucker’s atlas and the navigation app on Pamela’s droid phone and the Big EZ cruised right along.

truckers atlas

Most of the RV parks/resorts plus state parks we stayed in were welcoming, enjoyable, beautiful and safe. We had views of the ocean, lakes, ponds and rivers often surrounded by beautiful trees and vegetation. We stayed in one spot near Tampa for about six weeks and watched skydivers, glider planes, and ultra lights on a daily basis. It was amazing how generous and friendly people were in the parks or resorts the moment we parked our MH. We often felt included as part of the whole community and were invited to participate in planned activities or join a small group for drinks and snacks. Meeting others frequently started with a simple question, “Howdy, where you been or where you headed?” It was enjoyable meeting so many wonderful part-time and full-time travelers and hearing their experiences and where they had been. We gathered a wealth of information that we used immediately or have saved for this next year.

Where did we travel this first year? We left Corvallis, traveled northeast to Spokane, Washington across northern Idaho to Missoula, Montana. Continued east across Montana, N. Dakota, northern Minnesota, northern Wisconsin to  Upper Michigan (the Copper Country). Traveled down to Madison, Wisconsin for the OSU football game, back up to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, crossed into Canada and headed east to Montreal and Quebec(old Quebec City). Turned south to Maine (Bar Harbor, Camden). Crossed Maine to go west across New Hampshire, and Vermont, then southwest to Pennsylvania (Gettysburg). Continued to Virginia (Stafford), to N. Carolina (Outer Banks, Durham, Chapel Hill, Raleigh), S. Carolina (Myrtle Beach, Charleston), Georgia (Savannah), Florida (St. Augustine, Vero Beach, Zephyrhills, Bonita Springs, Fort Meyers, Keys (Marathon, Key West), Sanibel Island, Sarasota/Bradenton Beach, Panama City Beach to Pensacola). Crossed over to Alabama (Gulf Shores, Red Bay( a 19 day layover for warranty work on MH where it was built). Northwest to Tennessee (Memphis), northeast to Illinois (Newton), northwest to Missouri (St. Louis, Kansas City) to Iowa, Nebraska, S.Dakota (Sioux Falls, Rapid City), southwest to Wyoming to Colorado (Ft. Collins, Breckenridge), Utah (Bryce Canyon NP, Zion NP), Nevada (Las Vegas), S. California (Yorba Linda), N. California (Santa Clara, Vallejo, Folsom, Ukiah, Eureka, Klamath), Oregon (Brookings, Bandon, Corvallis, Manzanita, Astoria, Corvallis). The map below shows the states we traveled to this past year:  pink=short visit or drove through, orange=checked out a few places, blue= spent some time in various places, green=spent significant amount of time here.

travel map

What were some of the downsides this first year? Traveling across N. and S. Dakota was no fun. The wind blows all the time and made driving the MH a real challenge to keep it on the road and the right side of the road. I understand better why early settlers to this area went mad. Driving in the Washington D.C. area (Stafford, Virginia) where the speed limit is 75 mph (cars and trucks) and almost everyone exceeds this speed. This is especially scary when a tractor trailer goes by you like you’re not moving. It seemed like the drivers in N. Carolina, S. Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama thought they were in NASCAR. Fast and bumper to bumper. Very unnerving especially at night. Southern California is the pits for driving because of the lousy road surfaces and mega lanes of traffic that never end day or night. It felt like rush hour traffic almost anytime of the day. The experience of two big T-storms, first in Bar Harbor, Maine and the other in Gulf Shores, Alabama also stood out. The one in Alabama was the scariest. It brought a flashback to my very young years living in Cleveland, Ohio and the T-storms there. Sheets of lighting that light up the night sky and very loud cracking thunder. When this happened in Gulf Shores, I grabbed the two dogs and we went to the darkest corner in the back bedroom of the MH and huddled together for safety. I kept my eyes closed during most of this storm.

The purchase of our two kayaks in Pensacola, Florida was a real high for us. We had been talking about making this purchase as we traveled from Maine to Florida and occasionally went shopping to research what was on the market. We stopped at a marina just off the Gulf in Pensacola Beach where we were able to demo several varieties of kayaks. We both had a great time doing the demo and, as a result, are very happy with our purchase of two 13’ Hobie Mirage Drive kayaks. What sold us on these kayaks is that you sit on top of them rather than down in and you can paddle or peddle with the turbo fins. We have been able to enjoy them in the Gulf Bay, lakes, and rivers. Recently, Pamela and her son, Brooks, used both kayaks to go troll for salmon on a river near Astoria, Oregon. They both enjoyed how well they were able to manage the kayaks on the river while fishing for four hours.

vic kayaking at state park

In summary, this first year was successful beyond my expectations. I  enjoyed sharing this time with my fabulous wife and travel partner, Pamela and I got to fulfill my perfect vision of retirement: spending them majority of time wearing shorts, T-shirts, and flip flops living in mid 70s to low 80s temperatures. Spending our winter in Florida, especially in the Keys and on the Gulf was outstanding. As the cap I purchased in Florida says on the front “Life is Good!” Amen brothers and sisters!!!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Extending our time in Corvallis

August 9-22, Corvallis, Oregon

covered bridge on sheep barn road 

After leaving Astoria, we had planned to stay in Corvallis five days before going to Bend for a one-month stay, Our good friends Ann and Don offered to let us “moochdock” in a driveway behind their home as we had done before going to the coast Thanks, Ann and Don, for your amazing hospitality and generosity!)

Water Lilies in Ann and Don's pond

A major reason for this layover was to have annual service done on our Freightliner chassis (twelve months or 15,000 miles). Vic had the service done at Freightliner in Salem, Oregon—the same place we took the motorhome last year before leaving on our first year journey. This service involves lubing many different areas of the chassis, replacing  oil and filters, and performing several safety checks to ensure everything is in working order. This annual service does not come cheap--$900—but Vic is always meticulous about having any recommended service done on a regular basis with all of our vehicles. Seeing a bare chassis at the Tiffin plant helped me understand the vital importance of taking good care of the frame that carries us everywhere.

chassis work

This past week Vic also made a trip to Camping World in Junction City to purchase MaxairII vent covers for the three overhead Fantastic fans in our motorhome. After a brief attempt to install them himself, he decided it was a job for the pros, so he made another trip back to Camping World. Just a few hours after he returned back to Corvallis with the motorhome, we had one of our first rains in several weeks. For the first time in our year of living in the Big EZ, we didn’t have to close the vents! This decision was a small but useful upgrade as we often worried about rain coming in if we left them open when we were not “home.”

vic on roofvic trying to install vent covers

One more motorhome enhancement showed up on the roof this week. Vic finally flew the OSU Beaver flag. He kept saying he was going to wait until football season, but now that the team is practicing, he gave in a little early. Plus he had a little pressure from our local Beaver fan friends who harassed him for only flying the American flag in Beaver town.

beaver flag

Another bonus during our stay here was the opportunity to help my friend Ann (where we are staying) prepare for a “meet the new grandbaby” party at her house. We were lucky to have already met baby Claire when she was about four weeks old at her home when we were in Southern California in late May, but she it was amazing to see how much she had changed in two and half months. I miss doing that kind of entertaining for a large group, but I am still not longing for a “stick house” of our own.  It was fun, however, to cook in a real kitchen again!

Our first five days here flew by too quickly, so we decided to take advantage of our flexible lifestyle and enjoy another week here before our next stop in Bend. Aside from being able to spend more time visiting with friends and enjoying the bounties of the Northwest, I especially wanted to spend more time with my son Jesse before leaving the valley. We have thoughts of someday settling in Bend when we transition from the full-timing lifestyle, so staying there a month to see how well we like it is something we thought it would be wise to do. We have also been a bit uncertain about our itinerary after Bend other than our definite plan to head back to Florida for the winter sometime in November, so we are not in a hurry to be heading back East anytime soon. If we were, I would have missed this fabulous lunch prepared for me by my dear friend Sue Lyn. This photo is taken at one of several little eating areas she has in her backyard. The menu was white gazpacho soup, mission figs with mascarpone cheese, field greens with sun gold cherry tomatoes, and artisan bread with chimichurri.  It seems like I have said this on almost every blog entry, but we feel so blessed to have such amazing friends.

lunch at sue lyns

The weather here was on the warm side last week with highs in the 90s a few days, but the evenings always cooled down to the 50s so we have had good sleeping weather. The past few days have been what I consider perfect weather with highs in the 70s. The cool mornings have motivated us to take some of our favorite walks with the dogs visiting old neighborhoods or walking through the Oregon State campus.

osu oak tree walk

pam and alpacas on sheep barn road

This past Sunday our friend Don, his daughter Molly, Vic, and I, along with our two dogs and their dog Charlie, took a short hike in MacDonald Forest up to Cronemiller Lake via the Calloway trail (by Peavy Arboretum) .Charlie and Rico just splashed around in the water, but Jetta did some swimming inspired by the lure of fetching a tennis ball. The bummer part is having to bathe all the dogs afterwards as they smell like pond water if we don’t.  Just before you get to the lake, there is an Oregon State logging competition area where we stopped for a photo op.

peavy walk2

On Monday, we took a nostalgic walk to a park near our old neighborhoods on Witham Hill. Vic and I did not know each other then when we lived less than a half mile apart in the late 80s, early 90s.  There is a large open area called Woodland Meadows that used to be next to the house where I lived when my boys were four and seven. That park was the setting for many fond memories with my kids ranging from kite flying, rocket launching, and even sledding on the rare snow days that occurred each winter. Now the open field is one of six dog parks in Corvallis. It was fun to see our dogs roam the open range on the hill that used to almost be our back yards twenty plus years ago.

woodland meadow with dogs

Another powerful memory for me in the meadows was meeting one of my best friends halfway out in the middle of the field. We would get in a good walk as we shared about the challenges of young motherhood. She died five years ago of a brain tumor. After her death, another friend and I released balloons out in this field in her honor. Life is sure unpredictable. Even at times when we think life is unchanging, it is not. Can you hear another one of my favorite quotations coming?  This time it is one from Deepak Chopra that my mom shared with me years ago:

We are travellers on a cosmic journey – star-dust, swirling and dancing in the eddies and whirlpools of infinity. Life is eternal. But the expressions of life are ephemeral, momentary, transient. Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, once said: “This existence of ours is as transient as autumn clouds. To watch the birth and death of beings is like looking at the movements of a dance. A lifetime is like a flash of lightening in the sky, rushing by like a torrent down a steep mountain.”  We have stopped for a moment to encounter each other, to meet, to love, to share. This is a precious moment, but it is transient. It is a little parenthesis in eternity. If we share with caring, lightheartedness and love, we will create abundance and joy for each other. And then this moment will have been worthwhile.—Deepak Chopra,The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Checking out Oregon’s north coast

Aug. 5-9, Astoria, Oregon

Last year my oldest son moved from Corvallis to Astoria, about a four-hour drive away. In all the years I lived in Oregon I had never been to Astoria and Vic had not been there since the 80s. Our main purpose in visiting here was to see Brooks but it was also a chance to check out the northern coast. While we were here, we also ventured across the bridge to Long Beach, Washington—another place neither of us had ever seen.

One of the most popular campgrounds in Astoria is Ft. Stevens State Park which has about 300 sites.  We booked reservations here in early June and, to attest to its popularity, were only able to find a site Sunday-Thursday. Fortunately, Brooks had Tuesday and Wednesday off so this plan worked well for us. Ft. Stevens is actually located in the town of Hammond on a small peninsula about eight miles from Astoria. The Fort was originally built as an active military post that has been restored for public viewing in a designated historic area of the park. For us, the park’s best feature was the seven miles of bike paths and hiking trails that lead you to the South Jetty, Coffenbury Lake, and the historic viewing areas. There is also a trail that leads to the beach area where the remnants of the wreck of the Peter Iredale, a 1906 ship sailing from Liverpool to the mouth of the Columbia where all were rescued, lie directly off the coast.

As far as state parks go, we have to say it was our least favorite in Oregon so far. The sites were heavily wooded with tall Sitka Spruce trees with concrete pads for parking but the campground area itself was just dirt. They did have fire rings and even a service where they deliver wood to campsites each night, but we also discovered something rare in Oregon: mosquitoes. When we were riding our bikes on the trails, we saw several algae-covered streams and sloughs, perfect breeding ground for these pesky bugs.

Our days here were pretty full with activities outside the park. We arrived in the afternoon on Sunday and that night Brooks brought us dinner: fresh ling cod fish tacos. After visiting a while, we tried to tune in something on the antenna (no satellite reception with all those trees) and were happily surprised to be able to watch the Olympics on NBC.  Brooks had to work Monday, so we spent that day on our own visiting some of the local landmarks in such as The Astoria Column. The Column is a 125 ft. structure covered in a mural which depicts key events in Northwest history that occurred between 1792 and 1818.

Visitors can climb to the top of the column to a viewing point by ascending 164 steps. We made the climb and the most challenging part to me was feeling dizzy from going round and round in tight circles. On top of the column, we learned that a popular thing to do was to fly small balsam wood airplanes off the top, watching them catch the wind currents as they sailed off into the distance. The park gift shop sells the planes so they must also have someone do search and recovery for lost planes at day’s end.  The 360 degree view from the top really gave me an appreciation for the vastness of the mouth of the Colombia and the lowlands of the bays and rivers flowing into it. No wonder my son keeps telling me about the tsunami warning system here. The geologists say it is a matter of time before a major quake happens offshore setting off a tsunami on the Oregon coast.  I guess every place has its challenges in terms of nature’s threats.

After our visit to the Column, Vic and I enjoyed a walk around the downtown and waterfront area of Astoria. I loved its historic charm and seafaring atmosphere. They even had original J.C. Penny and Sears Roebuck stores that were still in business downtown. As a major fishing and maritime port, the town is full of relics related to the industries of fishing, canning, and lumber. The large homes on the hill built at the turn of the century give the town an old New England feel. Along the waterfront there is a trolley that runs along the street lined with chowder houses and taverns. There were also several freightliners anchored out in the river and every so often you would hear them blast their horns, a constant reminder of the significance of this waterway. By volume, the Columbia is the fourth-largest river in the U.S., and it has the greatest flow of any North American river draining into the Pacific.

Our next tourist plan was to take a ride to the Long Beach, Washington area with Brooks who had not yet ventured there before either. Long Beach is located along a one-mile long flat of sand which is a popular oceanside resort town. Our first stop here was a corny tourist stop called Marsh’s Free Museum. It was quite a place filled with antique games and fascinating oddities from the past. I put a nickel in an old machine that advertised by looking in the viewfinder you would be able to see yourself as others as see you. In the window, what you see is an animated jackass. Funny. The museum’s biggest claim to fame is a display of Jake the alligator man—half man, half gator. Word has it he has quite a following among tabloid readers. Unfortunately, we just missed his gala 75th birthday party celebration. Woe is me.

A little further north of Long Beach is smaller tourist town called Ocean Park. We came upon a large and interesting looking General Store called Jack’s Country Store boasting that is the world’s largest independently-owned hardware store. Looked like another good place to roam around. This place had everything imaginable for camping, fishing, hunting, cooking, and groceries all crammed into the size of a large grocery store. The camping aisle had over fifty different types of implements for cooking over a campfire. I had never seen so many types of roasting sticks, pie holders, burger presses, etc. We were also impressed with the variety of devices uses for razor clamming: all kinds of angled shovels, stainless steel “guns,” and special tamping tools. I have never gone razor clamming, but know that I would love it. another “must-do” next summer.

One of the surprises here and in the Seaside/Astoria area is that cars are allowed on many of the beaches. The tradition of driving on the beach dates back to the early days of the automobile where folks could take a leisurely drive on the hard-packed sand looking for that perfect fishing spot. Fortunately, there are restrictions in place to protect nesting grounds of birds and other marine wildlife, and no ATVs are allowed. We took the dogs with us on this trip and let them get in a good run on the beach too—even though there are leash laws, we didn’t see any dogs on leashes on the beach.  It was also pretty quiet since is was a Tuesday. 

The beaches in this area are well-known for their razor clams.  Brooks showed us his method for finding them: stomping around on the sand, looking for a little whole indicating their presence, and then digging from the surf side in to capture them.  The limit is fifteen per person and you must keep any that you dig. You also need a permit. The season was just about over when we there and the beach we were on had been heavily harvested. They are typically served breaded or battered and fried or sometimes used in chowder.  This area also boasts some of the best oysters in the country from Willapa Bay just to the east of Long Beach. The best months for oysters are usually those that end in “er”—but we still thought it was worth a drive to the little town of Oysterville on Willapa Bay to see what we could find.


Oysterville looked like it had a population of about 500 people, and the little houses were much like the ones we saw in Stonington, Maine: weathered wood siding, picket fences, flower boxes and big garden patches. We found the Oysterville Sea Farms which did have fresh Willapa Bay oysters for sale. Fulfilling our plans for dinner that night, we purchased three dozen small oysters in the shell which we cooked on the grill with garlic butter, lemon, and white wine. Definitely worth the one hour trip.

With our oyster purchase on ice, we traveled back to Astoria to one of Brooks’ favorite spots for lunch: The Wet Dog Brewery and Café. Had to try their local brew with their homemade chowder and garlic bread.  Really charming local spot with a good view of the river and lively atmosphere.

On our last day in the area, the three of us went out to breakfast in the little town of Warrenton, where Brooks lives. He wanted to try a new restaurant that had just opened called Serendipity Café. Good call—we all enjoyed a hearty breakfast together and were set for another full day of sightseeing with plans later in the day for Brooks and me to go fishing in our kayaks.

I wanted to go to Seaside, about a half hour ride to the south as I had never been there before. Vic used to go fairly often as the convention center there hosts many education conferences, especially the ones for administrators called COSA. Seaside is also known as the end of the line of the Lewis and Clark trail so there is an historic element that also draws visitors to this busy seaside town.

Other draws are the world’s largest amateur beach volley tournament and its location as the end of the annual Hood to Coast run. Consequently, there are tall condos and hotels along the beach and a carnival-like atmosphere in the downtown with several arcades, a carousel, and other amusements for family vacationing. We enjoyed walking along the one and half mile boardwalk that parallels the ocean beaches with mostly residential or vacation homes lining what locals call the Prom for Promenade.

The best part of the day was yet to come. We picked up Brooks and Vic took us to one of Brooks’ favorite fishing spots on the Klaskanine River, about a half-hour drive from Warrenton. The Chinook salmon run in the area was just starting and his hopes were that they were starting to be more plentiful upriver. Most of the salmon and steelhead in the Klaskanine come from one of the two hatcheries on the river’s north and south forks, but the river does not get heavily fished as it empties into Youngs River and Youngs Bay in Warrenton which are more popular and more accessible fishing spots.

Brooks works for Fish and Wildlife and is an avid fisherman and hunter himself with great knowledge of the area—even though it is still fairly new to him. I purchased a one-day license and salmon tag for $16.50 and he provided the rod and rigging. Everything in the area depends on tides so the plan was to head downriver against the incoming tide—best time for fishing. Our Hobie kayaks with their turbo-flipper pedals would be perfect for slow trolling even against the current.  We used 30# test line with a spinner and sufficient weights to troll the river by letting out 50’ of line. The average size salmon would be 15-20 # so I had to be ready for a big hit when it came. My instructions were to give the line a hard yank to set the hook and pedal like hell.  After about a half hour of fishing, the big hit came and I did my best to jerk the line and pedal fast only to look back and see Brooks holding the line.  It was just a test and I passed.  What an adrenaline rush though!

I have loved to fish since I was a young girl and my dad would take me bobber fishing at a dam on the Fox River in Northern Illinois. I have not done much fishing in my adult life and vowed to take it up again in retirement.  Well, here I am. I did get an annual saltwater license and new rod and reel when we were in Florida and we bought the pedal kayaks so we could also use them for fishing. This day with my son was just perfect happiness for me. We spent almost four hours on the river with exciting moments of watching salmon jump and rise. I had one hit and lost it, but neither of us landed a fish. My only disappointment was that this was our last day there as I was hungry for more time on the river.  I could definitely develop the kind of fishing addiction that my son has and only wish we had planned to spend more time here as the salmon season was just getting started. I already put a note on my phone calendar to block out the last two weeks in August for Astoria salmon fishing next year! 

To cap off this most perfect day, Vic came to pick us up at the river at 7:30 p.m. and we headed a few miles down a country road to the town of Olney, Oregon.  The Olney bar in town is called the Big O Saloon and General Store. What a great country bar!  I forgot to take a photo, but found this one on the internet taken in winter.

The Big O is another one of Brooks favorite spots as it is perched halfway between his elk hunting spot on Green Mountain (where he got his first elk with a bow last fall) and one of his favorite salmon fishing holes. We really enjoyed getting to experience a slice of his life in this pristine part of the country. I even started to fantasize about a little mini-farm spread along the river where I could fish everyday. . . . It’s easy to love Oregon in the summer.
With Brooks back to work early the next morning, we had to say our goodbyes that night when we dropped him off at his home. Suddenly, it felt like the time together was much too short and facing another year apart made me sad. Fortunately, there is a good chance he will come to do some fishing with me in Florida this winter. Gotta just appreciate each moment that we had together and get ready to move along down that great highway of life. My new mantra: Practice Gratitude.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

A gathering with friends on Mercer Lake

Aug. 2-4, Florence, Oregon

We had a challenge in planning our itinerary this week as we knew we would be in Manzanita July 29-Aug. 2 and we had reservations at Ft. Stevens in Astoria Aug. 5-9, a Sunday through Thursday, much easier to score than a Thursday-Sunday this time of year. That left us free with no specific plans for August 2-4. Lucky for us, another tradition fit right into this time slot-- staying with friends at a lake house in Florence, Oregon. The challenge was one of geography. Florence happens to be four hours south of where we were staying. We both agreed that the drive in the motorhome down 101 South to Florence was not something we were looking forward to doing again; one time last summer was enough as the winding curves, narrow roads, tunnels, and bridges made for an edgy drive. Fortunately there was room at the lake house for us and the dogs and two other couples. Plan B: we found an inexpensive Passport America park ($11 a night!) in Tillamook, where we would have full hook-ups to run the residential refrigerator, and, for the first time in nearly a year, left the Big EZ behind while we traveled to Florence by car. After a year of traveling with everything we need, it felt weird to make packing decisions about what to bring for only a few days.  By the time we left, the Jeep was packed with all of our kayaking equipment, two large dog crates, dog food and dishes, wine and food to share, and layers of clothing in preparation for the varying temps one can encounter at the coast. Good to go.

We traveled south on my birthday with plans to open a special bottle of library wine that I have been storing for almost five years. It was a 2002 Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir from Dundee, Oregon, and I was getting worried that it might be beyond its time. Well, it wasn't. What a luscious treat it turned out to be. We had tasted the wine at a private tasting arranged by our friends Dona and Tony and were blown away then by the earthy (forest floor) layers one could taste in each sip. While our friends bought cases of the 07 Pinot, we chose to get just one bottle of the 02. It was so worth it.

Even better, after arriving at the cabin, the "boys," Mike and Vic, agreed to go shopping and do the cooking while Mo and I uncorked the vino and perched in Adirondack chairs by the firepit.

I shared with Mo that my aunt had called me in the morning and told me to look for a sign from my mother on my birthday.(She passed away last year.) I teared up when my aunt said this to me as there is no day of the year that I miss my mother more than on my birthday. It turned out the signs were all around me: the first was a song I rarely hear, especially on the radio: “Born Free.” My mother dedicated this song to me when I was only about twelve as my astrological sign is Leo the Lion and she always that my spirit was one that could not be contained. She even had my stepfather learn the song on his guitar so they could teasingly sing it to me. The second sign was a bit more blatant, but, ironically, easy to miss. My mother always gravitated to homes that were on a lake or river. She would have loved Mercer Lake with the deck overlooking the lake and a small beach perfect for doing something she loved: taking a swim in the morning or early evening. While Mo and I sat around the fire, a full moon slowly rose above the horizon, casting an incredible reflection on the lake. The current and ripples on the water made tiny sparkles twinkle across the lake. Perhaps the library wine contributed to the illumination of moonglow, but we both agreed that this light show was another sign from my beautiful mother.  She loved to sparkle!  (Tried to take photos, but alas, they didn’t capture the heavenly light.)

Day two of our lake house escape brought the arrival of Bruce and Sharon, our close friends who now live in Mexico most of the year.

bruce on decksharon in hat

The six of us have stayed on Mercer Lake in the summer for the past four years, so we were thrilled to be here together again. A fun addition was the use of our kayaks on the lake. Mo and I took about a two hour tour of the lake the day before and Mike and Vic were able to do the same. They were amazed at how much farther you can travel with the turbo flipper pedals vs. paddling the whole way. Bruce and Sharon had a chance to go out in the kayaks before we all went to dinner at the Waterfront Depot in Florence.

While they were kayaking, I spent time getting the dogs in the water. Jetta is an avid fetcher and will even go off the dock if there is something she wants to fetch. Rico, on the other hand, is not into fetching or going over his head in the water. I made a baggie of high value treats, salami and cheese, to lure him into deeper water. It worked and it turns out he is a stronger swimmer than Jetta, but he still didn't want to be in deep water.  After Bruce and Sharon returned from kayaking, I had the idea to get both dogs in the kayaks.  We just toured them around the dock for a little while to get them used to the idea. Rico was happy to stay in the kayak, but Jetta kept wanting to jump into the water—something we will have to correct if we want to include them in some boating adventures.

dogs by kayakboth kayaks with dogsjetta on kayak1jetta swimming

Dinner at the Waterfront Bistro was a rare splurge for us, but my birthday was a good excuse. To cut down on the overall bill, I brought two bottles of wine to dinner which cost us a corkage fee of $10 per bottle. Bruce teased the waitress about our bottles only requiring a screw-top fee, which was true, but the fee was the same. We indulged in grilled oysters, calamari fingers, and Sicilian cheese for appetizers; razor clams, crab-encrusted halibut, flat iron and New York steak for dinner entrees; and three different desserts to share amongst us afterwards. This was the second time the six of us ate here and it has yet to disappoint. Great service, atmosphere, and food--and lots of jollies and moments of deep appreciation for one another in our conversation around the table. When we returned to the cabin, it was Saturday night week two of the Olympics so we all piled onto one big sectional and watched men's swimming and women's diving until our eyes grew heavy.

Day three at the lake: a lazy morning with a light mist of fog over the lake. Why does a cup of coffee taste so much better on a deck outside overlooking a lake?  I decided to make a brunch spread for those who wanted to graze as the morning transitioned into early afternoon. Just before noon, Vic and I went kayaking until we rounded the bend out of our protected little cove and hit the chill of the ocean air flowing across the lake. I was unprepared for the 60 degree air in a wet bathing suit. (The  weather inland on the lake has been incredible—in the low 80s, but just a few miles toward the ocean it is often 10-15 degrees cooler with more wind.)  After heading back, Bruce and Vic took off in the kayaks for a grand tour of the lake while I hung out with our dogs and their buddy, Fenway--aka Fenny.


The three gamblers in the group eagerly offered to make a grocery run with a quick stop at the Three Rivers Casino. The commitment was to bring back filet mignon and lobster if the winnings were big, and hot dogs if not. Fortunately, we did not have hot dogs for dinner, but they said they broke even so the result was a delicious dinner somewhere in the middle: tri-tip, salad, and corn-on-the-cob.

They also brought back two bundles of firewood so we all enjoyed a gathering around the fire before dinner.  It turned out the coast was the place to be this weekend as temperatures back in the valley set record highs, exceeding 100 degrees, making the crisp night air all the more welcome.

Day four meant departure day, on the early side for us as we strove to make it back to Tillamook, a three+ hour drive, for the 11:00 a.m. checkout time from Big Spruce RV Park. Goodbyes are always tough for me. Fortunately, I knew we would see Bruce and Sharon again in less than a week and left with high hopes that Mike and Mo would visit us during our upcoming month-long stay in Bend.  I could be heard uttering one of my most useful affirmations as we left: "I can say my hellos and goodbyes to people, places, things, and events."  Yes, I can, but it is often not easy to accept the wave of sadness that sweeps over me when it is time to move on which happens quite frequently in this lifestyle! I am reminded of the lyrics of one of my mom’s favorite songs “For the Good Times” by Ray Price: Don't look so sad, I know it's over. But life goes on, and this old world will keep on turning. Let's just be glad we had some time to spend together.  Amen.