I know it has only been two weeks since our last outing, but it felt like a month.
First off, our BFF Randy, was able to install a new caravan mover! The manufacturer of the unit, Kronings, was very fast at shipping us a new assembly and Randy remains our favorite person by being willing to come out on Thursday night to install it. He tested it briefly and made some adjustments to the other side. All seems well and we are back in business!
And man, we needed it. This trimester, and these past couple of weeks in particular, have been really intense at work for both of us. I want to take just a moment to veer from trailer talk and wax sentimental about my job. I am a special education teacher for an elementary school. The people I work with are genuinely exceptional, dedicated, and passionate professionals. The families whose kids I support frankly floor me with the committment they show to their children. And my students inspire me every day to do better, try harder, figure out better strategies and instruction so they can struggle maybe a little bit less. It’s exhausting and time consuming and important work. By the end of a long work day, because most days end with meetings lasting hours after the bell rings, I am utterly spent. So I’ve been trying to find a balance between work time and decompress time and mostly what I learned this month was that paperwork is going to have to come with me and Dory on the weekends or I will regret it.
So, to that end, I embarked on a mini mission to make myself a cozy, happy, work corner that will make me feel cheerful even if I’m typing or scoring assessments while camping. My first project was to cover up the battery for the espresso machine and make it so I can sit there without putting my feet on live terminals (it turns out those are uncomfortable). So off to the fabric store I went and I came back with a nice blue and white striped pattern that matches my Bar Harbor junk holder bag. I even made a little pillow to go on top and now I have a memory foam foot rest.Next, I accessorized by making a matching throw pillow. And finally, I got a fluffy, cozy blue blanket. Richard says it makes me look like Cookie Monster and that is likely because I found it in the children’s bedding department. It’s entirely possible that this blanket is part of a Sesame Street themed collection. Me like it anyway.
One last touch was a trio of LED candles I noticed at Target. They look very real, complete with flickering light, feel like real wax, but won’t burn the trailer down. They also have a remote control so you can turn them on and off without getting out of bed. Nice.
Test #1 took place our first night in Pinnacles National Park. We left Sunday for a three night stay during the Thanksgiving break. I actually think this is going to work out pretty well. We didn’t pull in to the campground until late afternoon, so it was dark soon after set up. We turned on some tunes, had a beer and nachos, remote control lit the candles, and I settled in to my comfy corner and did some work. I wasn’t missing anything outside because it was dark anyway, so no resentment there. And my little work station was super pleasant. So far, yay all around. There’s no cell service or wifi here, which will sometimes be the case, so I’ll need to plan accordingly. There will be some things I can’t do, but at least if I take care of report writing and test scoring, I will only need to deal with the regular levels of crisis during the week.
Our first morning, we slept in and eventually made our way to the trailhead to see the caves. On paper it all looked very straightforward, like a nice little hike. In reality, it was way more exciting than we expected. The trail took us up through a deep gulch that had been buried in enormous boulders, partly because this land sits directly on the San Andreas fault line. A narrow pathway makes its way through this crevasse, often underground and by way of carved stone or poured concrete staircases, climbing up in complete darkness. Flashlights mandatory, and yes, we do like handrails thank you. At times, in order to avoid a head bonking, you have to almost crawl through small openings in the rock. I would not recommend this trail to anyone with claustrophobia.
At the top, the trail just suddenly opens onto a lovely reservoir. We had lunch here and looked for condors, since they are supposed to live around these parts. We took the loop trail back and got to enjoy lots of downhill and some really spectacular views. Glorious day.
After that, it was all about lazy time. We did do a little drive out of the campground to get a signal and check messages, but mostly we relaxed in Dory and I finished a report in my comfy corner. Love the propane heater! We realize other parts of the world are under snow right now, but we were chilly and the heater made it all warm and toasty inside.
Going to bed, our automatic rain sensor fan apparently sensed rain and closed. We didn’t see any rain, but it was definitely foggy. The next morning we got out a bit earlier because we had been warned of rain coming in by the afternoon. Our aim was to go to the other set of caves in the park, which had been described to us as “more primitive”, whatever that meant.
Well, we found out what that meant. Apparently that was a euphemism for “terrifying”, but I’ll get in to that in a bit. The trail leading to the “Balconies” caves is stunningly beautiful and reminded me of backpacking with my dad as a kid. I may even have been here before, but I only have vague, fuzzy memories. When we got to the caves entrance, we saw a big keep out, clangy, gate type thing, with the ominous warning posted that the rocks inside were dangerous when wet and that flashlights were required. No problem. We’re practically cave experts now. Well, it got pretty serious fast. We were also told there’d be a place where we’d think the trail had ended, but hadn’t. What that meant was that we were in a small cavern of complete darkness and no way out. This is the place where Gollum and those creatures from “Descent” obviously live. Anyone in their right mind would have turned around there, but no, there was a very clear white arrow painted on the wall pointing toward a steep and narrow climb into darkness, where all horror movie characters go to die. We went that way. For a while, it was fun. We got to scramble up boulders and sometimes found rough hewn stairs cut into rock. There was crawling and squeezing through tight spaces in a much less theme park-like way than the other set of caves. Then we got to this one spot where I got to have a full on panic attack. There was no way up or down except to make it over this big boulder that was smooth and slippery and had no good footholds for a person with crappy shoes. Let me take that back. I have excellent shoes, but they are intended for people with plantar fasciitis who have to stand all day on industrial carpeted flooring. They are the only shoes I’ve been able to find that don’t make my feet ache by the end of the day, but rock climbing boots they are not. So I froze there and panicked for a while, debating whether it would be safer to just take them off. Another group of people passed us and tried to reassure me by talking me through where to put my feet. I thanked them but noted they were all wearing shoes with tread. Each one of them sort of glanced down at my shoes and went, “Oh yeah.” But, with Richard behind me, prepared to do I don’t know what, I scrambled my way up. The tough part continued for a little bit longer but I made it out and cried a little at the top.
The hard part was over and all that remained was to take the “Cliffs Trail” to loop back. Initially, that had sounded daunting to me, but given the option of turning around and going back through the caves, I was all, “Yay! Cliffs Trail time!” That trail in fact turned out to be very beautiful, with no scramling over boulders required, and stunning views of the huge rock formations. With just about a mile or two left of our hike, it started to gently rain. We talked a lot about how ok we were with that, considering we were on our way back to dry and heated Dory, rather than a cold, wet tent.
Back at home, we watched the rain outside as a family of deer grazed nearby. Richard napped and I watched the leaves fall. Perfect day.
It rained pretty hard our last night and I noted that the awning does let water get through in the form of condensation that turns into little droplets that rain on you. So note to anyone thinking of using the awning as an outside room: it’s probably best to do this during summer months when it doesn’t get too chilly or rainy at night.
There are tons of interior pictures posted below, which I figured I might as well put here too. I took them for other Altoistes enduring the long wait who, like me, enjoy accessorizing ahead of time. I know I would have appreciated measurements, so I’m happy to oblige. There’s an app that lets you draw little lines on pictures and label them with measurements, so that’s pretty cool. And now you have a detailed view of exactly how we roll with Dory. Most everything stays inside so all we have to do is grab toothbrushes, electronics and food.
All in all, this was an A+ trip! I highly recommend this park, but bring good shoes. Also note that there is no cell service here (at least not AT&T or Verizon). We took little daily drives out to Highway 25 to check on the 21 yo (son), 17 yo (daughter) and 15 yo (dog). Everyone is well.
Total miles: 125.9, Engine time : 3 hours, 13 min (there; on the way back we hit pre-Thanksgiving traffic big time), 17.5 mpg (there), 16.8 mpg (home with about an hour of bumper to bumper)
Site: 86. All the sites felt roughly equal to me. Nothing terribly private, but enough space so you don’t feel like you’re underneath someone.