Anthony Chabot

IMG_5634Wow! This might be my new favorite place. Back in the days when I used to bike a lot, I must have ridden past this place a dozen times. But I never ventured down the winding road toward the campground, so I had no idea it was even there. I really like it and this may be a go to spot for quick weekends away.

Winter in California isn’t exactly as dramatic as in other parts of the country, but it does still follow the same general rules of days getting shorter. So, we have attempted to find locations closer to home so as to minimize the driving and unhitching in the dark. And you can’t get much closer than this place unless we start trying to camp in our neighbors’ driveway across the street. And they don’t have hookups, so they’re probably safe. We knew it was going to actually rain for part of the weekend and we honestly almost bailed and stayed home. So glad we didn’t!

IMG_5655The campground is off Redwood Road, which is a very popular ride for bicyclists around here. But, to get to the campground, you have to go another 2+ miles down a narrow, windy drive. On your way, you pass a turnoff to a shooting range, located on the appropriately named: “Public Gun Range Road”. We made sure not to turn that way by mistake.

IMG_5635Our site was really nice. There were full hookups and we were right in the middle of a Eucalyptus forest. Nice views all around, spacious sites, good cell service for both ATT and Verizon. I give it a 10. Richard thinks more around an 8, but I add extra points for cell service and ease of drive. The only thing was that our site was not very level. We used the Caravan Mover to swing Dory around perpendicular in the site and that did it. It also gave us a spectacular view out the windows in the morning.

As we were setting up, a couple stopped by in their car and asked us for “an unusual favor”. They had tickets to a concert in SF that night and they realized, too late, that the main gate would be closed after 10pm and they’d have to walk the 2+ miles in the dark. So I offered to pick them up at the gate. They said “Oh, I’m sure it will be not much later than 10.” but we both were skeptical about that at the time. It in fact ended up being closer to midnight when they called from the gate, but I would not have wanted to do that hike in the dark if I were them, so was happy to help them out. In exchange (besides being super thankful), they gave me a bottle of wine and a tour of their R-Pod camper the next day. I looked at R-Pods, but they were pretty much a non starter as soon as I discovered the garage storing capabilities and overall cool factor of the Alto. Cute though, and they were happy with theirs.

IMG_5643Saturday we did a lovely hike down to Lake Chabot. There were very few people in the campground, so it was an extremely pleasant little walk. The level of the lake was noticeably low and we ended up sitting on a dock by the water to eat lunch. The wooden walkway leading from the shore to the water was dangerously steep and it took us a long time to figure out it was not intended to be that way. If the water level had been where it usually is, the whole dock would have floated higher, thus making the walkway more level. IMG_5645In fact, across the water, we saw what looked like a dock that was completely out of the water, just sort of hanging off the bank, going to nothing. We noted how many ducks and seagulls were out on the water and appreciated not being birds who had to be cold and wet all the time. Then we took a (very) slow pace, hiking up out of the lake and back to the campgrounds.

We noted lots of sites that seemed nice, but some of the ones with the nicest views were quite far from the bathrooms. I won’t go into a TMI level of detail here, but we do use campground bathrooms for some things, so we’d have to think about that before reserving one of those.

We got back to Dory around 3, had some hot chocolate, and just sat inside with the propane heater running and stared out the windows. IMG_5630I took a couple of pictures of my latest organizational addition for the shower. We have been putting shampoo and soap bottles on top of the toilet seat (with cover on) when showering. The only thing is, the hose from the shower sprayer often knocks the bottles off and onto the floor. If the caps are open, the floor gets cleaner, but you lose a fair amount of shampoo and soap. So I hung this netted thing just to hold bottles while camped. We do not tow this way, or I bet they’d all knock around too much. But this, plus the new Trekr washcloth I got, made me so excited I forgot to actually wash my hair. Definitely shower happy here. Also still very happy with the Aquabot I mentioned in my last post. Again, we either used far less gray water, or the indicator light is stuck at 2.

I am getting pretty comfortable writing reports in Dory and knocked out two of them this weekend. To score a formal special education assessment and write up a report takes me about four hours each if I’m not getting distracted. I find Dory to be a pretty conducive space for focused work actually, and I’m quite comfortable sitting in my Cookie Monster corner with music playing and perhaps a glass of wine (but not until after I’ve scored, just to make sure I’m fully coherent during that part). When there’s hot spotting available, I can keep up with email and what not, so I end up being fairly productive in the evenings.

IMG_5647It started raining pretty heavily during the wee hours Sunday and I awoke to my favorite sound. I really do love staring out the windows, listening to the rain on the roof, while all cozy and warm inside. We discovered that if we leave the window to the door open and clip back the privacy curtain to allow air flow, the CO detector will not go off, even with the ceiling fan closed and the propane heater on. We’ve had it go off when the fan is closed before, and the only way to get it to stop beeping is by running the fan on high. When it’s raining, you can’t do that and we didn’t want to have to pull a fuse at 4am, so we were happy that the window solution worked. It was a bit damp by the door, but not puddly or anything, so that’s fine.

We got a nice break from rain around 11 and were able to hitch up, get home, and get Dory in the garage without getting wet. All around, this was a great weekend. Pity Chabot has a maximum 30 day stay per year. I’ll have to keep looking for other close by fun spots, but I think this one is going to be among my personal favorites. As long as you are not bothered by the dulcet sounds of echoing gunfire coming from somewhere in the nearby hills, I would highly recommend the place. Bathrooms were meh, but we don’t really care about that part.

Total miles: 14.2, Engine Time: 44 minutes, 15.2 mpg

Site 9. Premium site, full hookups, very nice, but not that level. Sites 10 & 11 also looked nice and perhaps more level. Sites 69 & 70 in the far loop don’t have any hookups and are very far from a bathroom, but have spectacular views of the lake. Pretty good cell signal.

Folsom Lake

IMG_5610I wasn’t sure I should even blog about this weekend, because it was essentially a do nothing sick weekend. But, we noted a few things we want to remember about this place. Consider yourself duly warned that this will be a boring post.

I started feeling a head cold coming on this past Thursday, so I knew it would hit me full force by the weekend. Then the question became whether I wanted to be sick at home or sick in Dory. I figured, at home I would probably still have to write a report, run errands, go shopping, play taxi, and think about how I wasn’t cleaning. In Dory there’d be just the report. Dory won.

We pulled out as early as we could on Friday, but couldn’t avoid traffic or driving in the dark. The place is only about a two hour drive or less, but it took us over three to get there. I wasn’t really nervous about driving in the dark this time for some reason. Maybe it was fewer interchanges, maybe just getting used to it? Or maybe it’s better when it doesn’t come at the end of a 6+ hour drive like it was coming from Ashland. That could be it.

We hitched up in the dark and Richard went full doofus mode and wore his bicycle helmet with the blinding light attached while he unhitched. We got set up pretty quick and I “privatized” the curtains and turned on the heater as soon as we were ready. Sat in my Cookie Monster corner and sipped hot chocolate with Creme de Menthe. Nice.

Since it’s been getting cold out, you know, like under 60, we’ve taken to bringing microwave meals and we like that a lot. Trader Joe’s has some pretty decent options and we pair it with a ready to go salad for minimal fuss. Right after dinner, it was bed time for me. I tend to sleep very soundly in Dory, so I was out fast. Richard is still having some sleep trouble, but he slept really well on the summer trip after a couple of nights. Not sure what’s going on there.

IMG_1053Saturday was full lazy mode for me. Richard went out for a bike ride and did in fact see Folsom Lake. It was about three miles from the campground and we’re not sure if that’s normal or if there would otherwise be a lake next to us except for the drought. I hardly left Dory all day. I did some work, took a nap, and checked out a new gadget.

IMG_5611Dishwashing in Dory is a little awkward, I must say. The sink is very small and the faucet gets in the way when you’re washing plates or larger dishes. And it’s hard to direct the water. First world problems, but still. So I got this pump spray thing that Richard found recommended by the Boat Galley. It’s called an Aquabot and I’m giving it a thumbs up.

We’re conscious of water tank usage (because we absolutely have to shower every day), so finding ways to do dishes with minimal waste water is a good thing. IMG_5612For a set of about a day’s worth of dishes, I used one full bottle (minus a bit because you can’t fill it to the top) to rinse before washing. Then I soaped everything up, and then I used 2 bottles to rinse off the soap. I had to pump it back up to get full pressure maybe 2-3 times per bottle. I’m gonna call it about 1650 ml, which comes out to .44 gallons. All we have to compare with prior trips is our 1-4 tank level indicator light, but it does seem as though we saved water overall here. Normally, if we shower and do dishes, we’re at “3” or “4” after two nights. This time we never went above “2”. We shall continue monitoring, but I really really liked how I could direct the spray jet right on the dishes. Only drawback: the entire kitchen area got a little bit finely sprayed. On balance, not a huge detractor.

The only other thing I really spent my time doing this weekend was figuring out how to store the LED candles while towing. I tried putting them in the microwave with foam padding. Bad idea. They appear to be covered with actual wax on the outside, and now, so is the microwave on the inside. I cleaned that off for a while and on the ride home, they got stowed in the Cookie Monster blanket. I suspect they are now blue and fuzzy. Hmm… I’ll have to keep thinking about that one.

IMG_5615Overall, I have to say, this was a perfectly fine campground to do not much of anything. There is a bike trail right there that takes you to the American River Bike Trail if you fancy a nice ride. The sites are spaced apart generously, there’s plenty of cell signal for getting work done, and there are full hookups (we actually only realized there was a sewer hookup as we were getting ready to leave, making our water consumption useful only in terms of general water conservation). I suppose there’s a lake out there somewhere and I think this place warrants future trips.

Total miles: 99.8, Engine time (with lots of traffic on a Friday evening): 3 hours, 15 min, 17.6 mpg

Site: 52. Nice. Full hookups, nice cell signal

Pinnacles

IMG_5586I 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! IMG_4864The 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.IMG_4865 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.

IMG_5488So, 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.IMG_5568Next, 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.

IMG_4868 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. IMG_5524We 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.

IMG_5552Our 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.

IMG_5562At 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.

IMG_5582Well, 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.IMG_5580 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.

IMG_0686The 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. IMG_0687With 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.

IMG_5532It 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.

 

Doran Beach

IMG_5412Well. My goodness, that was certainly a weekend!

This weekend was all about the beach, and what a fantastic beach it was! We had reservations for Doran Beach State Park in Bodega Bay, which apparently, was quite a lucky piece of timing. IMG_5428We got one of the nicest sites in the whole place and it was very full with campers who’d booked a year in advance. In fact, there was some kind of crabbing event happening and most of the people in our loop were from the same group. I must have timed the booking perfectly when someone cancelled. No complaints here. It was a beautiful weekend!

The change to Daylight Savings Time really bites you if you’re trying to get somewhere before dark. And if you recall from my last post, I do not like towing in the dark. However, it is much easier said than done to depart quickly at the end of the day if you work in education. I did pretty well though and Richard had gotten most everything ready by the time I got home. I think we were rolling by 3:30, so pretty good. We took an inland route and avoided bridges to head to the coast and it was a truly beautiful drive the whole way. We hit sunset at 5:02 and enjoyed a lovely colorful horizon, stress free, for the next half hour. I must say, I really didn’t even mind when it turned dark. The difference here was that I was on a nice, quiet 2 lane road with a  reasonable speed limit. Last time I hit darkness it was after five hours of driving and it was at the point where I had to navigate 4 to 6 lanes of fast moving highway with lots of merging and lane changes. Slow and straightforward was just fine with me.

IMG_5314We pulled in around 6 and it was fairly dark, but I got these little pop up LED lanterns to help with unhitching and our set up really does go fast. We even used the caravan mover to spin Dory so that we’d have the optimal view out the windows in the morning. Our site was right up against the cove water on one side and had bushes between the sites so there was nice privacy. After set up, we snuggled inside and watched the stars and the reflection of lights off the water. That was giddy time. We are still able to spill into giggle zone with Dory happiness and this was one of those moments. I just love being inside all warm with a view of the stars.

IMG_5410This weekend we got to try boon docking again, but this time with actual sun. Obviously, because we arrived after dark, we weren’t going to know how things would go, plus, we used the caravan mover just a little to set up, so we conserved at night. Richard still took a shower of course, and we did run the fan on low, so mostly what I mean by conserved is we kept the lights off.

IMG_5411In the morning, we were greeted by a glorious view of water just peeking through the Manzanita. In fact, from our site there was a little path right down to the sandy beach. We had coffee and a little stroll first thing. There is a Coast Guard station right in the cove so there were some impressive boats to look at, as well as all the recreational boaters on the water. Lots of birds to look at, though none attacked me. This is, after all, the location of the filming of “The Birds”, so one has to be careful.

IMG_5439Richard got ready for a bike ride and I showered, messed around a little, and got on my bike and just toodled around a bit. It was a glorious beach day. I made it (not very far) to a lunch place called the Fishetarian and had fish and chips and an IPA. Richard eventually texted me and met me there. He had the fish tacos and we shared a cup of corn and clam chowder. Yum!! IMG_5443

We rode slowly back to the campsite and got in another lounge before meeting up with a prospective buyer. I’d gotten a call Friday from my Canadian boyfriend, Denis, who had a person interested in seeing an Alto coming up to the Bay Area for the weekend and he put me in touch with her. She showed up right around three with her grandson and got the full tour. And actually, a couple of other interested people in the campsite joined in. She seems like the perfect fit for Alto life so it’s always nice to give people a chance to really see one in person before putting down a big chunk of money.

IMG_5456After the tour, we had a classically perfect, romantic walk on the beach at sunset. We found lots of little crab shells and some interesting sand sculptures and generally got to bask in California November. We were still cold mind you, because we are weather wimps, and it was at least below 70. May have even been as low as 50. I can’t be sure.

Plan A for dinner was steak and veg on the grill, but we once again froze our meat. Richard promises to remember not to put freezable things under the freezer when it’s set to 3 1/2. Plan B was fine with me though because it involved driving to a nice restaurant where there would be no dishes to do after dinner. In fact, we found a very nice restaurant called Terrapin Creek Cafe and Restaurant, but they were booked for a private party. Plan C was some Mexican restaurant that was just fine thank you. We will have to make a point of going back and checking out Terrapin Creek though. Looked expensive, but nice.

IMG_5433So for a little solar information, (don’t worry, it’s only this paragraph). Suffice to say we did just fine given the happy rays of the sun unobstructed by tree cover. We woke up with 71% battery capacity on Saturday morning, but the solar panels were already starting to charge it back up. We saw an average of 3-5 amps going in, which mostly offset any fridge draw. The only time it went negative was when one of us was showering and the fan was on high and the fridge was running. Otherwise, we were charging! By the time we got back from the bike ride around 3, it was back up to 92%. So that told us we could live it up and turn on lights. Woo hoo! Going to bed Saturday night, we were down (after shower and post sunset general use) to 87%, and woke up Sunday with 73%. With an overcast sky, we saw 1-2 amps going in, but that was only in the morning. We could see it was getting stronger as the sun was moving overhead. On pull out, we had used 42 total Amp Hours for two nights. I think, even overcast, we’d still be ok. All of this is to say, we will be back for this site in the future.

Sunday, we woke up to a bit of rain. In fact, I looked at the weather app the night before and it showed a “Severe Weather Alert” for Northern CA. I chuckled a bit reading it because really, what it was saying was that there was going to be some moisture on the roads and this is something Californians are perhaps not used to dealing with. From our location, it was not much of a rain and the clouds had pretty much cleared by 10. We reluctantly headed out, gave a few tours to interested passers by, dumped grey and black tanks, and hit the road. Home by 2ish.

IMG_5464This is where it gets interesting. We were going through normal maneuvers to get her up the driveway when the right side rotor on the Caravan Mover started acting funny. It would sort of peter out a little, then start back up, then stop. We already had her past the ramp at the bottom and maybe half way up the incline when it just stopped turning altogether. We could even smell a burned odor coming from the motor box. Ruh roh.

What we mostly did for the next hour was try hard not to panic. IMG_5467See, we really have no way to get the trailer up the driveway without the CM and it’s not like we have the expertise to do anything more than turn it off and then back on again. So we did that. We turned it off and left it for a good hour to “cool down”, but in the meantime we called Randy, the guy who leveled her a few weeks back and who we just knew was going to be our bestest, bestest friend. He is now way more than our BFF because he not only called us back on a Sunday after just returning from a trip himself, but he actually came out to our house. We love Randy very much. In fact, if any of you want an awesome trailer guy, here’s his website: http://www.randysmobile.com. And anyone else who thought they were my BFF, you’re not. Randy is. Sorry, that’s how it is now.

IMG_5469
This is the inside of a (broken) Caravan Mover

He took the cover off the motor box and did some testing to see if power was coming to it, which it was. And he definitely does have the expertise to be able to say “Yep, that’s broken.” and we know that it is true. So he came prepared with a winch and an idea of how to use our dog door to get her into the garage. IMG_5472He actually wasn’t phased by this situation at all. To us, we saw a 2,000 lb trailer precariously teetering in the middle of a steeply graded driveway. To Randy, he was like “What? This tiny thing? This paved driveway? Pppfffft! No problem, stand back.” So he proceeded to save our butts with an ingenious rigging and didn’t even laugh at me that I had tied the frame to a tree in case it slipped off the plastic chocks. Once he got the winch going, we retracted the rollers of the CM and walked behind Dory in slow motion with serious rubber chocks, one of us following each wheel. Randy and his pal got her up the slope and into the garage in no time with no problems. We hugged them and gave them pizza and root beer. Boy, am I ever glad we met this guy!IMG_5470

We will sort this out later and get a replacement installed I suppose, but I also think it is very likely we will be installing a winch on the floor of the garage as a back up plan. Or even as a way to spare the CM having to do the whole job. All that matters is that she’s safe in the garage and didn’t end up in our neighbors’ living room.

IMG_5473So yes, eventful weekend! I’d give the site we had at this campground a 10. There were others not along the cove side that wouldn’t be as nice, but it would still be a stone’s throw from a very beautiful beach. We may be staying in for a few weeks until we get this sorted out, but overall, we’re just happy she’s safe inside. Tomorrow is supposed to actually bring rain to California and I’m much happier knowing I won’t be going to work in the morning with a trailer sitting in my driveway.

Total miles: 83.4, Engine time: 2 hours, 47 min, 15.9 mpg

Site: 76, super awesome. Also 70 and 75 would be awesome. Basically any of the sites right by the cove are nice and many have little paths that go down to the water. The ones along the road would not be private at all.

IMG_5414 IMG_5415 IMG_5417 IMG_5419 IMG_5421 IMG_5423 IMG_5424 IMG_5425 IMG_5437 IMG_5438 IMG_5440 IMG_5441 IMG_5444 IMG_5445 IMG_5447 IMG_5448 IMG_5449 IMG_5450 IMG_5451 IMG_5453 IMG_5454 IMG_5457 IMG_5459 IMG_5460 IMG_5461 IMG_5465 IMG_5468

Ashland

IMG_5405Halloween weekend in Ashland = my own personal nirvana. It was also the longest drive I’ve done since the maiden voyage. This was planned because a friend of mine was going to be a in a show at the Cabaret, my former home, and I really didn’t want to miss it. So I took Friday off and we headed up with Samantha for a fun weekend away. She got to stay in a hotel room in town and we got to camp and see shows. Meanwhile Darren got the house to himself on Halloween weekend. Win-win-win-win.

IMG_5339We got out around 10ish on Friday and didn’t hit any traffic at all. Really, it was a nice pleasant drive, even if on the long side. We took lots of pictures of Mt. Shasta because it was all beautifully dusted with snow, a nice departure from the glacier-less-ness that can’t help but remind one of climate change. We stopped at an In N Out in Redding on the way up and Bruce had no trouble getting Dory over the pass. We went straight to the Glenyan RV park first to unhook before bringing Samantha into town. As for the campground, there are a few pretty sites next to a perfect, constantly gurgling stream. IMG_5402Our site…. well…. let’s just say: you win some and you lose some. I think I said something out loud along the lines of, “Seriously?” (and perhaps worse) when we located our spot. We’d just come from a “10” in the redwoods, so I guess this reminds us that all sites are not created equal and we should expect to get some lemons. Site 7 is located right next to a big blue propane tank and a chain link fence, sandwiched between two big rigs. Oh well.

IMG_5378Richard finished setting up and I dropped Sam in her hotel room. Then we headed right to the Cabaret for dinner and a show. I was busy shaking off the dissonance of expectations (the RV park had really lovely pictures posted on their website) vs reality while parking the car. When I met Richard at the table, he was having a lively conversation with the table group next to us. By the time I’d taken my seat, they knew all about how I used to work at the Cabaret and were asking who my friend in the cast was. They were really friendly people and, it turns out, also teardrop trailer owners. Now the conversation was really taking off. I pulled out pictures of Dory and they shared stories of bumpy off roading adventures ending with a trailer wheel rolling off in one direction as a fender flew off in the other. I laughed a lot at hearing they had T-shirts made saying: “I lost my nuts on Hornbook Road”. It’s funny, that may have been the first time I’ve been to the Cabaret feeling like just another audience member. It’s only been, what, twenty or so years? Up until now, I’ve experienced at least a few pangs, or bittersweet moments of one kind or another. I’m not sure if it’s the magic of Dory, or the loss of Jim Giancarlo, the late Artistic Director of the Cabaret, but it felt different. Not bad, not sad, not better or worse, just different.

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But I sure do still miss Jim. Feels very strange without him.

The show was fantastic and my friend was spectacular. Also, very impressively spry! I was sort of glad I didn’t have to watch him jump off catwalks and slide down lampposts night after night because one night made me nervous enough. We went out for drinks after and caught up. And that was absolutely the best. Except we stayed out way past my bedtime now that I’m old and not working in theatre anymore. The excellent thing about Dory is that she looks the same when her curtains are closed, whether you’re surrounded by redwoods, or huge dilapidated RVs.

IMG_5381Saturday morning we took a leisurely ride down the road a half mile to check out the Emigrant Lake RV campground. Why? Oh, no reason, you know, just doing some reconnaissance. I think unless we could ensure a pretty site by the river at Glenyan, I would  opt for Emigrant in the future. Plus, there are full hookups so we could stay for several days and binge on theatre without any trouble. While scouting, we chatted with a nice couple with a T@B. I guess the sites fill up in the summer months, but are readily available at other times. Good to know.

IMG_5389Our plan then was to ride into town, about 6 miles each way, get some lunch and come back in the afternoon. On the way, we got to witness some excitement because a brush fire had started on the hillside right by where we were. We’ve been lucky enough in life that we’d never really seen flames up close, so we gawked for a while at the fast moving fire. It seemed like it was moving nicely away from the campground and was pretty well being handled, so we continued into town.

IMG_5393I don’t actually recall Halloween being such a big deal in Ashland when I lived there. I’m not sure whether I forgot it, missed it, or whether it’s grown over the years. But boy, it was a spectacle we weren’t expecting. All of Main street, from the place where it splits at the south, all the way to the Plaza, was absolutely packed with people. We saw the tail end of what was a “parade”, where anyone wearing a costume just walked down the street, and kids trick-or-treated at the businesses along the way. That part was super cute. IMG_5397We were lucky to find front row seats inside the place that used to be Geppetto’s and was once our favorite hang out. Not sure what it’s called anymore, but they’ve kept the recipe for their famous cheese won tons, so we got an order and just watched the costumed crowd walk by. Later we strolled down to the Plaza, got a triple chocolate smothered caramel apple, and spectated some more.

Eventually, we’d seen enough, and we headed back on our bikes to the campground. Ok, 12 miles is a workout for me these days, I’ll be honest here. Tiny inclines do me in. I need to kick it up a notch if I’m going to keep this up. Richard was very patient with me though and we rolled back to Dory around 5. At that point, I really couldn’t have cared less what we were parked next to, I was just happy to grab an icy lemon water and lie down for a while inside. We had tickets that night for “A Long Day’s Journey into Night”, so the chill time and quasi nap was a good call.

We drove back to town and got ready to go into the Thomas Theatre. This theatre is the new-ish version of their very small performing space, seating around a hundred and usually staged in full or three quarters round. Waiting in the lobby, I got to have a full fan girl moment. One of my all time acting idols was quietly sitting next to Richard on a lobby bench and I couldn’t resist asking him if he was really Dennis Arndt. He was, and he graciously accepted my fawning praise. I will never forget his Claudius, or Iago, or Hickey. His performances deeply captivated me way back in high school and swept me off my feet into a lifelong love of theatre. Following that thrill, I got to watch one of my favorite actresses knock the role of Mary out of the park. So yeah, it was a damn good weekend for this girl.

IMG_5407Sunday we pulled out kinda late. Plus, it was daylight savings time, so the drive back was long and ended with about an hour of towing in the dark. For the record: I do not like towing in the dark. We’re doing a bit of rethinking on our winter outing plans. I may get used to it I suppose, but there was also an enormous amount of creaking and knocking coming from the back that had me extra specially nervous the whole time. We’re thinking it may have been the rain – Oh yeah, it actually rained! Like real rain. No really, this is a big deal. We hardly know what the stuff is anymore. But Saturday night we got the pleasure of drifting off to sleep under the pitter patter of water hitting our non-permeable, not-a-tent, solid aluminum roof. It was heaven. But it also may have made everything super squeaky.

So to sum up: Weekend, 10. Site, 1. Don’t like towing in the dark.

Total miles: 336.0, Engine time: 6 hours, 30 min, 16.2 mpg (15.8 on the way up)

Glenyan RV Park, site 7. Sucks. Also 8 sucks. Nice sites: 28-38, 37 the best. 17, 18 ok

Emigrant Lake campground: All pretty good. 2, 4, 5, 8, 9-14. Book 7-8 months in advance for summer months.

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Big Basin Redwoods State Park

IMG_5279“10”

That was the scenic rating listed in one of our campground guide books for Big Basin Redwoods State Park. All weekend, Richard kept asking me, “Do you think this is a ten?” Every time, my answer was, “Yes, this is a ten.” Still, he likes asking those kinds of questions just to verify that my opinion hasn’t suddenly changed. We’re home now and I would still rate this park a ten. You should all go.

IMG_5261Earlier this week, I got a happy surprise in the mail notifying me that our personalized license plate for Dory had arrived. It took about three months from the time I placed the order, but I have no complaints. The fact that we are registered and have title and plates at all exceeds my expectations for that whole process. I know some have not been as lucky registering a Canadian trailer with the DMV. For those who don’t know, the 633 is the manufacture number of our Alto, and Dory is, well, Dory.IMG_5260 Also, I picked up a tiny bottle of trailer Tabasco for Richard and it makes him ridiculously happy.

As the days are getting shorter and we knew we’d have a long, windy drive, Richard got Bruce all packed up and I got home as soon as I could on Friday, hoping to get to the site before dark. Drive was straight forward until we hit Bear Creek Road off of Highway 17. When you drive these kinds of roads, you might be aware they are steep and windy, but your whole perspective changes when you’re towing something. IMG_5265Thank goodness we were towing an ultra lightweight trailer, and doing so with our overkill towing weight capacity MDX. There were some seriously steep stretches there where I would have been surprised if our 4 cylinder Subie could have managed it. I have no idea how many times we uttered phrases in the general family of “Bruce is awesome”, but his car ego should be feeling pretty pumped up right now. We do love that car.

IMG_5269We pulled in to the site right around 6pm and it was dusky. Plenty of light to get set up, but pushing it more than that would have involved some fairly nerve wracking backing in the dark. Our site was fantastic, but in order to prevent trailers from plummeting into some fairly decent sized ravines, the park has placed these enormous logs and posts as boundary markers for your site. We managed just fine but I wouldn’t want to try that by lantern light.

IMG_5308This was our first weekend boon docking with the Trimetric battery monitor. I will save all of the juicy details for the end, on the off chance that not all of you are enthralled with amp hours. Just know that a good deal of our time this weekend was spent either looking at the monitor while turning things on and off, or timing refrigeration cycles. Cause that’s our idea of fun!

Sunday morning we began the day with chocolate croissants and a scolding by the park ranger for not having checked in the night before upon arrival. IMG_5278Richard had the pleasure of going down to the park headquarters to let them know we were here, and from his description, it was pretty busy with people asking this one poor ranger all their rapid fire questions. After the chiding, she was more than happy to show him a map of some nice redwood hikes. Huckleberry campground is set apart from the main part of the park, and as such, is very secluded and shielded from the day use folks. The views out our windows cannot be beat. In every direction you could see, as far as you can tip your head back, beautiful California redwoods, reaching way up into the sky. Shafts of sunlight shot through the gaps, but mostly you are in the deep, cool shade of an old growth forest.

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While he was checking in, I put up our awning, more so I could send pictures to the company, Pahaque, than for practical awning use reasons. We are early adopters of the front wall piece so I promised a couple of nice shots of it up. I took …. let’s just say lots. Hopefully one of them will be online catalogue worthy for them. In fact though, this isn’t the kind of site where the awning really comes in handy.IMG_5313

Here’s why. Can’t really see the view. When there’s no view or there are neighbors, it’s awesome and can create privacy where there was none. But when there are towering trees to wake up to, I’d rather see that.
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IMG_5320We did a loop through the trees up to a place called Sempervirens Falls. It was glorious. About a two mile hike through deep forest with very few people on the trail. Approaching the falls we saw a couple and asked if it was just ahead. They replied we might want to reset our expectations right there because it wasn’t much of a falls. This we knew already but their comment was funny. They added that, while the view itself wasn’t much right now, it was entertaining to watch the crestfallen expressions of people as they arrived at the observation deck. We’re Californians, so we were impressed there was water at all. I guess others might not have been bowled over by what looked like someone had left a faucet running.

IMG_5325Back at the site, we looked at battery usage, because of course we did, and got dinner ready. Tri tip steak and veggies on the grill plus a beer or two equals perfect dinner. I’m slowly honing in on a couple of logistical solutions for grill oiling but I’m open to suggestions. I kept a plastic cup with oil and a silicone brush in it all weekend which I used for any oiling related tasks. At the end of the weekend, I dried the brush with paper towels and threw out the cup. That kept really gross dishwashing down a bit.

Saturday night we tried to conserve battery power by not running the fan, but just left the cover open. It worked fine and we didn’t have any condensation in the morning. We actually have not had issues with condensation except when it’s been raining a long time. Again, drought here, so we are usually able to run the fan on low and wake up a little crisp, but totally dry.

Sunday we wrapped up leisurely and pulled out right at noon. Long, slow drive back, trying to take the pull outs when it was safe, so others could get past me. As long as I was going slow on the curves, it was all good. “Ten” was the word for the weekend and we’ll be looking for chances to go back there.

Total miles: 93.6 miles, Engine Time: 3 hours, 57 min, 16.1 mpg

Site: Huckleberry 63. Awesome site, Huckleberry is the place to be. Most sites great, but 63 looked the best to us.

IMG_5333Now we get into battery data. For anyone not really really interested in this, you’d be well advised to stop reading here.

Ok, so our battery holds around 100 amp hours and it’s not great for the battery to drain it lower than 50%. Without this fancy monitor, there is no good way to get an accurate read on what’s happening with the battery. The Alto comes standard with a little thing you plug in to look at the voltage, but that’s not a very good indicator of where things are, for reasons I only partially, and fuzzily, am beginning to understand. I am providing some voltage numbers because I happened to write them down, but Richard is now going on about how, if anyone asks me, I should explain something about voltage and draw vs. voltage and solar putting things in….. My reply to anyone who asks me anything is really going to be to just ask Richard. Nevertheless, here’s some data on how much some of the battery powered items in the Alto appear to draw:

  • 12v fridge: 3A when running (more on that later)
  • Fan at low speed: .3A
  • Fan at high speed: 3A (anything less than high drops it quickly to 1A or less)
  • Water pump: 2-3A while water is running or it’s pressuring the system
  • Lights: .2A each
  • Propane water heater: .6-.8A when it’s heating

So all of those things have a draw, but how long they run is kind of key. We are really looking closely at the fridge. Richard sat there with a stopwatch trying to figure out its cooling cycles to see if he could make sense of it. It was so regular as to be predictable to the second. The thing is, we experimented with turning its temperature setting down from “3 1/2” on the dial, all the way down to “1” and it didn’t seem to have a major impact on how often the external fan went on, or how much of a draw there was in amps. Over time, it was the fridge that was the biggest battery user, so we’d like to keep experimenting. What we didn’t try, but might next time, is to turn it off at night when it’s cold. Everything inside was always plenty cold, even too much at 3 1/2, so we were hoping setting it lower would all but stop it. It didn’t though. More on this developing story later….

I looked at the voltage numbers occasionally, but mostly we were looking at the minute by minute draw or the percentage of the battery. For a couple of reference points, when the battery was at 69%, I noticed the voltage was 12.1. When it was down to 56%, it said 11.4. And right before hitching up, the percentage was 51%, there was about an Amp going in from solar, and the voltage said 11.8. As for overall battery usage, here are some numbers on how the percentage went down from full over two days:

  • 100% on arrival
  • 95% going to bed Friday (after 1 hot shower, fan on high, and fridge running)
  • 81% on Sat morning (running fridge set at 2 and fan on low all night)
  • 78% at 11 am Saturday (after another hot shower, with fan while showering)
  • 73% at 4pm (while we were out, only the fridge was running)
  • 69% at 7pm
  • 67% at 9pm (after shower #3)
  • 56% Sunday morning (no fan overnight, only fridge, set to “1”)
  • 51% at noon before hitching up (and after shower #4)

Total amp hours used for two overnights: 49AH (yay!)

IMG_5328Now for the solar panels. We mostly did not get much in the way of solar putting energy back in to the battery. A look at the pictures will explain why. We were in deep shade. The best we ever saw going in was 1.03A and that was when a shaft of light hit one of the panels. The other was in shade. The ambient light was putting in from .2A to .6A, so not much. Certainly not enough to offset our usage for more than two days. As it was, my primary question has been answered though: Can we boon dock in beautiful state parks with no hookups in the worst case scenario in terms of solar power? Answer: Yes. Yes, we can as long as we are thoughtful about battery usage. IMG_5330More than two nights and I think we’d need to see how much we can save by turning the fridge off at night. Richard is on a mission now to understand the fridge and we may be able to do some tweaking there. But really, for me, this is all academic. I’m mostly interested in knowing about weekend getaways and now I know that we can do it without power. Yeah, for longer stays, we’d need either 1) sun, 2) electric hookups, or 3) a generator. We’re not planning to go down that road for right now, but I think Richard is thinking more seriously about installing two 6V deep cycle batteries some day. That would extend the usable amp hours to something like 175. For me though, I’m not looking at longer stays but it’s good to know our limits.

I’m going to just add that when we got home, the battery had only gotten back up to 61% after being plugged into the car and recharging during a three hour drive. That was a surprise, as we thought it would be higher. We still had to get Dory up the driveway with the caravan mover, which we know is a huge draw. We did get her up no problem, and at the top, the battery measured 56%. So that was an immediate 5% drop just to get her in the garage. Also good to know if we’re ever cutting it close.

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Slumber Party!

IMG_5238This weekend I got to hang out with my long lost Learning Center partner. Ok, it may have only been a couple of months, but it feels an eternity. My gal Marsi moved to a gorgeous house this past summer, sitting on 5 acres in the Sierra foothills, and I got to have a playdate with her while camped in her driveway. Man have I missed this lady!

IMG_5225We got out around 10 on Saturday and took a leisurely, scenic, route via highway 4 to 99. Her place is off highway 50 before you get to Placerville, but we didn’t want to do the highway drive. The roads less traveled were alternately either very nice and new, or probably next in line for repaving. Lots of open grass land out in the central valley, but we crossed a surprising number of waterways along the way.

IMG_5228As soon as we arrived, Marsi and I got right into catching up as she served us a delicious chicken curry and rice lunch. Yum!! I’m not even sure how long we talked, but Richard disappeared into Dory at some point and fell asleep to the relaxing sight of his Trimetric battery monitor. This weekend was a test of “boon docking,” or trailer camping with no hookups. We’d done it a few times on the maiden voyage, but we didn’t have a high end battery monitor to entertain us with constant data, so this was Richard’s idea of a perfect afternoon.

IMG_5233Here are some numbers for you, cause you know you want to know. With a fully overcast sky, we measured an overall deficit of -2.15 amps per hour when the 12v refrigerator’s compressor was running, but nothing else was on. When the refrigerator compressor shut off after a cooling cycle, we were bringing in a net positive of .8 amps per hour from the solar panels. That makes sense because we have seen that the fridge tends to draw about 3 amps when it’s running. So, with an overcast sky, the solar panels are only putting in around an amp. When the fridge runs, the battery is being drawn down and when the fridge shuts off and nothing else is on, the battery is being recharged, albeit only a little. This is very good to know. How often and how long the fridge runs will depend on many things, like how hot it is outside, what temperature we’ve set it to, and what we’ve packed inside it.

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We will be going for two nights without hookups next weekend, so we’re looking pretty closely at these numbers, trying to gauge how much we’ll have to conserve energy. As I was inside chatting, Richard sent me a photo of the monitor reading a positive of +6 amps in because the sun came out a little.IMG_5230 So bottom line: it really matters how much sun is hitting those panels. If we were in a site in full sun, I don’t think we’d have a problem with battery draw. Trouble is, the sites I like are the ones in the full shade of the redwoods. That being the case, we will just have to watch closely so we don’t draw the battery down too low. The battery holds about 100 amp hours and you are not supposed to run it down lower than 50% capacity. So, math tells me we get to have a total deficit draw of 50 amp hours. If we have solar putting amps back in, that number may get bumped back up all the time and never see a significant drop. If, however, you are planning to go to Big Basin Redwoods State Park next weekend, you’d better think about energy usage.

I eventually ended up in Dory next to Richard and we both sort of nodded off for a while. Heaven. Oh yeah, except the fact that I have some sort of weird allergic reaction happening that seems to have started on my ears and is now covering all of me in hives. So yes, I dozed, but woke up itchy. Still not sure what triggered it.

We hadn’t even unhitched at this point so after we woke up, we spun Dory around in the driveway and set up. There is a gorgeous view from her property across the hills and toward the sunset. Nice place to retire!

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Marsi offered us burgers on the grill for dinner, or popcorn and a movie first. We went for the popcorn and watched “Philomena” together. Very good movie there. Judi Dench is an amazing actress. After movie time, we had pumpkin pie and more conversation. Then it was off to bed in our little slumber party house in the driveway. We were snuggly little bugs in our traveling guest room and fell asleep after another episode of “Breaking Bad”.

IMG_5242In the morning we woke up late, made cinnamon rolls to share, and I took a shower. Marsi again outdid herself with breakfast burrito makings. We brought her a 12v cappuccino. The sun came out on Sunday and Richard got very excited when the monitor read a net positive of +9 amps! So that seems to be about the best case scenario in terms of amps in. That’s with full sun, nothing running. Second in power draw to the fridge is the water pump. When you don’t have a hose connected to city water, you have to pressurize the system with the battery driven pump. IMG_5241It looks like that draws around 6 amps when it is running, like during showers, or dish washing. We think we can avoid overusing this by taking advantage of campground dishwashing facilities, but we really do not want to give up on our trailer showers. The water heater draws a minimal amount and the LED lights draw a minimal amount. The fan draws around 3 amps when running on full speed. In all, for about one day of use, the monitor said we used 34 amp hours and brought the battery down to around 67%. Over two days, this could be a problem. We think though, that with a conservation mindset, we will be ok.

IMG_5252Sadly, we eventually had to leave. We said our goodbyes and headed out around 3. Another thing that is not present in someone’s driveway is a sewage dump station. So we scoped out possible dumps along the route using apps like “Allstays” and “Sanidump”. Handy. We decided to stop at the KOA we passed on our way up. It was a nice little spot. Not sure I’d camp there, but it was a perfect place for a propane tank refill and a dump. On the road again, we made it home in time for pizza and “The Walking Dead”.

We thoroughly enjoyed our little slumber party! It was fantastic slipping right in to that kind of easy, honest, conversation you only get to enjoy with a few kindred spirits. We certainly gathered lots of data and we are ready to see what happens with two days of no hookups. Should be a data intensive weekend.

Total miles: 120.9 (we did take a couple of wrong turns however), Engine time: 3 hours, 6 minutes (see previous note), 17.2 mpg

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Colusa

IMG_5198Now the real test begins. Things are starting to crank up at work for both of us. This weekend proved to be a good indicator of whether what I pictured for weekend trips was realistic.

Again we did the Friday afternoon departure and I brought my laptop and some files along with the weekend groceries. We pulled out around 4 and headed north, up the 505, in the general direction of Yuba City. This park came to us as a recommendation from an Altoiste as a nice local park, nothing spectacular, but a nice getaway. Backing up just a little: I had made online reservations for a place up the coast several weeks ago, but had never gotten a confirmation. A finally returned phone call a few days before the weekend confirmed that actually, the place was closed for the season. So Colusa Sacramento River State Recreation Area became a quick Plan B. Tiny park, but “we never fill up” sounded good enough to us.

When we pulled in, the sun was setting and I was tired. Exhausted in fact. The drive ended up being about three hours and I hadn’t really unwound from the stress of the week yet. I was worried about that. Upon arrival, the first thing we noticed was that the site we had reserved was taken by someone else. We circled again, thinking maybe we’d made a mistake, but as there were only nine sites in total, it didn’t take long to do the double checking. For a while we just sat there in between sites and went from checking out what services there were in the couple of empty sites, to scoping out just how settled in the people in site 6 looked. What I didn’t want to deal with was setting up in a empty site only to have some angry people knock on our door late at night. Then a guy came up to us who had a tale to tell about mixed up reservations and double booking that had apparently happened to him that day. So, a quick decision was made and I backed into site 8 because it had electricity, if not a lovely view (it was right next to the bathroom).

We unhitched, set up, and got dinner going. This would have been a great night for something microwaveable. I was still tired and the deep breath and “Ah” had not yet occurred. Really, it wasn’t until we were sitting down inside with the privacy curtains closed, a plate of fresh ravioli with parmesan, and a beer in hand that I started to feel the tension slip away. Up until now, this has happened almost immediately upon pulling down our street. But it did happen. Dory has that kind of relaxation power.

IMG_5197We both slept well Friday and woke up Saturday with cinnamon rolls and an interesting spectacle happening outside our windows. There was a big RV and a fifth wheel camped next to and across from us and the guys, one of whom was the one we spoke to the night before, were very busy erecting huge towers of what looked to be antennas. At first I thought, “Wow, that’s a LOT of trouble to go to just to get TV reception.” But there were three towers, accessible only by 20′ extension ladders, with lines being run through the trees and way up high from one tower to the other. There is really nothing on TV of such high quality that this would make any sense.

IMG_5196So Richard went out after coffee and chatted with them. Turns out, they are HAM radio guys and there was a big, world wide, check in happening and they were there to set up a station for Colusa county so that anyone anywhere in the world who was participating would be able to connect to each of the 58 counties in California. Pretty fascinating guy actually. He came over and chatted with me later and checked out Dory. He’s been through all kinds of interesting in his life and is “between jobs” after having scored big during the dot com bubble ages ago. IMG_5195One other guy was a PhD from Lawrence Berkeley Labs and one was a high level plant manager at some huge company. All self described “Type A+” super nerdy, hyper intelligent, guys with serious time and money on their hands. So here they were erecting giant towers so other nerdy, international, HAM radio people could put a check in the box for Colusa County. We liked him. And I think he was impressed that we were able to introduce ourselves with our HAM radio call signs. KE6SAI and KE6RQD, by the way. I learned a lot about solar flares and high frequency wavelengths I’ll tell ya.

Richard had intended to go for a bike ride and had scoped out a route. Unfortunately, when he went to get his bike ready, the saddle broke. Sad Sweetie. But he was very flexible and instead worked on setting up his tires the way he wants them for short little rides and he even put my ladies squishy saddle on his bike for a quick spin around the immediate area.

IMG_5185As for me, I spent some time setting up our awning with the Front Wall attachment. I’d sent it back to Pahaque to retrofit the attach points in order to make it hang better. I also asked them to see if they could make putting the pole into the grommets easier and they definitely came through. There are now straps to adjust the vertical tension and I think this is going to work far better. We had to go through a fair bit of wrestling with the pole last time. Hammers may have been involved. It’s a very nice set up and exactly what I was hoping for in a little private side room. So that’s where I spent much of the day, alternating between getting work done and chatting with interesting neighbors.

IMG_5194There was another couple who came over to look at Dory and they happily invited us over to see their homemade teardrop. The guy who built it had never done anything like this, but is a professional cabinet maker. The workmanship definitely showed. IMG_5192It was absolutely beautiful inside and they were both justifiably proud. They showed us clever little tricks like mounting tool boxes outside by the doors for shoes and sewing quilted curtains to keep the heat in during the winter. They were just passing through the park for a quick lunch and gave us some good recommendations for future parks to check out. Nice people.

Right about dinner time, a huge wind started picking up and I got to try putting the side flaps down on the awning as wind breakers. Wind breaking ability: check. Because of the added shelter, we got to enjoy a nice grilled dinner outside despite the bluster. IMG_5204After dinner however, we checked the weather to see if this was something to be concerned about. Seeing as how this is still California, the sudden departure from perfectly calm and sunny showed up on the weather app as a “Severe Weather Alert”. We didn’t want to risk it, and we took down the awning and put everything back in the car. It never really did get that bad, but there were several drops of water that fell from the sky, so I can understand the urgency of the weather app’s warning message. Again: California.

IMG_5205Sunday I opted for the indoor kitchen to make pancakes, eggs and sausage for breakfast and we lazed about and slowly packed up until around noon. On our way home, we made a house call to a fellow Altoiste who had placed an order but was in the waiting queue for a 1723 (shower model) and wanted to see a few things. It’s a narrow subset of people who can jump right into a conversation about US/Canadian border crossings, One Trip Permits from the CA DMV, and foam mattress toppers as their first conversation.

IMG_5201I think we learned this weekend that yes, we can take work with us (at least I can) and not have it ruin the weekend. Yes, we can unwind and detach and yes, it does help to get out and away from home, but it may take a few hours, especially after a hectic week. All in all, it’s better to be typing in a nice park and it’s nice to take breaks and meet interesting people or go for little bike rides or walk around somewhere new. Just being in Dory is still a thrill and she feels like a safe zone, even if there is cell service and wifi.

Total miles: 108.4, Engine time: 3 hours, 13 min, MPG: 15.2 (interesting, we got 17.9 on the way home; we brought water with us, so the discrepancy is either the result of a full water tank vs empty, or we had more significant headwinds than it seemed to me while driving)

Site: 6, but then 8. Future sites: 9 or 5

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FYI, he’s standing on a stool here and still had to really stretch. There’s a lot of head room under the awning.

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Lake Solano Park

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Oh yes I DID back her into this site, baby!

Well that was a lovely weekend out. The town of Winters is just about an hour, depending on traffic, to the North of us. I do believe we stayed at the Lake Solano Campground many years ago when we were bike touring, but none of it actually looked too familiar to me. Mostly what I remember of that bike trip however, was that 75 mile days were too much for me at that time so I may have been so exhausted I wasn’t registering my surroundings. This time around was definitely better.

IMG_5125We again made for a Friday afternoon departure and arrived around 6 or so. It’s amazing how much I don’t care about traffic when I’m going somewhere to camp. It was pretty packed on the short stint of 80 East that we had to do. Solid stop and go for at least ten miles. No frowns for me though. We were in Bruce with Dory in tow, heading out for a leisurely weekend and it didn’t much matter what time we got there given how close we were. I packed fresh fettuccine, Alfredo sauce, and caesar salad makings for dinner, along with a baguette and a beer (for me). Can’t beat that.

IMG_5134I like this campground. It’s woodsy and small and the sites have a fair bit of privacy. Our original plan was to boondock this weekend in order to see how much power we actually draw from the battery given our usual level of activity. Thing is, it was going to be in the high 90s and we chickened out at the last minute because we knew we’d want to run the A/C. That was a very good call indeed.

The site I first reserved was right by Putah Creek, with a place where you could even launch a kayak or raft right from your site. We went by it and it looked nice for future trips. but very shady, so solar wouldn’t work. The site we got with electric didn’t have a direct water view, but it did have one side that was completely private and there was plenty of space and lots of shade.

IMG_5141For some reason, this park was lousy with peacocks. I took lots and lots of pictures of peacocks because it’s not like I’m used to being surrounded by them. It was also quite the bird lover’s entertainment center. Looking out Dory’s windows, I could spot all kinds of different species. Didn’t try to identify most of them, but I do know a woodpecker when I see one, and there were lots of those to look for when not being distracted by the numerous tree squirrels and ground squirrels everywhere.

IMG_5135Saturday morning we tried a recipe for the Omnia oven that we made from scratch, mixing and measuring the dry ingredients at home into Ziplock bags. We got the tip about the oven, as well as the espresso machine, from a site called The Boat Galley. The woman who writes it lives full time on a boat and she has all kinds of reviews and advice for living small. She also provides recipes for the Omnia and this weekend we made a streusel coffee cake. Yeah. It was as good as it sounds.

IMG_5145While Richard went off on his crazy go-up-the-tallest-thing-nearby route, I pursued a modified curriculum of 6 miles and as close to flat as you can reasonably get. My route took me past the creek for a ways and then through idyllic orchards. It was hot, but not bad enough to ruin the ride. I got to Winters for lunch and had the best salad I can remember ever having. It had cold cuts of roast tenderloin, with mixed greens, chimichurri sauce, roasted corn, pumpkin seeds, feta, and tortilla strips thrown in. OMG, yum! I also IMG_5148picked up a couple of slices of mixed berry pie because this time I remembered by bike baskets and lock. I made it back to Dory and basked in Air Conditioning Loveliness. Not long after, Richard arrived hot and sweaty after his much more substantial workout and the two of us broke into spontaneous giggles over how awesome it is to come inside a fully cool Dory after braving the California heat. That night we had chicken fajitas on the grill and roasted corn on the cob.

IMG_5138Another lazy Sunday morning and another round of pancakes and eggs on the griddle and we got ready to pack up. I discovered that it is better to do the dishwashing using the outdoor shower with the spray head and nice hot water. Inside is just a bit too small if you’re doing big pots, and campground facilities often don’t have hot water, even if they do have a dish station, which this place didn’t anyway. Doing the washing outside makes a significant reduction in how much grey water is going into the tank. Doing it this way, we were nowhere close to filling the tank even after four very comfortable showers.

This is a place we’d like to visit again and we scoped out a few sites that would be perfect, both electric and “dry”. It’s close enough that we could easily just hop up there whenever and it doesn’t seem like it gets too packed.

One bit of excitement did take place early Sunday morning. I had woken up around 3 feeling anxious, which I later realized was probably my subconscious telling me I had forgotten to do something important. It didn’t come to me then, and I went back to sleep. At 7 am, I heard my phone. There was just enough cell service to see that Samantha was calling, but sadly, not enough to actually hear what she was saying. I tried back several times to no avail, and then panicked and jumped in the car with my phone to find a better connection. I had to actually drive out of the campground, over those big spikey, bust-your-tires-if-you-back-up things, but soon found enough bars to make a call out. Samantha answered right away thankfully and dispelled my first fear. My next fear was that she was calling to tell me the dog had died, which is when it hit me that the thing I’d forgotten to do was to fill his pill box for Sunday. She wins best doggie caretaker of the year award though, because not only did she wake up on time to give him his pills, but she also was plowing ahead trying to make sense of all the numerous pill bottles after trying to call me. This is how I dispensed life sustaining veterinary information to her: “Brown one, round yellow one, hot dog shaped yellow one, round white one, oval shaped white one, pink one.” And thus, our aging dog gets to continue another twelve hours. Satisfied that all was well, I turned the car around to go back to the campsite and found the front gate locked. The only other way in was over the spikey things. So I parked at the office/nature center and walked all the way through the campground to our site. I was very glad in that moment that I had thought clearly enough in my panicked state to put on shoes. And clothes.

Other than that, the weekend was perfectly pleasant and boring. I’ll have to start waxing philosophical with these blog posts or something, otherwise it will just end up being a repetitive string of “Alissa had a nice weekend”. Just know though, that the weeks bring on a respectable amount of stress. Between jobs, and kids, and the dog walking around wheezing, we are only able to stay afloat and semi sane because of the glorious respite Dory provides. Where the biggest problem you face is whether you want pancakes or leftover mixed berry pie for breakfast. Or when your biggest frustration is that the picture you snapped on your iPhone just doesn’t capture the vast expanse of river you got to ride by. Given these moments of peace and childlike playtime, we can weather the daily grind with less drama and more patience. And that’s a good thing all around.

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This is the picture Richard took. He is frustrated at how little this shot was able to capture the scale of how far the water receded into the distance.
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Whereas this shot, on the other hand, because of the relative sizes of the cups, makes it seem like the table is fifty feet long.

Total miles: 53.7, Engine time: 2 hours, 10 minutes (with heavy traffic), 16.7 mpg

Site #19. Future sites: 36, 37, 25, 26, 14

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Olema

IMG_5105The highlights from this weekend included learning that going more than two weeks without Dory is too long, and learning how to back her up! The backing up is a pretty big deal because I was starting to develop a complex around it. Now that I know it can be done, it’s just a question of practice.

The plan was to head out as soon as I was done with work on Friday. We only had a couple of hours to drive to Olema so we weren’t in any huge hurry. We shopped for groceries the night before and plugged in the fridge so it would be cold in time. In terms of timing, everything worked out perfectly, including a little side trip for Dory this week to a trailer guy to check out her balance. I think she was leveled properly at Safari Condo, but we noticed early on that she looked a little lower on the driver’s side and that’s probably because we packed all the heavy things, pots and pans, tools, etc. on that side, so she needed adjusting. We were happy actually to find this guy because we like having a west coast person who can be our Dory Doctor when things go awry. Randy, with Randy’s Mobile Auto Repair, comes highly recommended and clearly knows his stuff. He’d never seen an Alto before and he was thoroughly impressed by the design. He was so excited in fact that he dragged Richard underneath to point out the custom brackets and the slick way everything is put together. Right away, he wants to do some “mods” by swapping 2 6V batteries for the 12V up front, which is exactly something I have been trying to talk Richard out of since before we got Dory. I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

IMG_5086After a nice little drive toward Pt. Reyes, we arrived at the campground around 5 and saw that our site was a typical back in site. We’ve tried from time to time to back in, but have abandoned pretty quickly given the miracle of the Caravan Mover. Really, it doesn’t take much for Richard to become agitated and start yelling “You’re jackknifing!” and that’s when I call it a day. It’s something I want to know how to do though so we gave it another go. Now, understand, I had already read a great deal about trailer backing, way before we ever got Dory. Plus, all the advice along the way. So I had phrases like: “Tiny movements”, “Put your hands at the bottom of the wheel”, “Go slow”, on repeat in my brain every time I slowly, carefully, and with tiny movements, jackknifed the trailer. It actually seemed like no matter which way I turned the wheel, she would always follow the same exact painstaking, and fully incorrect, course. So at that point I decided I just didn’t get it. This time, we were in no hurry, there was lots of room at the site, no one to block with long term maneuvering, and we had electrical hookups to recharge the battery if we needed to use extensive Caravan Mover-ing to bail us out of whatever I got us into.

So here we are at the campground with everyone around us happily sitting by their various grills or campfires. Richard and I bring out the walkies and I instruct him that the only words I want to hear him say are either “Good job” or “Stop”. I sat there for a minute really thinking this through. If I want Dory’s butt to go toward the driver’s side, I want Bruce’s butt to go toward the passenger side. Should make sense, right? So I start by turning the wheel just a little, and I can right away tell the same thing is going to happen as all the other attempts. Then I decide, screw it, I’m going to turn the wheel a LOT, just to see what will happen. I can see little trajectory lines on Bruce’s rear view camera and I max out the path and inch back. BINGO!! Right away, she started doing what I thought she should be doing. IMG_5092I think Richard actually said something unauthorized over the walkie at that point, like: “Hey! It’s actually working!” I kept it slow and adjusted the wheel back as soon as I could tell I’d turned her enough. What I realized was that probably what people meant by “Tiny movements” was not so much the turning of the steering wheel, but how far you should try to go before making an adjustment. But the adjustments themselves need to be quite assertive at times. So without any need for pulling forward or anything, I just backed  her the hell in the very first time! Like a trailer person! Richard and I were so elated, I jumped out of the car and we laughed and hugged and celebrated loud enough to draw a “Great job!” from one of the groups near us. That was awesome.

Dinner Friday was mushroom tortelloni, boiled in our blue nesting Magma pots, with marinara sauce, parmesan, and a caesar salad.  Satisfaction is when someone says, “We don’t have any fresh ground pepper do we?” and you can leap up and say, “Why yes! Yes we do!” and pull it out of the thematically organized plastic bins under the sink.

IMG_5140Saturday morning Cafe Dory served up some fresh chocolate croissants, baked in the Omnia oven, and cappuccino on the veranda. All that was missing were the French accents.

Richard then went off for a long bike ride and I tried to see if I could accomplish mission #2 of trailering: getting work done, but in a nice environment. I usually have some kind of work I need to do over the weekend, like report writing or test scoring, and I knew that wasn’t likely to change. But how much nicer to do that in a beautiful place? At first I couldn’t say for sure if I was happy or sad, but the internet connection at the campground allowed me to get on to our database. Damn. Luckily, the connection was short lived and before long, Richard texted to see if I wanted to meet him for lunch. But I did need to get the work done, so I brought the laptop with me and drove over to Nicasio, a cute little town along a rapidly shrinking reservoir. Full cell service there, so after a quick burger, he took off and I sat in the bar of a nice little restaurant and banged out an IEP.

IMG_5100To reward myself, I went on a pleasant little bike ride up to Pt. Reyes Station. My plan was to find dessert to bring back to the trailer, but I forgot to bring anything that would have allowed me to carry anything larger than a cookie. I also forgot to bring a bike lock, so there went the cookie idea. So it was just a nice, mission free, ride. I settled for ice cream bars back in Olema where I met Richard after his long loop. He was super happy with his map app and didn’t get lost once. Well, actually he did, several times, but he figured it out quickly. Dinner Saturday was satay and veggies on the grill. A bit of “Breaking Bad” at bed time and that made another perfect day.

IMG_5093Sunday, inspired by having found maple syrup sold in bags (stories of broken maple syrup bottles and subsequent clean up have made a deep impression), we pushed our culinary limits with pancakes, eggs, and sausage, on the grill. We got an adorable griddle insert and it worked like a charm. Chatted with neighbors, gave a few tours, and headed back a little after 11.

We were getting sort of hungry on the drive and started looking for nice places to stop. It wasn’t until we got all the way to Highway 37 where we found some place acceptable. Only trouble was: the pull out off the highway was a short, dead end parking lot with not enough room to turn around. We decided not to think about that and raised the roof for a quick bite. Then I got to practice some real backing, with a real angle. Again, I did the “No I mean it” steering, aiming for putting Dory’s butt into a parking space, and it really could not have gone better. I took before and after shots to show the amount of space I had. I won’t say I’m getting cocky quite yet, but I will say that was one satisfying weekend!

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This was how we pulled in. I backed into the space to the right until I had enough room to turn and face forward.
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Fully backed up, and now turned around!

Home again around 3. Couldn’t ask for anything better.

Total miles: 76.6, Engine time: 2 hours, 19min, 16.5 mpg

Olema Campground, site #163. Future sites: 125, 126, 127, 145, 146, 147

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