St. Helena Driveway Camping

Driveway camping in the Napa Valley environs – Thank you Quinns!

This was a great outing. Even though we didn’t get to keep our winter plans down south (we’re on 3 year streak for cancelled reservations at Joshua Tree), we were able to safely get in a test run with Lola, due to the supreme kindness of a couple of local Altoistes. Back in March, at the very beginning of the shelter in place, we hunkered down at Putah Canyon Campground on Lake Berryessa. Gaye Quinn graciously reached out to us to offer her property as a refuge in case we got kicked out. We declined at the time, but asked if we could cash in a rain check now that everything is closed down again, and they were more than wonderful to say yes. Their property is in the Napa Valley area and they escaped catastrophic fire damage only by the skin of their teeth – and the ingenuity of their neighbors with massive land moving equipment. That’s a whole story right there! But they are close enough, and plenty isolated, that we felt comfortable getting in a test drive with Bruce2 and Lola so the holiday wouldn’t be a total bust.

Bruce2 is ready to tow

We hit the break-in period for Bruce2 right on the nose and began the journey with exactly 500 miles of gentle driving on the odometer. Richard got in one last project before we left, which was to replace the solar controller in Lola with an Epever Duo Racer, which means he can pull off some of the solar input and direct it toward the coffee battery. We had six nights of dinners on board and 24 washcloths to try our hand at sponge bathing so we could perhaps extend our time before needing to dump waste tanks. All systems go!

Patches of countryside untouched by fires

I knew I’d be nervous towing again after the accident, and I was. It wasn’t perhaps as bad as the first hundred miles at pickup in Quebec, but every stop caused my heart to race, wondering whether the person behind me was paying attention. I took some backroads rather than the freeway to get started, but ultimately, you have to get on a freeway at some point to cross the delta. It was all expected and I made it without freaking out; I was just really alert the whole time. Thankfully, most of the drive was through lonely, winding country roads.

Gaye and Mark: best hosts EVER

Gaye and Mark greeted us as we pulled in and they get a five star rating for being wonderful hosts. Their property is gorgeous, and you can see from the singed hilltops all around them how close they came to losing everything. All along the drive, you can see the devastation. There are pockets where structures were clearly protected by firefighters, but then there are many that didn’t make it. And there are just miles and miles of scorched trees and barren earth. But their little valley remains, with all the vineyards intact. They’ve even got a pond on their land, though it is really low right now. For this outing, we mostly just wanted to test out the systems and driveway camping was the perfect spot.

That eye of Sauron is actually a plate of olive oil and balsamic, used for dipping with the fresh sourdough. Wow.

Little did we know, this campground even comes with fresh homemade sourdough bread, a plate of delicious olive oil and 25 year-old balsamic vinegar, and cheesecake! Our offering to them was far a less impressive: Omnia baked Trader Joe’s croissants. However, it was presented on the Altoistes “Pass Along Platter,” so now they are part of that fun tradition. The platter began its journey at the 2016 rally in Oregon and has travelled through Canada and the East Coast. The Mazzas were the last recipients, so now we get to send it forward to the Quinns. Once we can all come out of our Covid cloisters, some lucky Altoiste will be the recipient of something delicious.

Yep, that is nice light for sure.

Everything in Lola works perfectly, and we even got to christen the pristine looking stove with some very messy Blue Apron dinners. At the forefront of our minds were a couple of key questions, the first of which being: what do we really think of that BFW and do we want to change our Dory2 order to include one? To those who have one, we get it. The light that comes in first thing in the morning is lovely. It makes the front table very cheery and bright. And though we didn’t have a show stopping view, I can imagine that it would be nice to look out that window if you’re pointed the right direction. As for the cons, we found that, even though I figured out where to relocate all the things displaced by the missing overhead storage bins, that is a pretty big loss. It was our most used storage area, so we definitely noticed the absence. Second, it is entirely possible we are descended from vampires (as our son’s holiday sleep patterns would seem to confirm). Yes, the early morning light is nice, but as soon as the sun shone through directly onto our faces, we would hiss, “Hhhhssssss! It burnnnssss ussssssss!” and close the shade. To be fair, we do not have a Magneshade, which is an outside covering that is supposed to solve the glare/heat problem. But boy, you can feel the heat coming through the window, and this was December.

Privacy screen if you pull the shade up from the bottom

Next, there is the fishbowl feeling. Yes, you can pull up the shade half way to get privacy, but when it’s open, (unlike the tinted glass windows) you are just right there on display. The newer models have the shade pulling down from the top, which is good for the vampire factor, but less good for fishbowl. Even with all this said, the prettiness of the first morning light was enough for me to ponder how I could make something that would be fairly easy to pull up about half way to get the same effect. And I could make it attractive and opaque, and then I could pull the shade down for glare, or put the Magneshade on outside, and that could all work. But at the end of the day, no. For us, the downsides outweigh the upsides, but more than that, it’s a feeling. The Alto is my private little cozy safety pod. I think if we didn’t have the wall of windows that come with the R series, I’d feel differently. The openness at the front is nice for sure, but there are little things, like I still want to put up maps and dry erase boards and tissue boxes that I can knock off with my head every time I sit down. And I want to feel cozy and not on display when I’m sitting at the front. So no, our holiday gift to Francois, our sales rep, is that we will not be changing our order.

Pope Valley is just lovely

The next system we got to try was the water heater. This comes with a sponge bath story as well as a frantic call to Linda with dogs. When we first thought we might be using a 1713, the model without the shower, another awesome Altoiste was there to talk us down and teach us the ways of sponge bathing. Like she wrote out detailed directions and made a video. We watched that more than once, I can tell you. So now we don’t have to go that route, but we wanted to try it anyway, just to see if we could extend stays and not need to dump the grey water tank as frequently. We packed 24 color coded washcloths into a brand new collapsible tub and dove right in. Richard ended up really liking it, especially because his towel didn’t get as wet. Me, not so much. I felt icky by day two and was ready for a real shower by day three. Since this was a test of choice, rather than necessity, I caved. Lola arrived at Randy’s fully winterized, and we have no clue what unwinterizing entails. We blithely disregard every Altoistes discussion when they come up in the fall and spring in order to preserve our California climate willful ignorance. So we turned on the Truma water heater, and once it had been given sufficient time, I got in the shower and ran the cold water into the toilet bowl, waiting for hot water goodness to start coming through. After filling one bowlful of frigid water, I questioned whether I knew the hot from cold knobs. So I switched it and filled another icy bowl’s worth. Ok, so abort and Richard then looked at the Truma panel to see an actual error code. Did we bring the manuals? No. Did we have enough service to download any of the dozens of Truma files on the Altoistes site? Nope. So we called the only person we thought would not laugh at us for too long, since we knew she also had never winterized her Alto. With Linda’s help, we identified the correct orientation of all the little plumbing valves, but only after we had, through trial and error, aggressively dumped all of our fresh water onto the Quinns’ driveway. It’s like we are brand new campers, you guys, except twice as stupid. Finally we got it sorted (it was the fault of the yellow valve, by the way) and eventually got actual hot water to flow. But now we had a practically full black tank and practically empty fresh tank, so we moved our departure date up a couple days. Oops.


The time spent not dumping water onto the ground was taken up by touring around the area. Richard rode and I drove, so that we could check out how some of our favorite spots at Lake Berryessa had fared. The news was not good. It is really beyond description how bad the fire damage is, and how extensive. Guard rails all along the roads were mostly lying on the ground because the support posts had been incinerated. Countless charred trees stood bare against a once green landscape. It just makes you cry. All through Pope Valley and down into Napa Valley, the fire scars just slap you in the face. Horrible. The couple of notes of relief included the fact that Putah Canyon Campground looks mostly unscathed and seems to be getting ready to reopen in a month or two. That makes me glad, as it represented such an important little refuge for us. Everything around it is burned though. The Visitor Center at Spanish Flat also made it, as did the little ceramic tile mosaics. Steele Canyon Campground looked ok, though obviously closed due to Covid at the moment. Also the day use area and canyon around Lake Hennessy looked good. Turtle Rock Bar made it, the odd place with all the dollar bills hanging from the ceiling. But generally, the hills around the east side of Napa Valley are a hellscape of burned forest and I don’t know how something like that comes back, or if it ever does.

Aetna Springs Resort

We got to see the ruins of the abandoned Aetna Springs Resort, a historic go to destination from the 1890s to 1970s. That area has an interesting history and the buildings that are standing give a window into California’s past, complete with the location where Ronald Regan announced his run for governor in 1966, as well as the subsequent occupancy by the Moonies. But perhaps the highlight of the bike/car side trips was the fact that the Passport has plenty of room to stow Richard’s bike atop all the other stuff. That’s a big win there.

Putah Canyon Campground still there – just barely

We thank our hosts profoundly for the opportunity. It was important for me to get out on that horse again before too much time had passed. The drive home was noticeably less tense than the drive up and the entry back into the garage went far more smoothly than the exit (also, it really helped to let air out of the Caravan Mover jockey wheel tires). We went home via Putah Canyon to dump waste tanks and I took backroads as much as possible. Really this made things far more enjoyable and maybe I’ll just keep doing that. The stretch of 680 from 24 to 4 is the least pleasant driving of almost any trip. So even if it takes more time to go the back way, perhaps that’s the wiser thing to do.

Happy new year to all! 2020 was … well, that was something. With luck, 2021 might bring some less socially distanced camping. It would be lovely to share stories and laughs with camping friends.

Total miles via Putah Canyon and taking back roads: 82.7 miles, 15.4 mpg. The Passport does not have a trip time feature anymore. I wrote down that we left at 12:40 but then forgot to write down when we arrived at home. Time data might stop happening. Dumped at Putah Canyon $15.

Processing the Loss (Hendy Woods 3, MacKerricher 2, Manchester 2, & Salt Point 3) #vanlife


Hi there. We are alive. We’ve been doing a lot of thinking, and regrouping, and we were lucky to have had a week over Thanksgiving Break to focus on only that. After the accident, we needed to clear everything out of Dory and kiss her goodbye for a while. That stung, but we vowed to keep going. By the way, in case you have not yet heard the “Keep Going Song” by the Bengsons, here it is. I have it on repeat. You’re welcome.

The first step on our road to recovery was to get back on the horse, which in this case, took the form of a Class B “Coachmen Beyond” motor home, rented though We had some super sweet reservations made six months in advance for this week and we had been very excited about them. So, rather than wander around the house, rattling chains and moaning, we plowed forward and clicked “yes” on a whole slew of very expensive therapy items without thinking them through too much.


What this looked like in action for Richard was a really full Friday. He picked Bruce up from the body shop at 9am, looking shiny and good as new (Bruce, that is). The mechanics even said they did some kind of tests on the frame and gave him a clean bill of health to tow again. Not so sure what I think about that, but it sounded like good news anyway. From there, Richard drove about an hour and a half up to Woodland to pick up the van. He got a super thorough training from Spence, the van owner, and then drove it all the way back home. Some of you may not realize that Richard can drive. In fact he can, but it is not his favorite thing. Desperate times though, so he not only drove this thing home, but all the way back up to Hendy Woods, which we didn’t get to until after dark. When I got home in the afternoon, I saw this enormous vehicle parked in front of our house and I was like “No way am I driving that.” In pictures it looked “cute.”

“No problem, I’ll drive!” Richard said, and literally just started throwing things inside. We attempted to “pack” the more delicate items the best we could and took off. Like super slowly. You could say it is funny that our current version of roughing it barely fits into a gigantic 22 foot vehicle. I’ve come a long way from my backpacking days. But we made it to Hendy Woods in one piece and there we got to figure out how we were going to live in this new environment for 9 days, as well as how we were going to live without Dory every weekend.

Don’t judge. For us, this IS downsizing.

Turns out leveling a van is not that different.

Everything was on the table to consider. We walked it all the way back to the foundational questions of what we were trying to get out of camping and what were the non-negotiables that would take us across the line into “not worth it.” We considered everything; tents, really fancy tents, pop ups, T@Bs, Basecamps, really big trailers, vans, all of it. And we then made a list of bottom line needs and started crossing things off. Know where we landed? Alto 1723. That’s it. That’s the thing that works for us and that is IT. If we were infinitely wealthy, I suppose we could buy the house next to us and turn it into RV storage, but barring that, we need something that goes in our garage so that it can be packed and ready to go, without too much work, every Friday afternoon. Additionally, and in order of priority, we need: 1) indoor toilet, 2) indoor shower, 3) indoor gas stove, 4) bed large enough for bed roll, 5) heater, 6) bike rack, 7) tow car (ie not a van). If you cross reference that list against something that can be stored inside a garage, you land on: Alto 1723. So given the fact that this is such an integral part of our family’s collective mental health, and given the expectation we now have that we will definitely crash again, we need something that does not ground us for 2 years while waiting for a new one from Quebec. I’ll cut to the chase: we decided it would not be all that crazy to have a spare Alto.

I will tell you that Safari Condo has been absolutely awesome to us. Here is what they said about production time: “We actually sacrificed one of our stock and gave the production spot to you. We were able to do this since our 2021 Spring RV show were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Without any RV shows we were able to deal with having fewer stock units. We were also happy to be able to help you since you have both been wonderful and dedicated promoters of our trailers and company. Showing it to future owners and even appearing on TV shows with it. We take care of our customers in need/bad situations and we try as hard as we can to help them. Getting you DORY 2.0 this fast is a way to say thank you.” *sniff* ❤️

So we will not have to wait two years for a new one, and we love them to pieces for that. But we are scared now and wouldn’t expect them to do this for us again. We had joked/not joked before about needing a “backup Dory.” This experience has shaken us badly, and the only way we can move past the fear is to basically plan for the next crash now. Even as I was pondering what we might name a new Alto, there is a part of me that views everything as temporary. So if I were to go with some other name, like “Marlin” for example, there are only so many names in the Nemoverse that I’d be willing to use for a trailer. We’d run out. So we will serialize. We will soon have “Dory2” and I’m sure we will learn to love her – until she crashes. Kidding/not kidding.

Better to be messy in your own home.

In the meantime, it will still be several months before she arrives and we are bad enough at staying home single weekends, that we figured we needed an in between solution. Randy worked out an amazing deal with an Altoistes couple to use their 1713 for the interim. We kind of feel like we’ve been living the ending scene from “It’s a Wonderful Life” with all of the kindness that has come our way these past weeks. We are seriously overwhelmed, and very grateful for all the love. One thing that became immediately apparent in the van though, was that when you are in someone else’s vehicle, it is nerve wracking. Besides really wanting to not crash the thing, you also don’t want to get it dirty, scratched, etc. We took good care of Dory, but if we messed her up, that was on us. I would feel horrible messing up someone else’s RV. So we vowed to be ready to jump on any used 1723 that came on the market. The only problem is that they hardly ever do, and when they occasionally show up, they sell in minutes.

Well, what do you suppose happened? 🙂 We had several people alert us to an announcement on facebook, and the owner, having seen our sad story, made the commitment to sell to us, despite all the offers they got. I will do a whole post later about “Lola Too,” who is beautiful and currently in North Carolina, waiting to hitch a ride back here. We have our “heir and a spare,” as our Alto BFF put it so perfectly.

This loop is like a tour of California’s Greatest Hits.

As for the trip and the campgrounds, there’s not nearly as much to say. We’ve been to each of these places at least once before and they were everything we needed them to be. From the towering redwoods in the middle of Mendocino County, to Highway 1 down the coast, this is California at its best (and mostly not on fire). I will note that one of the things we were most excited about was the apple pie from Gowan’s Oak Tree, just outside Hendy Woods. This is the best pie I’ve ever had and a big part of the reason we did not want to abandon the reservations. We may or may not get reimbursed by insurance for the price of the rental, but even if it turns out to be a $3,000 pie, it was worth it.

The Coachmen Beyond van was pretty swanky and we learned immediately that we love the Truma Combi heater. Way back when we ordered Dory1, my Canadian boyfriend, Denis, tried to talk us into being the first Alto to get the Truma installed. Richard was concerned about it being a new technology in the US and worried about getting it repaired. We passed. I reached out to Denis last week to tell him he was so right and we were so wrong. He reacted like, “I know.” with a facial expression of “duh.” It is extremely quiet and maintains the temperature steadily. The Suburban, in contrast, comes on periodically and noisily. One tradeoff is that you can dry your towels over the vent from the Suburban, whereas the Truma spreads the heat across multiple outlets for more even heating. Plus, since vans are insulated vehicles, it was warm and cozy the whole time. I was also really excited about the larger 12v fridge because it fit a lot more. I was thinking this would be the increased size we would be getting in Lola and Dory2, but it turns out this one was 6 cu ft, as opposed to 4.3. Our current fridge is 3.5 cu ft, so we’ll get an increase, just not as big. In general, it was easy to use and had all the amenities, including an indoor bathroom and shower. The touchscreen control panel was super fancy and fun to use. So many gauges, and different lighting zones to turn on and off! It comes with a 12v television and though that is a smaller picture than Dory’s hanging rear screen projector system, I will say, it is a lot easier to use. If we were looking at something like this to buy, we’d get one with the bedroom area in the back so we could leave the bed made and still get to the bathroom without climbing over the bed. If you sleep with two single beds, this model would work nicely. We didn’t use the induction burner stove much. Our pans and milk frother do not work on it, so we pulled out our propane camping stove to do most of the cooking. The van drove well, getting on average 13 mpg, and yes, I learned to drive it the rest of the trip. In fact, I was not nervous about handling, even on the “roller coaster” section of Highway 1. I’d say it was nice enough that it seriously got us thinking about vans. The only thing is, when I want to follow Richard on some crazy bike ride, or if we want to go three miles off road to get to a trail head, I do not want to pack everything up, and this is not the vehicle I want to take on rough roads. For those reasons, we still want a trailer that stays put, paired with a tow vehicle that is fun to drive and can take some back country.

Our packing job was pretty impressive, considering. I did forget a hairbrush, and we forgot propane canisters for the propane stove, but those things were easy to come by in town. Morning #1 required a creative solution to hot milk for coffee, but it worked. My favorite packing fail was Richard’s. He packed half of all utensils: 2 forks instead of 4, 2 spoons, 2 knives, etc. So, as he is the one who generally likes using chopsticks, he didn’t pack any for me. How many did he pack for himself? One. That was amusing.

So, onward. I hope to have news soon about Lola Too’s arrival and subsequent adventures. Dory is sheltered in place at Randy’s until we can get things in place for her to come home. Dory2 will enter production way sooner than we’d even dared to hope. And there will even be a post for Bruce2 coming soon! So much has happened the past two weeks. Richard has adulted like he’s never adulted before. Between arguing with insurance adjusters that Altos are NOT the same as T@Bs, to getting finances made available (like a LOT, really FAST), to arguing with Honda salesmen that hitches really seem like they should be included in a trailer hitch package, to getting certified checks speed delivered across the country, all in a pandemic, he’s been a badass.

The details – like do I keep the pin map with all the places we’ve been in Dory1 or do I start over, do trips taken in a van count toward the campground visits numbering scheme, do I need to rename the blog – all those things will get figured out. Meanwhile California heads into another shut down and I will focus on all the kindness I’ve witnessed. As Clarence says: “Remember George, no man is a failure who has friends.” This experience is showing me that we have some really good friends out there.

Hendy Woods SP

MacKerricher SP

Manchester KOA

Salt Point SP

Alto #633 : June 25th 2015 – Friday 13th, November 2020

June 25th, 2015

This will be the most difficult post I’ve ever written. And it will be long, because this is part of how I hope to process it all. A big huge thank you to every single person who has reached out to offer support, a nice note or text, a sad face reaction or comment. I’ve taken strength from all of it. Let me cut to the chase before I tell the story, so that you will not be in suspense. Dory has suffered irreparable damage following a rear end collision. She is “perte totale,” or a total loss. We have been in shock and grieving, and know that this will hurt for a long, long time. But here is the story. Pictures at the end because they are too horrible to casually scroll through.

Last Friday, the 13th, in 2020, during a global pandemic, on the first real rainy day of the season, and in the fading light of dusk, we set out like we do, in the late afternoon, heading for Samuel P. Taylor. And in an instant, we lost our Dory. About 20 minutes from home, we were traveling on Highway 680 North, like we often do, and about to pass the offramp to Highway 4. I saw the sudden backup in the lane ahead and started braking pretty hard. But I drive slow and we were fine with the unexpected stop on a slick and busy highway. It was a dicey enough situation, that I thought to put on the hazard lights to warn the people behind us. They were also able to stop, from what I understand. So we were stationary for a bit before it happened.

I probably will hear this sound in my mind forever. And see the image of Dory in the mirror, flying off to the side, knowing she was disconnected. The jolt was not as disturbing as the sound. And in my mind, even in that split second, I knew. I said, “Dory got hit,” Richard said, “Fuck!” but I knew Dory was gone. It was that bad a sound.

Altos are not your typical trailers. They are made like aircraft, using super lightweight materials and an aerodynamic design to keep them light and easy to tow. Their body is made from aluminum sheets, sandwiching a stiff honeycomb core. This allows them to be rigid and sturdy and take a lot of movement on the road. But the engineering depends on the integrity of the whole. We’ve seen how these things are put together and every step requires specialized expertise to assemble the parts into one brilliant puzzle. And it begins with the floor being fitted precisely into the aluminum frame. You cannot come back from frame or floor damage without a complete rebuild.

I turned off the engine and slowly walked back to see my worst fears confirmed. Richard called Randy. The hitch, along with the entire weight distribution system, was twisted and contorted and hanging off the back of Bruce with no Dory attached. She was nose down, maybe ten feet behind. Both safety chains were ripped off, dangling from Bruce, and the emergency brake cable had also been torn off. But it had done its job, and stopped her from rolling into other traffic. For a moment I thought she might be ok because the front didn’t look too bad.

Then, as I walked around the back, I saw. The bumper was torn mostly off and hanging by a thread, The bottom back section was crushed. And though the roof looked bad, I had the fleeting thought that maybe it could be replaced (which would be no easy feat). Looking underneath though, it was unmistakable that the floor had suffered serious damage at the back end as well. I texted Randy: “Dory is dead Randy. Accident on 680.”

Richard had called 911 and walked toward me. I simply stated, “Dory is dead, baby. She’s dead.” I never call him “baby,” Shock is a funny thing. I don’t think he processed that or heard me, and someone came up asking for a fire extinguisher. As I looked around the highway, I saw that at least 4 other cars had been totaled. Someone was walking through, asking if anyone was hurt. The wrecked car nearest to us was smoking.

From there, it’s a blur. Fire engines arrived, and CHP. People started asking questions and papers had to be retrieved. I went inside Dory first to get the fire extinguisher and I could see things had been tossed around. After I got the insurance and registration, I just started putting things back. I saw no broken glass from the crescent windows, and in fact nothing looked broken inside. I even checked on the coffee cups and there was literally not a scratch on them. We pack well.

Tow trucks and clean up crews began arriving. One woman was taken by ambulance on a stretcher but I heard that she was ok, just shaken up. She had been inside the totaled car that was smoking. Richard was on the phone with insurance and was getting instructions. Meanwhile, he started trembling violently and tried to sit on a guard rail post. Did I mention it was raining this whole time? At some point, someone put a jacket on him and that struck me as too Covidy, so I wanted to get him into Bruce. So he pulled the twisted weight distribution bars off the back we drove Bruce to the side of the road, where we were both able to sit inside for a while.

A tow truck positioned itself in front of Dory, getting ready to put her on their wrecker. Richard, still on the phone with the insurance company tow driver, told them to stop and wait because the other guy with a flatbed was on his way. The CHP officer stepped in and informed us that we were not allowed to wait and that it was his job to clear the highway as fast as possible. Things got tense. We asked if they could simply tow her to the side of the road so we could wait for our tow truck there and at first the officer seemed to agree with that. The tow guys kept reiterating that we would have to pay the full price whether they towed her to the side or all the way to Randy’s. That wasn’t the point, we tried to explain, what we needed was a flatbed. When it appeared there was no choice in the matter, they hitched her up. Safety chains were gone, the hitch lock was unusable, and then they informed us they had to tow her to the next exit to get her safely off the road. So we followed as they took her away from us.

If what had already happened wasn’t bad enough, we then got to watch as they pulled about twenty yards onto the offramp and Dory jumped the hitch. She was rolling with no chains or emergency brake until she came to a stop by hitting and wedging herself against the guard rail. I think only the state of shock we were in prevented violence. I simply took pictures to document the fiasco and told them not to touch her. And then our tow guy finally showed up. We made the wrecker guys leave, which they were happy to do quickly. At this point Richard had Randy on the phone, which he handed to the driver. After a brief conversation, Richard got the phone back and Randy said to thank the man for his time, to make him leave, and to sit tight until his guy could get to us. We trust Randy with our lives, so we did exactly that. We waited, now in full darkness, on the side of an offramp, Bruce’s hazard lights flashing and headlights fixed on Dory to warn approaching traffic. That seemed an eternity, but it was worth the wait.

This guy, I think Carl? basically put his life on the line to get Dory off the guard rail without causing further damage. He was wielding chains with giant hooks like a towing ninja. He pulled just a little on one side, then got back out into fast moving traffic to reposition his truck. Then he moved chains, got back in the truck, just a little more repositioning, until finally he had her on a course where he could pull her up without having her just scrape all along the side. It was masterful. And death defying. And we are grateful. We followed them all the way to Randy, who had been clearing out his shop for her in the meantime. We both could see the extent of the damage as we followed behind and it was then that Richard started processing the possibility that Dory’s road days might be over. He began sobbing.

Carl got her off the truck and Randy pulled her into his shop using a forklift. I was not really taking anything in and just continued the process of putting things away inside, trembling uncontrollably. Like if everything could just go back in its proper place, all would be ok. Getting a better look, I was amazed by how much things seemed fine. The kitchen shelves fell, but I put them back up. Things flew out of organizer pockets, and shampoo fell onto the shower floor, but really nothing broken, no damage. Randy told me that if there was any way in the world to do it, he would fix Dory. Then I started sobbing and gave him a full Covidy hug with no regrets.

That was Friday. Through the weekend, we mostly cried, and have gone through all the symptoms of shock and grief. And actually, though I have mostly felt no physical symptoms as of Monday, as I started to write this, the trembling started back up, double time. We now know that really, she is not repairable for the road. We have wonderful friends who were quick to contact Safari Condo on our behalf and we shall see what is possible in terms of getting another Alto. She is well insured and Altos certainly hold their value, since you can’t easily get one. The downside is that you can’t easily get one.

We’ve started the process going with insurance and we’ve taken Bruce in for repairs and a diagnostic. He may be retiring, but on the upside, we had already begun thinking about that. Just not this soon. We’ve emptied both Bruce and Dory and realize: a) that doing so is really really sad, and b) damn we carry a lot of shit when we go camping. The list of mods we’ve done to Dory goes on for miles and each one hurts to think about. Like the latches, the Lagun table, the Mr. Moose key holder, or the etched 633 in the window, done by a friend at a rally. Ouch.

So Carpe Dory is no more, at least no longer in its original form. We have some hopes and dreams for what might be done with Dory I, and perhaps there will be a Dory II. And I know she is just a trailer, but she has been like our child. Each of our actual children has had a terrifying health scare, and I can tell you that this feels no less traumatic. If we do get another Alto, I can’t help but feel we will never love it as much as we have loved her. But I guess that’s what you say about the new puppy after you’ve lost your beloved dog, right?

And now I need to write several love letters. The first I’ll address to Safari Condo and to the Altoistes group. The fact that the Nadeaus have created an inanimate object that elicits this level of bonding from its users is extraordinary. As I said, Altos are not ordinary trailers, but it goes beyond the engineering and design. This is a company that treats their customers like family (or their “California girlfriend” in our case) and treats their product as though each one off the assembly line is one-of-a-kind. They create trailers, but they do so for the joy and happiness of the people who use them. And that culture has carried forward into the Altoistes group I started. Some of my dearest friends are members of that group. The moment I expressed what had happened, I had people jumping in to help us. So many offered us their support and well wishes and this is not something that happens in every facebook group. There were even Alto owners offering us the opportunity to use theirs for the interim time. There is just something about Altos that attracts really good people and that is pretty special. And if this experience has shown us anything, it is that there is literally nothing else out there we would buy instead of an Alto. And also, we cannot live without one, so the near future will be rather tough.

The next is to Randy Wilferd. I know I have sung his praises before but this guy, on a Friday night, at the drop of a hat, turned everything upside down for us. He coerced his guy with the flatbed to come save us because he knew we would need the best. And he cleared out his indoor garage because he knew it would be better to have her in there since she can’t be sealed up properly. He was there for us, again, in a big way and we can never thank him enough. If you use his services, don’t you dare be a pain in the ass customer to him. Overpay him if you can, thank him profusely, and know that you are lucky to be getting the best and most honest RV mechanic out there. He is also a little crazy and that is also why we love him. Thank you Randy. Again.

And of course, thank you Dory. You picked me up after a year of tragedy and you brought Richard and me back to life. You carried us when we were scared, and elated, and always gave us shelter from the storms. You got us through some terribly dark years, but only just. And remember when we played ‘where am I?’ with Jimmy Gunn? You’ve been our escape hatch and our weekly therapy retreat. You’ve been a weekend office, and a full time Learning Center. You’ve been across the country and back, twice, and so many other places in between. We loved you at first sight my dear, and our love only grew with time. We are so so sorry this has happened and that your road days have come to an end. But what a trip, eh? We would never ever have seen all of these places and met all these people were it not for you. You made adventure doable, Doryable, with hot showers and espresso in the morning. And you got to be a TV star too! We love you and will never forget the times we had with you.

As for the future, we shall see. We watched “Finding Nemo” to cry to on Friday night and “Finding Dory” to cry to on Saturday. We will ‘just keep swimming’ and we have some ideas for how Dory might be able to be repurposed in a spectacular way. If we get a Dory II, I’m sure we’ll learn to love again, though maybe not quite like this. And perhaps the blog can be renamed to ‘Carpe Dory Duo.’ Not sure. Just taking this one day at a time, cause that’s what Dory would do.

Sunset SB (6) and Moss Landing (4)

Saturday, November 7, 2020

If there were a psychological time marker associated with these two weekends, it would read: 45:1458 for the last, and 46:1 for this. What a difference it makes to wake up in a new era. Some people are saying it is like living the ending of “Return of the Jedi” and that feels so true that we actually streamed that movie Saturday night, just so we could fully live the “Yub Yub” moment (nerds will understand this reference). And, sure enough, when it got to the final scenes of dancing celebrations on all the different worlds, we cried, like for the millionth time that day.

A sunrise shot would be more appropriate here, but I don’t wake up that early.

This isn’t really going to be a camping post. This is a marker in time, calling attention to a profoundly important moment in our shared history. Whatever your thoughts or politics, I hope you can feel the joyful embrace of renewed optimism reverberating across the planet. I hope you hear the words of inclusivity and acceptance of all, and the aspiration to work towards the common good. This is a whole new day, hard earned and well deserved.

Reservations made for Moss Landing because I thought I might need otters.

Last weekend the air was literally heavy with choking smoke and an AQI of over 100. Add to that a level of anxiety that held us breathless and nearly immobilized. This weekend we woke with a flood of tears, as the dam broke and let loose all the hope that had been barricaded so deep inside. Fear and uncertainty gave way to relief, and the closest thing to the definition of “hallelujah” that I have ever experienced in my lifetime. Whatever comes, I am grateful to have lived to see that kind of a day. I am grateful to see it play out with those I hold dear, as well as strangers, all across the world. If anything has been made clear this past year, with Coronavirus and all the rest of it, we are all connected. And this weekend, that was a beautiful thing. And for right now, that is enough.

As Mark Hamill said: Yub Nub y’all!

Bodega Dunes (6)

May the sun find ways to poke through the thick clouds bearing down on us this coming week.

Wait what? Weren’t we just at Bodega Dunes last weekend? Yep. But we originally had reservations at Bothe Napa and those got cancelled due to fire damage. A cancellation opened up a spot at Bodega Dunes and it is never a bad idea to go to the Sonoma Coast. Unless it’s on fire, I guess. But besides that, I have yet to get tired of it.

I see why people do this with horses. That would be way easier.

Again, it was a great weekend. This time we took a hike over the dunes to catch what there was of a sunset on Saturday. Hiking uphill in sand is really hard by the way. Other than that, we were super lazy and that was both well earned and much appreciated.

For future reference, site 77 had good solar.

Sunday began well, but turned into a semi panic attack. We were coming home to a Red Flag warning and possibly no electricity due to high winds and fire friendly conditions. On the surface, that already sounds kind of stressful, but it’s not like we haven’t been dealing with that for a while. This time though, as we were making fairly detailed evacuation plans, in case it came to that, I started to really stress out. I think my brain simply couldn’t process all of the competing warning signals coming in at the same time. Yes, we can stuff the cat in a box, grab the insulin and put it in Dory’s fridge, load the adult offspring into the two cars with Dory trailing one of them, and we can get to somewhere not on fire. And oh yeah, gotta make sure we have plenty of masks and hand sanitizer because of Covid. And we could stay somewhere for a good long time if need be, as long as we could figure out where the kids could sleep. And water, and dumping…. My brow furrowed so hard trying to weigh options and sift through potential dangers that it started to spasm.

Reminder to take a breath…

But really, I think I’m just barely containing the anxiety associated with the election next Tuesday. It should be obvious to anyone reading this blog that I am not a supporter of the current occupant of the White House. And that’s an enormous understatement. I believe I have been holding my breath on some level the past four years. I know many of us have. What happens next is more than I can contemplate. There will be ugliness, and trauma, no matter the outcome, and that’s about the only thing that’s a sure bet. Camping under this regime has been more than a series of fun weekends; it is the search for tangible reminders that beauty remains in this world. Against the backdrop of emboldened human ugliness, this has been essential to survival.

Someone painted a Swastika on a house in my neighborhood this past week with the T-word scrawled underneath.

Our world has borne witness to a horrific upheaval of rage and hate and all the worst examples of human behavior. What happens Tuesday could either cement this country’s demise as a functioning nation, or begin the process of lancing some of the festering wounds in the hopes that they can be healed. Maybe. There is plenty of damage beyond repair. But there is also plenty of good out there, still fighting for its life.

And there is still much beauty left

We are a family struggling through the teen years. We thought we had it together, like those parents who smile sympathetically as they watch others go through hell, thinking that can never happen to them. We figure, we have solid rules, we’re strong and smart, and we’ll know what to do if things start to go sideways. But here we are, upside down, as the raged out kid shoots up heroin and grabs the car keys.

So we may go hurtling off the highway at a hundred miles an hour on Tuesday. Or maybe there will be an emergency intervention that gives us another chance to work things out. But wow, there are going to be some serious talks that will need to happen. So much therapy. On the upside, timing might coincide with the winter Covid wave and we will all have to sit in our rooms in time out again, and think hard about what we’ve done. I’m down with that.

I’m not sure it’s honest to say I have hope. Maybe I have deeply guarded hope. And not just about the outcome after Tuesday. If I have hope for anything, it is that maybe we could stop being so shitty to each other for a while. Like just for a breather.

Hang on tight friends. It’s going to be a week.

Bodega Dunes (5)

The weather does not get better than this.

So glad we went out! Richard really had to hustle to make this weekend happen, but he pulled it off. After our last excursion, as we were getting Dory back up the driveway, I noticed one of the tires did not look right. Like dangerously not right. Like I think we were lucky to have made it home without a blowout. So Richard spent the week doing research, calling about inventory, shipping times, calling local tire places, all of it. Impressively, he was able to get two new trailer tires put onto our rims and put them back on Dory, lugs tight and ready to roll, all by Friday. We are both extremely thankful we didn’t have to deal with changing a tire on top of the road to Fremont Peak. According to the tire guy, something delaminated on the inside, as in, the tire failed before its time. For our part, we really do not care about getting our “money’s worth” on tire longevity. We’d rather buy new tires frequently rather than ever ever have to deal with a blowout on the road. We have all the necessary parts and tools if need be, but yikes that would be no fun.

Emergency brake and pull cable

Dory and her new shoes were ready to roll on Friday, but something was keeping her from moving when we commenced launching procedures. It usually only takes a medium sized push to get her rolling, but this time, even an outright shove was not moving her. Something was up. Of course the first thing we did was to make sure she was not still on top of a jack, or jack stand, or that she was still chocked. Seems obvious, but worth checking. Nope, not it. So we figured it had to be that the brakes were engaged. We have an emergency brake safety cable installed, but it didn’t look as though it had been pulled or tripped. We’ve never done anything with it, so we weren’t even really sure how to test it. But we weren’t going anywhere without figuring this out, so Richard yanked the pin out and then pushed it back in. Sure enough, he heard a little click and her wheels were rolling again. We figure somehow in the tire changing process, some wire must have triggered the brakes to lock. Glad we got that sorted.

Arch Rock

Home was forecast to be in the 90s, but it could not have been more lovely on the coast. Blue skies, temps in the 80s, what a glorious weekend. Richard rode for a while and I drove up the coast to meet him in Duncans Mills. On our way back south, we stopped at Goat’s Rock and hung out on the beach a little, trying to avoid the other fifty thousand people who had the same idea. The whole coast was really packed with Californians avoiding the inland heat. Richard was looking forward to stopping for a scone at Wild Flour Bakery, but he said the crowd made it way too Covidy to be worth it.

See Star just chillin’ with some anemones

We planned to grab a picnic dinner from Pelican Plaza Market and Deli to take with us to the beach. We even called at 3 to ask how late we could order from the deli. The person on the phone said 6. We got there at 4 and the deli was closed. That’s a PR fail there. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, maybe there were so many people in that day, they ran out of food. It certainly seemed so because there was not much left in the case. I settled on a couple of pasta salads to go and some cookies. Oh also, I put a margarita to go into a thermos, so really, dinner food was not the most important item on the menu.

This + margarita in a to-go thermos = perfect day.

We did our favorite trail down the Pinnacle Gulch Trail to the tide pools. Low tide coincided perfectly with the sunset and we were super smart by parking our car at the exit point, on the street at the top of Shorttail Gulch Trail. That way, after having a margarita and walking back up a thousand feet, the car would be right there. We are sunset professionals and we do not mess around.

Westside County Park Day Use Area and boat launch

Sunday we planned to grab crab cakes for lunch at Spud Point Crab Co. We needed to go that way anyway to use the dump at Westside Campground because the dump at Bodega Dunes is closed for some reason. Driving past, we saw a loooong line of people who were kind of sort of distancing. But yeah, there were a lot of them. So we were faced with an existential crisis of trying to decide whether Spud Point crab cakes were worth risking possible death. When that did not provide a clear answer, we instead asked whether crab cakes were worth risking our daughter’s death. To that, we had to answer no. Dammit. Covid sucks. No crab cakes for us.

Instead, we had chips and salsa for lunch in Dory, parked in the day use area, and actively debated whether I should try to get my boat in the water, and if not, why not. Cutting to the chase: I did not. But also, didn’t need to. The weekend was perfect just as it was.

Total miles: 89.7, 15.0 mpg, 2 hours 35 min. Site 60. Great solar, no hookups. Dump closed. Dumped at Westside for $7. Good dump there. Pretty good LTE for both from the site, but service drops in and out in that area.

Fremont Peak SP (& Betabel)

Valley View Campground

Weekend of information gathering: check. Fremont Peak State Park has long been a glaring omission from the list of local state parks visited. The primary reason for this was the description of the road getting there as being narrow, windy, and with steep dropoffs. This has never been my favorite kind of road, so I’ve avoided making reservations there. Then recently some fellow Altoistes checked it out and assured me it wasn’t that bad. Meanwhile, Richard has been itching to go there because climbing to the top is a Jay’s Essential Ride.

As the weekend approached, we were both keeping a close eye on fire status because this is definitely not a place that has an evacuation route. Things looked ok though, with much cooler and more humid weather moving in. Still, I was nervous. I have been consistently zombie-like following a day of zoom school. The idea of doing a scary climb on a Friday after work had me worried.

Betabel RV Resort

So we did what we thought was super clever by reserving a site at nearby Betabel RV Resort. We could stay there, avoid the scary drive at the end of a tiring week, and spend Saturday checking out the park without being hitched up. That way, I could get a sense of whether the road was doable with Dory for future trips. All good planning there.

Yeah, it’s a bit packed

We have driven past Betabel countless times without any reason to stop. It is literally right off Highway 101 near Gilroy, and from the road, looks like a parking lot for big rigs. But it gets a 5 star review and had a site, so we figured what the hell. And it turns out, it is in fact a parking lot for big rigs, but with well manicured lawns and attractive shrubberies; ones that look nice and not too expensive. I honestly don’t get what people do in places like this, but clearly it’s a popular spot for long timers to move in and set up porches and semi permanent patio areas next to their behemoth “mobil” homes. Due to no fault of the management, the people next to us made us very uncomfortable. They were spread out right up to our site, with lots of maskless family gathering going on. Even getting out of the driver’s side of the car, it was impossible to maintain 6′ distance. We sheltered inside with windows and curtains closed and pretended not to care.

San Juan Canyon Road

Saturday we got outta dodge and drove to the bottom of San Juan Canyon Road to launch Richard. It’s an 11 mile drive up nearly three thousand feet of elevation gain. The description from Jay is spot on. Road conditions are pretty bad, but since you have to go slow anyway, the unfilled potholes are not jarring. The first half is a very easy woodsy drive through the valley, with not much climbing yet. The middle part gets more exciting as the grade kicks up and you have to navigate a couple of blind corners with a rock wall on one side, and a dropoff on the other. There were guard rails, of sorts, for each of these, but that provides more of a psychological assist than any real safety measure. Then you find yourself atop a ridge that goes for maybe half a mile. Then at last, you enter the woods again before arriving at the entrance to the park. I sagged Richard the whole way up and honestly, it wasn’t that bad.

Don’t look down….

We found the site we had let go and noticed it had not been claimed by anyone. We also noticed it had a spectacular view and tons of privacy. That led to pondering whether to ditch Betabel, eat the reservation fee for that night, and go get Dory. We decided to see how I felt on the descent, keeping tow worthiness in mind, and we could decide when we got back to her. We arrived back around 3 to find the family again spread out all over the place. “Pack up!”

Ahhh… yes, thank you.

It’s impressive how fast we can stow and tow when under the threat of fire or loud Covidy gatherings. Bruce got Dory up that road like a champ. I wasn’t even nervous. It might have been a case of situational bravery, considering the alternatives. But once we got settled in to our super private site with a glorious view down into the valley, there were repeated declarations of “this is so much better!” for the rest of the evening.

View of Monterey Bay

So, we have discovered a new-to-us state park that I look forward to visiting again. There are views up there of the entire Monterey Bay area. You can even see the twin smoke stacks marking the location of Elkhorn Slough. As the clouds rolled in below, we were treated to a sandwiched sunset, beaming through the stratus layers. In the morning, we got to enjoy our coffee under a magnificent blue sky with nothing but the sounds of birds and far off campers. We have nothing against the big rig lots, but it really is not our speed. And I’m sure none of the 40′ haulers would consider towing up that road as anything close to a good time. Everything has its place and it is nice to discover a new one.

Total miles to Betabel: 87.3, 17.9 mpg, 2 hours, 26 min. 107 to Fremont Peak, would probably be about 3 hours total. Site VV07, no hookups. LTE for both. Needed leveling blocks on passenger side, but not too bad. Water spigots. No dump. Toilets looked like vault, but we’re not using them anyway. Dumped at Betabel.