Dory Learning Center

Don’t try this at home kids….

Hello from the other side. Not that we are on the other side of COVID of course, not by a long shot, but we have reached the end of the strangest spring I have ever survived. By this Friday, Dory will (fingers crossed) retire her job as Emergency Learning Center and transform once again into a camper trailer. It seems fitting to at least attempt a capture of life in Dory these past three months, even if it has not involved any actual camping.

Once our shelter in place at Lake Berryessa came to a close, we returned home and steeled ourselves to the fact that four adults would have to figure out how to share close quarters in a small house with one bathroom 24/7. I think it took about two days before I activated Emergency Plan B: Personal Space Escape Pod. Before Richard even knew what I was doing, I had Dory out on the upper part of the driveway and was performing advanced maneuvers with the Caravan Mover. Clocking in at a 17% grade, our driveway presented a serious challenge for leveling. But I was committed and prepared to be pretty unsafe. After using all of the leveling blocks, and a ramp, and just the right angle, I achieved a “double 0” on the little bubble levels, which was far better than I expected. I was doing a happy dance while Richard, now aware of my plan, was texting pictures to Randy to see if he thought this was a good idea. All Richard really needed in order to be convinced was the reminder that this would allow us to watch shows at night without the offspring freaking out about the noise and slamming doors. At that point, it was deemed “safe enough.”

Trailer? What trailer?

We are grateful to our neighbors for not turning us in to the Ordinance Police. It would be a stretch to claim that our RV was 95% obscured from view from the street, though we did have both cars parked in front of her. I would have made a strong case for clemency based on being an essential worker, but I never had to. I figure there were probably more pressing things to deal with than code violations.

In addition to offering nighttime distancing, it also allowed me to do all of my distance teaching in relative peace. “Distance Learning,” for those not directly impacted, means a whole lot of time spent recording videos, reading audio instructions, and sitting on Zoom calls. Meanwhile, Richard’s job is to basically sit on a Teams call (same thing as Zoom) all day long, so we would be talking over each other constantly.

We learned that wifi does not travel well through stucco walls and aluminum roofs, so Dory got her own wifi router and a super long cable to make her extra fancy. And she got a super cute little printer that just fits on the little 4″ bench under the table. She also got filled with teaching supplies. What used to be a kitchen became buried under stacks of everything from phoneme cards, to red crayons and bumpy screens, to multistep word problem cards. A definite bonus was having a handy wine fridge ready at all times. Teaching essentials.

Darren got good at short vowel sounds. Diphthongs not so much.

So we got into a little routine of sorts. Richard and I slept in Dory and would wake up and go in the house for coffee and showers. Then I headed out to start working on creating content to send to students. Zoom meetings were abundant and every single time I joined any staff meeting, you could bank on the fact that someone would inevitably ask, “Alissa, are you on a space ship?” Video recording of lessons happened daily. Darren discovered the downside of sheltering in place with a teacher and was involuntarily recruited as my assistant for teaching phonics lessons. Of course, he became the highlight of the entire experience and his mix of dry humor combined with genuine confusion over spelling rules made him a distance learning hero in many households. Best Darren quote: “I actually learned something today.”

Meanwhile, life went on. We found ways to get out by hiking through the open space near and behind our house. Samantha tried finding space by setting up a large screen tent in the back yard, complete with a little cot and desk. I would have invested a lot into that set up, except she ended up not terribly impressed. It was too hot, or cold, had bugs inside and puddles after rain. It was, you know, a tent. And I really can’t be judgey for her not liking it. All those reasons are exactly why we have a forty thousand dollar trailer.

As the “regular” school year wrapped up, I started joining all kinds of committees and focus groups looking at what in the world we might do in the fall. Work on that will continue through the summer. I also offered to teach Extended School Year (summer school for special education) because I wanted to try an entirely different format for distance teaching, in case I have to keep doing this in the fall. “ESY” ends this Friday and we are planning/hoping for a two week trip up into Northern California. It’s not the kind of summer we have grown used to, but it’s sure better than nothing.

I will say, distance learning has been hands down the hardest thing I have ever done professionally. Just considering the sheer number of hours it takes to create the lessons, every day has been a race against time to have something ready to send out. For special education, you have to individualize the content across multiple skill levels, ranging over five grades, in every academic area. Some lessons are literally created for one child and each lesson takes hours to put together. On top of that, there are online subscription programs that have to be monitored, and adjusted, as kids progress. Thank goodness we did that seat mod in Dory, because I basically have a desk job now.

The thing that is the hardest about all of it, besides time, is that you are doing this in a vacuum. You don’t get to tailor the instruction to the minute by minute live feedback from the child, so you have no idea if they are getting it, or are bored, or are even tuning in. An hour of effort might result in ten minutes of student engagement, or it may have overshot the mark. You just don’t know and it is not the way any of us knows how to teach. Nor is it why we teach. My hope is that some of the effort was useful to some. I did a whole presentation to the School Board in May so they could get a sense of what distance learning looked like from the perspective of a special education teacher. It was well received, but my favorite compliment was a nod to the lighting. Altos rule for Zoom lighting.

Near the end of the year, the teachers did a driving parade all through the neighborhoods. Everyone came out and it went on for three hours. What was crystal clear was how much we all ache for that connection. Smiles mixed with tears as we waved and shouted. Parents and kids held signs and camped out along the parade route, just for a chance to see their teachers. It was honestly one of the most moving experiences I have ever been a part of and I tear up just thinking about it.

Dory played an integral role in Distance Learning Center, but I’ll be honest, I hope she doesn’t ever have to do this again. I miss my students, and my families. Still, in and amongst the enormous struggle, there were countless acts of joy, and love, and generosity, and strength, and kindness. I think our community has shown incredible resilience and we will continue to need it as we navigate this transformational moment in history. These days are simultaneously tragic and heartening, and the word “overwhelming” is a vast understatement. But here’s what I know: when things are hard, what do we do? We just keep swimming.

Total miles: 0 in three months. Site: driveway. Great wifi and cell service. Bathrooms kinda gross, wonder if anyone ever cleans this place. Nice hiking trails nearby. All in all, could be worse.

Putah Canyon (2) – COVID-19 Shelter in Place

img_9361Well, it was a good run. From Monday March 16th, to Thursday, March 26th, we were able to shelter in place at Putah Canyon Campground. It is now our favorite place anywhere, but will forever be associated with terrifying times.

When we chose our site, we wanted a place that was not a premium location, but still nice views. We didn’t want anyone else camping next to us, and we wanted to be near a water spigot. That was about it. Because we were planning (hoping) for a long stay, we knew we’d need to use the Barker, so we also wanted to be plastic portable grey tank towing distance from the dump. Our spot was perfect.

img_9346So, we hunkered down. Work continued for both of us, but for one of us at a high speed, feverish pace, as teachers across the country began facing the realities of distance learning. There is a cell tower visible atop the ridge line directly across from the campground, so service was excellent. Now that the whole country was zooming, I got to do so with a lake as my backdrop.

img_9326Lake Berryessa is chock full of wildlife. We saw countless Ospreys, Herons, and your typical water birds. I also got the treat of an up close encounter with my marauder friend. I was sitting outside and heard rustling close by. What should prance out of the bushes but an adorable river otter! He scurry bounced his way up and down the high bank before disappearing back into the lake. I had looked for him all the time, and saw him only that once. But it was enough.

img_9352Between zoom meetings, sending silly videos of myself to my students, and coming up to speed on dozens of new technologies, we got to get in a paddle and some lovely evening walks. That’s probably what will stick with me the most about that time. It was eerie and normal at the same time, to be out on trails and see no one else. We saw people come out to launch fishing boats, and we saw people come out on the weekend, but for hikes we were alone. The weekend wasn’t crazy, like in other parts of the state, but it was also family groups that probably didn’t all live together. We scrubbed, and washed, and kept distance, but it made me wonder how long they would let any public recreation area stay open.

img_9367Everyone else wondered the same thing. In our campground, we got to know “Kenny,” the camp host pretty well (from a distance). He’d go by several times a day in his little golf cart, often just shrugging his shoulders to indicate he hadn’t heard anything new about closing down. “Pam” is the owner and we got to know her too. She was great about letting us stay because she knew our situation. We were not afraid to play the diabetic kid card if it meant we could continue sheltering in Dory. She had all but closed it already to new campers, and went around turning tables over to indicate closed sites anywhere near us.

img_9361But alas, it came to an end on Thursday and I for one applaud the decision. Pam noticed the groups from the previous weekend and worried it would only get worse the next. So it was the right thing to do to close down. Part of us, a big part of us, wanted to consider moving somewhere else. But that would have introduced new risk factors, so we hung our heads and dragged ourselves home. At least kitty was happy to see us.

img_9370We made it just about two weeks, so that was good in terms of isolating after the last time I was at school. We did go shopping once, well Richard did, and we wiped everything down extremely well. When we got home, I had to go shopping again. I will say, Trader Joe’s has got it down. They pre-wipe shopping cart handles, stagger entrance, tape out waiting spots 6 feet apart, and only keep every other register open. Whole Foods, not so much.

img_9342
It was virtual costume day.

What a strange, surreal time we are living through. Or, hopefully living through. I think this will be it for me for a while. Spring Break at Grand Canyon officially got cancelled and we are assuming summer plans are also probably off. I had a lot of nice sites booked whose reservations are just *poof* gone. But, so far, we are healthy (if you don’t count mental health). Putah Canyon will forever be a reminder of safe harbor in a tempest. It was a scary/sad/happy/grateful/awful/beautiful time.

Carpe Dory signing out for now. Hope to see you on the other side.

Lake Berryessa – Steele Canyon & OMFG

img_9301May you live in interesting times.

Wait, no, not that interesting. That’s way too interesting. A little less interesting please.

Wow.

Are you ok out there? Are you anxious? Sick? Grieving? Displaced? Locked in place? Whatever you are, wherever you are, I wish you peace, and health, and love, or as much of those things as can be felt right now. And if right now is very hard, I wish you strength.

img_9247Us? We’re ok. We went into last weekend in a different universe than all of us came out in, but still, doing ok. We had reservations for Doran Beach and I’d like to say we changed plans to achieve better social distancing. I mean, that was also part of the decision not to go, but it was first based on wind. It was going to be very windy out there and I had a site way out on the end of the jetty, which would have gotten hammered. In retrospect, changing to another campground at Lake Berryessa was a good move. Things hadn’t gotten super serious quite yet when we left on Friday. They hadn’t even decided to close schools officially until the afternoon. And we still had the expectation that teachers would be coming back for “work days” on Monday. So it was kind of a normal weekend. Ish.

img_9248We stayed inside mostly because it was raining, and we wondered if we might extend the stay into Monday. What I’ll note about the campground is that it would be awesome for kayak launching. There are lots of sites right along the edge of the lake that would make for an easy place to get into the water. There was no one else there when we arrived, so we felt good about doing our social distancing part. The only downsides were the cell service being not as good and the bathrooms being porta potties. Hand washing aside, we have changed some of our bathroom behaviors in Dory, due to concerns with general cleanliness as well as germ spreading. I’ll just leave it at that.

img_9260By Sunday we got word that teachers would almost definitely not be coming into work on Monday. So, not knowing exactly what was to come over the next week, we decided to go back up to Putah Canyon, where we knew the cell service was excellent and the vault toilets clean. We had one extra dinner (cause we over prepare) so we were good on that front. Richard for some reason did not bring his work computer, but we figured it would just be for Monday and he could improvise. All we had to do was wait for announcements for teachers on Monday. And we enjoyed the sunset, thinking we’d be back to semi-normal soon.

img_9273What we did not expect was that the Bay Area was going to announce a nine county shelter in place order, lasting three weeks, beginning at midnight. We come prepared for a lot, but that was definitely not something we were ready for.

We found out around 1pm. From then until 1:15 we were mostly just dazed and confused and immobile. Once we started processing, we knew things needed to get done and decisions had to be made pretty quickly. First, we knew we needed to go home and get some things if we were going to stay out. Staying out was almost a given and here’s why: our daughter is in a high risk group. We’ve been trying really hard to keep everything clean and sanitized at home, but we share one bathroom with four adults (in age if not behavior, and I’m not referring to the offspring). I work in a school and had been exposed to god knows what as recently as Thursday. I was in a non socially distanced meeting with close to 50 other people as of Wednesday. (I swear, if I go down because of a f*#@!ng AllSPED meeting, I am coming back as a ghost to haunt the director of special education)

Given the lag time on symptoms, there was doubt, and I wanted to be as far away from our daughter as possible. The feeling from her is more than mutual, but is less about germs than it is because of her panicking over sharing confined space with us for that long a time. I know she loves us, it’s just really well hidden. And I get it. For the physical, as well as mental health of all involved, camping seemed the wiser path.

Shopping was the other thing that would need to happen, and that was at least as risky as working with 800 elementary school children. We found a Trader Joe’s between us and home and donned the latex gloves I use for handling raw meat before we went in. I’ll admit, I was super anxious every second I was in there, but no one touched me or coughed on me, nor did I on them, and we wiped the hell out of everything when we left. Frozen supplies were completely gone, but they did have a lot of other food. Why there is a run on TP and not wine, I do not understand, but won’t question. We had to stop at a Safeway and a CVS to get everything on the offsprings’ shopping list, but we did pretty well. Good thing we are always well stocked on TP. Good god.

img_9263It’s about 60 miles to home from the campground, plus extra to go via Davis, so we didn’t get home until around 6. Richard went in, wiped stuff down, and unloaded groceries while they stayed in their rooms. I went to school to get the power cable for my laptop and we grabbed our long term camping stuff: generator, gas can, Barker (portable dump tank), miscellaneous other stuff, and the box of Blue Apron that had been delivered for the week.

Another wipe down and we headed back to Dory. We had a lot of anxiety, but I just focused on thinking, as long as Dory was still there when we got back, everything was going to be fine. And she was. So it is.

IMG_3397I then unpacked seven bags full of groceries into a tiny trailer. Damn I’m good. We have dinners for at least a week, including 3 Blue Aprons, and extras of everything. So much extra wine. Plenty of coffee, thanks for wondering. And Richard discovered he was already packed for the Apocalypse, finding ample supplies of socks and underwear he’d forgotten he had. We will have to go food shopping again, but who knows what will change in the next few weeks. We’re in Napa County, which is not currently one of the ones on shelter in place. We’re treating ourselves as sheltered, no matter what. And while I think our situation is about as safe as you can get in these times, I would also understand if campgrounds started getting closed. It’s not about us, but about the ones not being careful. And, for the record, I had reservations at Wright’s Beach next weekend in Premium site #8. I know I’m not allowed to complain at a time like this. But can I at least mention that it hurts? img_9287

So, here we are. Maybe we live here now. It’s a pretty awesome place to live really. We could be here three weeks, or have to evacuate tomorrow. Who the hell knows. No telling how long schools are actually going to be closed. We’re assuming plans for Grand Canyon during Spring Break are out, as are probably the plans for the Canadian Rockies this summer. It’s amazing how life can turn on a dime. And really, it’s ok. All of it. I hope you’re ok too.img_9288

Total miles to Steele Canyon: 55.5, 16.9, 1 hour 57 min. Site 16, nice and could launch kayak. Pretty good cell service for me, but none for Verizon. Great solar, no hookups, weird dump with big clangy things you have to drive over. Back at Putah Canyon, no data taken because insane. Site 58, great solar, not too far from vault toilet (swanky times). Cell tower right across the lake from us and excellent LTE for both.

Lake Berryessa – Putah Canyon

img_9208I am normally the one in charge of making reservations. Thing is, I can only do so after work hours, past the time most private or call-in campgrounds are taking calls. So I do mostly online reservations; state parks, county parks, or private places with online reservation systems. As a result, places like this just haven’t happened before now. And Richard gets super stressed when he makes the reservations, though I have no idea why. Anyway, he got ahold of “Brandon” at Putah Canyon, after many missed phone calls, and reserved one of their three premium sites. I can’t imagine how he could have done better. And now I really want to check out the other places around Lake Berryessa. There are at least three other campgrounds to try. They are all either private places, or Bureau of Land Management campgrounds.

img_9202We followed Acura navigation to get there, taking Highway 121 out of Napa and up over the hills. It was pretty, but I wouldn’t want to do that in the dark. Google suggested going up Wooden Valley Road and that’s what we did to get home. That drive is also beautiful and would be far easier in the dark. It’s narrow with lots of turns, but not as twisty as the other way. Plus there are no drop offs and plenty of turnouts. As it was, we pulled in at dusk and had no trouble backing in to the huge site. As Richard was getting dinner ready, I  suddenly leaped to my feet and darted outside because I’d spotted the unmistakable signs of an otter swimming along, right past our site. I came back inside giggling saying, “Yeah, you did good with the reservation, Sweetie.”

img_9214There are so many sites in this campground that overlook the lake. Pretty much anything will give you a water view. This one was especially impressive because it’s at the end of a long peninsula, so you get water views all around. On Friday, we had the place practically to ourselves. Some partiers moved in Saturday, but they were pretty well behaved. We both suspect that the place must get crazy in the summer.

img_3374Richard did a beautiful ride on Saturday, even being willing to brave a bit of rain. He stopped in at Turtle Rock Bar & Cafe, which for some reason is covered with dollar bills. That will be a place to try on some future trip. Meanwhile (following report writing duties), I chilled back at the lake. I have the ability to stare at a water feature the entire day and not get bored. So that’s what I did. When he returned, we played our fun with hearing impairment game.

Richard: Did you see any marauders?

Me: What?? Marauders?? What is this? Some kind of pirate lake??

Richard: *laughs hysterically*

Me: Oh. No. No more otters.

img_9210There were maybe five other campsites being used this weekend. There was evidence though that the place is set up to handle crowds. There were two permanent vault toilet structures that we saw, but many many locked or tipped over porta potties throughout the campground. The recycling dumpsters were upside down too, so I guess they don’t deal with recycling in the off season. As it was, we had a bit of a walk if we wanted to use the vault toilets. There are definitely no hookups, but there were a few water spigots and a good dump on site. There is a boat launch with tons of parking, all empty now, and what looked like an overflow pull through parking area, probably used for boat trailers.

img_9227I think if I had wanted to launch my kayak, it would have been difficult from our site. Not impossible, but I’d have to get the boat down some steps to get to the water. There was a nice little flat, paved landing down by the water, which is what makes the site “premium.” One could always use the boat launch area too. I didn’t see any particular sites that would have had easy launching access. There are also several day use areas along the lake with launches and beaches that would be good for kayaks. Anyway, it was too cold for my blood to get out there this weekend.

img_9239We will definitely return to this lake! Heading home via Wooden Valley Road/Suisun Valley Road, we enjoyed a springtime bloom fest of yellow mustard, flowering trees, and rolling hillsides awash with various shades of green. We passed through the tiny unincorporated cluster of buildings known as Mankas Corner. Some time, we will need to stop and check out the little shops and historic sites.

Always fun to discover there is more to be discovered!

Total miles (going): 73.2, 16.4 mpg, 2 hours 25 min. (returning): 70.9, 16.8 mpg, 1 hour 58 min. Site 87 premium. No hookups. Excellent solar and 4 bars fast LTE for both. Water spigots around, but we were warned there was no potable water, so came prepared. Vault toilets few and far between. Porta potties scattered about, but locked for off season. Good dump.

Coyote Lake (2)

img_9146I love Coyote Lake! I don’t know why we haven’t come here more often. Last time we came, Richard was sick. This time, I was sick. But it was a beautiful place to relax and convalesce. Bonus points: the presence of roaming droves of wild pigs!

And here’s your weekly dose of ask Siri: Answer: A group of pigs is called a drift or drove. … A group of hogs is called a passel or team. A group of swine is called a sounder. A group of boars is called a singular.

img_9148This place is an easy drive from home, so we arrived with plenty of light left to back in to a totally level site. Richard did all the unhitching and I rolled out the bed and was down for the count in under ten minutes. I got up long enough to eat dinner that he made and watch a silly chick flick before falling into a deep restorative sleep. Saturday I barely left the <100 square feet of Dory. Yes, I did write a report (I’m just going to keep pointing this out, lest you ever start to wonder whether the job of a special educator is challenging), but I also napped like super hard in the afternoon. When I woke, I felt a thousand times better.

img_3350Richard meanwhile went on a ride around the area that he later described as an “E ticket ride,” akin to a National Park level. It probably helped that the poppies are starting to bloom, but he swears he saw scenes out of fairy tales, with horses frolicking along sun speckled rolling pastures. The only sadness came from seeing an injured turtle that he helped move to the side of the road. We are choosing to believe it is recovering nicely and will live a full turtle life.

img_9151Waking from my late afternoon nap, I peered through the window and spotted the unmistakable shape of a pig snuffling through a nearby campsite. I was excited and took many pictures. I was also surprised that the rest of the campground was seemingly unimpressed. So I went outside to get a better look, and saw that the entire field just below the campground was filled with at least thirty of them. They didn’t seem to be aggressive at all, nor did they go out of their way to bother the campers. Obviously, they had been out there for a while.

img_9158Our city has just gone through a massive wild pig infestation and this was all completely new information to me. Like, that wild pigs existed at all, let alone the fact that they could do tens of thousands of dollars of damage to sports fields. The fields at my school have been totally torn up so this was an actual problem. I’ve been expecting to run into them on my night walks, but have seen none. Now I know what they look like, and I must say, the little piglets are pretty cute.

img_9165We are looking forward to coming to this campground more frequently. It’s not that hard to reserve, is an easy drive from home, and is quite lovely. There was only intermittent cell signal, but we used the booster and that was enough for most things. The reservoir was closed to boaters, due to low water levels, but it would be a beautiful paddle if it’s ever open. There were all kinds of birds, plus of course, the traveling pre-bacon.

Last note: I give a thumbs up to “About Time.” Very sweet, yet poignant, movie. I’ve decided I need more uplifting shows in my life and this one fits.

Total miles: 83.9, 18.0 mpg, 2 hours 30 min. Site 8, electric and water hookups. Non hookup sites in lower loop that look nice: 27, 25, 34, 35*, 44*. 32 and 40 also nice, but no solar. Good bathrooms. Good dump.

Big Basin Redwoods (3)

img_9125Catching up from last weekend, because it’s been busy… I had written a note to my future self the last time we visited Big Basin on how to drive there. I must say, I think I gave myself some solid advice. Even though Big Basin, California’s first state park, is just ten miles away from some of Silicon Valley’s most populated areas, the twisty approach through dense redwood forests makes it seem much more remote. In the Santa Cruz mountains, you have to be careful which roads you take, because some of them are really only “roads” and are definitely not appropriate for trailers. Even the good roads are a lot to navigate in the dark at the end of a long week. So we got there just fine, but I was tired and ready to chillax with a glass of wine upon arrival.

img_9136Opening the door, I realized this was not going to happen right away. In nearly five years of camping, this was the first time we had both missed this particular crucial pre-launch stow-for-travel step. Our Pur water pitcher gets filled before every trip with nice filtered drinking water for the weekend. Upon arrival, discovering the pitcher lying on its side on the floor, it was very clear that all 18 cups of it were evenly dispersed on, around, and under the Chilewich floor mats, as well as over every storage area floor surface. There have been two times in Dory’s history when I’ve used every single spare towel we had on board and I guess I’m glad this time was used for water only. Filtered water at that. So really, you can think of it as a very thorough, and long overdue, surface cleanse. The pitcher was kaput, but it had lived a good life as pitchers go. And there did not seem to be any other damage sustained. And special thanks to the good friend who gave us the Dory beach towel. Wine delayed, but well earned.

Saturday, Richard did one of his favorite rides and I did the report writing thing. When he came back, we did a repeat of the loop trail that takes you to the Sempirvirens Falls. The last time we went, it was in the heart of the drought and the falls resembled a leaky faucet. This time it looked more respectable and certainly worthy of a photo stop. Here’s a side by side comparison of drought vs. non drought:

After the hike, we enjoyed afternoon nappy time and then a Blue Apron dinner. We own the fact that we are filtered water prima donnas and complained frequently about the chlorinated taste of the campground water. We have already purchased a new pitcher and realize we will be among the first to go in the coming apocalypse because we’ll refuse to drink the water. We’re ok with that.

Total miles: 97.0, 3 hours 17 min, 15.9 mpg, site 67. No hookups, no solar anywhere. Generator hours. Dump with weird grate over the top. Trailer friendly sites are designated. Nice bathrooms.

Doran Beach (7)

img_9068We skipped a weekend of camping (for fun reasons) and took advantage of the opportunity to bring Dory in for her yearly physical with Dr. Randy. Randy, of Randy’s Mobile, is really not merely a super skilled mechanic. He is kind of our trailer Yoda and we always end up leaving him with far more knowledge than we expected. Help you, he will, sure, but you will learn the ways of brake shoes before you go.

img_9064He was all ready for us with a lesson on wheel hubs, which included an explanation for how the electronically controlled magnet engages against the metal plate. He showed us how the markings against the metal, combined with the wear patterns on the brake shoes, can tell him exactly what kind of a driver I am. And he was right; I am slow and cautious, rarely engaging the brakes suddenly. It was like an autopsy for our wheel hub.

img_9066He showed us the bearings and explained his criteria for deciding what to replace and why. I mean, he had us years ago at “Let me winch you out of this,” and didn’t really need to earn our trust any further. But it was nice he took the time to go through his rationale for the work he did. And now we have an entire backup hub assembly, serviced and ready to install, should we ever find ourselves in the middle of nowhere. He also went through a diagnostic process on the solar panels, determining that they are both in fact working just fine. What we were seeing as reduced input was probably just the effect of the low angle of the winter sun. We have since verified amp input of greater than the capacity of one panel, so they check out A OK.

img_5474Backing up a week, the reason for the camping gap was caused by a celebratory trip to Disneyland because my school was recognized this year as a “California Distinguished School.” That’s pretty cool, and I’m very proud of my school and all, but what was really fun was the excuse to play with colleagues in the parks. We put a lot of thought into whether we could make this into a Dory trip and ultimately decided it wasn’t worth the drive. It would have saved us a lot of money, because of course the district did not spring for travel, hotel, or park tickets. But having recently driven through L.A. traffic, I opted to fly by myself.

img_9007After all was said and done, I really wish Richard had been able to see the new “Star Wars” land with me. And hotels, even nice ones, are still not my speed, so I would have far preferred having my Dory bed on wheels. Here’s the downside though: if we’d been there together with Dory, we would have slept in. And if we’d done that, there is no way we’d have been able to score entry onto the new “Rise of the Rebellion” ride. For that, you need to be in the park right at 8, ready to click buttons on an app faster than the other thousands of people doing exactly the same thing. “Boarding Group” spots for the day are all gone within a couple of minutes. Imagine Main Street, packed with people all staring at their phones before the park has officially opened. At precisely 8:00, the whole place goes pin drop silent. Then, after a few seconds, people start whooping and cheering. I got boarding group 34 and you bet I whooped. We’re still thinking about how or whether we’d try to do it. There’s an RV park about a mile away. And lest you wonder why Richard didn’t simply fly with me: as soon as Starbucks becomes the only convenient coffee option, he’s out.

img_9117But fast forward to the next weekend and we were out camping again. This time, we got to enjoy a four day weekend in Bodega Bay. We revisited the Pinnacle Gulch hike, and there are still plenty of sea stars. Richard did his normal bike ride, I wrote my normal reports, we gazed admiringly at another normal coastal sunset, and we went to our normal restaurant. About the only thing out of the ordinary was that we spotted a gorgeous bobcat, just sitting on a patch of grass like a normal cat. As our school mascot is the Bobcats, I feel this was a little blessing from the Universe, reassuring me I’m in the right place doing the right thing. All is well.

Total miles: 82.1, 14.9 mpg, 2 hours 14 min. Site 14. Great solar. No hookups. Nice bathrooms. Pay $7 for long line (took about an hour of waiting) at dump. Strong cell service.

Bothe Napa (5)

img_8932Richard is a really, really, really good husband. I don’t think I mention this enough, though it is probably implied. I was a lot to handle this weekend, by any standards, and he did a masterful job. From just being patient and letting me rail against the world, to going on night hikes where mostly I was cry walking, to getting me out of my funk by bringing me mint truffle gelato, that guy is definitely a catch. I’ll just say, it was a rough week and it wasn’t until Saturday night that the tension finally broke for me.

img_8935The turning point came after a delicious dinner, that I was too grumpy to fully enjoy, at Sherpa Kitchen in St. Helena. Richard has learned by now that when I reach a certain level of turmoil, there’s really nothing left to do short of throw me in a river with my kayak. As it was winter, he deftly chose an alternative plan of taking me out to a wine bar that was open late on a Saturday in Napa. See? Smart.

img_8936Oddly, we have never really walked around downtown Napa. This turns out to be tons of fun. Who knew? It was hopping with dozens of restaurants, sweet shops, wine bars, jazz clubs… the whole scene. We walked up and down the main drag, taking in some of the River Walk along the Napa River. Twinkly lights reflected off the water and sounds of people chattering and laughing carried along the paved riverfront walkway.

img_8938We ended up at John Anthony Vineyards Tasting Lounge. I’ll admit I got the expensive tasting flight and had samples from bottles that go for up to $750. That’s close to a hundred times what I tend to spend on my evening staple wine. I felt quite out of place, wearing my camping clothes in a swanky wine bar, but after glass #2, I really couldn’t have cared less. I’m not much of a wine connoisseur, despite my steady relationship with the stuff. Hints of cherries? Blackberries? Sure. I just know the reserve 2006 Cabernet was a whole lot better than what I normally drink. We learned some interesting grape facts, like how more and more vineyards are moving to “dry farming” especially after the drought. It makes for smaller fruit, but a taste that packs a more earthy punch, since roots have to go deeper to get water. Also new information for me was that argon gas is commonly used on open bottles to keep the remaining wine stable inside. Now we’ll need to mount an argon tank on Dory, next to the propane. Just kidding, I’m still a cheapo and will continue to drink wine that probably doesn’t need its delicate flavors preserved.

img_8943Richard got to enjoy a good bike ride, so his weekend was a win. This time he explored a loop around Old Mount Howell. He said there was a section that was “hellish” because it was narrow, steep downhill, and lots of traffic, but it only lasted 1.6 miles. The rest was beautiful.

Even angry/upset/sad, it’s better to be out in Dory. I think at home I would have just kept it all in, where it would fester and eventually kill me. In some ways, detaching from home allows me the space to purge all of the emotions. I’m just glad Richard is able to roll with it. He’s maybe a keeper.

Total miles: 64.8, 16.6 mpg, 2 hours 4 min. Site 7 no hookups, no solar, no dump. Pay $15 to dump at the fairgrounds; good dump there. In and out cell service, enough for most things, but it can drop out. TWAW

Half Moon Bay (7)

img_8928I have but two things to report on this, our seventh stay at this campground, and they both have to do with the benefits of taking daily walks. The first is that we discovered a nice bird refuge just a little to the south of the park that we had never visited before. And the second is that fresh, hot churros are easily walking distance from the campground.

img_8922The Wavecrest Open Space is a 206-acre protected wildlife refuge that is particularly important for wintering raptors. We saw many flying around but only identified one as a Northern Harrier. The other might have been a Red Shouldered Hawk, but not sure. It’s a nice easy walk with dirt trails and sweeping ocean views. All told, we walked about 2.5 miles from the campground and then headed back.

img_8905Tacqueria Tres Amigos is just one mile from the campground and will make you fresh churros with warm gooey interiors, covered in cinnamon sugar. It’s a really good thing there are no churros of this caliber walking distance from my house. Here, I’d be doing all this walking, wondering why it didn’t seem to be making an improvement on my health. It would definitely be a strong motivator though to get in my steps.

Richard did his Stage Road ride to Pescadero and back while I did a report and watched the waves. We dined again at Spice Me Thai. All good. Carry on.

Total miles: 59.6, 16.0, 1 hour 37 min. Site 22 electric hookups, oceanside. Great solar (didn’t need it), great cell service.

Wrights Beach (8)

img_8870“Are you locals?” we were asked by the server at our favorite Mexican restaurant. “Sort of?” we answered. We had been there just the week before and my favorite camping area is now pulling way out ahead as the most frequently visited spot. I scored site 7 at Wrights Beach this time, quite premium, but only for two nights, and that was before I realized it was a three day weekend. Of course, by the time I went back to see if I could extend the stay to Sunday night, all the premium sites were booked. I took 11 anyway and figured it wouldn’t be so bad to move.

img_8893Saturday we did our usual with not much interesting to report, besides there being a camping pig in the campground. We heard this wild scream at one point and went to investigate. Richard asked the owner, “What is the short story with the pig?” and we learned her name is Penelope and she is the result of his wife being exposed to adorable baby piglets. She’s a Vietnamese Miniature Pot Belly pig and weighs 110 lbs. They took her on walks on the beach and around the campground and she wagged her little pig tail as she walked. I wonder if kitty would like a pig friend. And I wonder if pig rules are the same as dog rules.

img_8895Sunday we thought we might get to upgrade our move to another premium site, but our (my) hopes were dashed when it turned out the ranger had made a mistake. I pouted, but secretly, and only for a brief time, as we packed up enough to move over to 11. It was really totally fine and I’m a big whiner.

img_8881We hiked the Kortum Trail over to Shell Beach and I admired the Memory Labyrinth near the parking lot. I couldn’t find a lot of information about it, but it appears to have started around ten years ago, and has grown over time as people have left items as tokens of someone they perhaps have lost. I saw some photos, painted rocks, small toys, letters, all apparent tributes to loved ones. It was sweet, and peaceful, and some of the tiny displays in the grass were very beautiful.

img_8897Monday morning we noticed the people who had robbed us of our momentary premium site joy had left. So we squatted and had coffee while watching the waves from site 10.

The water tanks and battery managed just fine for a three day weekend. We think there might be something wrong with the connections for one of the solar panels, as we have not been drawing in as many amps as we should be. It hasn’t actually made too much of a difference, but we do need to get that checked out.

Data same as usual. This time Site 7, then site 11 for one night. For the record, that is a totally fine site.