Jim – last one.

Screen Shot 2015-08-07 at 8.50.13 PMFor anyone who is my Facebook “friend” and has been following my Dory travels, you will know the name “Jimmy Gunn”. You also probably saw that he passed away this week. If you knew Jim at all, you are aware of the magnitude of the loss of this crazy, amazing, goofy, loving person. Even those who only knew him from my page got a sense that this was someone special. As another dear friend put it today at his funeral service: “Some people are more unique than others.” Yes, that is spot on. And yes, he not only modeled the glory of what it looks like to embrace your own uniqueness, but he encouraged, persuaded, nurtured and sometimes needled or flat out demanded the same from those he loved. He had a way of knowing exactly what scared you and went right for it, forcing you out of hiding. He was infuriating that way.

Screen Shot 2015-08-07 at 8.25.15 PMI’ll give you an example. I used to wear make up all the time through high school and college. It was more for acne cover up purposes than for any beauty enhancement, but I was sensitive about it. So we were doing one of Jim’s crazy shows and in order to develop a bond between myself and the actor playing my brother, he asked the guy to run his fingers on my face. I could have smacked him right then. (I’m not 100% sure I didn’t) He knew that would tick me off and that’s why he did it. I went and washed off all the make up and endured the exercise. I can’t honestly say it forged an intimate connection with the actor, either on or off stage. but I’ll tell you that I stopped wearing make up after that. If it was going to bug me that much to cover something up, I figured it would be much easier to just put it out there. And that has always been true.

Screen Shot 2015-08-07 at 8.22.08 PMAs another friend reminisced, Jim got a bunch of us insecure teenagers to perform improv before movie showings at the Varsity Theater. He got us to perform for huge festivals. Improv. You know, where there are no lines or safety nets. He got us on TV for that. He got me to perform every female role in “Hamlet” for a production where the concept was that this was a therapeutic psychodrama set in a mental institution. But it went wrong and the inmates took over. Honestly, I think the entire production was staged for the sole purpose of giving him the opportunity to do the “To be or not to be” speech backwards. Because.

Screen Shot 2015-08-07 at 8.24.00 PMJim was fearless. And in his own writing, he described himself as lucky. This is a person for whom life was never a given. He endured unbearable tragedy and endless medical challenges. And yet, he’s the first to point out that it’s awesome to be on dialysis because you don’t have to pee on long road trips. If that is not the ability to find a silver lining, I don’t know what is. All time to him was bonus time and he lived his time well.

So this friend of mine, who pops back into my life periodically, especially when it’s really important, started playing this game with me on Screen Shot 2015-08-07 at 9.46.15 PMFacebook during the cross country trip. I posted pictures of obscure things, like rest stops, or gas stations, and he started figuring out where I was. I got more challenging with my shots, trying to leave out clues like sign posts or business logos, and he STILL kept figuring out where I was. Others on my page began openly speculating that he was somehow tracking my car. Or pulling GPS data from the images. This became a daily activity and I could tell he looked forward to the sleuthing as much as I looked forward to being blown away that he’d found me once again.

What I heard today from his wife is that this game provided him with a much needed distraction. He knew this latest surgery was going to be serious. But rather than sit around and dwell, he created a game that not only reconnected the two of us, but entertained and fascinated a whole new network of people. He was holding my hand while I was scared and out there, and he let me hold his.

I’m posting this tribute here because this person in my life lived the “carpe dory” motto more fully and passionately than anyone I have ever known. And he was a huge part of this voyage. I will post every one of the pictures I took along the road for him below. But one final shot I snapped today. It is the last one; a final rest stop.

Where am I Jim? I’ll give you a hint even though I know you don’t need it. I am in the place my heart will go from now on any time I need to be brave.

If I could play background music to this post, I would have you listen to “Don’t Be Shy” by Cat Stevens. That might very well send this gushing post over the top though, and this is the sort of expression I would expect to get back:

“What the fuck was all that?! I hope you’re done now. And seriously? Cat Stevens?”

He never did tell me how he was figuring these pictures out. We were supposed to have dinner after he had recovered where he would tell all. I think I needed that future promise because I could sense this was a biggie. Perhaps it’s better not knowing actually. He was just magic. Or a secret CIA operative. In which case, he has simply gone off grid after a very long undercover operation. Neither would surprise me a bit.

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And here we are at last! 40 days from the morning I set out with an overpacked car, I returned with the trailer we’ve coveted for a year. Dory has arrived at her forever home.

IMG_4861We got to sleep in and relax a bit in the morning and that was lovely. It’s always nice to be in a site where you can look out the window and see trees. I had a couple of interested people asking questions about the Alto, as well as the Caravan Mover. She’s definitely a unique little beauty.

IMG_4862The drive over the Sierras took all my concentration. I recalled the towing presentation from the rally and made sure to brake with the transmission, rather than the brakes. So I was in “sport” or semi manual mode the whole time. Worked perfectly, but I needed to pay close attention to rpm levels as well as speed. The roads are windy and there are fairly steep grades most of the way.

IMG_4865I got a little pulse of nervousness when we got to the CA border check until I remembered this was not a real border check. This was the “Do you have any fruits or vegetables?” check. No paperwork or electronic manifests required.

It was clear that California was just as I had left it: not a drop of rain in sight. Lovely blue skies, but wow, everything looks like a tinder box. Such a shame we can’t just even some of that midwest rainfall out and spread it around a little.

On our descent, we started hearing a ticking sound coming from the back of the car. It sounded very much like a time bomb. And while we knew we had not packed a time bomb, it was annoying. We eventually pulled over to check it out and discovered things in the back had shifted and something was pressing on the lighting button on the grill. There was no propane connected of course, so it was just making continuous sparks for no reason.

IMG_4873Ah yes, I remember Sacramento traffic. It’s not a happy thing and I was glad not to be traveling in the Eastbound direction like all the other poor saps going to Tahoe. Sadly, when we are one of those cars taking Dory up to Tahoe for the weekend, this is what we will be going through.

I had a little moment of overwhelm when I saw Mt. Diablo for the first time. It hit me then, how far I had gone, how long I’d been away, and everything I’ve seen and done since the last time I was here in this valley.

It’s good to be home.


11752567_10206123506460539_920749562638470520_nSeeing Richard again was awesome. Of course. We both felt it was a little surreal to have Dory home. We showed her off to the neighbors who had kept our kids and home safe and well monitored in our absence. We got them a pot, so… we’re even, right?

Before I was going to be able to relax, I had to know if there was any way we could get Dory in the garage. I wasn’t at all keen on the notion of leaving her outside. So we started maneuvers with the Mover. As we feared, the bottom of the driveway proved to be a problem. Whether we tried “butt” first or “face” first, the bumper was going to hit either the driveway or the street. We did a lot of maneuvering. Finally, we got some planks under one of the wheels and approached in kind of a slanty way. I’m pretty sure those planks were not rated for 2,000 lbs, but despite significant creaking, they held and she made it over the low part. Then it was an easy climb to the top.

Now the question was whether she would clear the garage opening. We had to disconnect the door from the opener in order to get it all the way up. Then, we lowered the tongue as far down as it would go and we just creeped forward as slowly as possible. I don’t think there was an inch to spare at the highest point, but she cleared! Once in, we were good to go and we could lower and reattach the door. We’ll need a new garage door opener, but it looks like we won’t be needing major reframing. IMG_4881

Hey! We have a trailer in our garage!

The rest of the day we just spent playing in Dory. We unpacked Bruce, washed towels and clothes, and generally enjoyed being home and together. What an adventure this has been. And the further adventures have just begun!

Total miles: 194.6, Engine time: 3 hours 51 min, 18.8 mpg


Total miles: 8,417.2, Engine time: 99 hours, 59 min, 18.9 mpg

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To Verdi

Tonight is the last sleep of Dory’s maiden voyage.

I feel mixed, ambivalent even. I am ready to be home, but if Richard had stayed the whole time, I’m guessing I could have been happy out here a lot longer. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very glad the kids came and kept me company. I don’t think I would have liked soloing as much. But Dory was really meant for two and it’s hard knowing Richard is all sad and lonely waiting for us to come home. So in that sense, I am content to call this a wrap and start looking for weekends as soon as possible where we can do short excursions.

IMG_4837Today’s drive was all about Nevada. There’s a beauty to this place, but the first word that comes to mind is “desolate”. Highway 80 runs through vast expanses of not much to see. You could call it awe inspiring in its consistency, but you can’t deny it’s a long day of driving if you go end to end.

IMG_4848We punctuated the drive with a stop at a very unusual place. I’d probably seen it many times but it comes at you fast on the highway, and before you know what you’re seeing, you’re past it. On the trip out, I mentioned it and my dear friend, Jim Gunn, figured out what it was that had caught my eye (even though I didn’t give a very good description). The place is called Thunder Mountain Monument and was built over many decades by Chief Thunder, Frank Van Zant, as a monument to the suffering of the Native American people. The art here is a statement and is formed using cement and “white man’s trash”, or discarded items found within 50 miles of the site. Others, particularly 60s hippies, helped with the creation of some of the sculpture, but the vision was singular and its purpose was to convey the sadness and despair of generations of native people. As such, it is a disturbing, yet beautiful, sight to see. I’m glad to have taken the short detour.

IMG_4854We then pretty much booked it to our site for the night. We’re in Nevada, so it’s obvious we would only be able to find campgrounds with accompanying casinos. This one is pretty nice. It’s the Gold Ranch RV Park (and Casino) very close to the California border. The thing that is nice about it is its proximity to nature. It is situated up against the foothills of the Sierras on one side and it’s like a taste of camping yet to come. Now, my ideal campsite would not necessarily include Highway 80 running along the edge, nor would I especially opt for any sort of casino, neither walking distance, nor shuttle service distance. But, along one side, I see the trees and telltale signs of California and notice even the clouds overhead (apart from not raining on me) have that wispy, coastal look. This is the nature I’m going to be hunting for weekend breaks. That is going to be Dory’s primary playground. That, and the coast. Of course.IMG_4859

I will do a final post tomorrow, plus, I’ll probably do some kind of post voyage wrap to include what worked, what didn’t, what we used most, and what’s for sale.

In the meantime, I shall enjoy sleeping in tomorrow and will look out the windows on the side that has trees. And when we get home, we’ll have to figure out where to park our baby until we can get her in the garage. That’ll be fodder for several blog posts I’m sure.

Total miles: 406.4, Engine time: 7 hours, 5 min, 15.8 mpg

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To Wendover

IMG_4807It’s amazing what a difference a good night’s sleep can make. I slept very soundly last night and I think the others did too, or at least better than they had been. We were much more chipper this morning.

It was an easy departure since I hadn’t bothered to unhitch. The site was very level so I just hooked up power and water and stabilized. I overheard the meanest sibling conversation ever in the campground bathroom. Two little girls were in there and one was beside herself, sobbing. Between sobs I could make out that she had probably been responsible for locking  their family’s keys in the car. Older sibling says, in an overly dramatic, shocked voice: “YOU locked the KEYS in the CAR??!!” Younger girl sobs: “NO!! You not be mad! Mommy mad! Not YOOOOUUU!” Older sibling is clearly heartless and replies, “Oh I can be mad too! YOU ruined our WHOLE ADVENTURE! It’s ALL YOUR FAULT!” Wow. That’s hard core, man.

Our first pit stop was at Little America, famous for its soft serve ice cream cones. It was a little early for ice cream for me, but Darren had one. I was happy to find an air hose to top up the tire on the driver’s side of Dory. It had been looking a little less full and read 40 psi when I checked. Should be 45. The trouble was finding a place with easy access to an air hose, but Little America is a full service joint and had two, positioned nicely for trailers.

IMG_4814We had more on and off rain during the drive. I’m trying hard to pull the clouds with us all the way to the West Coast (apparently). There wasn’t a whole lot of excitement for most of the day. We found a Whole Foods in a lovely ski resort town in the mountains just above Salt Lake City and that was kind of exciting. We had a late lunch there and stocked up on things we’re used to eating.

IMG_4818Passing through Salt Lake City, I was keeping very alert because there are lots of interchanges. I was more focused on that than gas and by the time I left all the city stuff, I was coming up fast on the salt flats. I started really paying attention to the “Range” screen, indicating how much farther I could go with the gas in the tank, at around 100 miles of distance to go. The range screen read around 120.  I’d be cutting it close, but would likely make it. I don’t like cutting it close so I started looking up nearest gas stations just after I’d entered the straight, flat, salty part. Sure enough, multiple search engines were telling me all the stations were at least 20 miles behind me. Darn it. So I had to choose whether to turn around and double back, or trust that the range would beat the miles to go.

I decided that I dislike doubling back a lot. Perhaps a personality flaw.

We rolled along for a little while and then the wind started picking up. Headwinds. Big time. I could see a storm was blowing in across the flats and I could feel the car being pushed around. Thankfully, there was really no additional effect that I could feel on Dory. Like, she wasn’t swaying, nor did it feel like the wind was catching her any more than the car. But I could for sure tell we were up against some serious resistance.

One thing I knew about headwinds: it kills your gas milage. So…. I started seeing the gap between our range and the miles we had to go getting smaller, and smaller. I saw multiple cars pulled over to the side and I’ll bet you they’d run out of gas. There are NO services along that stretch of road. I knew it was coming and still got myself into potential trouble, so if you come upon it unaware, it would be easy to get stuck.

Crunch time happened the last 50 miles. This is when I was no longer confident that we’d make it and the range indicator just kept declining faster and faster, as I kept driving slower, trying to minimize the effects. It was also too late at that point to turn around. I reminded myself that I am paying for roadside assistance and “stupidly getting into a pickle” is, I believe, one of the things I am paying them to save me from. I have only run the gas down far enough to see the light come on two times. Today made number three. At that point, it’s just drive and hope and get ready to pull over if needed. Oh yeah, it was raining during this last bit. And did I mention the crazy wind?

Finally, we saw the lights of the Blessed truck stop in the distance. 8 miles, 7 miles….. When we rolled into the station, the range indicator said I had a whole 5 miles to go! Gravy. My dad used to love that stuff. I hate it. A perfect gas fill for him is when you roll into the station on fumes. I think he believed that was “efficient” or something.

Here’s another reason I love my car: the pump said I put 17.8 gallons in and I happen to know it is a 19.5 gallon tank. I believe that is intended as a cushion for stupid drivers and I will try to erase that knowledge from my memory to prevent me from thinking I can push it farther next time.

IMG_4829Our site is a little less crowded, though I wouldn’t call it scenic. There was a nice view where I could watch the next set of storms roll in over the salt flats. I’d meant to stop and take pictures against the white landscape, but it wasn’t the most relaxed time to do that. Oh well.

Tomorrow we shoot for Reno.

Total miles: 300.7, Engine Time: 5 hours, 44 min, 15.2 mpg <— headwinds!

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To Rock Springs

IMG_4790Ok, here’s the thing: there is far more water in the entire mid section of the country than it needs. California is dehydrating like a Napa Valley raisin. We clearly need a pipeline. Or else we need to tip the continent just a little so the runoff from the flooding rivers and highways can just slosh right over the Sierra Nevada.

IMG_4797We spent a good deal of the day driving through rain. It ranged from pleasant enough, to ok, to Holy Sh%t!! No hail, so there’s a plus. Also on the plus side of the daily ledger, I hitched up really well this morning! I swear, every step went right the first time, even the locks. That high carried me through the fact that 100% of the process was done in the rain. One of the most helpful tools I have discovered for hitching turns out to be a hair band. I swear, I really didn’t realize how irritated I was all the time about my hair falling in my face until I experienced not having that happen. I appreciated this especially when handling the dump hose. That, I have found, is the moment I most want to not be using my gloved hands to push hair out of my face in order to see what the hell I’m doing.

IMG_4791We stopped in Cheyenne for a lunch stop and we seem to have arrived either just before or after “Cheyenne Days”. We heard some kind of gun fight going on but didn’t bother to go check it out. We were all actually pretty tired today.

IMG_4802Another stop along the way was the Lincoln Memorial at the highest point on Highway 80. Without trying to explain too much, Darren and Samantha have had this running bear joke for years. Darren calls Samantha a bear. That is the essence of the joke. You would not believe how much mileage he has gotten out of that over the years though. So imagine his delight to find a huge stuffed bear in the visitor’s center. He texted a picture of that bear to Samantha 29 times. She counted. He’s making it an even 30 as I type.

IMG_4806By around 6, we were pulling in to the KOA in Rock Springs and I was super tired and ready to stop. On this kind of a trip, we are not looking so much for scenic camping spots by idyllic lakes. We are looking for something convenient with hookups for water and electric. For this one, there is at least a pretty view of some mountains as a backdrop on one side. Behind us we have a lovely view of a couple of giant tanks storing something I’m sure is not toxic. We’re sandwiched between a line of big rigs and a van pulling a motorcycle. “Camping?” you say? “Becoming one with nature?” you ask? Not really, no. But as hotel rooms along the road go, this one is awesome. We pull the curtains closed and inside we have our own food, microwave, dishes, and bedding. WAAAAYYYY better than the pit stops I was making at the start of this journey. I love this so much. Even sandwiched on gravel between the big rigs.

We will be shooting for Wendover tomorrow, and then probably Reno. And then home.

Total miles: 374.9, Engine time: 7 hours, 18 min, 16.3 mpg

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Today was a day of rest and contemplation.

IMG_4767Darren rang in his 21st year with very little fanfare. He had no interest in going and getting a drink of any kind, nor did he really want to make a big deal of it. But really, he’s always been that way about his birthday. Give him a donut and a lazy day and he’s pretty content.

I must say, I do like staying in one spot for more than a night. It is nice to not hitch and go in the morning and instead to just go slow with coffee and getting dressed and all that. In fact, we didn’t really go anywhere until lunch time and we went to a place named one of the 10 best restaurants in Nebraska. It’s called the Emporium and, to be honest, it’s a little surprising to find it here. The decor is very upscale and the menu is every bit “big city”. Very nice crab cake brioche sandwich for me. Darren and Samantha had BLT salads that they both reported were yummy.

IMG_4761After that, I did some Dory housekeeping. I needed to replace a bolt that seems to have fallen off the bike rack and there are little odds and ends, like hanging shoes and the shower head better, that I’ve been meaning to get to. I also unpacked and shook out the awning that hasn’t been unpacked since the rally. Good to air that out. Also did the same for the tent that Darren has not been using. Oh well. At least I want it packed up nicely cause it kind of got shoved in when we were miserable and humid.

Rick and SanDee came out around 6 and got a tour of Dory. We then headed up with my mom’s ashes to the bluff. I can’t get over how beautiful it is up there. The sandstone has such a distinctive color and the erosion patterns make these crags and gullies that jump out from the vast expanse of green. We found a beautiful spot, overlooking the whole plain to the west. This is undeveloped country so the view is all peace. All nature. And it faces the sunset every day. Beautiful.


Dinner was Chinese food at Rick and SanDee’s house. It is all of a two block walk from where Dory is at the RV park. They have (and always have had, it must be said) quite the menagerie of pets. IMG_4788Their dog Yankee is more of a small horse than any kind of dog I’ve ever seen. But it’s the Pomeranian who rules the house over him and their cats. Entertainment is watching a lion bodied Golden-doodle bark helplessly as a tiny Pomeranian chews his bone right in front of him.

Tomorrow we hitch and go. We’ve all decided we want to make a more or less straight shot toward home. It’s not that anyone is miserable (or at least no one is saying that), but I know I’m ready to head back. I miss Richard already and he misses Dory (and me, I assume) terribly. The kids seem to be enjoying themselves, but sleeping is hard enough for a young adult and quarters are close for sure. Best not to push this I figure. I don’t think it’s time to buy Depends and drive through the night yet, so at a reasonable pace, we should have three more sleeps after tonight before we get home. Friday.

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To Scottsbluff

IMG_4750Happy to be back in my second “home town” of Scottsbluff, NE. This is where both my parents were born and raised and where I spent many summers as a kid. My mom’s ashes made a 6k+ mile journey to get here and here we will be for two nights.

The drive from North Platte to Scottsbluff was really beautiful. We took 26, which is an old wagon trail route. The country is open and green with hints of light tan bluffs here and there. Scottsbluff is a landmark because its bluff is about the only thing for miles that rises above the even, flat surface of the land. As such, it was used to help guide settlers on their way to Oregon.

IMG_4756A funny thing happened on the way to the RV park. Yesterday during the drive to North Platte, someone passed us on the road and honked and waved. I didn’t know them and wasn’t sure if it was just an enthusiastically friendly driver, or someone who had an interest in Altos. We waved back. Later on Facebook, a guy in the Altoistes group posted that he had seen an Alto traveling westbound on 80. I let him know it was me and said he should come say hi if he was in the area of Gering. So he did! After we’d unhitched and were getting ready to head out for lunch, a man tentatively approached us and introduced himself. I gave him a little tour of the inside because he doesn’t have his yet and was wondering about the shower. What a very small world!

IMG_4759Lunch was at a place that couldn’t be more midwest if it tried. There were posters and pictures of cowboys everywhere. The tables and decor were sort of saloon themed and the first thing I noticed going to the table was that there were peanut shells all over the floor. They set buckets of them on the tables and I guess the expectation is that you just throw the shells on the floor.

The highlight of the day of course was seeing my aunt and uncle again after so many years. Facebook is an awesome way to keep in touch, but nothing replaces a real live hug. I love them so much and the whole place brings Mom and Dad, and Grandma and Grandpa, front and center in my mind. The colors of the landscape are part of who they were, and are, to me. I think about grandparents and lots of extended family, all here. So many 4th of Julys. So many miles covered in the car heading back and forth, from the time when I was very small. Endless hours of playing the alphabet game with road signs. And once here, days and weeks spent playing bumper pool in the basement or destroying my grandparents’ garage wall with poorly aimed darts.

IMG_4766My aunt and uncle’s house is lovely and many of the woodworked furnishings and picture frames were made by Grandpa George. He was such a character and I feel his presence in their home. He once lost a football bet to me for eight dollars and he handcrafted a wooden frame which he used to place eight silver dollars behind glass. So there.

I’ll have pictures of them in the next post. I was so happy to see them, I forgot to take any pictures except of their front porch. Tomorrow we get to be lazy and we will get together and have a little ceremony for my mom. Tomorrow is also Darren’s 21st birthday. I warned him he’d be turning drinking age somewhere on this trip and he honestly seemed fine with it. I still have the bottle of champagne given to us by Safari Condo. Maybe this is the time to pull it out.

Total Miles: 194.6, Engine Time: 4 hours 32 min, 16.8 mpg

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To North Platte

IMG_4738Ok better today. Still pretty hot and humid and this time it took me a long time to get the hitch onto the ball, but the lock worked better.

The drive today was a reverse version of what I did on my way out. It was far more entertaining this time though. Darren was fascinated by how many museums there are in Nebraska. That sparked conversation around a whole slew of potential museums he would like to open. A sign proclaiming an area to be the “Sandhill Crane Capital of the World” prompted extensive deliberation on how the cranes form their government, what kind of economic system they have, and what sorts of laws they might pass (maximum fish consumption per day, for example). In general, the mood was light and conversation between the siblings highly amusing.

IMG_4740Richard found us a well reviewed place to eat dinner and that took us off the highway for a bit. To Darren’s delight, our path went right past an “Art Museum” we’d seen advertised on the highway. It wasn’t much more than a small house looking building, but it proudly displayed its “Museum” sign on the front. Likewise, the restaurant was located down a long  road that ran along the railroad tracks. It seemed unlikely there would be a restaurant out this way, but sure enough, there it was, complete with what looked like a propane tank graveyard to its side. First item on the specials list was “chicken fried chicken” so we knew we were getting the real deal. We had steaks (of course) and they were quite tender and juicy. I can tell this is a hopping place because they had plenty of seating. And Bingo!

Frame-19-07-2015-06-53-41Our campground was a stop along the highway kind of place, but it had full services and I got to do some laundry. Then, around 8, the horizon became very dark with clouds and you could see flashes of light in the distance. A quick look for a weather report served to once again, totally freak me out. For the second night in a row, we were right in the middle of a severe weather alert. I mean, I guess it’s the job of a weather alert to totally freak you out. And it worked. It warned of golf ball sized hail, lightning strikes, and “damage to vehicles” as “expected”. Great. I watched it get closer. For a long time, it stayed just to the south of us and I could watch near constant flashes lighting up the entire night sky. I decided to unhook the water because the severe weather report suggested staying away from any pipes, hoses, or conductive elements. I was going to wait out the electrical hook up because it was still wicked hot and running the AC kept our spirits up. I thought it might miss us actually, but then the trees started blowing around and the flashes started appearing overhead. When I ran out to unhook electrical, there were a couple of big flashes and booms that made my process quite speedy.

Frame-19-07-2015-06-54-04 (1)Then we just hunkered down. I was ready to lower the roof if it got bad, not only to protect the windows from golf ball hail, but also thinking it would minimize the impact on the roof. I just said a little “Good luck!” to Bruce, knowing there really wasn’t anything I could do. We turned off all the lights and all three of us sat in the bed area and just stared out the windows. It was actually a pretty cool way to watch one of these things. Never once did any hail fall and we did not get zapped by any lightning strikes. By midnight, it had finished with us and slowly moved its fireworks show elsewhere. Quite a memorable night, I must say!

I think I’ve had my fill of midwest summer weather now, thanks. I know it’s great that there is so much lush vegetation, but man, it comes at a price doesn’t it?

Total miles: 388.1, Engine time: 7 hours 24 min, 16.9 mpg

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To Des Moines

Oof. Today was a little rough, you guys.

So we’ve been essentially parked south of Chicago for four nights. Then we had a change of guards, except we traded the guard who mostly does all the helpful hitching things for two guards who have never seen a trailer before. And it is like a million degrees with a billion percent humidity. Bottom line: this morning was not a fun hitching experience.

First of all, there are a couple of locks that are extremely picky and, apparently, when they sit in the rain for four days, they do not get less, but rather more, picky than their default state of pickiness. I started to kind of lose it after I’d been struggling with it for at least thirty minutes and was already drenched in sweat. This would have been around 9 am. I ended up calling Richard in a panic and sending him pictures of the hitch lock to see if I was doing something wrong. I really wasn’t sure what would happen if I couldn’t get this thing to lock, or if I broke the key. At the time it seemed like that would be it. We’d just be stopped there forever. The kids were hot and annoyed already.

Meanwhile, Darren was not enjoying the folding and putting away of the wet and sandy tent. Samantha was not enjoying the not ready-to-go-ness of the situation and things got only more frustrating as time went on where I could not get the hitch unlocked.

It is exactly during moments like these when people seem to take the cue that now would be a perfect time to come ask questions about the Alto. Some guy was really intent on explaining to me that air conditioning really needs to go on the roof.

Fear not though, we toughed it out and made it through. I took over the tent operation and Darren got the key out and the hitch re-locked. He is now the guard in charge of locks. We are abandoning the tent idea and Darren will just awkwardly sleep with his mother in the comfortable, non sandy Alto, or else he will sleep in the car. This will hopefully speed up hitching tomorrow. Today we didn’t get out until after 11 and that was definitely not my target departure time.

Ok, so we were all grouchy this morning after that, I won’t lie about it. I’d say it took a good hour in the air conditioned car before we were able to shake it off and bounce back. Then it was a long drive through endless rolling hills of cornfields. The drive time was punctuated with stops for gas, and we felt compelled to stop at Iowa 80, the World’s Largest Truck Stop, as I had done on my way out.

I’d hoped to get to Des Moines and despite the late start, we did indeed make it. We got to a KOA that Richard found for us, and also grabbed the last reservation. That was around 7. He also kindly alerted the staff that I may need assistance with the back in site. As I type, it is now quite pleasant. It has cooled off, the AC is running, and we are all cheerful after a dinner of hot dogs and root beer floats. There are fireflies outside, and bats, and frogs, and lots of campfires. A nice end and recovery after a rough start.

I didn’t take many pictures today. I will share with you a picture of the privacy curtain I sewed that is working very well to create a bit of personal space. I will also share the picture of the hitch lock I sent to Richard in my most desperate moment. Didn’t help, but it was something to try.

Total miles: 368, Engine time: 7 hours, 11 min, 15.7 mpg


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Well, this was the transition point we always knew was coming, but turned out to still be painful. Richard flew home on Tuesday as planned. Both of us felt, and are still feeling, it’s just plain wrong not to have him with Dory. But, such is the nature of having to hold down jobs, so there you go.

IMG_4678I spent the afternoon with another dear, long time friend who lives in Chicago. This aspect of the trip has been one of my favorite parts: connecting with people I love but rarely get to see. She and I planned a nice itinerary for the next few days and she came out to see Dory. She loved it. 🙂

The next day I started by taking a walking tour of Chicago architecture and that was super fun. We got to take an elevated train to getIMG_4701 from one area to another and the volunteer tour guide pointed out “must see” buildings and gave history on how they came to be. I learned a lot about key history points and important people. As luck would have it, as we were standing by the river listening to the tour guide, Rahm Emanuel and an entourage of body guards just walked up the stairs right next to us and made his way down the street, shaking hands with people as he passed. One of the many things, well everything, I didn’t know was that the “Willis Tower” (Sears) used 9 “bundled tubes” as its IMG_4692central structure in order to withstand winds coming off Lake Michigan. We passed through Millennium Park before the tour, with its impressive amphitheater, gardens, and overall billiant use of public space.

IMG_4711Then it was off to the airport again for me, but this time on a happier note: to pick up our “kids” (though 17 and nearly 21 hardy justifies the use of the term). We drove the long haul back to Dory and they got introduced. I think the jury is still out for them, but we shall see. My daughter is nicely set up in the front dinette area and the curtain I sewed is working well to give her a somewhat protected space of her own. My son has opted for the tent rather than an awkward bed sharing with his mother, and I don’t blame him a bit. However, it is raining right now and we’ll see how he feels about accommodations in the morning.

IMG_4719Thursday was a full day of indoor sight seeing. We went to the the Art Institute first and I frankly could have stayed there all day. They have a very impressive collection of impressionist paintings and there is just nothing like seeing those in person. Some of the most famous and recognizable works are there, including a current exhibit on Degas showcasing his bronze ballerina. Dozens of Monet masterpieces. Nice.

The Museum of Science and Industry was last but not least on the tour list. My friend got tickets to see an exhibit on robots and a tour of an IMG_4727actual U-Boat (U 505) captured during WWII that also had an Enigma coding machine on board. This was simply mind blowing, just in the scope of what it took to get this thing into an indoor exhibit. There were kiosks and videos galore explaining the history of all of this, but the memorable part was actually getting to walk throuh this thing and get a sense of what tight quarters really are. Trailering is nothing! Try a U Boat for 100 days.

MSIIf you are planning a trip to Chicago, I highly recommend you use my friend as your own personal tour guide. You’ll have to perhaps meet her and befriend her and such, but it will be well worth it because she is also very fun just in general.

My hope is that having dinner with my friend and her husband is the end of this story and that we will happily roll out of here tomorrow. Right now however, there is a severe weather alert and flash flood warning for precisely the area where I am now camped. I can totally understand why because the river here looks like it is about ready to jump its banks. Another solid night of rain, so I’m a little worried I’m going to have to make a quick evacuation in the middle of the night. I decided against hitching up. Hope I don’t regret that!

All in all, this was a good transition point, though I still really wish we were just retired so Richard could be here with me.

Tomorrow we continue West! (Hopefully, not via a newly created waterway)

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