Snowbirding 2016: Back to the Backwaters

I return to the backwaters to share a different campsite with friends.

Posts in the Snowbirding 2016 Series:
Introduction
The Colorado River Backwaters
Quartzsite
Wickenburg
Phoenix
Home
Back to the Backwaters
– Return to Wickenburg
more to come…

My alarm went off at 3:10 AM on Wednesday morning. Although I’d gotten only about 2-1/2 hours sleep, I jumped out of bed. I’d set the alarm with a minimum amount of extra time. I needed to be on the road in my Jeep by 3:30. Penny looked at me as if wondering why I’d turned the light on to make one of my bathroom trips. But when she saw me getting dressed, she jumped out of bed, knowing something was up.

My bags were already packed. I’d slipped my small wheelie bag into my large wheelie bag so there was just one bag to check at Alaska Air. It doesn’t matter as far as cost goes — I’m an Alaska Air MVP member so I get two bags checked for free. It was more a matter of waiting for luggage in Phoenix. And the simple fact that I didn’t have enough things to take with me to fill both bags but wanted both with me.

The last thing I packed was the ribs. I’d wrapped them in foil and plastic the night before and had put them in the fridge. They were still warm when I pulled them out and put them in the big wheelie bag, along with the ketchup squeeze bottle I’d filled with my honey barbecue sauce. As I zipped the bag around them, I wondered what the TSA would make of them and hoped they’d be neat about opening up the wrapping.

I’d left the Jeep out overnight, not wanting to deal with the garage door in the morning. (No, I still don’t have automatic garage door openers; it’s on my list.) I started it up and set the heat to high when I brought down the first load of luggage. It was 27°F out and the snow crunched under my shoes. I made a second trip to bring down Penny’s travel bag and the garbage and locked up. My house sitter would not be back for a few days. Then I loaded up the Jeep, got Penny cozy on the passenger seat, and got on my way.

It was 3:35.

Getting to Phoenix

My road was still mostly covered with snow and ice, but my Jeep with its new tires doesn’t care. The rest of the roads were clear. I made it to the airport by 4:10, parked in short-term parking, went in to check my bag, and then came back out to move the car to General Aviation parking, which I’d arranged for a few days before. Then Penny and I walked back to the main terminal, enjoying the quiet of the cloud-covered predawn hour. By 4:45, we were through security and I was sitting in the waiting area with Penny in her travel bag at my feet.

It was an uneventful flight to Seattle. It usually is. The total distance is only about 90 air miles and the flight is usually less than 30 minutes long. Driving there, however, would take about 3 hours. I believe time is money and take the plane whenever possible.

At SeaTac, we had a very tight connection. I let Penny walk on her leash from the plane to almost the next gate. Then back in her bag for boarding. They had already boarded the flight and we were the last to get on. Twenty minutes later, we were airborne.

And twenty minutes after that, I was asleep.

I only slept for about an hour, but it was long enough to miss the food and beverage service. I didn’t know that, so after I woke up, I was waiting patiently for the cart with my credit card out for a cheese platter. When the cart came, however, it was a beverage cart and the flight attendant asked, “Do you want anything else to drink?”

Anything else? I wondered to myself. That’s when I realized I’d missed breakfast. I must have been sleeping pretty soundly.

Our flight arrived a full 30 minutes early. Alaska Air does that a lot. It was 10:30 when we rolled into the gate.

Cheryl or Mike or both were picking me up. I’d told them to get to the airport at 11:30 so they didn’t have to wait for me to get my bags and walk Penny. But by 10:45 I had them and Penny had already visited the doggie area. I texted them and Cheryl hopped in the car to get me. I waited outside in the cool shade, munching on an apple muffin I’d bought inside while other people came and went.

When Cheryl arrived, I tossed my big bag into the trunk with Penny’s travel bag and climbed in. Penny settled down on a pillow in the back seat. Cheryl had some errands to run and so did I. I needed to pick up my camera at Tempe Camera. They’d checked it out completely, found nothing wrong with it, and had cleaned it for me. I needed it for my upcoming trip to Valley of Fire and Death Valley. I’d planned on driving out to get it after picking up my truck, but Cheryl didn’t mind taking me on her way to do her things. So we stopped there before heading out to Ray Road near I-10 to visit a lighting store, a Bed Bath and Beyond, and a Home Depot. I treated her for lunch at Wildflower Bakery, where we ate outside and I began soaking up the sun in earnest.

Afterwards, we went back to her house where my truck waited. I had a choice to make: spend the night with her and Mike or head out to Quartzsite to retrieve the Mobile Mansion and join my friends at the backwaters. It was nearly 3 PM and the RV dealer in Quartzsite closed at 5. It would be tight. I decided to go for it; I figured I could always spend a night in one of the few motels out there if I couldn’t get the Mobile Mansion. So I thanked Cheryl, said goodbye, loaded up the truck, and headed out.

Getting to Camp

Google put me on southwest Phoenix back roads to wind my way north and west toward I-10. We finally got on the freeway at 3:30 — just a bit too late to use the HOV lanes — and we headed west. Soon the scant city traffic was behind us and we were cutting through open desert at 75 mph. The kayaks on the roof shook a bit, but didn’t shift.

I pulled into the RV dealer’s lot at 4:50 PM. The owner/manager remembered me and commented on how I’d just made it. I paid the bill — which was about $200 less than I expected — and took the truck out back to hook up the trailer. That’s when I realized that the hitch pin — a metal rod with a cotter pin at one end — was missing. I did a search, then went back inside to see where it might be. But it was gone. While I fumed a bit, they came up with another pin that would do the job. I finished hooking up the RV, stowed the landing gear, and headed out.

My friends were waiting for me at a new campsite about seven miles south of I-10. This one was right at an inlet between the Colorado River and one of the backwater canals. They’d voiced some doubt about whether there was room for my big rig to turn around and park and I admit I was a bit stressed by that. But when I arrived, I saw that there was plenty of room. In fact, they’d saved me the best spot, right in the corner of the campsite where my big back window would look out over the Colorado River and I could look up the backwaters from the window at my desk. With some guidance from Steve, I backed the Mobile Mansion in. Then I set about disconnecting the trailer and setting up camp.

Mobile Mansion Parking
This photo, shot from the levee road after I unhooked the Mobile Mansion and took down the kayaks, shows most of our camp. I think I got the best spot.

That’s when we discovered that one of the bolts securing part of the landing gear raising/lowering mechanism had sheered off. It must have happened back at the dealer, when I raised the landing gear. Steve was able to extract a small portion of the bolt that remained so we could match its size. But we had no replacement bolt.

No problem. I left the rig attached to my truck for the night. We’d get the bolt at Ehrenberg or Blythe in the morning.

A campfire was already going. I poured myself a Makers Mark on the rocks and joined my friends.

Life at the Backwaters

Sunrise
Arizona treated me to a beautiful sunrise my first morning at camp. This was the view out the window at my desk.

In the morning, we drank coffee around the campfire. There were five of us at this camp: Janet and Steve, who I’d stayed with at the previous camp, and Karen and Steve, who were friends of Janet’s that she’d camped with the year before. Janet and Steve had their small travel trailer, a horse trailer with three horses, and two dogs. Karen and Steve had their larger travel trailer and two cats. We all had boats: two pontoon rowboats, a peddle boat, and two kayaks. As you might imagine, it was quite a setup.

After breakfast that first day, Steve and I went in search of a bolt for my landing gear. We tried the little store in Ehrenberg first, since it was closest. They had a lot of random hardware there, but no appropriately sized bolts. So we went to the excellent Ace Hardware store in Blythe, about 7 miles away. The two of us put on our readers and studied nuts and bolts until we found three possible matches. I bought them all. We stopped back in Ehrenberg to fill water jugs and a water bladder before heading back to camp.

It took just a few minutes to fix the landing gear. Steve did it, cramming his body into the front compartment, which couldn’t be opened more than a third of the way because of the truck bumper and the angle I’d parked at. A short time later, the landing gear legs were down, the trailer was disconnected, and I had full use of my truck again.

I went back into Blythe to do some grocery shopping and buy myself some lunch at a chicken place. When I got back, I saw that a fifth wheel toy hauler had moved into the campsite across the inlet from us. I heard the steady hum of a generator running. This was my introduction to Generator Man. I wrote about his idiotic and inconsiderate behavior in another blog post, so I won’t rant about him again here.

We had dinner together that evening around the campfire. We ate the ribs I’d made in Washington and had packed into my luggage for the trip back to Arizona. They were fully cooked and just needed to be brushed with barbecue sauce and heated up over a fire. We used a separate campfire at Janet and Steve’s place for that. Janet made fire-roasted corn on the cob and Karen made beans to go with them. It was an excellent meal, if I do say so myself.

The generator was still going when I went to bed. Fortunately, I couldn’t hear it inside the Mobile Mansion.

Life at the campsite quickly got into a routine. Coffee and breakfast around a campfire near Karen and Steve’s trailer in the morning. I made muffins one morning and Pillsbury cinnamon rolls another morning, but we usually all took care of our own meal. We’d break up and do our own thing in the middle of the day. In late afternoon, Janet and Karen’s Steve usually went fishing — and they always came back with a few fish. Then we’d get together for dinner around the campfire in the evening, usually playing music to drown out the sound of Generator Man’s noise.

RV Light Bulbs
Examples of the old (top) and new (bottom) light bulbs. The new ones will last 10 years, are super bright, and use a fraction of the power

I went in to Quartzsite twice with Janet. The first time, I picked up another 20 or so LED light bulbs for my RV. I’d experimented with them the previous month and liked the extra brightness and power saving. The bulbs were pricey — about $5 each — but their benefits and long lives made them worth it. With them installed on all of the fixtures I used regularly, I cut my evening and morning power consumption so much that I only had to run my generator twice for a total of maybe two hours the whole time I was there. My water pump is now, by far, my biggest consumer of battery power.

The second time we piggybacked a Quartzsite trip on the back of a Blythe trip. Janet’s single RV battery had gone bad and needed replacement. She was also having trouble with the charge controller for her solar panel. So we made a few stops in Blythe to pick up odds and ends for both of us before going to Solar Bill’s in Quartzsite. I looked into a solar + battery setup for the fuel tank and pump on the back of my truck. I no longer need it on my truck so I plan to move it onto its own utility trailer when I get home. Ideally, a solar panel would keep a battery charged to run the pump. Bill showed me a solution that would only cost about $250 to set up: 40 watt solar panel, charge controller, and 2 reconditioned golf cart batteries. I told him I’d have to give it some thought, mostly because I’m not ready to set it up just yet.

Ghost RV Park
Here’s one of the shots I took when I paddled across the river to the RV park there. They had their own backwater that I wanted to explore, but I got too late a start that day. You can see my kayak parked at the boat ramp.

One afternoon, when the river was running high and fast, I paddled a kayak across to check out the campground on the California side. It was a hard paddle, requiring me to point the kayak nose upriver from where I wanted to end up. I don’t think my friends expected me to make it, but I did. On the other side, I found an RV park full of RVs but with few people. Apparently, people park their rigs there and come use them once in a while. All of the full hookup spots were reserved on an annual basis by Canadians, none of whom were there. The onsite store had very little to offer in the way of groceries. It was all kind of sad, like an RV ghost town. I took a few pictures and paddled back, missing the inlet by about 100 feet. After a rest along the rocky levee — where Penny jumped in — I paddled upstream and slipped into the inlet. Nice upper body workout.

Sandy Hill
The sand looked a wee bit too deep on these hills to take my truck up, so Penny and I walked.

Another afternoon, I decided to take my truck up onto the top of the cliff just east of our site. Most of my friends didn’t think I’d make it — they’d been up there with the horses before my arrival and said it was too sandy — but Karen’s Steve claimed to have seen another pickup up there. I figured it was worth a shot. The access road started out very steep and rocky — a very doable hill climb for a 4WD truck with off-road tires on it. Once up the first climb, a narrow road wound around on top of hard hills covered with loose volcanic rock. Deep sand had blown over it in patches, but they weren’t big enough to stop a truck moving fast enough, so I made sure I moved quickly through them. Finally, however, I faced a sandy hill with two two-track trails climbing up it. The sand looked deep and while my truck is properly equipped for off-road travel, it’s heavy and I didn’t want it to sink into the sand. So I parked and walked with Penny up one of the hills, mostly to check it out. When I got to the top, I realized I was at my destination and didn’t bother retrieving the truck. Penny and I spent about 20 minutes up there, checking out the views and taking photos. It was nice up there, away from Generator Man, where the only sound was the wind.

Campsite View
This shot offers a great view of our campsite, as well as the one across the inlet and the campground across the river. Although the Arizona side is all BLM desert, the California side has lots of farming for quite a few miles.

Fishermen and Photobombs
Janet and Karen’s Steve show off the fish we caught while Karen and Janet’s Steve photobomb them.

I went fishing one afternoon with Janet and Karen’s Steve. I don’t think they expected me to catch anything — I didn’t either, in all honesty — because they suggested I bring my own truck to the fishing hole in case I got bored. I surprised all of us by hooking a decent sized redear sunfish (or orange ear, as Janet and Steve call them) not long after Janet hooked a large mouth bass. Janet caught a slightly larger orange ear after that but Steve brought in the main catch just as the sun was setting: a very large bass. He cleaned all the fish for us later on and took his bass away; Janet, Steve, and I feasted on the remaining fish a few days later.

Penny on a Kayak
Here’s Penny, demonstrating one of the reasons I sometimes call her “adventure dog.”

On Sunday, after Karen and Steve left for their next destination, Janet’s Steve dropped Janet, Penny, and me off with our boats about five miles upriver from our camp. We launched and headed downstream, stopping at one of the backwaters on the California side along the way. The river was moving at about three miles an hour, so there wasn’t much work in the paddling. I was wearing shorts again that day and left my white legs atop the kayak to get some sun on them. Although my formerly year-round tan has faded considerably, I don’t get sunburned like I used to. It was nice to get out for a good long paddle. It took about two hours to get back.

Steve watched the second half of the Super Bowl at a sport bar in Ehrenberg that he said was surprisingly good, although not particularly busy. I stayed in the Mobile Mansion — mostly to escape the sound of Generator Man — and read, following the Super Bowl action on Twitter and participating in NPR’s #SuperBowlHaiku meme. We’d tried during the day to pick up CBS on one of my two televisions as well as Janet’s but couldn’t get any channels at all. (I guess Generator Man has a satellite dish over there, too.) I fell asleep earlier than usual — the sun might not burn me, but it apparently sucks the life out of me: I’m always exhausted after a day in the sun.

Janet on her horse
Here’s a shot of Janet on her horse during our Monday afternoon ride.

On Monday afternoon, we took the horses for a short ride back up to the top of the cliff. They put me on Flipper again and the steep climb was a bit much for her. I suspect I might be the last adult to ride her. At least I hope so. She’s getting a bit too old for such strenuous work.

Breaking Camp

By that time, we’d all decided to leave on Tuesday. Janet would be showing her artwork at Gold Rush Days in Wickenburg. I’d be spending some more time with my friends in Wickenburg. And Steve would be bringing the horses to where I was staying; there was a nice horse corral in the backyard.

So we spent some of Monday afternoon breaking camp. I put the kayaks back on top of the truck, put away my generator, and stowed most of my loose items. Steve cleaned, deflated, and broke down the pontoon boats and put their frames atop Janet’s van. Later, we had fish for dinner with salad and rice, eating in the Mobile Mansion to get away from Generator Man’s drone. We played Exploding Kittens a few times and I actually won once. I gave Janet the game to play with other friends and sent Steve home with the remains of a bottle of Honey Jim Beam, which was too damn sweet for my taste.

In the morning, there was no campfire. Janet was the first to pull out. I finished packing up, cleaned the inside of the Mobile Mansion, and closed everything up. Steve guided me to hook up the trailer. I made a wide U-turn in the campsite and pulled out, leaving him to pack up the horses.

I made just two stops before I left the area. First stop was the convenience store in Ehrenberg where I dumped the Mobile Mansion’s tanks, topped off the fresh water supply, and filled my four 6-gallon jugs with fresh water. I also bought one of their excellent Mexican iced fruit pops on the way out. Second stop was the post office to pick up a temporary license plate the car dealer had sent me to replace the expired one.

I was on I-10 heading east by 11 AM.

On Camping and Generators

Makes you wonder why some people go “camping” at all.

For the past few days, my friends and I have had the displeasure of camping across a small inlet from a man in an RV almost the size of my Mobile Mansion who runs his generator from about 10 AM to about 10 PM every day.

Nonstop.

His rig is what’s known as a “toy hauler” — a fifth wheel with space in the back and a ramp for one or more motor vehicles such as motorcycles, ATVs, or, in his case, a sand rail. He’s got the fifth wheel and sand rail parked in a very large camping spot overlooking the Colorado River and some backwaters. Of course, it’s not actually facing this peaceful view, but I guess that doesn’t matter to him. Outside, he has a table and a few chairs and a barbecue grill. But none of that matters since he spends virtually all of his time inside his RV doing something that obviously requires a generator. We think he’s watching television.

All day.

Every day.

When I asked him, after listening to his generator for most of Thursday, whether he was going to run it all weekend, he replied, “Just during the day.” And if you don’t count the five to ten minutes between 5 AM and 6 AM that he runs it — likely to make coffee — and the time between sunset and 10 PM that it continues to run past what a normal person would call daylight hours, I guess he was telling the truth. Or his version of it.

Generator Man
Generator Man, as we call him, is camped directly across the inlet from us. We seldom see him outside. I guess he’d rather be inside watching television.

Of course, we’re camped here — and we did get here first, if that matters — and we don’t spend all of our time indoors, as he does. Sadly, inside my Mobile Mansion is the only place I don’t hear the damn thing. We’ve listened to it day in and day out. The only thing that’s prevented it from ruining our evening campfires is the fact that we’ve been playing music to drown it out. But I know that we’d all rather be listening to nature’s sounds — crickets, night birds, coyotes — than the never-ending drone of this inconsiderate asshole’s fucking generator.

We do get some silence in the morning, after his coffee is made and we’ve come out for our breakfast chat around the campfire. Yesterday, we enjoyed watching — and hearing — a variety of water birds as they fished and dove in the backwaters. That time was longer than usual, since he drove off in the morning, leaving the generator turned off. We think he went to church. I wonder if he asked God for forgiveness for disturbing the peace and quiet.

And that makes me wonder why someone would drive a truck, RV, and desert toy out to a wonderfully peaceful part of the desert, set it all up in a prime campsite, and then spend the entire time indoors, watching TV. He could have left it all parked in his driveway. Or a truck stop.

At least then the noise he was making wouldn’t really bother anyone else.

He obviously isn’t here to enjoy the scenery, let alone the silence or wildlife. He isn’t even here to play with his sand rail. He’s here to spend time inside a smaller box than his home, probably doing the same thing he’d be doing at home.

I know what you’re thinking right now. Don’t you have a generator, Maria? Don’t you run it?

If you’ve been reading about my Snowbirding adventure, you know I do. I wrote about it when I first wrote about the backwaters. It’s a 2KW Honda, known for its low sound level. I paid more than I needed to for a generator that would be as quiet as possible. And no, I don’t run it every day — especially now that the weather is warming up. I was running it for about an hour or two in the evenings to top off the charge on the RV’s battery so my heat would work throughout the night. But I don’t even need to do that anymore. I think I’ve run it twice in the past week — and once was to work a soldering iron.

I don’t even run it to make coffee — and I have two electric coffee makers on board the Mobile Mansion. I can boil water and drip a nice, strong cup without a fucking generator.

My friends each have generators. One couple runs theirs once a day — yes, to make coffee that they reheats on the stove in the morning; go figure — and the other hasn’t run theirs at all. Even when the battery on their RV died.

We all have solar panels that keep our batteries (mostly) charged. After all, we’re in the Arizona desert. There’s nothing but sun here every day. Why would we burn gas and make noise to get power when the sun is providing pretty much all the power we need?

And what do we really need power for when we’re outdoors, camping?

My friends, although annoyed by the generator sound, have been trying to be understanding about it. “We don’t know his story,” Karen said.

Wow. I’ve heard that a lot lately. It seems like a standard excuse for people to be inconsiderate of others.

But it’s true: we don’t know his story. He could have an invalid wife inside the box who needs electricity for her life support system. (That’s Karen’s suggestion, not mine.)

But is that an excuse for him ruining the peace and quiet of a beautiful place that other people are trying to enjoy?

Hell, it’s not like he’s even spending time outside, enjoying it himself. He’s inside the box all day. He could do that anywhere.

Are you like this when you camp? If so, you’re not camping.

As for me, well, I just have one more day here before I move on. I’ll spend some time with friends, then hit the road on a long-awaited photo trip to Valley of Fire and Death Valley. I’ve already been warned about the generator people at Death Valley.

It’s too bad that these people just don’t get it.

Snowbirding 2016: Home

I take a week-long break from traveling to check on things back home.

Posts in the Snowbirding 2016 Series:
Introduction
The Colorado River Backwaters
Quartzsite
Wickenburg
Phoenix
Home
Back to the Backwaters
– Return to Wickenburg
more to come…

Long before I retrieved the Mobile Mansion from the sale lot to begin my snowbirding trip, I booked flights home from Arizona and Sacramento. My house sitter had vacation plans for the end of January at a time that coincided with a meeting of the writing group I belong to, as well as my need to get my FAA flight physical done. I figured I might as well come home while she was away. A quick flight search on Alaska Air’s website, armed with the latest frequent flyer special offer, yielded a surprisingly inexpensive round trip flight from Phoenix to Wenatchee for that week so I booked it, thus locking me in to doing the trip in the first place and coming home in the middle of it. The Sacramento flight I booked was for later, in February, when I’d go home to fetch my helicopter for work in California’s Central Valley.

The Trip Home

So that’s why I found myself standing at the curb in front of my friends’ home near Phoenix at 4 AM on a Wednesday morning, waiting for an airport shuttle with Penny and two packed bags.

My friends wanted to take me to the airport, but I could not ask anyone to drive me anywhere at 4 AM. So before we could argue about it, I booked and paid for the Super Shuttle. Cheryl warned me that they wouldn’t be able to find her house because Mapquest gave bad directions — and I verified that Google did, too — but I instructed the driver to take 27th Avenue when I booked the trip. Still, at 4:05 AM, I saw the van’s headlights on the other side of a dry wash it could not cross. (Why ask for special instructions if you’re not going to use them?) A frantic phone call to the Super Shuttle people got me in touch with the dispatcher. Ten minutes later, the van sped down the road, coming to a stop where Penny and I waited.

I had a 6 AM flight and, for a while, was worried that we wouldn’t get to the airport on time to deal with checking bags and going through security. But there was no traffic at that hour and activity at the airport was predictably light. My ticket had been upgraded to First Class — probably because of the early purchase and my “MVP” status on Alaska Air — so I got better counter service and didn’t have to wait on the longer line for security. By 5:15, we were waiting at the gate.

I don’t fly First Class very often — I honestly don’t think it’s worth paying a lot more for — but I will occasionally splurge if it’s a long flight and the difference in price isn’t outrageous. It’s always nice to get a free upgrade. I sat in seat 2A, put Penny’s travel bag under the seat in front of me, and settled into the very comfortable seat. It was nice getting a hot breakfast, but I skipped the complementary alcohol. In hindsight, I think a bloody Mary would have been nice.

SeaTac
SeaTac treated us to some typically rainy weather.

We got into Seattle early and my layover was just long enough to get Penny out of her bag for the walk to the gate for our connecting flight to Wenatchee. Then Penny was back in the bag and we were on the turbo prop to Wenatchee. We’d arrive at 10:22 AM.

And yes, that’s why I took a 6:00 AM flight out of Phoenix — so I could get the first flight into Wenatchee that day and have a whole day at home instead of sitting around airports.

Return to Malaga

I’d asked my friend Alyse to pick me up at the airport. Normally, I would have taken a cab, but it had snowed on and off during the month I was gone and I knew how bad my road could get. Yes, it was passable for any vehicle with good tires and a driver who knew how to drive on snow-covered roads. But who knew what the cab company would send? Besides, I wasn’t sure what condition my driveway would be in. I knew that one of my neighbors had plowed it at least once, but when? I was hoping to get close to my front door and wasn’t convinced that a cab would pull into a snowy driveway.

Alyse and her boyfriend Joe came in her four wheel drive pickup. I threw my luggage in the back and climbed into the back seat with Penny.

We talked about the snow. When was it going to go away? It wasn’t this snowy last year. Alyse told me that in the old days, it snowed like this all the time. She wasn’t the only person to say this over the coming week.

The roads in the Wenatchee area were clear. So were the roads going into Malaga and up toward my home. But my road? Completely snow-covered. Alyse flipped it into four wheel drive and started the last two miles. It wasn’t very slippery, but it was very thick with snow in some parts. It seemed that the association had plowed it seven times (so far) that winter. Unfortunately, the guy who does the plowing is cheap and you do get what you pay for. And the farther down the road you went, the worse it was. Although there were three houses beyond mine, mine was the last one that was occupied most of the time during the winter, so the last stretch seemed barely plowed at all. In fact, my driveway was in about the same condition as the road.

I was amazed by how much snow was still on the ground. I knew the temperatures had gotten into the 40s at least a few days and had assumed that most of the now had melted. It hadn’t.

But it was beautiful.

My house in the snow
I shot this photo of my home from the road a day or two after I got home. It really is pretty with all that snow.

Alyse and Joe helped me get my bags inside. Alyse wanted to show Joe some of the finishing touches I’d put in the place, including the rustic wood trim over my stairway stub wall and the furniture my friend Don had made out of charred wood slabs. And the Pergo I’d laid. (They flip houses and are always looking for some nice architectural touches to bring up values before selling.) Then they left. I watched to make sure they got out of the driveway, then set about unpacking.

Salt Lamp
One of the things I brought home from Quartzsite is this Himalayan rock salt lamp. While I don’t believe in its purported health benefits, I do like the way it looks when illuminated. That’s one of my antique lamps behind it.

One of the two bags I’d brought home with me was the big folding rolling bag I’d bought years ago for the Australia trip I’d begun planning in 2011 and hoped to take with my wasband in 2012. (That didn’t happen, for obvious reasons.) It’s a neat piece of luggage: a very large wheeled duffle bag that folds down into a small package for storage. (I don’t think Eagle Creek makes them anymore because I can’t find it on their website.) I’d packed clothes into it when leaving on my trip in late December, unpacked in the Mobile Mansion, and stored it, folded up, in a cabinet. Then I used to to bring home a bunch of stuff I didn’t need with me, including including outdoor winter clothes and boots and a bunch of stuff I’d bought in Quartzsite for home. I didn’t have much laundry to do — I’d done most of it when I was in Wickenburg — but I had plenty of stuff to put away.

I checked on the chickens and was pleased to see I still had five hens and a rooster. No eggs. The shed still had water and cat food for my barn cat who was, as usual, absent. The housesitter had mentioned that the cat’s water froze once or twice and that surprised me because the heater I’d left in there for him was still running. It must have gotten very cold. I might insulate the shed over the summer so it stays warmer next winter.

Snow at Garage
There was no snow on my roof because it had all slipped down in front of my garage. Yes, I take credit for the poor design that causes this to happen.

Of course, the melting temperatures during the past week were just high enough to get the snow to slide off my two big roofs. On the south-facing side, that wasn’t a big deal because there was nothing there. But on the north-facing side, it slid down into a huge pile right in front of my four garage doors. That meant I had a shitload of shoveling to do if I expected to go anywhere in my Jeep. No rush to do that; I had put milk in the freezer and had plenty of food for the day — or even the week — so shopping wasn’t a big priority.

It was nice to be back in my nice, clean, warm home. It was nice to not have to worry about how much water or power I used (as I had when I’d camped off the grid in the backwaters and Quartzsite). It was nice to have fast Internet. It was nice to have a freezer full of foods I’d prepared and frozen for the days I didn’t feel like cooking and a microwave I could use to reheat them. Heck, it was even nice to have a television that I could tune into something.

I celebrated that first day home by eating a beef barley soup I’d made back in December and catching up on the Daily Show.

The Snow Bank

The next day, after doing odds and ends around the house, it was time to face the inevitable: the snow bank keeping my Jeep from exiting the garage.

My garage has five vehicle doors:

  • The big one on the front (east side), which measures 20 feet wide by 14 feet tall, is for the RV garage. Because I didn’t need to use that garage after my Santa flight back in early December, I’d stopped shoveling the 22 x 35 (or so) concrete pad in front of it. The snow had kept accumulating since then, melting and freezing and then accumulating some more. I estimated I had about 14 inches of frozen snow there and no real need to shovel it.
  • The four regular garage doors on the north side, which each measure 10 feet wide by 8 feet tall, are for my vehicles. The entrance to these garages is under my side deck, which is covered by an extension of the same roof that covers my living space. It’s a very big roof — roughly 52 x 36 feet — and built on a 3/1 slope. Because the space under it is mostly insulated, when the snow falls on it, it sticks. Until the temperatures warm up. Then the slow slides off — about six feet in front of the four garage doors below it. I was very fortunate that the snow didn’t slide off right before I left for my trip because I’d have to shovel my old truck out to make my departure. But my luck couldn’t hold out forever and the accumulated snow had dropped to a compacted “drift” 3 to 4 feet tall, 8 feet wide, and about 6 feet thick.

Fortunately, the Jeep lived in the very first garage bay. I put it there because the stairs up to my living space were in the back of that bay, making it about 5 feet shorter than the other three bays. The Honda lived beside it; that wouldn’t be back on the road until all the snow was gone in the spring. The truck lived in the third bay but it was back in Arizona. My little boat lives in the fourth bay and wouldn’t be coming out until the weather got sufficiently warm. It was a good thing these other bays didn’t have vehicles I needed to drive because the neighbor who’d plowed my driveway dumped all the snow in front of the last two bays. And that snow pile was more than 5 feet tall, 20 feet wide, and 20 feet thick. That’s a hell of a lot of snow.

Two Thirds Done Shoveling
At this point, I was about two thirds done making my way through the snow pile outside the Jeep’s garage bay.

So on Thursday morning, after a sufficient amount of procrastinating, I put on my winter boots and a sweatshirt and headed out the garage door with two shovels. I used the long-handled spade to break up the compacted snow and the snow shovel to move it in front of the Honda’s garage bay. It was slow going warm work. In an hour, I got about two thirds of the way through it. I was glad my Jeep was narrow; if I’d been digging out a space wide enough for the truck, I would have had a lot more snow to move.

I heard a vehicle on the road and ignored it, but when it got closer, I realized I had company. It was a pickup truck I’d never seen. It stopped in front of the garage bay and three people got out — my neighbors who had plowed my driveway not once but twice while I was gone.

We chatted and the husband, John, offered to come back with his plow and move all the snow away. He even offered to plow in front of the big RV garage. I said sure, fine, and was definitely willing to pay. But we got to talking more and more. The next thing I knew, he was back in the truck, using it as a battering ram to break through the snow separating my Jeep in the garage from the rest of the driveway. He sort of sideswiped it, letting the bumper break the snow and his front tire mashing it down into a shorter pile. This was not what I had in mind to clear out the garage bay, but he was having a great time doing it, laughing gleefully every time his truck hit it. When he’d finally broken through, I went at it with my shovel and he climbed out of the truck to help. He was extremely pleased that rubbing his truck against the snow had cleaned the lower side of it.

I can’t make this shit up.

It only took a few more minutes to clear the snow away so I could drive out. There was that hump to drive over and I really didn’t want it there, but it was so tightly packed that it would have taken me hours to clear it away. Besides, I knew my Jeep could run over it. I fetched some money for the other two tow jobs and his wife took it for him. He told me to call any time I wanted him to come back with the plow. He didn’t seem to understand that he could come back that day. And then I started thinking about it and realized that I didn’t exactly need the work done. And that I could save about $100 if I didn’t have it done. So I told him I’d call if I needed it done and they all drove off, happy.

I went to the store later in the day and got some groceries, including fresh milk and salad stuff. The Jeep started right up and handled the driveway and the road without any problems.

A Week at Home

I began regretting coming home about a day later. The weather turned cold again, staying pretty much right around freezing. We had some more snow and some of it melted away when the sun came out and shined on it. But there were a few days of January fog, which I find dismally depressing, and it was too cold and snow-covered to get anything done outside.

Wood Trolley
My do-it-yourself solution for mobile indoor scrap wood storage. Don’t laugh — it works and it was dirt cheap to throw together.

I did get stuff done inside, though. I did a bunch of cleanup work in my shop. I took an old wooden crate I had, put wheels on it, and set it up as a scrap wood trolley. This made it possible to store all the scrap wood I had indoors in a place where I could move it around to get it out of the way when needed. I vacuumed up all the sawdust my miter saw and table saw had left behind when I cut the wood for my loft guardrails — I’d used the table saw to cut the grooves for the wire fencing to fit into so there was a ton of sawdust on the floor from that. I worked on reorganizing my shop area and made some preliminary plans for another set of shelves in the storage end of the garage. I also planned the locations for a few more outlets I wanted to add on that side of the building. I’ll get the lumber and electrical parts I need for both jobs when I return in spring.

Loft Rail
I finally finished the rail for my loft, which was required by building code. This narrow section of loft space over my closet gives me easy access to the high bedroom window facing south, which I pretty much leave open in the spring and fall.

With all the wood already cut and finished for the loft rail in my bedroom, I had no reason not to finish it up. So I spent an afternoon doing that. It came out remarkably well.

And I had just one tiny bit — the return — to finish at the top of the rail for my stairs so I knocked that off in about an hour. I even took out my sander and finished the surface a little better for another coat of tung oil.

Penny after a Bath
Penny looked much cleaner — and smelled much better — after a bath.

I gave Penny a bath. After so much playing in the dirt along the river and in Quartzsite, she really needed one.

I joined my writer friends for our regular meeting. I’d missed the previous one and the one before that had been called off due to weather. It was good to see them all and share feedback with them on their work. And to hear feedback on mine.

I took care of chores in town one day. I got my FAA flight physical (passed) and some long overdue blood work done. I got some prescriptions refilled. I bought food for the chickens and my barn cat. I went to the airport office, paid a bill, and dropped off a survey. I arranged to park my Jeep at the airport when I went back to Arizona so I could drive myself home when I returned.

I caught up with some friends, too. I met with Megan for some wine on Monday afternoon and had dinner with Alyse on Tuesday evening. Bob was supposed to meet with us, but with the weather kind of nasty, he’d decided to go straight home from work instead. (Wimp.)

The Wild Rush at the End of My Stay

Suddenly it was Tuesday and I was getting ready to go back to Arizona the following morning. I still had a ton to do.

I’d promised the friends waiting for me in Arizona that I’d smoke up some ribs for them, so I dutifully defrosted four racks — which is the most my Traeger can hold — and prepped them for smoking. I would have put them on the grill before dinner with Alyse, but I was worried that I’d be gone too long and the hopper would run out of pellets. I figured I’d do it when I got home that evening. Unfortunately, my Traeger’s auger decided it wasn’t going to run in the 26° weather out on my deck. So I popped the ribs into the oven on a rack over a pan, set the oven to 225°, and let them slow cook there.

That was at 7:30 PM. I packed and cleaned up my home while I waited for the ribs to cook. It took 4 hours — just as it does on the Traeger. (Thank heaven I’d had baby backs in the freezer; St. Louis style take at least an hour longer.) I also made a batch of Honey Barbecue Sauce. It was midnight when I finally wrapped the ribs in aluminum foil and a big plastic bag and stuck them in the fridge.

All this time, I had my aviation radio going and didn’t hear the Horizon flight come in at 11:55 PM. That got me thinking that it hadn’t come in. My 5:40 AM flight is the same plane and when that plane doesn’t come in at night, the morning flight is cancelled. I got it in my head that the flight would be cancelled and couldn’t sleep until I’d spoken to someone at Alaska Air about it. Although she didn’t know if the plane was in Wenatchee, she didn’t see the flight being canceled.

At 12:30 AM, all packed and ready to go with my coffee maker set up to make coffee in my travel mug, I set my alarm for 3:10 AM and finally went to sleep.

Wednesday would be a big travel day.

Snowbirding 2016: Phoenix

Visiting with friends, running errands, preparing for the next leg of my journey.

Posts in the Snowbirding 2016 Series:
Introduction
The Colorado River Backwaters
Quartzsite
Wickenburg
Phoenix
Home
Back to the Backwaters
– Return to Wickenburg
more to come…

I left Wickenburg at about 11:15 AM on Tuesday. I’d already organized everything and packed the truck, with the kayaks on top. I’d be back, but not for at least two weeks.

Although my hosts offered to let me store some things at the guest house, I declined. One thing I like about my life now is that it’s so flexible — my plans can change at any time. Although I planned to return in February, who knows what might happen between now and then to change those plans?

Lunch with a Friend

I’d scheduled lunch with a friend who agreed to meet me along my route down to Phoenix. Rebecca is a doctor and a photographer. Lately, she’s more of a photographer. Like me, she worked hard at at least one career and managed her finances so that she could follow her passion and dedicate more and more time to it. With me, my passions were writing (which became my second career) and flying (which became my third). With her, it’s travel and photography and she does more of both every year. You can see her work online at the Skyline Images website.

Rebecca had recently been to two destinations that interested me: Death Valley in California and Valley of Fire not far from Las Vegas, Nevada. I wanted to pick her brain a bit about them. I’d been to both years ago — several times, in fact — and wanted to visit again, on my own terms, without having to deal with a companion who might prevent me from doing what I wanted to do: namely, getting up before dawn to get into position for capturing images in first light. Rebecca knew all about that; she was even more serious about photography than I am.

I was very eager to visit Death Valley while the wildflowers were blooming. I’d planned a February trip back in 2012 with my wasband when I was still married, but a variety of circumstances (best saved for another blog post) made me cancel it. But since I was already down south with the Mobile Mansion and I’d eventually be bringing it to California for frost season, I thought a route that took me through Death Valley would kill two birds with one stone.

Valley of Fire wasn’t too far off the route to Death Valley. It’s a smallish state park northwest of Lake Mead, remarkable for its red rock formations. I wanted to get out and hike around a bit there with my camera and see if I could get any good images of the rocks.

I thought that with the travel time I’d allotted for myself — almost five full days to get from Wickenburg to the Sacramento area — there was a chance I could spend one night at Valley of Fire (for sunset and sunrise the next morning) and two nights at Death Valley. That would still get me to my destination a day before I needed to be there, giving me the flexibility I like so much when I travel.

We met at a Wildflower Bakery near the intersection of Phoenix’s Loop 101 and I-17 freeways. She saw me parking — how could she miss the giant truck with two kayaks on the roof? — and met me in the parking lot. I left Penny in the truck with the windows down a few inches and we went inside. Because I’d had two breakfasts already — which is pretty much unpreventable when I stay with my Wickenburg friends — I wasn’t hungry and had just a salad. Rebecca had a soup that looked very good and hearty.

We chatted for a while about life: what we’d been up to, where we’d been traveling, and what was going on in Yarnell, where she owned some land and was preparing to build. Eventually, we set aside our plates and she pulled out a Death Valley map. She pointed out a bunch of different roads and points of interest. As I expected, she knew places where few of the tourists went — I really detest being part of a tourist crowd, especially when my mind is on photography. Among the highlights were some dunes I didn’t know about and am rather anxious to see.

She also recommended an ebook by a photographer couple that provides photos and GPS coordinates for points of interest to photographers at Valley of Fire. I bought a copy in PDF format this morning and will put it on my iPad to consult it while I’m traveling. I just ordered a Death Valley map like Rebecca’s to be delivered to me while I’m on the road.

Tempe Camera

After leaving Rebecca, I continued south on I-17, following Google’s directions to Tempe Camera. I’d been having some exposure issues with my Nikon D7000 camera and was also concerned about a certain amount of “looseness” I felt in my favorite lens. Since there are no camera repair places where I live and I’m seldom in Seattle, I figured I’d drop it off at a camera repair place I knew in the Phoenix area.

Tempe Camera is one of the full-service camera stores that still exist in this digital age. Not only do they still sell film and darkroom supplies, but they have a full range of SLR and DSLR cameras, lenses, and other photographic equipment. They even do equipment rentals.

I maneuvered my giant truck into their parking lot and managed to back it into a space beside an empty handicapped space. Then, leaving Penny in the truck again, I brought my camera and its attached lens inside. The repair department is conveniently located on the first floor — they really ought to put it upstairs so people with sick equipment can look at replacements along the way, but I’m not complaining. After a short wait, the woman at the counter took the camera and lens, filled out some forms, and told me that she’d call with a diagnosis. If it could be repaired in-house, it would be ready by the following week, when I returned. Otherwise, it would have to go to Nikon and could take up to six weeks. Since that would really foul up my photography plans at Valley of Fire and Death Valley, you can bet I was hoping for an easy fix.

Back at the truck, I took Penny out for a quick walk in the grassy area near the parking lot. Then we loaded up again for our next and final stop for the day.

Hangar Haciendas

Hangars Hacienda on the Map
Hangar Haciendas is on the map — if you know where to look and zoom in enough.

My friend Mike and his wife Cheryl had bought some land a few years back at Hangar Haciendas, an airpark that no one seems to know about southwest of downtown Phoenix, just north of South Mountain. Around the time I started building my home, they were finalizing plans to build theirs. They moved into their home around the same time I moved into mine: last spring. Since then, they’ve been working on finish items, landscaping, and other odds and ends facing the owner of a brand new home.

An airpark, if you’re not familiar with the term, is a residential development that includes a runway for homeowners. In most cases, each lot will have a hangar with a taxiway that goes out to the runway. This makes it possible to live with your plane just like most folks live with their car.

Residential airparks are not unusual in Arizona. I can think of at least ten with nice, paved runways. I’ve seen one (so far) in Washington state. They can be found in just about any state if you look hard enough.

Their home is considerably more impressive than mine. In addition to the three bedroom, 2-1/2 bath house, there’s a one bedroom, 1 bath guest house and a ginormous hangar for Mike’s plane and helicopter (and a very nice looking Datsun 280Z). It sits on one side of one end of the runway, with great views of Phoenix one way and South Mountain the other way.

I’d been dying to see the house. The last time I was in town — February 2015 — the main structure was up but the walls and windows and doors hadn’t been finished. Poor Cheryl had been a bit frazzled, dealing with contractors and trying to stay ahead of the curve on the project’s construction. Now the place was pretty much finished, although there were some details that still needed attention and were driving Cheryl nuts. What’s interesting to me is that as the General Contractor for my home, I actually had an easier time than they did because I talked directly to the subcontractors and they had to deal with a general who may or may not pass along the right instructions to the subs. No wonder Cheryl was so frustrated!

When I first contacted them about a visit, I’d expected to have the Mobile Mansion with me. I needed a place to park it where it would be safe while I went home to Washington for a while. They had plenty of land and were relatively close to the airport, where an early morning flight would take me home. It made sense to ask to park it there. They had no problem with that. But when I dropped the RV off for repairs in Quartzsite instead, I just needed to park the truck. I was hoping to spend the night at their place, but was open to staying at a hotel if they couldn’t accommodate me. No problem, though. I could come with the truck and spend the night. And although they pretty much insisted that they drive me to the airport at 4 AM the next morning, I bought a ticket for a shuttle van to get me and Penny. I could never allow a friend to take me to the airport that early.

The house, as I expected, was amazing. Cheryl was working on something when I arrived, so Mike took me on a tour of the hangar first (of course) and then the house. I loved the huge windows that let in plenty of Arizona sunlight, the desert views, the big marble tiles on the floor, the ultra-modern kitchen, and the complete home automation system. I have to admit that it was the first time I’d ever been in a home with his and hers laundry rooms. And the master bedroom shower, with its five shower heads, was big enough to host a party. Even the guest house, which was probably about the size of my living space at home, was big and bright and well-designed.

We hung out and chatted for a while and Mike built a fire in a fire pit just off the back patio. A neighbor stopped by for a beer and a chat. Then we decided on Chinese food. Cheryl placed the order and Mike and I went to get it. I discovered that yes, there is good Chinese food in Arizona. You can find it at Sun Chinese Kitchen on 20th street and Baseline.

Cheryl was tired and I had an early flight the next morning, so I left them early. I pulled the two bags I needed to take home with me the next day out of my truck and locked up the truck, leaving the keys with Mike. Then I settled into the guest house with Penny.

I was asleep minutes after my head hit the pillow.

Snowbirding 2016: Wickenburg

Returning once again to my old stomping grounds.

Posts in the Snowbirding 2016 Series:
Introduction
The Colorado River Backwaters
Quartzsite
Wickenburg
Phoenix
Home
Back to the Backwaters
– Return to Wickenburg
more to come…

If you know anything about me, you probably know that I lived for about 15 years in Wickenburg, AZ, most of which was spent with my wasband — that is, when he wasn’t in one of his other homes in New Jersey or Phoenix. When I moved to Wickenburg in 1997, it was a nice western town with a real cowboy flavor. Indeed, it wasn’t unusual to see real cowboys, sometimes wearing spurs, in the supermarket. Over time, greedy real estate developers and the Realtors, mortgage brokers, and politicians that supported them rezoned much of the land to allow ever more dense housing. Horse trails in open desert were replaced by subdivisions. Since the town has very little in the way of real jobs, the new homes were bought up by retirees who often lived in town only half the year. Businesses that couldn’t survive with the seasonal fluctuations of customers regularly failed. Over time, most of our friends around our age moved away.

I started thinking seriously about leaving town as early as 2005, when I took what I commonly refer to as my “Midlife Crisis Road Trip.” For 18 or 19 days I roamed around the west in my little 2003 Honda S2000 (which I still own), exploring the countryside looking for someplace I’d rather live — at least in the brutally hot summer. I came back with the idea of building a hangar home in Cascade, ID, where I could base my business for the summer months. I even dragged my future wasband up there to see the place. But, as I soon grew to expect, he wasn’t really interested in relocating and I soon gave up.

Starting in 2008, I wound up spending my summers in Washington State, where I began to build a very good summer business that finally made my helicopter work profitable. By then, I was married to the man I’d been living with for more than 20 years. He promised me, around the time we got married in 2006, that he’d join me on the road when he turned 55 (in 2011). That’s why I wound up buying the Mobile Mansion in 2010 — I wanted enough space for two of us and our dog for up to six months a year. But in 2012, he decided he needed a mommy more than a wife who treated him like an adult and he dragged me into a long, drawn out, and oh-so-ugly divorce.

While the divorce nonsense plodded on, I spent about eight months packing up my personal property. I moved out of my Wickenburg home in May 2013. I now live in Malaga, WA, not far from Wenatchee, in a “custom home” I had built on 10 acres of view property.

I still like Wickenburg — or at least that area of the desert southwest — despite the way the town’s government and chamber of commerce seem to be doing everything in their power to destroy what once made it such a desirable place to live. The Sonoran desert is an almost magical place, especially in the winter and spring, for exploring and hiking and horseback riding. Sometimes I almost wish I kept my house there. Almost.

And I still have friends in Wickenburg. One couple, Jim and Cyndi, have been very generous to me over the past few years, offering me their guest house as a place to stay whenever I like. I dog-sat for them last winter — they have a pair of energetic golden retrievers that Penny loves to play with — for about a week and stayed for another week. This year, I decided to take them up on their offer again and spend about a week in Wickenburg between Quartzsite and my next destination.

Getting to Wickenburg

I left Quartzsite early on Tuesday afternoon, as I reported in the previous post of this series, leaving my RV behind to get the landing gear controller card replaced. I packed all of my dirty laundry, which would provide clothes for the next week, any perishables in my refrigerator, my kayaks and related gear, and anything I wanted to bring home. That last group of things included a box full of odds and ends I’d bought during my travels and the winter gear I’d brought with me when I thought I’d be stopping in Salt Lake City on my way south. So although I wasn’t dragging the Mobile Mansion, I was driving a truck full of stuff with a pair of kayaks on the roof.

Wickenburg is only about 90 miles from Quartzsite. The route is pretty straight: I-10 to SR-60 all the way into town. Route 60 cuts through a lot of empty desert with just a few towns along the way: Brenda, which seems to exist solely for snowbirds who visit Quartzsite; Salome, which features a pair of residential airports and a lot of retirees; Wenden, a farming community; and Aguila, a sad little farm town with two or three residential air parks filled with more retirees. All of these places are a lot more remote than I’d ever want to live, with miles and miles of saguaro and mesquite-studded desert between them. I knew the route well — I’d driven or flown it many times. I made it in less than 90 minutes, making only one stop along the way to check the straps on the kayaks.

Map to Wickenburg
It’s a pretty straight shot through the desert from Quartzsite to Wickenburg.

Poolside
The view from the guesthouse not long after I arrived. I brought my bathing suit, but it never got much above 70 during my stay.

I arrived at my friends’ house in late afternoon and we shared hugs all around. Penny immediately reacquainted herself with Bertie and Donny. After a short chat in the kitchen and a glass of wine, I brought my suitcase and cooler and Penny’s things down to the guest house. It sits in a separate yard where their pool is, offering quite a bit of privacy to both them and their guests. It also has the most wonderful sounding wind chimes outside on the patio when the wind is blowing just right. And hummingbird feeders that keep quite busy during the day.

I got my laundry started and settled in a bit. Later, I went back to the main house for a very nice filet mignon dinner, cooked up by my hosts. Cyndi suggested we go roller skating down in Glendale the next day and since I’m game to do almost anything, I agreed. Then we called it a night and I went back down to the guest house where I slept like the dead.

Still Life in Wickenburg

I’m an early riser but Jim and Cyndi aren’t. That means I had two breakfasts: the one I prepared when I got up and the one Cyndi made around 9 AM.

Afterwards, I moved my truck closer to the guest house. Jim unlocked the gate so I could come and go without going through the main house. I brought more of my stuff in, mostly to organize it. Then I pulled the kayaks off my truck. I wanted to fine-tune my setup and I didn’t want to drive around with two kayaks up there for a week.

By this time, I’d also finished doing my laundry and had taken a hot shower to wash off the Quartzsite dust and smell of campfire. It was very nice to be clean again and in clean clothes.

Skaters
The rink referee took this photo of me with Cyndi. I hate getting my photo taken beside petite people because they always make me look enormous by comparison.

Cyndi and I left for Great Skates in Glendale around 11:30. I drove. I’m not sure if I wanted to show off my new truck or just felt like taking it out for a spin on a drive that didn’t start or end on dusty gravel. We arrived right after the afternoon session began. There were just three other skaters: all kids. We rented skates and got out onto the rink. I was a bit rusty at first, but the more I circled the rink, the better I got. I sort of wished I had my rollerblades with me and might bring them down for next time. It took Cyndi a bit longer to get her skating legs back and she spent some time with the rink referee — what else would you call the guy with the striped shirt and whistle? — before she skated on her own. He was a really nice guy — extremely friendly and patient — and made our visit very enjoyable. We skated for about 90 minutes, during which time I was reminded again why I don’t listen to modern pop music, before calling it quits.

We stopped at Trader Joe’s in Surprise on our way back to Wickenburg. I bought some supplies for the rest of my snowbirding trip: sardines, dips, chips, cereal, chocolate, etc. Then we headed home. It was interesting to see the changes along Grand Avenue along the way.

Later, we went out to dinner in my favorite Wickenburg restaurant — which isn’t in Wickenburg: Nichols West. I had my favorite appetizer, the fried oysters, and followed that with chicken saltimbocca. I also had one of Simon’s huge martinis, very pleased to see that he remembered I liked mine with three olives. I treated for dinner and let Jim drive my truck back.

On Thursday, I started the day early with a trip to Tractor Supply. I wanted to replace the straps that came with my kayak setup with some good ratchet straps. I also wanted to replace the bolts that held the vertical supports in place with shorter bolts. The four bolts install face down and I was very concerned with the possibility of one of them scratching the roof or sunroof of my truck if I went over a bump. They had everything I needed — it’s a great store that I wish had been around when I lived in Wickenburg — and it was nice to get everything at one stop.

From there, I visited my friends at Kaley’s. They sell and repair sewing machines and offer shipping services. They provided me with all the boxes and packing materials I needed to make my move to Washington without charging me a dime. (That was probably because of all the packing materials I’d recycled with them while I lived in Wickenburg all those years.)

Then Safeway for a few groceries.

From there, I went to Screamers, where I hoped to get a breakfast burrito. That’s when I learned that the owner, Avi, had died the previous summer. Avi was an immigrant who had bought the business from its original owner years before and he made the best breakfast. I always tried to give him business when I was in town. Breakfast, unfortunately, was not being served.

I found a new place where several other restaurants had been: the Pie Cabinet. (Did you say pie? Yes!) I went in and bought myself a slice of apple pie and a latte. I also got a whole pie for after dinner. Highly recommended.

Tie Down Anchors
I ordered these while I was in Quartzsite and had them shipped to Jim’s house. When I say that this is the only thing my new used truck needed to make it perfect for my use, I’m not kidding.

I got back to the house just as Jim and Cyndi were leaving for a hair appointment near Phoenix. I made plans to get an eye exam and meet a friend for lunch in the Deer Valley area of Phoenix. After installing six tie-down anchors on my truck’s bed rails, I got changed and headed out, leaving Penny behind.

I had lunch with my friend Ruth, a Phoenix area Realtor and part-time nurse. Oddly enough, I met Ruth through my wasband; he worked with Ruth’s husband years ago. When my wasband and I split, Ruth and I became friends, mostly on Facebook. When I come to Arizona in the winter, I make a point of meeting with her at P.F. Chang’s in north Phoenix for lunch at least once. She’s really upbeat and understands the importance of making your life what you want it to be.

After lunch was my eye exam. It was nice to know that my prescription has not changed. I certainly don’t want to get any blinder than I already am.

I got back to Wickenburg by late afternoon. I sat outside on the swing by the wind chimes and watched Penny play with her friends. She’s pretty funny — stealing toys from the much bigger dogs. And although either one of them could seriously hurt her, they keep their distance and just watch her antics.


Penny the Tiny Dog is a bully.

Jim made dinner — chicken marsala — and it was excellent. I brought up a bottle of wine to share with Cyndi, but she stuck with what she calls her “tried and true” favorite. More for me!

We finalized plans we’d started making to go to Flagstaff. Cyndi wanted to do some skiing and although I prefer cross-country skiing, I agreed to give downhill a try. Jim booked two rooms at the Flagstaff Marriott Springhill Suites and we planned to head north at about noon the next day. The dogs would all be boarded at Bar S Animal Clinic, where Penny had actually stayed a few times during my last few months in my Wickenburg home.

The Flagstaff Trip

I had just enough time on Friday morning to write a blog post about Quartzsite — I don’t know why I put it off so long — before we loaded up in Jim’s Expedition and headed out. We stopped at Bar S to drop off the dogs and the supermarket to pick up sandwiches. Then it was the 2-1/2 hour drive to Flagstaff. It was a nice drive across Route 74 and up I-17. I spotted a bald eagle perched on a tree branch north of Camp Verde, up on the Mongollon Rim. We got in around 3 PM.

I made dinner reservations at Josephine’s, one of the nicer restaurants that I’d eaten at with my wasband and some friends years ago. (For some reason, people seem to think I want to avoid places I’ve been with my wasband. I don’t; I’m very eager to create new memories in good places that don’t include him.) I had a wonderful pork osso bucco while Jim had beef tenderloin and Cyndi had a salad. Cyndi and I shared a bottle of Argentinian Cabernet.

Some research told us that there was an afternoon ski session at the Arizona Snowbowl that started at 11 and ran until 4:30. We decided to shoot for that the next day.

My room at the Marriott was comfortable, although the heating system was noisy. I slept well and woke early (as usual). I was very pleasantly surprised to find an excellent buffet breakfast in the lobby at 7 AM. Lots of fresh hot and cold choices. Also lots of kids in ski pants. I started wondering where they were all going.

I’d brought along some of the winter gear I’d brought with me for the Salt Lake stop I hadn’t made on my drive south: Under Armor leggings and shirt, ski pants, and ski gloves. I put it all on after breakfast and met Jim and Cyndi at 10:30 for the 20-minute drive to the Snowbowl. When we made the turn onto the 7-mile drive up the mountain, we began getting an idea of what was ahead of us. There was a line of cars with attendants telling them that the parking lots were full. A shuttle bus would take skiers up. We told them we were getting dropped off — which was the plan because Jim didn’t want to ski — and they let us go. More crowds at the rental and lift areas up top. I bet every single one of the kids from breakfast was there with parents and lots of friends.

Cyndi and I grabbed our bags and got on line. She needed rentals. I needed rentals and a lesson. The last time I’d attempted downhill skiing had been in 1982 when I was dating an avid skier. That hadn’t gone as planned. Let’s just say I never made it to the lift line.

We were on line almost two hours. The line split. My line was shorter. When I got to the front of the line, I managed to get Cyndi up there with me. The rental people had already run out of all adult snow boards, all snowboard boots over size 10, and several sizes of ski boots. When I got to the front of the line, they announced that they had run out of skis for anyone 5’4″ or taller. In other words, people like me.

Great, I thought. I have an excuse to skip skiing. Jim had gotten a parking space and was sitting at a table upstairs in the restaurant. I started thinking about cocoa, possibly spiked with Kailua.

“I’ll give you the demo skis,” the rental clerk offered. And before I knew it, she’d grabbed a set of blue skis with a $700 price tag on them and took my credit card. Petite Cyndi got the regular rental skis. No cocoa for me, spiked or otherwise.

I won’t bore you with the details of my struggle to get the ski boots on, open my rented locker at the bottom of the locker bank, or carry my skis to the lesson area by 1 PM. Cyndi disappeared. Or maybe from her point of view, I disappeared.

Maria Ready to Ski
Heather, a girl in my ski lesson group, shot this photo of me waiting for our lessons. That’s the top of the mountain behind me.

There were dozens of people waiting for lessons. We waited some more. Eventually, they took away the people with some experience leaving 19 raw beginners behind. We split into two groups. We went with Instructor Tim to a spot about a third of the way down what I’ll refer to as the Bunny Hill.

There were lots of people taking skiing or snowboarding lessons on the hill. Easily over 100 of us. While Tim taught us basics, we were treated to a free show of wipe-outs. No one got hurt. It was all kind of funny. We’d be performing soon enough.

I also won’t bore you with how Tim taught us. It was good and thorough and it took a lot of time because we had a lot of practice. Still, it was 90 minutes before we actually had both skis on. Once we demonstrated that we knew how to turn, he set us a goal of getting to the bottom of the hill so we could get on line for the conveyor belt back up.

Snowbowl Map
Mount Humphreys of the San Francisco Peaks is the tallest mountain in Arizona. The snow bowl sits on its southwest side. The red X near the bottom of this image is the Bunny Hill, which sits at about 9,200 feet elevation.

I didn’t do badly. In fact, I was one of the few who didn’t fall until we had both skis on. I fell during practice, which was a real pain in the ass because I couldn’t get up with the skis on. So it basically took me 10 minutes to get ready for another try. And then, when I was ready to try again, a newbie on a snowboard wiped out right into me, throwing me right back into the snow, this time with both skis pinned partly under me and my knees bent in painfully awkward positions. Lying flat on my back, I couldn’t really move.

My instructor skied right up and released my two skis while reading the snowboarder the riot act. “You’re responsible for avoiding everyone downhill of you,” he said. “In the state of Arizona, what you just did would qualify as a traffic accident.”

I assured everyone I was okay and accepted the snowboarder’s repeated apologies. It bothered me more that he’d knocked me flat right after I’d spent 10 minutes getting up than the fact that he’d hit me at all.

Another try, another fall. It was getting old but I was improving.

My next try was dramatic because I went faster than I wanted to and found myself heading right toward a group of people. Somehow I managed to turn and miss them and then another group before pointing parallel to the hill and coming to a stop. My instructor was very excited and pleased with my progress. But in my eyes, I’d screwed up because I’d wound up somewhere other than where I wanted to be.

I skied over to the line for the conveyor belt and promptly fell. Sheesh.

Once I was on the belt, the lesson was over. As I rode up, I looked at the Bunny Hill. Could I ski that by myself? Did I want to try?

But I was saved by the bell. My phone rang. It was Jim. Cyndi wanted to call it quits at 3:30. I looked at my watch. It was 3:10. No time for skiing — I had to head back.

I took off my skis at the top of the conveyor belt and walked back up to the rental shop. Due to the high elevation (and too much time spent too close to sea level lately), I had to stop three times to catch my breath.

Needless to say, I was very glad to get rid of the skis and boots, change into my jeans, and wait with Jim for Cyndi. He’d fetched the car by the time she came out and we were headed back down the mountain by 4 PM.

It was the second time in my life I’d bought a lift ticket I hadn’t used. And yes, it will be the last. Downhill skiing is not for me. I can fly a helicopter, but I’ll never be a skier. I guess I’ll just have to settle for that.

We went back to the hotel for a while, then went out for pizza at a restaurant I can’t recommend. I had a calzone and it was good but it took forever to get. And I don’t think either Cyndi or Jim were happy with their pizza.

I’d had the foresight to crank up the heat while we were at dinner so my room was toasty warm when we got back. I then turned off the heat for the night so I didn’t have to listen to it.

Still, I was tossing and turning very early in the morning with pain in my left knee. Apparently that snowboarder crash incident had done some damage. Being still overnight had caused the knee to stiffen up. When I finally woke at 5 AM, I was in a bunch of pain. Ibuprofen and ice, my Facebook friends recommended. So while I waited for Jim and Cyndi to wake up down the hall, I nursed my knee, read the news, did a crossword puzzle, and heated up my leftover calzone in the microwave for breakfast.

I brought the ice with me in the car for the ride home.

Back in Wickenburg

Palm Trees
Sunday gave us another gorgeous afternoon down in the Sonoran Desert.

We were back at Jim and Cyndi’s house by noon. I’d been missing Penny since I dropped her off on Friday, but being back at the house without her really made me miss her more. But Bar S wasn’t open on Sunday so I’d have to wait until Monday morning to get her.

I relaxed and snacked on some of my Trader Joe’s goodies. Their corn and black bean salsa is very good with their multigrain tortilla chips. I also washed my ski clothes and hung them on hangars to dry. And I started this blog post.

My knee wasn’t bothering me much. I don’t think there’s any serious damage.

I went out to replace the long bolts on my kayak carrier. The rear rack was easy to get to — I could reach it standing in the truck bed — but the front one was a different story. I had to climb up on the hood of the truck and sit against the top of the windshield. It was tougher to get down than get up. But I like the way the new bolts fit — flush with the bottom of the rest of the hardware. No worries about long bolts scratching the top of my truck.

On Monday, at 8 AM sharp, I was back at Bar S to pick up Penny. Since I knew Jim and Cyndi slept late, I figured I’d pick up Bertie and Donny, too. They climbed into the back seat of my truck while Penny sat up front. It was good to have her back.

Around midday, I decided to take a hike on the Vulture Peak trail. Vulture Peak is the landmark mountain south of Wickenburg. It’s an old volcanic core with much of the rest of the mountain eroded away. I could write more about it, but I already have; read about a 2009 hike with my wasband and his cousin here. Of course, I’ve hiked it several times since then — in fact, it was a favorite destination during my last winter season in Wickenburg. I’d lost so much weight the previous summer that I was able to reach the summit without so much huffing and puffing.

In the old days, when my Jeep was in town, I’d drive my Jeep to the trailhead at the base of the mountain. The Jeep road was narrow and very rough and I didn’t think it would be a good idea to attempt it in my big truck. So I drove to the parking area for the main trailhead. There was just one spot open in the lot, right next to a car that looked a lot like my 1987 Toyota MR-2. As I parked, I realized that it was my old Toyota.

My Old MR-2
Although I’d given this car to someone who lived in Wickenburg, I still think it’s a weird coincidence to see it parked in that parking lot on the same day I came to hike.

Back in 2011 or 2012, I’d given it to my local helicopter mechanic and he was still driving it. I ran into him and his wife on the trail. After exchanging hugs and catching up a bit, he confirmed that it still had the same clutch — I’d bought the car new 30 years ago and had learned to drive stick shift on it. That says a lot about Toyota reliability.

Penny and I hiked on the foot trail from the main trailhead to just past the one at the base of the mountain. That’s where I stopped for a break and to eat the chicken I’d picked up at the supermarket along the way. I took a lot of photos, both with my iPhone and with my Nikon D7000, which I rarely use. The Nikon had been giving me exposure problems and I was doing some tests with it. No sign of problems that day, though.

Vulture Peak Trail
The view from the foot trail between the main parking area and the trailhead at the base of Vulture Peak. No flowers, but lots of cactus.

After a rest and some water for both me and Penny, we headed back to the truck. This time, we walked on the Jeep trail I used to drive up. It’s not nearly as pleasant a walk — it doesn’t go up and down and wind around as much — but it might be slightly shorter and I was curious to see its condition. It wasn’t bad until we got near the where it comes out of the wash. On both paths in, it was too badly eroded to take a big truck through.

Vulture Peak
This shot of Vulture Peak was taken from the foot path near one of the places where the Jeep road (on the left) comes close.

We got back to the truck a little after 2 PM. Instead of heading straight back to the house, I drove out to the local airport. I was looking for a place to park the Mobile Mansion for a few days where it would be safe while unattended. I figured the fenced-in airport area was a good option. I found a spot that was out of the way and easy to get to. And there was a good chance no one would actually take notice of it there until I was ready to hitch it back up and continue my travels.

While I was there, I chatted with one of the pilots — someone I didn’t know who knew me. (I lot of people in Wickenburg know me.) I was hoping to get a bunch of the pilots together for one of their infamous afternoon cocktail hours so I could introduce recently retired airline pilot Jim. The pilot who was there suggested that we come by on a Sunday morning for coffee and donuts at the terminal — a weekly ritual that I started when I held the airport fuel manager contract in 2003-2004. (They never stopped doing it.) I’m still hoping to get an afternoon party going when I come back to town.

Kayaks on the Truck Roof
I secured both kayaks to the roof of my truck by myself. Not terribly difficult, but I’m glad I don’t have to do it every day.

Back at the house, I took it easy for a while, then went out to prep for my departure. The main thing I needed to do was get the kayaks back on the roof of my truck. I fiddled around with the roof rack a bit to fine-tune its setup, then lifted the kayaks into place, one by one, and secured them. They’re not terribly heavy, but they are awkward. And I didn’t want either one of them to fall off before I could secure them, especially with a truck door open. The whole thing went smoothly, though, and I was able to tightly secure them with the new ratchet tie-down straps I’d bought. I then trimmed about 3 feet off each strap and using Velcro ties, secured the loose ends. I’m still not 100% happy with the way the rack attached to the roof at the front of the truck, but since everything held together, I can’t complain.

I spent some time doing a load of laundry and packing my bags. The things I had with me were going to two different places: some of the things would be going back home to Washington with me later in the week while other things were going to be stored in the truck and taken back to the Mobile Mansion when I returned. I had to be careful about how I packed so I didn’t screw things up. At first, I thought I could get everything to go home into my big suitcase with my little suitcase inside it, too. When I did that and tried to lift it, I realized that it would be more than the 50 pounds allowed by the airline. So I kept the little bag separate. Because I’m an Alaska Air MVP frequent flyer, I get two bags checked free.

Jim and Cyndi made a chicken and spinach dish for dinner and then settled down to watch the Democratic town hall meeting on television. I went back down to the guest house, enjoyed the peace and quiet of a star-filled sky for a while, and then went in to finish packing.

Moving On

Penny in Bed
As usual, Penny went back to bed after her morning pee. But Tuesday morning, I had to chase her off the bed.

I woke early (as usual) the next morning, stripped the bed, and got the laundry going again. Whenever I stay at the guest house, I leave it as clean (or cleaner) than I found it. I had plenty of time to launder the sheets and make the bed, so I did. I also had coffee and breakfast in the guest house, followed by a second breakfast at 9 with Jim and Cyndi in the main house.

I packed the truck as carefully as I packed the bags that went into the truck. I wanted all the things that would go home to be together so I didn’t have to struggle to find them at my next stop.

Then it was 11:15 and time for me to head out to my next destination.