The Long Drive with the Long Trailer

I move my mobile mansion from Wenatchee to Lake Powell.

I’ve been traveling for the past week or so, starting in Wenatchee Heights, WA and ending in Phoenix, AZ.

Day 1I left Wenatchee Heights with my 5th wheel RV hooked up behind my husband’s Chevy pickup. The first day’s drive was relatively short: from Wenatchee Heights to Walla Walla, a distance of only 190 miles. Only a small portion of the drive was on a freeway (I-90); the rest was on back roads through farmland.

It rained for part of the drive, but never enough to make the road slick. I took my time. The trailer weighs in at 15,000 pounds and although it tows well, I can never really forget that it’s back there.

At Walla WallaIn Walla Walla, I stayed at the Blue Valley RV Park. It was a relatively pleasant place, with average sized RV spots, full hookups, picnic tables and grass. The trees were too young to give shade, but I bet they’ll be nice in about 5 years. The main building had a pool table, laundry room, and restrooms. Everything was clean and the place was quiet. I got some laundry done, wrote an article for AircraftOwner Online, and relaxed.

I had dinner at two excellent local restaurants: T. Maccarone’s and Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen. It was nice to have a change of scenery. I was there for four nights. The wine with my dinner at T.Maccarone’s is what sent me to Dusted Valley Winery for a tasting, where I bought four bottles of wine.

Day 2 of the DriveOn Friday night, I got the trailer hooked up again and mostly ready to go. I needed to be on the road early for the next leg of my trip: from Walla Walla, WA to Draper, UT (south of Salt Lake City), a distance of 606 miles. I was on the road not long after dawn. The route took me south almost to Pendleton, OR, then onto I-84 through Oregon and Idaho and down into Utah, where I picked up I-15. The landscape started with farmland, then mountains, then more flat farmland, then more mountains, and then finally into the Salt Lake basin. I’d driven the route before with my underpowered Ford F150 pickup towing my old 22-foot Starcraft. It wasn’t fun then; Saturday’s drive was much more tolerable. I stopped three times for fuel and twice for food. It was very unlike me to make so many stops; I usually try to get food and fuel on the same stop, but the situation made that tough. I rolled into Draper, UT’s Camping World parking lot at 6:15 PM local time, just 15 minutes after the store closed. I’d called the week before and knew I could park out back, so I did. I even got to hook up 50 amp power.

Ann TorrenceOn Sunday, @AnnTorrence picked me up for a drive to Ft. Bridger, WY. There was a Mountain Man Rendezvous there with hundreds of people in period clothes set up with period campsites. The “period” was apparently mid 1800s. Ann was there to take photos and research a possibly future book project. I was there to take pictures and look around and have a day off from driving. I didn’t take a single photo, although I carried my camera bag around all day. Well, that’s not true. I did use my BlackBerry to take this shot of Ann. She, in turn, used her iPhone to take a shot of me with my only purchase: a genuine raccoon skin, which I hope to turn into a hat.

After a very pleasant lunch at Cafe Trio in Salt Lake City with Ann and her husband, Robert, I went back to their house to relax on the front porch. @BWJones showed up and I finally got to meet him in person. After a tour of the garden, Ann and Robert returned me to Draper for the evening. Again, Camping World had just closed for the day. No one had left any notes on the RV or truck (which was still attached) and the power was still connected. Alex the Bird entertained us for a while.

Day 3Monday — Labor Day — was my last drive day. I drove from Draper, UT to Page, AZ, a distance of 370 miles. I got a very early start, pulling out of the parking lot at 6:30 AM local time. By the time I stopped for fuel two hours later, I’d already gone more than 100 miles. (I parked with the big rig trucks and discovered that my rig was about as long as theirs.) This part of the drive was mostly on I-15, but started east on route 20 to Highway 89, which took us all the way to Page. The roads were mountainous and there was a lot of climbing and descending. There were also a lot more vehicles on the road, making driving a bit more of a chore.

Thunderbird RestaurantThe only food stop I made along the way was at the Thunderbird Restaurant at Mount Carmel Junction. The place is a bit of a tourist trap, but it does have good “ho-made” pies (whatever that means). Odd thing happened when I tried to leave. They couldn’t give me a bill because the computer was down. Apparently no one knows how to do basic math. All I had was a piece of pie with ice cream and an iced tea. They apparently expected me to wait until the computers came back online. With Alex the Bird in the front seat of the car, that was not an option. Finally, my waitress disappeared into the kitchen where she may have used her “lifeline” to get help with this difficult math problem. The verdict was $7.79. I was afraid to count my change.

I arrived at the Lake Powell Resort just west of Page, AZ at around 11:30 local time. I’d been on the road for 7 hours.

Mike and PlaneMy husband, who’d flown up in his plane and spent a few hours swimming in the lake, met me at the lodge restaurant for lunch. Afterwards, we put fuel in the truck and parked it (temporarily) at Page Municipal Airport. I gathered my belongings — forgetting only two things, one of which was vital — and we loaded into Mike’s plane. Then we started the long (90 minutes), hot (90°F+), and bumpy (I almost got sick) flight to Wickenburg. The only sights of interest along the way — keeping in mind that I make that flight about 1000 feet lower at least a dozen times a year — were a handful of forest fires east of our Howard Mesa place and a heavy rain shower coming out of a remarkably small cloud near Granite Mountain.

Back in Wickenburg, we put the plane away and went straight home. Hot and sweaty, it was good to take a shower in a real bathroom.

I was asleep by 8:30 PM.

Wenatchee to Walla Walla to Lewiston to Coeur d’Alene

On the road again.

Those of you who read this blog regularly, may have begun wondering why I’m not posting as regularly as usual. The truth of the matter is that I’m traveling, on a long road trip from Washington State to Arizona.

We’re doing the trip at a leisurely pace, with stops 100 to 250 miles apart. No rush; our friend John is watching over our place. (Hi, John!)

Wenatchee to Walla Walla

Our first leg was mostly in the farmland of Central Washington, ending up in the wheat- and wine-growing area of Walla Walla. Walla Walla has special significance to me; twice it was listed as one of the top ten places I should live by

Ghost Photo

Some places just scream to be photographed at night. (Hey, is that a ghost?)

We spent two nights in the Four Seasons RV Resort, which I rate 4 out of 5 stars. (Partially wooded and relatively quiet, park-like setting with tall trees and shade, pet friendly, washer/dryers, limited WiFI, affordable.) During the day, we explored Walla Walla, ate in great restaurants (I recommend Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen), visited wineries, and went out on the bike trail. In the evening, we did a little photo shoot of this weird spot at the back of the RV park property.

Walla Walla to Lewiston

It was just 100 miles or so to Lewiston, ID. We drove on route 12, which wound through small farm towns and wheat fields. It’s mostly past harvest now, so the fields were left with short-cut tan stalks of wheat or plowed brown dirt.

After the Sun

View from our campsite. Not too shabby, huh?

In Lewiston, we stayed at Hell’s Gate State Park, which I rate 5 out of 5. (Wooded, riverfront sites with full or partial RV hookups, beach, bike trail.) The idea was to hop on a jet boat tour down Hell’s Canyon, but we soon discovered that all day trips are 11 hours long and half-day trips don’t run regularly. Since Lewiston isn’t exactly our idea of a great destination, we only stayed one night.

Lewiston to Coeur d’Alene

We drove up to Coeur d’Alene on route 95, which winds through some of the prettiest rolling hills and wheat fields you could imagine. We had a little adventure when we pulled off the main road in search of a picnic lunch site and found ourselves, pulling our trailer, on a narrow dirt road used by large trucks for some unknown (to us) purpose. We got about 3 miles down the road, trailed closely by a very large truck, before we found a place to turn around. We wound up having lunch at a cafe in Plummer, ID. Can’t say I recommend it, although the peach pie was good.

Dropping in at Cabella's

Jim took us to lunch at Cabella’s. (Pardon the crappy quality of this cell phone photo.)

In Coeur d’Alene, we camped at the Blackwell Island RV Park, which I rate 2 out of 5. (Full sun on all sites, closely packed sites, gravel driveways not long enough for rigs, a list of rules longer than my arm, sporadic WiFi, riverfront location, expensive.) After exploring a beautiful and vibrant downtown area, we met up with my friend Jim and his wife, Teresa for dinner at 315 in the Greenbriar Inn. Jim runs a helicopter charter business remarkably similar to mine. On Wednesday, he took us for a helicopter tour of the area that included landing at Cabellas at State Line for lunch. I spent the evening catching up on some work while Mike went swimming in the Spokane River with Jack the dog.

Coeur d’Alene to Glacier National Park?

Well, that’s the plan, anyway. We hope to be on the road by 8 AM. More later.

Light Matters

Two shots prove it.

We spent Monday night camped out along the east shore of the Snake River in Hell’s Gate State Park, just south of Lewiston, ID. The river is held back by a dam downstream to form a long, meandering lake that has plenty of boat traffic, including the “jet boats” that take people upriver through Hell’s Canyon. All that traffic makes for rough water, but I reasoned that early in the morning, around dawn, the water could be pretty calm. With first light on the gold-colored hills across the river from our campsite, I might be able to photograph some interesting reflections without a lot of effort.

While the idea of waking before dawn to take a few photos might seem like a chore to some folks, it isn’t usually a big deal to me. I’m usually awake by 6 AM anyway, and that was certainly the case on Tuesday morning. So I threw on some clothes, grabbed my camera and tripod, and went out along the path behind the camper to see what I could shoot.

What I ended up with was a great example of how the quality and color of light can change a photo.

Before the Sun

This first shot reveals an interesting scene in gray light. Photo details: 1/50 sec, f4.8, ISO 200, 35mm

I set up and framed my shot. The reflections were as good as I’d hoped and the shots achieved the almost mirror-like look of land reflected on water. But the light wasn’t quite right for the first bunch of shots. Even after the sun rose, it failed to cast its rays on the scene before me. For a while, it was the high hills behind me, to the east, that kept the sunlight off my scene. Then it was a cloud. The light was gray and colorless.

After the Sun

This shot was taken a minute later, when the cloud had moved away, revealing the sun. Photo details: 1/80 sec, f4.8, ISO 200, 35mm

Then, suddenly, the cloud slipped away and the low sun shone directly on the scene before me. It lit up with a golden glow and I snapped another photo. This shot was taken exactly one minute after the previous one. Rather than slowly creep down the scene to illuminate it, the sun shined full on the scene, all at once.

It wasn’t until I reviewed these two shots in quick succession in my camera that I noticed the dramatic difference you see here. These images were not manipulated in any way in an image editing program other than to downsize them for the Web. I think they speak for themselves as they are.

I’ve read a lot about photography, especially in the past year or so. One of the things I read recently was a “tip” by a photographer who basically said not to bother shooting in bad light. These two photos do a pretty good job of explaining why light is so important. And while I won’t tell anyone not to shoot in bad light, I hope these photos help them understand how light can make a difference in their photography.

Wheat Fields, Mountains, Valleys, and a Very Long Drive

What I’ve been up to — and why I’ve been too busy to blog.

I haven’t been blogging regularly for the past week or so. That’s because I’ve been on the move.

Monday, July 28

Combine in ActionI spent the morning cleaning out my hangar at Quincy for departure the next day. Then I flew up to Chelan and met my friend Jim. He flew us in his helicopter to Spokane, ID for lunch and then on to Coeur D’Alene, ID where he’s based. He demonstrated a confined space landing by setting down in the parking area of his business property in downtown Coeur D’Alene to offload a bunch of stuff. Then we went to the local airport, fueled up, and picked up his wife for the return flight to Chelan. I got some great photos of combines in action on the dry wheat fields. We landed at Chelan with just enough time to chat with another helicopter pilot before it was time for me to fly back to Quincy.

Tuesday, July 29

I spent much of Tuesday morning preparing to leave Quincy. I had to disassemble my helicopter tow bar and stow its pieces in the back of my truck, then clear out everything else still in the hangar I’d been renting. I also had to drop off my last month’s rent. I bought some cherries and other fresh fruit, too.

I had just enough time for a quick shower before visitors started coming. Louis, who would fly with me later in the day to Seattle, arrived first. Then Teresa, Jim’s wife, arrived with Jim’s pickup. He bought the remaining fuel in my transfer tank — about 50 gallons of 100LL — for $4/gallon. A great deal for both of us, since I wanted the fuel out to lighten up my truck. We pumped the fuel from my transfer tank to Jim’s and Teresa departed.

Then Louis dropped me off at Quincy Airport and drove my truck to Wenatchee. I took my helicopter to Wenatchee to meet him and we flew from there to Seattle’s Boeing Field, on a marginal weather flight I reported in some detail here. After a chat with my mechanic there, Louis and his mom dropped me off at SeaTac. I had a pretty good halibut dinner at Anthony’s before I caught a flight back to Wenatchee. I was back in my camper by 9:30 PM, exhausted.

Wednesday, July 30

Wednesday was the big day. I packed up the camper, stowed Alex the Bird on board the truck in his travel box, hooked up the camper to the truck, and pulled out. I’d been in my campsite for just a few days short of two months.

Palouse FallsMy destination was Walla Walla, WA, about 150-200 miles away. I chose a route that kept me on back roads. I don’t think I ever saw so much wheat in my life. My chosen route took me past Palouse Falls, so I stopped in and got some photos. It was an interesting place and well worth the stop.

From there, I continued on to Walla Walla, with a stop at a drugstore soda fountain in Dayton for an ice cream sundae. I checked into the Four Seasons RV Park around 5 PM, set up the camper for a two-night stay, and went out to grab some dinner. I wound up at a restaurant called Luscious, where I had an excellent polenta dish and a glass of wine.

This is also the first day I gave my new SPOT Messenger a workout. You can track my progress for this entire trip on my Share page, You’ll have to page back using controls under the Waypoints list to see the track for that day.

Thursday, July 31

There was something about dinner that didn’t agree with me, no matter how tasty it was, because I was up at 3 AM, leaning over the camper’s toilet and choking it all back up. I hate to puke but what they say is true: you do feel better when you’re done. But I wasn’t operating at 100% the next day, which I’d set aside to explore opportunities in Walla Walla.

It’s no secret that I pretty much hate where I live right now. Wickenburg is a dead town, full of ultra conservative retirees who live there only half the year and don’t spend much of their money in town when they’re around. They don’t have an emotional investment in the town and don’t seem to care what happens to it. As a result, new businesses — other than those that cater to the budget-conscious — don’t last more than a year or so. There are few decent restaurants and very few shopping opportunities. If it weren’t for the newly built and then remodeled Safeway Supermarket and a handful of longtime other businesses, I don’t know how I could live there at all. To make matters worse, the Mayor and Council seem more interested in growing the town’s population base for the financial benefit of their families and cronies than building an economic base that includes good-paying jobs that’ll attract young, vibrant people. The Chamber of Commerce pushed for an in-town “bypass” that’s destroying downtown parks and other facilities and adding a “roundabout” that’s sure to cause daily accidents. I love my home and its immediate surroundings and it’s painful to see how they’re destroying whatever was good about the town. There’s nothing else here for us anymore. All of our friends in our age group have already left town. We’re the only ones left.

So I’m exploring possibilities and Walla Walla was high on my list. I spent some time checking out the very pleasant historic downtown area, where it was nice to not be the youngest person on the street. Then I went over to the airport to meet with the airport manager about moving my flying business there. She was extremely helpful and enthusiastic and said a lot of things that made me believe I’d be welcome there. (What a refreshing change that was.) There would certainly be a lot more opportunities in that town than where I’m based now. I also checked out a few wineries — there are dozens in the area! — although I couldn’t do any tasting with my stomach so iffy all day.

By 4 PM, I was exhausted. I went back to the camper to relax and wound up staying in for the rest of the night.

Friday, August 1

On Friday, I needed to get an early start. I was expected in Salt Lake City at 6 PM. I’d be spending the night at the home of my friend and editor, Megg, and her family. Utah (MDST) is 1 hour ahead of Washington (PDST) so I’d already lost an hour. Trouble was, I needed to visit the post office to see if a General Delivery letter (containing a large check) had arrived. So I got as much prepared as possible before 9 AM and drove into town again. The check was there. I stopped at an excellent bakery that had been highly recommended by a Twitter friend and bought a fruit tart to bring to my friend’s place. Then I gassed up the truck.

Back at the camper, I was all ready to hook up the trailer when I realized that I was missing a leverage bar I needed for the hitch. I wasted an hour searching for it, then gave up and went to Home Depot to buy a replacement. That little fiasco cost me another hour. I didn’t get on the road until 10:30 AM.

That meant I had to take highways. I drove down to Pendleton and hopped on I-84 eastbound. And thus started a very long, very grueling day of driving. The trouble is, my 1994 Ford F150 8-cylinder pickup truck, when towing, is no match for hills and mountains. On flat areas (or downhill, of course), I could get it up to 65 MPH. But as soon as I started to climb, my speed deteriorated. Down to 35 MPH. Trucks were passing me.

And the roads through eastern Oregon and southern Idaho are very hilly.

I plowed on, stopping only for fuel and some fast food that I ate while driving. The hours slipped away. I was just entering the Salt Lake basin area when the sun set. It was about 8 PM. After making two wrong turns, I pulled up in front of Megg’s house just after 9 PM. I’d been on the road for more than 10 hours and was exhausted.

Megg fed me and helped me bring Alex the Bird’s cage into her dining room. By 11 PM, I was asleep in her guest room.

Saturday, August 2

We got up early and hit the farmer’s market in downtown Salt Lake City. This was, by far, the best farmer’s market I’d ever been to. Plenty of fresh produce, baked goods, and other items you’d expect to find at such a place, as well as other non-food items that generally dominate most other farmer’s markets in this country these days. Megg had her 5-year-old son, Cooper, along and we joined Megg’s friend and her 5-year-old son for coffee and scones at a shady table in the park. I felt as if I could have spent the whole day there — it was so pleasant.

AlbionBut we headed out to the Snowbird ski resort area, where we took a hike in Albion Basin. The area had been recommended by photographer and Twitter friend Ann Torrence, who linked to a photo of the place that made it irresistible. The three of us hiked about 2 miles round trip to Cecret Lake (also spelled Secret Lake). I took a lot of photos; this is one of them. The place was amazingly beautiful. Again, I think I could have spent the whole day there. But we didn’t have a whole day. In fact, I was hoping to be back on the road by 1 PM.

The departure time slipped as we went to the Snowbird Ski Resort and took the tram to the top of Hidden Peak. I’m so out of shape I was huffing and puffing at 11,000 feet. We headed back to Salt Lake City where I scrambled to get everything together. It was 3:30 when I said goodbye and hit the road again with Alex.

My goal had been to reach Page, AZ before nightfall. That simply was not going to happen — especially with the way my truck was climbing hills. I wound up in Beaver, UT, where I had dinner at a truck stop before pulling into an RV park for the night. I didn’t unhook the trailer or pop out any of the beds. Instead, I just plugged in the power cord, opened the sofa, and snuggled up in a comforter with a pillow.

Sunday, August 3

Reflecting PoolI pulled out of the RV park at 6 AM sharp and continued south on I-15 to SR 20 to US 89. It wasn’t until I got to Mt. Carmel Junction that I stopped for breakfast and fuel. I was back in familiar territory — the turn at this junction leads to Zion National Park. After breakfast, I continued down through Kanab, stopping to take a photo of a reflecting pool alongside the road along the way. Then I continued east and was very pleased to see the silhouette of Navajo Mountain off in the distance.

I arrived at the Glen Canyon Dam visitor’s center at 10:30 AM. Mike was already there with his truck and Jack the Dog. We had another breakfast in Page, then went to the airport to chat with the folks I’ll be flying for there, and finally to the campground, where we were told we were “lucky” to get a spot. (There’s more to this story, but I don’t feel like going into it now.) We spent the rest of the day picking up a few things for the camper and then just taking it easy. We had dinner in town, then came back to the trailer and watched a movie on my laptop before falling asleep.

Monday, August 4

We did a lot of chores that morning. We had to button up the camper to move it to another site (which we were “lucky” to get) that was suitable for monthly use. It turns out, the only thing that made it suitable was an electric meter, so if I sucked too much electricity, they could charge me for it. The new site is right near the road, which I’m not happy at all about. But I’m hoping it’ll be close enough to the office to connect to the WiFi network there.

We left Mike’s truck with the trailer and climbed back into my truck with the stuff I wouldn’t need anymore — including Alex’s cage. Then the four of us headed home. We’d gotten about 15 miles south of Page when Mike realized he’d forgotten his cell phone. We went back to fetch it, then bought milk shakes that were way too big (and way too expensive) for the ride. At 2 PM, we were in Flagstaff, where we stopped for a Thai food lunch. We were still full from the damn milk shakes, so we wound up taking most of the food home with us.

We were in Wickenburg by 5:30 PM. I fetched one of my cars from my hangar and came home.

Busy enough for you?

So that’s a whole week and then some, all accounted for here. You can see why I didn’t blog regularly. Hopefully, this long post will make up for it — if you could last through it all.

We hit the road again on Friday morning, when we fly to Seattle to fetch the helicopter and bring it down to Page. I hope to be able to share more stories and photos with readers then.

Until then, remember that you can track my progress for most of my trips these days on my SPOT Share page, Use controls under the waypoints list to scroll back through previous days.

And be sure to check out my photo gallery for larger images of what I’ve shared here:

Idaho is Prettier than Nevada

And Oregon is, too.

[When we last left our intrepid traveler, she was making herself at home in a 21-foot travel trailer parked in a casion parking lot in West Wendover, NV. You can read about the events leading up to this point here.]

I went into the casino at 5:30 AM in search of a cup of coffee. The espresso stand looked open, but it wasn’t. I asked a person who worked there what time it opened and she said 7 AM. I was about to freak out when I realized that my watch was on Mountain Standard Time and the casino was on Mountain Daylight Time. It was really 6:30 AM. I only had to wait 30 minutes.

After a peek across the street to see if there were another option — there wasn’t, unless you count McDonald’s, which is evidently getting high marks from some folks on their coffee; I’m not that brave — I went back to the camper. I busied myself finishing up the blog entry for the previous day’s drive. I’d just connected to the Internet with my Treo to upload the post when the phone rang, cutting off my connection. It was Mike. He has a real knack for calling when I’m using dial-up networking. By the time we finished chatting, my computer’s battery was nearly dead and the inverter I’d bought to power it in the camper wasn’t working. So the post didn’t get posted.

I went back into the casino, where I spent $5.08 for a 16-ounce “latte” with an extra shot of “espresso.” Note the quotes. I’m putting these terms in quotes because that’s what the casino called this stuff. It’s not what I received. In fact, it was barely drinkable.

Inside CamperI went back to the camper and packed up my bedding. The camper’s two queen-sized beds fold out the front and back of the camper and resemble pop-up camper beds. Although it’s not difficult to set these up, it really wasn’t worth it for a night of sleep in a parking lot. So I left the beds folded up and opened the sofa to a bed. This wouldn’t have been bad if the bed were long enough for my 5’8″ height. I’m thinking it’s about 5 feet long. I slept diagonally with my legs curled up. (This photo, taken with my funky fisheye lens, makes the camper’s interior look a lot bigger than it is. But it’s roomy enough for me. In this shot, the slide-out is fully extended; I usually only put it out halfway for overnight stays. You can see the closed-up front bed in the middle of the shot.) I didn’t have a good night’s sleep, but it really wasn’t bad, given the short bed and the fact that the parking lot’s lights made it bright as day outside all night long. Even the blinds couldn’t keep the light out. In the morning, when I woke up, I had to actually look out the window to see if it was daytime.

I got Alex back into his travel box — he spent the night in his cage — and loaded him into the car. A while later, after topping off both fuel tanks, we headed out. Oddly enough, it was exactly 7:05 AM. The same time I’d left Wickenburg the day before.

My route that morning took me west on I-80 to Wells. The 58 miles took about 90 minutes, mostly because of all the high elevation climbing we had to do. You see, the mountain ranges in Nevada generally stretch from north to south. When you drive north, as I did most of the day before, you’re driving on gentle slopes in valleys. But when you drive west, you have to climb over the mountain ranges in whatever mountain passes are on the way. That morning, there were three mountain ranges to cross. On one of them, the truck actually downshifted to first gear with my foot on the floor, unable to give me more than 35 miles per hour. Fortunately, I did better downhill.

The day was cloudy and it drizzled. When I approached Wells — which may have provided a decent place to spend the previous night after all — I saw that the mountains to the south were covered with fresh snow. In fact, it may have still been snowing.

I headed north on U.S. 93 again. The terrain was changing subtly. By the time I got to Jackpot, NV, on the border of Idaho, it was hilly and green and rather pleasant. I stopped at Cactus Pete’s Casino for breakfast, putting Alex in the camper while I went inside. It had a nice breakfast burrito with a cup of truly undrinkable coffee.

It was unfortunate I didn’t get all the way to Jackpot the night before. As my friend Stan had told me, Jackpot was a very RV-friendly place. It would have been a pleasant overnight stop.

Another refueling, then back on the road. I crossed into Idaho. Soon I was driving through farm country. At Twin Falls, I screwed up and followed U.S. 30 instead of 93. Although 30 was more direct, 93 would have gotten me to the Interstate a lot quicker. But the last 10 or so miles before I finally got on the Interstate was actually quite pleasant, winding alongside a river with lots of little waterfalls. (Maybe that’s what that “Thousand Springs” on the map was all about.)

Meanwhile, the weather remained variable: mostly cloudy with scattered rain showers. By 11:30 AM, I was feeling as if I needed a nap. That’s not a good thing when you still have about 400 miles to drive. I started thinking about maybe not getting all the way to Quincy by nightfall. Maybe an overnight stay in a nice campground would be better. Someplace with an electric hookup and WiFi.

By the time I got to Boise, it was pouring. I kept going. When I reached Nampa, I got off the highway and fairly stumbled into a Wal-Mart parking lot. I wanted to stop at a Wal-Mart or a Target to buy a cheap vacuum cleaner for the camper. You know, the kind on a stick. My mother used to call them “electric brooms.” I figured a walk around Wal-Mart might wake me up a bit. And maybe it would stop raining while I was in there.

I turned out to be a Super Wal-Mart, with groceries. I thought I’d take the opportunity to pick up some food for the camper, just in case my overnight stop wasn’t anywhere near shopping or dining. I bought some soup and eggs and orange juice and cereal. That kind of stuff. Then wiper blades for the truck and the vacuum. I brought it all out to the camper and stowed it away. Then I studied the map and came up with a plan — I’d press on and see how I felt by 5 PM. If I wanted to stop for the night, there were a handful of state park campgrounds I could try.

So I fueled up again and headed back out on I-84. It was about 2:30 PM and the rain had let up considerably.

A while later, I passed into Oregon.

I don’t know if it was my tiredness or my lack of enthusiasm for Nevada’s dull scenery or the changeable weather, but the ride into Oregon on I-84 was beautiful. Rolling green hills, farmland, irrigation canals, streams, rivers, snow-capped mountains, trees, rock formations. The interstate twisted through all this, with the inevitable climbs to slow me down so I could get a good look. Unfortunately, the rain came down very hard sometimes, making for bad visibility and tricky driving. It was also making me tired.

I pulled off the highway at Baker City and consulted the map. There was a state park with a campground about 50 miles farther up the highway. I got back on the road and homed in on it.

Hilgard Junction State Park is a tiny sliver of land alongside a creek just off the freeway. It offers primitive camping that includes a paved parking spot, picnic table, and fire pit. There’s a water faucet every 3 or 4 sites and a garbage pail every 2 sites. There’s also a restroom with cold running water. A campground host watches over all this. The fee: just $8/night.

Camper At Hilgard Junction State ParkI drove in to check the place out. The campsites were right on the creek. I drove down the little road toward the turnaround loop at the end. The sites were not pull-throughs, so I’d have to back in. The hell with that, I thought. I found one with a nice, long driveway and pulled in head first, parking the truck’s nose facing down the creek. This pointed the camper’s front door right up the creek. I just fit in the space. Works for me.

There’s one major drawback to the campground. I cannot get a steady cell signal. This almost caused me to leave — if I didn’t check in with Mike, he’d worry and I’d get scolded. But as I walked toward the self-pay station and tried unsuccessfully to telephone him, I managed to get a few text messages out and get one in return. It seemed the signal would hold just long enough for sporadic text messaging. I’d succeeded in communicating with him so he wouldn’t worry and I could stay.

A while later, Alex and I were settled into the camper. I perked a small pot of coffee — of course I have a percolator! — and made some soup. I enjoyed both while sitting on the camper step, looking out over the creek. My closest neighbors, two sites away, made their dinner on the fire and retired into their Minnie Winnebago with their two dachshunds. I made my sofa bed with an extra blanket on it, did the dishes, and fished out the 300 watt inverter to charge up my laptop. I even ran the heat for a while to get the dampness out of the camper.

As I finish writing this, rain is falling gently on the camper roof. Alex, in his cage, seems to be settled in for the night. I’m less than 200 miles from Quincy. While I probably could have made it there if I drove hard, this one last night on the road is like a little vacation before I get to work.