Returning once again to my old stomping grounds.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.