A Fateful Trip to Lopez Island

I learn a few things about a friend and myself and finally figure out how I want to start spending more of my time.

I was invited by a friend to spend about four days with him out at a home he owns with his sister in Lopez Island. Lopez is one of the San Juan Islands between northwestern Washington State and Vancouver Island in Canada. It’s small and not very popular with tourists, who seem to prefer the resort atmosphere on San Juan Island (Friday Harbor and Roche Harbor) and Orca Island over Lopez’s mostly rural feel.

My Previous Lopez Trip

I’d spent about a week out at my friend’s place back in the autumn of 2014. I was still pretty raw from the ordeal of my crazy divorce. My idiot wasband’s appeal of the judge’s decision was dragging on (and on). He was going after my business assets and refused to pay me the $100K+ he owed me for my half of our marital home. My building shell was done but I was still living in my big fifth wheel RV, unable to complete construction of my living space without an inflow of cash. A vacation with an interesting man I really liked was something I needed.

I’d been introduced to my host earlier in the year when he and his sister had driven through California. I was based there with my helicopter on a frost contract. They wound up spending the night with me in my RV and we went wine tasting in Napa Valley the next day. We also took a nice helicopter tour over the valley, where we got to watch balloons launch into the patchy fog. Later in the year, he and I had gone wine tasting in Woodinville. He was knowledgeable about wine and had similar tastes to mine. Conversation was easy and we agreed on many things.

So when he invited me to spend some time with him at Lopez after cherry season, I was all over it. I flew out with my helicopter, which was probably a mistake — it caused me to delay my departure and I stayed a bit longer than I should have. Although I think we both had a good time at the beginning of my stay, I think he took his role as host too seriously and didn’t do things that he wanted to do without company. At the same time, I’m the kind of person who needs alone time and didn’t get as much as I wanted. So by the end of my stay, we were both ready for me to leave.

I went wine tasting with him the following year. I also helped him, on several occasions, find apples and even juice for his side business as a hard cider maker. But beyond that, we didn’t communicate much.

So imagine my surprise when he invited me to join him again at Lopez this year.

Edmonds Prelude

The invitation came in the spring but I had to delay my visit until after cherry season and a few other trips I had scheduled, like my trip to Oregon to see the eclipse. There was a lot of uncertainty about dates, too. He’d lost his job earlier in the year and thought there was a good chance he’d have a new one before my visit. That meant the trip would be limited to a weekend, which is a problem for me. I do most of my tour and event flying on weekends. But as summer went on and no job materialized, we picked a few days in September after an event I’d had on my calendar for a few months. I’d join him in Edmonds on a Sunday to help him sell cider at a Farmer’s Market, then head out to Lopez for three or four days.

I drove. I packed my little Honda S2000 to the gills with clothes, camera, drone, wine, a cooler full of vegetables and frozen rib roast, and Penny. The car was so crowded that Penny had to sit in her bed on top of the cooler on the passenger seat. I put the top down and rolled the windows up, wrapped a scarf around my head to keep my long hair from becoming a tangled mess, and took off on the 3+ hour drive on Saturday afternoon.

I arrived at his house just after he got home from another Farmer’s Market. He greeted me with a warm hug. We went out for dinner at a real Chinese restaurant. Later, back at his house, we chatted until bedtime. Penny and I were comfortable in the guest room.

In the morning, after a shower, we packed up his Subaru for the Sunday Farmer’s Market. We set up early and were able to keep the car parked at the booth. We worked together well with me pulling passersby into the booth and handling sales while he poured tastes and talked up the cider. It started raining right around the time the Seahawks game started and the place cleared out. I bought cheese and corn on the cob and snacks. The rain let up at quitting time and we packed everything, including the wet shelter tent, into his car for the trip back to his house.

I’d brought two racks of St. Louis ribs that I’d smoked on my Traegar on Friday and we ate one of them, finished off with barbecue sauce on his grill, along with some of the corn for dinner. Then we packed up his car again, this time with his travel gear and mine, and headed out to catch the 9 PM ferry to Lopez.

Same Place, Different Vibe

I didn’t realize how far the ferry at Anacortes was from Edmonds. The drive was more than 90 minutes. It was dark and rainy. I was glad he was driving instead of me. I have questionable night vision and it’s even worse in the rain when lights reflect off the wet pavement.

Once on the ferry, we sat in the car for the entire hour-long ride. I’ve never done that before. I always get out and go up into the boat. But I was too tired to make an effort.

It was after 10 PM when we got to Lopez. And that’s when everything started to go sideways.

Understand that Lopez is very dark. The folks there seem interested in preserving dark night skies and I’m entirely with them on that. But some people take it to extremes. The front of my friend’s house was completely, pitch black dark once the car’s lights were out. I knew the ground was uneven and that there were steps to the porch, but I couldn’t see a thing. He told me to wait while he went inside to turn on the porch light. I suggested that a motion sensor light might be useful and he immediately said no, his neighbors wouldn’t like that. I could understand how something up on the porch might be annoying, especially if it could be triggered randomly by night animals, so I suggested a much lower light, possibly right beside the steps. No, he said. A very dim one, I suggested. No.

That kind of bothered me. I saw an unsafe situation that could be easily be made safer with a low intensity solar powered light that would cost about $5 and take less than five minutes to install. But his solution was for those who didn’t know the area to wait until someone who did turned on the light. The switch was inside the front door. So a person was expected to navigate the uneven gravel/grass driveway area, two steps — one of which was badly bowed in the middle — up to the porch, get a key in the door lock, and open the door without the assistance of a light. And yes, in hindsight I realize that a flashlight — even one on a phone — could solve the darkness problem. But wouldn’t a small light at the steps be a lot easier?

Whatever.

But that exchange seemed to set the stage for just about every conversation that followed.

We brought in what we needed to and stowed cold foods in the main refrigerator. Although the big French door fridge was nearly empty, he insisted on putting the zucchini, eggplant, and peppers I’d brought from my garden in a smaller fridge on the back porch. I followed his instructions, cramming it all in on the top shelf since the other shelves were already full. Then we went to bed.

View from the Porch
The view from my friend’s back porch. That’s Fishermans Bay.

In the morning when we met downstairs, I was kind of surprised to see that he had no interest in making or even eating breakfast together. He pulled out a drip coffee maker for me and made himself an espresso, which he drank with cereal. Not knowing what else to do — and definitely not interested in eating Cheerios — I found a frying pan and cooked up some onions and peppers with eggs I’d brought from my chickens. The peppers, from the outside fridge, were very cold. We’d later discover that the fridge was stuck on its coldest setting and everything in it froze, seriously limiting what could be done with the vegetables I’d brought from my garden. (We wound up throwing most of them away a few days later.)

By the time I joined him at the table, he was done eating. But he sat with me and we chatted, mostly about health care and politics. We pretty much agree on the current state of affairs, but not on how to handle it. I’ve voted and called senators and my congressman. I was active on Twitter to share factual information and fight fake news. But after trying too many times to talk reason to people who believed in fake news and conspiracy theories, I’d given up.

“You can’t reason with unreasonable people,” I said.

He didn’t agree. That made no sense to me. By definition, an unreasonable person is someone who won’t listen to reason. No?

He said that I needed to convince them without relying on truth and logic. Huh?

He said I needed to appeal to their emotions. Okay, but how can I do that without backing it up with facts?

He said I needed to keep trying, but he refused to explain exactly what I should do. And he never did tell me what he was doing other than continuing to try to get a job in the healthcare industry where he thought he could really make a difference.

The conversation went on longer than it needed to with nothing but frustration for me. It eventually shifted to healthy eating and fitness. My friend is very physically fit for his age. He routinely does long, strenuous hikes, sometimes with a backpack, up mountains. He does long bike trips, sometimes at high altitude destinations. And he seems to think not only that everyone can do what he does but that we all should. Walking isn’t enough. Even golfing without a cart isn’t enough. We need to do strenuous hikes or jog or run and we definitely need to go to the gym. All of us.

I’m probably a lot more active than the average woman my age. I hike and do some biking. I do all my own yard work: lawn mowing, gardening, tree planting, and pruning. Hell, I’ve had days when my iPhone reported I’d walked more than 10,000 steps without even leaving my property. I build things — sometimes very heavy things — and move them around as needed. I don’t do long, strenuous hikes or bike rides because I don’t want to. And working out in a gym is probably the most boring activity I can imagine. I don’t see how any of these activities can make my life better. All I can see them doing is reducing the amount of time I already spend on the activities I find rewarding: gardening, building things, spending time with friends, and traveling. So I’m really not interested in being lectured about how I should be doing more activities I don’t enjoy. Yet that’s what I was getting: a lecture. At breakfast. From someone who had just eaten a bowl of Cheerios.

We cleaned up the breakfast dishes. He went upstairs to check email. He was expecting to hear from recruiters about a job he hoped to get an interview for. I took my drone outside. I flew it out over Fisherman’s Bay, capturing some really nice photos of the area. After about 10 minutes, I used the Return to Home feature to bring it back even though it was only about 550 feet away and I could have manually flown it in. Instead of climbing, coming back, and landing at its starting point — as it has every single time I’ve used that feature — it descended right into the bay.

DJI App
In case you’re wondering, this is what the DJI app might look like just after your drone has descended into a body of water, never to be seen again.

So yeah, I lost my drone.

We took the boat out a while later to try to find it. But it had descended into water too deep to see into. Gone.

The good news for him was that he got a telephone interview scheduled for the next day.

Activities

We did a few short hikes with the pretense of looking for edible mushrooms we never found. Too early the season? Not wet enough? Who knows? Lopez has some nice places to hike, none of which are very strenuous. That’s not to say that I didn’t need to stop and rest on uphill segments — I’ve always needed to rest periodically when hiking uphill.

We cooked the prime rib. It was excellent with some baked potatoes from my garden and acorn squash.

We walked out to watch the sun set but got to the beach too late. We walked around a little. Penny ran on the beach; she really likes it.

Late for Sunset
We were a little late for this sunset, but it was still nice.

We went fishing on two days and were out most of the day. We caught one salmon the first day and another on the second. We hooked others that we lost.

26inch King Salmon
This is me (with hat hair) holding up the 26-inch Chinook salmon I caught the second day out. I’ve since eaten half and frozen the other half.

We went to a few stores in town to pick up groceries and/or check the stock of the cider he sold there. I paid for everything we bought, mostly because I was getting a free trip to Lopez and he was unemployed. It made sense. When he tried to pay for something, I wouldn’t let him do it. I reminded him that I wasn’t paying for gas for his boat.

Fisherman Bay Marina
My friend’s house is on Fishermans Bay, which was glassy calm one day. He keeps his boat at a marina less than a mile from the house.

He had his job interview on Tuesday afternoon. It went well. So well that for a while, he was the guy I remembered meeting three years before. He had an in-person interview scheduled for the following week. Yesterday. I wonder how he did.

Echoes of another Man

I should make a side note here. Other than a seasonal job I had at the Grand Canyon back in 2004 flying for Papillon, I have not had a “real job” since 1990 when I began my freelance career. Since then, I’ve worked a number of hourly or per diem jobs for clients teaching people how to use computers, wrote 85 (or so) books and hundreds of articles mostly about using computers, was a landlord, operated an airport FBO, launched a helicopter tour and charter operation, and acted as an Airbnb host. Hell, I even drove for Uber for a while. I’ve made a good living with this combination of activities. Nowadays, I make most of my living doing agricultural work with my helicopter where I live and in California. I’ve learned how to turn skills and assets into money without relying on an employer. The reward: a decent income and plenty of free time to do the things I enjoy doing.

I’m a firm believer that anyone with a decent brain and good work ethic can do the same. It’s all about the ability and desire to work hard and smart. So when I’m with someone who is capable and apparently willing to work hard and smart yet struggles to find an employer in a job market that doesn’t favor the 50+ crowd, I’m surprised — especially when that person already has a side business that can be expanded to possibly meet his financial needs.

Apple Orchard
My friend has a small apple orchard on his property where he grows a variety of apples suitable for making hard cider.

Of course, this can’t help but remind me of my wasband. In the last few years of our relationship, he bounced from one job to another, never quite making any of them work for him. He was passed over for promotion at least once and taken advantage of several times. Yet every time he was unemployed, he’d go back for more, finding yet another employer in another job that he wound up hating. The crazy thing is, he had other things he wanted to do and I was certainly earning enough to cover expenses for both of us while he worked on building a business. I even gave him a do-nothing (or almost nothing) job at the airport paying him $20/hour (when my other guys were making $10/hour) so he’d have some income while he worked on those other things. But the one time he tried to launch a business on his own, he gave up long before he could possibly expect to succeed. And he never put any energy into the things he wanted to do: inventing, being an airplane flight instructor, designing a “plug and play” solar setup. The really crazy thing about this is that very early on in our relationship, he gave me the advice I’d learn to live by: if you want something badly enough, you have to make it happen.

I made it happen; he didn’t.

So my Lopez friend reminded me very much of my wasband. That might have been what originally attracted me to him — after all, my wasband had once been my soulmate. We were completing each other’s sentences only a week after we met. We did and liked all the same things. We basically became adults together.

But like my wasband, my Lopez friend had changed over the years. When we first met and did a few things together, we got along very well. But over the course of the three years since we’d had our first Lopez trip together, he’d changed. I honestly think his job situation had a lot to do with it — as I believe my wasband’s job situation changed him. I think it put him on the defensive and made him feel as if he needed to justify his decisions. What he said was right, what anyone else advised that differed was wrong.

To be fair, I’ve changed, too. Once my divorce was finally over — my assets stayed in my possession, my wasband finally paid me the money he owed me, we sold the last piece of property we owned together — and my life was rebuilt with a new home, new friends, and a bigger, more profitable flying business, I became happier and more confident. I began to really embrace life on my own, without the need to make someone else happy all the time. Without having to feel guilty for enjoying my life while my partner remained miserable in the rut he’d dug for himself. I was done pretending to be someone I wasn’t to score points with other people. I was true to myself and usually said what was on my mind when I was with people I cared about.

And it was that person I’d brought to Lopez Island last week: mature, independent, relaxed, confident, honest, open.

And that person quickly lost patience with the confrontational tone of conversations she was having with her host.

Let the Mansplaining Begin

I’m amazed in this day and age that not everyone has heard the word mansplaining, yet over the past few days, I’ve found myself defining it for others. Here’s what Wikipedia says about it:

Mansplaining is a portmanteau of the word man and the informal form splaining of the verb explaining and means “to explain something to someone, characteristically by a man to woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing.” Lily Rothman of The Atlantic defines it as “explaining without regard to the fact that the explainee knows more than the explainer, often done by a man to a woman,” and feminist author and essayist Rebecca Solnit ascribes the phenomenon to a combination of “overconfidence and cluelessness.”

The version of mansplaining I was subjected to during my Lopez stay was the sort where the explainer — my host — assumed I knew absolutely nothing about what he was telling me. When I asked him questions — for example, about testing apple sugar content for cider — he’d get annoyed and say something like, “If you give me a chance, I’ll tell you.” Then he’d start with the very basics which I often already knew and lecture me until he was done, often not answering my original questions.

When we went fishing on his boat — which, by the way, I liked a lot — he treated me as if I’d never boated or fished, despite the fact that I told him I’d been boating and fishing since childhood and actually owned a boat. Rather than let me help on the boat when help was needed, he’d make a point of telling me I was in his way or to sit still. Then when he was worried about docking at Friday Harbor, he instructed me to help tie up the boat by making a sort of loop with the line and lassoing the dock cleat — when in fact it would have been much easier for him to fasten the line to the boat cleat and let me jump out with the other end. I grew up with boats; don’t you think I know how to tie one up?

Downrigger Setup
One of the two downrigger setups on my friend’s boat. A weight on the downrigger pulls the fishing line from the pole to the desired depth and keeps it there while trolling. When the fish pulls the line, it breaks loose from the downrigger weight and the fun begins. This is a pretty common setup for salmon fishing in the Pacific Northwest.

He seemed to think I wasn’t capable of doing anything without his instructions — and his instructions were often so over simplified that I wondered whether he thought I was an imbecile. It wasn’t until our second day out on the boat that he finally agreed to show me how to use the downrigger, a simple device I’d never used but picked up quickly. Then, when I asked him whether he needed to stop the boat so I could check my line for weeds, he asked whether I wanted it to be easy or hard. I told him I wanted to do it without tangling the line in the engine as we had the first day, when he’d let the line out while the boat was idling. The way I saw it, that meant continuing on course. Since he didn’t specify that the boat needed to be stopped, I just pulled my line in, worked the downrigger, removed the weeds, and had it all back in the water for trolling in less than five minutes. Seriously: it was a simple device.

It was very hard not to snap at him, but I tried. After all, he was my host and manners required me to cut him a lot of slack. But at one point, his mansplaining got so annoying that I told him point blank to stop talking to me as if I was an idiot.

Yet on the same boat trip, when we were communicating like adults of equal intelligence — which I’m pretty sure we are — he admitted several times that I was verbalizing exactly what he was thinking. It was like my early days with my wasband all over again. It made me sad because I knew there would be no relationship with this man.

The End

I can go on and on about little things that really got under my skin — the more I think about it, the more I remember — but I’ll limit myself to two more.

First, during a discussion of work and careers, I admitted that none of my three careers was really my “dream job.” I’d always wanted to be a novelist and although I did have a very good career as a writer for about 20 years, I wrote tech books and not novels. Even the flying I did wasn’t exactly what I wanted to be doing every day but it paid very well and gave me lots of free time. He countered my admission with “I’d never do a job I didn’t like for pay.” Huh? Well, I guess that’s one reason why he’s unemployed.

And yes his insinuation that I had “sold out” by settling for something other than my dream job did really get under my skin. But that’s my problem; I don’t think he intended his comment as an insult.

The other had to do with something that happened after he assured me so many times how considerate he was toward other people. The porch light might bother neighbors. Flying a drone in a public place might bother people around him. Comments like that. Yet on our return to his dock slip after our second day of fishing, he drove the boat past a marina fast enough to create a considerable wake. A man on a boat there called out, “Do you really need to go that fast here?” When I passed this question on to my friend, his response was something like “tough luck” and he maintained speed. He seemed to resent that the man had a bigger boat. How is that considerate for other people? Seems like hypocrisy to me.

I know I’m not perfect and I’m sure folks could come up with lists of things like this that I do. Sometimes I wish they would. I know I wish my wasband would have. Instead, he kept his list of pet peeves shut up inside his head, allowing it to stew until it turned into a hatred for me. How does that help anyone?

During our few conversations early in the week, my friend accused me of trying to one-up him every time we spoke. He’d tell a story and I’d tell a related story. That’s how conversations work. But apparently he saw it as a competition of sorts, even though that’s not what I intended. I solved the problem by not starting conversations and keeping my stories to myself. Honestly, I was afraid to talk, afraid to give him anything he might use as ammunition to start an argument. He had become adept at turning a simple comment into a personal affront. It made for a lot of quiet, tense moments together, especially on the long car ride early Friday morning from Anacortes back to his home and my car. (And no, this time I didn’t stay in the car for the ferry ride.)

Dawn from the Ferry
Dawn from the ferry on Friday morning.

Our goodbyes weren’t warm. He said, “We have a lot in common but we also seem to do things that annoy each other.”

“That sums it up perfectly,” I responded. He seemed surprised — maybe because I agreed with him?

But I know I’ll never be invited back to Lopez Island and I also know that if I was, I wouldn’t go.

And it looks like I’ll need to find a new wine tasting partner. He never did open the 13-year-old bottle of wine he claimed he was saving for me.

What I Learned

I learn something every day and I learned a lot that week at Lopez.

I learned that I can get a lot more into my S2000 than I thought. I was also reminded how much I like to drive it.

I learned never to trust the Mavic Pro software to land a drone properly, no matter how many times it’s done it properly in the past.

I learned how to use a downrigger and that salmon really do need constant tension on the line when the hook has no barb.

I learned that I enjoy doing things on my own a hell of a lot more than with an insecure, confrontational companion, no matter how much we have in common. (Of course, I already knew that based on the last few years of my marriage and the brief time I dated another smart, insecure man back in 2015.)

I learned that most men — even smart men — can’t help putting smart, independent women in their place whenever possible. They feel threatened by us somehow. They can’t admit that we might be intellectual equals so they fight back by belittling us as much as possible. Hence, the mansplaining.

But the most important thing I learned is that I don’t want to wait until retirement to live on the water. I really do like being on the water.

I think about all the years I waited for my wasband to get his head out of his butt and start enjoying life and it makes me angry. Those were wasted years. I don’t have to wait anymore. I can live all of my dreams now, before I get too old to enjoy them.

That said, I’ve come up with the seeds of a plan to live on the water during my off season time. My friend’s boat was a C-Dory Classic 22 Cruiser, which was a lot like my little truck camper, as far as comfort features are concerned. It had a closed in cabin, bed, dining table, refrigerator, sink, stove. The only thing it lacked was a head (bathroom). The C-Dory Classic 25 Cruiser or C-Dory Venture 26 has all that plus a head. It’s seaworthy, perfect for fishing, and not bad for traveling, especially in the islands close to shore. I could see replacing my silly little jet boat and camper with something more substantial and taking long trips in the San Juans, Inside Passage, and even Lake Powell and the Intercostal Waterway on the east coast. A boat like that can be my vacation home, with a trailer to pull it anywhere I want to launch from.

While the boat isn’t in my immediate future — I’m thinking 2020 — I can start doing interesting trips on my own sooner. I worked Google like a pro when I got home and found all kinds of interesting adventures. I’m considering this trip to learn how to navigate the Inside Passage and this trip for herding sheep on horseback in Iceland. These are not boring package tours for seniors. These are trips when I can learn and do new things, building on skills and knowledge I already have. Trips where I’ll be among a handful of like-minded people instead of hundreds or thousands of tourists checking off destinations on a bucket list.

Because to me, that’s what life is all about: learning and doing new things, meeting new people, making every day different from the one before it.

Yes, it’s true: I don’t have my dream job. But I’ve got no real complaints about the jobs I have, especially since they give me the time and money I need to do the things I want to when I’m not working.

Snowbirding 2017: Two Days at the Dunes

With a note about why loneliness doesn’t exist for people who don’t need the company of others.

On Friday afternoon, I took a right turn off a two-lane road in San Bernardino County, California. A historical marker indicated that I’d found the “Harry Wade Exit Route,” a route a man and his family had taken to escape a particularly deadly desert valley in 1849.

Thus I began a long trek down a series of washboarded single-lane roads into the Mohave Desert. I was on a quest to visit some sand dunes in the farthest reaches of a National Park that gets nearly a million visitors a year but there wasn’t a single vehicle on the road with me. After bumping along on one road and then making a right turn onto another, the only indication I had that I’d entered the park was a weathered sign with the park name followed by a similarly weathered sign warning that off-road travel was prohibited.

Map
My map of the area was very detailed.

I crossed a few dry washes, recalling quite clearly that my detailed map warned “River crossing dangerous in flood.” I had seen water flowing earlier in the day and suspected the meandering river might enter the valley, but it certainly didn’t seem as if the water had made it this far. Until a healthy stream trickled across the road a few hundred yards ahead. Surely my big pickup with its beefy tires could cross this sandy stream? Even with my big camper on back? I knew that a slow crossing was not advised, so I gave it a bit more gas and surged forward. The tires started to bog down on the far side of the stream, but by then momentum had carried us through. On the way back, I’d use 4WD.

Saratoga Springs
This was supposed to be a photo of the ponds by the springs but it’s a better picture of the dreary weather. Apparently, it was pouring in the main park area.

I followed signs to a spring where another sign that I suspected might be there said “No Camping.” There were no people in the parking area, although there was a weather station that I later found on Weather Underground. I never saw the source of the spring, but I did see the huge reed-fringed ponds that had formed in a desert well-known for its lack of water. I heard water fowl and frogs and, after retrieving my binoculars from the camper, saw a few dark colored birds floating on one of the ponds. I also saw what I think was burro (AKA donkey) dung along the trail.

I was tempted to park there for the night despite the sign, but didn’t want to get in trouble in the unlikely event of a park ranger stopping by this remote spot during the night. My camper is pretty much zero-impact; it’s fully equipped to haul what I need — fresh water, fuel for cooking, food — in and what I don’t need — waste water and garbage — out. A campfire isn’t necessary for cooking. All I need is a relatively level place to park, preferably with a view. But rules are not meant to be broken and if this spot wasn’t protected by the “No Camping” rule, it would likely be overrun with motorhomes and people bathing in the springs as soon as word got out about what a great spot it was.

We are our own worst enemies.

The goal, I reminded myself, was the dunes. It would be better if I could find a place closer to them to park for the night. Although the weather was degrading and rain was in the forecast, a hike to the dunes from my campsite was a possibility, either that evening or in the morning. So I came away from the spring and turned left on the washboard road, continuing north and mindful of the sign that warned about deep sand 4 miles up the road. I didn’t plan on going that far.

I found what I think was a parking area for the dunes about a mile up the road and turned in. There was a sign about it being a wilderness area that allowed foot and horse traffic only. There was space between the sign and the road for my rig, so I pulled out, turned around, and backed in with my camper’s back door facing the dunes. I killed the engine, fetched a few things from the truck, and opened up the camper. After spending about 10 minutes putting out the slide and picking up the things that had fallen during the bumpy ride, I was settled in.

The dunes, over a mile away without a clear trail to them, taunted me under a darkening sky.

Parking for the Dunes
Parking for the dunes — the view out my camper’s back door.

I fed Penny.

I checked my cell phone, fully expecting to see No Service in the area where there are usually dots representing signal strength. I was shocked to see three dots and LTE. That had to be wrong. I ran SpeedTest and was even more shocked to see that not only did I have Internet service, but it was the fastest service I’d had since leaving home.

I checked in on social media. I admit that part of me wished I didn’t have an Internet connection so that I could fully disconnect. But, at the same time, I’m a realist and know that if anything goes wrong, it’s nice to be able to call for help — even if help would likely take hours to find me. (My dead starter was still fresh in my mind, which also explains why I always back into a campsite now.)

I found a classic rock station on the radio that actually played good music. I listened for about 15 minutes before realizing I preferred silence.

And it was silent. No sound of cars or trucks or planes. I could hear the wind coming through the greasewood (AKA creosote) bushes before it reached me. I occasionally heard a bird.

From my parking spot, I could see for miles in almost every direction; nothing moved.

I looked again with my binoculars. Nothing.

I sat at the table, writing a blog post on my laptop (that I might never publish), finishing the last of the ice tea from my late breakfast in Boulder City. Occasionally, I’d glance outside to see if Mother Nature would surprise me with a ray of sunshine highlighting the dunes or mountains behind them. I heard a few raindrops on the roof. It got dark out without the pleasure of a nice sunset.

Despite the full moon that had risen behind the clouds at around sunset, it got very dark.

I made some dinner and sat up in bed eating it while I did a crossword puzzle. I debated watching a movie but decided against it.

I realized I was exhausted. I’d started the day with a 4-1/2 mile hike on the Historic Railroad Trail near Hoover Dam, which would have been nothing if I was still in shape. But I’d been letting exercise opportunities pass me by and it was starting to really make a difference. Which is why I’d done the hike.

So I went to bed early.

As I slept, I was very aware of the persistent rain on the roof. I thought about that little stream I’d crossed and wondered whether it would be a bigger stream.

Later, I was also aware of the wind loudly snapping the ratchet tie-down strap holding my old rotor blades in place on the roof. There was no way to stop the sound without going outside and climbing a ladder, so I tried to ignore it. Eventually, the wind — and the noise — stopped.

I slept well after that, waking enough just a few times to notice that it wasn’t dark anymore. The clouds had thinned enough to bathe the desert around me in faint moonlight.

I’d slept until after 5:30 AM, which was actually quite late for me.

No surprise that it was dead quiet when I woke up. It was still cloudy. The sky was brightening from the coming sunrise. The dunes taunted me.

I had some coffee and breakfast, fed Penny again, and caught up on social media. The world is going nuts, but you don’t really feel it when you’re disconnected. Sadly, I was not disconnected and can feel it. It makes me sad.

I looked out at the dunes. It wasn’t worth the mile plus walk to get out there with bad light and I definitely didn’t want to spend the day out there waiting for the light to get good.

But I didn’t mind waiting in my camper for the light to get good. There was no place else I had to be. Heck, I had enough food, water, and fuel to last me at least a week and didn’t need to be at my next destination, which was only 536 miles away for six days.

And I really liked the solitude of this roadside campsite in the middle of nowhere.

So I pulled out my portable solar panels and set them up on the south side of the camper. There was enough blue sky that I knew they’d eventually generate some power. I certainly didn’t want to run my generator and break the silence.

And that’s how I spent the day: writing, relaxing, reading, and shooting the occasional photo.

A park ranger stopped by around 10 AM. We chatted for a while and he gave me some advice about road closures and campsites over the next few days of my stay in the park. A while later, two guys in a pickup stopped, wanting to know what the road was like up ahead. I told them I didn’t know, but mentioned the deep sand sign, which they’d also seen. I told them not to get stuck because I didn’t want to pull them out. We laughed.

Much later in the day, two SUVs parked near me and two men and a woman got out. By then the wind was really howling and visibility had dropped due to blowing dust. It was also cloudy and threatened rain. They told me they’d been much farther north in the park and it had poured on them all day. I asked them if they were going to hike to the dunes and they said that they’d come this far so they had to go all the way. I watched them bundle up against the wind — the temperature had dropped to the 60s — and head northeast. It rained while they were gone, but not enough to make anything wet. Around sunset, when they still hadn’t returned, I took out my binoculars and saw them at the base of one of the dunes. I guess they were doing some photography; it was too far away to really tell. I wondered if they’d taken camping gear with them; I hadn’t really paid attention to their departure.

A few other pickups and SUVs drove by but didn’t stop. It was actually a lot more activity than I expected.

The sun finally made an afternoon appearance about a half hour before sunset, illuminating the dunes and the mountains behind them and making deep shadows. It was too late to walk out there — and besides, the wind was still blowing pretty good — so I satisfied my urge to document the moment using my 70-300mm lens from the roof of the camper. The light was constantly changing and I took quite a few photos. The one below, which I obviously cropped, is one of my favorites.

Sunset at the Dunes
Sunset at the dunes.

When the sunset show was over, I started making dinner: chicken cordon bleu with fresh creamed spinach and chanterelle mushrooms (from the freezer). It got dark quickly. I kept checking out the back windows for the moonrise, which was expected just north of due west at about 6:30. There were clouds out there on the horizon and I wondered it they’d clear out enough for me the see the moon coming over the mountains. Overhead, stars started appearing one-by-one with Venus leading the way.

My dinner was almost ready and it was dark when the sand dune hikers returned. I turned on one of my outside lights for them. Soon their engines were running and I saw taillights down the road. I didn’t envy their drive back to pavement in the dark.

Moon Rise
Moon rise through the clouds.

My friend Bob called and we chatted for a while. It had snowed quite a bit at home and he’d spent the weekend in his shop, working on a Moto Guzzi motorcycle he’d owned for more than 20 years, getting it back into pristine condition. Unfortunately, the work he needed to do on the engine required him to keep the door open to the cold so he wouldn’t be overcome with fumes. While we talked, the moon rose just where I expected it to, making the clouds around it glow. Overhead, the stars faded away, unable to compete with the moon’s brightness.

I went to bed with a book I’d downloaded from the library, Time and Again by Jack Finney. I originally read it not long after it was first published in 1970 and it seemed brand new to me. I recommend it.

I slept great until about midnight, then woke for a while, then slept again until after 6:30. The sound of rain that was nearly forecasted nor on radar got me out of bed. It was overcast (again).

Outside, the dunes taunted me.

The hourly forecast said it would clear up around 10 AM. It would be my last chance to hike to the dunes; I really did need to get on my way if I wanted to see other remote parts of the park. So, after coffee and breakfast, I did the dishes and dressed, getting the camper prepped as much as I could for departure. The sun finally made an appearance as the clouds fled west, faster than the sun could climb into the sky.

Two pickups drove by. I started wondering why vehicles nearly always came by in pairs.

It was just after 9 AM when I started my hike to the dunes. Although satellite images had shown the remnants of a road that went that way, I couldn’t find it. So I just cut as straight as I could through the desert. Halfway there, I stripped off my flannel shirt and faced the sun in a tank top. The shade temperature was below 60°F, but I was not in the shade. The sun felt amazing on my skin and the light breeze kept me cool.

I looked back every once in a while. Although I thought the route was pretty flat, we apparently descended into a dip; I couldn’t see the camper when we were about halfway to the dunes. I later saw it again and made a note of the knob on the mountaintop behind it so I could easily navigate back in the unlikely event that my phone’s GPS tracker failed and I couldn’t see my rig.

Desert Mushroom
I saw three of these within a half mile radius of each other. They were about an inch and a half tall.

The walk took about a half hour, with stops along the way to look at interesting plants, including mushrooms (!), and rocks.

The dunes are large and I felt small beside them. Penny went nuts running up and down the sand. She loves the beach and I suspect that to her, there was nothing better than a beach without water.

Ibex Dunes
A closeup shot of part of the dunes.

Dune Ridge
I didn’t get very far trying to climb up this ridge.

I took a bunch of photos. Unfortunately, although I might have been in the right place, I was definitely not there at the right time. The dunes were in full sun and the golden hour was long gone. Shadows were relatively small. The light was bright and harsh. A more serious photographer would have arrived at dawn — and gotten rained on along the way.

I tried to climb one of the ridges, but when I got to the point where every step forward slid me a half step back, I quit.

It was windy there — windy enough for my footprints to disappear within seconds of me laying them down.

We stayed about a half hour, then turned around and headed back. By this time, it was almost cloudless. The sun still felt good on my skin and I never really worked up a heavy sweat. Halfway back, my path intersected with the old road and I saw the footprints of the previous day’s visitors. I almost lost the trail when a wide wash ran through it, but I picked it up on the other side and was almost surprised to see that it delivered me almost right back to the door of my camper.

Behind me, the dunes smiled and winked.

After a bathroom break and something cold to drink, I finished up this blog post. I want to get back on the road before noon and I suspect I won’t have as good an Internet connection as I have here for a few days.

I know a lot of people will read this and be amazed that I spent two days alone in such a remote place. Wasn’t I scared? Wasn’t I lonely? How could I stand to be so completely alone for so long?

First of all, no, I wasn’t scared. I come to places like this very prepared. Why would I be scared when help is a phone call away, phone service is excellent, and I have everything I need on hand to survive for at least a week without skipping a meal?

Second, no, I wasn’t lonely. I don’t get lonely. Loneliness is a feeling suffered by people who need to be around other people to be happy. While I wouldn’t call myself anti-social, I’m also not dependent on other people to keep me — well, what? What is it that people need other people for? Conversation? Sex? Companionship while watching television? Am I that unusual in that I can go for more than two days without any of that?

I love my friends, but I don’t need to be with them all of the time.

And third, not only can I stand to be alone, but I rather like it. I’ve always needed a certain amount of alone time. Time to think and reflect without having to keep someone else entertained. Time to read and write and do photography without someone interrupting me, demanding my attention. Time to do whatever I want to do without someone else making judgements about how I spend that time.

When I was in a relationship, every year my future wasband used to ask me what I wanted for my birthday. In the later years, I told him that all I wanted was to have the day to do what I wanted to do. I wanted alone time.

I finally have as much of it as I want.

Snowbirding 2017 Postcards: Arizona Hot Springs

I need to start off by saying that these hot springs were, by far, the absolute best hot springs I have ever visited in my life.

Tucked away in a slot canyon less than a half a mile from the Colorado River, Arizona — or, more properly, Ringbolt — Hot Springs consist of three “tubs” created by using sandbags as dams between the canyon walls. Hot water emerges from cracks in the walls to fill the first tub with very hot water — so hot I couldn’t sit in it. The water cascades over the sandbag dam to the next tub, which is cooler. The same happens to fill the third tub with even cooler water. (According to one regular, water temperatures are 102 to 115 degrees F.) Each tub had a gravelly sand floor and various depths, the deepest part being perfect for submerging up to your neck while sitting on the ground. The water was clean and algae free. There was no slime or nasty sulphuric smell. Although there may have been as many as a dozen people there at a time, it was never what I would call crowded.

This Hot Spring is accessible by a long, 2 mile hike down a trail from route 93 or by a much shorter hike up from the Colorado River. This physical limitation in access is likely what keeps it so pristine; there was absolutely no litter.  I choose the river route and rented a boat to make the 10 mile river trip up from Willow Beach. The boat trip was beautiful with many interesting spots along the way — I’ll save that for another set of postcards.

Here are a few pictures that I took along the hike to the hot spring and at the spring itself. The hike started on a dry beach and soon entered a narrow slot canyon with ever-growing trickles of warm water. There was a bit of scrambling up rocky cascades, some of which were slippery. The trickiest part of the whole trip was getting Penny up the 20 foot ladder to where the tubs were.

Along the trail to the hot spring.


There were a few places where we had to scramble up Cascades of warm water.


This 20-foot ladder was securely fastened to the canyon walls.


The third, coolest tub was the first one we reached.


The shallow end of the third tub had very warm water from the second tub.

Penny watches from the dam at the end of the third tub. She did swim twice in that tub, although she didn’t like it.


The first and hottest of the tubs was the last one I reached. I didn’t soak in it at all.


Our lunch spot just downstream from the tubs.


We spent more than two hours at the springs. I soaked mostly in the deep ends of the second and third tubs. The first tub was simply too hot for me and just about everyone else. The people who were there were mostly young and outdoorsy — I might have been the oldest one there! I very much enjoyed the company of three medical students from Syracuse who were making the most of their trip to Vegas for a convention. I also had a great conversation with a local who told me about another hot spring I might pass near in my travels later this week.