Getting Hot in AZ, Time to go Home

As you get into late March the warm days in the Sonoran Desert start getting…well…warmer. That’s when we start thinking about the boat and our home in the Pacific Northwest. It’s time to pack up and head out, but not too fast. I mean, weather in the PNW is lovely in the spring, but it can also still be cold and rainy. I think we’ll slow roll as we go North. Our first stop, is just 21 miles West.

GILBERT RAY CAMPGROUND

If you go West from downtown Tucson, you cross a mountain range and there you’ll find Gilbert Ray Campground, just South of Saguaro National Park and the Desert Museum. It’s about 20 minutes to drive to downtown, but on this side of the mountain range it’s hard to tell you’re anywhere near a large town. The Sonoran Desert sprawls away to the Southwest and it’s dark at night. For the first 5 nights of the drive home we’re going to park right here to hike the trails and keep looking for early spring flowers.

SEDONA

So, Sendona. Everyone’s heard about the beautiful red rock formations. Everyone says, “You have to see Sedona.” OK, sure. Let’s go to Sendona. We headed North, through Phoenix, which reminded us again why we don’t like Phoenix. Think LA sprawl, but without beaches to make it a little more bearable. Now, hearing all the warnings on RV sites about how traffic can be bad in Sedona, we found an RV spot to the South in Cottonwood, AZ. That way we could unhook the trailer and only have a short 19 mile drive into Sedona when we were ready to look around.

So first; the area around Sedona is remarkably beautiful. The red rock canyons and spires are amazing. But the town of Sedona is, like so many incredibly beautiful small places in the West, over run by the wealthy who want to to buy a cabin to “get in touch” with nature. In doing so, they ruin the place by building huge mansions. Some of these have designs that ape small cabin-like details but are exploded up many thousands of square feet. Others are garishly modern and clash with the surroundings. And, of course, it all drives up the price of everything, insuring no locals can live there any more. If your town’s primary real estate agent is Sotheby’s you have an affordability issue. Sedona is basically Vale or Aspen in Colorado, Sun Valley in Idaho or Jackson in Wyoming. There are lots of restaurants, bars and galleries and lots of places to buy a t-shirt or get your aura adjusted to the local “vortex.” And there are whole fleets of 8 passenger 4×4 jeeps (the largest fleet is painted Pepto Pink) that will let you see the red rock canyons without actually needing to hike. And Sedona has traffic that’s big city in nature.

So, should you go. Everyone has to decide that for themselves. We decided to adopt our “Yellowstone” strategy; go early, beat the tourists, get out early. We went in at 7:30am when there was no traffic, looked around at what the city had, said “Meh” and found a coffee shop on a side street that was open early. We found a spot for breakfast. We were driving North to Flagstaff by 10am….when stores were just opening and traffic was starting to build.

I don’t mean to be overly harsh. This area of Arizona is lovely and we’re going to go back to do more exploring. It’s just going to be in Cottonwood, Jerome, in the mountains that ring the area, and down towards Prescott. There is lots to see and lots to do. Trails to hike or bike. Cute little towns to visit. In fact, we stayed a night longer in the area than planned….and that made our next stop North much harder

VERMILLION CLIFFS NATIONAL MONUMENT

Heading North we skirted Flagstaff and headed for the Vermillion Cliff’s National Monument. We had planned to arrive on Thursday, get lucky, and find a spot in the first come first served campground at Lee’s Ferry over the Colorado River. That was the plan. But by staying an extra day in Cottonwood we ended up arriving on a Friday. Bad call. No room at the inn. So we stopped, took in the sweeping views of this stunning national monument….and promised ourselves we’d come back with better planning.

UTAH / IDAHO

On to Utah, where all the glorious weather was bringing out the 4×4 Off Road crowd. It was hard to find a spot to stop, so in the end we got a room in Panguitch for the night, then drove up in the Provo area for a few nights rest on the shores of Utah Lake. Then it was North…to Corral Creek Ranch and the family in Fairfield for a few days. Camas county in Idaho is always a welcome second home. It’s also where we found the solution to Mom’s “Dog” problem. She’d been bugging us for weeks to find her new dog. So in Fairfield we found a breeder…and put in the order. But not just for one….for two. Can’t have just one Corgi. Besides…mom always liked big dogs. So I told her two corgis together made up one big dog. They should be born this summer and we’ll come down to bring them home at 13 weeks.

OREGON

After that it was on to Oregon. We headed due West this time to allow for a stop in Eugene to see Milly, Judy and Suzy. We camped and boondocked along the way taking three days to do the trip we used to bomb straight through….when we were young and had no time.

We found a great camping site out at Fern Ridge Reservoir. From there it was just a short 20 minute drive into see the family in town. After that, we took off for the coast, camping around Tillamook, wearing long pants and shoes again, buying cheese, and remembering how nice moisture is for the skin.

After a quick night stop to see my brother Dennis, his wife Carol, and their brood near Astoria we were finally ready to sing the song and cross the Columbia River back into Washington State.

Of course on the drive North on I-5 when I pulled over at a rest stop….we had our first raindrops of the trip. Welcome home indeed.

Spring is Arriving

We’re into the last month in Tucson this winter, so Karin and I are starting to focus on getting to see some attractions that we’ve not yet hit as we wait out the month of March. One thing we wanted to try for the first time is “Spring Training.” The Seattle Mariner train up in Peoria, North of Phoenix, and that’s only about two hours from Tucson. So after checking how they would handle pandemic rules, very well, we headed for the “Valley of the Sun.”

We took the back road to avoid I-10. Interstates are fast, but the worst way to see the country. And I knew that Arizona highway 79 would let me avoid actually going into Phoenix. It also set me up for a stop on the way in Tempe. I wanted to see if one of my memories from childhood still worked.

When BD married mom we all moved to AnnArbor, Michigan. That meant we were close enough to visit Grandma Fischer in Cheektowaga outside Buffalo, NY often. Over many visits BD introduced us to where he grew up, and that included trips down to Ted’s Red Hots, the hotdog stand down at the Peace Bridge in downtown Buffalo.

Best hotdogs evah, and where I learned as an 11 year old to like onion rings. These weren’t the overly breaded frozen stuff you get in most places. These where hand breaded onions that were never frozen. At Teds they deep fried them to a crunchy, sweet and salty perfection. If you’re from Seattle the best way to understand this is that Ted’s is basically the “Dick’s” of Buffalo. Are there better dogs somewhere? Sure, probably. Just like there are better hamburgers than “Dicks”. But if you want a foot long dog grilled over charcoal with a nice set of burn marks on it, whose skin snaps and tastes like your childhood when you bite it, you want a dog from Teds.

At least that’s how I remembered it.

Teds Hot Dog Stands are still going strong back in Buffalo, but I haven’t been there in decades. I learned a few years ago that before his passing Spiro Larios, son of the original Ted, retired to Tempe, and opened one last Teds Hot Dogs, in the desert. It’s still going strong 35 years later, winning all kinds of awards as the Best Hot Dog in the area. Well, I had to go.

And, sure enough, the Teds in Tempe makes them the same way as they do in Buffalo. You can get standard dog or foot long. They grill them over Charcoal, and you just let the folks at the grill know what you want on it. The standard is special spicy sauce, mustard, relish, onions, and a pickle spear. But you can get it anyway you like. Mmm. And yes, the onion rings are still the same, and good.

You couldn’t ask for a better lunch before heading out the the Peoria Sports Complex to see the Mariners play the Texas Rangers.

So first things first; Covid Safety. The team is limiting seating for games. Normally they can have 10 thousand. For the game we went to on Wednesday March 10th there were only 1,000 fans in the seats or out on the grassy outfield. We were behind home plate, but you could see on the grassy hill out past the wall there were chalked boxes on the grass to show where families could sit….and stay socially distant from others. Basically, you have most of an entire section to yourself. You’re supposed to wear your mask unless you’re eating or drinking something. Most folks did walking in, but took them off while in the seats. But you were so far away it was hard to get too worked up about it. As I said, we had most of a section, and the view was perfect.

As I said, view perfect. Sadly, the Mariners where anything but. Holy crap, I know it’s Spring Training….but as we sat down in the middle of the first inning, the Rangers already had a 4-0 lead. Final score Rangers 17, Mariners 5. To borrow from the Seattle Times coverage; “…Six Mariners pitchers combined to give up the 17 runs — all earned — on 18 hits with six walks and five strikeouts. Of those 17 hits, six were homers and three doubles.” Manager Scott Servais said post game, ““We just didn’t pitch well. We had one of those days.”  Understatement.

I pinged my friend in the front office. Her reaction…”Hey, it’s Spring Training. They’re working on the outfielders’ neck maneuvers as they watched those homer fly, fly away.” Nice that they practice all aspects of the game. 😉

April 1st home opener for the Mariners is only three weeks away. They even hope to have some fans in T-Mobile Park for the game. That would be nice if it can be done safely.

Winter in Tucson, Waiting out COVID-19

If you’re from the Northern parts of the US ( you know, that parts that have winter) the first thing you need to know is that Tucson weather is as good as it is rumored to be. For the most part, every winter day is sunny and the temperatures are from 60 to the upper 70s. Nights are clear and cool, even dipping below 32 degrees occasionally. There are the rare weather systems that roll through. But they are rare. We did have one snow day. One. It was lovely…and the next day it was back to 70 degrees.

That means most of your days you can spend hiking, bicycling, visiting museums, art galleries, parks, tourist traps, etc. But this is the year of the Pandemic, so you can’t say it’s really “normal.” City events and festivals, mineral and gem shows, and anything that might bring a lot of people together are cancelled still. So while we’ve been able to do things outdoors, we’ve really not been able to really engage with Tucson and the surrounding area the way we all really want to. We’ve already decided we need to come back next winter to see what it’s really like. So that reservation is already made.

While we’re taking advantage of all the outdoor opportunities we can, we also can’t sit on the sidelines while we’re in the middle of a worldwide crisis. Karin and I have joined Arizona’s Medical Reserve Corps and have been volunteering three days a week at Tucson Medical Center’s drive through Coronavirus Vaccination Clinic. We all need to do what we can do to help. You don’t have to ask ex-Scout leaders twice.

One lovely aspect of our winter in the Sonoran Desert is that we’re not alone. David and Lang Lavine (along with their little dog Ollie) who live on their boat Sapphire on the D dock at Anacortes Marina just 4 boats away from us are also in the area. They have been in our COVID pod since July, and are among the few folks we’ve seen during the lockdowns. So it has been lovely to visit them where they are camping, go for rides, carefully visit a few breweries, and we had them over for an awesome feast on Christmas Day. It made the holiday a bit brighter to sit around, swap stories of what we’ve found in Arizona and think about sailing when we get back home.

The place we’re staying in East Tucson, Far Horizons RV, is doing its best to protect everyone from the virus while still offering some of the normal activities. Outdoor things are fine, and they are trying to get more going, but it’s going to be hard to do the indoor things such as pottery, silversmithing, billiards and bingo while wearing masks and social distancing. But we’ve been able to play pickleball on the courts outside and that’s been fun for exercise and to meet a few other residents like Mark, Nancy, Phyliss and Mike. All nice folks doing their best to stay safe and still have fun.

So despite the pandemic, we’re still managing to have a pretty nice winter. I’m thinking all the pictures we posted to Facebook was getting under my brother’s skin. I mean he had finally retired in September….but his wife Carol was still working at the bank in Astoria. By January, it became too much. He said, “Carol. We could be in Tucson too.” He called the RV Park, and since so many folks have cancelled, they had a spot just two slots down from us for the whole month of February. Carol always said, “I’m one bad month, or week….or Day away from telling my boss I’m out of here.” That day came in January, and they started heading South. By Thursday, January 28th they too were “Snowbirds” in Arizona.

We even roped them into volunteering with us at the Tucson Medical Clinic COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic. Turns out my brother has a way with people. Who knew?

But it’s not all work. Last week we decided it was time to visit a premier southern Arizona tourist trap. Tombstone, the Town to Tough to Die! Really, that’s the motto. I mean, it’s the town where Wyatt Earp and his brothers shot it out at the OK Corral with the cowboys. Who could resist? Karin and I put on our boots, Wranglers and cowboy hats….Dennis and Carol were having none of that nonsense. But out we drove on “The Old Spannish Trail” (I kid you not, that’s the name of the street in East Tucson that goes East) to find the old west about 55 miles to the Southwest. Now, to be clear here…there’s no way we were going to pay to see a re-creation shoot out, or buy a saloon gal outfit for the ladies in a cheesy western store. But go to Tombstone….sure, we’ll do that. What’s more, I had checked around and knew Tombstone Brewing was a legit craft beer maker….so that was really the destination.

Approaching Tombstone, as you might expect, all the signs and ads on the road started turning very gunfighty. Let’s face it. This is business for these folks and in time of Covid, business has not been good. We found a parking spot, and around noon started walking down the make believe former main street….toward those men in long coats and hats…who were wearing colt .45s on their hips.

I told Dennis and Karin they needed to video me walking down the street making my own “spur” noises…and they needed to be viscous to me. They did not disappoint.

Walking main street, Tombstone, Arizona

Needless to say, we had a great day. The beer was really good. And we even found a handful of shops where folks were selling actual crafts of leather that they made, not stuff purchased from a generic catalogue of “Western wear” and “Western Trinkets.”

Karin and I also found time on a day off to do something we’ve wanted to do for some time; take a basic firearms safety and shooting class. Now we’re not big gun enthusiasts, but we’re also not scared or worried about guns. We’ve shot many time at targets with family in Idaho, with kids at Scout Camp and such. But neither of us had ever taken a full, formal, Gun Safety Class. Well Pima County happed to have a fantastic shooting sports complex at the Fairgrounds, and we thought it was a perfect chance to get the 101 class to we’re both on the same page and know the current teaching on firearm safety.

It was really an excellent experience. We were the only two people in the class on the Friday morning we took it, and that meant three instructors to give the two of us personal instruction. It was well organized to talk about all areas of firearm safety, allow you to have hands on experience in a classroom setting to load different types of firearms, and then time to go out onto the instruction range to put all the classroom learning into practice, all the while with trained instructors standing just off your shoulder in case there was a question or if they needed to point out something we may have forgotten to do. It was a great experience, and we’d like to go back to take a class in skeet and trap shooting with a shotgun.

So that’s the basics of winter in Tucson. We’re going to keep helping put shots in arms as long as where here. That’s how we get back to normal. We’ll also keep riding, hiking and bicycling, visiting places where its safe such as the Sonoran Desert Museum, Reid Zoo, Saguaro National Park, and come early April we’ll head back North to return to the boat and another summer cruising Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands.

But we will be back to Tucson, God willing, next winter

Sure, Quarantine…But Not Uncomfortably

The pandemic year of 2020 drags slowly on. Cases, as predicted, are spiking in the fall, and we all need to do our part; wearing masks, social distancing, and quarantining as much as we possibly can. But there’s nothing in the rules that says we have to wait out the vaccines all winter long in the Pacific Northwest, huddled in our boat, watching the rain pour down, and be buffeted by winter storms.

We’re going to quarantine. We’re just going to do it in the desert Southwest.

But first, the election. All we’ll say is, yay.

After getting mom and BD’s computers all set up so we could help them from afar if needed there really wasn’t anything keeping us on the boat. So we rented a few nights at the Casino RV Park, so we could do the transfer from the boat, clean it up, and set it for winter in a leisurely way. Then we were off. First stop, Oregon and my brothers house to say hey. Then it was down into the Willamette Valley in a rain storm, where we stopped at a winery for the night. Again, see our earlier comments about Harvest Host. Great program. Lovely wines and friendly dogs.

After that we moved South down I-5 near Suzy and Tom’s ranch. Since she was still recovering from surgery, we just did a day trip back up to Milly and Judy’s place to cook them diner. Next morning it was off to California’s Central Valley, where we found a mix of Wineries and RV stops that we knew would be comfortable.

Finally, we dropped down to Joshua Tree National Park for a night, and I was finally able to get my “Senior” National Parks Pass. It’s the best deal for old folks, and as soon as you turn 62 you can buy it. The pass is $82 but it’s good for every national park or federal land that has an admission, and gets you half off on camping in federal campgrounds. So it’s a sweet, sweet, deal and it’s the only thing I bought myself for my birthday.

We were ahead of schedule, and in just a shore two hour drive we arrived at Quartzite. This tiny town in the middle of no where in Western Arizona is known for one thing; miles and miles of BLM land where anyone who wants to boondock can camp for up to 14 days for free. Every year in January it hosts a huge RV Show where all the major manufacturers and all the people who offer serviced to RVs and all the people who build specialized RV products come together in the desert for a party. Not like Burning Man….more like Graying Man. It’s all the snowbirds in their trailers, Class A’s, campers, 5th Wheels, converted school busses and every other type of camping/sleeping products all come together. It’s a zoo.

But since it’s November, it’s still pretty empty. More importantly to us, our dock mates from Anacortes, David and Lang, were already camped there. David’s working remotely at his IT job from their converted van during the weeks and Lang takes care of chores and Ollie, their dog. We found them and parked just in front of them for a night so we could swap stories and share dinner. We did that on the trailer…not their van. We have much more room then they do.

Hoods open to keep the pack rats away from your wiring

The next day as the sun rose higher we were both pulling out. They had to go to Phoenix, then off to more camping. We were getting anxious to just get to Tucson so we could relax and start setting up our winter base. Since it was two days before we could check in to Far Horizons RV Park, we decided to check out another RV Park on the West side of Tucson to see if it would be better than we were going to have. Rincon West RV park was nice. We popped the few extra buck for their nicest transient RV spots….which arrange coaches in a sqaure and give them a nice grass lawn.

As I said, it was nice….but would be much more expensive that we’re going to pay…and, most important for us, it didn’t back up to the Tucson 130 mile bike path as our final destination does.

Monday before Thanksgiving we moved into our home away from home, Far Horizon’s RV Park. It’s very nice, and we paid a little more to get a premium spot with a level concrete pad, our own small courtyard with a stone picnic table. We also have trees on both sides of our site. All in all, it’s a pretty nice place to stay for the winter.

As you might expect, we immediately took the bicycles out for a ride on the Tucson loop bicycle path. It was 80 degrees with a light breeze. Back home it’s 40 degrees, raining, and has 30-45 knot winds. We’ll take Tucson this year and look forward to riding bicycles just about every day.

A fall full of Covid and wanting the Election to be over

OK, so we can’t go to Idaho for a quick visit just yet. All those kids in Fairfield came down with Covid. I suppose it’s what you get when you open schools and send the kids out of district to play football.  Just about the whole team got sick, including our nephew Braydon. Thankfully, it wasn’t too bad.

But you don’t want to waste a sunny September in the Northwest, so Karin and I decided to hop over the Cascades to check out some of the lovely state campgrounds North of Wenatchee. 

We got to stay for 3 days on the bank of the Columbia River at Lincoln Rock State Park, and then we went up the road toward the North Cascades a bit and tried out Alta Lake State Park.

Alta Lake State Park

Both were lovely refuges, both form The Rona, but also from 40 knot winds and rain that were blasting Anacortes.  Yeah, nope…don’t need to go home just yet when the view out the back window looks this nice.

After the two week wait, the kids in Fairfield recovered and we though, “Well, it’s still warm there so we can be outside.”  What’s more, since the virus is still out there it’s not likely we’ll go to the farm this year for Thanksgiving or Christmas when everyone has to stay inside…mostly.  So if we don’t go now, we won’t see any of them until next year. Rather than take the big rig, we just blasted down in the truck.  But, again, we’re old and don’t like doing it in one day any more.   So we overnighted in Pendleton again, both ways, so we could relax and checkout the very cool new distillery restaurant in town.  The Oregon Grain Growers Distillery is worth the stop.

Then it was on to Idaho and Corral Creek Ranch. It’s fall on the Camas Prairie, but they’re still working to get all the machinery ready for winter. We were just glad for a few days to unwind and chat with Rebecca and Jeff about plans to remodel their place, build Jacob a shop, and start work on Joshua’s new house on his land out on the 400 West. Peaceful on the farm.

Snow on Soldier Mountain

The real reason to go to Idaho was the chance to watch a few soccer matches where our nieces Brianna and Ivy were playing, and a football game where nephew Levi has become a stud fullback.  Too fun. Outdoors for safety. And as the saying about getting the kids to love and remember you goes, “Must be present to win.”

Then it was back home to the boat, for bicycling and preparing to head south for the winter.  The boat’s pretty much ready to go, but we need to get to the doctors for checkups, get shots, etc.  

Christian is in Hawaii this fall, and will be there through at least January, installing new exhibits at the Submarine Museum at Pearl Harbor. 

Kim is there with him, looking to get her esthetician credentials transferred from Washington state to Hawaii so she can perform cosmetic skin treatments, facials, superficial chemical peels, body treatments, and such professionally.  Do they come back?  Who knows. It’s 2020.  At least they have time together.

By mid-October, we like many in Washington state were just looking for our ballots to arrive in the mail so we could vote, and get this nightmare of an election over with.  On the 19th of October, the day they arrived, we filled them out, and drove to the county’s drop box by the Stanwood Library. Done. 

A few days later the online system showed the County Auditor had them, and they were “Accepted”.  It really baffles me that this is an issue in other states, and that people have to wait in hours long lines to vote.  Since I’ve voted, I can now tune out news. Doesn’t matter.

We’re still meeting weekly with the fencing team for virtual drinks on Zoom, and even had our traditional Halloween costume party….on line.

But basically, with the pandemic rolling on, we’re filling our days hiking on the beaches, bicycling around Fidalgo Island and hiking the bluffs along Puget Sound when the wind is so fierce they have to cancel your ferry to Port Townsend.

We are starting to really look forward to doing pretty much the same social distancing things….just in a warmer place in Southern Arizona.

We are also, like most folks, longing for the days we can just go see our friends and family any time we want.  Mary Betts, one of the Scout parents, hosted an Octoberfest dinner for us, the Runkels and Kleinschmidt’s…and for one brief moment, we all took off our masks, held our breaths, and snapped one selfie that looks the way it’s supposed to.  Then we all went back to our “socially distanced” seats and put our masks back on.  Can’t wait until this is over.

Pandemic Summer Drags on

Sigh. 2020 blows, and not in a way sailors like.

After knocking out a few boat projects, we started to get itchy to get off the dock and spend some of the waning summer in the San Juan Islands. We hadn’t been to Fishermen’s Bay on the West side of Lopez in a while, so that was the first destination. After a few days there, we hopped over to Parks Bay on Shaw. That’s a little bay just across the channel from Friday Harbor. You can’t go ashore here as it’s a UW research area….but it was peaceful.

Next up we thought hey if we sail way out toward the US/Canada Border, then tack back North we’ll be able to sail up to Patos Island to check in at the tiny bay there to see if we luck into one of the State Park Bouys, and if we didn’t get that it was an easy cruise around to Echo Bay on Sucia….where there is always room. Again, there was no room at Patos (Sigh, one day we’ll get to visit) so we motored over to Sucia for a few nights to start Labor Day weekend.

By Sunday the forecast for the Islands called for 40 knot winds out of the North that night. Looking at the chart we said, “Best way to hide from this wind is snug up to an anchorage facing away.” So we sailed down Orcas Island to West Sound and went all the way up to Massacre Bay at the top of the Sound to drop the hook next to Skull Island, put out the big bridle, and batten down for a blow.

The winds were late….but they finally came with a vengeance on Labor Day itself. We spent the day reading, cooking, and monitoring the radio and internet. There were so many stories of boats having problems, going on the rocks, bucking really high winds and current driven waves. It was a day everyone should have just stayed put…but people with a schedule who needed to get back to work will often make the wrong choice and go any way. We are blessed not to have to make that choice.

Tuesday winds were back to normal in late summer. The forecast said “Winds 5-15 kts, variable” Which is kind of the meteorological equivalent of saying “Uh, we don’t know. We know there will be weather.” Sadly, those winds that blew up Monday also sparked the round of wildfires in Washington and Oregon and the smoke was really starting to get set in even in the islands.

I also started to wonder about our upcoming weekend plan to meet Jen and Monica and some other friends for our 2nd Annual Cruisers Campout. Jen and Monica have a little piece of land over by the Columbia River the other side of Wenatchee. The plan was to meet there again, pull the RVs in a circle and tell tall tales. With fires blazing the entire West Coast I wondered, “Is this really a good time to go there?”

When Jen sent around a photo of firefighters setting backfires at the Highway 2 corner where we were all supposed to turn to go to RimRock Meadows the answer to my question was clear. No, this is not a good time for camping in Eastern Washington. But no worries. Jen and Monica also have a little cabin at Lake Tyee near Concrete on the Western slope of the Cascades. Everyone could just go there, and they had a neighbor’s RV spot about 100 feet away where we could park.

So we transfered our flag to Dewey and headed up Highway 2, stopping only to fill the growler with beer at the brewery in Birdsview.

Lake Tyee was a hoot. It’s basically an RV park in the woods around a lake, where most of the RV’s have had covers built over them. Their installs where semi-permanent. They get to stay up there 6 months out of the year, and store their RV there when they are back home. Each site has power, water and a sewer dump. There is a clubhouse and pool, but those are Corona-closed. Still, it made a great spot to use as base while we all struck out with kayaks and canoe to poke around nearby, and much bigger, Baker Lake

Baker Lake is long and narrow, and the fire smoke was definitely making it a big hard to see the vistas. But we set out with three dogs and 4 boats to check it out anyway. It was still lovely.

Back at the cabin, we ate, drank, made ribs, and played a massive game of Train Dominos. Hint, just don’t play with Karin. She’s really a shark.

Monday morning it was back to Anacortes and the boat. This week we’ll see Jim and Shirley who are staying in their RV nearby. And at the end of the week we host Christian for a night on the boat before he heads off for a 5 month stint in Hawaii working on a museum. I know, tough assignment for him. Less tough though as his girlfriend Kim is going to go there and spend the time there with him. Company is paying for his apartment and has no issues with a guest.

We were thinking about running down to Idaho to see kids play football and soccer, but Camas County has had an outbreak of “The Rona” finally, and it hit school kids. So everything there is in a hold. We’ll see if we get to actually go.

Sigh. 2020 blows, and not in a way sailors like.

Sheltering on the Road for a bit

We love being on the boat in the Pacific Northwest in the Summer. It’s magical. But there are other places that are magic too, and we really miss our family during this pandemic. So everyone has to weigh the risks, and decide what it reasonably safe. In late July we decided it was time to hit the road and run up to Corral Creek Ranch on the Camas Prairie in Southern Idaho.

As we’ve mentioned before, we used to do this run in one day when the kids were little; leaving at 2am to get lots of miles under the wheels before the kids woke up. Yeah. We’re older now. We don’t do that crazy stuff any more, at least not very much. Instead we find a winery somewhere near halfway to Idaho that allows you to spend the night. A winery such as Copper Belt in the dry hills East of Baker City Oregon.

They had great wines and a great view. Lovely.

The view from Copper Belt Winery

Waking up the next day we only had a 4 hour drive; two hours to Boise, then two more up to the Ranch. Which, as you might imagine, with all 5 of my sister’s kids visiting was a 12 grandchild mad house. It was epic.

Karin kept saying, “I don’t remember it being this crazy when all our kids where this age.” Which prompted my sister Rebecca and I to look at her with that quizzical look on our faces. “What are you talking about? It was exactly this crazy when we all got together at the ranch.”

Part of the reason to come up at this time, late July, was to finally see Braden, Breanna and her buddy Laura compete in the 4H livestock shows at the Camas County Fair. We’ve always come earlier in the summer and never got to see the final showing. This was to be our year, and it was a lot of fun to see the kids show their animals.

The Camas County Fair was a little subdued this year because everyone was trying to keep reasonable distance and stay in family groups as best as possible. Idaho has bit hit hard in some areas, but Camas County has only had one case of Corona Virus. Folks were being mindful while still trying to have a good time.

Part of the fun was the parade through town, with everyone spaced out. It was short…but still fun for the kids….as a small town celebration should be.

The only thing we missed was the big main street dance. They usually close down main, put a band up on a hay wagon, and party into the night down town. It’s all ages and the little kids love dancing with mom and dad, and grandpa too. This year they decided it was too risky with the pandemic. The Iron Mountain Inn did a smaller thing in their dirt parking lot….but it wasn’t really the same. We’ll come back again when we can do the dance right.

But boat chores call in early August, so it was time to head home. And yes, another trip, another winery where we could stay the night. This time it was Analare Winery near Benton City in SW Washington. It was another magic place, half way, where we could socially distance and support a local business.

Analare

Sheltering on the Boat in Puget Sound

As the pandemic rolled on into late spring, the urge to get off the dock started building. Educator John Shedd said it best, “A ship in harbor is safe — but that is not what ships are built for.”

The week after Memorial Day some parts of the state with low virus numbers started to loosen the stay home restrictions. That included a lot of the counties on the West side of Puget Sound. We realized that if we, mostly, kept out of Seattle we’d be able to anchor out off semi-open towns, and even get dock space if we needed to come ashore to shop for supplies.

So on May 27th, Endless Song hoisted her new swallowtail banner and left her harbor in Anacortes. Since the US/Canadian Border is closed to non-essential travel, we decides it was time to explore a little deeper into the Sound Puget Sound below the Tacoma Narrows.

First we went to the south end of Lopez Island for a night, and then it was a quiet crossing of the straight of Juan de Fuca.

Anytime I can stand up here it’s been quiet on the Strait of Juan de Fuca

We passed Port Townsend, but rather than our usual stay at Point Hudson we crossed the Bay and wound our way for the first time into the tricky entrance to Mystery Bay. There are two state marine parks inside here and we wanted to see them.

After a lovely night at anchor in Mystery Bay, we took of to push through Admiralty Inlet into Puget Sound. We sailed down to Port Madison at the North end of Bainbridge Island for another quiet night. Weather through this period was a little drippy, but hey, it’s the NW. This is what we get in spring. We woke up realizing that is was just a short hop across to Shilshole in Seattle, and they were open. We knew it was a chance to see Christian so we dashed across for a night.

We had a lovely Saturday afternoon at the dock at Shilshole catching up with Christian. We were only interrupted by an alarm on all of our phones noting Seattle was undergoing a riot and that a curfew of 5pm had been declared. This was the start of the protests of police killing in Minneapolis. Clearly, it was time for Christian to go home and for us to get the heck back to the other side of Puget Sound.

We sailed in the morning for Poulsbo, one of our favorite anchorages. Liberty Bay is a lovely place to park. The bottom is a uniform 15 feet for miles, with good holding. You can just motor in with your garbage and as Kitsap County was in stage 2 of re-opening we were able to sit, distanced, in the outside garden of Valhol Brewery and have our first draft brew in three months. Mmmmm.

On this trip we made a habit of looking for new places to anchor. South of Poulsbo we had never sailed through the Port Washington Narrows to Dyes Inlet and Silverdale. What we discovered is that it’s a bit loud and industrial. OK, live and learn. If there’s an event we want to attend in Silverdale, sure. Otherwise, meh. Off to Blakely Harbor on Bainbridge Island for a few nights of looking at the Seattle skyline, then Winslow to resupply and do laundry. Bainbridge Island/Winslow is a great stop with a super city dock. The grocery is just uphill, and the laundry just a few more steps around the corner.

The other benefit of Winslow is that Christian could swing by on his way home from Portland for a few hours of chat and food. This is becoming a good habit.

After Winslow, we sailed south for a few days at anchor in Gig Harbor, a favorite spot. Then we sailed through the Tacoma Narrows and on to Penrose Point State Park…off the Lakebay Marina for a few days of waiting out the rain. After two days there it was time for the state capitol, Olympia and the head of Budd Inlet. We approached in rain, taking time out for fuel and pumpout, before we finally found a spot on Percival Landing…just steps from downtown and resupply at the local market. Olympia also had a killer farmers market that was operating with Virus Rules in place. It was easy to resupply with fresh vegetables and meats of all kinds.

After a weekend in Olympia, we took off for a loop of Hope Island State Park, and a final landing on a buoy at Jerrill Cove State Marine Park. Karin’s cousin Mike and his wife Karla live on the cove, as does Karin’s Aunt Shirley. Even better, Mike and Karla’s granddaughters Lyra and Etta Rose were “in residence” with G-ma, and G-paw. We finally got to meet them in person after years of following Liesel, their mom, on Instagram and watching them grow up. They’re great! Sitting for hours chatting with Shirley, Mike, and Karla was also fun. Great to catch up on everything. We need to sail back here, clearly.

After that it was a long reach down Case Inlet to Anderson Island and Oro Bay. This is a sweet little anchorage tucked in right across the way from the Nisqually Flats. Think of it as the bend at the end of Puget Sound. The skies were clearing nicely and the views of Mount Rainier were fabulous.

After a few days there, we decided to pop through the Narrows to the North to Quartermaster Harbor at the South end of Vashon Island. It’s a great protected anchorage, but man it’s gotten developed. There were speedboats, jet skis, sailors, power yachts galore. There were even two unlimited light hydroplanes that came out to practice. It was busy.

David and Gyung called and they are hanging with Noelle for a few weeks, and were up at Blakley Harbor, heading for Poulsbo. So after one night at Quartermaster, we pulled up the anchor and headed for Poulsbo. It was a blast seeing Noelle, whom we last ran into in Tampa in January. We distanced as we could in the cockpit, staying in our 6 foot corners. But we still had a blast BBQing out on the hook with friends.

The next day we went in for a night at Poulsbo Marina. Power, Water, resupply. They were all nice to have. Taking off again for Winslow/Bainbridge Island we decided it was time to resupply and prep for heading North. It was also Christian’s 39th birthday. He and Kim came over for dinner they next day.

We took off to the North the next day and made it all the way up the inside route to Penn Cove on Whidbey Island. Just past Coupville, out toward the Captiain Whidbey Inn, there’s a lovely cove that makes for a comfortable anchorage. Tucked in close to land you’re sheltered from the winds coming down the Straight of Juan de Fuca, which is just on the other side of the landmass, probably only really about a mile away.

Motoring North, we stopped in for a night at Hope Island State Marine Park. It’s just inside Deception Pass at the North end of Whidbey Island. From here you can see the backside of Fidalgo Island and Mount Erie, which is basically Anacortes. In the morning it was just a quick motor through the Swinomish Channel and La Connor and we were back in Anacortes.

Boat projects, medical exams, dental check ups and some RV repairs will take our time in July. Then we hope to go to the Camas County Fair in Idaho in late July. But stay tuned. Covid 19 seems to have a mind of its own and doesn’t think much of our “plans.”

Shelter in Place…on a boat

Everyone will have the story to tell about where they “sheltered in place” during the novel coronavirus outbreak in the spring of 2020. For us shelter was aboard our Passport 40 sailboat, Endless Song, at our dock in Anacortes, WA.

First day back on the boat. Tuesday March 24th, 2020

The first step, of course, is getting the boat systems back on line. When we leave for an extended time we have to store all the equipment, empty out the refrigerator and freezer compartment, remove any stores that could go bad, set dehumidifiers, open all storage cabinets so mold doesn’t develop, etc. When you come back you need to reverse all that and hope no strange leaks and smells have developed. Lucky us; when we opened up all the hatches and entered the boat it was clean, dry, and there were no bad smells or mold. All we had to do was close all the lockers, turn off and stow dehumidifiers , turn on the heaters for the cabin, turn on the refer system, and wait for it to get warm or cold. We brought all the perishables from the trailer, popped them in their normal storage areas, and within minutes the boat was toasty warm and we were home.

All was well. Well, maybe not “all.” The one thing that had happened while we were away, and only just in the last few weeks, was that the local river otters decided, “Hey, here’s a boat we haven’t pooped on yet.” That’s correct. Two weeks before we came home our mechanic friend that we pay to come over every month to check the boat and run the engines called to say, “Um, Dan…problem. The otters got into your enclosure and pooped all over.” Arrrrgh. Otters. They’re cute, right up until they come aboard to poop on you.

Damned otters!

Shaun is the best of mechanics, but he’s also the best of friends. And he cleaned up the otter attack for us and tightly sealed the full enclosure again….making sure there were no gaps the otters could work on to get in again. When we got there, they had not been back….and there was only a slight lingering odour de Otter. A washdown with soap and water…and then bleach took care of that. We did however toss out all the cockpit cushions and order nice new ones. It was time anyway.

I bought Shaun a bottle of old Scotch, Karin’s favorite brand from Islay. He earned it.

Those otter creeps don’t give up easily. The first few weeks they came back on three different nights. When I heard their little feet skittering on deck I bounded out of bed, flipped on the super bright decklights, and made all kind of yelling noises as I burst out of the hatch. The goal is to scare them half to death as they dive over the rails into the water. Karin, of course, just looks at me through groggy eyes at 2am….and laughs.

So now that we’re home, have checked in with parents and our son Christian, we’re doing what everyone else is doing…hunkering down to wait. We, like everyone, have been learning the ins and outs of ZOOM, Facetime, and other types of online conferencing software. It has actually been fun to have reunions with old co-workers and family, online birthday parties for kiddos, and, of course, extended drinking binges with the Fencing Team. Nothing like a pirate family reunion to make a Saturday.

With Endless Song’s galley once again operational, what can we make? Karin and I didn’t want to give up the Florida sunshine too fast, so we pulled out the Key Lime Pie supplies one more time. Mmmm. Worked again.

Karin has also been working on Sourdough bread, like everyone in America it seems. Flour is very hard to come by on the store shelves.

Thanks to Lang, a fellow resident of the “D” dock Karin has her own “starter”….what a baker calls “The Bitch”. You have to feed it and care for “The Bitch” or she’ll die on you….and then no more warm bread. Karin has been feeding hers, and is being rewarded.

The other thing we’re doing is riding our bikes. While we’re all supposed to stay home as much as possible, one still needs to take walks and rides close by your home. Lucky for us the Tommy Thompson Bicycle trail runs from downtown Anacortes, right by our marina, and out south along Fidalgo Bay to the trestle across to the March Point oil refinery. Once you get across that trestle, you can turn right or left and do the loop road around March Point. It’s great to get to the tip of the point and turn your back on the refinery and see all the waters, islands and mountains stretching away to Bellingham, Lummi Island and beyond. It’s also the only view around where you don’t have to see the refinery. We have been lucky through April as there have been some lovely days to ride.

The real question for us is “When can we go sailing?” We really don’t know yet. As we get into early May, the state is finally starting to ease back to some activity. May 5th most State Parks and boat ramps open for day use. Ok, we figure that means local day sails are ok…so we’ll do a few of those. The larger re-opening of overnight camping, both at land state parks, and at the marine state parks, is what we’re waiting to see. If all goes well we may see that sometime in mid to late May. Once that’s ok, then we can begin to think about sailing down into Puget Sound.

Endless Song on a bouy at Jones Island State Park in 2017

This photo is more aspirational than anything. It’s from Jones Island State Park in the San Juan Islands. There is no visiting the Islands at the moment…but we can’t wait until we can go back.

Spring Interrupted…

No one will be talking about their spring travel in 2020 without getting to the part where the novel coronavirus COVID-19 blew everything up.

We were a long way from home on this trip. In fact the whole point of the trip was to get as far away from home in the Pacific Northwest as was humanly possible in the Lower 48 states. That meant we went all the way to the end of the road in Key West.

But we were never out of touch, and were following along with all the news about the outbreak of this new virus in China and we too watched as other countries started to have issues. As we moved North in Florida to see the sites, ride our bikes and canoe the rivers in search of manatee, there was always the news to see what was happening. As the first US cases arrived, in our home state, and then started to climb in the nursing home near our niece’s home, we watched, and wondered if it was time to stop our journey and get home.

We started preparing slowly in case things got worse. When we stopped in the grocery we bought a few more supplies than we needed for a week, added hand sanitizer and soap, and we even bought a few boxes of flu medications, just to have that on hand. As we moved North, we spent more time bicycling trails and canoeing, and less time in crowded cities.

As the number of cases grew, as the CDC recommended, we started new regimes of hand washing, cleaning, wiping the common surfaces, handles and knobs on the trailer with Clorox wipes.

We went for rides, but started very actively distancing ourselves from other people in beautiful places such as Savannah.

We were outside Charleston, SC riding bikes on paths to stay active when Karin’s leg started bothering her. She arranged a chiropractor visit in Charleston on Monday March 16th. By that time, the news was getting much grimmer around the novel corona virus. Washington state was in the full grips of dealing with the virus, and other west coast states were seeing case numbers grow.

We decided then it was time to begin making our way back west. We were going to try to do it in an orderly way, knowing that the further west we were, the closer to our parents and Christian we would be, and if we needed to we could start moving very fast.

The next morning, March 17th, St. Patricks Day, we started. On the way to our first stop, of course a winery that would let us stay the night, our week long Florida panhandle private rental cancelled on us. Then New Mexico became the first state to close all campgrounds. The time for a fast run across 4,000 miles had come.

The next day we put in an epic pull, from Georgia, to the Florida pandhandle, across Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and into Texas. We arrived at our niece Sarah’s house outside Austin at midnight. We stayed just one day to rest and play with the kids. Hard to social distance with them. We left as they were all sleeping at 4am Friday morning and pulled all the way past El Paso to another winery in Southern New Mexico. Two long days of driving and we were back in the West. Saturday we ended at a distillery in Kingman, AZ (Route 66 stop for you fans).

Sunday we were at an RV park on the lake in Provo, UT. We will be going back there. It was perfect for exploring around that area. Monday we drove to my sisters place on Jake’s Corral Creek Ranch in the Camas Prairie in Idaho. Tuesday, one week after leaving South Carolina, we got up early again, and drove the last 800 miles home to the boat in Anacortes.

We had a few impressions of the road. First, traffic was light. There were the normal semi-trucks on the road, but a lot fewer passenger cars and SUVs. Some places, Beaumont, TX and Baton Rouge in LA had a lot of full parking lots around pubs and bars. Latest stats on the virus outbreak show those were poor local decisions.

Downtown Seattle was spooky quiet as we drove through at noon. Normally it’s pretty busy Tuesday midday, but not in the age of pandemic.

So, for now, we’re home on the boat. Lots of NW marinas are closed, so there’s not much going out. That’s also the point of a Stay at Home order. But we’re close to Mom and BD, and Christian is just down the road in Seattle.

If anyone needs help we’re now in a much better position to provide it than four thousand miles away in Savanna or Charleston.

We fill our days with boat projects, keeping up on cleaning and cooking, doing conference calls with family and friends, making masks, going for walks and bike rides close to the marina. Spring is coming to the Northwest….and it’s our third spring this year. That’s what you get starting at Key West in January and heading North with the sun.

Stay safe everyone, wash your hands, wear a mask, and #flattenthecurve.