Wicked Wanderers

Chronicling the full time RV lifestyle of a young family

Category: Chapters Page 2 of 6

Chapter 41: Our 3 week journey with the Unicorns *Warning this is a looonnngg story!*

Escapees Chapter 8

Our crossing back into the U.S. was uneventful from our trip with the Xscapers. We went early and we went alone. It was easy breezy. We had a lot of ground to cover as we were due to meet up with another rally to drive back to Mexico. Say what?! This time we were headed to Mexico with “Chapter 8: the Mexican Connection.” The parent group to the Xscapers is called the Escapees. They are traditionally more mature folks who are retired. Their organization has different groups you can join called “Chapters.” Each Chapter has a different function/role/place they travel to. Chapter 8 travels to Mexico. We went with them last year to San Felipe with Kevin’s grandparents Ralph and Lorraine and had a great time. This year we were going with Kevin’s Dad and Step Mom Verla. This year it was a rolling caravan with several different stops along the way. This year promised to be more adventurous and interesting. This years trip did not disappoint

 

The plan: 

Total length: 21 days.
Total miles: 476.5 (762.4 km) Potrero Park to Mario’s. Roundtrip: 953
miles/1524.8 km.

We all met at a county park outside San Diego: Potrero Park. Kevin and Verla met us there by Uber (they CAN use a smart phone after all!). We parked and tried to get organized. It’s tricky to simultaneously clean the beach sand out of your camper from one trip to Mexico while prepping for another one! We stocked up at Walmart. We did laundry. We watched the Superbowl game. We met Lynn and Michael. 

*Lynn & Michael*–Lynn and Michael are Australians who are visiting the US  traveling around in their Class A RV they call ‘the bus.’ Before we had even unhitched our RV at Potrero Park Lynn approached us to introduce herself and told us ‘she loved children and had requested to be in our group.’ (We were the only RV on this trip with kids).  We didn’t know her but she seemed nice. Because we were in the middle of unpacking we didn’t get a chance to chat with her so she stopped back later with her husband Michael to re-introduce herself.  Turns out they are such funny, kind people who genuinely love playing with kids. They were in our group and every chance we got we parked right next to them. Both Eloise and Eliza loved playing in their ‘bus’. (Michael nicknamed Eloise Unicorn #1 and Eliza Unicorn #2 because he kept mixing up their names haha)

Part of Chapter 2’s mission is make you comfortable to travel to Mexico on your own if you’ve never been before. We attended numerous pre-travel meetings detailing road conditions, expectations, and the travel itinerary. The group of about 43 rigs was divided into smaller travel groups 1-6. We were in group 4 and Eloise picked the name for our group: the Unicorns. Our camper was Group 4 Unicorn #5. Dividing everyone up helps keep caravan sizes manageable. For this rally we used CB radios for communication and had a “nobody left behind” policy (unlike our other rally ha-ha). (If you couldn’t see the person behind you in your mirrors then you were to slow down and use the radio to reach out to the them and radio ahead for the group to adjust its speed.) We took a day trip to the border to get our tourist visa and exchange money the day before we left and enjoyed some tacos and ice cream too in Tecate. Finally we were all ready to go.  

The border crossing was smooth and quick. For this caravan there was no police escort waiting for us at the border. We all had maps/GPS/everyone’s cell phone/contact info and a plan to all meet at our first stop. 

Destination #1:  Zoologico Parque del Nino Jersey, Guadalupe valley, MX. This area is known as the heart of the mexican wine country and we were here for 2 nights. This place was amazing. It was a huge zoo/children’s park that was closed to the public on the days we were there. We were free to explore it at our leisure. So cool. The animals were active.  The playground was huge and amazing. The staff was friendly and helpful. It was our first stop but still now even after the trip was over it was one of my favorites and certainly little Eliza’s favorite as well. We could hear the lion roaring from our RV. While were were there we took a day trip over to L.A. Cetto Winery where we toured the winery and enjoyed a wine tasting with tapas. We also check out a much smaller winery nearby with beautiful views of the valley were we all relaxed just the 6 of us. 

Destination #2: La Jolla Beach Camp, Punta Banda (near Ensenada). We were here for 8 nights. Amazing beach camping. We were right on the beach. This was a  great location for exploring the area. We went to Carnival with Lynn and Michale, we visited La Boufadora (The blow hole), we celebrated Valentine’s Day with a nice dinner and all the caravan members gave Eloise and Eliza Valentine’s on Valentine’s Day (organized by Lynn) .  We also played Just Dance on Nintendo in our RV with Lynn and Michael and we haven’t laughed that hard in a long time. So much fun. Its also here Chapter 2 held its annual Charity Auction where they raised +$10,000 for various charities. One really neat and interesting point here was the La Jolla Beach was a thermal beach so as you dug into the sand you could see and feel warm hot geothermal water bubble up. Kevin and his dad dug several beach ‘hot tubs’ for us to sit and relax in.  It was very neat. You had to be careful tho: the water was so hot in some spots on the beach that you could easily burn yourself!

Destination #3: Molino Viejo, San Quintin. We were here for 3 nights, we dry camped in the parking lot of the restaurant Molino Viejo. It was  right on the bay and Kevin, Verla and Eloise went out in the Kayak while Kevin’s Dad tried his hand at fly fishing from the shore (he wasn’t able to catch anything tho!) We enjoyed a delicious dinner at Molino Viejo with some hilarious Chapter 2 karaoke and celebrated Kevin’s Birthday! 🙂 We had an interesting breakfast as the restaurant next door: Don Eddie’s where the main waiter was certainly a character and we waited over an hour for breakfast?? haha we were on Mexican time. We also had the chance to visit San Quintin and take in the local culture, enjoy a delicious lunch, and stock up on groceries. 

*Topes* –Topes are speed bumps. Its important that if you ever drive  in Mexico that you are aware that topes are all throughout Mexico: on both small town roads and major state highways. They come in varying heights, from minuscule to mountainous and are both marked and unmarked. Yes, that’s right there are giant UNMARKED speed bumps in Mexico. They are typically when entering and when leaving a town/city but not always!

 

Destination #4: El Pabellon Beach RV Park. We were here for 1 night and we all parked right on the ocean dunes camping. On our way here we hit an unmarked tope going 40+ miles per hour. We launched off of that thing and hit hard. We shattered the kids back closet shelving. Once we parked and saw what a mess had been made Kevin and his dad went right to work repairing it which of course meant driving a few towns over for wood and other supplies. Meanwhile Verla and the girls and I walked around the sand dunes and dipped our toes in the ocean. We enjoyed a yummy dinner of tamales here as well but the ocean breeze kept things slightly chilly. 

Destination #5: Rancho Santa Ynez. We were here for 2 nights. We hiked out to an ancient Mexican heritage site. We enjoyed a traditional Mexican meal and enjoyed the company of our new Aussie friends. 

Looks like roads in Maine? ha-ha

*Roads* –Let me interject right here that we had been warned ahead of time that the roads in the Baja in some places were highly questionable with big potholes but if we went slow they were ‘fine.’ We were told by the leaders of this trip that the roads were in the worst condition between Santa Ynez and Guerrero Negro. One of the descriptions we received from the group leaders was this: “Allow 6 hours for driving, slow, narrow road, no shoulder, some potholes, can be a demanding drive.” If you go by that description you think: Oh cool, totally do-able. Well let me tell you it was a nightmare of a drive that we never should have taken our camper on. The roads were quite narrow, no shoulder, winding, HUGE potholes and there is no room to maneuver around them because there are giant tractor trailer trucks coming right at you from the other direction. (One RV from our group went off the road (no one was hurt) and another persons side view mirror was shattered when it was struck by a tractor trailer truck.) 

Destination #6: Mario’s in Guerrero Negro. We were here for 3 nights. When we arrived and unhitched it was immediately clear to Kevin that there was RV damage. One of our hydraulic hoses had come loose and fluid was leaking everywhere. And upon further inspection we also broke an airbag and a leafspring. Our camper is big. Its heavy. And the roads were like a wash board with giant potholes every 100 feet. Again Kevin and his dad went right to work trying to assess the damage and figure out what needed to be done. Mario’s campground called their local repairmen and within an hour we had a new leafspring. It was a hand pressed leafspring that Kevin did not have much confidence in but it was our only option. The next day was our long awaited whale tour day and it did not disappoint.

Thankfully Eliza slept almost the entire trip and didn’t flail about in the tiny boat which held about 12-15 people. Eloise loved it and had fun “calling” for the whales to come near our boat with Lynn. Everyone on our boat was able to touch a whale. What an amazing experience!

We enjoyed a nice dinner at Mario’s and had a farewell visit with Lynn and Michael; parting is such sweet sorrow. Kevin made the decision that we were to leave the caravan a full day early because we had to get Kevins Dad and Verla back on time to catch their flight back to Maine, we had a long journey back up to the border, and he knew the roads were rough and that we might need additional repairs. 

Unplanned destination #1: Side of the road tire shop. Just short of half way back up to the border disaster struck. The camper started leaning drastically to one side and Kevin knew that the ‘new’ leafspring that we had just put on at Marios  was broken. We happened to be within a mile of a roadside tire shop / mechanic who spoke English. Coincidentally we knew friends who had used this shop in the past so we were hopeful. The mechanic did not have  a new leafspring however he gave Kevin detailed directions on where to get one. It was a 6 hour round trip journey which Kevin did alone. Kevins Dad, Verla, the girls and I stayed behind in the RV to wait. He returned right on time and the RV was fixed again in no time. While Kevin was gone we made friends with a little 5 year old Mexican girl who came over to play. She did not speak English but we did out best. We shared toys, we all had mac and cheese, and we rode bikes. She was very sweet. Eloise has never been keen on bike riding and before we left we gave her family the bike, some clothes and money and they were very appreciative. 

The little girl who lives at the tire shop

We continued along in an uneventful manner until….

Not quite this bad thank goodness!

Unplanned destination #2: Stuck at the border. There are many options on where to cross the border back to the US. Kevin had done the research and had decided to cross at Otay Mesa. It reportedly wasn’t that busy of a crossing and other RVs had done it. We made it, it was congested but we also had the bad luck of hitting it right around 5pm. After an hour in line we finally make it up to the border agent. All of our paperwork was in order and were cleared to drive through. Slight problem: we were stuck. Our camper was too tall to make it under the overhead roof and too long to make it though their normal exit. For the next 2 hours we totally blocked that lane of the border crossing with our camper while Kevin and his dad unbolted roof ACs, aired the tires down on the trailer, and inched the camper out of this booth. What a mess! When our RV had finally cleared the overhead roof, the border agents helped us exit through a side maintenance exit. The girls were frustrated, tired, and hungry and thankfully fell asleep. 

14+  glorious hours later we had finally made it to the RV park and were parked. It was a very adventurous 3 week journey through the Baja but we were glad to be back! 🙂

Chapter 40: Good Times Traveling with the Xscapers

We enjoy RV rallies. Its a great  chance to meet new people for adults and kids and we often alter our travel schedule to go to rallies with people we like to hang out with. 

Look Dad! My head is in a bucket!

The Xscapers market themselves as the ‘new generation of Rv-ers’. https://www.xscapers.com/xscapers-community/convergences/  (Click on the link and see if you can spot Eloise and Eliza in the group photo!)

Their meet ups or rallies are called ‘convergences’. We’ve met up with them on several occasions in the past and enjoyed our time meeting other young working people from all backgrounds. The Xscapers had 3 events planned this past winter and went to all 3!

Event #1: The Annual Bash–The annual bash was again in Quartzsite AZ this year. We arrived 2 days late due to the full-time family rally we were attending just prior to this one. Arriving ‘late’ is no big deal as this rally was boondocking/dry camping on BLM land in a free-for-all style. We enjoyed catching up with some old friends and hosted the kids over for a movie and popcorn night. We played at the local playground and enjoyed the evening campfires. 

Event #2: The American Girl Mine Convergence–This was another week long event down the road near Yuma, AZ. Again there were several kids who attended and Eloise had a blast playing with them. The format was the same: we went on a group hike, attended informational lectures, Kevin went on a group mountain bike ride, campfires, group games, and had fun sharing our tales from the road. 

Look closely to see all the campers behind us!

Event #3: San Felipe Convergence–This event we had been looking forward to for a while. It was a rally to Mexico and its didn’t disappoint. The rally was caravaning (driving all together) across the border and down to San Felipe. We met at a mall parking lot the morning of and were assigned a spot to line up to drive. We didn’t have any directions but the plan was to ‘follow the leader’ which seemed reasonable at the time. Once we crossed the border the Mexican tourist bureau from San Felipe had arranged for a police escort for our group through Mexicali. How exciting! We were all ready to go and didn’t even thinking about it at the time. Turns out that was a mistake. There were stop lights along our route and guess who hit the light first: us. We stopped at the light and with a quarter of the group ahead of us and three-quarters behind us we were lost. We could no longer visualize the person in front of us. We had no idea what exit they took. We had no idea which border crossing in Mexicali (there were 2) that the Mexican police escort was meeting us at. Shoot. We took a wrong exit. (Thanks Google) We had to pull at U-turn leading 20+ Rvs behind us who were maximally confused, had no idea we were going the wrong direction, and wondering why we were turning around. (Sorry guys). Anyway, we finally met up the the main group and the police escort through Mexicali was amazing VIP treatment. All intersections were blocked. We stopped for no traffic lights. We flew through the city and made it down to San Felipe in record time. We squeezed our RV into this tiny spot at Victor’s RV Park and were glad to finally be there. We had been to San Felipe the year before (at a different campground) and enjoyed our time there so we knew the loved the area. This RV park was within walking distance to downtown San Felipe which was nice. We enjoyed the food, the girls loved playing on the beach every day, twice a day. We took our kayak out on the sea of Cortez and sipped margaritas around a beach campfire. We visited the valley of the Giant Cactus. Kevin and another Xscaper treated us to a fireworks show and the live music was a nice touch one night. Kevin had a great time 4 wheeling. We had a great time soaking up the sun with our Xscaper friends!

Chapter 39: the Holi-daze

To be honest most of December and January were a blur. We were busy hopping around to different parts of California and Arizona meeting all kids of new friends along the way. 

Our first stop: Sedona, AZ. We left Phoenix and headed North. We had plans to meet up with a new family, the Kvacik’s, we’d never met before that Kevin had ‘met’ on Facebook. They had a little boy who was 4. They also had a super cool 5th wheel set up with a heavy duty truck with a jeep on the back of it Kevin was jealous of. We were excited. It was cold and a little windy in Sedona but we had a great time getting to know them.

The Thomas’ came up for the weekend too and we all went hiking, out to dinner, and enjoyed each others company. When it was time to leave we were headed to Joshua Tree and the Kvacik’s decided to follow us too and its a good thing they did! As we were turning the corner in Cottonwood, AZ our sliding storage tray flew out from our camper right into the middle of the busy intersection! They signaled us immediately and we both pulled over. By the time we made it back to the intersection someone had stolen most of Kevin’s power tools. Bummer. But the storage trey was intact. Our grill was still there. We cleaned up the mess and continued on to Quartzsite, AZ where we spent the night. We ended up staying the weekend so we could repair the tray and they could check out Quartzsite. 

Second stop: Joshua Tree. We had been to Joshua Tree last year but this time we boondocked (free camped) at a new spot for us on South Joshua Tree BLM land. We parked without issue but the Kvacik’s rig had trouble with their jacks which took hours to resolve. Always something! Eloise and Hayden and Eliza had fun playing together. It was here we made a very short stop to the Salton Sea (an abandoned community thats worth a Google). 

Third Stop: We parted ways with the Kvaciks and headed into an RV Park: Palm Springs RV Resort for the holidays. The weather was great and we knew several other families would be there. Eloise ran herself tired playing with all the kids each day especially her friend Caellum. Christmas was quiet and low key as was New Years. For my birthday Eloise invited a family over to share cake with me and they very sweetly agreed. It was fun. Kevin was busy working but we did get to check out the city of Palm Springs and enjoyed a Christmas street market. 

Fourth Stop: After Palm Springs we headed over to Menifee, CA which was about an hour away. Menifee was the site of the “Game On” Fulltime Family Rally. The ‘theme’ of the rally was games. There were over 30 families there and the hosts we had met just a few months prior up in Oregon. We were excited and it turned out to be a great event. Eloise and Eliza enjoyed all the kids activities and playing in the pool. During this time Kevin’s grandparents Ralph and Lorraine flew out from Maine to visit us and they enjoyed 5 days with the girls as well. We played mini golf, swam in the pool, and Kevin and I even went out to dinner alone (gasp!) one night haha. 

Chapter 38: Friends are the best for moving all your $h!t

We were boondocking (free dry camping) in Buckeye, AZ when we moved into our new camper. We parked our toyhauler right next to our new (to us) 5th wehel. Kevin had to get right back to work since he had been gone for days and days looking at the rusty 5th wheel in Wisconsin and then driving up to Oklahoma and bringing the nicer 5th wheel down to Arizona. I was tasked with packing up and orchestrating moving the majority of all our junk over. You’d be surprised how much stuff you can fit in a 42 foot camper!

Last day in the Voltage

Our friends the Thomas’ (Erica and Johnnie) have 6 kids living with them from age 15 to 5 (translation: they can all move and lift things). It was just want we needed. It took us about 7 to 10 days to pack everything up and move it over. All our things had a carefully selected spot in our toyhauler and needed a carefully selected spot in the 5th wheel too. You can’t just throw it in; you’ll never find it when you need it. 

 

 

Kevin and Johnnie moved our solar system over to the new camper including all 10 panels and 4 batteries. Unfortunately we had to say goodbye to the dishwasher and bathtub: two things we will really miss in our new home. Of course my good friends washer and dryer were coming. Our tiny electric golf cart was sold. The camper came with an empty  bedroom so Kevin custom cut Ikea bunk beds to fit the girls room. Our days and nights were busy.  There were only a handful of things that we decided to part with and everything else was loaded in. 

Kevin, Chris, and Nate at a Bruins game (Side note: also during this time period Kevin flew to San Francisco to hang out with a few college buddies for a long weekend!)

Friends at the Phoenix Zoo

All told we stayed with the Thomas’ for 6 weeks. That’s the longest we had ever stayed in one spot and the longest we’d ever traveled with another family. We had glow stick dance parties with them. We fought off the Africanized bees in Arizona with them. We shared our Thanksgiving meal with them. We watched them get pulled over by the cops. (lol) We went to the Phoenix zoo and to see Santa at the mall with them. We went to a drive through Christmas light display with them. Eloise and Eliza played with them every day, all day and really enjoyed their company. 

In the middle of all of this both of our families traveled about 45 minutes away to Tonopah, AZ for the fulltime families boondocking rally. It just so happened that Erica and Johnnie were hosting the official event (i.e. volunteered to put the schedule together, do all the planning and prep, and then pull it off!–suckers). There were about 10 families who attended and we all had a great time. 

The kids did compass readings, geocaching, a glow stick party, an outdoor movie night, celebrated a birthday, took a day hike, made dream catchers, we had potlucks, and enjoyed each others company around the campfire each night. Its so great to meet up with and connect with other fulltime families on the road. As a side trip after the rally 14 of us (4 adults and 10 kids) hiked up Saddle Mountain where a tarantula hawk nearly made me jump off a cliff! (I hate bees and this is one mother of a stinger!) The trail is so steep and crumbly that at one point Kevin had 2 kids strapped to him! haha!

Double duty. Seems right. haha

Before October, we had first met the Thomas’ at another family rally in Tuscon a year ago. We enjoyed their humor and stories. It was there that they noted they were headed to Poland, Maine that summer so we knew we had to meet up with them there. When we were deciding what to do about our broken toyhauler we knew that Arizona was the best place to sell it and move due to the temperate weather. How lucky that they were in Buckeye (right outside of Phoenix) and were going to be there for several months! We asked if we could camp with them and they welcomed us in. They have been such a blessing to meet on the road and their friendship will not be forgotten. This is getting a little sappy for the daily sarcasm Erica and I shared but bottom line is that we had a fabulous time with them and parting was such sweet sorrow. 

We’ve found little kids hike best with other little kids (and candy…)

Desert sunset

Chapter 37: Yes, we’re still alive

Our last blog update was Dec 17th. It has been a VERY busy 3 months for us. Our goal is to catch everyone up with a series of quick blog posts.

That weekend that it rained for 3 straight days …

Lets start with what happened right after we left off…So what were we to do? Keystone denied our replacement unit. Things got hot and heavy with them; they were confident they could repair everything (for real this time?) at their facility in Oregon.  They needed 4-8 weeks depending on parts.  But after having just been at their Indiana factory in August were we willing to again be truly homeless for up to 2+ months?  Did Kevin’s mind explode brainy bits all over our walls in a fit of rage and exasperation? In a word: yes.

Our one Pacific Coast family beach day

We had already been down this road before with this toyhauler, with several of the same issues as before, and now they were planning the same ‘fixes.’ We were done. It was clear we would either have to get a new camper to keep traveling or find a house and be done with it all. We had been traveling for a year and a half and much of our time during that period we had to change our plans to fit our RVs repair schedule and not living as we had intended. We weren’t done yet; we wanted to continue to travel. We reluctantly agreed to yet another round of repairs. 

We went on a 3 week nationwide search for one of the best, well-made 5th wheels we could tow with our current truck: a “DRV” (that’s the brand). They don’t make many units. Brand new they are pricey and heavy. They have several models but we needed one of their 2 models that had bunk beds. Turns out those are rare; very rare. We decided we wanted a used unit: not something new that hasn’t been broken in yet. We needed something that has been road tested and was ready to go. We found a handful of RVs that met our criteria however when we called we learned that all of them had been sold except one (red flag #1).

Real scorpion as seen under a black light right near our camper. Arizona is full of ‘fun’ wildlife!

This RV we were interested in was a private sale in Wisconsin. We had several phone calls with the seller who was friendly and seemed forthright with information about the camper. We scheduled a Skype call to view the RV but the video call quality was quite poor (red flag #2). Kevin noted rust on the camper but the owner said it wasn’t rust it was just the poor video quality. Deals were discussed. Arrangements were made. We were still in Oregon and winter was fast approaching.

We decided that first we would move our current toyhauler to sunny Phoenix AZ for 3 reasons: 1) we had friends there who could help us move, 2) it’s a great area to sell a toyhauler in, 3) it rarely rains in Phoenix so being in an RV with a leaky roof & wall was not an issue. It was not ideal that we had to abandon our plans of traveling slowly down the coast of California but getting into a new RV was now our #1 priority (again changing our plans for this toyhauler! Grr!)

Are we there yet?

Kevin fixing the brakes

We set out to drive straight through the night all the way from Oregon to Phoenix.  Snack were packed, kids were ready to go. Unfortunately right away we had an issue. One of the failures we forgot to mention was that while in Oregon we almost lost a rear axle after the factory refused to repair the attachments for this axle (they said ‘the welds looked fine’). We called in a mobile welder to our campground in Oregon earlier in October and he fixed us up. Well….unbeknownst to us he also nicked our hydraulic brake line with his welding torch! Gah. As we started our long trek Kevin notice right away that ‘something was wrong with the brakes.” We pulled over, discovered all the hydraulic fluid had leaked out (and had probably been empty for weeks) and in the middle of a grocery store parking lot he sat for 2 hours fixing the brakes. THEN we got right back on the road and drove the remaining 20 hours to Phoenix. Man were we glad to finally have arrived. We set up and Kevin immediately drove the 40+ hours up to Wisconsin solo with the intent of buying this DRV.

Not an actual photo but pretty close…

He arrived and the RV was not what we had been told; it had been heavily used in salt conditions with so much rust. Kevin left within 10 minutes and drove straight back to Phoenix. He was not happy and we were feeling like we were running out of time and options.

Within one day of returning from his long solo drive up to Wisconsin Kevin got a tip on a new consignment DRV with a bunkbed in Oklahoma. He called and made a deposit to hold it immediately–finally we had a new solidly build place to call home.

First photo of our new home!

Up next: Making your friends move all your stuff from one RV to another

Making slime with our friends while waiting for Daddy to arrive back with the new RV!

Chapter 36: Oregon: where it all goes to hell in a handbasket

We left Washington state and drove right past Mt. Rainier and Mount St. Helens. Winter was approaching. The campgrounds were starting to close for the season and Eliza (who still hates riding in her car seat) was ready to slow down and take a long break so we headed into Oregon. We’ll come back some day Washington!

Can you spot the giant slug?

I was corrected several times: Its Ore-gon not Oreg-in. Whoops. Either way its a beautiful state. Our first stop was right outside Mt. Hood. We stayed at Mt. Hood RV Village Resort. We arrived at a weird time when the area was between seasons and a lot of things were closed but would re-open when winter/snow came. At least the campground had a pool. We also had the good fortune to meet up with 2 other fulltime families. We enjoyed a barbecue dinner and some fun social time. Eloise even made a fast friend with another little 5 year old who we will meet again at a rally in a few months. We explored the famous Timberline Lodge and Kevin mountain biked down part of Mt. Hood. 

Our second stop was Portland. We stayed at Portland Fairview RV park  right outside Portland. We enjoyed using it as a home base for exploring Portland. The weather was typical Oregon rain for half of our stay so we planned to tour around Portland on the weekend when the sun was coming out. Unfortunately Eloise came down with some viral illness and our plans were put on hold until she felt better. We were able to visit the Portland Zoo, shopped at Ikea (of course), took a family bike ride, and dined at a few family friendly restaurants (there were a few with dedicated play areas which was an interesting idea).  We had fun in Portland; it was relaxed and we’ll have to go back again some day. 

Our third stop was Florence. It’s a little town on the coast and it was quite picturesque.  We were there just  about 3 weeks and really got to make friends with other families and explore the area.  We visited the coast several times and it was beautiful and very different from the rocky coast of Maine. Brown sand beaches with steep wooded cliffs. We were finally taking time to smell the roses and enjoy family time. Things in our camper were working well and we had detailed plans for exploring down the coast of California over the coming weeks. We were comfortable. So of course it all goes to hell in a handbasket. First the rain came. We figured it was no big deal.  We’d been in rain before. Then the slide seal started to leak. It had leaked before several times; repaired twice. This time was worse. Much more water; much larger area. Fun. Still no big deal; we could get over that. Then water started dripping from the ceiling in our bathroom. That was new and not cool. Kevin heads to the roof: finds 2 sections where water has puddled under the rubber membrane. This was bad. Very bad. The icing on the cake was the water damage we found the next day de-laminating the side of the camper near the roof. Adding all of these issues to our known cracked frame and we were in a panic. Kevin contacted his liaison at Keystone and they agreed that the camper was in rough shape and verbally agreed to a replacement unit. Then the back pedaling came and they decided to send a technician out to check the camper. The technician took photos in an attempt by the manufacturer to claim we had altered the rig so to cause all of these issues.  Crazy talk. 

What happened next? Did Kevin’s mind explode brainy bits all over our walls in a fit of rage and exasperation? I’ll fill you in on the next chapter!

Moana and her little Hawaiian pineapple

 

Chapter 35: the Gem state and the Evergreen State

If you ever get the chance to visit Idaho we’d recommend Craters of the Moon National Monument. We left Montana headed towards the Northwest and planned a little detour to check this place out.  We were glad we did; it was really neat. To quote the National Monument’s webpage it is a “vast ocean of lava flows with scattered islands of cinder cones and sagebrush.” Sounds a bit boring, but its such a unique landscape. We would have loved to stay there longer and tour around Idaho but there was no cell service, the campground was full, and we were getting tired of being on the move. We were ready to get to Washington state aka the Evergreen State.

We are a member of “Thousand Trails.” Maybe you’ve heard of it, maybe you haven’t. Its a camping club membership. We have been members for a year but haven’t used it much due to several factors I wont get into here but the simple answer is that we were pretty ‘meh’ about it in the past plus we prefer boondocking. We almost did not renew our membership but we were glad we did. We stayed at one of their campgrounds right near North Cascades National Park in the town of Concrete and we had a really nice stay. The weather cooperated and the hiking was plentiful. Eloise was able to play with several children here which was fun for her too. 

Our second stop was just an hour north of Seattle where we stayed at another Thousand Trails property (they have numerous campgrounds in the Northwest to choose from). This one was pretty nice, quite large and beautifully lush–again we were pleasantly surprised. It was like camping among giant trees in the rainforest. Really cool. We used this campground as our home-base for visiting Seattle. We had always wanted to visit Seattle so we splurged: we decided to go into the city, rent a hotel, hire a babysitter (!), and go out on the town. It was ah-mazing. Fun for all. Eloise was excited to have a sitter, Eliza could have cared less haha. We were able to enjoy a meal and a few drinks in a fun city in total peace and quiet….As a family we also enjoyed visiting the Pacific Science Center, Children’s Museum, Artists at Playground, and Pike Place Market. 

Our third stop in Washington was Olympic National Park. Amazingly lush. Another beautiful National Park. We drove up to the Hurricane Ridge Visitors Center and over to Obstruction Point. The views were in and out of the clouds and the temps were in the low 30s…brr! Then we followed highway 101 around the park (which is huge) down to the Hoh Rainforest. For these two stops we camped for the first time at an Escapees park for a few nights and at the Elks Lodge in Forks. Both stops were uneventful however we found the Elks to  be very welcoming and a good value. Nice to meet some fellow Elks along the road! Interesting side note is that the town of Forks is where author Stephenie Meyer based her Twilight saga novels and selling the “Twilight” experience is now a source of income and tourism for this town! 

Chapter 34: Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks

We were scheduled to head to Glacier National Park. We had been excitedly waiting to go. As she often does: Mother Nature had other ideas. The smoke and wildfires had been spreading and the air quality was known to be poor with low visibility. We maintained hope that we would still be able to go until we heard that an old historic lodge in Glacier burned down and roads were starting to close in the park due to the spreading fires.  

Were we bummed? Yes, but plans change. We decided to change course and meet up with some friends.  The Blokzyls had invited us to meet up with them right outside of Yellowstone National Park for a week of dry camping and boy were we glad we did. The boondocking spot right by the Yellowstone river was amazing. River views. Picnic tables. Friends near by! We had a great time and were able to stay about a week and a half before the fair weather turned wintry. 

Kevin and Drew kayaked down a portion of the Yellowstone River one sunny day and had a blast

We had a fun time playing with their little boy (Eliza’s baby friend). We enjoyed the riverside beach, hiked all around Mammoth Hot Springs and enjoyed two dips in the ‘boiling river’. Fun times. We even enjoyed a hilariously chaotic dinner out with them: 3 kids 5 and under reeking havoc on a pub. We had met up with this family at a family rally in Tucson last year and knew we would meet again. Thanks for all the fun memories!

We were sad to part ways but we were headed South and they were headed West. Winter was nipping at our heels in Yellowstone and we left the area just as a storm was brewing. 

Kevin and I had both explored Yellowstone in the past but we did take a day to see the highlights with the girls. Here’s a tip to anyone going to Yellowstone in the future: don’t plan to visit hot pools of water in cold temperatures because all you’ll see is a thick steam. Also, the masses of foreign tourists in the area were unreal  (especially around Old Faithful) and really put a damper on us having a good time. 

A view of Grand Prismatic spring on a nice summer day

A view of Grand Prismatic spring on the day we went–and believe it or not the parking lot was totally jammed packed! For this?!

Grand Teton National Park is breathtaking. One of Kevins favorite parks (he had previously backpacked across the Teons with his friends several years ago). We were fortunate to get a fantastic boondocking spot on Upper Teton View with an amazing view of the mountains. Unfortunately the internet was almost non-existent so we could only stay here for a long weekend but we enjoyed every minute of it!

We took the boat across Jennie Lake to some lovely hiking on a beautiful Grand Teton day. Temperatures while we were there were quite cold and we did get a dusting of snow one day. We knew the area was teetering on the edge of winter; in fact, the very next day after we left, the Jackson hole area received its first significant snowfall that shut down some roads!

The view from our boondocking site! Amazing!

 

 

Chapter 33: South Dakota in a Nutshell

We followed I-29 North through Kansas City, Omaha, and Souix City; we took several breaks along the way at numerous rest stops to stretch our legs. We even stopped to enjoy the “world’s largest corn palace” in Mitchell, SD. (It was interesting/strange…)  Finally we arrived in Wall, SD: Home of Wall Drug Store: a tourist trap in the middle of nowhere. Home of ‘free ice water’ and ‘5 cent coffee’. Since it was just about 100 degrees outside we passed on the cheap hot coffee. We enjoyed viewing all of their oddities: you can ride a jackalope, check out the roaring T-rex, play on the splash pad, shop in the gift shop, grab a bite at the restaurant, etc. Not really our thing but if you are near Wall Drug you have to say you stopped in! (Plus they had some pharmacy history to view) What else is there in Wall, SD? Nothing (practically nothing) except the Badlands National Park. 

We, of course, didn’t drive thousands of miles to ride the jackalope. We were excited to visit the Badlands. We parked right out side the park at Buffalo Gap National Grasslands and we were very glad to finally take a moment and enjoy the sights for a week. (Or so we thought). 

Temperatures were sweltering. Eliza was extra cranky. We had plenty of solar but the air conditioner could barely keep up. The point of boondocking (for us) is to enjoy nature and it was almost too hot to be outside. We took a drive through the National Park one afternoon and saw 5 different types of animals in 5 minutes.: sheep, buffalo, prairie dogs, coyote, and haws. It was fun and Eloise definitely enjoyed trying to spot all the different animals. Unfortunately due to work and the hot hot temps we weren’t able to enjoy the hiking in the area. We packed up after only a few days and hit the dusty trail further on to Custer and the Mount Rushmore area. 

Mount Rushmore was interesting. It was neat to see it so up close and to learn about the history of the sculpture. Parking is $10 and I was a little put off by that and the whole thing seemed liked more of a tourist trap vs. a quiet place to experience and view a piece of history. We also took time to go to Wind Cave National Park.  Unfortunately Eliza wasn’t feeling the ‘family friendly’ cave tour that was recommended and had a melt down 40 minutes into the 60 minute tour. She was d-o-n-e. (Oh well, first time for everything–she had been on a cave before and slept through it.) It was a beautiful cave and her cries echoed marvelously throughout it 🙂

Our campground in Custer I thought was unique. It was an old Flinstones themed campground that opened in 1966 and was sold in 2015. It re-opened under the name “Buffalo Ridge RV Park” but some of the old Flintstones decor remained and it was entertaining to see. I would have loved to visit this park in its heyday (probably 1990s?)

One night while were were riding around on the campground train (which was free and kinda cool) we met 2 other families who 1) happened to be parked right next to us and 2) were also traveling the country. Eloise had a ton of fun playing with all of their kids and we enjoyed a campfire with them before we parted ways. We decided to check out Rapid City before leaving the area and both of the girls had fun at the Wa Tiki indoor waterpark. Eliza loved the warm water and zero-entry pool while thrill seeker Eloise was able to ride on all the slides on Dad’s’ lap; a fun day!

 

 

Chapter 32: To the Midwest we go!

Once we got the call from Keystone that our camper was ‘ready’ we packed and left. Our goal was to make it to Glacier National Park; we knew that fall and winter came early up there: therefore we had to get our butts in gear.

We left Maine, drove straight to the Keystone factory, grabbed the camper, got all of the items out of our storage unit in Elkhart, IN and hit the road to Missouri just in time to be in the path of totality for the solar eclipse!

Let me break that down for you:

  • Thursday: with 2 small children we drove 1,067 miles straight through the night in our truck arriving just as Keystone opened for the day. Yawn!
  • Friday: Once we saw the camper at Keystone we realized that they were not really ready for us to pick it up and a few more items needed to be addressed. (Not surprising at all) We wandered around the local Walmart getting supplies while they finished up. Once the unit was truly ready we drove across town to our storage unit with 2 kiddos who were more than ready to get out of the truck. (Thankfully I had arranged for a helper to help us unload the storage unit items back into our camper. Without this hired helper I found on uhaul.com Kevin would have been unpacking items for the rest of the day.) We spent the night in the area putting all of our junk back into its rightful place.
  • Saturday: The next day, things were still a mess. We organized a bit more, bought more supplies at Walmart, and then hit the road late in the afternoon towards Illinois.  
  • Sunday: We were able to say hi to my Aunt Mary and Uncle Dick who were kind enough to drive down to meet us in the middle of nowhere IL (te Chebanse KOA) for a Sunday morning visit. We chatted and watched Eloise swim around in the unheated outdoor pool. Brr! We left later that afternoon to drive another 300 miles to Missouri to arrive just in time to be in the path of totality for the eclipse. Solar eclipse traffic heading down from Illinois to Missouri was not as bad as the rumors we had heard but still added a good 2 hours to our trip. Fun! (At least driving through Illinois was mildly interesting: miles and miles of corn as far as the eye can see!) We parked next to  another fulltime family who invited us to their grandparents house in St. Genevieve, MO to view the eclipse.
  • Monday: Solar eclipse day. It was amazing: the eclipse, the hospitality, the friendship. We had a lovely time. The experience of being in the path of totality was neat. We stayed to visit with them for a few days of rest while Eloise and Eliza enjoyed playing with their 2 girls.  We parted ways at the end of the week as we were headed North and they were going South. Until next time Rackovans!

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