Road Weary and Battle Scarred

We came back from Canada so incredibly road-weary and exhausted, that quite frankly, I haven’t felt much like writing at all. Traveling in an RV can be very exciting, and the adventure beyond words, but it is also good to have a house to go home to and gather your wits about you when the journey appears in the rearview mirror.

I know for a fact that our traveling companions, Fred and Becky were also pretty tired and no extended trips are planned for the near future. When looking through photographs of Canada, Washington, Oregon, and California though, nostalgia does set in and the temptation to go becomes a tiny flame and a fleeting glimmer of interest can ignite before you know it.

Callie has loved being back in the desert and when parked at the beach, she can run around and roam unattended. We are going back and forth from desert to the beach where the RV is parked and fitting in scheduled doctor’s appointments and visiting with friends and family while getting things accomplished that were put on hold.

My photography has been ramped up to a whole new level now that the cervical stenosis surgery is behind me. I am working with the massive 600mm lens and tripod with gimbal head and even taking the heavy 500mm to the zoo. I was pleasantly surprised that the zoo would let me bring in a tripod, and with the help of Michael who carried the tripod, we went to the Africa Rocks Aviary and I was able to take images of Bee-eaters. I have always wanted to take a portrait of one because they are such gorgeous and entertaining birds. Another bird, the Paradise Whydah is the size of a small sparrow with tail feathers on the male during the breeding season, three times longer than the body.

The pond at the desert is once again filled with life and the heron and white egret compete for food alongside Say’s Phoebes, Black Phoebes, and Gray-Blue Gnatcatchers. Dragonflies are everywhere and provide food for all of the above. Bighorn Sheep are coming down from the mountains in search of water and while waiting for the herd to appear, a single, solitary, roadrunner zipped right past me.

The Geo Tracker is still in Canada and it will probably have to be totaled. I discussed the accident in the last post and don’t want to go into detail again about it, but it is the battle scars portion of the title of this blog post. Geico, our insurance company has at least decided to send an agent to the car instead of having the car towed to the States. That will help…

It will be a while before any of us feels like traveling again, so taking photos and possibly picking up a pencil and brush and painting is something of a possibility. Callie is doing well except for her asthma that is aggravated by all the fires here in Southern California and Michael and I are fine and biking and swimming once again. It is extremely important that you exercise when you get older, or everything falls apart and your health declines. I am now 64 years old and last year was a year for eye and neck surgeries and I am so appreciative that they were successful. I feel better than ever and I am looking forward to a wonderful year of travel and photography and good mental and physical health. Cheers to all you road warriors out there and may this be a year filled with high five adventures!

Poor Little Tracker

I mentioned earlier about our 1991 Geo Tracker that we tow behind with our 24ft Class C Icon RV and that it was having multiple issues. The trip to beautiful Banff and Jasper, in Alberta, Canada has been marred with one break down after another. Canada is extraordinary though, and I hope to go back this spring, summer, and fall. The wildlife is abundant and the campgrounds are so beautiful; it is a wildlife and landscape photographer’s, dream vacation.

When we arrived in Banff and pulled into our campsite spot which Fred and Becky had managed to reserve for us, Michael joyously unhitched the car for the first time since leaving Southern California but found that the ancient battery was dead. He called around and located a Napa store and biked the old battery into town, biked back again, and replaced it with a new one. The next day we all piled into Tracker and went to the beautiful, Banff hot springs but agreed unanimously that the car was still riding rough, so I looked up a local mechanic, Mountain Men, and Michael scheduled an appointment to check out the car. Michael and I tried our best to relax and enjoy the moment, but in the back of our minds, Tracker weighed heavily in our thoughts.

After examining our cute little car, the mechanic decided that a tune-up was in order because it was missing and stalling. Michael gave them the OK and they started work on it supposedly, right away. A couple of days later, and after approximately $700.00, Michael picked up the car again so that we could continue on to Jasper. In all fairness, the Banff mechanic was still not totally satisfied with the way it was running, but because we were in a hurry to move on, thought the car was at least trustworthy and wouldn’t break down.

Mind you, having car issues definitely ruined the drive to Jasper from Banff which crosses over the incredible icefields, and we will have to return to see them again. Because the car still ran rough once we arrived in Jasper, and he didn’t feel comfortable with how it was handling, Michael looked up Jasper Tire as soon as we arrived at the campgrounds. He had called around and they came highly recommended. Once he dropped it off and they had a chance to check it over, the mechanic thought the universal joint needed to be replaced, which would improve the roughness we felt as passengers. That solved what we thought was the final problem, and the car did in fact run much better. Jasper Tire BTW treated us very fairly and went beyond the call of duty by finishing the work in 8 hours. We too would highly recommend them.

The next day, Fred, Becky, Michael and I merrily drove up to the Miette Hot Springs, which is about 40 miles out of town and past, beautiful, golden aspen trees sprinkled among the pine forests that lined the roadway. We had a fantastic and relaxing soak this time in the luxurious settings of yet another hot springs and fortunately for us, we met a couple from New York, Wilson, and Isabelle, who ended up rescuing us when we again broke down on the narrow, 2 lane descent back to Jasper. It was just starting to get dark when Michael noticed the car had died as we sped downhill, and this time the car quit on us for good and we had to brake hard and all get out and push it off of the road. Wilson, being a mechanical engineer, and a kind and involved Good Samaritan, pulled over when he saw us standing by the car with the hood up and came over to help. He diagnosed it as mechanical failure because the car would turn over but not start. They cheerfully and generously volunteered to drive us all the way back to the Wapiti campground, which we gratefully accepted as we quickly locked up and abandoned Tracker for the night. Isabelle got in the back with Michael, Becky, and me, while Fred sat up front with Wilson because he was taller than the rest of us.

As we all chatted and the four of us gushed out our gratitude for being rescued, we got to know one another better, and they expressed an interest in seeing wildlife. Just as we rounded a curve where we saw elk earlier, we were able to spot bulls sparring on the side of the road near the town of Jasper which was something they had not seen yet. They both pulled out their iPhones and videoed an intense battle between two of them. If you haven’t seen the males fighting for the right to a harem of females, it is a spectacle like no other. I am amazed that they don’t kill each other more often. Wilson and Isabelle, who is a CPA by the way, ended up also seeing moose and a bear the very next day when they took us up on the suggestion to visit Maligne and Moose Lake. When Isabelle texted me her fabulous photos and videos, I praised her for getting the grand prize award.

In the morning, Michael and I got up early and drove back to pick up the Tracker, and this time we took it to a Chevy Dealership in Hinton. We figured mechanics that only worked on Chevrolets would finally get to the bottom of our car issues. A fuel injector was quickly diagnosed as the culprit but they couldn’t locate a fuel injector in any of the junkyards in the time frame available, so we had to go back and get the car without it being repaired.

We returned to dry camp that night in the Wapiti Campground and the next morning we got up early and headed west toward Seattle to visit a dear friend, Nancy, who had moved there from Encinitas, California several months ago. Fred and Becky decided to go to Yoho and we agreed to meet back up in Seaside, Oregon later that next week. We got as far as Merritt in British Columbia around 7 pm that day and stayed in a Rest Stop that night, exhausted and cold but slept well in spite of all the stress. We woke up to huge, semi-trucks idling their engines all night long and cheery truck drivers waving to me as I walked Callie in a heavy drizzle that morning. Little did we know that later in the day, disaster would strike once again.

Towing a vehicle behind the RV is a constant stress. But until now, the rewards have always outweighed the disadvantages, but sadly, not this trip. 80 miles north of a remote town called Blue River, we hit a pothole really hard and we just knew that something bad was surely going to happen. Not more than 5 minutes down the road, I smelled burnt rubber and insisted that Michael pull over and check out the source of the smell. He got out and walked around, and to our relief, did not notice anything amiss. He started the RV back up again and we pulled out onto the road while I kept an eye on the rear view camera. As soon as he pulled out, the Tracker was weaving back and forth, so I of course screamed at Michael that something was very wrong. I don’t handle this kind of stress very well anymore and tend to get a little emotional. I call it Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome because of all the adventures I have been through with him!

This time, when I got out and looked, and as he moved forward slowly, the back left tire was shredded and smoking and I once again screeched for him to stop! He did just that, and when he too saw the shot tire he admitted that we didn’t have a jack and that we were going to have to unhook the car to seek out help. We were just so glad it wasn’t the RV this time because we have had many blow-outs, and it is even less fun. Not 10 miles up the road, Michael spotted a sign for Tow Services and we were able to reach Shelly, the wife of Lang, who owned his own fleet of trucks, came to our rescue about an hour later. When Lang carefully checked the car over, he was horrified to share with us the full extent of the damage that had occurred!

Apparently, when we hit the pothole, as far as he could figure out, the engine somehow dropped into a low gear, loosening up the engine mounts and it locked both back wheels. So, not just one flat tire, but two tires and the engine is absolutely totaled. The good news is, is that we are talking about this and that we are all OK. He suggested that we take the bikes off of the rack on the car and put them on the RV because the car would have to be towed backward to a town called Blue River, which is about 80 miles west of the accident. We left the car with a highly recommended mechanic that Lang suggested and we will have to figure out what to do next. Geico, our insurance company needs to check the car out in the States before an assessment can be made. So we have to decide if it is worth it or not. The car is old and may have to be junked. It is the perfect tow car though and it will not be an easy decision to make.

I was so glad we weren’t towing the Tracker when we headed west to Washington because of the steep grade through the Coquihalla Summit and pass. There was a truck emergency brake off-ramp every mile or so which was rather unsettling to me. Having the car behind us would have stressed out our brakes because it was really scary even without the car towed behind the RV. The pass is gorgeous though and worth seeing if you are traveling in a trustworthy vehicle. Maybe I should be grateful that the Tracker broke down before we left Canada.

The four of us plus Callie have been reunited now in Seaside, Oregon, and I am happily writing about my fantastic travel adventures in hindsight! Fortunately for me, I am alive and well, and safe in Pipsqueak with raindrops pinging dramatically on the metal roof above me. I will write stories of Washington and our visit with Nancy another day. Callie, of course, takes all of this in stride at the helm of of the RV, cool as a cucumber, and aloof as only a cat can be.

Jasper National Park

When we left Banff for Jasper Park last week , we had to drive past the Columbia Icefields, and what a spectacular drive it was. The scenery is breathtaking and the rock formations and mountains that were tipped over on their sides like someone had pushed them, is surreal. The sides of the mountains that were once the floor upon which to walk on are now verticle cliffs of tremendous heights. The forces of tectonic plates and the upward thrust to the Canadian Rockies is like nowhere else in the world. Fall is in the air and the aspens are turning gold already and the nights dipped into the ’30s. By the time we left, snow had dusted the Rockies. Callie, of course, took her rightful place on the dash of the RV and watched the beautiful scenery fly by as we traveled to Wapiti Campground.

We have been here since Wednesday and had to take the Tracker in one more time in order to finally fix the problem. The universal joint was the last to be fixed after a new battery and time-up. The little car that couldn’t, is now the car that can. We drove to Moose Lake yesterday and had the unique experience of watching a mother moose come down to the water’s edge with her yearling calf. It was a really special event to watch the two of them snorting quietly to one another as the mother eased into waist-deep water.

I just finished an update on the car, which didn’t fare well after all but wanted to make sure that Jasper got its fair due. It is a gorgeous park, hit hard by the pine bore beetle, but beautiful never the less. We saw lots of elk and bighorn sheep, moose, but no wolves or bears. I would have loved to photograph them. That is ok though.

Squirrel Nutkin

It is another day in paradise. Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada, in spite of the rain, is a paradise to Callie and us. It is so cozy in our 24′ Class C RV and our little “Squirrel Nutkin” is snug as a bug in her bed on the front driver’s seat. She is buried under a quilt that my mother made and is snoring away this morning. To give credit where credit is due, the term squirrel nutkin was first coined by a famous English writer, Beatrice Potter, who wrote children’s books about Winnie the Pooh.

Callie has asthma that developed after she was kenneled for several weeks when we went to Maui on vacation. The stress of being boarded triggered a cough that was not diagnosed properly for many months. It took a vet in Morro Bay, a Dr. Stephens, to figure it out and get her on prednisone. She may also have a food allergy to chicken, a common food source allergen, and is now on a salmon limited ingredient diet to control her itchy ears.

I have found a quick remedy to her asthma attacks is by getting out the brush and brushing her. She seems to hold her breath and starts to purr in ecstasy while being brushed, and the coughing stops. It has actually worked every time and I highly recommend it for those of you that have pets with asthma. I have been able to reduce her steroid consumption and only start a series of it when all else fails. Taking steroids has its side effects, and it is best to try and limit the use of prednisone if at all possible.

Banff National Park

Once we left Las Vegas in our quest to meet up with Fred and Becky in Banff, Alberta, Canada, there has been one adventure after another. Long days of being on the road made for an especially sweet reunion because Fred was able to secure a campsite for us in the Tunnel Mountain Campground. This is an incredibly popular area for camping, and we were very fortunate to have a place to rest and recover from after the arduous task of several days of travel.

And spending just one night in our campground, restless, hyperactive Michael decided that we needed to drive in to see Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. It has been many years since I have been here, and Becky has never been, so we all piled into the Tracker, aka rattletrap, but only after driving into town to purchase a new battery; the 1991 Geo Tracker wouldn’t start this morning, but that is another story for another time. Once that was taken care of, and because I won’t bore you with the details, off we headed along the Canadian I Highway and the 45-minute drive to take in the sites.

We knew we were in trouble when we passed the overflow parking lot for Lake Louise filled up to capacity. With spirits high and a real sense of adventure just percolating below the surface, we found ourselves ground to a frustrating halt with all the other fools who didn’t think the warning signs applied to them either. After a long wait and a very slow crawl, we were escorted right back out to the road because all of the parking lots, surprise, were also filled to capacity. With mounting frustration, we drove back down the mountain and around to the Morain Lake entranceway just as they were putting roadblocks up. Michael braked hard and I rolled down the window and we all flashed a pleasing smile as I begged to be allowed in. Fortunately, the attendant took pity on our souls and moved the barrier aside, closing it back up again quickly after we raced through. We were the last car to be allowed in and zipped back up the road without anyone in the rearview mirror. With renewed hope and new vim and vigor, we gleefully sped along to the lake with raindrops pinging down on the windshield of the car. The rain just couldn’t decide whether it wanted to be hail, sleet or snow and acted very strangely, to say the least.

At the top of the road and just as we were going to park the car, the Tracker sputtered and stalled and Michael had to roll it back as he popped the clutch to get it started. Talk about stress, he did manage to park the car though with a sigh of relief after several nerve-wracking attempts! We thought that it would be the end of our troubles and jumped out of the car with a newfound urgency and gleefully raced over to the lake with dark clouds building and a spattering of sunshine dazzling the mountainsides and lighting up the glaciers that somehow held on to impossibly steep and jagged cliffs.

Moraine Lake is a glacier-fed body of turquoise blue water that allows people to canoe, kayak, and row boat over on the calm and glassy surface. There were so many people around though, that it was difficult to take any decent photos without having strangers photo bomb your images. We somehow managed anyway and Becky got a decent photo of me and Michael, and I got one of them. I decided not to wear my neck brace today because I am totally sick of it and it has been 7.5 weeks. I hate selfie sticks by the way and refuse to use one! We had fun anyway and would have stayed much longer except that storm clouds formed once again and it started to rain, ever harder this time. Everyone raced for cover as we ran to the car and piled in again only to find out that the car still had difficulty starting. Long story short, we barely made it back to the campground, and only to Fred and Becky’s doorstep, before the car died for good. Michael probably flooded it this time and we are going to give the vapors a chance to evaporate before trying again later.*

It is a lovely evening out and I can hear squirrels chattering and scolding one another as I write. Fred and Becky are going for a walk and Michael is asleep on the couch. Tomorrow more rain is expected and the temperature is going to drop. Today was in the low 70’s and quite comfortable in spite of the rain. Needless to say, Banff is spectacular in spite of the crowds, and there really isn’t any place like it in the world. We hope to stay here for several more days and then we will pack up and head on to Jasper.

* Michael had to take the Tracker into Mountain Men Mechanics in Banff to try and diagnose and fix what ails it.

Lost Wages

The running joke about visiting Las Vegas is that it is called, “Lost Wages” because gamblers lose their life savings and wages to the casinos. In my case, if and when we do hit the gambling casinos, I would rather spend the money on chocolate.

We made it to The Oasis RV Resort, Saturday, late afternoon, after an uneventful drive of about 4.5 hours. A heat spell hung over the city the first couple of days and 109 degrees made the side of the RV that was facing the sun, super hot to the touch and I had to hang a quilt over the window to keep it cool enough inside. The air conditioner was working overtime, trying to keep the cabin comfortable. Fortunately, yesterday and today are cooler.

I have been going over to the pool where pine and palm trees are planted, and birds are resting in the shade of their branches during the heat of the day. I discovered an Inca Dove, American Robin, Great-tailed Grackles, and of course, Rock Doves which are commonly known as pigeons. They are all urban dwellers and somewhat accustomed to human contact, but aiming a camera lens at them, always seems to spook even the bravest bird to want to take flight. I have to talk and coo quietly to them and try to reassure the birds, that I am not a predator.

Callie is back to being walked on the leash and does quite well until she sees a pigeon. Then she squats down like a sphinx and stares at the potential meal with her tail swishing back and forth. The birds aren’t used to seeing cats on leashes and come over and just out of reach of her to get a closer look. This drives her absolutely crazy. A soft chatter emits from her chest and she can barely contain her excitement at the possibility of tasting pigeon. I have to shoo them away before disaster strikes.

Tomorrow we are getting up extra early and will be pulling out to make it to Twin Falls, Idaho Wednesday evening. Our friends, Fred and Becky will meet us in Jasper on Friday or Saturday, so we have some long days of travel ahead of us. Callie doesn’t mind at all, and is thrilled to be back on the dash watching the road whiz by for miles and miles. Canada, here we come.

Hit the Road Jack

We are preparing for the journey north to Banff and Jasper and are really excited to be hitting the road With Callie again. I haven’t been able to travel much due to surgery on my spine for cervical stenosis. I have 2 more weeks with the brace on and then I should be able to resume most of my forms of exercise. I have had to lay off with biking and it has been too warm for much walking. I thought I would have to give up photography too, but compromised with a handheld lens and not using my 600mm lens and tripod.

Callie goes into the vet today for a rabies shot and checkup so that I can have her paperwork in order. Crossing into Canada, they may or may not ask for it, but I want peace of mind and she is now running around free at the RV Park and there are other cats that she comes into contact with. She has been doing pretty good with her asthma but her ears are still very itchy. It is due to allergies and the best I can do is to put steroid drops in daily and limit her outside activities. I can relate, sometimes I sneeze 20 times and I itch too:-)

The vet in Morro Bay thinks she might have a food allergy to chicken, and several days ago I bought Natural Balance Limited Ingredients that is chicken free. She has been wolfing it down ever since and wouldn’t you know it, this morning she got me up at 4:45 with a tummy ache and was barfing. I have to scramble up and over my husband and shimmy down a ladder in the loft to get to her. She was considerate enough to throw up on the linoleum and not the sofa and rugs.

I have been taking photographs of the wildlife right here in the RV Park so that I don’t have to get in the car. It is really quite amazing how much there is all around you if you take the time to listen and observe. Can you imagine the subject matter I am going to come across in the Pacific Northwest?

Right in your own Backyard

We are preparing for a trip to Banff and Jasper in Alberta, Canada, in the next couple of weeks, just as soon as I get the OK to head north after my cervical stenosis surgery. I am hoping that the neck brace can come off in two and a half weeks. The concern is whether the two level fusion took and is healing correctly. It really hasn’t been that big of a deal and I am so appreciative that it hasn’t slowed me down with my photography. As long as I only use the 70-200mm lens with a teleconverter, all is well.

I am also testing out the use of uploading my blog post via laptop. I have been using my iPhone believe it or not and thought since I have the use of the internet now thanks to a next-door neighbor across the street, I would like to see what it is actually like to type on a keyboard and sit at a table. What a difference it is making as far as visualizing what the text looks like, and it is certainly more comfortable on the eyes.

Every morning now I am getting up and walking through the neighborhood in search of birds to photograph for 500px. I am thrilled to say that I am finding more birds than I thought were possible without even getting in the car. My favorite is an Allen’s Hummingbird that only breeds along a narrow strip of coastline in California and Southern Oregon. It has beautiful golden feathers with rust and green and looks very similar to the Rufous Hummingbird. I spotted a Cooper’s Hawk the other day on a power line, and Say’s and Black Phoebes are also numerous. Northern Mockingbirds serenade me with their stolen repertoire and Monarch Butterflies settle down silently on brightly colored flowers that grow in well-tended gardens. It is with great pleasure that I can actually find wonderful subject matter to photograph right here in my own backyard.

Callie will have to be current on all of her vaccinations and I am taking her into the vet at the end of next week. It is necessary for her to have a Health Certificate in order to cross international borders and we will need passports too. I just about have everything in order and am really looking forward to this trip. Our friends, Becky and Fred will be caravaning with us and it will be Becky’s first time RVing for an extended time. We hope to be gone for about a month. Camping can be so much fun, but it is also a lot of work. I can’t believe it has been over 3.5 years since we flew to Huntsville, Alabama to pick up Pipsqueak, our 24 ft Class C Icon. It has given us loads of fun and excitement and an escape route out of the desert during the hot summer months.


They Wash Windows in Canada

Callie got to witness first hand a window-shield washer in a gas station in Tofino, BC. It was just a tad bit disturbing for her when he wielded his tool for cleaning. She braved it out though and it became a Kodak moment. The Canadians have been so friendly and welcoming to us, even in spite of Trump and his alt-right agenda spewing hatred and racists nationalism. And to think that they still wash window shields! Amazing.

We had a lovely drive from Tofino to Genoa Bay and will be heading to Victoria today and leave on the BC ferry tomorrow morning for Port Angeles. I will miss Canada, especially when the politics in America are so disturbing and embarrassing to me. I can only hope that the GOP comes to its senses and puts country before political agenda.

All Good Things Must Come to an End

With a heavy heart, we must pack up today and head back to the RV. We still have a couple more days or so on the island, but sailing with Tom and Frances has come to an end. What an extraordinary time we have had with my brother and sister in law. Tom designed and built Alfresco 41 years ago, and it is an incredible sailing vessel. She is 18 ft wide and 38 ft long. Because it is a catamaran, they don’t pitch side to side, but only speeds up when the wind increases. Both of the hulls are sleeping quarters, as is the cabin area. It is a magnificent creation and the first of many sculptures Tom has created.

Frances played the ukulele for us in the evening and sang beautiful, old Nova Scotia songs with her soft, innocent voice ringing out across the calm waters. Callie behaved herself while she enjoyed the sailing experience, and her curiosity didn’t get the best of her. She wanted to jump over to the dinghy that is tied up to the side of Alfresco but had to be reminded with a slap on Alfresco’s side, that it wasn’t a good idea…