We broke up our BTE (remember, Big Trip East?) into ‘bites” of 400 miles or less, often less than 300, so that we could stop and smell the roses (and pine trees, and freight trains, and cow pastures, but I digress). The first leg ended at Tamarack RV Park smack dab in the middle of downtown Coeur D’Alene Idaho.

We have some besties there that we haven’t visited in a while, so they arranged a dinner reservation, and we also wanted to visit their new puppy, Dora Bell (NOT doorbell, we are repeatedly told). She’s cute, they’re fun, and dinner was delish!

That’s Dora Bell, and honestly she doesn’t look real until she moves, which is constantly.

We yakked on for hours, as we always do when we see each other every couple of years, and eventually had to pull the plug to catch some ZZZ’s before the next day’s drive to Glacier National Park.

The next morning pre-departure, however, we discovered that we had to make a payment to an appraiser in Florida to keep the timeline on the close of our construction loan, and that became a little difficult when we realized we had packed our checkbooks with the household goods. I mean, who uses checks anymore? Well, it turns out appraisers and title companies do. Luckily, there was a branch of our bank across the street (yay for camping in the downtown!), and a short walk after breakfast resulted in a cashier’s check and an envelope, and that went into the nearby Post Office.


We’re hoping there aren’t any more of these little emergencies along our way, perhaps when we are in an internet black hole. We expect one such black hole in Glacier, because when we were there 12 years ago there wasn’t even a cell signal much less WiFi.

Speaking of black holes, there is probably one where my hair stylist used to stand. On my last day at work, I declared that I would go “full hippy” for the BTE, and I had no idea that I would make great progress on that front this early! I mean, just look at the “then” and “now” pictures here!

And here’s a fun fact: not all gas stations have high covered bays. (It looks closer than it is.)

Always a good idea to know how “tall” your rig is (I do). Photo courtesy of Wendy, you can practically hear her teeth gritting!

And a quick update on Racy Lacy: Wendy found her a pair of puppies of her own to travel with. Meet Flora and Ida. (Note to Editor: less than 1 week on the road and already mentally unstable)

We’ve been tracking our moving van across the country. We’re sure you all will be happy to hear that it was in Point of Rocks, Wyoming at last report. (Note to Editor: Point of Rocks? Really?)

The drive to West Glacier, Montana was pleasant and scenic. Mountains, more mountains, and yet more mountains, then a very long valley full of mostly cows and lakes. Those are the Rockies in the distance, and yes, we will have to find a way over them at some point.

It is political campaign season, and the billboards and yard signs all reminded us we are in a very very conservative part of the country. We stopped for gas, and every pump had one of these on it.

You are definitely in a Red County here.

Wendy came up with a great idea to help us pass the time, and to commemorate our BTE. At every stop, and on every day, we will paint and inscribe a pair of smooth rocks with the same quotation (she has a massive list), resulting in what we call “the twins”. One will be inscribed on the reverse with the date, the location, and our blog address; the other will be inscribed with the date, location, and name of the RV park. We’re planning on putting the twin inscribed with our blog address either in our RV campsite, or somewhere along the road when we make a stop. The other will go into our new garden in Florida. We’re hoping that some of the finders will tune into the blog and leave a comment about finding the rock.

We planned 2 nights in West Glacier Montana, which were originally designed to be an off-grid decompression stop, no internet, no cells, just peace and quiet and sleep and hikes.

But sometime in the last 12 years 5G came to West Glacier. Our “remote” RV park, which advertises “WiFi if you are less than 50 yards from the office”, had a very robust 5G signal, even way out on the perimeter where we were. Our 5G smart phone hotspots happily connected all our devices, smart TV included, to the internet. We were able to stream all our favorite TV shows, email, text, Facetime, even write and post this blog. Despite all that, it was still peaceful, we got plenty of rest, and we hiked. We intended to hike from Lake McDonald Lodge to John’s Lake, about a 3-mile round trip. We ended up hiking about 4 miles and never finding John’s Lake because we followed a smart looking hiker with multiple trail maps that looked like he knew what was going on. Rule #2 in the Book of Smart Living: never make assumptions. The last time this happened to us, we were on a self-guided walking tour of Rome, and there was so much sidewalk construction that we literally walked within 1/8 of a mile of the Coliseum several times without seeing it, in spite of walking well over 10 miles. I mean, you can see the damn thing from space! And we didn’t find it. That was a little like John’s Lake.

We’re off tomorrow to West Yellowstone, where it is forecast with “light snow” for 2 days. Stay tuned! The adventure continues.

And, h e e e e e r’s Tippy!

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T Minus 1

Our last post brought us up to Crunch Time, those last few hours where all the rubber hits the road hard. In this case Crunch Time was the 24-hour period where the UPack van arrived, followed early the next morning by the labor hired through InMove, a local moving services company.

Between the van arrival on Wednesday, and the labor arrival Thursday morning, we took advantage of the fact that the facility closes tight at 9PM, when nobody can roam the building or the property until 6AM the next morning. We moved organized piles of stuff into the loading bay close to the van, giving us the opportunity to separate out things we really want to have access to on our arrival. If we directed the 3 men who we hired to load that stuff into the “nose” (front) of the van, that same stuff would come off the van last on the other end when it all goes into a storage unit in Florida. In that way it ends up nearest the door to the unit, and accessible. Things like our 2 kayaks, Ginger and Maryann (see the previous blog), all the stuff for kayaking, our comfy camping chairs, wardrobe boxes with more clothing, Wendy’s sewing cabinets, my tool boxes and bench drawers, all the things we will no doubt slap our forehead at some point while saying “I wish we hadn’t packed that….”

We also made several piles of different sizes of boxes that could be stuffed, Tetris-style, into cavities in the loaded van; super light stuff that can be packed way up high in the load; linens and pillows packed in garbage bags that can be stuffed around other stuff to take up space, etc. If you can eliminate the empty spots, you can stabilize the load and keep things from breaking or scratching too much.

In doing this we supercharged the first hour of van loading, which was costing us $155/hr for the 3 strong young men. We hired them for a 5-hour window, which started at 8:30AM when they arrived. But by 11:00 they were done. I had worked hours on an engineering plan to most efficiently fit all the stuff into the van, and hopefully save us some money, and within 2 minutes of starting I threw the plan into the trash. I had challenged them to fit the entire load into 22 feet of the 28-foot van, and the boss of the crew had assured me they would need the entire 28 feet. The boss came to us at 10:45 and announced that if we could “do without” the 2 blue upholstered desk chairs, he could save us 2 feet. I did the quick math and noted that 2 feet was $288. We bought those chairs on Craigslist for $25. “Put ‘em in the dumpster” I said. I went out a few minutes later and saw that they had managed to fit them nicely into the existing pile by reorganizing it and we got the chairs AND the $288. It was a good day.

22 feet (or slightly less), AND the blue chairs! Winner winner, chicken dinner!

It was strange but invigorating to see the end of the job.

It all happened so fast it was hard to believe we were finally about done. A long year-and-a-half had come down to the wire. The van was picked up and our lives shifted earnestly to the east.

We retired to our new home by the Lake (Pleasant),

where our lives were dominated by the geese. We were visited daily, right about dinner time, by 3 adults that escorted 35 babies of graduated ages from tiny hatchlings to gawky “teenagers” that would be ready to start stretching and trying their wings within a couple of weeks.

3 Adults, 35 babies. I don’t think they ever have to mow this lawn.

We have a little guest, who will likely feature prominently on our journey. Meet Racy Lacy, whose twin, Fancy Nancy, lives with Robin, Wendy’s BFF “Storage Friend” (another story entirely). Lacy lounges around the rig, gazing at us and out the window at the geese and the lake. I’ll see if we can coax some comments out of her in the future.

And, of course, Tippy always has to get his $.02 in.

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T Minus 2

Just short of “Launch” for our BTE (Big Trip East), we have been very very busy packing not only our household for transfer, but our temporary household for the trip. We will, of course, be living in our RV until the house in Florida is finished, and they haven’t even broken ground yet. But they will soon, and we will already be on our way.

First (and most Important!) we are officially retired. Again. We tried this once 12 years ago, and apparently didn’t consult the User Guide, because it didn’t stick. We have learned stuff however, like establishing a stout anchor for your retirement, something to keep you retired. Like buy a piece of property and build a house, for starters. So we did that, and now we’re now retired, and we have the shirts to prove it.

Having made the decision to do this many moons ago (October 2020 to be exact), we have had plenty of time to pack our apartment. At least one would think that. But the reality is that you can’t pack something until you no longer need it, and that fact isn’t influenced by a long planning and execution period. So, we did the best we could, which first meant deciding what we could do without (packing), and what we couldn’t (trying not to pack). Some stuff was easy, and we partially filled a storage unit with stuffed and taped boxes way ahead of schedule.

In the 3 weeks before our retirement, we also had to take a week of vacation and travel south to California to assist Wendy’s other 3 siblings in the cleaning out and closing down of her fathers house in Bass Lake. He passed last summer, and this was the first time all 4 sibs could gather at the same time to get this done. It was also the last week they would have access to us because of our schedule. That monkey wrench of a week set us back and put some real motivation on our final packing push when we returned. We had just enough vacation left to take our last week fully off so we could get moved into our RV, park it at a local RV park, and then go to town packing everything left in sight (and out of sight we discovered) in the apartment. We built 2 packing stations, one in the shop at the rear of the apartment,

and one in the kitchen. We had been acquiring boxes and packing materials for months, and we ripped through that big pile pretty quickly in the 3 days after we moved out of the apartment and into the RV.

We planned a multiple pronged attack on moving all our stuff. The truck and travel trailer RV was easy, we were living and traveling in that. It also became like a giant suitcase we could live out of. Wendy’s car would go on an Auto Transport and be delivered to our relatives Donna and Glen in Florida. We sold our cargo trailer, no longer needing that, and having literally no way of transporting it east. And last but not least, the MG Midget would also go on an Auto Transport to Florida but had to wait for us to arrive on that end before it could arrive, since Warren is currently the only family member that can consistently start it and drive it. Our replacement managers, Debbie and Tommy, have graciously offered to handle that end of the deal, and will see it on its way in June as we languish in Savannah Georgia.

To move our household goods, we chose UPack, a division of ABF Freight. We have used them in the past, and quite frankly we consider them to have the best customer service in the business. Their quotes are extremely competitive, they deliver on time or ahead of schedule. They are super easy to communicate with and have 2 options for transport: the ReloCube is a smallish pod that is delivered to your driveway (or storage facility), you fill it up and lock the door, and they pick it up and deliver it to your destination. Use as many as you need, and you can even order more than you need and they will only charge you for the ones you fill up and lock. No guessing! The second option is a “fractional van”, a 28’ long semi trailer that gets delivered to you, you fill it up either part way or all the way, and they charge you by the foot. If you fill it part way, you then position a two-piece bulkhead inside and lock it into place. UPack reserves the right to then rent (or not) the rest of the van to someone else who’s move origin and destination dovetail into your move. We used 21’ of our van, and probably will not have a “hitchhiker” for the trip. The trailer, after they take it away, gets put onto a flatbed rail car, and your stuff makes most of its journey on rails. This helps to hold the price down, and to make the delivery dates pretty solid. We can track the progress of our van online as it makes its way across country. It’s reassuring to us to be able to do that.

There was never any doubt in our mind that we were going to do this. But, in an odd coincidence, on our last day of work (not quite our official retirement date), the clock on the wall in our kitchen, which is battery powered, quit at 12:20PM. I was planning on taking the battery out of it for packing, but it must have known this all on its own and just went to sleep right as we stopped needing it!

And it wasn’t all packing either. Part of the motivation for our May 16 “launch date” was that our grandson has his 9th birthday on May 14, and we wanted to participate. As part of the plan, Grandma Wendy made a special trip mid-pack to his house in Seattle to have him and his sister assist in building the 3 birthday cakes needed for his multiple small birthday parties.

As always, Tippy has something to add.

Posted in Florida Bound | 3 Comments

Gilligan and the Twin Yachts

As we careen down the road toward our BTE (Big Trip East), lots of preparation is going on. Lots of it is stuff we wouldn’t think of if a deadline wasn’t prowling around waiting to slap us in the face in a couple of months, and as a result a long list is developing. We crossed one of those items off the list this week and it coincidentally is also one of my Bucket List items, so a big double GoodOnYa for us!

It’s likely, unless you are our age (or so), you have never seen Gilligan’s Island on TV. It’s a story about a “3-hour cruise” that results in an island shipwreck that went on for many seasons and featured a cast of characters that included First Mate Gilligan (Bob Denver), the Skipper (too), a millionaire and his wife, a movie star, the Professor and Mary Ann, all on Gilligan’s Isle! You can find the music lyrics online to fact-check all of this but be warned it’s a vicious ear worm tune. It was a cute show, and slapstick funny, but the most salient lore that fell out of it was the age-old “Ginger or Mary Ann” question that has vexed many of us, especially guys, for decades. Ginger was the sexy, glamorous Movie Star in the tight long white gown, while Mary Ann was from Kansas, a perky, ponytailed, tight short-shorts Girl Next Door. You get the picture, or if you don’t you can stop reading right here.

I’ve failed to come to grips with an answer to that question all my life. Perhaps I don’t WANT to come to an answer, because that would be the end of it. But I think I have come to a compromise. Several years ago, we took our boat, the Knot Done Yet, up to Canada, staying in the very posh Van Isle Marina near Sidney B.C. because we couldn’t get a space in the much cheaper municipal marina. The space they reserved for us was a “small space”, suitable for a “smaller yacht”. We checked in, and a nice dockmaster in a dinghy escorted us to the slip, which turned out to be 60 feet deep and 20 feet wide, considerably larger than our little 27’ speedboat. Our boat wasn’t quite yet a yacht, although it aspired to be one when it grew up, and we felt slightly self-conscious in the shade of the much, much larger (and taller) True Yachts that surrounded us.

Not Our Boat
Our Boat, the Knot Done Yet

That feeling quickly vanished when a parade of captains of many of these True Yachts started slowly walking by to admire the sleek lines of our “sports boat”. When one, who was very likely voyeuristically reliving his past, asked “How fast is that thing?”, we realized that while his True Yacht was several orders of magnitude larger in tonnage to ours, ours was nearly a full order of magnitude faster than his. Game, set, match. In a world where size obviously matters, we had managed to establish Mariner Equality. We became accepted members of the True Yacht crowd for the rest of the weekend.

We were taking advantage of the Beverly Hills of marinas by walking the gangways and admiring all of our new BFF’s boats, when we came across two slips. One was empty, and the one next to it had a smart True Yacht:

This guy really has it all going on! So, where’s Mary Ann?

My immediate thought was “Where is Mary Ann?”. I quickly became convinced that this particular Captain was the fanciful owner of TWO True Yachts, obviously, and the missing one just had to be Mary Ann. This genius had solved his Gilligan’s Isle choice crisis by opting for BOTH! And obviously spent half of his time with one, the other half two-timing with the other. Brilliant! And thus, the root of my Bucket List obsession was planted. I resolved myself to one day achieving that same solution. I would own TWO True Yachts, with the same naming convention, and split my time between my marine mistresses.

A few years have passed, and Daddy Warbucks hasn’t yet knocked on my door with the financing for this dream, but I managed to get to a slightly downsized resolution. Way back in the first paragraph, I mention our preparation for the BTE. That preparation involved acquiring 2 kayaks of a specific length such that they could be carried on the rear deck of our travel trailer, exactly 8 feet, giving us the ability to splash about with all of nature in the southern waterways along our BTE path. They are identical, and while not True Yachts, they are boats, they float, and better yet, they have space for a name! So, with help from Wendy’s Cricut (a marvelous little machine that she will soon wear out, I’m sure), we christened them!

The Cricut Master doing her magic
Halfway to the Dream
Dream complete!
Waiting for adventure

I feel a sense of immense accomplishment. True to my expectations, our True Yacht (at least in my head) kayaks have fulfilled a dream for me. These two miraculous adventure machines will, of course, have prominent appearances in future blogs, unless they, along with us, get consumed by a Gator named Gilligan. I’ll be in the market for a guest blogger for THAT installment!

To that end, Tippie has some advice (doesn’t he always?).

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Let it Snow, Let it Snow

It’s been quite a while since the last post, in March, where we got to watch people blow something up. That’s hard to top on my playlist, but it isn’t why content has been thin (and thin is being generous!). We haven’t done a ton of camping, and what we have done has been unremarkable. But this last weekend, that changed.

Most don’t yet know this, but we are retiring (again!) in the Spring of 2022. Unsure where we wanted to retire, we took a few scouting trips and found a perfect match in Palm Coast, Florida ( Located on the St. John’s River along the northeast coast of the state, between Daytona Beach and St. Augustine (the oldest city in America), the weather is temperate, and the town and locals are amazing. Although we toured at least a half-dozen of the cities in the general area of the coast, we kept being drawn back to how clean Palm Coast was. We never saw any graffiti, or any blue tarp homeless encampments. Apparently between the excellent city services, and the strong church community, folks who have fallen a few pegs on their luck find services at the community, and sometimes neighborhood level, to keep them going. It’s very refreshing. And it doesn’t hurt that we could easily afford to acquire a home and live there on our retirement budget. We wanted to stay near a coast, and the West Coast didn’t offer a solution, but this East Coast locale is just right.

After a thorough search of the area, and with the luxury of months until we needed it, we opted to purchase a very affordable, buildable lot (a corner, about 1/3 of an acre), and hired a contractor to build a house to our liking. All in, it will cost about ¼ of the same house in our current location in Washington.

In the Spring, when we do finally hang up the spurs at work, we will make our way cross-country in our travel trailer to get to our new home, a trip of about 4,400 miles. It will take a month, and it will give fistfuls of opportunities to blog away at all the amazing things we plan to see. Stops at Glacier National Park, Yellowstone, Mt. Rushmore, Carlsbad Caverns, Memphis, Nashville, Asheville, and Savannah, and many small cities in between. So, stay tuned.

Our house in Palm Coast will be almost exactly like this, right down to the color

But enough about next year. How about last weekend? For Christmas, we decided to find a nice destination for a trip with the trailer. We had been watching the weather and planning a 2-day trailer camping trip to Deception Pass State Park for Christmas day. It was forecasting “snow showers” and temps in the high 20’s, and we figured that wasn’t too bad, so off we went at noon on Christmas Day. We got set up in the campground with some flakes swirling, but no accumulation, and were very cozy all night. We both got an amazing night’s sleep because it was s o o o quiet. There were very few campers, to be expected. And we got a few snow showers, as we also expected. All very pleasant.

We woke up Sunday morning to about 3-4″ of accumulated snow, still not enough to change our minds. We’ve camped a few times in blizzards when we were living in our RV; this wasn’t anywhere near as bad as that.

We had come to relax, read, and do jigsaw puzzles, and that’s what we commenced to do.

What an eye test! All 1000 pieces.

However, about noon, our water pump quit. Since the mis-forecast temperature was below 20 degrees, I assumed the water lines or pump froze, or the pump just quit working. The State Parks leave the electricity hookups live during the winter but shut off the running water. So, we were at the mercy of our onboard supply and pump. Without running water, we decided to call it quits and packed up to head home. Our “winter camping trip” had a little too much Winter.

Shovel, scrape, and stow all the hookup stuff. It was 19F, and my fingers felt every bit of it.

We scraped snow and ice off everything as well as we could, got hooked up, and headed out. 200 yards down the road we took a tight left turn and, not realizing how frozen the dirt road was under the snow, we got stuck climbing a small hill when I stupidly stopped to take off my coat in the now-very-warm truck cab. Only we didn’t stop. We slid about 20 yards backward down the icy grade and came to a stop at the curve at the bottom, luckily still in a straight line, and luckily not contacting any trees or other park infrastructure. But we weren’t going anywhere. Even with 4-wheel drive, we didn’t have enough traction to get the trailer going up the hill, and couldn’t maneuver to try and back down the road. It’s 1 PM, we’re stuck, on a freezing Sunday, with very few folks around.

I called one tow company on Whidbey Island, and the person who answered the phone (!!) said it would be at least 6-7 hours before they could respond. We called AAA, and waited 30 minutes for an operator, who, after 20 minutes of checking this and that, told us they couldn’t do anything for us. Just as that call was winding up, a camper who was one of the Very Few, walked up and tapped on the window. He had a truck, and a winch, and might be able to help. Since we were blocking the one-way road around the campground, he went the other way around, parked just over the top of the hill facing us, and unwound his winch line toward us. It came up 15 feet short.

Fortunately, a 20 foot tow strap extended the winch line just enough!

Luckily, he had a 20 foot tow strap in his rig, which he fetched, and we got it hooked to my front towbar on the truck (another stroke of luck, because the strap wouldn’t make it around an axle). He winched slowly, and we gave a four-wheeled assist, and got halfway up the grade to the top. He then got in his truck and backed slowly down the other side, taking us all the way to the top on level ground. We undid all the towing stuff, and now free (and profusely thanking he and his wife), we were able to creep out of the campground and back onto the state road, which was plowed and de-iced. Our seemingly dire straits took about 1 hour total to overcome. We are truly blessed, and this is an excellent reflection on the RV community, who have never failed to help us just as we would never fail to help any of them in need.

So, all in all, Christmas went well. I’m still not sure how much damage the super freeze will do to the rig over the next 3 days, but I have plenty of time in the spring for repairs before we head East.

And now, Tippy would like to help us express our gratitude to our RV Community, everywhere, for being the best Stewards of The Road.

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Fort Worden: A Bomb and a Blast!

We worked a couple of snow days in early February, days when we had so much snow we told the Assistant Managers to stay home and we would fill in. It’s a great deal for us because, hey there’s about 10” of snow out there, and we aren’t going anywhere anyway! When this happens, we then earn a few extra days off.

We added one of those days to a normal 3 day weekend and booked an RV site at Fort Worden State Park, the Beach Campground. There are 2 campgrounds at Fort Worden, a beach affair which is open and expansive, with a beach that wraps around 2 sides of the long skinny property. The other is the Upper (Forest) Campground, which has sites sprinkled among the pines and firs on the hill above the old fort. Each campground has its own charm, depending on whether you prefer a forest view or sunshine and the smell of the ocean.

We left noonish on Friday morning (our bonus day off) and drove the rig onto the Kingston Ferry, then across the Hood Canal Bridge (where we just missed a boomer missile sub transiting out to a tour in the Pacific), further on to Port Townsend and then on through to Fort Worden. With all the recent snow, the view of the Olympics from the Hood Canal Bridge was very nice.

The snow-capped Olympic Range looking south from the Hood Canal Bridge

The old fort was built as a defensive gunnery emplacement to protect Puget Sound in World War I, just in case some of the extremely distant navies of our enemies decided to invade our homeland through the Pacific Northwest. It doubled down as an improved gunnery site for World War II, with the same predictable results: not a shot was fired at the enemy (for obvious reasons). But the gunnery batteries, which still exist sans guns, are impressive. Solid concrete doesn’t even start to describe it with many of the walls seemingly feet thick, and tunnels running everywhere so the soldiers manning the guns and fetching munitions wouldn’t be subjected to enemy fire. The fort is pretty sizeable, and most of the facilities have been renovated and restored to use as a resort of sorts under the management of the Washington State Parks system.

The main fort is the long “Commons”, a grassy parade ground that is surrounded by base housing and administrative offices. The housing has been upgraded and refurbished as rental “cottages”, a few of which are 6 bedrooms, or “Condos” which are converted barracks housing. It seems like a perfect place for a large family reunion, and I’m sure it really jumps in the summer. At the ocean end of the Commons is the Beach Campground, and at the other is the Upper Campground. We walked the entire perimeter, and it’s about 2.5 miles with lots to see.

Above the fort Commons, on the bluffs to the West, are the gun batteries. Part of the fun of coming here is all the walking and hiking you can do to see all of the installations.

The Samuel Walker Bunker, underneath a 2-Gun Battery (gun images left intentionally blank)

There is a lot of signage telling you the history of it all, and the views are spectacular. There are some interesting buildings as well, that don’t have any signs, so we can only guess what they were used for. This one sits atop the hill, so it may have been an observation post. If I was Base Commander, I would have been tempted to hang a giant target on the ocean facing side of the tower.

Maybe an Observation Post? And yes, it was occupied by a renter

It rained on and off during our stay, but we caught a nice break on Sunday and opted to walk the perimeter of the park. Up a steep trail to the top of the bluff, and then west and back down to sea level where we found the old Chinese Gardens. What is now a pond used to be a drained shallow valley that was taken over by Chinese immigrants in the early 1900s. They grew produce which was then trucked into town as far away as Seattle for sale. Anti-Chinese political sentiment eventually ran all of them out of the area, and the well-tended farms fell into retirement, and eventually flooded back into a pond.

While we walked we also collected rocks and driftwood to paint, a Zen experience that is incredibly relaxing. Wendy has quite a collection from all our camping, and this time she focused on painting a landscape scene from our beach onto a piece of driftwood found on the beach.

Grandma Wendy will someday be famous, I’m sure, for her Landscapes

Fort Worden sits adjacent to Port Townsend, the wooden ship capital of the Northwest. It’s an old seaport town with a decidedly Victorian flavor, and also home to two of our favorite restaurants. Breakfast was served at the Blue Moose, a smallish breakfast-and-lunch-only spot run by 2 sisters. Along with a great (big) breakfast, you get some cool antique furnishings and collectibles hung all over the walls.

A HUGE plate of corned beef hash and eggs at the Blue Moose Cafe

Lunch was served at Sirens, right on the waterfront and up a very steep flight of stairs. The atmosphere is inviting, the views are great, and the food is wonderful. The beer mug says it all.

In between the two restaurants, we strolled through the boatyard adjacent to the Blue Moose.

The soon-to-be-mentioned Mystery Pic

They fit out some pretty big vessels here, with a monstrous “Travel Lift” that can pluck boats longer than 100’ right out of the dockside. That mystery picture above came off the front of the Red Bluff, a heavy tug. Old tires make great bumpers for big ships, I guess. We got a few pictures to give some scale to it.

Winter camping is nice without all the summer crowds. The solitude and quiet offsets the less-than-spectacular weather. Returning from our perimeter walk, we were remarking that, unlike most, there was no real highlight to this trip to anchor this blog. But we spoke too soon. On our return we noticed a growing crowd of law enforcement vehicles, lights flashing, at the entrance to the park. I initially thought a donut truck had overturned, but soon a Camp Host came banging on our door to announce that someone had found “a piece of ordnance” on the beach, and that the bomb squad had been called to clear it out. It turned out to be a WWII artillery shell, apparently still live. A few hours later Mr. Bomb Disposal showed up, and the decision was made to detonate it in place rather than move it. We had nearly a front row seat for this, and I couldn’t have been happier. In my book, any day you get to see somebody blow something up is a very good day, indeed!

We watched and waited, and soon saw Mr. BD trailing a spool of wire back from the beach, to which he attached a hand switch. And shortly after, a siren sounded and a loudspeaker barked “Fire in the hole” 3 times. A rather loud boom and plume of smoke erupted, which really was only the beginning. The loud boom was likely the explosives used by Mr. BD, which then lit the old shell propellant on fire, which created a huge cloud of smoke that engulfed the whole entrance to the park for about a half hour. It was all very exciting, and definitely worthy of being a blog anchor!

A very satisfying end (BOOM) to a great weekend!

And last but never least, here’s Tippy, inspired by a handwritten sign we saw on our journey!

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Nothing Says Boonies like a Rusted Propane Tank Farm

The big feature of our trip this time was a first visit to Forks, WA. We’ll get to the actuals a bit later in the blog, but our title comes from our first impression, cruising through town on the main drag (Hwy 101), just before we blinked and missed the rest of it. It’s a common feature, we have found, that most towns way out of the way of big cities, have this: a large Propane or Natural Gas dealership with an inventory of pressurized gas tanks in varying states of serviceability, a polite way of stating “freshly painted or not”.

But first, let’s properly introduce our trip. After a hyper-strange 2020, we decided to start 2021 with a camping trip, hoping desperately to set the tone for a better year with some fresh air, exploration, and quiet relaxation. In late 2020, we had successfully negotiated a reduced work week, in a preplanned “slow slide back into retirement”, and welcomed 2021 with 3-day weekends, starting appropriately on the very first Saturday of the New Year, January 1. So, we packed up the rig and set off that morning to our base camp in the Olympic Peninsula, the Elwha Dam RV Resort located just outside of Port Angeles, WA.

The day dawned rainy, not our favorite weather, but we welcomed the opportunity for some exceptionally clean air and forged on. We had a wee bit of a hiccup when I mistakenly headed for the wrong ferry landing, intending to arrive at Edmonds for the crossing to Kingston, but instead seeing the Mukilteo landing in our windshield about the same time my brain went “Ooops”. We had given ourselves plenty of time, however, and made the 10 mile backtrack to the Edmonds landing in record time, arriving just in time to buy our ticket and drive onto the 10:20 boat right on schedule.

I always like crossing the Hood Canal Bridge, just in the off chance that one of our Navy’s giant missile subs will be making a transit. It’s quite a sight, with the escort ships spread out on all 4 corners of the giant hull of the sub, all trying to squeeze through the bridge opening. The bridge isn’t a draw bridge, rather the center section splits in the middle, with each side dropping down and retracting under the roadway to expose the opening. I’ve read that it frequently misbehaves and jams, which can take way more than an hour to get corrected, leading to sizeable traffic backups on both sides of this primary roadway. Not today, however; we sailed through smoothly (pun intended). The rest of the 1 ½ hour drive was without rain, but we had plenty of wind, gusting to about 50 mph at times. We took it slow, and arrived exactly as we wanted, just in time for the rain to start back up. I’m not a huge fan of setting up the rig in the rain, especially when it’s cold and windy, but the prospect of 3 days of camping away from all the craziness took the sting out of it.

Setup went quickly, the sites at Elwah Dam are nice and level, and pull-through for easy positioning. After we got situated, we took a drive into Port Angeles to scout out some ways to help support the locals. Takeout food seemed appropriate, and in the process of hunting that down we found the local donut shop, Sasquatch, which is only open a couple of days a week. Happily, Saturday was one of them. We scored enough tasty treats for the next 3 mornings.

Also in our short recon trip, we went down to the Port, where the Blackball Ferry provides service to Victoria BC. This very cool sculpture caught our eye.

Another sign that you are out in the boonies, a real reduction in the number of broadcast TV channels your rig’s antenna can pick up. Most RV campgrounds don’t provide a good enough wireless internet to make streaming TV content practical; in fact, most of them strictly forbid it. So, we settled for some late afternoon viewing of our childhood friend, Bugs Bunny! This is what passes for TV broadcast in Booniesville USA.

What’s up Doc?

While I don’t care much for rain while I’m camping, we absolutely love sleeping in the rig with the rain playing out on the roof at night. We call it Lullaby Rain because of the calming effect it induces, and the great night’s sleep we always get when it happens. Saturday night was such a night, resulting in a solid 10 hours of rejuvenation.

We woke up Sunday fully charged and ready for our primary mission: exploration of Forks, WA, the filming home for the Twilight series that chronicled a town populated with vampires. We never watched any of the shows many seasons, but nobody we know avoided the publicity that accompanied the fad it produced. We even had to visit the hamburger diner inspired by the show at Three Rivers Resort. A sign on the road declares “No Vampires Beyond This Point”. Did we feel safer passing that sign? Yawn.

The drive to Forks is predictably not very exciting. You are, however, driving through some very pretty forest, and past Lake Crescent, a charming resort destination tucked among the Olympic Range. About an hour after departure, Forks appeared in the windshield right after we crossed the Sol Duc River.

The main drag, Hwy 101, with the aforementioned Propane dealership, stretches from John’s Beachcombing Museum on the north, to the Forks Timber Museum (closed until further notice) on the south.

Of course, Closed Until Further Notice

The town teeters around Tillicum Park, which has a really nice Gold Star Families Memorial, another not-too-uncommon small town hallmark.

Tillicum Park also borders the town playing fields, which also border the town schools. A very efficient use of facilities and land that most big cities really can’t pull off.

Many small towns feature central play fields near schools

The nearby local bowling alley is punctuated by twin pyramids of presumably expended bowling balls. How those balls become expended is beyond me.

Just because we always do, we took a drive through some of the neighborhoods to see how the locals live. Probably because we were driving slowly and checking things out, we picked up a Sheriff shadow that followed us from a distance. Such are small towns, and we salute their diligence! Again, something the big city can’t reproduce.

We were advised by one of our tenants to visit Rialto Beach for some “great driftwood” scenic viewing. A side road to La Push took us there, where we also passed the Three Rivers Resort hamburger joint that apparently no longer offers refuge from vampires. Arrival at Rialto Beach is into a small well maintained parking area separated from the beach by a 10’ high berm absolutely covered with large driftwood piles.

The parking area is well maintained, but a little storm-beaten this day

The previous day’s storm had stirred up the Pacific Ocean considerably, and the surf roared. We climbed the berm on a narrow path and found a beach even deeper in huge driftwood that was under vicious assault by multiple sets of waves between 10 and 15 feet high that started out hundreds of yards offshore. Even the shore break was impressive. Not a surfer in sight, though; it might have simply been too much.

It was nature’s power at is finest. As a sailor and boater, I’m always awed by the pure energy of the ocean, and I couldn’t help but recall the many news stories of “Sneaker Waves” that catch onlookers off guard and sweep them away into the thrashing surf. In fact, since waves were literally pounding away at the shoreline not too far in front of us, we decided we had seen plenty and made our way back over the berm and into the parking lot. Less than a minute after that we heard shrieks and yelling, and saw ocean-soaked people running back over the top of the berm and climbing onto high piles of driftwood, and water washed over the top of berm, headed to the parking lot. We aren’t sure if anyone was caught in it, but on our drive out we were passed by 3 emergency vehicles headed toward the beach. We never saw anything on the news, so hopefully it was only a minor event.

The drive back to Elwha was just as pretty and uneventful as the drive out. On the way, we were rewarded with hints that the storm was breaking and might just give us a little sunshine.

And, indeed, once we returned to the rig, a short while later, the sun came out and gave us an opportunity to take a walk.

Our walk didn’t pan out. The ground around the resort was so saturated that small shallow rivers literally flowed through the campground and made the 10-minute hike to the old Elwha Dam site impassable. We had hiked up to the Elwha Dam several years ago not long after it and its companion dam, Glines Canyon, had been fully removed in 2014, and really wanted to see how the river had recovered. From my research, it is a remarkable transformation; where just a few years ago there was a dead river, now there is a beautiful cascading flow that is miraculously filled with growing salmon and steelhead trout runs reminiscent of those that existed over a hundred years earlier before either dam’s construction. Nature is a powerful force that will not be denied.

Our trip accomplished what we wished for. We left that beautiful spot well rested and recharged. We finished our donuts with gusto. We explored things we had never seen before. And we enjoyed not one, but 2 nights of Lullaby Rain. Here’s Tippy!

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A Very Together Thanksgiving

2020 is the Year of The Killer to me. Not so much in a sense of Jack the Ripper, but more along the lines of The Killjoy.

For many decades, Wendy and I haven’t had a Thanksgiving just to ourselves. It’s always been family and friends galore, traveling to and from, and food. Lots of food. We never even had a thought of a Thanksgiving without it. But, then the Year of the Killer came. It killed nearly all of our traditional gatherings with family and friends; it killed some poor souls; it killed jobs; it killed small businesses; it killed going to a movie; it killed smiling at strangers. And many of our Governors killed even leaving the house. Bah humbug.

So, for Thanksgiving this Year of the Killer, we found ourselves totally footloose and fancy free. What to do? Since we live in an industrial building, we just said “No” to a Stay-cation. We had 5 days off work, and that sounded like: Road Trip! But to where? Almost everything near our home was closed or heavily restricted. North to Canada? Not so fast, we’re closed hoser! South to Oregon? Nyet! East to Idaho? Hmmmm. We’ve always had Idaho in the back of our mind for retirement, we should go have a look-see! So off we went to the Land of Spuds!

There are some who would have us believe Idaho isn’t safe, that it’s the Motherland of White Supremacy, full of vitriol, guns, and anti-Semites. Bosh. One bosh isn’t even enough, so I’ll say it again. Bosh. These people should carefully assess the credibility of their news sources, or perhaps try reading past the headlines. This, in all likelihood, traces back to a single news story from 2016 about the failure of Richard Butler’s attempt to establish his Aryan Nations compound in Hayden Lake on the outskirts of Coeur D’Alene. While it’s true that at one point several hundred skinheads and swastika wearing wackos did camp there, the good people of Coeur D’Alene would have nothing of it, and with the help of lawyers from the Southern Poverty Law Center finally managed to scrub them from Idaho through lawsuits and bankruptcy. Today CDA, as it is known, is a beautiful, family-friendly, diverse small city with a fabulous lakefront in the middle of an expansive agricultural landscape. And what we saw of Idaho beyond CDA appeared the same. It’s a 5-hour drive, and off we went.

The weather cooperated nicely, which made the run through Snoqualmie Pass a breeze. We had a few “fat” raindrops, and a rogue snowflake or two at the summit, but the rest of the drive was clear, dry, and fast.

Just a few minutes of this, and done!

The vast lava-flow prairies of Eastern Washington fall gently away from the Cascades all the way to and past the Columbia River east of Ellensburg.

Even though you know it’s coming, it is still pretty majestic

The huge variety of scenery makes this first half of the drive like a travelogue. But once you cross the Columbia, and get through the gorge, it may as well be Kansas; what you see is mostly hay and grain farming, and the endless giant stacks of hay bales and silos at railway stops dot the land. Since we planned to make the drive on Thanksgiving Day, we did our traditional turkey dinner a few nights early. This gave us the best part of a Thanksgiving Dinner, the leftovers, and we made good use of them for our on-the-road Thanksgiving Lunch.

It’s hard to beat Turkey and Cranberry Sauce on a Hawaiian roll

Near the terminus of our drive we pass through Spokane, which anchors the other end of US 90 in Washington. Spokane and Coeur D’Alene are only about 15 miles apart on the highway, but they couldn’t be more different. Spokane is big and sprawling, with a large industrial streak across it; it takes a good 10-15 minutes just to drive through. CDA is more of a destination town, anchored by its lakefront instead of an Interstate. If you didn’t pay too much attention, you might well be past it and on your way to Montana without taking much notice.

It doesn’t look it from downtown, but this is a good sized lake. What a great downtown, eh?

We chose a smallish B&B near downtown because we like to walk a town versus drive it. Walking gives you a much more intimate perspective of what’s what, and who’s who. The Greenbriar Inn was built in 1908 as a boarding house, and revived in the late 1980’s as the Inn it is today.

The Greenbriar Inn: from a boarding house in 1908, to this in 2020

The whole place is furnished in period pieces and replicas to give it the same feel as when it was young. The owners, Bob and Kris, have done a fabulous job capturing the era, creaky stairs and all. There are only 7 suites, each with a private bath. Our room, on the third floor, had a “detached” private bath across the hall, but it compensated for that with a very generous “kitchenette”, just perfect for our 3 night stay.

Our room was spacious and very comfy, although a feather mattress would have really made it special
Our little “kitchenette” was perfect for our 3 day stay. Why so much storage?

They innkeepers are much more well known for their restaurant, 315, and catering business. And we got the benefit of that with our included breakfast.

Much of the first floor is a restaurant
A simple but made from scratch breakfast. The bacon was my 5 Star favorite

The downtown lakefront is dominated by the large Coeur D’Alene Resort, with a hotel, several restaurants, a marina, and a shopping mall. Making it even more impressive was the extensive holiday decorating they had done. We were told the process to put up all the lights and finery takes 2 months. It had a magical effect though, putting us in a very festive spirit that we were desperately craving.

This is a small sample of the holiday lighting, which was everywhere! 2 months to install, oy vay!

We had our hearts set on something other than turkey for Thanksgiving Dinner, and we hit pay dirt at The Dockside restaurant in the resort. Wendy had a gorgeous filet of halibut, and I had not one but 2 steaks, each with a different preparation. I was in heaven. I saw more than a few of the other diners, who had ordered the traditional turkey dinner, staring as I dug in. It even seemed that the little Elf at the next table was watching. I like turkey and all the fixings just fine, but this might alter my traditional meal expectations.

CDA downtown is very walk-able. You can get from one end to the other (not counting the long beachfront park on the western edge) in less than 10 minutes. And wherever we walked, the view was great. Dining is wide open there, we didn’t see much in the way of restrictions beyond polite requests to wear masks inside. Pleasantly enough, right in the middle is Gelato by the Lake, and we couldn’t pass it up. It’s all made right there, and they mix in the usual flavors with some of their own making. I chowed down on Stracciatella (vanilla and chocolate flakes) and Gingerbread; Wendy had the greek yogurt based Yoguretta, which was exactly like you would imagine, delicious.

It wouldn’t be a Muddscape blog without gelato in it

The restaurants were really doing well, having adapted to the Year of the Killer with outside dining bubbles.

This is the type of Covid bubble we can get our heads around!

Wherever we went, the shops and cafes had masked-up employees and servers, and some of the public were masked outside while others weren’t. Everyone played very nice, respecting distance and personal space just fine. We noticed how happy everyone seemed without an ever-present authoritarian edict governing their personal behavior. I guess if you leave it up to rational people, they can figure out how to adapt and enjoy life. Another thing we noticed: there were exactly zero signs of any social injustice protests. No BLM signs, no boarded up shops, no clenched fist t-shirts, no megaphone carrying shriekers or Defunders in sight. It was as if nobody had any interest in any Marxist slogans or protestations about systemic racism, minorities included. It was stunningly refreshing, a huge contrast from Seattle. It felt like the America we grew up with. I guess the locals don’t think racism or social injustice is all that systemic where they come from. Oh, and we also met a couple of the stiffly formal locals.

We went to Idaho to look around, and that gave resulted in a couple more “mini road trips”. The first day we took a 2 hour drive south to Lewiston, which sits just across the Snake River from Clarkston in Washington. I can only imagine that our intrepid explorers, Lewis and Clark, flipped a coin to see which one got which side of the river for their namesake town. We didn’t care for Lewiston, which has all the feel and smell of an industrial seaport. Not much was open, even the Starbucks was drive-through only. So we turned around and headed back, intending to take a look at Moscow on the way. I know Bernie Sanders visited Moscow for his honeymoon many years back, but I don’t think it was this Moscow. This one is decidedly more American. The drive is very pleasant, through beautiful agricultural countryside, and we saw more of the ubiquitous farmscapes and silos.

The next day we met our friends Mike and Lisa for breakfast. I’ve known Lisa through past employment for almost 20 years, but have only been in touch through social media. They are taking advantage of “the opportunity of our lives” to live remotely in Coeur D’Alene for a year, and had given us an invitation to visit if we ever got out that way (another good reason to go). They used to live and work in the San Francisco Bay Area, and when Lisa got the OK to work remotely, they flew the coop on a trial run to Living in America. Good for them! We wish them all the best, and will definitely be back to visit. After breakfast, we saddled back up and took a drive one hour north to Sandpoint, which sits on the shores of Pend Orielle Lake. It’s absolutely gorgeous, but felt too far away from civilization for us. We did, however, like the Panhandle Cone & Coffee Company, with some totally delish homemade ice cream. Eggnog and Chocolate Chip Cookie for me, Buttermilk Huckleberry for Wendy. Beside the ice cream, they had a sign in their shop that really summed up our trip.

Good advice for everyone always. Especially the part about savoring ice cream.

CDA is bordered on the west by a large lakefront park, which provided us some extra walking, something I could really use after all the great food and gelato! A very poignant sign is posted on the public building there, which merits a mention here.

The media could re-learn a few lessons from this

The City Hall sits next to the park, with the usual Bail Bondsmen and Lawyers offices across the street. But something you don’t see all that often caught our eye, The Hitching Post. Cool.

A little bit of Las Vegas, no?

Our trip was a great success: great friends, great weather, great food, and a sense of a “return to normal” even if just for a couple of days. We will always have great memories of our introduction to Idaho, and especially Coeur D’Alene. Who knows, maybe there’s something there in our future?

And last, but not least, Tippy wants to wish everyone Merry Christmas! And, as he always does, he wants the last word…

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The Well-Traveled Crab Pot

On our recent (July 2020) annual vacation to Orcas Island, we fished for crab as we always do, setting our 3 pots just in front of the cabins at West Beach Resort. There were monster tides during the early week, and in the first day we lost 2 of the 3 pots. Gone, can’t find them. It’s not unusual to lose a pot from time to time. Sometimes it’s an evil thing; someone who needs a pot appropriates one. Most of the time it’s just Mother Nature absconding with your gear, mostly by just submerging the floating part of your tackle in a swift tide and then weighing it down with kelp or snagging it on an undersea rock, where you can’t see or reach the floats to retrieve the pot. This is what our pots look like.

A rectangular wire-mesh crab pots, with 100′ of weighted line and 3 floats

I like the rectangular wire-mesh pots because I’m old and lazy and don’t want to have to haul up an extra 20 lbs. of steel just to get at the goodies inside. The crab I catch tastes just as good. In any event, after loading the little cage inside with chicken parts (get the expired stuff from the supermarket if you can), the fisherman holds the floating part of the tackle and throws the rest overboard in a suitable spot. We like to fish about 70′ deep, ergo the 100′ long line. A few hours, or the next day, return and retrieve the pot. Crab fishermen use various configurations of the floats and colors to mark their pots so they can find them in the midst of all the others (we presume you have chosen a good spot to fish).

We choose to fish offshore of our cabin because it’s close, and we have done well there in the past.

The West Beach Bay: there is great crabbing, and treachery hidden just out there

But the particular undersea geography of the bay is both what makes it great for crab fishing, and not so great for crab-pot-keeping. The inner part of the bay is a nice large, shallow “dish” that has lots of fish and crabs, mostly small. The really delicious large male “keeper” crabs hang out on the perimeter, and that part is at the outer edge of the bay, where the large granite shelf that is the dish rapidly slopes out to the channel, reaching many hundreds of feet in depth over a small distance of less than 100 yards. So, place your pots with care, folks, or Davy Jones gets an early Christmas gift! A little bit of tidal flow, coupled with an overly-ambitious placement and you get what we got. Nada.

With only one pot left, we resorted to setting it a little farther east, in the next bay over closer to Camp Orkila, the world-renown YMCA camp. The water there has the same dish topography, but you don’t have to set close to an abyss to fish. We did well, very well in fact, feeding everyone that wanted crab, and a few neighbors to boot. We may, in fact, continue to fish there in the future.

We brought our lone pot home after vacation, and I set about buying the parts to replace at least one of them. You might notice, on close inspection, that one of the floats in my “terminal tackle” has my name, address, and phone number on it. This is a requirement in Washington, and it pays off. Out of the blue yesterday I got a phone call from an unknown number, which I ignored as I usually do (spam, aaargh!). But, just before I blocked the number, a text came in from the same phone.

Out of the blue – a welcome message!

25 years of fishing for crab, more than a couple of pots “lost”, and this is the first time someone else found one! (Caveat: Wendy and I actually found one of our lost pots 3 weeks after losing it, a case of a line dragged under and kelp-buried, that resurfaced). It turns out there must have been enough flotation on it that when it got pulled into the deep off of West Beach, the tide just took it away.

The journey this pot took was pretty amazing. From where it was set, it ended up 15 miles away. But, taking 3 weeks to get there, and drifting with the big tides of July and August, it could have easily traveled 2 to 3 times that far in it’s journey.

Starting between Waldron and Orcas Islands, and ending between San Juan and Lopez Islands

It’s kind of amazing to me that it never got hung up on anything traveling through all the channels it had to traverse.

We’re happy to have a great story, and we’re happy for the wayward pot to find a new owner! And we’re going to add some additional “terminal tackle” just as additional insurance for our future fishing! We bought a couple of bright fluorescent orange flotation balls that will get clipped to the smaller floats. We’ll keep you posted.

Tippy has his own ideas.

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The Volcano – and My Inner Hippie Update

Patience is a virtue, so they say. And I now know who are the all-time Patience Supremes. Hippies. I mean, here we are almost 60 years after the Age of Aquarius, and what do we have? When pot is legal and haircuts aren’t, the Hippies have won. I have nothing against hippies, just like I never had anything against J. Edgar Hoover. But I don’t cross-dress, and I don’t like my hair long. So there.

Okay, now that I have that out of my system, on to better things. It looks like we were way ahead of the curve when we got our newest travel trailer. There is a huge rush on the market for RV’s and boats right now. Folks that might have once jumped on a plane to take their family somewhere nice for a vacation are now thinking better of it. They are buying up motorhomes, travel trailers, pop-up campers, and boats like there is no tomorrow. Many places are so low on inventory they simply can’t stay open until the factories catch up. They are now calling RV’s “Covid Campers”.

We lugged our Covid Camper up to Mt. St. Helens for the Memorial Day weekend. We have talked for years about going there, and I guess we finally got the talking part completely done. Of course, all the State Campgrounds were closed, as were all the State and National park offices and Visitor Centers, but we found a nice private RV park right on the shores of Silver Lake with the volcano in sight farther up the Toutle River Valley. Silver Lake RV Resort has a little marina, and a small hotel that hangs out over the lake. They advertise that you can fish “right off your balcony”, and we saw people doing just that.

The Panoramic view from the dock in the Silver Lake RV Resort marina on Sunday morning.

We arrived Saturday afternoon, and there was rain forecast for the weekend, but Sunday would have none of that. A bright and early breakfast, and we headed out toward the north side of the large blast zone, intent on making our way up to the Johnson Observatory. We were very keen to get a first-hand look at the destruction done on May 18, 1980, when the mountain finally blew after several small eruptions, and lots of shaking. Jean Sherrard, a photographer and journalist, photographed the mountain in 1979 from the far side of Spirit Lake, and had recently trekked back to almost the same spot to take an “after” picture of the mountain. I superimposed his “before” (the ghosted image) onto his latest picture to give you an idea of how much of this mountain went kablooey. It lost 1300 feet off the top, gone in the large explosion and blown into smaller sized debris. But much more material was lost in the 3 near simultaneous landslides that took most of the northern face. They call each slide a “Block”: Block 1 was the topsoil and surface “crust”, and it broke free when the explosion happened, then slid down the mountain at 180 mph, and twisting sideways on its path. Block 2 was the underlying rock shell of the mountain, and it broke loose 2 seconds later. Because it had much more density, it soon overtook Block 1, splitting it in half and shoving the two halves up the walls of the canyon through which the Toutle River was flowing. Block 3 was the old volcanic core of the mountain, and it broke loose seconds later and shoved Block 2 farther on, filling in the gaping hole the first 2 blocks left behind. The whole mess of debris stretched 14 miles down the Toutle River Valley when it was all over. Of course, there was a tremendous volume of ash and volcanic pumice that was also released.

The ghosted old dome of the volcano is superimposed over today’s image.

We drove as far as the road would take us, and when we got to the closed gates for Johnson Observatory, we discovered a hike through the debris field called The Hummocks Trail, a 2.5 mile hike into the debris field of the landslides. Scientists discovered something interesting while studying the changing landscape in the wake of the eruption; these “hummock” debris fields are pretty common around explosive volcanoes. They never knew before how common they are, because they never had such a good “before” and “after” picture of a massive volcanic explosion.

The trail leads to many overlook points where a spectacular view can be had of the gaping hole left in the mountain.

Everything you see, except the Mountain and old farts, is new in the last 40 years

We happily trekked onto the trail, through the trees, past the small ponds, until we got to a sign that informed us that, on May 17, 1980, we would have been standing 300 feet in the air at the spot of the sign. Everything around us was new landscape. Called the “hummocks” because it is literally piles of debris that has eroded down somewhat due to nature, and has been covered with the usual blanket: trees, bushes, moss, grass, flowers, all the stuff we usually took for granted on our hike. We saw it all now with a whole new appreciation.

Hummocks, and Wendy. This landscape still shifts and slides pretty regularly.

The trail winds over small hills and ravines, with lots of rocks and gravel everywhere. I can only imagine what it would have looked like 40 years ago, with all this stuff either roaring down the canyon at hundreds of miles per hour, or raining from the skies. But we did take it in with great appreciation for the power of nature, and the speed at which Mom Nature operates.

There are many small ponds along the trail, way too numerous to count. Signs informed us that these ponds, and the water that feeds them, are the real culprits for the changing landscape. As rain percolates from above, and the natural snow-melt-fed water table slithers from below, all of these ponds grow and collapse, creating new ravines, and new ponds, and new cliffs, and new micro slides that just keep the whole mess changing until it probably becomes a valley floor once again thousands of years from now. We saw ample evidence of pond breakouts and small slides.

Spirit Lake, at the foot of the mountain, was at first emptied of water, then filled with debris from the blast, mostly trees and rocks. The blast itself pushed the water of the lake into an 800 foot tall “tsunami” that washed up the face of the east cliff, scouring all of the trees and vegetation off of it, which then washed back into the lake. Then ash filled that up. But you can’t stop Mom Nature. Over a comparatively short time, the lake appeared again, and has returned today to become again the headwaters of the Toutle River. And water is a mighty force. The river has, like the Grand Canyon, carved out a channel in all the debris and ash, and flows down the old canyon toward the ocean once again. It’s crazy how fast this stuff happens.

We will go back to see much more, especially when all of the attractions are open again. But you can take this with you for the time being: when you next hike down a trail something like this, appreciate that it could have been here for eons, or just a few decades. You will definitely see your surroundings in a new light!

Somewhere between 39 and 1 year old, just like Jack Benny!

Tippy always gets the last word.

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