health care, road trips, tech talk, occasional rant

Unwelcome change of plans


It was quiet in the  morning – the clanging, yelling 13 year old boys next door have gone to the river, or at least gone away somewhere.  I soak up some quiet before heading off to find food and wifi to see where I will end up today.  Yesterday I mailed friends down the coast about visiting, and hope to hear back this morning, since at least Katie has crazy-quick Facebook response time.

Generally when I drive a few miles up a road just to get to a campground, the road back in the morning always seems a lot shorter, not to mention more pleasant and relaxed.  This is true again today as I backtrack to US 101.  A few miles down 101 is Port Orford.  The coffee and tea place next to the theater is closed, so I backtrack to the shabby little Paradise Cafe and it’s beckoning “wifi” sign.  Breakfast was adequate, the wifi was excellent, and I was charmed by the Obama office across the road and two competing local newsletters – one was the kind of thing you’d expect: local meetings and pictures (the berry farmer dressed up as a giant blueberry was my favorite), but the other was an unhinged paranoid racist right-wing screed (on pink paper!) about our president who just happens to be black.  I’ll bet they have lively townhall meetings in Port Orford!

The friend report is that I will be unable to visit Mandie in Crescent City because she is on Eureka helping her sister Katie move.  So my adjusted plan for today is to power on through CC and all the way to Eureka, where I can see all the sisters in one place and help Katie pack.

So, finish breakfast, then finish off my all-too-brief tour of the Oregon coast – Humbug Mountain, Gold Beach, Brookings, then California! This trip was supposed to feature major time on the coast, but because of van-related f–ups I will end up spending only 4 days of a 28 day trip actually here.  sigh.

I take the side road along Pelican Bay, where suddenly I am driving right past the maximum security prison!  They go out of their way to make it look not-scary from the road, but the idea of the worst criminals in California being 1/2 mile away is creepy.

There is a fish place (Fisherman’s something) at the edge of the harbor where I’ve had a good breakfast in CC on a couple of previous visits.  I ate there today and lunch was not a success.  Their fish and chips really didn’t sit too well.  Thence down the Redwood Coast, quite beautiful at any time.  I stopped to view the Roosevelt Elk at the elk-viewing place, but other than that I just trucked on down the highway, and got to Katie’s 7-ish.

The next new wrinkle in this somewhat benighted vacation reared it’s ugly head tonight.  When I opened the sliding door, suddenly all my van electronics went dead!   The lights, the fridge, everything.  So I lived by headlamp tonight, and slept an annoyed sleep, seeing a 400 mile trip back to Van Specialties in my future.


Hang out with the sisters – Aimee at her psychedelic house, then joined Katie and Mandie in wandering around the disaster of her soon-to-be-former house looking for things to usefully organize.  The funnest thing we did was spend an hour or so packing this gigantic stove in the garage to get picked up by Fedex(!).  She had bought this 2-oven monster back in her money days, but that new kitchen never quite happened.  A number of people around the country offered more money for it, but a guy in Sacto has a bulk shipping deal with Fedex, so his total price was lowest.  We padded, we taped, we went around and around with stretchwrap, then we stretchwrapped some more.  Then we ratchet-strapped, and now we hope for the best.  Fedex will wrap things, but you have to bring them to the office, haha.

My electrical system is still weird.  It came back to life when I started the engine this morning, but slowly degraded throughout the day.  It’s dead-ish tonight – the fridge is running but making sad little “I’m dying” cricket noises, the LED lights are flickering.  Oh yes, the van place is closed on Mondays.


Wifi at Old Town Coffee till 2-ish then bye-bye Eureka, and hello 700 extra miles of driving!  I repeat my tour of the always-scenic Redwood Coast going the other direction. A life skill that I try to cultivate is that you just do what you gotta do.  Once you conclude that you gotta do it, then just do it and don’t waste any more energy stressing about the unfairness of it all, and you might as well be as cheerful as you can manage.  Easy to say, sometimes hard to do, but I tend towards the cheerful anyway.  Would I have been more successful in life if I was less good at being happy where I am?? who knows.  That’s my digressive of saying that although I am deeply annoyed to have to be doing this, I’m still on the road seeing places and I intend to have a good time doing it.

Ah, back to the narrative.  Dinner time at Crescent City.  The memory of the Fisherman’s fish ‘n chips makes me drive on by this time, but then I made the even more questionable decision to go to Denny’s.  I was under the incorrect impression that all Denny’s have wifi.  Not true! This particular dead zone boasted no wifi, poor service from a spacey 17 year old, a creepy guy sitting by the cash register talking to himself, and food that sucked even for the low expectations of Denny’s. I think Mandie had the right idea when she says that the answer to “Where’s a good place to eat in Crescent City?” is “Nowhere!“.

North of CC I take 199 to cut over to Grants Pass, a route I’ve never, ever been on (see! a reason to be cheerful already!).   I drive 50 very pretty miles along the Middle Fork of the Smith River to stop at Patrick Creek CG, a really interesting place.  An info sign explains that this is one of the very few flat places along this wild and scenic (official designation!) river, so there have been structures here for about as long as there have been people here.  It was a hive of CCC-era construction.  The CCC laid out the campground and a bunch of half-destroyed outbuildings.  The descriptions sound really cool, but it was all wiped out by the Great Christmas Flood of 1964, leaving the mossy ruins I see tonight.  A bathhouse and campfire area, little cabins.  There is a lodge on the other side of the road from that era also.  A funky old-timey place inside, with a fine looking proprietress, and a restaurant that serves breakfast.  Sadly I did not discover this until after the 11AM cut-off time.


This is going to be a big driving day – ick.   The fact that diesel jumped up about $.30/gal this week makes it even more annoying to drive 700 extra miles when I should be chillin’ at a campsite.

I arrive in Grants Pass lusting for wifi.  I’ve identified a likely coffee place, but on the way to it I luck into a really nice place to eat – the Lookout, right on the Rogue River.  It’s huge and fancy looking, and all the old folks are going in in droves – usually a bad sign for me, but I park and go in and check out the menu.  $9 burgers is about the norm nowadays for any place that aspires to quality, so I’m in.  They are right in the middle of where the Rogue River jet boats pick up / let off so it’s a busy, scenic, and interesting place.

After lunch I call the van folks – it’s finally Tuesday so they’re at work, woo hoo.  Their phone diagnosis is a loose grounding wire, so I crawl under the van and wiggle the wires.  The seem solid to me, so it’s back to Van Specialties for me.  [this was indeed the problem it turns out – I didn’t wiggle hard enough].

Enter I-5 at exit 53 in Grants Pass, heading for exit 286 south of Tualatin.  I’ve loaded up my iPad with sports talk and politics talk, so I’m ready to chew up some miles.  I did exactly this stretch of road 10 days ago (oh where did the time go?).  I am now confirmed in my dislike of it.  It’s got a lot of trucks, a lot of ups and downs and curves and again, is only two lanes.  The countryside is quite pretty, but I don’t see that much of it because I’m usually staring at the ass-end of one semi passing another semi, because again, there are only two lanes..

I do dawdle enough to not get to Tualatin till about dark.  Back again sleeping outside the van place.  I am a little depressed that this is what my vacation is.


It’s a little too familiar here this time.  Everybody usually makes some kind of effort to be jolly and friendly for our once a year visit, but we used all that up last week.  I go to my corner and wait.  The kid has it all taken care of by 11:30.  Sure enough, improperly grounded – it had felt solid to me on Grants Pass, but apparently you gotta really tug on it.  I’m glad to leave and I think they’re glad to see me go.

After some dithering about what next I decide to treat myself to another night at Edgefield!  The deciding factor is that it’s still early in the day, so I can have a pretty long relaxation experience for my one night stay.  Again, I relax hard, perhaps too hard.


Another quality time, although … I should have not had that last 11PM beer, I can feel it this morning.   I hang around fooling with Google maps programming (something I can not do at a campsite) till about 3 and head for the hills.  I shoulda left about a half hour earlier, because after dieseling and food shopping I find myself deep in Portland suburban rush hour.

Most of the interesting woodsy camping in Oregon is between I-5 and US 97 – between Eugene and Bend if you will.  There are basically four major roads that go from one side to the other.  The one with the best NW-SE angle for returning to Reno is SR 36 through the hillbilly town of Oakridge. Giant electrical signs on I-5 have been warning me for two weeks about serious road construction on this route, so I ain’t going that way.  As I’m picking my way along windy little roads in the Portland burbs I realize I don’t want to drive any more today.  Apparently all that hard relaxing wore me out!  So I turn on a closer east-west road, Rte 20, with the plan of returning to Elkhorn Campground, where I stayed two years ago

There was road construction here too (I guess the crews have to make the best of the short Oregon season!), the campground was much farther down the access road than I remembered, but when I got there it was a great place again!  I snagged either the same spot or the one next to what I had last time.  The distinctive thing I now recall from last time are these little red recycling boxes everywhere.  Each campsite has a trashcan and a red box.  There’s a red box next to each bathroom, next to the registration kiosks, there’s even one next to the foot of each path to the creek.  Somebody here cares about recycling!

My evening was uneventful.  I swam in the North Fork of the Santiam River, which washed the driving stress away and cooled me to the core.  I fell asleep before 10, which means I was tired.


Not much relaxing this morning.  This is the Friday before Labor Day, and this place is a little bit crazy.   For whatever reason, campsites here don’t have the usual post with the campsite number and a clip to attach your registration receipt or a reserved sign, so there’s no official way to show a site is reserved.  So folks have to get creative to show that a site is taken.  I notice that the two sites west of me each have a camp chair plunked on their picnic tables.  I realize nobody was at the site east of me all night, even though there are two tents on it.  As I’m bumbling around the van a kid comes up and wants my site for tonight and wants to put their tent on it.  I say ok, and suddenly it’s there, preassembled somewhere else.    Then as I’m touring the river one more time this relentless old lady starts in on me about finding a campsite, like I know anything or can do anything.  It’s pretty clear that my usual morning quiet time isn’t going to happen here, so I pack up and go.

Next stop Detroit!  Detroit Lake that is.  Happily I had read my previous trip notes, which reminded me that the hunter’s lodge looking restaurant in the resort town of Detroit Lake has wifi!  It does.  It also has a bar.  Not for me this day, but there were some folks pretty excited to head on back there and get their Labor Day on at 11:30am of Friday.

Traffic is starting to suck.  There is a big backup to get through Sisters … as if there were anything to stop for in Sisters.  I do for some reason want to stop in Bend – just to hang out and see how the cool people are living for a few minutes.  I am ambivalent towards Bend.  It’s right on that very pretty river, the downtown is just my kind of place – three coffee bars in two blocks!  Tons of bars and restaurants, but somehow it bothers me.  It looks like a college town but there’s no college to speak of.  It’s a 30’s and 40’s yuppie town.   Anyway, I had a very nice afternoon interlude, everyone was pleasant and smiling, so maybe I should shut up already!

Traffic is indeed very heavy, but US 97 is straght and wide so it’s no big deal.  My goal is a $12($6) USFS campground two miles from the $20 state campground at Chiloquin.  It is a long boring drive to get there.  There just ain’t much going on in this part of Oregon.

The campground is pretty boring, but hey, no Labor Day crunch!  It’s the standard landscape of that whole huge area from south of Bend to California – some sort of scruffy 2′ tall ground cover, with widely spaced Ponderosa pines jutting up 60-80′, and that’s pretty much it.  There is a little trail over to the Williamson River.  The river looks inviting but the access isn’t good.  I think about walking back in swimming togs but never quite do it.


Back down the 1.5 miles of very dusty gravel road.  I check out the state campground and it’s definitely where the Labor Day crowd is – glad I missed it.  I am very much looking forward to the Daily Bagel in Klamath Falls. Many trips ago a cute ranger at Lava Beds told me about it, and it’s now my must stop place when passing through this area.  I treat myself to a bagel with lox and cream cheese and onions and capers, and what the heck a blueberry danish for dessert since they look so good!

I could just power on the 250-ish miles home to Reno today, but I want to spend another night out.  So I have great afternoon at the Tule Lake NWR.  There’s a little hike behind the Visitors Center I’ve never taken, with the lovely name of Sheepy Ridge Trail.  Short but straight up, takes you to a little CCC-built cabin on the ridge.  Then I did the beloved auto tour.   There not the massive quantities of migratory birds there are later in the fall, but it was still excellent.  Coots and Buffleheads and Clarks Grebes were the predominant theme.  Some cormorants also, and I recognized a couple of redheads, now that I know what they are.  A really striking raptor over in the grassy area.   The last bit of the road leaves the straight line of the levees and wanders through the grasslands for a couple of miles.  It’s very cool because you get another habitat, but it road was horribly washboardy, and frazzled my brain and scrambled my van and now my sliding door sounds horrible because of the dirt in the tracks.

Drove through Lava Beds. I did such a good job of dawdling that it’s after 5!  I could just stay right here at the National Park Campground.  But that would mean a long drive tomorrow, and I want a short drive tomorrow.  Past Howards Gulch, which I like a lot, through Canby, almost through Adin, but there’s a crowd at the little ice cream place.  The sign for pecan milkshakes is what hooked me, but they had the barbeque going so I ended up getting a tri-tip dinner to go.  My cute little campground is only another 12 miles down the road, so I get there a little before dark and have something other than a sandwich or cold chicken for a change.


Easy drive to Susanville, get a Sunday Chronicle so I can indulge my Suduko addiction,  I discover to my horror that the local Black Bear is closed (kitchen fire).  This causes me to find another palce and I discover a pretty good diner (can’t remmeber the name).

Easy drive to Reno, home be 3-ish.


So…  27 nights on the road – Monday to Saturday:

  • 4 nights in parking lots
  • 2 nights on a boat
  • 3 nights in a spare bedroom
  • 3 nights in a hotel
  • 2 nights on the street
  • 2 nights at hot springs
  • 11 nights at campgrounds

I drove roughly 800 miles more than I otherwise would’ve because of the electrical screwup.  I used 165 gallons of diesel at an average price of $4.20/gal.  The price of diesel shot up about $.45/gal in the middle of the trip. I spent 16 hours driving that I could’ve spent doing something fun.

I now know a lot more about how my van batteries like to be treated.  They like to be topped of and brimming with juice all the time, ideally you would plug ’em in at home.  This is impossible at my condo.  I also now know that $670 every three or four years to replace the batteries is just part of the deal with one of these rigs.  How come no told me this before?


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