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Posts Tagged ‘Frog’

My travels with Charlize will continue. She is, after all, a great travel companion and provider of comfort and attention. I have searched to discover how to live on my own after so many years of being married to the same wonderful lady. During this past year I made a lot of choices, some good, some not so good, all were important to the journey.

I thought having a camping trailer while traveling around the country was a great idea. It was something I thought about from time to time over the years but Rosalie was never interested. We lived in an eight by fifty foot house trailer when first married and she was not interested in reliving that experience or anything resembling it. Within a few of weeks of her death I went shopping for the trailer I named Frog. During our first trip it was a fun new experience but reality started to settle in soon after. Driving on the open road pulling Frog was OK but extra concentration was needed when parking driving in inclement weather, especially high winds or pulling into a crowded gas stations.

Finding a nice RV Park during was not as straightforward as expected and it took me about half an hour to set up Frog and about the same amount of time to disconnect and get underway again the next morning. It also wasn’t inexpensive, fifty-dollars a night for most of the commercial parks. Then there was the task of emptying the “black water tank”, sewage to the uninitiated. The final blow was gas consumption. My truck, Old Blue, essential for pulling the trailer, was averaging about eight or nine miles to the gallon costing close to or exceeding four dollars a gallon.

Old Blue, although a year old when I purchased her, was also a reaction to Rosalie’s death. I was driving a ten-year old pickup truck while Rosalie drove a year old van. After her death every time I got into her van I started to cry. I was already anticipating taking a long road trip with a camping trailer, so I traded the van and the truck for a year old, high end, Dodge Ram 1500 four-door crew-cab with four-wheel drive and over-sized wheels. Old Blue was built for tough, manly activities. I was anxious to get out of our house and separate myself and my newly acquired rescued dog Charlize from Rosalie’s memory and palpable presence in the house. I was not yet able to clear out her clothes and other things. I needed to escape all those memories associated with all that physical “stuff” of hers. So there we were, me, Charlize, Old Blue and Frog, off to find, what?

During that first trip we wandered for almost six weeks and I was not yet unhappy with my choices. The second trip we took seemed to involve added hassles with Frog and the RV lifestyle. I began to think that the cost of RV parks and extra fuel might cover the costs of a lot of hotel rooms.  Even with the renovations I made, Frog was not all that comfortable, especially without utility hook-ups. Several times I just left Frog someplace and discovered travel was less complicated, less expensive, more relaxing. Gradually I came to the realization that a travel trailer, or any recreational vehicle, was not the choice for me. It was going to be costly but sometimes one has to admit a mistake, pay the price and get on with life. Frog was sold and gone. It cost me, but what life-lesson doesn’t?

Another reality was in store. I really liked Old Blue, but even when not pulling the trailer gas millage was an issue. On the best of days, on the highway at modest speeds, even with “Eco-Boost” I could only expect sixteen or seventeen miles per gallon. Then there were the garages. After I got her home I discovered Old Blue was five inches too long to fit in my garage at home. When trying to park in the parking garage at the Harborview Medical Center or at the building where my lawyer’s office was in downtown Seattle I found that I sometimes had to stop and back up to get around some close corners and into a parking spot without clipping a post or a big car parked in a compact spot. I discovered the deciding factor preparing for surgery on my ankle. With the specter of twelve weeks of recovery and not being allowed to bear weight on my left leg, I practiced getting in and out of the truck using just my right foot. I found it all but impossible because Old Blue was just too high off the ground.

So Charlize and I went car shopping. We found a new crossover SUV that was easy for me to get in and out of using just one foot. The sales people probably thought they we dealing with just another weird old man when they observed my strange behavior testing this ability. The new vehicle, actually a computer with four wheels, gets excellent gas millage, has enough room for Charlize and everything we might need for road trips. It’s also easier to keep clean. Was trading Old Blue for the new car another poor choice, made too quickly? I don’t know yet, but I’m glad I’m not struggling to get in and out of Old Blue on one foot, or stuck in the house because I can’t. The new car also fits into my garage.

So—the journey continues, life’s journey that is. Steinbeck travelled with his dog Charley searching to define the America of that time. My Charlize and I will continue our travels but my search to find out how to live without Rosalie is resolving. I still miss her every day but am becoming more accustomed to making my own decisions and finding something interesting and worthwhile to accomplish each day. I am more comfortable with the philosophy that each person’s life is a journey. Inevitably we end the journey alone and along the way have to learn to deal with the loss of loved ones. Both Rosalie and I lost our parents’ years ago and we cane to accept that as a normal part of the journey. Losing Rosalie was much more difficult but also part of the same journey. Losing a child would be devastating, but many others have coped with even that, I pray I never have to.

Charlize, I realize, has an easier life to deal with. She lives only in the moment. She obviously has memories of some sort of abuse but they only intrude when something happening in the present brings back those memories, for example when I correct some behavior I don’t think appropriate. I wouldn’t ever think of hitting her but someone has, based on the way she responds when I raise my voice.

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We left Monterey, Frog nursing her broken fender, and before long were immersed in the beauty of the California Pacific Coast and eventually Big Sur. About eleven in the morning I decided it was time for a two Splenda latte and before long found a roadside restaurant that advertised Espresso. I pulled into a large area for parking, separated from a front patio area by a low rock wall. The same wide spot in the road housed a grocery store with identical architecture as the restaurant. I didn’t bother to inquire if the whole was the same operation, didn’t really care.

As I went into the restaurant for my latte I noticed a man sitting in the sun at one of a number of outdoor tables, avoiding the shade of the table’s umbrellas. He was eating what appeared to be a breakfast burrito. Our eyes met and he nodded and I returned the nod.  When I came out, coffee in hand, our eyes met again. I walked toward him and he motioned for me to sit down. He commented on Old Blue’s Washington license plates and the unusual nature of Frog. Before long we were trading our life histories and thus passed a very pleasant and illuminating hour and a half.

Jerry, that is his name, another graybeard like myself, lives in his truck, moving from one campground to another as the time limit for occupancy expires. It was a routine broken only by an occasional trip to Monterey to visit his daughter and to pickup his social security check. He is an artist, one of too many to count with talent but no luck and no sponsor. Actually he never said he was an artist, only that he drew pictures, but the life history I extracted from him included an unfinished engineering degree, time spent as a draftsman, until CAD (computer assisted drafting) made that profession obsolete. He had held various positions in the corporate world but nothing that held his interest for long. He then became a set designer and painter, and described a litany of jobs and experiences including more than one wife, several girl friends and at least the one daughter he spoke to me about.

At one point I went to Old Blue to let Charlize out to do her business and give her the opportunity to meet Jerry. Charlize came directly to him and made friends. Most dogs are good judges of character and I’m beginning to trust Charlize’s judgment in this regard.

Jerry was a little deficient in hygiene. I was careful to stay upwind. Most would probably classify him as a bum, at the least homeless, which technically he was, discounting the truck that I never saw. But he was easy to talk to, a terrific listener who quickly found out why I was on the road, how I came to be at that place at that time and what Charlize’s role was in our odyssey. His story was as interesting to me as, to all appearances, mine was to him We were two strangers who sat comfortably in the sun and talked of life and philosophy and politics, both corporate and academic. We solved no problems, came to no decisions, found no solutions, nor even consensus about those problems that we discussed. We parted as friends, only knowing first names, probably to never meet again, but satisfied with the hour and a half we spent together in gainful conversation. At least Charlize and I were.

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The true shake down cruise for Frog started after leaving Oregon. We stopped at the Chamber of Commerce information office in Crescent City, CA. Yet another helpful person at the desk insisted that we must see the Jedediah Smith Redwood State Park. Since I have an unquenchable thirst for anything having to do with the Mountain Man Era (see my book Man Hunt) I decided it was something Charlize and I needed to do.

“You don’t have to go back to the intersection of 101 and 197 to get there. You can take this back road in.” He showed me on a map and I was sold, I hate to backtrack.

“It’s about fifteen miles of gravel but you can make it with your truck, it’s a four-by-four isn’t it?”

“Yeah… sounds good, we’ll give it a try,” I replied.

It was not a gravel road. It was a single lane of mud and dirt, with huge, water-filled potholes and sixteen miles of curves, switchbacks, up and down and around and weaving through massive redwood trees that disdained moving out of our way.

About five miles in a nice lady park ranger sitting in a jeep waved us to a stop.

“There’s a sign back there that says ‘trailers not advised’.

“Whoops,” I responded, “guess I was too busy trying to keep this rig on the road and didn’t see it. Anyplace near where I can turn this outfit around?”

She looked long and hard at Old Blue and Frog, almost forty feet of combined length and shook her head.

“Don’t think so, you best take it slow and easy.”

“If I get stuck or wrecked do I call 911?”

“No use, no cell phone service out here. We’ll find you…eventually.” She smiled sweetly.

“Brilliant… OK…hope I don’t see you again today.”

She smiled again. “Hope not.”

We made it, but everything bounced out of the cabinet above the stove and out of the netted shelf over the sink. All the contents of the drawers were rearranged, but no permanent damage done and all the various systems continue to function.

Inside Frog is efficient, similar to a nice sailboat capable of accommodating a couple of people comfortably. The door is located on the passenger side of Old Blue, in front of the trailer’s wheels. There is a handrail that folds back against the cabin and a pullout stair that enable me to climb in, albeit clumsily.

Through the door, to the immediate right, is an odd sized bed, forty-four inches wide and seventy-two inches long, wider than a twin bed but more narrow than a double. The length fills the entire six feet width of Frog so at a little over six feet two inches I sleep on the diagonal. Originally there were built-in bunk beds with no more than eighteen inches between them. Before I bought Frog I told the dealer I wanted the top bunk removed and they did. The mattress lays directly on a plywood platform, with some rather inaccessible storage underneath. One has to take the mattress out to make the bed. When I get home I’ve got some renovations to do to make the bed and storage under it more accessible and useful.

To the immediate left through the door is the kitchen cabinet. It houses a two-burner LP gas stovetop and a small sink. There are two overhead cabinets, another cabinet under the stove and three drawers under the sink.

Across a two-foot space from the stove top is the head, a very small sink, a shower and a toilet all plastic, all waterproof, all functional but a tight fit for a person as big as me. Across the same small space from the sink there is an eye-level cabinet that houses a combination microwave/convection oven and a lot of Frog’s mechanical equipment; hot-water heater, furnace, clean water tank, etc.

At the back end of the cabin is a U-shaped bench with a small table. The table can be lowered and the back cushions of the bench used to make another odd sized bed for two small people or one normal sized. Charlize is careful to keep clear of me and avoids getting stepped on. It’s cramped but cozy. Our home on the road.

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We stopped in Salinas and spent the afternoon and evening with a veterinary school classmate and his significant other. I’ve known him since 1956 and we’ve probably spent time together less than half a dozen times since we graduated in 1960 but conversation flowed easily enough. He lost his wife to cancer a few years ago so there was empathy for our shared experience, but we didn’t dwell on it.

Several of our veterinary school classmates were Korean War veterans, most of them married, some with children, living in a Veterans Village of Quonset huts and going to school on the GI bill. Sometimes the people, as represented by our government, do something right for everyone.

In those days not only the students were close, the wives formed an auxiliary group and made close friends amongst the other wives. Shared experiences in difficult financial times but with a better future in the offing.

Many of those wives remained close, kept in touch over the years. My experience is that the female of our species is much more efficient, determined and relentless in that pursuit. When we had our fiftieth year class reunion the widow of one of our classmates attended to be with old friends. Two lonely, still grieving people met again and made a connection. They found common interests and now spend some of the year at her home in Nebraska and some of it at his in Salinas California, interspersed with travel for pleasure and enlightenment. I would call them a cute couple but that’s too cloy. They are comfortable together, not afraid to talk and reminisce about their prior lives with their well-loved spouses. Their children and grandchildren are all happy that the couple found each other. They look good, they now look younger than me, and I wish them long and happy times together.

Wolfe and Steinbeck had it correct though, you can’t go back and resume a past life, a past home, a past friendship. As our lives progress we create new lives, new homes, new friendships and the people of our past cannot relate, nor can we relate to their changes.

The three of us talked of our families and listened politely, but with wandering interest, to the achievements of our offspring. After an uninterrupted six hours of sleep in Frog we continued our conversation over breakfast, but I was on a schedule for this part of my journey. My son and his family had set aside time for me in their hectic life and I had to get down the road. Goodbyes come easier for me now, not so important as they once were. Perhaps we will spend time together again before our time is up, perhaps not. If we do find our lives come together again we will pick up comfortably but will be careful to make our time together short enough so the desire to meet, and talk, and catch-up remains.

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DSCN0349This is Charlize on the beach at Cape Disappointment watching the sun set.

I’ve decided to change my eating habits, at least while on this adventure. We’ll see how that plays out once I’m home. Oatmeal for breakfast instead of a bagel and cream cheese, big meal at noon, usually in a restaurant, then a light dinner, maybe some soup or an omelet, maybe a sandwich.

I’m re-reading Steinbeck, the inspiration for these musings; “Travels with Charley in Search of America”, as well as two of his other works I somehow missed; “The Winter of Our Discontent” and “The Log from the Sea of Cortez”. Steinbeck’s Charley was a Standard French Poodle, with an American name. My Charlize is a German shepherd with a French name.

Day two started at five AM, I am still unable to sleep more than two or three hours at a time, with hours of being awake in between. Not unusual, I am told, for this stage of grief. Charlize and I got away early enough for me to eat breakfast at the Quinault Lodge on the edge of Lake Quinault. I ate sausage and eggs, over easy, with breakfast potatoes. So much for the new diet, it seemed to be a sterling idea at the time but the mantra for this trip is spontaneity. I’ll try again tomorrow.

After breakfast I hobbled over the half-mile long nature trail, a sign-guided tour of a small corner of the Quinault rain forest. Charlize did at least two miles, up and back, side-to-side, a myriad of new and unusual smells to catalogue. I wonder if she remembers them or if each time she smells something it is a whole new experience?

We stopped for a late lunch at South Bend on Route 101, only four miles from Raymond. I spotted a chef in front of his restaurant grilling fresh oysters over a wood fire. I watched as the oysters cooked in cedar smoke, at least twelve inches from the flames, while being basted with the chef’s secret marinade. I collaborated with a nice lady and her husband, who were sitting at an adjoining table, to try and identify the ingredients. We decided it contained lots of fresh, coarsely chopped, garlic, green onions, fresh green herbs, maybe basil or parsley or something else, maybe a combination, in a vinegar base, probably a malted vinegar, not Balsamic. Chef was not sharing any ingredients. We probably left out or miss identified some but he wasn’t giving anything away, and certainly did not share proportions.

About four in the afternoon we arrived at the Lewis and Clark National and State Historical Parks. Clark named the location, the first true sighting of the Pacific, Cape Disappointment, because of the lousy weather the Corps endured for several days running. The campground is owned and operated, by the State of Washington. Frog was all set up with electrical power and fresh water, but no Wi-Fi, no cell phone service and no TV. Still roughing it.

Played fetch with Charlize for half an hour, she’s insatiable. She retrieves with the enthusiasm of a Retriever. When she was panting hard we went down to the beach to watch the sun go down while standing on the same black sand walked on by L and C. Awesome, since the sun was out all day, temperature in the high fifties.

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Saturday at six AM, Charlize and I walked the Kalaloch campground in the dark. It wasn’t really dark. A half-moon was out, bright but not as bright as the moon I remember growing up in Phoenix, long before that place became the megapolis it is today. The winter moon of the desert, that I remember, was bright enough to read by, or maybe my eyes were young enough to see by.

Thirty feet west of where Frog is parked there is a sharp drop off to the beach, guarded by a split rail fence. Relentless waves work their way onto the sand. The sound they make is similar to a busy highway. A vez en cuando, (the English translation of this expression would be “from time to time”, but in Mexico in 1967 when we lived there for a year, it conveyed a connotation of inevitability, an inability for a human to change events). A wave much larger than its brothers breaks over, roaring his delight.

I was up at five again, walking Charlize. It was cold enough during the night for a sheet of ice to form on Old Blue’s windows. I had to scrape them before we could leave. The moon, still bright before dawn, illuminated the stark silhouettes of Douglas fir, various pines, Sitka spruce and western red cedar all in stark relief. Their trunks bent slightly east, towards the Olympics. Their tops, sheared by high winds blowing in from the ocean, pointed at the mountains.

Charlie and I ate our breakfasts. I cleaned up, with her close supervision to make certain everything was done properly, and we were ready to leave before seven. All the other RV’s were still dark, their occupants sleeping in, I presume.

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