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As a Pre-Thanksgiving offer Travels With Chalize will be available on Kindle for free downloads starting Sat. Nov. 21 and ending Tues. Nov. 24. It is available now and will continue to be available for KDP Select downloads. Don’t miss this opportunity.TWC-front cover

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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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Charlize and I are on the road again. We spent two weeks visiting my son and his family in their beautiful new home in Carlsbad, California. Rosalie would have loved the house and the neighborhood, both idyllic.

The trip south from Edmonds was made in two and a half days traveling I-5, fast but boring, even though the drive was a new one for us. Freeway speeds and heavy traffic don’t equate to enjoyment of the experience, at least not for me.

Coming home we left early Sunday morning and managed to clear the Los Angeles traffic before eight AM.  At Santa Clarita we left the I-5 and worked our way west to US 101 and Santa Paula. Then we headed north along the coast. At about ten in the morning we arrived in Gavita and joined CA 1, the Pacific Coast Highway.

In Lompoc we found a coffee shop and I got my two Splenda latte but only after Charlize found a suitable location for a long overdue pee. Since we were in no particular hurry I occupied a table in the sun outside the coffee shop. Charlize was content to lay in the shade I created. Within minutes a lady stopped and asked if she could pet Charlize, who is always open to new friendships. It wasn’t long before I found out she had two German shepherd dogs who were also rescues.

She noticed the Washington plates on Old Blue and it wasn’t long until I found out that her father, in his mid-eighties, lives in Edmonds where she was raised. Her Dad recently had a stroke and she had to move him from his home to a private elder care home. She said the family that owns the place is very nice, very experienced in caring for the elderly and that her Dad had his own little suite in the house. She told me he seems to be happy with his situation but I had the feeling that she was trying to convince herself. After she left us I turned to Charlize:

“You see what we have to look forward to girl? Hopefully you won’t be around when that happens to me. I need to keep my act together until you are ten or twelve, I suppose.”

Charlize looked at me with the quizzical expression she gets when trying to fathom what on earth I’m talking about but only responded with a tail wag. I suppose that is about as much as I can expect in response to a morbid thought. She was happy to leap back into Old Blue.

Back on the road we made our way, twisting and turning, rarely reaching speeds of fifty miles per hour mostly slowing to twenty-five or thirty for the curves. On our left were spectacular ocean vistas, one after another. We found a place for lunch in San Simon and Charlize made friends with an adorable four-year old sitting with her family at the table next to us on the patio.

Matilda’s mother told me it was impossible to keep her away from any dog, she just had to pet all of them. I offered some grandfatherly advice about being too trusting of strange dogs but it was clear that my warning had little effect on either mother or daughter. One more thing on the long list of things I have no control over.

It was a spectacular afternoon driving on the coast highway, stopping every half-hour or so at an overlook just to gaze at the waves coming in and the surf breaking. Eventually we arrived in Monterey. After settling in to the historic Munras Hotel Charlize strolled while I limped to Cannery row where Charlize introduced me to some more friendly folks. Charlize is impatient and fickle though. If the conversation lasts more than three or four minutes and nobody is paying sufficient attention to her, she is anxious to be off to find another new friend.

That evening Charlize and I ate tapas on the dog friendly patio at the hotel and she made friends with all the service staff. I was just along for the experience, and to pay the bill.

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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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The friends I visited with in Salinas have three dogs. Charlize had a grand time running and playing with them. She is sociable dog, gets on well with strangers, so far with strangers of all species we have encountered.

I had neglected to refuel Old Blue before our visit so by the time Charlize and I reached Monterey the gas gauge was showing close to empty and I was getting nervous. The first gas station I found was crowded. There were three rows of pumps and the first two were full of vehicles refueling. The row closest to the inevitable convenience store selling overpriced indispensables was empty of vehicles but a large truck, delivering more of those indispensables, was parked diagonally blocking my ability to swing wide enough to line up with the gas pump.

I was committed and stuck. I had made a sharp right turn into the station off a busy street. Old Blue was past the first two rows of pumps. The pump islands were protected, actually guarded by four-inch diameter steel posts planted firmly in the pavement and painted bright red. Frog was still half in the street, blocking traffic in the near lane.

I inched forward still thinking I could maneuver far enough to my right then back left to ease into the pump row. I checked both side view mirrors. Yes, I thought, it is doable. An impatient California driver, blocked by Frog, honked his horn. I rarely hear anyone honk their vehicle’s horn in the environs of Seattle it’s just not considered good form.

Those red steel posts were closer and closer as I inched Old Blue forward and around those posts. I was going to clear them. Frog cleared the street and traffic resumed. I was now completely focused on the posts. There was a loud crunching noise. If I had still had a stomach, that’s a whole other story, it would have turned inside out.

Frog is exactly the same width as Old Blue, the living, cabin portion of her, that is. A major selling point for me is that she is built to travel over rough roads for camping, hunting, fishing, those kinds of activities. She has a significantly stronger frame than the average travel trailer, higher clearances, a heavy-duty axel and oversized knobby tires. The wheels are outside of the trailer cabin so she is actually the width of both tires wider than the truck. Aluminum fenders screwed onto the body of the cabin prevent mud, water and/or snow or ice from splattering the cabin or following vehicles. The fenders sport running lights fore and aft.

You all know what happened next. While worrying about those painted red steel posts I ignored the parked truck. The driver’s side corner of the truck’s rear bumper, also solid steel, made contact with the front running light of Frog’s right side fender and scattered amber plastic over the pavement. The front half of the fender, now crumpled, separated from the cabin, the screws pulled loose.

I managed to pull the fender off the tire and push the screws back into their ragged holes. Then, watching both sides carefully I finally managed, with much backing, forwarding, maneuvering and wheel turning, to get around the corner and line up with the gas pump. Frog suffered her injury stoically, but there is no doubt she is struggling emotionally.

Duct tape is the wonder drug for all non-animate beings, but a temporary fix. I used it to hold the fender in place and off the tire to the best of my ability. After more days of travel the fender is still attached, sort of, but loosening. If I can’t find someone to repair it properly and professionally while I’m in San Diego, I’ll try to fix it myself. My son has tools.

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