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Turtle Beach and Shasta Lake

One of the joys of living long enough to see the next generation into adulthood is learning about the people they’re becoming as adults.  For this reason, I’ve spent the last month coordinating my travels to coincide with the locations of several young family members.  My first ‘family reunion’ stop was in Shasta Lake to see my niece, and namesake, Sara.  In the past, I would have driven straight there, but with the trailer the 500+ mile drive from Rancho Oso, needed to be split into two legs.

Turtle Beach RV Resort, Manteca, CA

It was a six hour drive north to Turtle Beach RV park, about 75 miles east of San Francisco, and consisted mostly of agricultural land, so I passed the time listening to a book on tape and talking to Yiska as though he can understand every word I say… because he can.

Turtle Beach is another Thousand Trails park and sits on the San Joaquin river.  It’s known as a fishing and boating destination, but since I wasn’t planning on doing either, I chose it for it’s proximity to I-5 and because it was a good mid-way stop on my drive to Shasta Lake.

The park is small with no amenities to speak of, but my space was large (aka ‘easy to back into’) and quiet.  Because I decided to only spend two nights, I left the tow hitched.  I had an early morning start with photography along the river since I was awoken at 5 am by a helicopter flying low overhead as he sprayed the banks with what I’m assuming was pesticide.

I learned there are several families of geese living on the water’s edge and wondered how Yiska would handle himself.  It’s challenging to carry his leash in one hand and a ten pound camera in the other, steady myself for images, and then worry if he’s suddenly going to take off after wildlife.  I’m happy to report that he was a complete gentleman, and I came away with some images to help me remember our morning stroll.

Shasta Lake, California

The 5 hour drive to Shasta Lake was uneventful, but enjoyable as I watched the terrain change from flat, wide open fields to mountains and pine trees.  I stayed at Mt. Gate RV Park just off of I-5 and found it to be quiet and quaint, with a small dog run, pool, clean laundry facility, friendly staff and best of all: a pull-through site!  I arrived mid day and set up home before meeting Sara at The Cookhouse Restaurant which has amazing panoramic views of the lake.  Three years had passed since I’d last seen my niece and besides having a rockin’ name, her eyes and mannerisms remind me of her mom, my sister, which endears me to her even more.  It made me misty to see that at 23 years old, she’s an intelligent, beautiful, kind young lady with dreams of motherhood, and continuing on in her career with a grass-roots organization.

We spent four days together, visiting with her in-laws, sightseeing at Shasta Lake, Mt. Shasta, Mt. Lassen, taking in a movie, dining out, visiting Sara’s work… anything that kept us out of the triple-digit temperatures and gave me a glimpse into her life.  The Shasta Lake area is beautiful with the deep lake surrounded by snow capped mountains.  My shutter was kept busy with wild flowers, lakes, and streams providing gorgeous backdrops for impromptu portrait sessions.  But, as much as I loved all the photography outings, my favorite part of the trip was simply being able to talk at length with Sara about our lives and learn about her new adventures in California.

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Saying goodbye was difficult, but was eased by the fact that I’ll be seeing her again at the end of August.  I left very early because ahead of me was the longest day of travel yet: 430 miles north to Pacific City RV Camping Resort on the coast of Oregon, where cool weather, ocean time, and a visit with my other niece, Grace, awaited me.

 

 

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Rancho Oso and Lessons Learned along the Way

In an effort to stay out of the heat and use my Thousand Trails RV park membership to it’s fullest, I mapped my trip through southern California to include two high elevation stops: Idyllwild above Palm Springs, and Rancho Oso above Santa Barbara.  The drive from Idyllwild (blog post here) to Rancho Oso is approximately 230 miles with much of it on the beautiful coastal highway, 101.

I’ve learned some lessons about how I travel, one being that I average about 50 mph when I factor in stops for gas and breaks at rest areas.  I start to get nervous when the tank dips below the half way mark, and Yiska and I both enjoy stretching our legs with a little walk every so often.  Doing the math, I calculated the drive would take me about 5 hours.  A fairly easy day of travel.

Or so I thought…

Lesson two was hard earned.  I now know not to pull off the highway for gas unless I can see the station from the road.  About half way through the journey, I noticed it was time to top off and started looking for the next available gas station.  I soon spotted a blue sign with a picture of a gas pump.  As I came to the small four way stop at the end of the off ramp there were no buildings.

I’ll turn left towards the ocean.  There must be a beach town just out of sight. 

I quickly found myself on a narrow rural street with beautiful homes but no room to turn around.  As the road narrowed even more I wondered if it would dead end and decided to use one of the large, gated driveways to turn around. I pulled in, but soon realized I couldn’t swing wide enough and backing up put me in danger of hitting a truck parked on the side of the road.  I was also now blocking both lanes.  As I wiggled my way back and forth, I noticed a few cars had pulled up and were waiting to get by.

This isn’t happening!

Suddenly, I wanted to cry.  I fought back the tears.

You can’t start crying now!  Pull it together.

I walked over to the first car and a young man, no more than 17 or 18 years old, rolled his window down.  Well dressed and impeccably groomed, driving a high end sports car, he flashed me a kind smile and I wanted to vote for him for president.

“Can I help you?” he asked.

“I hope so.  Have you backed up a trailer before?”

“Once or twice.”

My heart sank, but running out of options, I decided to chance it.  We agreed he’d do the driving and I’d spot him.  Within a few minutes he had me turned around and held the door as I got in.

“Have a wonderful day, Ma’am.”

Flashing me that toothy, perfect grin one last time, he drove away.

I looked at my front seat.  With it’s half full coffee mug, bag of trail-mix, overflow of camping gear, and Yiska panting in my ear, he had to have wondered what the story is.  A middle aged woman traveling solo with a tiny trailer, blocking traffic on his small street among multi-million dollar coastal homes would make me a novelty, at best.  No one honked their horns as they passed this time, but somehow this made me feel worse.  Only my second big driving day, and I wanted to throw in the towel.

My inner self began another discussion.

Analytical me: Focus on what you’re doing well.  The rest will come with time.  It’s normal to have ‘bumps in the road.’  (Analytical me smiles at my pun.)

Emotional me: I feel fragile.  I want everything to be easy for a while.  I’m tired of hard. (Emotional me fights off the tears again.)

This inner dialog went on for a while until a wet nose nuzzling my ear interrupted and I watched for the next rest stop.  I parked between two large semi trucks, made a sandwich, and munched on it from one hand while walking Yiska with the other.  I could feel my mood lifting.

 

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Later, my confidence was buoyed further as I drove the last few miles into the park along a narrow, winding, one-lane road with blind corners.  I backed my trailer into it’s site at Rancho Oso in one try.

Analytical me: See?

Emotional me smiled.

***

Rancho Oso is a working ranch that borders the Los Padres National Forest.  The next four days were spent exploring the ranch with my camera and walking the trails with Yiska.  Photographing animals is a favorite subject of mine, and the early morning light was beautiful as it crested the mountains and flooded the valley.  Lazy afternoons gave me time to edit my images and read.

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One morning I swung by the barn to ask about horseback riding and was told the group that was scheduled to go hadn’t shown up.  Ten minutes later I was in a saddle, my horse following a well worn path along the ridge of a mountain.  The young guide chatted with me as she rode ahead, telling me of her dream to become a vet and plans to move to Texas for college.  She told me about her relationship with her boyfriend, struggles with roommates, the support of her mom.  I shared my cancer story, the death of my husband, and my new adventure on the road.  With tears in both our eyes, we joked about how we’d normally hug at that moment, but it would be difficult to do while riding horses.  It reminded me of why I chose to do this in the first place.  Moments and connections like this.

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Later, I watched a cattle herding demonstration with a border collie mix who stopped mid-way through the presentation to leave the pen and visit with Yiska.  The handler didn’t seem happy that his dog wasn’t minding but it made me smile.  The two dogs looked like long lost cousins saying hello.

 

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On my last day I drove into Santa Barbara for a morning walk along the beach before returning to hitch up and be ready for the drive north.

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Next stop, two nights at Turtle Beach Fish Camp.  A small RV park on the San Joaquin River.  I felt refreshed and ready to tackle the bumps in the road once more.

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On the road, at last… (Idyllwild, California)

I open my eyes and tap the top of my watch, activating a blue glow that reads 2:07 am. The house is quiet – my parents asleep. We’d said our goodbyes the night before, and I remember the image of my dad, tucked into bed like a small boy, as I said goodnight and he told me he loved me. We’d stayed up later than usual, celebrating the end of chemo and the start of a new life on the road. Flipping on my side, I curl my leg around an overstuffed body pillow, pulling it close under my chin. Three hours of rest isn’t enough, and I fight the hand of anxiety slowly squeezing my chest. Forty minutes goes by before deciding I’ve given sleep my best effort and I bump my way to the bathroom.

Yiska stirs but doesn’t get up. With each pass, he wags his tail from his curled position and watches as I go back and forth from the guest room to the trailer. Shoving the last of my belongings into dark corners, I tell myself I’ll organize later.

The desert smells sweet before dawn, and as I turn the key in the ignition, I see it’s exactly 4 am. Pulling away from the curb there’s a slight tug of the trailer behind that sends a shiver through me.

This is it. I’m doing it.

I have over 400 miles of driving from Tucson, Arizona, to Idyllwild, in the hills above Palm Springs, and I figure the adrenaline of my first day will carry me through. Topping off the gas tank before getting on I-10 I wonder, how many times will I do this little job? I snap a photo with my cell phone and post it to Facebook. The phone begins to chime as messages from early risers and friends in other time zones wish me well.

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Early morning drives are my favorite, watching the colors change from cool to warm as the sun slowly seeps into the desert casting long shadows off the mountains. A little fiddling with the dials and cruise control is set to 60 mph. I realize I haven’t needed to use it in years.  The time passes quickly and, feeling elated when I cross into California, I begin singing at the top of my lungs:

🎵  Cal-I-Forn-Ya, here I come! Right back where I started from! O-pen up those golden gates! Californ-Ya, heerre eeyyy comme!  🎵

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By noon we’re winding up the San Jacinto mountains along a curly road that reminds me of Mt. Lemmon, and I notice the Landcruiser has no problem towing Sarandipity. The road is steep and the topography soon changes from tall, yellow grasses, to Manzanita and pine trees. Thousand Trails Idyllwild RV park is tucked away at the end of a narrow road that passes through a residential area so I’m relieved to see the sign and know I’ve come the right way.

It’s just after 1 pm when I check in. Considering it’s a Saturday on the 4th of July weekend, I count my blessings when I find one last full hook-up site available. The park is large with narrow, winding roads that veer off in every direction, and following the map while trying to locate a spot among the masses is difficult. When I tell the neighbors it’s my first time backing into a site, the husband volunteers to guide me. I thought I was doing well, but by the time I work my way into position there are three cars waiting to get by and the guy in front lays on his horn and shoots me a dirty look as he passes. I wonder if I’ve violated some backing-into-site etiquette, but I can’t imagine any other way to get the job done without blocking the road for a minute or two.

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I thank my neighbor profusely, unhitch and then take a moment to regroup as I sit in my chair with Yiska at my feet. I’m happy with the day’s drive and try not to let the stress of the arrival ruin my mood and feeling of accomplishment. In the past, my husband would drive and I was the map reader. We made a great team, both of us loving road trips, and having a partner for moral support and decision making was comforting. I feel him with me in spirit, but now I need to rely on myself. No one else can assess sites, read the map, drive the trailer, back it in, unhitch and set up. It’s overwhelming and empowering at the same time. I take a moment to give myself some positive talk.

There’s no problem that can’t be worked out. Others can wait. You did it!

The days are warm, too warm. But the nights air is cool and lingers until mid morning, so Yiska and I spend the early hours of each day doing short hikes around Idyllwild. I hold his leash in one hand and my camera in the other. The hiking muscles in my legs slowly wake, and each little summit is celebrated. We stop often to gaze into the valley below and take pictures.

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The ground is dry and covered in a thick layer of dirt so fine that every step sends a plume of dust into the air causing Yiska to sneeze. In the afternoons I read my book and rest, catching up on sleep. I also work on a blog post about my final chemo session. The internet is only available at the lodge and is slow, at best, so after posting the blog entry, I take it as a sign to unplug the rest of the time.

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After four nights, I’m ready to move on to the next location: Rancho Oso, in the hills above Santa Barbara. I hitch up the evening before because quiet hour is until 8 am and I want to leave early. All I have to do in the morning is tuck things away inside so they don’t roll around and I’m on my way by 6 am. As I drive down the mountain on highway 243 I’m gifted with the most beautiful view from above the clouds and further down it seems every turn reveals a scenic image within the misty rolling hills.

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I stop often to take pictures – because I can – and I love that thought. No time frame. No one to bother with ‘just one more’  pull out.

The morning sun prickles my skin and my spirit is lifted by the possibilities that lie ahead…

…and the roads waiting to be travelled.

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110 – A significant number.

 I’ve been counting, and I’ve made it all the way to 110.

***

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Day 75. Taken by a dear friend Sam.  He, and his wife PJ, visited me at the CC several times to help pass the time.

 

30: one month done and I can do out-patient chemo now. 50: almost half way there. 70: that’s more than half way! 100: oh. my. gosh. I made it to 100…. you get the idea. At the end of each infusion, averaging four hours from check-in to check-out, I would mark my calendar with a giant X. Another one down.

I remembered back to the early months, when the finish line seemed far, far away. At the time, I didn’t know how I would do it. In the end, the answer was simple. Like with so many things that appear insurmountable: one step, one bite, one needle at a time, we make our way through life’s challenges. Slowly, the pages in my calendar turned and the last month was upon me. You’d think it would be easy to get the last few weeks done. But, it became an inner battle of motivation to go in to the cancer center each day.

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Day 100. PJ and I celebrating with a farewell dinner.

The Monday of my final week, I had my port removed, with the plan to do my last infusions through the arm. I chit-chatted and joked with the surgeon and nurses throughout the procedure, telling them about my road trip as the doctor dug my portacath out from inside the scar tissue. I could feel the tugging, but I didn’t mind. With each pull and suture, I was being set free. I felt weepy in a good way, knowing what this represented. I no longer needed a port, because I no longer needed chemo. I wasn’t going to be a “cancer” patient any longer. I’d survived!

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Day 105. Port removed and waiting for arm infusion.

Just five more days… I secretly wished my doctor would surprise me and say I didn’t really need that last week.

“What’s 5 less infusions out of 110?” I reasoned with myself.

I toyed with the idea of forging a note, “Please excuse Sara from infusions this week. She isn’t feeling well and has a lot to do. Thank you. Dr. XXX”

But, instead, I showed up. You have to show up in life to get somewhere.

I used to be a school teacher, so sometimes I view the world through the memories of this time in my life. Many elementary schools celebrate the 100th day. This is to help the students understand the concept of such a large number by associating it with something concrete; a tangible item like how many days they’ve been in class that year. Plus, it’s just a fun number to reach, and who doesn’t love a party? On the hundredth day, students bring in 100 of something: beans, pennies, red vine licorice… and the items are displayed as a graphic representation of this big number.

Friday, I reached my 110th, and final, chemo infusion. As I contemplated this number, it made me want to gather that many bags of arsenic (my chemo drug) and lay them out in a row for show and tell.

“Look, everybody! Look what I did! This is what 110 looks like. Tada!”

I pictured lining the bags up like dominoes and, as my grand finale, I’d push the first one over and watch them topple and tip all the way down the row.

Nine months had passed, the time it takes to grow a new life, and it was time to say goodbye. The nurses all gathered to blow bubbles, then presented me with a purple heart certificate and a ceramic butterfly. On my way out, I passed by the receptionists and hugged each one before swinging into the lab room to give a good squeeze to the nurses and phlebotomists who drew my blood each week. A young man rejoiced in the elevator with me and patients who overheard the commotion said congratulations as I passed. I cried happy tears through much of it, and noticed I wasn’t alone. These caring individuals, some with tears of their own, had saved my life and now they were genuinely happy to see me go. This is one situation where no one wants you to come back.

Being showered in bubbles!

The celebrations continued after leaving the center. Yiska’s doggy daycare made him a going away gift with his paw print, and my parent’s hosted a goodbye party with all their neighbor’s I’ve come to know and love. I spruced up Sarandipity for tours. We entered in groups of three so all could see her loveliness without being too crowded. As the sun set, we toasted to my travels and finishing my treatments.

Yiska with his best friend at PawsUp daycare.  Certificate and gifts. Giving tours of Sarandipity.

Later, just as I was crawling into bed, the phone rang. It was my daughter calling from Maui, out with her friends celebrating this day. She put me on speaker phone in the middle of their table.

I could hear them all cheering in the background, “No more chemo! Whoohoo!”

They clinked their glasses and drank to me, shouting, “Come see us! When are you coming for another visit?! You did it! Congratulations!”

I felt truly loved and fell asleep with a smile on my face. Tomorrow, a new day, a new state, a new way of life.

I woke at 2:00 AM.

Ready.

Set.

Go!

***

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Outside Restoration and Renovations Finished!

Back in January, I shared the finished renovations to the inside of my Escape 17′ fiberglass trailer, seen here. When I sit inside and look around, I’m filled with pride and love for the beautiful interior because all the personal touches make it feel like a home. My home.

But, I didn’t have that same feeling about the outside. Sarandipity was built in 2005 and the exterior looked a bit worn after 11 years. The pin striping decals, that were once silver, had faded into a brown crackled mess. The white of the fiberglass was oxidized and dull and the chassis, once black, was now grey with age. The plastic accessories, such as the vent for the stove had yellowed from the sun. Suffice it to say, I wanted to love the outside as much as the inside.

Then, I met Ryan (of Liberty RV Parts and Service, Tucson, Arizona). While working with him to fix a few things, I mentioned my thoughts about updating the outside. We did some brainstorming and he helped me figure out how to approach the renovation and restoration, knowing my ultimate goal was to have it look new and somewhat unique.

The perfect opportunity to do the work came while I was house and pet sitting for my parents this week. I dropped it off with Ryan, and he spent days (and some nights) taking care of every little detail we discussed.

Here are the restoration and renovations done:

  • Faded and cracked pin stripe decals removed.
  • Band of paint to match SUV placed where decals used to be.
  • Fiberglass buffed and waxed to remove oxidation and make it shiny again.
  • Dings from rocks repaired and then rock guard spray in front and back (truck bed lining material).
  • Replaced light by door.
  • Yellowed plastic cover for stove vent replaced, along with all other faded/aged plastic accessories on outside (door holder, bubble levels, etc.)
  • Welded new sway control in place on tongue.
  • Sealed all windows and vents (one of the windows had a leak so decided to seal all openings).
  • Sealed doorway with new rubber and foam to fix large gaps when door was closed.
  • Painted chassis with fresh black.
  • Replaced rubber bumper detail around middle.
  • Replaced lines and connections running to battery.

I believe there may be a few things I’m forgetting. But, basically, it looks brand new and is ‘unique to me’, just as I had hoped. And the fact that it matches my SUV is icing on the cake.

Now when I see the outside, I love it as much as the inside.  And knowing it’s not just cosmetic work, but also updates to important maintenance issues, gives me peace of mind.

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Faded, brown, and cracking decals. The old silver color can be seen in a few spots.

Some before and after images:

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Picking her up at the shop was like Christmas morning:

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Bringing her back ‘home’ to the RV park.  I can’t wait to show my neighbors.

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Front view, showing off that fabulous black rock guard.

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So… what’s next?

The only thing left to do is get new tires, have the ball bearings packed, check the brakes, and generally make sure it’s safe and road ready for next Saturday!

Yiska – Night Has Passed

I remember when Mr. & Mrs. Two-Legs came for me, just as my Mama said they would.

***

“You must look hard, my children, and they will come. You’re own special humans. You’ll know it is them because they will love you like no other two-leggeds and will invite you to follow them to distant places.”

She was quiet for a moment and then said slowly, “You will know it is them because they will give you a name and they will treasure you as I do.”

Mama didn’t have a human name and I realized no one had come for her. Her coat was dull and dirty and when we drank from her belly, I could see the outlines of her bones. But we had fat stomachs, round with milk, and between licking us until we shone, she told the story of our birth and the great mystery that was our future.

As the days passed, Mama was slow to get up from her bed and left us for longer periods in search of food and water. She brought us lizards, and gifts from the two-leggeds.

“Alright, my children, you’re old enough for me to show you what’s beyond. The weather god shows no mercy as he crosses this land so brace yourself for the cold.”

She led us out from under the deck, and into the sunrise of a new day. The wind cut through my coat and when my eyes adjusted, large layered rocks of red, purple, and yellow came into focus. They rose from the surface of the desert as giants standing guard.

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Monument Valley

“They call this Monument Valley. Besides the hotel, the humans have not scarred the land.  Your ancestors have a proud history and relationship with this sacred place. Your father, and his father before him, going back to the beginning of time, have worked alongside two-legs keeping the sheep safe.”

“But there are no more sheep to protect, so we must find another way.”

The lessons of survival began right away as Mama demonstrated how to get food.

We watched from behind a rock as a traveling machine made it’s way up to the hotel and a family of humans got out. Mama walked cautiously towards them, avoiding eye contact to show them she meant no harm. The biggest one yelled and threw a rock that bounced off her ribs. My heart raced and I wanted to run to her.

“Be careful, Mama!” I yelped.

Before leaving, the littlest one, with long fur pulled back like a tail on her head, dropped her sandwich on the ground and glanced over with a smile.

And so, we learned to beg.

One by one, my brothers and sisters disappeared. Mama said it was the way. I asked if they had found their special humans. The ones that would love them like no other.

“Some have,” she said quietly, “and they are on great adventures in distant lands.”

“Others have become one with the dirt we walk on, and are resting under the sun. Their bodies feed the lizards, in the great circle of giving, and they blow in the dust to watch us from above. I will do the same soon, my son.”

***

And then I was alone.

***

I tried to remember what Mama had taught me. The seasons changed, as she said they would, and the earth burned the pads of my paws while I searched for water. During the day, I worked the parking lot showing the humans how well I could sit and wag my tail. If they let me, I would jump up on two-legs just like them, hugging their middle and burying my head into their belly.

But, as they came and went, I also learned to be careful when taking the food they offered. I could sense the fear in some, and the meanness in others who used tricks to hurt me. During the kind moments, I wondered, “Are you the one? Am I to go with you?”

I was never invited.

The weather god blew cold again, and I learned to sleep against large rocks because they gave back the heat they had silently gathered during the day.

I heard the humans talk of Thanksgiving and the smells from the hotel kitchen were especially rich. In the distance I saw a traveling machine pull in front of one of the new cabins. Mama wouldn’t have liked the rows of human dens that now perched on the cliff. She liked the land left unmarked. But I didn’t mind. It meant more chances for food.

As I approached, I sensed this human was kind. He had a big smile and accepted my hug with joy of his own. I waited as he raced into the cabin and brought out a female. I knew she was nervous so I showed how well I could sit. I listened as they talked about my appearance. My coat no longer shone, and my ribs protruded like Mama’s.

Then the food came. And water. Oh, so much water to help with the deep thirst. How did they know?

That night I chose a rock near their cabin and pushed myself against it. I would guard their den as a thank you. Sometime after dark, the two-leggeds invited me in. I shook with fear and didn’t follow. I wasn’t supposed to go inside, but they picked me up and carried me, talking softly and stroking my fur.

They named me “Yiska”, and explained that it meant “night has passed” in Navajo.

Before leaving I spoke to the earth, the rocks, and especially the heavens.

“I have a name, Mama. I’m going to have great adventures in far away lands and answer the mystery of my future. My special two-leggeds have come for me at last and I will be treasured.”

And the dust blew all around me.

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Yiska – One year later.  Night has  passed.

***

Epilogue

Upon arriving at Monument Valley on Thanksgiving evening, we were greeted by a friendly stray dog.  He was ravenous and very thirsty.  We later asked the hotel staff and were told a litter matching his description was born under the hotel a year prior.  We watched as this dog expertly worked the parking lot, and noticed no other strays.  What became of the rest of his litter is a mystery.  We spent several days thinking about what to name him and, based on his birthplace, a Navajo name seemed fitting.  He was scared to enter our cabin and even more scared as we drove him away in our ‘traveling machine’.  The vet told us he was, indeed, about one year old and although very thin, was in surprisingly good health.

He has been one of the greatest gifts ever bestowed on a two-legged and we have many adventures to share together.

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Month One – Wheel Estate Reflections

9 days in…

The black tank is full! Don’t ask me how I know.

I check the manual for instructions on how to empty it.

Page 56 – Waste Water System

Steps 1-4: Hook up hose.

Easy peasy. Feeling good.

Step 5: Open the black tank termination valve and drain.

Open valve. Sounds easy.

Hmm…

Now…      Where…     Is…      The…      Valve?

I spot the grey tank valve – at least I think it’s the grey tank valve.

But where’s the black one? Am I looking at the right tank?

The tank is big and black, and it’s under the bathroom area.

This must be it.

I pull the only valve I can find, deciding that maybe it’s a dual valve and will empty both tanks.  Whooshing sounds proceed and my hopes start to rise.  Inside, I peek in the toilet.

Nope.  That’s definitely the grey tank valve and I still have a problem. 

I check the manual again for a diagram. No such luck.  30 seconds is lost contemplating making a snazzy diagram once I find this valve and submitting it to the Escape people for their next manual.  Then, I realize this is probably one of those terribly obvious things that doesn’t warrant a diagram.

Determination sets in.  I look every where; crawling on the gravel and laying on my back, scooting my way under and around the tank. Dust, dirt, and sharp rocks dig into my shirt and I wipe the stinging, salty drips of sweat from my eyes.  I see a spider and decide that’s enough bonding with the underbelly.

Why can’t I find it?!

Luckily the RV mechanic swings by to install some things and see’s me wiggling my way out, surgical gloves dawned, and red faced from sun and embarrassment.

“I can’t find the black tank valve. I’ve looked everywhere!” I bend down close to the tank and gesture my hand around the area for emphasis.

He reaches out, just a few inches from my nose and pulls something. Out pops a black lever, tucked up close to the underside of the fiberglass and blending in with the color of the tank.

Oh.

There’s a swoosh, as the waste rushes past. The mechanic has a smile on his face, that I’m certain is holding back a laugh, and I want to tell him not to worry about me.

I can do this. I really can!

Instead, I just say, “There it is! Thanks!”

As I tromp back around the egg, I flip the dripping bangs out of my eyes and try to walk with an air of confidence.

I hear a rock drop off my shirt.

 

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First RV Park – NO Shade.  Ugh.

***

3 weeks in…

Several RV neighbors have gathered for a sunset visit, cold beers drip beads of condensation on the checkered picnic table covering. When I approach, they ask why I decided to pick such a small trailer to travel full time.

Four sets of eyes, not counting their dogs, are staring at me intently.

“Well, you know that show Tiny House Nation? I used to watch it and say, ‘I could do that!’. I like minimalist living. And it’s very cosy inside.”

They don’t seem convinced. I’m sandwiched among massive 40’+ luxury RV’s and we figure my 17’ Sarandipity could fit in one of their bedrooms.

Because I love my egg so much, I feel the need to justify my decision further.

“It has a bathroom, kitchen, comfortable bed and sitting area. Really everything I need. I’m no wider than a regular SUV and I can park in two facing parking spots in any parking lot.”

Heads start to nod, and then one of the husbands speaks up.

“You know, when I was younger I used to think about getting one like that. It really is all you need.”

They might just be humoring me, but that’s okay. I’m happier than I thought I could be in my new home.

***

One month in…

Today’s my monthiversary and it’s starting to feel more like a home and less like I’m camping! Each morning I Keurig up a cup of coffee (yes, I’ve made Keurig a verb), then dot it generously splash it – with some hazelnut creamer, and head outside with Yiska to watch the sunrise. Each day I also jot down something on my shopping list for how to make life more livable. Little things like drawer organizers, containers that fit each cubby, and nesting kitchen pots and pans. Amazon routinely delivers boxes to my parents’ home.

“Where are you putting it all?!” Dad yells in the loving way he often yells at me, with a smile and hands thrown in the air.

But everything has a purpose and is in it’s place, hidden out of sight so nothing looks cluttered. And this process hasn’t been a one way street. I’ve made several trips to the storage unit to drop off things I realize I don’t need.  Yesterday, I decided a fan and some pillows aren’t going to make the cut and into the storage unit they’re going.

These two months of living in the trailer before heading down the road are proving to be invaluable. I feel much more prepared and I’ve discovered the answer to my question: Will I enjoy living in my new space? Yes.

I’ll have a whole new learning curve when I start going from park to park, driving roads I’m not familiar with, and navigating where to stay. But, at least I’m happy at this point with my choices and progress.

 

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2nd RV Park – SHADE!   And just in time for 110 degree days.

***

One month and one day in…

Last night I shaved my legs. This morning I put make-up and earrings on. These are primping rituals that I haven’t done much lately. What’s the special occasion? Well, today I start the last month of my chemo. 20 more sessions and I’m finished. Truly finished! No more 6-hour days of infusion treatments. No more pills. No more weekly blood draws, or sleeping with a needle in my port… Best of all, no more APL leukemia ruling my life.  July 1st I will come in and be dripped with arsenic one final time. July 2nd, I’ll pull out onto I-10, with a stocked fridge and a full tank of gas.

(Note: I’ll have to return once every three months for status checks, but that’s different and I’m not counting it right now.)

After I finished my coffee, Yiska and I did a selfie photo session to celebrate our morning, before jumping in the SUV and heading to doggy daycare and then the cancer center!

last month chemo set
Yiska’s such a good sport.

I’m a Full Time RVer!

Sabino Canyon home

I’m a full-time RVer!

It’s been a week since I moved into my 17′ fiberglass egg named “Sarandipity” and I’ve had moments of frustration, fear, pride, and perfect contentment. I’ve been challenged, and I’m sure there will be many more lessons to come, but right now… I absolutely love my new little home!

It started a bit rocky last Friday with difficulties hitching up. The trailer was being stored at a friend’s home and between four adults it took over an hour to get it hooked up. The problem? The ball hitch didn’t want to go in the socket. Not sure why, but there was lots of, “Okay, back it up 1/2 an inch… now move forward an inch… you’re rolling forward when you put it in park, just keep your foot on the break… maybe if I stand on it and bounce up and down… why won’t it go in?!…”

and so on, and so forth…

In the end, one person theorized that the SUV being on a hill and the trailer on a flat spot messed with the angle. Another thought that the hitch lock wasn’t completely out of the way. Regardless, we finally got it hooked up and started our 20 mile trip across town to the RV park that would be my home for the next two months.

The drive to the park was smooth, without incident, and unhitching was a breeze. But we soon discovered:

  • I was missing the electrical cord and the graduated end to the hose for dumping the tanks. Off we went to an RV parts store and purchased the two items.
  • We also learned that the water leaked terribly where it attached to the side of Sarandipity, and my air conditioner wouldn’t turn on. A call to a mobile RV mechanic revealed that I hadn’t turned on the switch in the park’s breaker at the site where I plug in. Air conditioner and outlets now working, we scheduled a time later in the week for the mechanic to come out and fix the water hose connection.
  • My stabilizers couldn’t be put down because I had no idea where to find the metal rod for lowering them in the pile of gear still packed in my SUV.

At this point I was tired. Muscles that hadn’t been used in a year were unhappy to be so rudely awakened, and I ached all over. The work it took to move my trailer across town worried me.

Would it always be this hard and take this long?

I decided I’d wait until the next day to unpack the SUV. I kissed my Dad and friend good bye and thanked them for all the help.

As I went inside and closed the door, I noticed the room was aglow with light and Yiska had found a spot just under the sitting area that could function as his den. It was cozy and comfortable, and I changed into my PJ’s and poured myself a glass of wine.

We’re home, Yiska.

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***

Even though I haven’t had a chance to use them, the amenities at the park are wonderful. There’s a large pool and jacuzzi; a pool room, library, game room, and laundry. The bathrooms are clean, internet is good, and the staff is friendly. But, I feel like I’m baking in a large, gravel, parking-lot-oven. The full-timers have chosen the premium spots; premium being any space with a hint of shade. Cars snuggle up to shrubs and chairs squish under awnings in an effort to combat the triple digit temperatures. The gravel spaces in the back of the park are designated for those with dogs, and my little egg is frying, sunny side up, as the searing sun radiates off the rock. I hadn’t planned on spending any more summer months in Arizona, but my chemo treatments won’t be finished until July 1st, so it is what it is.

Meanwhile, I’ve become a part of the community and am entertained by the reaction to my trailer and travel plans.

“Oh, look, it’s a little Casita!”    (It’s actually an Escape)

“Are you sure that’s enough room for you and your dog?”     (It’s bigger than a backpack.)

“Where’s all your stuff?”     (I gave it away.)

“You’re traveling by yourself? Be careful and lock your doors. It’s good you have a dog.”     (Common sense and listening to your intuition goes a long way.)

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The mobile homes and RV’s dwarf me. Even among those living this tiny house lifestyle, I’m unusual in my smallness. The people I’ve spoken with are kind and helpful, and because word has spread of my cancer and solo status, I’m visited daily by one resident or another. It’s comforting, but I want to reassure them that I’m fine. It’s true; I am fine. Each day that goes by, I learn something new about how to operate my trailer and my confidence grows.

I’ve hitched and unhitched the trailer two more times this week and feel good about it now. It takes me about 20 minutes from start to finish to tuck my things into safe places, and hook the SUV to the trailer. Why go to the trouble? Because I’m in “backing up school” with my dad. We drive to a nearby church parking lot and I practice. Backing up the trailer has always been my biggest fear when I think about this adventure.

What happens if I can’t do it? What if the spot is too narrow and I hit something? Or I can’t get it situated and everyone is watching… Or I jackknife… Or…

Our first outing wasn’t good. It validated my worry. My dad’s frustration level with watching me bungle my way through didn’t help matters. On the drive back to the RV park he tried to remain positive.

“You did improve towards the end,” he stated with less enthusiasm than I would have liked.

I’m horrible at this. I don’t get it!

The second lesson was very different from the first. Keeping my hands on the bottom of the steering wheel, I thought about which way I wanted the trailer to turn and then moved my hand in that direction. I pulled forward often to straighten out the trailer and my SUV and heard my dad shout, “You’re doing great!” several times. As we drove back to the park, he excitedly talked about how well I did and I knew he meant it.

I’ve conquered my biggest fear. I now know I can back up my trailer when I need to. I have the concept down and with practice I’ll get better. This experience is sometimes scary, and I have to remind myself to take it one step at a time.

Slowly, I’m gaining the knowledge and skills to do this.