Chapter 1.  Rendezvous in Washington

© Bert & Shari Frenz, 2012 All rights reserved.

To the starting gate – March 29 to April 16, 2012 – Texas to Washington

(Bert) Alaska’s magnetic pull draws us northwesterly, first north from our home on the Mexico border to Dallas, then west two days before tornadoes twist semi-trucks into whirlwinds as if feathers. Blinding snow storms in New Mexico slow our speed, but we gain again through the flat and straight Interstate 40 through the Mohave Desert of Arizona. A brief diversion to Lake Havasu gives us a view of London Bridge while enjoying an afternoon beer with friends. Still westward we cross California to the Pacific Ocean, stopping to see Richard and Georgia, and later Bill and Ginny, featured in many of our previous journals as fellow caravaners.

It has been more than a year since I’ve added a bird to my life list, so it is a real treat to take the ferry to the Channel Islands and find Island Scrub Jay at Santa Cruz Island. I real surprise on our return ferry is watching pairs of Xantus’s Murrelets propelled on parallel paths just above the rippled sea, beating short wings to move their small chubby bodies. We follow coastal Highway 1, stop to watch a thousand Elephant Seals shedding fur on a sandy beach, and again to watch a dozen California Condors soaring above cliffs a mile above and beyond the highway. At this distance, eyes suggest Turkey Vultures, but binoculars show the white underlining wings and more eagle-like flight pattern.

We penetrate near-perpetual rainstorms through Oregon and half of Washington before stopping at Bob and Pat’s home near Tacoma. You will hear more of them as they will be joining us on this caravan. A bright morning sun basks Mt. Rainer in clear view from their living room cathedral windows. Our last travel day, we pass hundreds of acres of red and yellow tulips in Skagit Valley before reaching our rendezvous location in Bellingham.

Day 1 – April 18 – Bellingham, WA

(Bert) One might wonder, after six extensive Alaska visits 1996-2008, why do we want to go again? Undoubtedly, Shari will tell us it is her favorite destination. I’d agree on the scenery, yet it is also the pull of seeing the remote places–the best of what we have already seen and the lure of ones yet unseen. It takes years of visits, especially since the best timing to be at one place coincides with the best of another. So, this year we will stretch our exploration longitudinally 1200 miles from the last ferry stop at Dutch Harbor on the Aleutian chain to the Arctic Ocean near Deadhorse, far above the Arctic Circle. And, latitudinally 1900 miles from isolated Saint Paul Island in the Bering Sea to Great Slave Lake in Northwest Territories. Let the adventure begin …

(Shari) Here I am in Bellingham, about to embark on our 23rd caravan. It seems years since I did a caravan, yet it was just last May. A lot has happened in between I guess. We got started on our drive north a bit later than we anticipated since Bert had some medical issues that are now all fine. It was a whirlwind drive west and then north, visiting only six friends en route. Unfortunately, we just had no time to stop for more. We missed all the terrible weather in Texas and while Dallas was having semi-trucks swirl around in the air from a tornado we were driving through snow in Albuquerque. I got hooked on the Food Networks show Diner’s Drive-ins and Dives, and within the first five days of our trip, we stopped at three of the featured places. I think the most unusual and best of the three was the City Market Barbeque in Luling, TX. We arrived 15 min. before closing and had to buy take-out, yet still out of this world delicious. After our breakfast in Flagstaff, AZ we decided we had to quit looking for these restaurants as we were probably gaining some of the weight we worked so hard to lose this past winter. I even passed up a cinnamon roll with my friend Ginny in Morro Bay, CA. If it were today, I would buy it and eat the whole thing right now.

Our caravan guests are to arrive this evening, so this morning we walk to the motel next door and I arrange breakfast for the group. On other caravan trips, we would take our car to run errands. We did not even bring the car on this trip but taking our “pup tent” (a 25-ft. Chinook Class B camper) is convenient and as Bert mentions, “I can’t forget my binoculars, boots, camera equipment or raincoat since it is always with me.” We check out a wildlife preserve for a possible outing on Friday before our ferry departs, scout the road and procedures for ferry loading, hunt for special foods at Trader Joe’s–gees, I love that store and too bad I do not have storage for all I want to buy–and fill up our tank with the cheapest diesel we will find all summer (here, $4.36 per gal.) and shop at Fred Meyer’s, another favorite store of mine.

Day 2 – April 19 - Bellingham

(Bert) Where are Doug and Kay? It is an evolving soap opera that started about a week ago when they called from Denver to say they were thinking of replacing their RV. We are familiar with the model they were considering and bought the next day, as we had toured the manufacturer last summer. The main reason for their call was that the vehicle was longer and ferry reservations are rigid about the exact dimensions of boarded vehicles. Negotiating the deal, transferring their stuff, and arranging for a reseller to handle their used RV forced them to get a late start from Denver. So we have been getting daily, sometimes hourly, calls about their progress toward Bellingham. After a few fits and starts, Shari got the ferry reservation adjusted and cancelled last night’s RV park reservation for them.

Early this morning I take another call from Doug and listen to a somewhat frustrated man explain their problems with water flooding their RV. He seems convinced they cannot solve the water leak, will need to return to the factory, and will not get to us in time for the ferry departure. I try encouraging him, suggesting alternatives, and we disconnect with Doug intending to call the factory as soon as they open.

A few hours later Doug calls again, this time talking to Shari. He is still frustrated and says he cannot get ahold of the factory and is sure we have to cancel the ferry reservation, although we both know we are beyond the cancellation date. However, in the middle of their conversation he gets an incoming call and hangs up immediately. We continue with our orientation meeting with our other caravan guests and are near finishing when the cell phone rings again. This time Shari is talking to Kay who is excited and exuberantly announces they are again on the road with a repair plan that, presumably, can be solved when they reach Bellingham. Yet another call at 3:30 PM says they have progressed westward, are now 330 miles from us, and arrangements have been made for a Bellingham mechanic to meet them at the RV park tomorrow. Repair parts will be Federal Expressed from Denver to Bellingham. Doug does not like to drive at night, so will be stopping in a few hours. We are supposed to be lined up at the ferry dock tomorrow at 3 PM. The saga continues.

(Shari) I go from depression to elation back to depression back to elation again as I hear about Doug and Kay’s troubles. While I am taking a shower this morning Doug calls and tells Bert he has to cancel the whole trip as something is wrong with the new Earthroamer that they purchased only three days ago and he has to take it back to Denver. I am so depressed I could throw up. Bert tries to cheer Doug up and relates the troubles we have had over the years. They decide to wait a few hours until Doug contacts the company by phone. Meanwhile I try to be cheerful at breakfast and later during our meeting but it is hard. Doug calls again and still says he has to cancel the trip. While we are conducting the orientation meeting, Doug calls a third time and says “the trip is on”. Apparently Earthroamer has diagnosed the problem, has made arrangements for a part to be delivered tomorrow here at the campground and to be installed. I am back up on a high. Now Doug and Kay just have to travel 670 some miles to get here by the morning.

The rest of the day goes quickly even if we have to stay inside due to rain. Right before our social hour, Bert finds water dripping down our cabinets and we try to discover the source of the leak. We look, I look, Bert looks, I push Bert to look some more but as of dinner time, we have found nothing but more water. I push Bert to unscrew here and unscrew there, taking things apart and putting them back together. I am so sorry I talked him out of taking the electric screwdriver and I guess I will never hear the end of that one. Finally around 8 PM, Bert discovers water running down an electrical wire that comes from the roof behind our closest to the solar panel box above the cabinets. Now at least we can put a pitcher under the drip drip drip of the water. By the time we go to bed we are collecting water at a rate of 1 cup per hour. I get up at midnight and empty the pitcher. I fall asleep amid worries about getting water on my face during the night if the pitcher overflows.

(Bert) Winter clings by icy fingernails, refusing to release its hold on the Northland. As we transit northern Wisconsin falling ice crystals sting the cold windshield. In Minnesota remnant snow drifts in dark crevices and a few stretches of dirty iced snow, the last of the snowplow’s piles, still edge the highway, while white wisps of last night’s snowfall dust the still brown grass. The sun bursts forth, determined to shoo away winter and by mid day it succeeds in at least creating the illusion of warmth. At frozen-over Cass Lake, near the headwaters of the Mississippi River, Horned Grebes and Common Mergansers dive in the narrow icy water separating ice floe from shoreline. A robin dressed in spring plumage seeks early worms in hardened ground just beginning to show green grass. It cocks its head and ear to one side and then snatches up a long earthworm in its bill and swallows the wiggling creature in a single gulp. Spring is in the air at the Red River, separating Minnesota from North Dakota. Dozens of Yellow-rumped Warblers flutter like butterflies on barren tree branches, bulbous with spring buds not yet exploded into first leaves.

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