Millennium Mom

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Heading up to the Pacific NW - but some stops along the way

We wanted to take advantage of the drive up to Crater lake to see some nice spots, stop along the coast and then along the Rogue River.  Our stop tonight would be in Prospect, Oregon about 45 minutes south of the south entrance.

Our first stop was just a few miles North of Klamath along the CA coast, at Wilsons creek.  This is where the creek comes into the Pacific ocean.  We were told we could see starfish there so we were excited- wildlife of some sort.  The spot was quite nice, only about 30 feet from the parking lots but lots of rocks to explore and then the flowing creek into the pacific.  The kids had a blast.  We had our rain coats on, even though it wasn't really raining because the fog and frankly to keep them dry.  Here are some pics of the adventure.

 Right after our stop we crossed into Oregon.  We love Oregon.  Arnie lived there while we were dating/engaged from 1998-2000.  He was the finance manager on the Fred Meyer team.  When he moved out there they had FM, plus Ralph's, Smith's, Smitty's.  Then Kroger bought Fred Meyer and it became Kroger West.  We enjoyed traveling the state and seeing things - Mt. Hood, Bend, The coast, but we never made it to the South an Crater Lake.  We looked forward to finally seeing that part of the state.
 About and hour and a half North we landed in Prospect, our destination for the night.  This RV campground was VERY nice, wooded and had a very friendly staff for sure. They gave us tons of hiking trails, points of interest and maps to direct us to everything.  We decided to head out on our bikes to go see some of the local waterfalls from the Rogue River.  The daring part of this adventure was that we would take Henry with us and he would run along Arnie biking.  For the most part this worked, at times he got distracted by some lizard or something, but no major spills by anyone.  Here is a pick of him leading the way, sort of like the dogs in Alaska pulling the sleds.  The Rogue was a very heavy flow river, getting all the snow run-off from many of the Southern cascades.  The waterfalls were great.

We headed back home to make dinner and have a campfire.  Here are some pics from our site.  We had a great time.  Only downfall is mosquitoes they are in Oregon for sure!  So the citronella candles came out along with the OFF.  Mommy made double chocolate cookies for the gang the night before and we still had some so tonight the marshmallows would be in between the chocolate cookies for Claire and daddy for sure.

The rig pulled in for the night

Ben by the campfire

Claire with her choc sandwich smore

On Thursday morning we got up and planned to go see a natural bridge, but this would be very different from the ones we saw in Utah.  It was actually right above the river, lava had carved out the rocks thousands of years ago creating an underground tunnel for the river to flow through for a about 25 feet, it was pretty cool.

here is a pic of the river flowing beneath the bridge

this is the water right before it dips under that rock which is the bridge.

the bridge from the top and then the water coming out after it.

So a great day seeing some local Oregon sights.  We are now off to Crater lake and so excited.  Yesterday it was 49 degrees there, but today summer has arrived and it will be a high of 69 and sunny. We have been SO LUCKY with the weather, we bring the sun wherever us and our "Sunseeker" which is the name of our RV go.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Random observations after 5,000 miles

Today we surpassed the 5,000 mile mark of our trip.  Tomorrow marks 4 weeks that we have been away, 28 days, hard to believe.  Time does fly when you are having fun.  After being on the road for that long, and having passed through no less than 10 states so far (and that does not count Ohio), I think it is about time to give you some of my observations.  I have shared most of these with Arnie during our drive time, so I guess you can say they are "ours" but just in case he does not fully agree, I will say "my".  These are in no particular order, just some random thoughts

- Subways...they are everywhere!  I heard on the radio sometime this spring that Subway had just surpassed McDonald's in terms of number of locations/stores.  That fact must have been based on global stores, because in the US there must be twice as many and that is being conservative.  There are literally everywhere.  Stand alone stores, in gas stations, you name it, from a big city to a town of 2,000 people, there is a Subway.  This of course makes my family happy, but not me, I am not a huge fan.  When you grow up on NY subs, and for me from an Italian pizzeria, they just don't cut it, in particular the bread, I hate it.

- Oregon is the Dairy Queen capital of the world.  And as a result, it has become a favorite state of mine.  My first job where I paid taxes was at DQ, and I have been their biggest fan ever since.  So when they are literally at every exit in a state, like it seems they are in Oregon, and even better they make the highway sign, the Zucker family is very happy.  There are so many I was convinced they must be headquartered here, but they are fact in Illinois, go figure.  I guess they just have the best franchisees ever, as for sure it is not the sunny, warm weather that drives people to want more ice cream.

we will stay on the food angle with the next one
- Chipotle;  we are investing in their stock when we get home.  Our family consumes a ton of Chipotle, we have now even turned my parents onto it.  So we agreed with the kids that the "treat" while in the RVwould be to go to Chipotle.  The issue had is they DID NOT exist after Ohio, literally didn't see them, not in St. Louis, not in Colorado (and yes I know they are headquartered in Denver, but in southern Colorado didn't find them), not in Utah (or at least Moab).  It was not until we got to California that we saw them again.  Folks that is a LOT of land, which means a ton of expansion opportunity, which means, we are investing in the stock.

staying with retail channels, let's go to food, drug, mass as we call it in CPG land
- Dollar Stores.  Now I know why they are the fastest growing channel in America for the past 15 years.  It is not because of the poor economy, it is because if a town is too small for a WalMart, they get a Dollar Store.  We have not passed through a town of more than 250 people where they main shopping is not a Dollar Store.  Not a grocery store, not even a IGA, but either Family Dollar or Dollar General.  It is unreal.  We have also seen a TON of their distribution centers, which must rival WalMart for the most sophisitcated and networked in the country for sure.

- Grocery stores and shopping has truly been a tour of the retail landscape so far... from Krogerville in KY and Indiana, to Schnuck's in Illinois and Missouri, to Albertson's in Colorado, then we hit a ton of City Markets in CO and Utah, on to Ralph's and Safeway in California and now Fred Meyer in the pacific NW.  I am a very loyal Meijer shopper so I have been in sticker shock FOR A LONG TIME.  I didn't think anything could be more expensive than Kroger, until we discovered City Market.  Come to find out, it is owned by Kroger, that explains the pricing.  So if you can imagine Kroger, but in high tourist spots (like Moab), high income spots (like Durango) and hard to get to spots (like around national parks) you can pretty much figure they will charge you whatever they want, and they do!

- WiFi or not.  So, in case you don't know how WiFi work, you need cell lines for it to get a signal from.  I have now figured that out.  But the good news is we have a Verizon WiFi and Versizon cell plan, so we shoudl be fine because Versizon covers everywhere.  Isn't that what their commercials say, that the cover like 96% of the US, well let me tell you, I am calling their BULL&*@*#*@  for sure.  No way man, unless their asterisk at the bottom says "not including any land owned by the US Gov't."  We have not had ANY coverage at all, outside of major cities, for the past 2 weeks, NONE.  In Yosemite village you get it, but that is about it.  It is SO frustrating I can't even tell you, and I literally want to call them out on it.  I don't know what people in rural areas do, it is very tough.

- Our biggest surprise so far has been the general lack of wildlife.  When you set off on an adventure to go to national parks, you kind of think you are going to see some wildlife - NOT!  We have seen NOTHING.  I honestly think we see more in our own backyard in one week than we have seen in 4 weeks - more deer, squirrels, chipmunks, birds, raccoons and so forth.  Arnie saw a bit on his early morning runs, but that is it.  It has sort of been a downer if I am being honest.  We still have Yellowstone, which last time we went we saw a ton, so I am holding up hope, but so far it has been a bust.  I guess the animals have smartened up and realized suburbia is a better gig than the wilderness, vegetable gardens and food galore beats grass and grubs.

- Best license plates.  We have seen about 40 of them so far, just missing some east coast ones, but am sure we will see them in Yellowstone, but given that I know what they all look like, here are my top five with pics below.

1) Utah -

2) Arizona

3) Oregon

4) Colorado

5) California (I love the simplicity and script of the name)

Finally, my favorite state highway signs - the state of Washington, aren't these cool

I hope you have enjoyed my random observations, tell me if you did (you can comment) and that may encourage me to do some at the end of our trip.

Day 22 - heading up to Redwoods

Welcome to Day 22 and 23 of our adventure.  Off we headed to Sacramento, we got to the oil change place - Specialty RV around 11:30.  You should have seen some of the rigs there, the one that pulled in behind us had to be close to $200K.  It was gorgeous.  These guys were unbelievable, we didn't even have to pull the RV inside the garage/building, they just got under the engine and did their work, maybe 30 minutes total.  Part of me was longing for Jiffy Lube so they would clean our windows, but at least they were fast.

Speaking of windows, the RV outside is FILTHY, with a capital F.  It was brand new when we got it, so I feel so bad, but when you travel 4,500 miles in three weeks through the dessert in particular it is hard to keep it clean.  The girls are very upset with how dirty their bikes are.  I am hoping and praying Mr. Clean magic eraser will work its magic when we get back.  The bike rack marks them up pretty good so we will need a lot of help for sure.

We had promised the kids Chipotle and we found one within a mile of the oil change so we headed there for lunch.  As Arnie would say we had to plan our "exit' strategy.  Exit strategies become very important when you are driving a 32 foot RV.  You can't just whip into any parking lot, gas station or other enterprise, do what you need to do, and leave.  You have to assess how many entrances they have, can we clear the roof at gas stations and so forth.  We got a tip from the guy at Specialty RV to go in the McDonald's lot which was next to Chipotle and that worked just fine.  It was very long and was next to a park in the back and we could just parallel the RV to the park for the 10 minutes we would be inside.  We managed to get out, of course scraped ground with the bike rack on the way out, but we are used to that sound by now.  Off we went on Rt 5 heading North a bit before cutting across to the coast.  This route, like the central valley was filled with agriculture.  It is AMAZING how much there is, we are further north here so we added Olives to the mix, as well as Nuts and fruit.  We stopped at another fruit stand to stock up, this had vegetables as well so we got tomatoes, green beans, cucumbers, plums. peaches, grapes and more.  Here is a pick of the farm where we stopped (if they even call these mega properties farms), we liked the sunflowers, but they were sad with the clouds.
On we went heading towards Redcrest.  Today was a driving day, no park touring, so our goal was to get up there prior to dinner so I could just cook dinner in the park to make life a bit easier vs. while driving prepare this (which is possible as the oven and stove work from propane, I could even turn the generator on while driving to run the microwave if needed.  This would be a full hook-up site, it was quite nice, flat paved spots with some grass, no trees.  Often the RV parks are like this, someone just bought a piece of land and turned it into an RV park.  While not the most picturesque of locations, they are flat, pull through sites that make the exit strategy very easy, and they have really nice and clean amenities.  We had a nice relaxing night, and refreshing shower before heading out on Tuesday for Redwoods.

Here is a view of the Northern CA coast on our way up, very foggy morning.
Redwoods by far has been the most confusing park we visited.  Because the country and state have both protected various areas of the Redwoods over time, it is like a maze and you go from State to National park without even knowing it.  They also stretch probably 200 miles on and off up the coast.  We were on the far north section, in Humboldt county.  I was totally surprised by where we were.  My mom and I did the Redwoods 18 years ago, and this was not at all what I remember.  I remember driving through a tree, paved roads, etc.  This was not the case.  I am hoping I documented where we went and assume it was further south, as these looked so different (not as red).  We decided to hike to the tallest tree, it is some 304 feet tall, almost as tall as the highest building in Cincinnati.  We ended up on a much longer trail than we thought, so probably hiked about 6-7 miles in total before making our way back to the RV.  Here are some picks.  It was still drizzling at times and quite misty/foggy but this seemed very appropriates for being in the Redwoods.
 The highlight for the kids was climbing into the trees. Many of them were hollowed out in some way, so the kids could literally get into them.  You can get a sense of how massive these trees where when you see these little faces peering out from the crack or opening.  They had a blast doing this, would have stayed all day if we let them.   Below are some pics of each of the three kids doing the same pose in the trees.  I had a hard time positioning them, so they are a bit scrambled, and of course this was the day they are all in similar colors, so may be hard to tell who is who.

Sarah in tree

Ben and Claire climbing, my two monkeys on this trip
Moss accumulating on a knocked over tree

Literally acting as Monkeys on a branch that had fallen across the hiking trail

Somehow we got into a game of skipping, even Ben has the hip moves needed for a good skip (yes, he somehow has rhythm, thanks to mom not dad of course).

 From the pic above you can tell these trees aren't quite as wide at the bottom as the Sequoias, but still pretty darn big as you can see, and SO TALL, hard to believe they can grow that tall.
Here is the nature we saw, a banana slug. Mom spotted it, and it was quite easy as the yellow literally jumps out at you when you are surrounded by brown and green the entire time, for miles and miles.

All an all it was a great day.  The Redwoods are priceless and sad to know they are a fraction of what they once were.  The Redwoods used to dominate the CA Western coast, today's forest is only a mere 3% of what it once was.  Before the ice ages, there were three types of Redwood, and after the ice melt, they were pushed to CA and China where they exit today, Sequoias are one of the three Redwood families in case you were wondering.

Tonight we are headed to Klamath, CA just below Crescent City to stay for the night right on the river.  Too bad it is still hazy as it would be a beautiful location for sure.

The Shields House - Tahoe National Forest

We arrived at the Shield's place a bit before 9pm on Friday night.  We called Jack the caretaker about 10 minutes out and he met us at the house to turn all the lights on, etc as it was dark already.  Thankfully we have been here before so the review of how things work wasn't too long.  The kids were thrilled and just ran around like crazy.  The house is pretty large, and they loved just getting lost in it.  The playroom was the hit - with pool table, ping pong, pop-a-shot, a puppet theatre and more.  We finally got them to settle down and go to bed, as it had been a long day.  Here is a pic of the house from the outside - from the front and back. 

The inside is great because it has a gigantic great room that you can really spend all your time in.  The funniest part is we have been there twice and never used a TV - you just hang out, sit by the fire, play games and more.  All day you just want to be outside by the lake and enjoying nature, but the house is large and can accommodate a big group so it is nice to be with friends.  Our friend Marcia Hunt was coming up on Saturday with her twins KK (Caitlyn) and Matthew to spend the weekend with us.  Like Louisa, Marcia interned at P and G with me.  Her and Loud both went to Chicago for their MBA's.  Unlike Lou Marcia stayed in CPG for a while- stating at Kraft and most recently at Petsmart.  She was in our wedding 12 years ago, and Arnie had not seen here since here wedding 8 years ago in Phoenix.  I saw her at our girls weekend in February, but was still so excited as I finally get to meet her 5 year old twins.
 Before Marcia and the kids arrived, my kids found the dress up playchest and went hog wild.  I hat to take pictures, because I can probably bribe Ben in a few years and they were really cute.  THe decided to combine "two outfits" in one - so Sarah was a Clown Chef, Ben was a Cowboy Ballerina, and Claire was  Fireman princess.  Check out this pic.  Sarah took her chef theme even further and wanted to pose while cooking.  Of course she saw a bottle of wine and being our comedian picked it up and posed for the camera.

When the guests arrived the outdoor fun began.  Our first stop was the hot tub.  My kids, and frankly me love hot tubs.  I would get one at home, but Arnie says no way.  Often our kids will describe a vacation and lead with "remember the place we went with the hot tub."  All we have to do is mention the presence of a hot tub and they get really excited.  So we definitely used this one quite a bit.  Here is a cute pic of the kids enjoying it.

After the hot tub it was time for a different kind of water, the lake.  The water temperature was quite cool, but the kids waded in it a little bit.  They really wanted to take a boat ride with dad.  As we prepared for the boat ride we discovered a new fact about our dog Henry, he can swim.  We know Henry is part Lab, and part something else (or a bunch of something else) but not sure which.  We are not surprised he swims, but we never saw him do it before so it was a surprise.  The bad news is every time a boat took off, he wanted to go with it.  The lake is pretty big so we were afraid he would get too far out and then have trouble, you know it is hard to do the doggy paddle for too long.  The kids played around a bit with him, but then Papa came to the rescue and he got him on a chained leash so the boat could take off.  In the pics below you will see him in  the water trying to follow the boat.

But the entertainment didn't stop there, we have five kids under 10, you know their attention span.  We then had puppet shows, ping pong tournaments and basketball.  The Shield's have a tennis court with a basketball hoop, so Ben was very happy.  We worked hard on his left hand, tons of dribbling and trying left lay-ups, which are tough to get the hang of, especially when your left hand doesn't have the strength like your right.  He would get mad at me for putting this pic on here, but I took some to show him what he is doing right and wrong, this one he did pretty well.

 This is beautiful KK when we taught her how to wrap her hair in a towel, my girls love it and she did too, so cute with mom smiling in the background
Papa made us a great dinner - steak, baked potatoes, some pasta, green beans and more.  It was very yummy and we all had fun chatting away.  And of course we topped it off with smores on the fire outside.  It was SUPERMOON night, we had some a gorgeous view of the lake as we sat outside roasting marshmallows, priceless for sure.  We were all beat so it was an early evening after some games of Uno by all, we retired to bed.

Sunday wasn't as great of a weather day as Saturday.  It was still warm, but a bit overcast.  We would take it thought, as the last time we were here in June is SNOWED!  You just never know what you are going to get in the mountains (which is why we love them).  Lots would happen today,  we would lose Grandma and Papa, they had  a red-eye flight back to NY, to be back in time for my niece's high school graduation on Tuesday.  Marcia and the kids would also leave late afternoon to get back to Sacramento as they were headed to Southern California on Monday morning.  But we still had lots of exploring to do, a big hike was first on the list.  There is tons of exploring to do here, my dad leaves for hours and finds the trail markings, and more.  Here are some pics from our hike, you see the Indian art on the rocks, and views back to the house (look for the beach around the lake) from afar.

We were all a bit sad when 4:30 when the last car pulled away.  Lots of sad goodbyes, but it was so great to spend three full weeks with Grandma and Papa, just creating priceless memories.  The kids were quite sad as were Arnie and I.  Of course we just love seeing my parents, but they were so helpful too.  My dad did most of the cooking and just was a workhorse like he always is.  So Arnie had a ton of help and got educated on how everything works.  Grandma was laundry lady and child entertainer.  So it would be a huge shift when they would no longer be around.  The good news is we had a bit of a transition in California as we rented a car for "the state" so my parents could take it to the airport, and to make getting to the parks easier.  Yes we broke the law and had 7 people in a sedan, but it worked for the short drives.  Due to this, Arnie and I knew what it was like to not have them in the RV while driving, which was hard.  This meant we both had to be up front for the most part, so the kids didn't have someone to play games with besides each other :)

We did spend Sunday night at the house as planned, we debated leaving and heading towards Lassen Volcanic national park about 3 hours North.  I had not heard of it so didn't plan it in, and tried to convince Arnie we could pull it off, but he didn't bite.  He liked the plan of another night of relaxation.  This also gave us time to clean the house, re-organize the RV clothing storage since some opened up based on my parents leaving, and so forth.  So we slept in heaven one more night and headed out Monday morning, of course not as early as planned, but it worked.  It was raining today, but we were ok with it, we thought it was a message from God that we were sad that Grandma and Papa were no longer on our trip with us.  The first order of business was getting an oil change, Neff Brothers (who we rented from) found a place in Sacramento and they were waiting for us.

Here is a pic of Sarah, this is what happened about 6:30 on Sunday night after all of our adventures.  Believe it or not, she never woke up, slept through dinner and made it until Monday morning.  That is a barometer for how much fun she had.  While she slept, dad, Ben and Claire tried some fishing, got some bites but couldn't real them in, but another fun thing to do.

We are off to Redwoods now, about a 4.5 hour drive but that is after the oil change and lunch.  We are staying in Redcrest, CA on the "avenue of the giants" our first night, looking forward to it.