Archive for the ‘Notes From the Road’ Category

Filed Under (Notes From the Road) by Tom on 05-31-2008

On our first day at Ramona Canyon, a gentleman by the name of Robert stumbled down to our campsite while I was setting up the HughesNet satellite dish. He had a can of beer in his hand and it was obvious he’d spent the better part of the afternoon sitting outside his RV sucking down cold ones. He took a seat at our picnic table, lit up a cigarette, smiled and proceeded to tell me about his life and some of his experiences.

Robert is 52 years old, same as me. He reminds me of a guy I knew as a kid, a friend of my parents that we called Uncle Dave. His teeth are in pretty bad shape and his face is deeply lined with wrinkles but when he smiles he lights up the place.

He tells me he usually doesn’t talk to people in the park but felt comfortable with me right away. He said he’d just come through a divorce and he and his ex sold their house and property and were splitting the profits.

His mother was living on their property in her motorhome at the time. She and her husband retired to a life on the road, but when her husband passed away, she was unable to keep traveling.

With no more house, Robert moved in with his mother and off they drove. Along the way they picked up his son and the three of them plan on going to Kentucky as soon as the proceeds from the sale of the house come through.

He told me he’d lived a rough life, rode motorcycle and hung out with Hell’s Angels, spent time in jail and was now trying to find a new direction for his life.

I was still tinkering with the satellite, trying to get a strong signal but it was getting dark and I was over it. I was about to give up and go inside for the night, when Robert suddenly became excited and said he had to go get something to show me.

He came back a few minutes later with a small plastic envelope which held a photograph. He said he had fallen on hard times a while back and he and one of his sons were digging through trash bins looking for cans when they came across a cardboard box filled with old photos. Among them was this one. I took a look. It was badly worn and a bit wrinkled but I knew right away that it was a candid shot of Elvis and Priscilla walking on the deck of a boat. Robert said he had been holding on to this photo for a long time and kept it tucked away in his Bible.

Elvis and Priscilla
After much research, this is what I found out about this photo: Elvis and Priscilla arriving at the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor on Memorial Day, May 27, 1968. The woman in the background is Joan Esposito. She’s carrying Priscilla’s purse. Elvis has a brochure for the USS Arizona in his hand.

He wanted me to keep it and try to sell it on Ebay for him, saying we would split the profit. Naturally I loved the photograph, but I told him I couldn’t keep it and I don’t make agreements unless everyone is sober. He took offense to that and insisted that I keep it anyway, so I did.

The next morning Robert came back to retrieve the Elvis and Priscilla photo. I suspected he would, once the alcohol wore off. But to my surprise, on the day we departed Ramona Canyon, as we were driving off, he waved us down and handed me back the photograph.

He said he didn’t have an address but gave me his son’s cell phone number as a way to contact him. I felt honored that he would entrust me with his treasure. He tried to convince me it didn’t mean much to him, but I could tell it was a hard decision for him to make.

So now Elvis is aboard, safely tucked away in my fireproof box. Ebay his next stop.

Filed Under (Notes From the Road) by Tom on 05-26-2008
Benny Recuperating
Benny Contemplating His Lost Life

We were originally going to stay at Ramona Canyon, an ROD RV resort in Ramona, CA for 17 days so we could get back on our Wednesday moving day schedule. But the day after we arrived, Parry noticed that Benny was spending alot of time in the litter box. I took a look and knew right away he was in trouble, so I jumped on the internet to find a vet close by that could help us.

One of the downsides of being on the road is not having a regular vet you can trust who knows your pets and you. I generally use my gut feelings when searching on the web for help, in this case I chose right.

We couldn’t call ahead because we had no cell phone service at the campground, so we just jumped in the van and headed into town. We weren’t even sure the van would make it back, but we had no choice.

We drove to the High Valley Veterinary Hospital in Ramona, CA. Shelly and Tammie were at the front desk and they took Benny in right away, no questions asked. A few minutes later we met with Dr. Gordon, who explained they were going to pass a catheter into Benny’s penis and attempt to unblock him and empty his bladder. Then they’d get as much liquid through him as possible to wash out any remaining crystals. She suggested he stay the night, so we left Benny in their care and headed home.

The next day around 4:30pm we drove back to town to pick Benny up. Dr Gordon ran some blood tests and assured us that we caught it in time to avert any internal damage. She also took an Xray to make sure there were no larger stones inside that might require surgery to remove. She gave us antibiotics, some medicine to help him regain muscle control over his overstretched bladder and some food to help dissolve any remaining crystals.

That night and the next day we watched him to make sure he was peeing. He seemed to be doing OK, but was eliminating only small amounts of urine. He wasn’t too crazy about the food either but managed to eat some.

Two days after he came home, he looked like he was having problems again. I cleaned out the litter box and there was no pee to be found. We had to take him back.

Once again we rushed Benny to High Valley Veterinary Hospital. This time Dr. Mueller was there. She gave us two options, either do the catheter again or take him to a surgeon who would do an operation where they would cut Benny’s penis off to create a larger hole for him to pass urine through.

The catheter was another $400, the operation, $3500. The operation, although not without risks, would keep Benny from ever blocking again. There was no such guarantee with the catheter. To make things worse, it was the Friday before Memorial Day and if we did the catheter, we would have to pick Benny up later that day and take him home because there would be no one at the vet’s office who could watch him. The other choice would be to take him to an After Hours Emergency Care facility where they would watch him for a couple of hundred dollars more.

At this point we’d already spent $794.00. $3500 was definitely not in our budget. The only way we could manage that amount of money right now would be to borrow it.

My eyes started to tear up. I didn’t want to lose Benny, but we just couldn’t afford the operation. The timing was really bad. Do we borrow $3500 to replace the transmission in the van or to save Benny. There’s no way we could go into debt for $7000.

I hated having to choose between love or money. If we put him to sleep, I’d have to live with that guilt for the rest of my life. If we spend the money, we’d be putting ourselves in a dangerous position financially.

We chose the catheter. At 5:00pm we picked Benny up and brought him home. That night he got lots of extra attention. I had trouble sleeping worrying about him. If something happened over the weekend we would have to put him to sleep. We’d already spent $1180 trying the catheter and just couldn’t afford more. The cost would be especially high because of the holiday weekend.

So we cherished what might be our last few days to spend with Benny and prayed he would make it.

Benny Recuperating
Benny Heads Home

Benny made it through the weekend without getting blocked again. Dr. Gordon ordered special food that both Benny and Buddy like to eat that’s supposed to keep their urine a neutral ph and keep the crystal buildup away. She told us that no matter where we travel, she will make sure we have prescription food for them.

We ended up extending our stay to our maximum of two weeks just to be sure Benny was OK. So far he’s been peeing like a champ. Thankyou Dr. Gordon, Dr. Mueller and the staff of High Valley Veterinary Hospital for saving Benny’s life.

Filed Under (Notes From the Road) by Tom on 04-24-2008

I’ve had a recurring dream that started a few years ago, and happened again last night. It involves a tidal wave.

I’m standing among people on the streets who are going about their business when I look up and see it coming. It’s huge, at least 40 stories high.

In the early dreams it seemed I was the only one who could see the giant tsunami and I always woke up before it arrived. In subsequent dreams more and more people around me began looking up and seeing it too.

But in this last dream the people in the streets began to panic. They were running and screaming with no place to go.

I turned and hurried down a small walkway between two buildings. When I came out the other side I saw a bridge in the distance and started running towards it.

Are these dreams a warning? Is there a huge wave of change about to wash over us all?

If you read between the lines in stories from our major news outlets, you’ll see admissions that the era of cheap oil is over, but what you won’t read about are the consequences of that fact.

In the United States our oil supply peaked in the early 1970′s. Before that we were the Saudi Arabia of the west. Now oil is peaking worldwide. There haven’t been any significant discoveries of new oil deposits for many years and what’s left is not the pure sweet stuff we’re used to having.

The ramifications of this are grave. Oil is used in practically everything you can think of, including our food supply.

We’re just now beginning to see glimpses of what may come. Sam’s Club started limiting purchases of rice to 4 bags a visit, while there are food riots going on in Egypt, Haiti and India.

Instead of leading us in the direction of renewable energy and convincing us to live with less, our leaders have been buying time, trying to stave off the inevitable by throwing funny money at the problem and at us (low interest rates, easy credit, tax rebates). These policies have kept the world economies stuttering along for several years, but they’re just one finger in the dam and holes are popping up everywhere.

A good analogy is the fateful voyage of the RMS Titanic. Some first class occupants have been getting theirs and boarding the lifeboats, while 3rd class hasn’t yet realized we’ve hit an iceberg. Although many are getting suspicious. Things are coming to a head quickly and our leaders are running out of options.

There’s no source of energy that can replace cheap oil. Even a combination of energy sources (coal,wind,nuclear,solar,hydrogen,geothermal) will not be able to keep up with our current energy demands or keep the world’s economies growing at their current rates.

The fact that we’re diverting some of the world’s food supply to grow corn for ethanol and that we’re skimming oil off tar sands in Canada and Montana and that we’re invading countries to secure future energy supplies, gives clues to how desperate things are becoming.

And it’s just beginning.

When you start seeing food and energy rationed in this country, you’ll know the end of civility is near. Think of Katrina as a training ground.

None of the current candidates running for president are addressing the most important issues of our day. The people long for real leaders. Where are they?

We need a bridge!!!!

Filed Under (Notes From the Road) by Tom on 04-05-2008

Our last day in the desert was supposed to be spent in Joshua Tree National Park, where we were going to stay until nightfall to finally see BIG SKY. Unfortunately the van can no longer climb steep hills and the only way out of the Coachella Valley is to climb out.

Desert Van
Desert Van

We took the van to Car Care in Desert Hot Springs for a diagnosis and $80.00 later we received the prognosis – she needs a new transmission.

They wanted $3,500.00 to put in a rebuild. The van’s not worth that much in today’s market, we’re not sure what to do.

She runs fine on flat ground so we’ll have to baby her for now. Still, it puts a damper on our travels, limiting us to going only to places that are flat. Flat Stanley Loves it.

Just the same, I want to get out into the desert one last time before we leave.

The place I’ve been itching to go is just across the street from Desert Pools where we’re staying.

So Parry and I pack some food and water, don our new desert hats and head toward the mountains.

It’s both hot and cold in the desert today. Hot from the sun, cold from the wind. So we sweat and get the chills at the same time.

As we walk between the mountains and into the canyon, we’re a bit more protected from the wind and can stop holding onto our hats. The warmth of the sun feels good to the insides yet sears my skin.

Seared by the Sun
Seared by the Sun

Without any water in the air to diffuse the sun’s power it seems stronger even at lower temperatures. I can’t image being out here at 120°.

Road to Nowhere
Road to Nowhere

We follow a dirt road until it becomes a dirt path and then finally a natural path with a rocky climb. We’re convinced if we keep climbing we’ll get beyond the mountains into Joshua Tree, which we know is just on the other side of these hills.

We finally reach a point where there is no more path and the only way to continue is to climb up the mountainside. The peak doesn’t look that far away and I’m convinced we can make it.

We stop, sit down on a couple of warm rocks and have lunch. I forgot to pack bread for the sandwiches, so we have turkey and cheese rollups instead.

View From the Top
View From the Top

It is so quiet here except for the sound of the wind and a couple of ravens nesting in a small hollow above. They fly in circles over us, I suspect they’re trying to chase us off.

We finish eating and begin the climb, I’m in the lead with about fifty pounds of equipment on my back.

We haven’t climbed very far when I realize that it’s not going to be as easy as it seemed. Footholds are scarce, the ground just crumbles around you and falls away.

Desert Flowers
Desert Flowers

I’m used to the solid mountains of the east. These hills are loose rock, gravel and sand with cactus and other desert vegetation hanging on for dear life.

We’re about halfway to the top when I realize that one misplaced step and one of us could easily go plummeting down the side of the mountain.

Long Way Down
Long Way Down

I freeze up but Parry, feeling more confident, takes the lead.

I still think we can make it to the top, but I’m more concerned now about making it down to the bottom. So we turn around and gingerly work our way back to solid ground.

After a few tortuous missteps and some quickstepping catches, we make it back to the bottom.

Resigned that we’re not going to get to Joshua Tree by this route, we decide to walk back to a fork in the path we saw earlier.

On the way there I realize I’ve lost my cell phone so we turn around and go back.

I’m convinced that it’s gone forever but Parry insists that he can find it. I give him the benefit of the doubt. The other day, he found a piece of paper lying in the middle of the desert brush that had flown out of the van in a gust of wind.

Parry climbs back up the side of the mountain while I wait below. Within minutes he’s yelling that he’s found it. St. Joseph is with him today.

Parry Finds My Phone
Parry Finds My Phone

We walk back to the fork in the path. This time we go the other direction where we arrive at another fork. Again, both paths require climbing up to continue on. We can’t tell from here whether or not either path will lead us to the other side of the mountains.

Although I’d love to keep going and get to Joshua Tree, the sun is sinking quickly towards the horizon and we don’t want to get stuck up here in the dark. We decide to head home.

Before we leave however, there is one more thing I want to do in the desert and this is my last chance.

When we were in Venice Beach, CA we stopped in a little clothing/gift/head shop on the boardwalk called the Seaside Gallery. There we picked up a little container of Salvia – the Diviner’s sage, Sage of the seers. I’ve always been interested in spiritual quests ever since I had my Born Again experience as a teenager. I’ve read that this plant is used for that purpose and felt the desert canyon was the perfect place to experience it.

I’ve also read that it’s not something you should do alone, so I ask Parry to watch over me in case I try to do something crazy under it’s influence. I walk into a wide crevice in the rocks, sit down and proceed to partake. I have no idea what to expect, I’m almost expecting nothing to happen at all.

After two tokes the effects are quite sudden and extremely intense.

It’s difficult to describe, I don’t really hallucinate, although the quality of the light changes dramatically. It’s more like instantly transporting to a new and quite unexpected level of awareness and yet still being cognizant of who and where I am. It’s pleasant and scary at the same time.

A Glimpse of Heaven
A Glimpse of Heaven

Parry is standing there as if nothing has changed. I keep repeating “Wow, this is intense!!!” and yet he seems not to believe me. He asks me if I’m ready to move on and I say yes.

After literally stumbling to my feet, we proceed on.

The effects dissipate pretty quickly and I feel that I handled the experience OK without losing it, so …… that’s when I do something I would not have done had I been in my normal consciousness. I give Parry a toke.

He takes a toke and holds it for a moment. He’s expecting something mild and at first seems OK. Then, without warning, he goes totally mad.

Swept up in a hallucination that’s scares the crap out of him, he sees the walls of the canyon and the sand at our feet swallowing him up.

In a panic he drops his camera bag to the ground and throws off his backpack, thinking they’re weighing him down, and grabs on to me so hard he’s pinching my skin.

A Glimpse of Hell
A Glimpse of Hell

In my calmest voice I try to reassure him that everything is alright and I’m not going to let anything happen to him. That it’s not real.

All the while, I’m scared that he’s really gone crazy and will remain this way.

Filled with fear, he darts back and forth, hanging on to me while trying to get away from the vortex. Later he tells me he felt like he was being sucked away forever and his biggest fear was he didn’t know where it was taking him.

It only lasts a few minutes and as he regains his sense of reality, he looks at me angrily and says “I don’t ever want to do that again”.

Desert Parry
Desert Parry

Neither of us walks out of the desert that day the same person that walked in. I was looking for a bit of heaven, Parry found a bit of hell.

Filed Under (Notes From the Road) by Tom on 04-01-2008

Last night we rode our bicycles outside the park to explore the neighborhood. Peddling the blocks we saw alot of 55 & Over mobile home parks.

Most are gated but a couple of them are open, so we wander in as if we belong, to take a look around.

A quiet mix of trailers, modular homes and RV’s tightly woven together into the desert landscape. Palm trees, blooming cactus, bougainvillea, even grass growing up around them to create a soothing haven for their occupants.

Having lived in a 36 foot motor home for the past year, I’m seeing the value of living in a smaller space. The more space I have, the more of life’s precious energy is used to maintain it. If I pay someone else to maintain my space for me I lose my connection to it.

Will I grow old in a place like this…..?

Filed Under (Notes From the Road) by Tom on 03-30-2008

It’s windy today. In fact we’re under a Wind Advisory.

Blowing too hard to run around outside……. Inside the whole coach wiggles with every gust.

So I’m working at home again.

I’ve spent a great deal of time sitting in front of this computer screen since we arrived in the desert.

Feels good to get back to a steadier work schedule, and the income is welcome. On the down side, I haven’t been out much and we’re leaving the desert in a few days.

Last night we went out to the windmills again, hoping to see the sun filtered through the sand. But a huge bank of clouds was trapped on the other side of the mountains. The clouds were trying unsuccessfuly to climb over those peaks and explode into the desert. Instead they blocked the horizon and allowed the sun to sneak off behind them.

Made for a dull sunset.

I stepped out of the van to collect a few shots anyway and experience the force of the wind blowing through the pass. I could feel the sand stinging my skin and collecting in my eyelids. It was exhilirating.

The camera was getting pounded too and I realized I needed to shield it, so I turned my back to the blast and started back to the van.

Parry was  pointing at something on the ground a few feet away. I couldn’t make out what he was seeing, so I walked over for a closer look. It was a dead cat.

I stared at it for a few moments, then composed a shot. I suppose this is the way the desert treats its dead. The unbroken days of sunshine, the dry air, the blowing sand…… carve the dead right into the landscape, brushing them away until they simply blend and vanish.

Dead Cat
Dead in the Desert

I felt empathy for that cat, dying alone in the desert. I know I’ll make that lone journey myself someday. It gives me solace that the wind was there to caress and reassure her.

Filed Under (Notes From the Road) by Tom on 03-28-2008

The other night I dreamt I had lost my pants and I was trying to get home to put some clothes on, but I had to climb this huge hill first. So there I was running up this hill, the summit so far away, determined to make it to the top before I got arrested for indecent exposure. Seems to be a recurring theme.

We’ve been on the road now for 11 months and although I’ve put alot of work into this blog, everyday I get further behind. Getting caught up is a goal that just keeps retreating into the future. So today I decided to begin a new section where I can write a few notes, thoughts about where we’re at right now.

I know my friends think I disappeared off the edge of the earth after they watched us drive beyond the horizon so long ago. Some of them haven’t heard from me since that day. So now it’s time for me to begin a conversation about this experience in the present tense.

Today Parry started the process of becoming a resident of California. He told me last night that when we left PA he imagined this trip as his last hurrah, fully expecting to just die on the road. I told him that although it’s not my choice to make, I wish he would stick around. Today he decided to hang here a while longer. By becoming a Californian he’ll be able to get some assistance getting the meds he needs to stay alive. It sucks that that’s the way it is, but it is. Only a person making six figures could afford these meds. So it looks like we’ll be driving around CA for the time being, which is not really a bad thing.

It’s windy tonight here in Desert Hot Springs. I read today that San Gorgonio Pass northwest of Palm Springs is one of the windiest areas in the world. Parry and I drove down to the windmills to watch the sunset. We got a little sandblasted but it was a beautiful sight. With all the sand flying in the air you can look directly into the sun and so can the camera.

Shooting Into the Sun
Shooting Into the Sun

The wind here doesn’t bother me like it did during those storms off the Pacific we experienced last winter. It has a different personality, less threatening. I’m loving the desert. It’s the first place we’ve been to that I feel tempted to stay.

Parry’s making dinner right now. He’s crabby again. He gets this way if he doesn’t eat on time. Drives me nuts. Till tomorrow….

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