Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Backpacking the Illinois River Trail: Day 2

The plan for the day, after having our hearty breakfast and enjoying the morning at camp was to take a day hike to Pine Flat, near the river. It was a short hike, but very steep. We had to descend 1000 feet in about a 1/4 mile, which, trust me, is a bit of a hill. Sometimes it's harder going DOWN the hill. Kc set off and went ahead of us. Monica's foot bothers her on the downhill, so it was a little slow going, which was fine because there was a lot of loose rock along the trail. Monica's behind me, Samson's ahead of me, happy to not be wearing his pack, and I spot something in the trail. Something long and wiggly with a orange-red belly. It turned out to be one of these: A Diadophis punctatus occidentalis or a Northwestern Ring-necked Snake. Beautiful, isn't it? Yes, to those of you who are not heart-racing, short of breath, crap your pants phobic about snakes. Aside from public bathrooms, my first biggest fear is actually snakes. I am a true Ophidiophobe. I cannot even look at pictures of them or look at them on television. This is my great fear hiking. I know. They're more afraid of me than I am of them. blah blah blah. Most of them are harmless. blah blah blah. I stop dead in my tracks as the serpent just continues to linger and twist itself around by a sunny rock right smack dab in the middle of the path. Monica doesn't even need to ask me what's going on; she can smell the fear. My incoherent babbling and incontinence tips her off. She goes ahead of me and tries to coax the snake to move. He protests. I squeal. Finally, he slithers off and I am free to pass. Great. Now I'm paranoid.

We reach the bottom without further ado where Kc is waiting for us, trying to figure out how to cross the creek. She finds a narrow wooden plank that she bravely clamors over. It is too narrow for my comfort and I have to hold onto Samson as he crosses so he won't get washed away. The only recourse is to walk through the water. We rejoin the path and try to make our way over to the river, but the path leads us into some woods, then back across a meadow. We are all hot and sweaty and ready to reach the refreshing river.

Old homestead

The meadow was once home to a rancher who raised cattle for the miners that panned for gold along the Illinois river many years ago. We finally made it to the water's edge by hopping on large rocks that lay along the river's edge. The water was like ice, but that did not keep Monica and Kc from getting in. I opted to stay on a rock while they splashed around and screamed. As I was sitting there, minding my own business, I look to my left and see a familiar face. It is attached to a legless slithering body that is crawling right up to me as if I was its long lost friend. I jumped up and he continued to slither toward me as if to say, "what's wrong? aren't you happy to see me?" He crawled towards Kc's shirt, slid around our shoes and then crawled away, weaving in and out of the rocks. By now, I'm beginning to wonder how I'll get back up the hill because I've aged 10 years in a couple of hours.

Drying socks

Monica decided to go and hang out under a wide oak tree she discovered while Kc, Samson and I hopped along some rocks. Another snake. It's time for me to go to the meadow and find Monica. We all gathered under the tree, enjoyed the shade and ate our jerky and peanut butter for lunch. Kc eventually went off to find some rapids and do some more rock hopping. We agreed to meet back at the creek at a certain time. We headed back toward the trail, winding through the meadow and the swampy area where I discovered a little pond with tadpoles and baby frogs in various stages of development. Monica kept going and I heard her make a yelp. "What's wrong?" I shouted.

"Oh, nothing," she replied. "I just got off trail." She was up on some rocks above the actual trail when I caught up to her. Drying out my socks was futile because I just had to cross the creek again. We headed up the trail. It was still hot, nearly 90 degrees so we thought we'd just take it slow and steady. Kc went on ahead. "Get that fire started when you get back to camp," I told her.

We were about a third of the way up the trail. Samson was leading, Monica was behind him, and I was a few paces behind. I heard a sound I'd never heard before, but knew immediately what it was. I was astounded how clear, dramatic and distinctive it was. Listen. I saw it just as Monica walked right past it. It was coiled up on a rock right next to the path, waist high. I saw it's head peering at us. It had already warned us so I wasn't about to walk past it. Monica and Samson were on other side. "I'm not moving until it's gone," I said.

"Take your time," Monica said.

I couldn't see where it went from where I was standing and I was afraid to move. What if it come onto the trail? What if it decided to bite me as I walked past? How long would it be before it went back into hibernation? Six months? I could wait. After a few minutes I gathered enough nerve because I thought he went back into the rocks. I scurried past, my heart in my throat. "I can't believe you've taken me on a hike into a damn snake pit!" I told Monica.

"I didn't want to tell you, but I saw a rattler on the rocks down by the pond," she admitted. Why tell me this now?

OK, so rattlers like hot, dry, rocky areas. Great. That's the entire freaking trail! I'm growing older and older by the minute. I hadn't seen this many snakes in one day since I went to the reptile house in the Cincinnati zoo. "I've never seen a snake while I've been backpacking. Ever." Monica told me. "I've always hiked in higher altitudes."

"Fine. Let's go there," I said.

"You might not get enough oxygen," she reminded me.

"I don't care. I'd rather be anoxic than keep running into these snakes."

I was relieved when we climbed out of the snake pit and got into the cooler woods where we would most likely run into some tree loving serpent before we got back to camp. As promised, Kc had the fire going.

Time for supper again. Tonight, it's Mexican Chicken and rice. This time, less water. I head into the woods to get more fire wood while Monica lights up the stove and boils water for our food. We each have our own utensil. Mine is a plastic "spork" that I got at the outdoor store. She chose to bring along one of my nice hand carved wooden spoons. She gave it to me as a gift for Christmas. It was nice, smooth with a deep bowl. Perfect for eating soup. "You won't need a fork backpacking," she told me. Little did I know the food would seldom ever be solid enough to pierce with a fork. I returned with the firewood. Monica said, "Where's the wooden spoon? I just laid it here." She pointed to a plastic bag that was sitting on the ground. "I stirred the food with it."

I looked around the area and spotted the spoon, broken into slivers and chunks. "Is that it?" I asked, hoping I was wrong, but it was obvious I wasn't. Apparently, Samson got a hold of it, licked the food off it and proceeded to try to eat the entire spoon. When it proved to be less palatable than he originally thought, he abandoned it. "Well," I said as I picked up the remainder of the handle, "too bad you don't have a utensil now." I tossed the remains into the fire as I explained that the dog thinks the ground is his territory as far as food is concerned. Normally, anything at floor or ground level is fair game. Monica did not explain the camp rules to him, mainly, the humans use the ground as their table. Poor dog.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Tami's First Backpack Trip

Hiking the Illinois River trail

I've been out of touch because I've been away, exploring the outdoors. We were all psyched up and preparing to go on the Rogue River trail in May, but circumstances prevented us from doing that trip. Because we had gathered our gear and were excited to try it all out in the real world, we opted to take a 2 night hike along the Illinois River trail, located just outside Selma, OR. I am a first-timer, but Monica has been backpacking for a zillion years. It has always been her passion and she was more than happy to introduce me to it. Our friend, Kc, came along with us, but because she is in much better shape than we are, was about 2 miles ahead of us the whole way. We had Samson and he carried his own pack, for the most part. We had perfect weather. It was a little hot and dry, but we did really well. Half the challenge was getting to the trailhead which was a looooong drive on a gravelly rutted road that we hoped wouldn't turn to mud while we were out on the trail. Monica drives my car as if it's a Jeep, which it is not. I sat in the backseat with Samson. I'm not sure which one of us was greener.

Monica kickin' it "old skool"

Monica still uses the same external frame pack she's been using for over 20 years. I called it her condo. All I could see was a big blue pack and her tiny legs sticking out the bottom. Sponge Bob Square Pack. She was adamant we stop and rest ever hour so she found a place in the shade. "Do you take your pack off?" I asked.

"No," she said, as she sat on a rock, her pack neatly resting on it's frame behind her.

I followed suit, only my pack has no metal frame, so the weight of the pack just buckled and crushed me into a heap as I sat on the rock next to her. This was not very restful. She looked over at me and said, "You don't look very comfortable."

"Well, you have a kickstand," I showed her.

She laughed. "You can take your pack off."

"I asked you if you were taking your pack off."

"Yes, I said *I'm* not taking my pack off. It doesn't mean you can't," she said, by now thinking I'm a total idiot.

"I mean, when I ask you if you are going to do something, I am really asking if it's protocol to do something. Since you're the experienced backpacker and all."

"You're a dork," she said simply.

None of us were really prepared for our packs to be so heavy. I carried the bear canister and Monica carried the tent. She generously gave me the more comfortable Thermarest pad, relatively speaking. The trail was rocky and narrow for the most part with drops into Illinois river. Samson was moving along, usually ahead of us. At one point I saw him ahead of me on the trail and he was rolling around on the trail. Usually, that's a bad sign because it means he's found some kind of exotic excrement to coat himself with. I yelled at him and he leapt to his feet, but the momentum of his backpack caused him to fall over again. And again. I watched in horror as he rolled off the trail and down the cliff, his backpack tangling and flopping. He settled, somewhat stunned, among a few trees about eight feet off the trail. He couldn't get himself up so I went after him with Monica convinced that we were both going to fall to our deaths. I managed to get him back on the trail and unloaded weight from his pack. He seemed a little stunned the rest of the way and I was a worried about him. I'm pretty sure he was just tired and freaked out.

Looking down to the Illinois River

Good god, I'm tired

Fetching water

About a half mile away, we crossed small wooden bridge over a roaring clear creek and found our campsite. There was not another soul around. The camp was in a shady area surrounded by trees with no other sounds but the rushing water beside us. Our first mission was to figure out how to get water from the creek. Kc and I figured out a way to climb down onto rocks and and reach the water. I was new at this whole procedure and Monica showed me how to use the filter. I dropped the intake end into the stream, but had a hard time getting the thing to sink under water. Kc held the output end into our Nalgene bottles.

We got our tents put up. Kc put her tent up the hill from ours in the "penthouse." Kc became our official firebuilder. Good thing. I enjoyed my first backpack dinner: dehydrated Pad Thai from a bag, cooked on our handy dandy new stove:

Happy campers

Monica added a touch too much water to it, so we had Pad Thai soup. Super yummy. Hmm. Well, I have to admit, backpack food isn't THAT bad. Hospital food is much worse. We were thrilled with our stove. Kc had a different stove, called a Jet Boil. We lit the stoves simultaneously and the both blasted like two rockets. We sat by the campfire, ate our grub and kept warm. We were all pretty sleepy and ready for a good night's sleep. Yes, that is a flask in my hand, filled with quality Kentucky bourbon.


What do you call Red Zinger tea and Maker's Mark? Monica calls it Goooooood.

Our Humble abode

I crawled into the tent to go to bed while Monica squelched the fire. As I said, she gave me the good Thermarest. "Lay it out in the tent and it will inflate a little, then just give it a couple of puffs," she instructed. Being the literal-minded dope that I am, I gave it a couple of puffs. Well, I guess it's not supposed to be luxurious. I brought Samson in the tent and he immediately made himself at home in Monica's sleeping bag. When Monica climbed in she discovered a dog in her bed and her moronic partner sleeping on an un-inflated mattress.

"I gave it a couple of puffs, like you told me, " I protested. So by a "couple of puffs" she really meant 30 or 40 puffs. She demonstrated. Ah, yes, that IS much better.

Samson collapsed between us for a while, his head resting on my arm. I lay there, hoping he'd move because I was getting stiff. At some point during the night, he retreated to our feet, probably because he got hot. I slept fairly well, except that I have not mastered the art of turning in my sleep so I woke up completely wrapped in my bag, the zipper lodged in my butt, and the mummy hood covering my face. I extricated myself, turned the bag every which way before, grappling blindly in the dark to make myself comfortable. "No one likes sleeping on the ground," Monica constantly reminds me. Oh sure.

I don't sleep late when I camp because I can't lie there that long. I have to move around or I become rigor mortis. Samson was nudging his nose under my sleeping bag because he wanted to go out and pee and eat. Not necessarily in that order. Monica is cognizant of my severe coffee addiction. If I don't get coffee in the morning, I'm basically a hateful horrible troll. She found very small, portable coffee single packets from Starbucks. I have to say, they beat Nescafe instant coffee. It was like having a real cup of coffee. I highly recommend them. Monica stayed in the tent until she was sure it was safe to come out. I gathered some wood and then traipsed off to go and find a secluded place to answer the call of nature. It is imperative to know that I am a one-toilet, at home, doors bolted, kinda potty girl. I hate public toilets. If there is even a hint of another human in the vicinity, my colon recoils and shuts down. There, I said it. It's true. It's a fact of my life. But, here in the wild, with no other soul around, I felt as if I could conquer this phobia. I had perused a book entitled How to Shit in the Woods. Seriously, it's a real book. Here is the table of contents:

You can buy the book on Amazon.

Because I had seen this book, I learned various comfortable positions, mostly utilizing a lone, downed log. (no pun intended). The biggest challenge was digging a hole in the rocky soil. Samson felt a need to follow me wherever I went and into my personal wilderness WC was no exception. I tried to ignore him and he didn't really seem to be bothered by the whole matter. Mission accomplished, I returned to camp and announced to Monica that I had achieved what I set out to do. She was thrilled, bless her little heart. Yes, I had to share this information with you because it will be important later. Trust me.

Monica and I milled around camp, trying like two complete dweebs to start a fire while Kc slept in her penthouse with her big fat air mattress. Finally, Kc emerged from her tent and we tried to act nonchalant. "Oh, you're up!" we said sweetly. "Now build us a damn fire!"

I owe my colonic health to Monica because she prepares such hearty, fiber filled breakfasts:

Stay tuned for the next installment.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Going Organic: Revisited

Monica is always preaching to me the importance of eating "organic." Oregon is chock full of "organic" stuff. I tell her that everything that is alive is "organic." Dog pooh is "organic" but I'm not about to spread it on toast. She gets a little peeved at me when I bring this up. Yesterday she went to work and packed a nice little turkey pastrami/cheese sandwich with some wonderful organically shade-grown baby lettuce that she got at the farmer's market. During her lunch break at work, she had just finished one half of the sandwich and was about to pick up the other half to eat it when she spotted a big, fat, healthy, fluorescent green caterpillar sitting on top of her sandwich. Yes, the little guy was thriving very nicely on the baby organic lettuce and decided to make an appearance by climbing out from between the slices of rye bread, make his way to the top and proudly beat his chest with 20 of his 40 legs as if to say,
"I am caterpillar; hear me roar!" I told her later he was actually saying, "You monster! You ate my children!" whilst shaking his 20 tiny fists at her.

Moral of the story: Wash your produce.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Episode 3: Where We Dodge Gunfire at our Campsite


Outdoor shower
Monica enjoys a hot outdoor shower on Salt Spring Island, B.C.

Where did I leave off? Oh, yes, we were in Tofino. After my last post we returned to the other end of the peninsula and settled in for the night. It rained a little during the night and we were looking forward to finding some sun. I found a place called Salt Spring Island in the guidebook and told Monica that I'd be interested in checking it out. It seemed quaint and artsy. We managed to find the ferry to the island only to find it packed. We were informed that the island was having its annual fall festival and that everyone was going over. And there was a Saturday market as well. The ferry was only 20 minutes long. The sun had come out and it felt warmer so we decided to wing it and go to the island in spite of the crowds. We knew of 2 campgrounds on the island so we thought we'd investigate them. We pulled into the little village of Ganges where we caught the last of the Market. It really was nice: food, artisans and such. We were regretting that we hadn't made it earlier. We went to check out the campsite and found it to be all but empty. We had the entire tent area located in a wide open meadow. We had our selection of sites so we pitched the tent centrally, close to the bathrooms and the outdoor shower. The outdoor shower felt great since the last camp didn't have showers and we were both feeling a bit grungy. We had dinner back in town at a place called the Treehouse. Food costs a fortune in B.C. Later we returned to the darkened campground and saw our tent with a truck parked in front. "Who's by our tent?" I asked.
"I've no idea," Monica said.
"I think they're IN our tent. I see a light!"
We slowed down the car and tried to see what was going on.
Then, Monica said, "Wait, there's our tent! Someone else is camping here too, but it looks identical to ours."
Then, of course, we felt like total morons because we figured these poor people in their tent were wondering who was stalking them. They never came out of their tent, not that we blame them.
Eventually, we settled into our tent, but heard a party going on in one of the houses up on the hill above the campground. At first it seemed mild, but then in got louder and more boisterous. I was tired enough that I fell asleep anyway.
In the middle of the night I heard Monica say, "They're shooting guns."
I still am not sure how I slept through gunfire, but she insisted. "They're shooting at deer." We had seen 3 deer near our tent when we first arrived back to our campsite. "I heard them yelling, 'Take your f*$#'in' shot!'" she told me. Then she says, "I'm going to move the car in front of the tent. We're sitting ducks here. They probably don't even know we're here!"
"You're not moving my car in front of the tent," I stammered, trying to make sense of what was happening. "It's a Saturn; not an armored car." I got up out of the tent and said, "Get up. We're moving the tent."
She wanted to stick to her solution. I forced her out of bed, plucked all the bedding out, tossed the airmattress on top of the car and had her help me move the tent. So, there we were, in the middle of the night, bickering about where to move the tent and her bickering at me that we shouldn't move the tent...blah blah blah. We moved it behind the showers (as if that was more secure) and I moved the car, mattress aloft, into the new space. First we stalk the poor neighbors and then we run around the meadow with our erected tent, yelling at one another. The gunfire didn't seem to faze them. I never saw the even peer out of their tent. Of course, the gunfire stopped. I never heard it. Then it started to rain and by the next morning the other campers were long gone.
On Sunday we opted to go expore the Fall Festival. It rained most of the day, but we enjoyed it nevertheless. Afterward, the town pretty much closed up and we ended up sitting in a pub until about 10pm, eating soup and nursing a beer. We chatted with a couple of guys from Victoria. As we drove past a lighted motel to head back to our 'shelter' in the cold rain I said to Monica, "I bet those people in their warm rooms don't have to move their beds in the middle of the night to keep from being shot at."

Early Monday morning we caught the ferry back to Vancouver Island so we could catch a ferry from Victoria to Port Angeles. When we reached Victoria at 11:00 they told us that all the ferries were booked. They told us that there "might be a chance we could be the last car on at 3pm" but they couldn't guarantee it. The next bet was 7pm and that wasn't looking good either. We could have, conceivably, waited around Victoria until the next day. "Isn't there any other way to the mainland?" I asked.
"Well, you could go to and cross into Vancouver from Swartz Bay." Which meant we'd travelled down the coast for nothing and would have to backtrack, and drive an additional 250 miles to get home. Monica was NOT pleased. I turned the car around and said, "OK, that's what we'll do."
I wasn't willing to 'take a chance' as Monica was proposing. "We could sit here until tomorrow."
"They think they can get us on at 7pm." She insisted.
I quit listening and kept driving. I'd wanted to see Vancouver anyway.
They BC Ferries were so booked that they added an unscheduled 12 noon sailing, which we managed to get on. It was a beautiful, sunny trip 90 minutes winding through the islands. By 2pm we were in town and had located a hotel. The innkeeper, a flamboyant Malaysian fellow took pity on us because we told him we'd been camping in the rain. The whole ordeal sounded horrible to him so he gave us a room with our own toilet. That was the big upgrade. Otherwise, we'd have a shared toilet on the other end of the hallway. We had a nice walk along Stanley Park and then found a restaurant called The Banana Leaf where we had a really great meal. Monica had a shrimp and mango dish and I had a noodle dish with beef and shrimp.

We both really liked Vancouver, but were amazed at the number of high rise apartments there were. It looked like Hong Kong. One of the locals said, "Yeah, we call it HongCouver" I'd like to spend some more time in that city and explore a little more, but our time was running out as Monica was scheduled to work in a couple of days.

The next morning we left and drove to Seattle. Ironically enough Kate had just returned from her month-long Africa trip the night before. Monica called her and we ended up meeting her for coffee and heard all about the trip. I got to meet her friend, Melissa, who also went to Africa with Kate and the others. They were beat, but held up for a while and we took them for dinner. They are still acclimating to American food again and they lead us to a nice seafood restaurant along the bay facing the Space Needle.
After we left them to go recuperate, we headed to Portland where we stayed with our friend, Susan. It was a short, but nice visit and we are always glad to have their hospitality. She got up early yesterday morning and went to work while Monica and I headed to town and spent half the day perusing Powell's Books. Powell's is a bookstore of 4 stories a city block long. You could spend days in there and it is a bibliophile's dream. We just part ways at the door and say, "See you back here in two hours." It's dangerous. You can just meander up and down stairs in the various color-coded rooms. We never see much more of Portland because of Powell's.

So, now we're home. I picked up the dogs. The cats didn't destroy too much of the house. I hung the tent out to dry and unpacked the armored car. Tomorrow, it's back to the grind....

Episode 2: Where Monica finds us a cheap accommodation


We've spent the past week traveling to and spending time in Ashland, OR for the Shakespeare festival, which goes on for most of the year up there. It was beautiful this time of year. The leaves were turning, but it was still warm during the day and mildly cool at night. We stay at a B&B that M found the first time she went to Ashland called Oak Street Station. The hosts are amazing. Fantastic breakfasts and homemade cookies every afternoon. We enjoyed three shows. The first was a one woman comedy act called "Return to Planet Lisa" with Lisa Koch, who, unbeknownst to me, I'd seen at one of the women's music festivals in a duo called Dos Fallopia.
Tuesday night we saw an incredible production of "Jeckyl and Hyde." The actor who portrayed him, James Newcomb was astounding. His transformation onstage was brilliant and I was actually almost believing it was 2 different people.
The third night we saw "Intimate Apparel" set in NYC in the early 1900's. Again, amazing.

The drive home from Oregon was interesting. We opted not to return through the valley and have to put up with the 99 again so we went along the Oregon coast, very close to how we came home from Canada. When we came through the coast on our way home from Canada in July we stayed at some dive motel in Eureka. Afterward, we found a historic hotel called the Eagle House where we told the woman at the desk we’d like to stay when we returned from Oregon in October. She had told us that her son worked for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and would be happy to have us stay next time.

We got into Eureka on Friday night and the woman, Beti, remembered us and gave us a really nice suite on the third floor for a really reasonable price. We hated to leave, especially in the morning when it was cold and drizzly out. The last thing we wanted to do was hop back on the motorcycle and ride along the cold soggy coast.

As we rode inland it got sunnier and we warmed up a little. My goal was to get close to San Francisco. We decided to go through the Napa Valley because Monica had never been there and I thought it would be kind of cool to stay in Calistoga with the hot spring hotels. Something told me we should go to Santa Rosa instead since it was Saturday night and I knew that things were expensive in the Napa Valley, but I didn’t listen to my instincts. We arrived in Calistoga only to find it packed with tourists and not a room to be had. I was a little frustrated because I really wasn’t familiar with the area. Monica kept wanting me to check every hotel that she saw which was quickly turning into a tedious waste of time because it was obvious that nothing was available or affordable. We ended up following Route 29 and went through St. Helena, which, again, looked to me to be very pretentious and expensive. I was ready to keep going when Monica spotted a hotel she had to check out. Fine, I thought. Go in and find out there’s nothing available or it’s outrageously priced. I wait outside while she finds her way inside. She’s gone for what seems like a half an hour. I’m sitting on the bike in the middle of practically in the middle of traffic, aggravating everyone else. I pulled around the corner to wait. Where the hell is she?? Any minute now she’s going to come out and admit that it was too expensive. But no. By now it’s dark and I finally see her on the other side of the street where she is giving me the Thumbs Up sign. No way. She crosses the street and says to me, “How open-minded are you?”
Are you kidding me?? Frankly, not very. I’m cold, tired, cranky, mad at myself for coming this route and it’s now dark.
“The room is $149.”
This is good news?I turn toward the bike.
“But here’s the thing. The girl at the desk is really cool and she’s offered to let us stay at her house.”
Uh, excuse me? “What are you talking about? Are you insane?” On the other hand, we had no qualms about staying in people’s houses in Canada.
There is no freaking way I’m staying at some strange woman’s house. I’ll find a motel down the road. I hope. I have to admit, I’m a little torn at this point. I had a vision of driving half the night and never finding a motel. I’m also not wild about driving on a winding dark road with idiots who’ve been out wine-tasting all day.
Just for kicks, I make Monica get back on the bike to cruise down to the end of town where I am certain there is a cheap hotel just waiting for us. No such luck. Reluctantly, I turned around and told Monica I would meet the girl. She took me back to the hotel where we met Suzanne. She seemed pretty normal so I—-believe it or not—agreed to stay at her house. After all, it was going to be a short night. I intended to leave as early as possible. I couldn’t believe I was agreeing to this. Secretly, I was thinking of a way to kill Monica for getting me into this. Why can’t she just go into a hotel and ask a simple, “how much for a room?” She insists she did just that, but, of course, has to ask, “Is that your best price?” What kind of lame pauper barters for a hotel room in Napa Valley??

Suzanne told her boss that we were “friends” of hers because—naturally—it would not be cool for her to take away prospective customers from the hotel to board in her house, would it?
Off we go to the house. It wasn’t too far from the hotel and was within walking distance to the main drag of town. I was also, by this time, pretty hungry. She told us she would sleep on the couch and we could have her room. The house was small and quaint. I didn’t realize she didn’t have a guest room at least before she invited us to stay with her. She got us settled in and went back to work. However, before she left she casually mentioned how impressed she was with the hospital in Napa and how we should move to the area, and how they had such a good cardiac program, blah, blah. She knew all this, of course, because she’d recently spent 28 days “in treatment” because of a “really bad divorce.” All of a sudden I knew she wasn’t getting 28 days of cardiac treatment. Oh, yeah, by the way, she tells us, “I’m an alcoholic. It will almost be 3 months since my last drink.” Groovy. “You can stay in my room. But I have to get my meds and pajamas out first.” Out of nowhere, she pulls a gallon sized baggie filled with prescription bottles. “You guys have to be out of here early because my parents are coming over in the morning and they will freak if they find you in here.” I wondered why on earth her parents would be compelled to inspect the bedroom of their 40 year old daughter, but I didn’t press the issue. By now, I’m just a little uneasy. Fantastic. Just another reason to rise early and hit the road.
She headed back to the hotel to finish out her shift and Monica and I got settled in her room. She informed us she had just changed the sheets that morning so we felt reasonably safe from that perspective. On the bedside table were two books. Being naturally curious, I scanned the titles: Living with Bipolar Disorder and Narcotics Anonymous Handbook. Sweet! “Are you happy?” I asked Monica. “You’ve housed us with a crazy woman!”
“There’s a lock on the door,” she informed me meekly.
Suzanne had told us of a couple of restaurants close by and recommended one in particular called, “Cindy’s.” We showered, put on our more respectable clothes so we wouldn’t look like two wayward hoodlums and set out to find the restaurant. The highlight of the evening was finding the restaurant. We justified having a nice dinner because we were saving so much on a hotel even though we ended up leaving Suzanne an ample tip equatable to what we would have spent at any boarding house. We happily ordered drinks. Monica was certain I was in need of a beverage to keep from brooding about the state of affairs we had found ourselves in. We lingered over dinner and had a good time with the waitstaff. We were content to lounge on the patio while the rest of the customers ate in the hot stuffy inside.
We semi-staggered back to the room well after 11pm and then thought how inconsiderate we were for coming back to AA girl’s house with liquor on our breath. I said to Monica, “You realize that she only invited us to stay at her house because she’s manic, don’t you?”
“I guess a normal person wouldn’t have done that, huh?” she acknowledged.
“Uh, no. Let’s just hope she’s still manic when we return and she hasn’t gone over the edge with depression already.” I told her I envisioned Suzanne offing herself in our absence and we’d be the unlucky saps to find her corpse hanging in the middle of the living room. Not really funny, but it had us laughing until our sides ached. I could see us running for our lives, fleeing the St. Helena’s police department, accused of murdering the poor girl. The only witness was Suzanne's inebriated neighbor. Yes, officer. It was two women. On a big blue motorcycle. Never seen 'em here around these parts before....My imagination was running rather wild. “That’s a horrible thing to say, “ Monica scolded me between bouts of rolling hysteria. “Promise me we will NOT say anything bad while we are in her house.” I vowed I’d behave.
To our amazement, Suzanne was alive and well, sitting on the couch visiting with a friend. “Hi!” she greeted us cheerily. “This is my friend Craig. He’s a drug addict.”
I kid you not. She said that. “Well, I’m past that now,” he said.
“That’s how we met,” chirped Suzanne. “In AA.” Craig, we found out, was a nurse. But, he wasn’t allowed to work near narcotics anymore because, well, he was sort of under disciplinary action, etc with the Board. “I got through nursing school on meth and booze,” he informed us. Oh.My.God. At any rate, he was gainfully employed as a telephone triage nurse working 6 hours a day at $45/hr. Damn, crime does pay. What am I doing wrong?
We sat up for an hour and a half and listened to Suzanne and Craig’s life story which was interesting in a warped sort of way.
We left early the next morning. I tried to sneak out before Suzanne awakened, but manic people apparently don’t sleep very soundly. “Are you leaving?” she practically leapt off the couch.
“Yeah, we have a lot of miles ahead of us.” Besides, I don’t want to run into your psycho parents.
"Life is always an adventure with you, I have to admit," I told Monica as we drove away. One of these days you're going to get us killed. I guarantee it.
"Yeah, and we had a room AND a great dinner for less than the price of that hotel would have been," she said proudly.

Good Times worth Repeating: Episode 1

I take you back to Sept 16, 2007 to a segment I call "Oh, Canada"

Greetings from Vancouver Island, B.C.

Monica and I took off on Tuesday and headed north to spend a week on Vancouver Island. We drove to Port Angeles, WA and stayed at a hostel. We are the quintessential budget travelers. I've decided that hostels are created from the lowest possible real estate in the area and converted to a rooming house for weary travelers. It must be easy to run a hostel because it requires no effort to upkeep. If the handle falls off your guest's door, no problem! Just jiggle a pencil or your finger through the hole in order to exit your room. The best part is you get to share bathrooms with people from all over the world and get a new appreciation for the vast array of worldwide bathroom habits. Do you know that French men don't lower the lid OR flush the toilet? They also manage to shed a few choice pubes on the rim of the toilet for good measure. If that doesn't wake you up in the middle of the night...

We took a 90 minute trip on the ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria. It sounded like a great idea until about 20 minutes into the trip when we both remembered we get horribly motion sick. We spent the rest of the trip trying to focus on the front of the boat. Someone told us to "look at the pole" on the bow of the ship, which is what we did while we plowed through the ever increasing fog.

We spent the day in Victoria, walking around and looking at the distinctly British influence.

We enjoyed seeing the totem poles outside the Royal Museum. In the afternoon, we headed north to Nanaimo and stopped at a couple of quaint towns along the way, most notably, Cowichan Bay where we discovered a fantastic bakery and picked up the best baguette we've ever had along with some Dubliner cheese, which I think is my favorite cheese now. We had a little picnic as we walked around and looked at the sailboats, fishing boats and seaplanes. We then stopped at another little town called Chemainus and found their farmer's market going on. Monica bought me two hats from a hippy seamstress who'd hitchhiked to the island in the 70's. We made it to Nanaimo by 6pm and checked into the hostel. (The one with the French people...) It seemed a bit better than the one at Port Angeles. We did have a difficult time finding a place to have dinner. Everywhere we went was either closed or closing as we walked into the door. One place told us it would take an hour to get food. We wandered around the town until we found a place called "White Spot." Not a place that sounds very appetizing. Nanaimo was hosting the Senior Games, so the whole town was inundated with "seniors" and not the high school kind. We have no idea what the senior games entail, but one of them must include eating because the restaurant was packed with white and blue hair. It was also about 30 degrees in there so we ate our food huddled next to some big old beer-drinking Canadian man at the bar.
The next day, after we spent the traditional 30 minute ritual of "Finding Coffee for the Psycho" we headed west to explore the ocean side. Along the way, I remembered reading about the World Parrot Refuge Monica thought I was nuts when I blurted out that I wanted to stop there because I hadn't told her about it ahead of time. I had, in fact, forgotten about it until I saw the place. We walked in to the sound of squacking screeching parrots of all shapes, sizes and colors and met Wendy who told us the facts about parrots as pets and how much care they require and how they really aren't meant to be pets. People are unaware of how much work they are and how much attention they need and grow tired of them or are unable to care for them so they end up at this refuge. At this point, she has 700 birds that she and a staff of 9 care for. It was really pretty amazing.
Monica made a new friend named Nike who apparently adopted her as his chick. She thought he was giving her kisses, when, in reality, he was feeding her down feathers from his back. She ate enough feathers to stuff a pillow. "I thought he was giving me kisses!" she exclaimed when I told her the bird was force feeding her ass feathers. I thought for sure she felt the down stuck to her mouth. It was the funniest thing I'd seen in a while. I had to pluck her before we left. Oh, yes, another funny at the expense of Monica. After we left we had a really good lunch at a seafood place called the Clam Bucket in Port Alberni even though Monica said she was just "stuffed" after all those feathers. She did manage to help me eat a pretty darn tasty "candied halibut." She had already done the gastronomic tour, having eaten a handful of smoked salmon and a famous "Nanaimo bar."

We spent the night in our tent. We didn't come too prepared to "camp." I am, by nature, a terrible planner and we somehow miscommunicated about what we needed to "camp." For instance we have no matches, light, flashlights, stove, food, or beverages. So, when it gets dark, we have to go to bed. I told her it's more like being homeless than it is like camping. She has been less than amused with me and my crappy attitude. I believe she may be trying to lure the cougar or a bear into our tent at night and claim my untimely death was an "accident."

We did have a very nice day hiking through the rainforest and along the Pacific Coast Trails. As I was walking along I found what I thought was a dropping of some animal until it started to move across the path. It turned out to be a banana slug, which I quickly rescued from the path because I knew he'd be squashated if I left him there. I then made it a kind of game to find them. I was going to take a picture of the first one I discovered, but he was black, like a very over-ripened banana slug. Monica said, "You know that picture will look like you took a picture of dog poop."
I peered through the camera lens and composed a picture. "Yep, you're right. Looks just like a turd."

When I force fed one to Monica she said they did not really taste like bananas at all.

Enjoying a relaxing moment on the beach.

We are here in Tofino where we found a little coffeeshop that had wireless. It's hard to find here on the island. We're fine, really. Monica is happy to report she had a wonderful salmon burger for dinner. We'll be heading back to our shelter soon for the night. Tomorrow, we're heading out to who knows where.


Really enjoyed the Montgomery Inn Ribs that my mom sent from Cincy. Ran out of limes. Resorted to grapefruit margaritas.