Apr 29, 2008

The End of an Experiment

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

I'm sure you noticed that during the past few weeks I've had some ads lined up along the right side of my web pages. These ads were Google "Adsense" ads -- a program that makes it very easy for people like me to place targeted ads on web pages and get paid for doing so. I was intrigued, wanted to find out how it all worked, and hoped to maybe generate a little "coin" to offset some of the costs associated with keeping a website going.

After one month, I'm pulling the plug on these ads. It wasn't an easy decision -- the TDHoch board of directors discussed it for at least a minute or two. These ads generated over 8 bucks ($8.16 to be exact) in a little more than a month. At that rate, I could be into three figures after a year, and could actually get paid from Google. You see, your Google Adsense account must reach the magic $100 mark before they'll cut you a check. So with this obvious success and new-found wealth, why am I killing the ads?

Well, for a number of reasons. First, I've read websites and blogs that encourage readers to click on ads. It may not be stated as such, but the implication is that this is a no-cost way for readers to supplement the income of the website or blog owner. The reality is that this is fraud. When someone clicks on an ad for the sole purpose of creating a "click" in order to generate ad revenue, it's wrong. I felt smarmy asking people to shop by clicking on my ads, knowing full well that it's a rare bird indeed that shops this way. I believe the vast majority of the clicks from the Google Adsense program are fraudulent.

Google might well say that's right... but the program still works. The purveyors and advertisers may even have it built into their calculations... that the one click in a hundred or a thousand that actually buys something is worth all the other fraudulent clicks. But it just doesn't feel right, and I don't get good vibes about the whole deal. It feels like part of the "something for nothing" attitude that pervades our culture these days.

Second, I think electronic ad pollution is as bad an any other kind of pollution. It's really just cyber-litter floating around the net -- very much like the Taco-Bell wrapper blowing around your backyard (or my campsite). Businesses advertise everywhere they can to get a leg up on the competition... they have video screens on gas pumps so they can fill you up as you fill your car up... they have advertising at the urinal so they can drain your wallet as you drain your bladder... it's everywhere and technology is making it easy to put it anywhere.

Well, it's not going to be on our website anymore.

My third reason for killing the Google Adsense ads is that Google's goals and my goals are not in synch. I don't have enough traffic to generate any real ad revenue -- traffic is not the purpose of my website. I put this site up to communicate and share our experiences with friends and relatives. I also had the objective of learning about website technology -- what it takes to build a website and how it all works. I never once had the objective of making my website a medium for advertising to those I care for.

So the experiment is over. No more ads. You can visit, view photos, read, enjoy, and share all you want... without being bombarded by the ad pollution you hate. We are ad-free once again.


The Columbia River Highway

Tuesday, April 2, 2008 -- Vancouver, WA

The last installment on our Saturday trip to Mt. Hood, Hood River, and the Columbia Gorge.

After leaving Timberline Lodge, we proceeded a little further east on Hwy 26 to where Hwy 35 North separates and goes around the eastern flank of Mt. Hood, then down into Hood River, OR along the Columbia River on the eastern end of the Gorge. Like many roads in mountainous areas, this one follows a path cut by streams full of melting runoff from the snow pack high above.

We stopped in Hood River at a park along the Columbia to take a few pictures. Hood River is the eastern end of the Columbia River Gorge (Portland and Vancouver are just beyond the western end). Until the early 1900's, there was only a rustic rudimentary trail that traversed the Gorge. The rugged rocky shoreline and the unpredictable water levels kept most traffic to the river or to a better trail through a pass on the north side of Mt. Hood. But about 1910, the legislature got serious about building "good roads" and planning for the Columbia River Highway began.

The actual construction took place from 1914 until 1921 and it has since been recognized for its good design, building techniques, and engineering excellence. Long since replaced by I-84 as the primary road along the south banks of the Columbia, the old road is still open and maintained as a "historic byway" under the National Scenic Byways Program of the U.S. Department of Transportation.


Whatever it is, it's certainly an exploration to be experienced. Along the 20 or so mile long western segment, there are dozens of waterfalls, parks, hiking paths, and stately old bridges to enjoy. It's a trip back to the early 20th century that shouldn't be missed.



Latourell Creek bridge, completed in 1914, was the first bridge constructed on the Historic Columbia River Highway. It was designed by K.P. Billner, under the direction of state bridge engineer C.H. Purcell. The bridge is a three- span reinforced concrete braced spandrel deck arch. The braced spandrel framing is usually found only in steel deck arch construction. and is unique to this structure. At the time of its construction it was one of the lightest concrete bridges, relative to its dimensions, in the country. This bridge established the essential form of the concrete arch that would be used in Oregon and other sections of the United States.


The L&C gang had easy-going as they headed west along the Columbia in the fall of 1805. Well, at least it was easy until they reached the Gorge, where the river was still cutting through the underlying layers of rock and debris creating numerous "shutes" or cascades. As the second-last major barrier to making their objective, the Pacific Ocean, (the other being the lovely weather this part of the country can be noted for), these shallow rapids made many long portages necessary. But they endured and adapted; they did what they had to do.


Apr 28, 2008

Mt. Hood and Timberline Lodge

Monday, April 28, 2008 -- Vancouver, WA

The last few nice days have been a welcome change from the lousy weather that has prevailed during the last six weeks or so.

Saturday, we headed to the mountain -- Mt. Hood. This time of year (especially this year) there aren't many days that are clear enough so it's possible to see the mountaintop and the surrounding valleys. So, with a clear day, we were off to explore Mt. Hood, Timberline Lodge, Hood River, and drive the Historic Columbia River Highway back. Over the next couple days I'll write a few posts that highlight various aspects of that day.

The plan was to drive up from the Portland area on Hwy 26, zip up and down the road to Timberline, and then head east and north on Hwy 35 as we make a loop around the east side of the mountain and down to Hood River on the Columbia River. From there, we'll drive the Historic Columbia River Highway back to the Portland Area.

Mt. Hood from Timberline Lodge

Mt. Hood stands 11,239 feet high. It stands alone, as do the other tall volcanic mountains of the Cascade Range, and looks more impressive than other mountains due to the elevation change from almost sea level to over 11,000 feet in just 30 or 40 miles. Portland, for example, is just a few feet above sea level and is just 50 miles away. By comparison, typical Rocky Mountain peaks may top out higher by but are seen from surrounding land that's already a mile or more high. Mt. Hood is still considered "potentially active" by the USGS and up near the top it's still venting sulfur-smelling gas from somewhere deep below. This time of the year a heavy snow pack still totally covers the top of the mountain. It's a stark bright frosty white seen against the winter browns and dark greens of the surrounding valleys.

The drive up on Hwy 26 from the Portland area took us through the towns of Sandy, Welches, Zigzag (cool name for a town, isn't it? If I lived there I'd have to start a driving school or alcohol rehab program), and Rhododendron. After Rhododendron, the climb upward steepens until you reach the town of Government Camp, which is at the high point on the highway (about 4000 feet) and plastered right on the flanks of the mountain itself. This is one town that certainly hadn't escaped the national building frenzy of the past 5 years as big new condos and lodges attest.

From Government Camp, a steeper winding road ascends up the side off the mountain another 2,000 feet -- to Timberline Lodge at 6,000 feet. It was build by the WPA in 1937, during the great depression, to serve as a destination resort for skiers.

Timberline Lodge

It has 70 guest rooms, restaurants, bars, dining rooms, and large open central lobby and sitting area. A very impressive huge stone chimney dominates the large central lodge, or head-house as it's called. We grabbed a table right next to a window in the Ramshead Bar for a quick, albeit somewhat expensive, lunch. Snow was piled up so high around the lodge that it partially obscured our view of the mountain from the window where we were seated -- and we're on the third level.

Our Table in the Ramshead Bar

Dar, looking for photo opportunities, decided we'd walk around the exterior of the lodge on snow that was tens of feet thick, but packed and walkable. (For a moment, I thought I was back in Wisconsin.) The views are nothing short of spectacular -- both the mountain above and the valleys far below.

After lingering a bit to soak in the scenes, we headed back down the mountain to explore the east side of the mountain. Be sure to check out more pictures of the trip on our online photo collection, and I'll write more about this trip in my next post.

Apr 24, 2008

Eye-Opening Experience

Thursday, April 24, 2008 -- Vancouver, WA

After crawling out of bed yesterday morning, I became increasingly aware of some changes to my vision. I've always had some "floaters" swimming around in the vitreous gel inside my eyes... I think almost everyone does. But yesterday, a new and bigger blob was floating around in my left eye and was very noticeable as I read the morning news on my PC screen. As I was "focusing" on this problem, I became aware of another -- I was seeing "flashes", small bolts of lightning, off to the far left of my field of vision. What could this be? Hmmm.

I've been fairly vigilant about getting to an eye doctor every year or two. Other than the normal vision degradation that accompanies aging my eyes have been healthy. I always mention the floaters to the doc and when I do they always ask if I've noticed a change in the number or size, and if I've experienced any "flashes". It seems these two symptoms can accompany a tear in the retina and the beginning of a detached retina. Yikes. Now my mind is working overtime.

After a period of denial -- no, this isn't any thing serious, it's just a passing thing, I'm really ok -- I brought Dar into the picture. If you know Dar, you know that she doesn't fool around. Within an hour and a half, I was in an examination room at the Vancouver Eye Clinic as they looked and checked and gave me the twice-over. The doc didn't see anything to be concerned about, but I've got to watch it for the next few weeks. In his learned opinion, the vitreous -- the gel inside the eye -- is normally attached to the retina at a few points. As we age, that gel starts to shrink a little, and as it does it often pulls away from some of those connection points on the retina. In the process of doing so it excites the vision cells on the retina creating those intermittent flashes. It can also cause new floaters. If that's it, there's nothing to be concerned about and nothing to do about it. That's the hypothesis anyway.

So we'll keep an "eye" on it.


Apr 22, 2008

Useful Stuff #4

Tuesday, April 22, 2008 -- In wet, rainy, Vancouver, WA

Another in a continuing series about our list of stuff we find useful and would have a hard time doing without. This list is all computer-related.

16) Laptop PC's: One purpose of our Sabbatical is to exercise personal creative talents. Through writing and photography we're both documenting our journey and expressing ourselves with the goal of communicating, entertaining and amusing our readers. Additionally, email has become a primary means of communication with others. All of these things require a personal computer. We have two Dell Laptops so we can both work at the same time and so we have some redundancy in case one or the other machine poops out. Our machines are average sized laptops, both running XP (so I have only one operating system to support), and have been remarkably reliable and trouble-free. (knock on wood, turn around three times to the right, throw salt over left shoulder). We could not be without these machines.

17) Canon Printer: We wanted computer peripherals that are small and easily stowed, but that still produce high quality results. Our printer is a Canon i70 portable that is so small its stored in a cabinet, upright, like a book. It's not much bigger than the typical hard cover novel. And it produces exceptional results in both color and black and white. Our need for a printer isn't great, but having one is necessary. This one is perfect for us. Top notch.

18) Canon Scanner: Same requirements for size as above. The Canon Lide30 scanner is slightly larger than the printer, but very lightweight. It doesn't need a power supply either, as it's powered by the USB port of the PC. Just like it's printer brother, we don't use it often, but when we need to scan a document in order to fax or email it to someone, it really comes in handy. Also, because we're almost paperless, anything we want to save long term is scanned and stored on a harddrive so we can ditch the paper. Wonderful machine.

19) External Data Storage: USB thumbdrives and external USB harddrives have made the process of data file storage, backups and transfers so much easier than it used to be. Whether it's moving a file from one PC to another, or backing up our PC's, they're quick, trouble-free, and very reliable. In addition, three or four times a year we try to burn DVD's of our photos and other work that can't be replaced and send them by mail to a safe and secure location away from our bus-house.

20) Website Software: Also called an HTML editor, there's a wide selection of them in the marketplace. Some are free, some complicated. If you know what you're doing, you can even use most modern word processors. I chose SiteSpinner by Virtual Mechanics as it seemed to offer the right mix of features and was relatively simple to use. I'm not an expert in this field and I don't know much about competing products, but I do know I find this product useful and it works great for my needs. Combined with a competent webhost (I use Yahoo, but there are many out there), our website has become the primary means of keeping friends and relatives up-to-date with our explorations as well as a means to publish our creations.

Even more to come at a later date.


Apr 21, 2008

No Regrets or Hand-Wringing

Monday, April 22, 2008 -- Vancouver, WA

The blog posting today is more pointed and opinionated than usual. It probably belongs in my Certified Skeptic blog, where I've given myself more freedom to be open about my opinions on politics, religion, and other "sensitive" topics. But there are people out there who wonder how a worsening economy, poor (or negative) investment returns, and rising costs effect people like us, fulltimers, who have seemingly built their lifestyle around the availability of cheap energy and positive investment yields.

Increasing costs for food, fuel, air travel, and almost everything we buy is affecting all of us -- and it's really beginning to bite. Gas is approaching $4/gallon, diesel is well over $4. The price of cereal grains is at near record levels. The common denominator in this problem is the price of oil in particular, and all energy in general. Coupled with the problems in the credit markets and the resulting slow-down in housing activity, it's hard to see how we'll escape a tough, long-lasting recession with the potential of significant changes to the way we live and work in this society.

How does all this affect us? Here are my thoughts:

First off, we went into this lifestyle fully expecting energy costs to rise. I've made a study of the topic of "peak oil" and the rapidly growing demand for energy in China, India, and other, less populated, countries who've belatedly found that capitalism works and are giving the USA a run for it's money. It should be clear to anyone that the easy-to-get oil is already out of the ground. What's left, regardless of the volume, is going to be harder to get out and more expensive. A large part of our decision to fulltime at this time were the beliefs that 1) it may become cost-prohibitive to travel around and explore the USA in this way at some point in the future, and 2) we'd need to find a less-expensive, lower cost, and more climate-friendly place to settle down after the sabbatical in order to weather the changes to our society that will probably occur as a result of tightening and more costly energy supplies. In other words, if we didn't do it now, we may never have done it. We wanted to do it while we still had the chance.

Second, I've stopped listening to investment analysts and financial advisors. With a little homework the average intelligent person can manage their investments just fine, thank you. I don't think the normal investor has any business being in the manipulated, rumor-driven equity markets at this time. When the interpretation, on the part of certain "experts", of the nuances of certain words in a statement from the FRB can move the markets by 2, 3, or more percent in one day, you or I should not be in that market. Unless you've got so much money that the loss of half of it or more doesn't affect your lifestyle, be more conservative and focus on capital preservation.

Yes, the bus-house is a depreciating asset. But then, so are most of the homes in America these days. As someone told me a few months ago, "If you have a home that's depreciating, it might just as well have wheels." The difference is that we expected the bus-house to depreciate -- and worked that into our plan.

Yes, our travel depends on a lot of diesel fuel. As fuel rises from $4 to $5 to $8 per gallon, we can choose to use less of it by lingering longer in places we find interesting. Instead of driving 10,000 miles per year, we can reduce to 8,000 or 6,000 or even less if necessary. We have choices. We're willing to travel less, if necessary, but we're not willing to give up our exploration of America and our search for our next home town -- at least for a while.

I've already documented [citation link] that we're using at least 25% less energy in this lifestyle than the one we left. I have no apologies for our use of energy as we travel and believe we're far more "green" than we ever were, or most "greenies" purport to be.

When the time comes to stop fulltiming, buy or build a house, and get back to a more traditional lifestyle, we'll transfer many of our habits and some of the technology from our RV fulltiming life to our new home. It'd be great to live a net-0 energy lifestyle, and not be dependent on the grid for our existence.

We chose this lifestyle, didn't come into it blindly, and don't regret for one minute doing so.

Right or wrong, these are our ideas and goals.


Apr 19, 2008

Walk Along the Columbia

Saturday, April 19, 2008 -- Vancouver, WA

After lunch, we took a drive along the Washington shore of the Columbia River downstream from Vancouver. The L&C Corp of Discovery camped in this area the night of November 4, 1805, and we thought we'd hunt for their campsite to make sure they picked up all the litter and put out the fire.

Along the way we found a collegiate rowing event at Vancouver Lake and stopped to check it out. The wind was blowing out of the Southwest at about 20mph, the temp was in the lower 40's, it was occasionally drizzling; not ideal conditions for rowing -- probably not ideal conditions for rugby or football either. At least one boat capsized during a race. Safety crews had to yank the kids out of the water and bring them to shore. There are times like this I'm glad I was on the debate team in school.

A while later we found a park near where the L&C campsite was supposed to be and took a long walk along the shoreline. The weather cooperated during our walk; the sun even came out for an hour or two. We watched a pair of young Osprey flying around their home-nest -- a couple of "hams" if I may say so, and photogenic too.


Just during the time we spent along the river, the effect of the ocean tide was evident -- a full 90 miles from the Pacific. This evidence off tides was something noted in L&C's journals and gave them renewed energy as they realized they were close to the ocean and their destination. I'm sorry to report that we were unable to locate the campsite, however.

On the way back to the bus-house we drove through a typical Northwest spring storm... thunder, lightning, rain, and "snail". What the heck is "snail"? Snail is a combination of hail and snow. It came down so heavy for a while that it covered the road with ice and vision was reduced so much that traffic slowed to a crawl. Arriving back at the bus-house I realized there was one thing I needed but didn't bring along on our sojourn... a snow-shovel.

Snail on Road

Here's I-5 just a few miles north of Vancouver, WA this afternoon. That's "Snail" on the road. For heavens sake, it's almost May!


A Snowy April Saturday

Saturday, April 19, 2008 -- Vancouver, WA

As we hit the sack last night, people all over the Portland area were outside covering their tomatoes, marijuana plants, and sensitive flowers. The crack-meteorologists on TV were predicting freezing temps and snow overnight. And there's rain or snow in the forecast for the next five days. Hey guys, it's the middle of April!

We woke to 35f degrees and, thankfully, no blanket of snow on the ground. In fact, it didn't even look like it rained overnight. But there were a couple snow showers that passed through the area while I was drinking coffee and reading the paper. And the dire predictions are holding and we're not planning any trips to the beach for the next few days.

A&G and family are in Seattle this weekend to see friends. Other than taking care of the dog, we have the weekend to ourselves. What will we find to do?

Apr 18, 2008

Useful Stuff #3

Friday, April 18, 2008 -- Vancouver, WA

More of that stuff we find useful in our fulltiming lifestyle...

11) Folding Ladder: Many RV'ers have large step-ladders hanging on the back-end of their campers and, and in my humble opinion, it makes an otherwise nice looking unit look trashy. The problem is that RV's are high, as much as 12 or 13 feet, and it's necessary to have some way to access the higher portions of the camper for washing and maintenance. So some kind of ladder is essential. We have one of those folding/extension ladders that bends in the middle. It can be used like a step-ladder, or a straight extension ladder. Fully extended, it's about 12 feet. Folded, it's about 4 ft, and fits neatly in a storage bin in the basement. It'd be hard to be without it.

In the category of communication:

12) Our Sprint Aircard and Kyocera wireless router: Sure, we can spend $5000 for a satelite system and be able to find a connection almost anywhere. But since we don't have unlimited funds we thought we'd try the Aircard first, and haven't regretted it at all. There have only been two places in the past 10 months where we couldn't connect at all. Otherwise, it's been an ideal solution. And the wireless router means both Dar and I can be on the net at the same time. In those rare cases where we can't connect, we do have the ability to hook-up to any wi-fi hotspot. And, let's keep this all in perspective... it's not necessary for us to be on-line every day.

13) Cell Phones: Not much needs to be said about this. These small portable devices and their extensive national networks have revolutionized the ability to be connected while mobile. Our two phones make it possible for us to reach anyone, anywhere, whenever we want.

14) Portable Two-Way Radio: Also called walkie-talkies, these little short range radios come in handy, particularly when we're backing into a campsite or maneuvering in tight places. One of us is outside keeping an eye on things and communicating with the driver on the radio. We've observed people who try to use hand-signals or communicate by yelling. The radios are much more effective, quieter, and more campground-friendly.

15) NOAA Weather Radio: The ability to tune into local NOAA weather is not just convenient, but it could save a life too. During storms we're tuned in and very aware of our position relative to the dangers of the storm. It'd be hard to be without it.

One of these days I'll add more useful stuff to the list.


Apr 17, 2008

Useful Stuff #2

Thursday, April 17, 2008 -- Vancouver, WA

More stuff we'd have a hard time doing without...

6) Convection/Microwave Oven: Nearly a miracle. When ordering the bus-house, we traded the standard oven for more storage space and haven't regretted it at all. The Convection/Microwave Oven does everything we need an oven to do, and more. A very useful and space-saving device.

7) Miller Amazing Magic Table: If you aren't familiar with this thing, check out the website www.amazingmagictable.com. It can be an end-table, a serving table, a hobby or craft table, a coffee table -- we're using it all the time. It'd be hard to get along without one. And it's small and well-built.

8) 4 cup Braun Drip Coffeemaker: Where'd we be without morning coffee. This thing is small and makes just the right amount of coffee for us. It makes enough for me to have two cups and Dar to have one. Often, we'll make two pots during the morning and having that fresh second pot sure beats the burnt-tasting coffee that's often swimming in the bottom of a larger coffeemakers pot. For us, it's perfect and something we'd have a heck of a time doing without.

9) Clothespin Downspout: What the heck is this? An idea born of necessity in a very wet climate, we've learned that by simply clipping an old-fashioned wooden spring-clip type clothespin on the small and rather ineffective downspouts of the bus-house, rainwater from the roof is channeled a little further away from the sides and everything stays cleaner.

10) GPS System: We have two GPS systems. This one is designed for vehicle use and has mapping and routing capabilities. Although I rarely use the routing capabilities (turn left in 200 feet...) I find other features invaluable. It helps the driver plan turns so you're in the correct lane for that entrance ramp to the freeway; it displays a moving map of where you're at so you can see intersecting roads, rivers, lakes, towns along the way; it's a trip computer that keeps track of driving time, miles driven, average speed, etc. Not a real necessity, but I've found it a very useful thing. The other unit is a simple lightweight handheld GPS that we use for hiking, biking, and exploring.

Even more useful stuff to come...


Apr 15, 2008

Useful Stuff #1

Tuesday, April 15, 2008 -- Vancouver, WA

Living fulltime in a bus-house (aka motorhome), we have but a small fraction of the stuff we used to own. This isn't just an issue of space -- where to keep it all, it's also an issue of weight in order to stay under the weight rating of the chassis.

The innate need humans seem to have to constantly acquire more stuff is one element that makes this lifestyle a bit un-natural. We're fighting mother nature here. I want more stuff but the "on-board" safety director forbids it, and the bus-house can't carry more, and there's no place to put it anyway. So, what to do?

We've developed an informal process whereby when something new comes onboard, something old has to go. As long as Dar doesn't drag home a new driver (which, I guess, would mean I'd be out), I'm OK with the process. Here's an example of how it works for us: Dar gets a new coat --> Thom gives a coat to Goodwill. Or, Dar buys a new pair of shoes -- Thom gives his fishing gear to Goodwill. You see, it's a nearly perfect system. Used effectively, the bus-house will never be over-weight.

All kidding aside, we have found after almost a year, that we really don't need nearly as much stuff as we once thought. You learn to value things that have multiple uses and things that are light and small, and things that you really use a lot. We were talking about this the other day and thought it'd make for good blog material... a list of our useful stuff.

I anticipate there'll be a series of these "Useful Stuff" posts as I'm trying to keep the length of posts shorter and the list we've come up with so far is rather long. So, here goes, in no particular order:

In the category of simple creature comforts:

1) A Small Portable Fan: Often, on those quiet warm summer days or nights, just having a little air movement around the inside of the bus-house is enough to keep us comfortable without having to run the A/C. We have two little fans... one 120v for when we have an electric hookup, and one 12v model for those times we don't.

2) A Small Portable Electric Heater: During the winter months, even in the south, it can get cold at night. We've used this thing almost every night. The one we have is a 1500 watt model that plugs into 120v and it cost less than $20. As all electric heaters are 100% efficient, there's no need to spend a lot of money to get one that's effective.

3) Wireless thermometer system: We brought a wireless thermometer system along that we used to use at our house in Illinois. It has three outdoor temp sensing units that wirelessly send to a single receiving station inside. Nothing high-tech here, but it's nice to know the outside temp at a glance. The system we have can read three different outdoor devices, and we use the capability in a unique way: unit 1 is assigned to be the outdoor temp, unit 2 gives us the current temp in our basement storage area, and unit 3 is assigned to report the temp in the water bay (no worries on freezing nights).

4) Bedroom Clock w/Projecting Display: This one also uses the outdoor thermometer system described above. The neat thing about this thing is it's ability to project the time and outdoor temp on the ceiling of the bedroom at night. The large red characters are very readable without glasses, and it's a real convenience to have the time and temp so readily available without having to sit up, squint, turn on a light, or just wonder.

5) On-Board Washer & Dryer: When we ordered the bus-house, we went back and forth on getting a washer and dryer. We ultimately made the decision to get the pair and it's turned out to be one of the best things we did. We can be washing one load, drying another, while doing something else... all in the comfort of our own home. And we don't have to hunt for that rare laundromat that's both clean and safe. During extended periods of drycamping we have used laundromats, but we far prefer the convenience of our own machines.

More to come...


The Bus-House

Tuesday, April 15, 2008 -- Vancouver, WA

Since we began this new lifestyle back in July, I've struggled with what to call our new home, especially when I'm writing or talking about it. "Motorhome" or "Motor Coach" has always seemed a little pretentious to me, evoking images of the wealthy traveling from high-class RV Resort to high-class RV Resort; or highly paid celebrities who don't fly; or Nascar drivers hanging around racetracks with their trophy-wives and kids. We are none of those things.

I have often used "camper" -- a term that reminds one of the units people use to go camping, like travel trailers, tent pop-up trailers, and fifth-wheel trailers. This works for me because we really prefer camping to resorting, we like being in the woods, with plenty of space between us and our neighbors, with a good old-fashioned campfire ring, the smell of pine, the sound of wind blowing through the trees.

I've also used "bus", even though it also doesn't quite seem to describe what we have. It's really not a bus. Some high-class motorhomes are indeed converted buses. But ours is not. "Bus" does flow off the tongue easily, but, for me, it just doesn't communicate what I want the term to say.

However, in a flash of brilliance, our almost three year old grandson, Ryan, has come up with a term we've been using around here the past few weeks... a term that works for us... a term that has solved my problem. That term is "bus-house" which describes, to a child, that our house is a thing that looks like a bus. It's caught on with everyone around here. It has a certain ring to it... it rolls off the tongue easily. And if it makes sense to a kid, it should make sense to anyone. I like it.

So you'll probably be reading more about the bus-house in the future, or The Bus House, or TBH... maybe just BH??

By the way, when people ask Ryan where the bus-house is... he proudly tells them it's at the "VR Park". Don't you just love what comes out of the mouths of little kids?


Apr 13, 2008

The Columbia River Gorge

Sunday, April 13, 2008 -- Along the Columbia River near Vancouver, WA.

Over the eons of time the Columbia River, which drains over 250,000 sq. miles of mountainous area in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Western Montana, and parts of Southern Canada, cut a path through the Cascade mountains on it's way to the sea. It's the only water route through the mountains in the Northwest and the average flow of water is an amazing 200,000 cubic feet per second. The Columbia Gorge, as its called, is about 80 miles long and as much as 4000 feet deep. Not just a grand scenic spectacle, it's also an area loaded with history.

The Northwest has supported human civilization and culture for at least the past 13,000 years -- the oldest of any area in the United States. Native peoples, whose ancestors originally crossed the Bering Strait from Asia, settled here first before slowly spreading around the rest of the Americas. The Columbia River Gorge provided many benefits to these peoples, including an abundance of fresh water, food, and a reasonable climate (as long as they liked rain and clouds). Eventually, the people that liked sun and heat moved to Arizona, and those that liked clam chowder moved to New York.

Sunday, April 13th, Dar and I trekked east into the Gorge to get re-acquainted with some sites we hadn't seen since living out here in the early 90's. Led by our theme of exploring the Lewis & Clark Trail, the focus was on landmarks noted in the journals of the Corps of Discovery. First on the list was the Gorge overlook at Cape Horn, right on Hwy 14 along the Washington side of the Columbia. By definition a cape is a large steep point of land that juts out into a body of water, and Cape Horn matches that description. It's a great place to get an overview of the Gorge from an elevated point.

Just off Cape Horn, thrusting out of the water about a third of the distance across, Phoca Rock sits there very much like it was 200 years ago when Clark made note of it as they paddled downriver on their way to the ocean.

Next on the agenda was Beacon Rock, a large monolithic hunk of andecite over 800 feet high that sits right along the Washington shore of the river. It's the central vent-plug of a small ancient volcano, the crater walls of which were washed away by the Columbia ages ago. L&C first noted this landmark on November 2nd, 1805, calling it "beaten rock" (probably due to it's rough, weathered appearance) on their way west in 1805. But on their way back east the following spring, it became "beacon rock" in their journals, as they probably used it as a beacon of sorts to measure their progress up the river. This was the point along their journey where they first started noticing the effects of the ocean tide in the river, giving rise to heightened spirits by knowing they were close to their destination. The trail to the top of Beacon Rock is relatively easy and we'd done it numerous times in the past. It's still a neat accomplishment and the views of the Gorge are Gorge-ous.

From Beacon Rock it's only a short drive to Bonneville Dam. It's spring and melting snows are quickly filling the Columbia River System. The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) manages that system to minimize flooding and maximize their ability to generate electricity from dammed up pools of water during dry periods. On this day, as you can see on our pictures, they were spilling a lot of water.

Just upriver from Bonneville is the Bridge of the Gods at a particularily narrow point on the Columbia. In the 1700's, a massive landslide -- referred to as the Bonneville Slide -- actually plugged up the river for a period of time, creating a "bridge" of debris. It didn't take long for the river to clear much of the slide debris and continue flowing. But this is the area that L&C called the "great shute" -- an portion of the river filled with rocks and rapids too rough for canoes. They had to portage around these spots.

Crossing the river on the steel structured bridge, man's replacement of the original Bridge of the Gods, we returned to the Portland area on the Oregon side of the river. There are dozens of waterfalls along the high walls of the Gorge on this side, many of them hundreds of feet high. The largest of these is Multnomah Falls -- 620 feet high. The best time of the year to see these falls is spring, of course, as water is plentiful and the views dramatic.

The thought-exercise during the day was to put ourselves in the shoes of the L&C gang, imagining what they saw -- native, unspoiled, wild, without any man-made modifications to the natural state -- and trying to imagine what they thought. At this point in their journey they'd already been through many very tough times and the journey itself had taken far longer than they thought it would. But they were also excited by the sense that the ocean, their destination, was near, and passed through this area quickly.

Both Dar and I are getting into this Lewis and Clark thing. Reading the journals of the Corps of Discovery and seeing landmarks they refer to is, in a small way, like being with them on their journey.

What a journey it was. And what a journey it is.

Apr 11, 2008

Got the Tax Monkey Off My Back

Friday, April 11, 2008

The past few days I've gotten a lot done. Monday was "don't panic, but taxes are due" day. I've always done my own taxes as we really don't have a complicated return. This year, the federal was similar to last years with the exception of all the necessary home-sale stuff.

The state return was different. I had to report to 2 states... both Illinois and Wisconsin... as a partial year resident. And neither state allows partial year residents to "file-for-free" online. So I did it the old fashioned way... printed out the forms and instructions, then read, looked up information, calculated, read more... let's see, enter the amount from line 15b on form 2211 to line 23 on form 1040NRR... then multiply that number by the percentage (carried to four decimal places) calculated by dividing line 35 by line 31 on form NP. It was enough to drive a man to drink.

It was a little more complicated for us this year, but I try to convince myself that there's a side-benefit to all that toil and sweat -- being a little more tuned into the complexities of the tax system in the good ol' USA. Most people have long-since given up on doing their own taxes, preferring to pay others to deal with the hassle. But by doing so, one gives up the first hand knowledge of what a mess it really is.

Taxes flowed over into Tuesday morning and the rest of the day I cleaned out some files, got our budget and expense tracking up to date, paid some bills, ran a couple errands, and organized the office area of the camper. It just plain felt good to get a lot done.

True to expectations, it's been cold, cloudy, and rainy through Thursday, yesterday. But this morning, Friday, we woke to sun and the promise of at least two or three days of abnormally nice weather. The solar system will get a full workout today.


Apr 8, 2008

Slapstick Connections

Wednesday, April 9, 2008 -- Vancouver, WA

Around the clubhouse at most RV Parks, you'll hear talk of "hookups"... sometimes full, sometimes only partial. This is one of those words that's used by both young and old in this country, but the meaning is quite different for the two groups. Without getting into what the young mean, let me address what we old-timers mean by "hookups": having the luxury of connections to water, sewer, and electricity right there at our campsite when we park our RV. Man, having hookups is high-livin'!

During our travels we encounter what seems like an infinite variation of hookup design. Sometimes the water is waayyy over there and it takes two hoses to reach; sometimes it's on a pipe 4 feet off the ground; sometimes just 4 inches off the ground. Well here at the old RV Park in Vancouver it's actually underground -- in a little plastic vault like those used with in-ground sprinkling systems for lawns. I'm sure the reasons are good -- no old coot is going to hit it when backing in -- and it does make the park look nicer without all those PVC pipes sticking out of the ground.

But by going underground with it means you've got to get on your knees and reach waayyy down into the vault to make the connection. We normally screw a "Y" connector on the water hookup before attaching our freshwater hose. That gives us the ability to attach a second hose for other purposes if necessary... without stopping the flow of freshwater to the camper. This "Y" connector has two little ball valves so water to either hose can be turned on or off as needed.

The other day, after we'd gotten back to Vancouver, I was out making the connections to our hookups. I attached the "Y" connector to the water hookup underground. One of the "Y" connector's outlets was facing downward and the other upward. Because I'm a smart guy, I put the camper's freshwater hose on the lower connection, leaving the easier-to-get-to and upward facing outlet free if we needed it. After securing the camper's hose on the lower connection, I reached down to turn the little valve that controls that outlet... and with Dar standing right there checking my progress, opened the wrong little valve... and doused myself with a spray from the upward facing outlet. Despite feeling like one of the Three Stooges, it wasn't bad. I got it turned off after just a brief shot. Of course, Dar found this wildly funny and got a good laugh out of it.

But a little later the same afternoon, after we determined a pressure regulator was needed on the camper's hose line, I had to take the connection apart, insert the regulator, and put it back together again. This time I was by myself. I can see you laughing already... that's right, I sprayed myself again. But this time I did it right. I lost my finger grip on the little valve to the wrong outlet and by the time I found it and turned it off, a good 5 seconds or so passed along with nearly all my pride and self-confidence. I was soaked to the skin... water dripping from me like I'd just emerged from a swimming pool. There was a wet trail left behind as I found my way into the camper to dry off.

Dar laughed and laughed. I think I may have found a new career -- making people happy!


Wipers and Demons

Tuesday, April 8, 2008 -- Vancouver, WA

This past Sunday we left Fort Stevens Park and made our way along the Columbia River back to our same parking spot in Vancouver. We did have one rather interesting experience along the way.

Highway 30 out of Astoria is a winding and hilly stretch of road for the first 20 miles or so, as it finds its way through and along the edges of the Coastal Range of mountains in Oregon. In addition to the challenges of the roadway itself, it was intermittently raining. I know this is hard to believe, but you've got to take my word for it... it was actually raining. We're moving along with a camper that weighs, with it's attached toad, somewhere around 36,000 lbs. The speed limits on the curves and bends are often 30 or 35 mph. For a mid-day Sunday, there was a significant amount of traffic. It was busy. Driving this thing normally demands your full attention. Challenging conditions like these make the edge a little sharper.

Then it happened. We're making a bend around a rocky outcropping in heavy rain... and the windshield wipers stopped working. What? That's right... just quit -- locked up -- something broke. Yikes! I managed to stay on the road until, a mile or two up the road, a wayside rest area appeared on the left and I turned in. Usually, on smaller two lane roads like this one, we're careful about getting into roadside parks and rest areas because many of them are too small to turn around without backing up... and there's to be NO backing when pulling the toad. I didn't care, if we had to unhook and re-hook to get out of there, we'd do it. The priority was to get off the road.

To our good fortune, the little roadside park turned out to be plenty large enough. I pulled over, stopped, -- took a deep breath -- and we assessed the situation. It's a Sunday, there probably not much chance at getting someone out here to help us. We could always wait for the rain to stop... but this is Oregon, and, if you've been reading this blog during the past few weeks at all, you know it's been known to rain in Oregon this time of the year. Our first choice was to try to effect repairs ourselves... at least temporary repairs.

Well, a long story short, I'm very happy to report that Dar and I, as a team, were able to fix the problem. With Dar hanging onto a wrench on one end while I reached inside to tighten the nut on the other end... we got those wipers working again. In fact, they now work better than they ever did. The situation, and working from problem through to solution, gave us a little more confidence that we can tackle tough situations and handle them ourselves... a measure of self-reliance.

Two things worked in our favor. First, there was still a residual coat of Rain-X on the windshield that I'd put on last summer. With this product, rain doesn't stick and spread out on the glass... it just seems to bead-up and roll off. With a fresh coat of Rain-X, it's possible to drive in heavy rain at highway speeds without wipers at all. The bit that was left was enough to keep the view out reasonably clear despite the weather. The second thing that helped us was that as soon as we pulled into the roadside park, it stopped raining. It was much easier to work on something like this if you're not getting soaked in the process.



Apr 5, 2008

A Rainy Oregon Coast

Saturday, April 05, 2008 -- Along the Oregon Coast at Astoria

My last post had us in Newport at South Beach State Park. Thursday was a wonderful day with good weather -- no rain. Our tour of Newport included the Yaquina Head Lighthouse, Nye Beach, the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse, and, finally, the historic Bay Front area along the harbor where the commercial fishing fleet docks. I'm finding I really like beach towns. They're more laid-back and casual than other, more pretentious, places. They feel comfortable and everyone seems so friendly... and accepting.

In the late 1860's and through the 1870's, increased shipping activity along the West Coast brought with it more shipping accidents and disasters when ships foundered on sandbars, shoals, or rocks. The US Government, wanting to foster growth in the west, made it a priority to build lighthouses to help guide ship traffic along the coast and bays up and down along the Pacific Ocean. The Yaquina Head Lighthouse came directly from that effort.

Often built on points of land that naturally jutted out into the ocean, just getting the necessary materials and supplies to build the thing was a monumental task. In the case of the Yaquina Head Lighthouse, every brick and component of the 90 ft. high tower, the tallest operational lighthouse in Oregon, had to be transported on a ship from San Francisco. When near the Yaquina headland where the lighthouse was to be built, the ship had to anchor quite some distance off shore, as there was no natural harbor or dock nearby. Then every item, every brick, every tool had to be loaded onto smaller boats for the trip to the nearby sand beach. From the sand beach, the items had to be transferred to wagons or carts and lugged nearly a mile to the site. Does anybody work like that anymore?

And yes, there are two lighthouses in Newport. Only the big Yaquina Head Light is still active, but the other, the smaller Yaquina Bay Lighthouse, has survived and is now an historic treasure that preserves a way of life, a passion, and a mission that now belongs to the past. With a multitude of other navigation aids for seamen (radar and GPS among others) the importance of the lighthouse has passed, like the use of the turn-signal in heavy California traffic.

The plan only called for us spending two nights in Newport before moving up the coast to the Astoria area. What's more, the weather prognosticators had called for good weather on Friday -- just what we needed for moving day. Of course, we woke to rain. Heavy rain.

The coffee pot got a workout Friday morning as we prepared for the drive and waited for a break in the weather. It's Oregon... if it's raining, just wait a while and it'll stop for a while-longer before starting again. I though that during one of those breaks, I could get us out of the park and at least moving up Hwy 101. About 10am, the rain stopped for a bit and we were out'a there. The recent cold weather had us running low on propane, so we even had time to fill the tank on the way out of Newport.

We arrived in the Astoria area and found a great campsite at Fort Stevens State Park near the mouth of the Columbia River. We're also just a quarter mile or so from the Pacific Ocean. Our plan was to stay here for two nights before moving back to Vancouver on Sunday.

Today, Saturday, we focused on the local history of the Lewis & Clark Corp of Discovery expedition. First, I've got to explain something.

Prior to the past two weeks or so, we had planned to leave Vancouver in early May and tour our way back to the Midwest in plenty of time for our son's wedding. The route we'd been planning had us going down into Utah, which has, it seems, hundreds of National Parks, National Monuments, National Wildlife Areas, State Parks, and other things to see. I think we could spend months there and still not see everything. Utah is something we really want to take our time doing -- we don't want to push it. But what's an alternative?

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.

This famed duo managed a feat of undaunted courage from 1803 until 1806. Their "Corps of Discovery", commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson, attempted and successfully completed an impossible mission of exploration that took them through the most treacherous, hostile, and unknown environments imaginable. That mission reached it's most westward point during the winter of 1805 when the Corps spent the winter near our campsite, right here at the mouth of the mighty Columbia, not far from Astoria. So what does all this have to do with our trip back to the Midwest?

Well, the plan has changed. We now hope to follow the Lewis & Clark Trail -- as closely as possible in a big camper -- and re-live the history and challenge of the expedition as we move east during May and June.

I'll have a lot more to say about this in the coming weeks.


Apr 2, 2008

Sun and Water

Wednesday, April 2, 2008 -- Along the Oregon Coast at Newport

The only water we've seen during the past three weeks was coming directly out of the sky in the form of rain. Today was different. Today, sunshine was coming out of the sky and the water we're seeing is the Pacific Ocean. It was simply a perfect day.

Our new friends at AM Solar completed the installation of our solar system on the roof of the camper this morning about 10am. To celebrate, the weather-gods produced the brightest, sunniest day in the past three weeks. Let me tell you, Bunky, as soon as we pulled the bus out of the service-bay, we were producing electricity. If called on, I felt like we could fill-in for Bonneville Dam and save the Northwest for land developers and house-builders. What a sense of freedom that is!

We then aimed the bus due west. After an hour-long drive through the Coastal Range, we were at the Coast. The Oregon Coastline is simply one of the most stunning and picturesque places on Earth. Dramatic mountains meeting rough water -- all of it lit up by the sun. Man makes due with what he can, carving out level places here and there for a town, a building, a home, or a road. But here, certainly, nature rules. Here, roads slide or wash away. Storms can overwhelm the best of boats. Tsunami warning signs are everywhere. Everyone subconsciously carries the knowledge that here, at any time, nature can assert itself and make it known who's really in control.

We chose a camping site at South Beach State Park near Newport, OR. We'll stay here for a couple nights and then, Friday, head up to the Astoria, OR. area, making electric power along the way... if the sun is shining.


Apr 1, 2008

A Power Update

Tuesday, April 1, 2008 -- Springfield, OR

Wow! It's been a while since I sat down and wrote a post to the blog. Consider this short entry a catch-up post.

After little Evan surprised us all with his slightly early arrival, we shared Ryan-watching duties with Duane & Shirleen (Gage's Mom and Dad), and visited Andrea and Evan in the hospital. Evan was born Monday night and by Thursday morning both he and Mom were packing up to go home. They're both doing great. Ryan is handling this new-little-brother thing with aplomb, and Evan is gaining weight the way he should. It's too early to really predict, but based on early returns he's another good natured kid whose doing what he's supposed to be doing... eating, gaining weight, peeing and pooping, and sleeping... lots of sleeping... all with a minimum of fuss. Gage and Andrea make a good pair of parents too. They make it look easy.

With all of that getting back to normal, Dar and I have taken this week to head south to Springfield, OR (near Eugene) to have some solar panels installed on the roof of the camper. The company that's doing it is AM Solar, the leading solar system supplier to the RV industry. We drove down Monday and camped in AM Solar's yard at their new building so we'd be ready to go at 8am Tuesday morning... this morning.

The installation was a little more complicated than initially thought. Adding things like solar systems to existing RV's is rarely easy due to limited space to work and all the existing things that are already crammed into every corner, cabinet and crevice. But the team did a good job working through the issues and we should get it finished up early on Wednesday. I'm chomping at the bit to start making electric power from the sun.

We're staying here at Camp AM Solar again tonight, but hope to be on our way to the coast by mid-day tomorrow. The weather seems like it's going to give us another couple days of sun (which is full of electrical energy, you know). It's been so long since we've been on the Oregon Coast that we're really looking forward to walking with bare feet in that cold surf until we loose all feeling and turn blue. Oh, it'll be great.


Beyond Branson; Pondering Future Travel

This past Tuesday, we moved from Branson to a very nice Corps of Engineer’s Park on Wappapello Lake.  We’re in the Redman Creek CG. This fac...