I haven’t posted much lately, because not much has been happening … at least not until this week. My mom was in town for my birthday on April 1, and we had a really great time. She was here for almost two weeks.
After talking with her a lot about the last two years, I decided that I am going to write a book about my experiences for the last few years. I have been working on that pretty consistently, trying to do a little bit of work at least every day. So there hasn’t been much current stuff to write about from Ocean Beach other than the obvious.
Both times we visited multiple wineries (through the Harvest Hosts program, as usual), and had amazing dinners at the local restaurants. We decided to head back to wine country for a couple of days.
This time was no different … well, except it was very different. We didn’t take Dolly, which felt kind of weird – we decided to save gas and time by taking Belinda’s mother’s hybrid SUV, and we also took Belinda’s mom, Betty, and her friend, Ron. We stayed in an Air BnB instead of a hotel or RV, and we were there for two nights and three days.
Two or three wineries per day should really be anyone’s limit if you’re actually trying to enjoy yourself. We wanted to sample the best wines and bring back our favorites; if you have too much wine in one day you can’t even keep up with the wines that you like.
Still, Beli’s mom kept referring to us (lovingly) as “borrachitas.”
On Monday, we arrived an hour before our Air BnB check-in time, so we stopped at Bianchi Winery for a tasting flight. Belinda decided to become a wine club member (which often saves you a lot of money if you’re enjoying the wines from that particular place), and I got a bottle of the Chardonnay.
For the most part, Paso Robles wineries specialize in reds. Most place have at least a white blend or a rosé, but they all have great selections of GSMs, Cabs, Pinots, and all the best red varietals. Which Belinda and I both like, since we are mostly fans of reds as well. This Chardonnay from Bianchi almost had a creamy or buttery effect as you sip it … perfect to pair with an amazing dinner.
Speaking of dinner, we revisited a place that was our second favorite restaurant in Paso: The Hatch Rotisserie, a relaxed but classy joint that serves delicious food. It was fried chicken night, so we had to try it…
… but the star is their most amazing mushroom appetizer – it’s a handful of hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, wood-grilled, so they have a huge smoke flavor, topped with parmesan and green onion and then served with a spicy aioli.
It’s super simple but executed in a way that just makes you crave more of it every bite you take. It’s magical.
While we were waiting to get a table at the Hatch, we stopped at a small tasting room called CaliPaso Wines, which had a delightful red. This was perhaps our third communal bottle of the day… so, you know, it was a long trip.
The next morning, we found a coupon in our AirBnb for a 2-for-1 wine tasting at Barton Family Cellars, also known as Grey Wolf, which happens to be just next door to another one we wanted to revisit, Dark Star Cellars.
After a tasting and lunch at Grey Wolf, we went to Dark Star.
We had stayed at Dark Star before, when we were in the RV, since it’s a Harvest Host, and I was eager to go back and get a bottle of their “Chain Reaction” party blend.
They have a lot of other great reds and whites, all of which are unique because they rarely filter either type of wine, so the flavor is heavier.
They have a great homey atmosphere at Dark Star – the last time we were there, the vintner had a baby on her hip, and this time, little Lucille was running around with her big sister and chasing the chickens that roam the property. It was delightful to see the same people again!
That night, we returned to downtown Paso Robles (where most of the restaurants are), and had another incredible meal at the Fish Gaucho restaurant. We split the tab again with a bunch of small shareable plates and appetizers, like oysters…
… and halibut tacos …
… as well as an amazing pork chop dish with Brussels sprouts and mezcal applesauce.
It was incredible. I don’t think I have ever had a bad dish in Paso Robles; but also my friends tend to gravitate towards the five-star joints. Thank goodness they also help me pay!
I have a special place in my heart for VOTM; it’s the only winery of which I have ever become a member, despite the relatively high number of wineries I have visited in the last two years. The owners, Victor and Jennifer, are the nicest people you’ll ever meet; and they both had totally different careers before Victor got the idea that he wanted to grow grapes and make wines.
They have a lovely family, a super comfy and well-designed tasting room, and their wine club has the best perks – Victor used to be a sound engineer for all of the big names in the music industry, and he’s a huge music buff, so every membership comes with a personally curated Spotify playlist. When we showed up on a Wednesday, a day they are typically closed, Jennifer was kind enough to open up just for us and gave us all a free tasting using my membership. I tell you, they’re the best people.
Chronic was literally the first wine I had that I ever enjoyed (although certainly not the last); Belinda made me try their Sofa King Bueno (say it fast) years ago, and it’s one of the best red blends you’ll ever drink.
Chronic is literally across the street from Vines on the Marycrest, and since Belinda had a membership at Chronic … well, let’s just say, the vehicle was a lot heavier on the way home.
Be sure to follow Starbright’s Adventure on social media to see how I’m pairing all of this amazing wine. I plan to be around Southern California for the summer, mostly because the gas prices make it prohibitively expensive to go anywhere, but also because it’s the best place to be during the summer. Hopefully I can save enough to make it to my sister’s house in Houston by September.
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I left my mom’s house in the middle of January; and it’s been a wild ride. The trip west was thankfully mostly uneventful. At least, I didn’t break down again. Not going west, anyway. (More about that later.)
It was really nice to be back on the road again, especially being parked mostly for the last couple of months – after a month with my sister and almost 6 weeks with my mom. I mostly stayed at stores and truck stops on the way west – if I am in a hurry and there aren’t any conveniently-located Harvest Hosts or campgrounds, it’s usually just easier to stay someplace right off of the freeway. So that’s what I mostly did as I made my way west; with a few exceptions. The first night, I made it to Chattanooga, and the next day I drove southwest through Alabama and into Mississippi.
My second night, I stayed at Turkey Creek Water Park, a lovely lake campground in Decatur, Mississippi, which was very nice and peaceful, even if it was just for one night. If I had had the time, I could have stayed there for a week.
The next night, I was in New Orleans, so I stayed at a cool Harvest Host that’s right off of the freeway – Faubourg Brewing. It’s a huge facility that allows overnight parking for RVs whether or not they are part of the Harvest Hosts program.
It was a great stop. They checked Covid vaccine cards (unlike pretty much everywhere else in the South), so I felt safe drinking indoors, and they had lots of empty space, both in the RV lot and in the tasting room. I had a nice evening, drinking and enjoying the view.
My sister still lives in Houston, but since I left her house in November, I had wanted to stop at a restaurant near the coast. There was a Texas travel magazine at her house that I picked up at some point – it had a feature on the Schooner Restaurant in Nederland, where they specialize in barbequed crabs.
Basically, these crabs have haunted my dreams ever since I read about them. I decided to stop in Nederland for the night – camping at a Wal-Mart parking lot across the street from The Schooner – then I would drive the short two hours to my sister’s, so I could spend the day and the night with her and my brother-in-law and get on the road again early the next morning.
The crabs (and blackened trout, hush puppies, and deviled crab) at the Schooner were just awesome. It was totally worth going out of my way to taste them and enjoy the Gulf Coast.
The rest of my trip west was uneventful – no bad weather, crazy people, or mechanical troubles.
I made it to San Diego on a Thursday, with doctor’s appointments Friday and all of the next week, interrupted by a day of fun with my brother at the Peanuts Festival at Knott’s Berry Farm.
We had an awesome time, but after all that driving, then doctors, and a theme park, I was exhausted.
I laid low for the next few days, resting and getting some of my medical tests out of the way. The department that handles my bone scans (I get full-body bone scans, brain MRIs and abdominal CT scans every three months or so) was super backed up, so even though it was barely February, I couldn’t schedule my scan until March 1st.
I decided to take it easy on Dolly as well, especially with gas prices on the west coast flirting with $6 per gallon. I spent a couple of weeks hanging out on the beach in my beloved OB, and seeing other friends around town.
I also planned to go north for a week or so to Oxnard to see my brother and my sweet kitty Janis.
It was a great plan, but fate had other ideas.
Dolly broke down again on the way, leaving me stranded on the side of the 405 for hours while I waited for a tow truck. I managed to get a tow- finally –
… and spent the night in a CVS parking lot, then Dolly started up just fine in the morning and I drove the rest of the way to my brother’s house.
It was so great to see Janis again.
I miss her so much, but it’s good to know she’s happy and really spoiled. She spends most of her day chasing a patch of sunlight across the living room.
My stepbrother was also in town for work and had free tickets to a comedy show, so my brother and I decided to join him. We had a fun night; the comedians were funny, and we had good food and cocktails.
Forty-two states, you guys. Almost 50,000 miles.
Almost two years traversing the country during a pandemic. Mostly using cloth masks.
I was in red states, with most people refusing to wear a mask or get vaccinated, when the Deltra variant was spreading.
I was on the road for months before there was even a vaccine or hope for one.
In all that time, I never got Covid.
Back in California, they lifted the mask mandate. Two days later I went to a club with my brothers and two of us got it.
It was really weird the way it hit us, too.
We are pretty sure we got it at the comedy club on a Saturday night. On Monday, my brother had a fever and cold symptoms, then tested positive using a home test in the morning. He stayed isolated (luckily, they live in a big house). Everyone else got tested and were all negative, for days. Sunday rolls around – a full 8 days after exposure – and my nephew’s fiancée flies in from Canada. I got to meet her, and we all enjoyed a big dinner, including my brother’s elderly mother-in-law. About two hours later, I get extreme chills, a fever, and body aches. Monday morning, I tested positive, so I isolated in my RV.
I was in the Oxnard/Ventura for over a week before I tested positive, waiting to hear from a guy in Riverside who supposedly could get the part to fix my fridge. There seems to be no rhyme or reason for why the breakdowns happen, and Dolly always starts up again and runs just fine afterwards. I guess this is just going to have to be part of the adventure- I never know when I’ll just be stuck and my plans will be disrupted because Dolly wasn’t feeling like it. (That fridge guy has stopped answering his phone, too.)
I stayed isolated a block from my brother’s house until I felt better, then I headed south to San Diego. I was still worried Dolly would swoon again, so I didn’t go far the first night. I was lucky enough to get a spot at Leo Carillo State Park, which was amazing.
It’s normally next to impossible to get a reservation there because it’s literally on the beach in Malibu, but it had been closed due to flooding, and I think most people didn’t realize it had reopened.
I spent a lovely night there – practically in a canyon, just steps from the beach. I could have spent a few more days there, but I was still super sleepy even after my fever and other symptoms went away. I haven’t had that type of exhaustion since I had chemotherapy! I was so sleepy, I barely got to enjoy my surroundings at Leo Carillo.
I made it back to Ocean Beach, but I stayed isolated – except for masked trips to get groceries – until I tested negative on the home test.
I had to postpone an already-late bone scan and an MRI on the lump on my wrist because I was sick, and I just got them all done. I need to meet with an orthopedic surgeon to see if surgery is necessary. In the meantime, I am enjoying parking on the beach and being able to hang out in Ocean Beach like I used to.
As you can see, I have been parking on the street in OB. San Diego allows people to sleep in their vehicles, provided they are moved at least every 72 hours. I never stay in one spot for more than 48 hours (usually just for one night), and I am always clean, quiet and respectful. I don’t leave trash behind or disturb the neighborhood. And for weeks, I haven’t had a single problem.
Last night I was parked in OB, and after I turned out the light to sleep, I heard yelling. Apparently, it was the guy whose house I had parked in front of, and he was yelling “Move on, Tennessee!” and “You can’t camp in my fuckin front yard!” I also heard weird banging noises. I was parked on a public street, and I had done nothing to disturb or offend this man. I didn’t know what he would do, so I just stayed still and went to sleep. In the morning, I discovered that the banging noises I heard were him chucking half-full water bottles at my RV in the middle of the night.
Needless to say, I got out of there.
I think he was upset by my Tennessee plates – maybe I need to put a big OB bumper sticker on my RV so people know I live here.
For the record, I registered Dolly in Tennessee, at my mom’s house, and under both of our names, because I am going to die soon, and I don’t want my mom to have to deal with a probate court to get my stuff. This way all she has to do is send the county clerk a copy of my death certificate and they take my name off of the registration.
Regardless, it seems to be pissing people off. As soon as I had moved away from this horrible angry person, I managed to find another. I was moving to a slightly different part of OB to see my friend. I found a great spot near a church and on a wide, empty street. It looked great.
Not even ten minutes after I parked, I got this lady going nuts on me.
Now, San Diego has legalized sleeping in your vehicle, and any laws that deal with oversized vehicles do not apply to me (definition per law of oversized is over 27 feet long AND 7 feet tall, and Dolly is only 22 feet long). Also, since it was morning, she had no way of knowing if I was camping there or not. It’s legal to park there, but this old hag decided that it wasn’t going to happen in her neighborhood.
After she threatened me, I stayed on hold with the San Diego Police non-emergency line for 30 minutes, until she came back and started harassing me again. Then, I called 911, told the dispatcher someone was harassing and threatening me, and … the cops never showed. After about 20 minutes the old lady gave up and went home; I waited a little longer but clearly this wasn’t a priority for any police, so I moved.
This just happened a few hours ago, and I am starting to feel kinda anxious. Weeks with no problem – and two people going off on me in less than 24 hours – is making me feel kind of weird. But there’s not a lot of other options that don’t cost a ton of money.
My birthday is coming up on April 1, and my mom will probably be coming out here to join me for it. I’d like to go back to Paso Robles for my big day, but the way gas prices are right now, maybe staying close to home is a better idea. Stay tuned to see where we end up!
Follow me on social media for updates, and I’ll see you all out there on the road!
For most of the summer of 2021, I have ben traveling the western states. After my brother and I explored Yosemite (see my last post), I spent a couple of weeks in San Diego, hanging out at the local campgrounds, in Ocean Beach, and getting medical tests done. After it was all over, Dr. Vlad told me I was in remission (!), which was a complete shock … I still don’t know how I can go from literally being told I was about to die (and feeling like it as well), to being told there are no signs or symptoms of disease. On one hand, I am ecstatic, and on the other, I don’t want to get too cocky about it, since six months before my back was broken, they were telling me that all of my tests looked great then too. It simply never occurred to me that I would be in remission (or that it was even a possibility), so I can’t say it was a mission.
But hell, yeah, let’s say mission accomplished! Every day is a triumph in this crazy world, and cancer makes it even worse. Any measure of success? I’ll take it.
So… great. I still have cancer, but it’s just not breaking my bones anymore. That’s definitely a plus. But … now what? I gave up most of my stuff. My furbaby lives with my brother. I dumped my boyfriend in California. I live in an RV. I don’t have a home anymore.
Not dying anymore is a great problem to have, but it’s the second time in two years that I have gotten life-changing news. I don’t know how many more of these I can do.
Anyway, after all of the tests and exams and MRIs and medical stuff was done in San Diego, I spent a few more days in southern California.
I went all around: a night in the desert in Murrieta…
… brunch in Long Beach…
… a couple of nights in Ventura with my brother and his family (and my sweet Janis kitty!), and camping at Malibu Creek state park.
It’s a really cute park, and it has some fantastic views, even from my campsite/camper door.
They used to film movies here!
The heat wave started when I was camping with no hookups in Los Angeles county. Luckily I was in a canyon, so I managed to avoid the worst of the heat that week.
The next week, I was in Lee Vining — in the Sierra mountain range near the east entrance to Yosemite.
My stepbrother and that whole side of the family camps there on Fourth of July week every year, and this was my first time hanging with them over the holiday (as you may know, my 4th of July BBQs on the beach in OB were epic).
It was hot up there, but thankfully not as smoky as it got to be later in the month.
My nephews washed Dolly for me (sort of), and we had a great time. We waded in the creek, we grilled tasty snacks, and we saw a bear.
It was a lovely area, even from my stepbrother’s camper (which tries, but of course isn’t as nice as Dolly). We also enjoyed a lovely Fourth fireworks celebration with Indian fry bread tacos and sparklers for the kids.
And my nephew, who is totally adorable … well, he just gets cuter …
After returning to sea level (that always feels so great after time in the mountains, especially when it’s hot, both for me and for Dolly), I spent a night in Lodi wine country …
… and then in the Bay Area …
… both at amazing Harvest Host wineries and breweries. I highly recommend the Ale Industries Brewery in Oakland — you know, a lot of Harvest Hosts people talk smack about urban Hosts (i.e., in cities, as opposed to farms or wineries in the middle of nowhere) because you have to park in parking lots, but personally, I don’t mind. As long as the area is safe I am OK camping there.
Also, I loved being in the Bay Area, even if it was “just” the east bay. The heat and smoke from the many wildfires sparking up everywhere were the mildest on the coast.
I headed further north and stayed at a Harvest Host Winery in the Redwood Valley …
The heat really started to get nasty as I made it north to Santa Ana and stayed overnight at Testa Vineyards in the Redwood Valley. It was 99 degrees while I was sipping my requisite tasters.
It cracked 105 degrees when I was in Humboldt county. I think this was right around the time that the fires in northern California and southern Oregon started to get really bad.
I had reservations at the Red Bluff campground in Mendocino county, but it was another campsite without hookups.
I had managed in Malibu Creek when it was in the 90s, but that day was topping out at 115 and it was a bit too much. My sister offered to put me up in a motel for the night … and just this once, I caved.
This definitely was great – I got to charge all of my devices, have WiFi and cable at the same time, and god knows, I enjoyed that air conditioning – but staying in a motel when it got too hot is not a trend I wanted to start.
I really was excited to see the Redwoods, but the heat was almost unbearable by the time I got there. I traveled through Humboldt county and the Avenue of the Giants, which is just breathtakingly beautiful. The fresh oxygen and cool shade provided by these giants was the only saving grace for the heat during those couple of days.
I had some pleasant surprises, too … People think (or at least, I thought) of “the redwoods” as a single state or national park.
In reality, everything in that part of California is either a state park, a national park, a county park, a conservancy, a wildlife refuge, or a public space of some sort -interspersed with tiny towns and farms and communities in between.
I was there for a few days and I barely saw a fraction of it. I felt sad that I didn’t get to see it in better times.
This feeling – wishing I was there during a less hot and smoky time, and hoping to be able to come back again soon -was a recurring theme for the next several weeks.
Luckily, now that I am in remission, I don’t feel as much like I am on such a severe time crunch. Instead of doing a whirlwind tour of the east coast in 14 days, or hauling ass through wildfires to see the area … well. It’s nice to have more time.
I stayed at a Boondocker’s Welcome host again, two days in the middle of several state and local parks. It was a home with a lovely English garden.
It was also a little bit rainy because I was at sorta low elevation, so that was very welcome indeed. I even gave Dolly a little break and took the bus into Eureka to look around and do some shopping.
I spent a couple of lovely nights in the redwood area, then a very hot night at the foot of Mount Shasta, where the (city of) Weed fire started to get out of hand.
I was in a prime spot for a lovely view but could barely even see that the mountain was there.
I camped that night at the Mt. Shasta Brewing Company, which has great beer and pretzels. As a Harvest Host, they pretty much only need to give you a parking spot, but due to the extreme heat, they were kind enough to let me (pay to) plug in and run my air conditioner overnight. I have a small generator (not the camper one, but it plugs in to recharge and works very well), so I can run a fan; but when it’s over 100 degrees and the whole area is on fire, something stronger is necessary.
After I got to Oregon, the wildfires had basically created their own weather system, so I had to call an audible. I decided to change some of my reservations and stay closer to the coast.
It was definitely the best decision – I went straight west to Tillamook, where I enjoyed fresh oysters on the half-shell…
… and a walk around their adorable downtown.
I had no idea that the Tillamook area was as famous for seafood, especially oysters, as it is for cheese. They have a bunch of little oyster farms everywhere, and the fresh ones are just delicious. The local oyster bar I found was just lovely.
I also did a self-guided tour of the Tillamook cheese factory, …
… where they had some amazing ice cream and cheese dishes …
… definitely try the deep fried cheese curds (with the cheddar ranch dipping sauce) if you ever find yourself around there.
Tillamook was one if my favorite parts of this trip.
I camped out at the Blue Heron cheese factory (along with every other RV on the west coast), I ate a rack of oysters that had just been in the water that morning, I sat on the cow bench in Tillamook, and I ate some of — well, everything at the Tillamook factory.
As I made my way north, I stopped in the coastal towns of Seaside and Astoria, and camped at a Harvest Host in southwestern Washington that’s a lavender farm.
I can’t even describe how fresh and clean it all felt … the sea air and the pine trees and the lavender fields … especially after all of that heat and smoke.
It was even chilly! I needed a hat!
Then I stayed in two different spots near Seattle …
… first on the western shore facing east…
… and then on Anacortes Island, near Deception Pass.
I have good friends on Anacortes island and some distant stepfamily members nearby, so I got to have a nice dinner with family, then a nice evening with my old friends, tasting local beer and eating pizza.
I told them about the amazing oysters I tried in Tillamook, so they hooked me up with some amazing local oysters and showed me how to open them and eat them properly!
The whole area around the islands and Deception Pass is really amazingly beautiful.
My friends are biologists and know all of the amazing spots for hiking, birding crabbing and fishing. I spent a wonderful day exploring the park and the area around it.
I stayed out west as long as I could, and moved a lot of reservations around in order to avoid wildfires. But eventually I had to head east, where I knew the fires – and the heat – were going to get considerably worse.
I was only in Idaho for one night, and in western Montana for a few days. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel like I got the best out of Montana. (This photo, below, was about as clear as it got the entire time I was there – and that day it was almost 100 degrees outside. It sucked.)
Hopefully, I will get to go back, because I basically didn’t see the “big sky” the whole time I was there. Total rip-off.
The whole time I was there, I felt like I was walking around in a campfire. Smoke. Heat.
The sky was hazy and gray when I visited the Garden of One Thousand Buddhas.
Most parts of Glacier National Park were too narrow to fit my RV.
Despite the heat and smoke, everything was packed. It was crowded.
I was disappointed.
It wasn’t all bad, though – I did have some tasty food – one of the Harvest Hosts I stayed at was the East Shore Smokehouse, a great little old-school hunting lodge remade as a new age restaurant. They had this amazing appetizer dish called “Montana hot ends,” which are pork rib tips, smoked and braised and tossed in chili and brown sugar, and served with slaw and ranch dressing.
It’s unlike anything you’ve ever had before.
And then, my chemo drug started to give me problems. I am taking an oral chemotherapy pill, so the side effects aren’t (normally) as bad as the infusions. Most of the time I have a little nausea and a slight headache from these drugs, but that week, perhaps as a result of all of the coughing I was doing due to the wildfires and smoke – I was super nauseated. Most Harvest Hosts don’t let you plug into electricity or water, but one in Montana thankfully allowed it, so I hung out for two days enjoying air conditioning and not driving or doing anything else. It was just what I needed.
The last night I was in western Montana was the calm before the storm I was camping at a brewery – Big Sky Brewing in Missoula – which had a great atmosphere, ridiculously cheap beer, and very nice people.
It was also almost 100 degrees, plus smoke and fire and smog.
I tried to make the best of everything, but the heat was really starring to get to me.
One day … well, it was the worst day. I had a lot of driving to do – nearly six hours according to Google, which always ends up being more in an RV – and I felt sick as soon as I woke up. I tried to fight through it, but in the middle of the morning I threw up (luckily into one of my handy barf bags). It was actually kind of impressive the way I did it while driving. Not an hour later, traffic started to tighten up – an accident had literally just taken place, and I passed emergency vehicles arriving at a gruesome scene. The poor driver had crossed multiple lanes of traffic and hit a hillside; and he was hanging out of his window – either dead or extremely injured – right when I passed. It was terrible.
About an hour after that, the weather was starting to get into the high 90s. I got a call from my friend Jen, who had flown from San Diego into Billings, Montana. We had decided to meet there (hence my long day of driving) to travel through the Dakotas, and then I would drop her off in Minnesota, where she would visit her family and fly back home to San Diego. I was super excited to meet with her, even if it was a long day of driving to get there. I was maybe an hour or two away when she calls me to tell me she landed, and she was headed to a cafe to wait for me. I was coasting down a hill, playing a political audiobook.
Then the engine died. The “check engine” light came on, the gas pedal stopped working, and the brakes felt a little wonky too, since I was headed down a 7% grade with a half-full black tank. It was terrifying. I thought I was going to end up like that poor man I had just seen on the side of the road in that awful accident. I managed to get the RV to stop, and after a lot of back-and-forth with everyone who had an idea about what it might be, I got towed to the nearest repair shop.
It was around 4 p.m. at that point, so they did their best that evening, but by the time the shop closed, they still had no idea what was wrong with the engine. The engine would start up briefly, run noisily for a minute or two, then shake and die. The check engine light wouldn’t flash, and Dolly is a 1996, so the mechanics couldn’t hook it up to their code readers.
Even though they couldn’t figure it out, they let me camp there overnight. Jen was safe in a cool “dude ranch” motel in Billings, while I was plugged in with my a/c blasting in the middle of a repair yard in Livingston. We were both stuck for two nights, but as a stroke of major luck, the two nights we were delayed were also two nights that we got to enjoy the air conditioning when it was almost 100 degrees in Montana. If Dolly hadn’t broken down, we would have been sweating our nips off in a brewery in downtown Billings. And it wasn’t just the heat; the air quality was horrible, and it was hard to breathe sometimes.
After two nights in a repair yard, they managed to finally figure it out. and lo and behold it was the same nonsense that had broken Dolly down in Missouri, last November: rodents! Rodent damage to spark plug wires from the time it was in storage (before I bought it) finally got too hot or whatever and gave out. It was a $12 part. It cost me almost $400, since it took them hours of diagnostics, but it was better than a new engine.
Two days late, I finally picked Jen up in Billings, and we got the heck out of Montana as fast as we could … which, in an RV, is not really fast. I basically drove as fast as Dolly would take us all of the way to Williston, North Dakota. It was out of our way to go to the very south part of South Dakota, but my dear friend Belinda was there for work, and I couldn’t be in the Dakotas and not stop in to see her. We drove for almost 10 hours, but she’s the best friend and was waiting for us with hot showers and a hot bowl of her famous albondigas soup. That’s the type of food that puts the blood back in your veins when you’ve had a hard day!
But after all of that driving, luckily we were back on schedule at that point. So instead of a day with Belinda, we had like two hours in the middle of the night, then we had to get up early and get to Roubaix Lake in South Dakota before nightfall.
Roubaix Lake is really great. There aren’t electrical hookups, but the weather and the fires had cooled off (and we had gotten far enough east) that it wasn’t too hot and uncomfortable outside – it was in the 70s, plus we had a nice lake to jump in if we wanted to.
Of course, we didn’t swim in the lake, because our one full day there was spent in Deadwood and around Mount Rushmore.
Roubaix Lake is about halfway between the Mount Rushmore National Monument and the historic town of Deadwood, which is really cool.
They have an old west shootout in the middle of the street a few times a day, and all of the touristy shops are super cute.
We were in the area about a week before the Sturgis motorcycle rally, so lots of motorcycle riders were starting to congregate.
(But they were preparing for it, so it still looked like “Sons of Anarchy” threw up out there.)
My friend Jen got a tattoo (a lovely purple star, no less) to commemorate our awesome trip together.
I couldn’t join her for a tattoo (even though I would have liked to; it’s a no-no when you’re on chemo), but it was so cool that she got one.
It’s nice that’s it’s to commemorate our fun time instead of some wack “in memoriam” tattoo, too!
After a couple of nights at Roubaix Lake (and a very full day of historic Deadwood and Mount Rushmore), we had another long day of driving, this time as far as we could get into Minnesota. I had to drop Jen off east of Minneapolis in the morning, so we drove all day to get there in time.
We stopped to see the grasslands, and to enjoy lunch at Wall Drug, but most of Jen and I’s time together was spent driving.
Luckily, Dolly is the ultimate luxury vehicle, so we still had a great time. I miss riding around with friends!
Coming soon: Read all about my adventures through the Midwest, including visiting friends in Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan; all of the food I ate in Chicago; my college roommate’s wedding; all of the cheese and beer I consumed in Wisconsin; and of course all of the details from Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, and my trip back home to San Diego. Belinda is (hopefully) going to join me in Wyoming for some national parks explorations, so it should be epic!
Are you enjoying this content? Please support my adventure by donating to my Gofundme here!
I actually really love traveling alone. I know it stresses my family out, especially with my health issues – and I loved traveling with my good friend, especially for Dolly’s maiden voyage – but there is something about the peace and quiet and freedom of doing it yourself.
I left my mom’s house on January 13, and the first night I stayed in Cookeville, where my family has a farm (where I spent the night in the RV) and I got to see some old friends.
As I mentioned my parents (and other family members) were not crazy about me doing this trip by myself. I try to give them my ear when they are concerned, at least — to be fair, they basically are going along with this whole crazy idea of a bucket list road trip with minimal complaints so far — but I also think this is one of the safest ways to travel. My mom was particularly worried about crazy right-wing violence, after the riot at the Capitol on January 6. People were talking online about more trouble during the inauguration, and even rumors about the electrical grid.
I told them – and I believe – that if something did go down, the RV would be one of the best places for me to be. I could literally just pull off the road and use my generator, as well as my full kitchen and bathroom, and wait it out. I also planned to be in rural Texas and New Mexico on Inauguration Day, and that wasn’t likely to be a hub of activity. Plus, I am a grown woman and I am safe and smart.
I got this.
Anyway, one of those Cookeville friends has a husband who is a truck driver, who recommended a trailer repair guy who could look at the business with my electrical system. (Long story short, the battery was working but there was something stopping it from illuminating my camper.)
Like everything else that has gone wrong with this RV, it worries the hell out of me for a while, I research it and make myself crazier, then someone comes along and says “hey this wire is loose” and fixes it. They wouldn’t even take my money. I pray that everything on this RV is always so easy and cheap to fix (knocking wood and crossing my fingers).
So instead of worrying for days, it was fixed in minutes and I was on my way.
I spent a couple of days in Nashville, eating tons of good food…
… catching up with more old friends from high school and college…
… seeing old sights (that are totally different from back in the day) and new ones (like this street art):
I also got to go to Hattie B’s which is the new “Nashville Hot Chicken” place. I say that in quotation marks, because now that it has become a hashtag, it’s totally different.
Back when I was in college there (and, again, this was 1997-2001), there was a joint called Prince’s, which was the best hot chicken in town. It came on a scale of 1-10, and the 10 would do some damage. Back then, I didn’t even try the hot stuff, I got the not-hot-at-all kind.
Back then, Prince’s was in a part of town that, shall we say, was not frequented by white people very often, and it was run by an older black lady who was frankly kind of mean.
Hattie B’s is a hashtag. Hattie B’s has t-shirts. Hattie B’s lets you substitute your chicken if you taste it and find it to be too hot. The old lady at Prince’s did not let you do that. You made your choice, you live with it.
But Hattie B’s is also impeccable. The chicken – heat aside – was perfectly crispy and juicy. The sides were all perfect – perfectly seasoned greens, creamy potato salad. Don’t even get me started on this banana pudding.
But everything else in Nashville is so different. Prince’s was destroyed when someone drove a car into it; a new location opened with new owners but it wasn’t the same. The neighborhood where I lived as a teenager was completely razed and there were fancy condos and apartment homes there instead. I went looking for a BBQ joint I used to frequent when I was in college, hoping that it might still be be after all this time – not only was it nit open, but the whole strip mall it once housed was gone. Dang.
But that just leaves an opening for trying out more good new stuff, right?
On this trip, I have been intentionally, where possible, staying at state and/or local parks. Local governments are going through a harder time than usual, so every bit helps. It’s worth it to me to spend $20 or so to plug in for the night and have a water and sewer hookup, especially when it’s so cold, and that $20 goes a long way to keeping these places open and operational. Many parks have cheaper-than-normal winter rates as well.
The first night out of Tennessee (and of course, the weather was perfect) was in Mississippi, but I was only there for one night. For $20 cash, I got a lovely spot to camp next to a brilliant lake, and there were only three other campers in the whole park.
This is Davis Lake, in the Tombigbee national Forest in central Mississippi.
The next morning, I went to Louisiana, and stayed at Indian Creek Campground, another state park where we had already camped before in December. The weather was also perfect, and in fact the scenery wasn’t that different!
From southwestern Louisiana, it’s only four hours to my sister’s house in Houston, which is always good for a couple of days-long pit stop to wash clothes and sleep in a real bed and relax with family. I really wanted to get on the road to see more state parks and natural beauty before I got back to California, though, so I was only there for a couple of days.
When I arrived in Houston, I noticed that my driver’s side rear light was missing a cover, and I couldn’t get the replacement in time, so my sister ordered it to be delivered to Vegas when I would be there. In the meantime, from Houston to Vegas, my light looked like this:
Luckily I made it through several state parks, into a canyon, up several snowy mountains, and into Las Vegas and it held. And once I got to Vegas it was as good as new.
When I left my sister’s, the plan was to do three nights and two different Texas state parks. I had reserved a spot (you have to reserve everything online before you show up now) the first night at Lake Mineral Wells (about 4 hours from Houston) and two nights at Palo Duro, another 4-5 hours northwest.
I really loved both of them; and could have easily spent a week at either campsite. I will, in fact, try to do so on my way back to Tennessee in March or April. Lake Mineral Wells is a really fascinating park; the entrance to the campsite makes you drive past a dam that seemed to be on the verge of overflowing as I drove by. My actual campsite was next to the lake, and had a little fire pit and picnic area.
Again, I could have stayed for days. Luckily I got there right in time for a sunset, and the gloomy weather made a sweet rainbow.
This was the actual view from my campsite!
On my way to Lake Mineral Wells, I got a call from a lady at the Texas state parks department. She said the reservation I had made for two nights was cancelled due to a broken water main near the camping area. They could book me another campsite, but it would only be for one night instead of two. Plus, I had picked my site from photos on their website, and I was driving while I was speaking to her and obviously couldn’t look at the website, so I asked her to pick me a nice campsite that was open.
When I arrived, the park ranger informed me that I was in campsite number 16 … and that she loooooooved number 16; it was one of the best as far as beauty and hiking trail access. And she wasn’t wrong. Since my doctor doesn’t think hiking is good for my broken back, and I was only there for one night – albeit a long, winter night – I wasn’t going to be doing any hiking. But it was such a beautiful area!
Palo Duro is the second-largest canyon in the United States, and the campground is literally inside the canyon. My spot was right at thhe entrance to a hiking trail (as promised), and was nestled between two cliff faces. It was a full campground, but very peaceful.
Of course, it took longer than anticipated to get there, and it was only for one night now, so I didn’t have much time to check out the scenery. I had many more miles to go before I got to the beach!
Most of the time, I get up early and hit the road, usually because when the sun comes up, it’s hard for me to get back to sleep. Plus, when I am ready to go, I can do so quickly — another good thing about solo travel. I get up early, drive 4-5 hours, and then get to sleep early when I arrive at my destination.
For example, when I left Palo Duro early in the morning, I headed towards the Four Corners area. I have been through there before, and it’s a really beautiful and easy drive. It appeared to be around 5 hours from Amarillo, but I didn’t account for a) the time it took to get back up out of Palo Duro Canyon, and b) how long it took me to drive through New Mexico with all of the big mountains and high elevations (driving an RV always adds 20% on to your time estimate in the hills and mountains). That night I ended up sleeping at a truck stop/ casino in Indian country, maybe 100 miles southeast of the four corners area.
I prefer not to drive the RV at night in unfamiliar areas. It seems safer to me to be in a well-lit parking lot with other people (who never bothered me in the slightest) than to be on the road, trying to navigate poorly lit roads in the dark in winter.
In other words, I try to plan it that way – an easy for hours every day and a comfy and electrified place to park at night – but some nights, that just isn’t possible. Either way, it’s a fun time.
The next two nights weren’t much better. I headed west, further towards Vegas, and stopped in Page, Arizona. It was a really interesting drive: as I drove northwest, I was at such high elevation, I was practically in the clouds. About 40 miles from Page, the elevation drops, and the sky clears. Then as I come around a mountain and in sight of the Antelope Valley (just east of Page), it’s mid afternoon, the sun is throwing the most spectacular shadows on the cliffs and the rock faces, and … a power plant. Just a huge, ugly, gross, grey, shadowy power plant. They made no effort to blend it in with the landscape or anything, so I can only hope that means it does a lot of good. It sure isn’t pretty. It was jarring to see the difference.
Page is right next to Lake Powell and Glen Canyon Dam, so the area is beautiful.
There were still stay-at-home restrictions in Arizona so the state parks were closed, and I looked around to see if any of the local RV parks were offering a one-night special or a winter deal; none were. I just spent the night at the Wal-Mart, and left early. Maybe I would have relaxed for a few hours if I had had electricity and water, but in a public lot there’s no reason to hang out.
Plus, this is the really scenic part of the drive. The weather was crazy; but the route to Vegas takes you on a stretch of road that zigzags between Arizona and Utah, and it’s really beautiful in any weather.
The trip from the middle of Arizona to Las Vegas was equally weird – the high elevation and storm clouds made for a really weird drive; on-again, off-again snow, sleet, rain, and beautiful clear skies. All in less than five hours. When I rolled off of the Las Vegas Strip, there was snow on my windshield. When I arrived at the Las Vegas National Golf Club, they were about to close due to weather (but thankfully allowed me to park there as we had arranged through the Harvest Host program).
So, I spent another cold and noisy night at a place off of a busy road (this time a golf club off the Strip instead of a Wal-Mart or truck stop), but it still felt good to be heading west.
I could tell I was on the west coast again, because I actually waned to eat Mexican food I generally do not eat taco shop food unless I am in San Diego, because I have been spoiled (and all other taco shops are gross).
But, one of my favorite San Diego/ Tijuana shops has a few Las Vegas locations, so some adobada fries (con todo y pina, unless you’re a savage) from Tacos El Gordo was dinner.
The next night, I was in California. I spent the night at my stepdad’s house in San Bernardino – actually I parked outside of his house and slept out there. This was a totally socially distanced visit because my stepdad and his wife are elderly and he has had some health problems in the last year. They’ve basically been quarantining for going on three years now; so they let me eat and do laundry inside, but I slept in the RV. Which is like, the reason I have it. This is the best way to quarantine travel! No need for motels or restaurants – I can get take-out and eat it right in my RV, or better yet, cook.
I basically jinxed myself by complaining to Tennessee people that I only encountered “weather” of any kind in Tennessee. Now I am getting it everywhere. There were clouds and rain all through Texas; there was snow and sleet through New Mexico and Arizona, and it’s even rainy and stormy in southern California!
But of course, stormy skies sometimes make for beautiful sunsets.
So, I am back in California. Yay!
In the next couple of weeks, I will have some medical scans and tests to see how my current medications are working. I plan to be at a local county park that offers camping, and I will be checking out the cheap/ free places to camp and boondock here in San Diego. I plan to go to Sacramento and the Bay Area in mid-February and head back to my mom’s in late March or early April.
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