So Many Posts, So Little Time!

Here it is! Our ONE YEAR ANNIVERSARY! (Or it WOULD have been a one year anniversary post had I not been hiding.) One year ago September 29th we drove our rig to the closing and sold the house away to what seemed like a lovely couple. Then, we drove off to start our grand adventure! YAAAAAAAAY!

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September 29th, 2016 (photo credit Melissa Nalley)

We’re still out here, a whole year-plus later, showing our midgets that their life doesn’t have to have boundaries. Except when they want ice cream before bed every night. There are some walls that cannot be hurdled until adulthood. When you’re grown, sweet children, you can order a cake that says “Happy Thursday” or “Happy Polka Day” (because you just want the cake with the whippy frosting) and the baker will misspell polka but the cake will taste better because you got a discount. Adults can do these things. This is all hypothetical, of course.

Note: There was a post before this one. I published it, you commented on it, we were happy together. It has since disappeared off the face of the earth (curses and such to you, Word Press). Miraculously my mother had a copy of it in her email because that’s what mothers do.

Months ago I told you all to just do the things you’re supposed to be doing. I then promptly disappeared from this blog. I haven’t even felt nosy enough to check my Word Press stats. Forgive me, children. I won’t speculate on the reasons. Instead, I’ll just tell you about the extremely entertaining last few months.

August 5th we went canoeing!

Unbelievably this was my first canoe trip, and the children had been on many a boat but not a canoe. Accompanying us were river trek veterans Cousin Terry, her friend Luann, Uncle Steve, my mother Kathy, Justin, and his sister Stacey. Five seconds into loading up (we weren’t even away from the shore) Justin and Aunt Stacey FELL OUT THE BOAT. They also had custody of Wesson who, by all accounts, should have been at the bottom of the river too but he HUNG ON for DEAR LIFE. When the boat was righted, there he was in his seat!! Hilarious doesn’t even cover it.

Halfway through the trip we had a picnic lunch in a backyard that butts up to the river. The resident doesn’t mind, apparently. What a nice guy!

The whole thing was challenging and different and out of the comfort zone. It really was a great day, though, and something we need to do again.

In the post that time forgot I talked about taking Wesson to Maker Faire, just him and I. As a counter balance – you can’t just take one baby out somewhere – I took Mara to an event that was right up her alley. Cranbrook Art Museum in Bloomfield Hills was having an Alexander Girard family day and our library card gave us access to free passes to the museum. It warms my parsimonious soul just telling you about it. What can’t a library card do?!

After the guided tour we made our way around the tables and created masterpieces of the Girard kind. Textile printing, flags for new countries, and even some fancy little wooden dolls were forged. She absorbed every bit of the wonderment into her arsty fartsy heart. It hammered home the fact that we really need to get her into more art museums. It also reaffirmed that my kids are on two completely different paths in life.

 

The next day was Trash day.

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Honestly, who throws away something as grandiose as this?  Reggae Bananas need love too. Had he not been leaning on an old mattress I would have banana-napped him and left him in another location, i.e. someones porch.

The day of the total eclipse (Augusts 21st) was not totally awesome here. It got to about 90%, which was plenty good enough to show the kids cool paper tricks and little eclipse shadows peering through the leaves on the trees. Unfortunately I was ultra sick that day, so much so that I went to the emergency room. They were kind enough to load me up with steroids and albuterol so that I could function as a somewhat normal human. I caught the virus from hell from my Dad who had been in the hospital for several days at this point. NOT FUN. The nurse that walked me out of the ER had excellent discharge instructions: “You’re still at risk, so come back if you can’t breathe, and if you’re smoking pot lay off the joints and eat the brownies for a few days.”

Speaking of getting fresh air and staying off the drugs, these people love a good bike ride…

…so when Justin came home with two junker bikes he’d gotten for free from the local bike shop, the wee ones couldn’t wait to fix them up!

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These bikes were multitudes better than the X-Games bikes they were rocking but needed a few things replaced. Part of the deal was that THEY had to do as much of the work as possible so that they were A) appreciative of their new found bicycle wealth and B) learned the workings of the bikes and the names of all the parts. I know what you’re thinking, we took a cool thing and made it even cooler by making it schoolwork and we’re not torturing them at all. *adds one to the win column*

They have since made these bike ROCK. They were excellent bike mechanic apprentices and they’ve earned every pedal.

 

If you need me I’ll be here all afternoon writing blog posts, kicking myself for being so lazy, and maybe baking a pie. Think of me while you Netfix and procrastinate, won’t you?

West Michigangster

Mara was covered in dirt yesterday, and I mean dirty. Head to toe dirty with a dirt mustache and dirt covered forehead, black toes, and knees that would make a bathtub cry. She topped it off with a ponytail that she put together herself. This was the first time she’d put in her own hair tie so you can imagine what a hot mess it was. Dirty and messy, she looked like the embodiment of a no-plans summer! I wish I had taken a photo. She assured me – for no apparent reason- that she hadn’t been eating dirt. Hmm.

Camper repairs may as well be toothpicks under the fingernails because that’s how it felt. We dropped our rig off at the shop May 24th and didn’t get it back until June 26th. The repair was plagued by inexperienced, rude employees and half-assed repairs. They also hit something with it, damaging the back corner, and they fried the battery. I wrote a big, long, bitchy paragraph about it here and then decided life was too short. Just because I can’t move on yet doesn’t mean you can’t.

Prepare yourselves for some smiley kid photos!

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Not this one. This one is titled “Mommy, give me back my bubble gun!”

I mentioned it briefly in the last post but just to recap we lived with Justin’s ever-patient Aunt Terri and Uncle Tom for the entire 4-5 weeks the rig was in the shop. We had originally anticipated this taking a week or so and kept ‘augmenting’ this estimate. They are worthy of sainthood. They had the perfect “basement apartment” set-up to absorb a family of four into their fray.

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They had the best blanket fort building materials

Plus, between their work days and their lake cottage weekends we were in the house on our own all day. I made dinner on most nights and we all ate together, which was nice! The kids had a big yard to play in and a cul-de-sac to ride their bikes. Mara took this opportunity to ditch the training wheels all together and ride like the wind!

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The kids even challenged Grandma and Grandpa Rowland to a bike race! Grandpa almost had Wesson.

Justin LOVED it here as there were tons and tons of bike trails to be had. His sister Stacey came over every few days to ride with him. I even went out a few times and bested my personal distance record. New routes are exciting!

Besides a few family visits, museums, and a picnic or two, we just hung out.

 

The kids (big and little) fished in the gravel pit lake across the road from the house.

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Look at that gorgeous garbage can sunlight! *BING*

It turns out that the kids are fishing kids. They practically begged Justin to take them out on the lake every night.

They held every fish that graced a line.

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The lake was FULL of bass and crappie, and Uncle Tom even caught a pike, which really shouldn’t have been in there so who knows where it came from.

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Maybe it got dropped from the sky like the TURTLE who fell from the SKY at the lake cottage. I know cats and dogs sometimes fall but turtles?! Some unlucky bird dropped their lunch on the roof, and he rolled down onto the deck where I snapped him up for the children to  investigate. Lucky, as I called him, was eventually set back on terra firma where he RAN to freedom. Turtles are not slow, y’all. We’ve been lied to all our lives!

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Let’s talk about Terri and Tom’s lake cottage for a minute. They have this little house on a completely different lake than the other house. Lakes everywhere!

Mara surprised me with this exchange while we were there…

Me: Look at the lily pads in the lake!
Mara: They’re just like in… umm….
Me: Princess and the Frog?
Mara: No, umm…
Me: The Little Mermaid?
Mara: No. MONET’S GARDEN!

Way to go, Mom, trying to dumb down her observations. She’s going to teach me to hold my tongue.

The kids were in the water from minute one and got their cousins in the drink too.

Ok, minute two. I managed to get a few snaps off before they got wet.

There is something magical about a lake house. I’m not a fan of being in or over the water. Put me on the shore, though, and I could stay there forever staring at the water and basking in the peacefulness.

Besides the ever-frustrating “WHEN WILL IT END?!?!” feeling regarding the camper we really did manage to have a good time lounging around West Michigan. Good times were had by all.

I’ll leave you with a photograph of the new sticker we picked up while we were there.

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We cackled like hyenas when we found it at the mall. People looked at us like we were nutty but have you met us? We really don’t care. Clearly we still don’t care what people think because that baby is on the back window of the camper, ready for the next big adventure.

It’s Not a Truck if it’s Never Been in the Mud

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STUCK. SO VERY STUCK. That is how we started our visit to Michigan. Mud up to the middle of the wheels isn’t as entertaining as it sounds. We took the trailer off out of fear that it would tip, the ground was that wet. Justin tried and tried and tried. We put boards under the tires and we had traction grips (that were technically for the snow) that collapsed under the weight of our behemoth truck. It was rainy and gross and all I wanted to do was be warm in my RV with no mud!!!

Eventually an employee went driving by on his golf cart. He was able to call another off-duty employee who lived in the park and had a biggish truck. With his help, and the help of every scrap of wood in the entire campground, we were eventually free! All we had to do from there was recover the camper and it was not as easy as we’d hoped. After much destruction of property we hooked the employees truck to the camper and pulled him and the RV out of the mud pit with the F450. Part of the tonneau cover rail was damaged (still functional) and we also had to buy a new wiring harness for the trailer. A small price to pay, I guess. Oh yeah, and we were the only ones coming into the campground that day so everyone now knows exactly who we are. We really know how to make an entrance, don’t we?

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The aftermath

Besides cleaning the mud out of our shoes, that first week was spent pretending to be DaVinci. School is so much fun!

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It actually worked when we put it back together!

Riding unicycles with the Redford Township Unicycle Club! It’s a family requirement, y’know. Justin had to learn when he first joined forces with me. The kids are actually doing really well with it, and their newly found balance has extended itself to pretty much all of the rest of their outdoor activities.

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And eating Superman ice cream!

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Super awesome!

Until I’d moved from Michigan I had no idea that Superman Ice Cream was not a world-wide, readily available commodity. I really need the rest of you Superman-free states to get on board with this one. While we’re at it, I need everybody to roll out Ale-8-one and fresh Peets coffee as well. And maybe some HEB Brisket Burgers. Mmmm… Why is it that Jet’s Pizza is so much better in Michigan than it is anywhere else? And what’s up with 7-eleven, Moe’s, Taco Cabana, and Del Taco not being where I want them to be? I must be hungry right now.

Speaking of food, I went to the local Kroger for groceries one morning and when I came out to put the groceries in the truck I noticed the back end was completely speckled with little black dots. When I looked at the ground I saw two trails coming from under the truck and tracing my route all the way through the parking lot. Sticking my head under the cab revealed a giant puddle. The truck had dumped three quarters of its oil on the ground! AARRGGHH! There was so much oil in the engine compartment that I couldn’t figure out where it had come from, and with the amount of truck blood it had lost I couldn’t drive it home. I had it towed to my parents house so that we could work on it near civilization and with help. By the time I’d waited for the tow truck, rode to my parents house, ranted about the truck, and procured one of their vehicles to drive back to the campground, I’d been gone from the house for EIGHT HOURS. I had also woke up at 6:30am for no apparent reason that day, so at hour twelve of my day when I was stuck in traffic on the freeway my head just about exploded. My family ate pizza for dinner that night. It’s the longest trip to the grocery store to date. I should have called Guinness.

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*SOB*

The next day Justin was able to determine that the oil was spraying out of the oil sensor! That’s not something that’s supposed to be possible. We’re all about impossible, apparently. It was a quick fix and we were back in business!

After we’d been at the campground in St Clair for about ten or so days we discovered that between all of our appointments and practices, etc. we’d have to drive 600+ miles that week. Barf! It was decided to move the camper to my parents house so that we could be closer to everything and cut that number down to less than 150. This is what it looks like to be there:

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Tight quarters! The kids definitely love it, though. Who doesn’t love being spoiled to bits at Grandma and Grandpa’s house? This arrangement also allowed us to do extra things we would have skipped, like watching flaming puck unicycle hockey. Give it a Google, it’s plenty of fun.

May 23rd we pulled out of there and headed west to the Grand Rapids area. We had a doctors appointment scheduled for our camper at the RV dealership. The sick fridge and axle were finally going to be looked at, as well as many other injured trim and seals we’d been saving up all year. Justin’s aunt and uncle were kind enough to let us bunk in their basement for the week that the camper would be in the shop. Four weeks later we are STILL HERE. I’m just glad that they are wonderful, tolerant people who haven’t snapped and put us on the curb yet. Hug your camper, people. You don’t know how much you’ll miss it until it’s being held hostage at the RV dealership.

I almost forgot to introduce you to my squirrel friend! I bribed him with some tortilla bits so that I could exploit him.

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He never told me his name. Maybe he’ll be waiting for us when we get back to the Detroit side next week.

I’ll leave you with Mr. Emerson and something we really, really needed to practice this month.

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Six States and Two Planets Probably

April 23rd we finally managed to escape the borders of Oklahoma. We headed through Kansas for a hot minute then finally into Missouri! Our next target was a little campground near Steelville. I was just referencing google maps and discovered that the worlds second largest rocking chair is located nearby the campground in Cuba, MO. Dangit! What a missed opportunity!

Before we could get there and miss out on the rocker we had to pass through Uranus. Uranus has all sorts of things going on. It must take a lot of coaxing to get people to stop in Uranus because it seems like Uranus spends it’s entire budget on billboards. We saw Uranus for at least a hundred miles.

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We stopped in Springfield around lunch time so that we could visit the Grandaddy of all Bass Pro Shops. Justin has wanted to go there since he was a small child. We’re out here making dreams come true, people!

The store is AMAZING! There were water features everywhere with waterfalls, big and small tanks, and ponds outside. Some of the store looked like the underside of a lake complete with duck butts, the bottoms of boats, legs dangling off the dock, and lures in the water. In one corner of the ceiling lake they had a giant alligator snacking on big ol’ fish.

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They even had some LIVE critters mixed in with all the taxidermy. The biggest fish (an alligator gar) in the whole Bass Pro system lives here along with turtles, alligators, and even a few ducks. They also had some hall of fame type displays, sporting arms history museum, a few restaurants, and a feeding demonstration in one of the large fish tanks. The presenter’s name was Scuba Steve.

Justin’s boyhood dreams were met that day! There was almost too much to look at and I was completely unprepared for how involved it would be. I’m definitely adding it to the list of places I wouldn’t mind visiting again in the future.

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Get him, brother!

We rolled into our new campground with sugar plums dancing in our heads.

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The whole place was decked out in Christmas paraphernalia. Poor Rudolph’s head was mounted on the wall in the office. There was a Santa approved miniature golf course.

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We stayed here for two nights, and by the end of the second day we’d been adopted.

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Her name was Midnight and she was the best girl. She napped in front of our camper for most of the time we were there. When we sat outside she’d sit next to us just like the above photo, and if we stopped petting her she’d protest. I sneaked her some ground turkey when I was making dinner because she totally deserved it. The woman who helped run the park said that Midnight had been abandoned and was a stray that never left. Justin offered (read pleaded) to take her but the gentlemen who owned the place was too attached. How could he not be? She’s a great old pup. It was for the best because we really didn’t need a dog in that moment. We would have made an exception for her.

The 25th brought us three states and two time zones again! We started in Missouri, traversed Illinois, and landed in Indiana. We actually got into the campground in Indiana a day before it was officially open. When I called to make a reservation the manager initially said no. About an hour later she called me back and said she’d decided that it wouldn’t hurt anything to let us in early. Success!

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The spot we were in was actually a seasonal spot that someone had been kicked out of when he’d altered the post and installed his own 50amp outlet. He had a pretty sweet spot! We never had any neighbors while we were there, and one side of the camper looked out to the nothingness. We were there for a week, which was great because I got hit with a terrible stomach bug the first night and spent a few days rolling around in agony. It had gotten Wesson in Elk City, OK and Mara puked in the truck on the way to Candy Cane. At least it took us out one at a time. Justin, of course, never got it because he’s a jerk who never gets the sickness.

Indiana had the very worst weather that we’d encountered. It was storm after storm after storm, sometimes a tornado would pass by in the next town, other times it was soul clattering thunder and lightning. At one point we pulled the bedroom slides in because we couldn’t take the rain banging on the ceiling while we were sleeping. By the end of the week we couldn’t wait to get out of the weather.

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We spent one night at one of our favorite Bass Pro Shops in Rossford, Ohio. The people who work here are stellar and I highly recommend living in their parking lot.

We’ll talk about our arrival in Michigan tomorrow because I want to end on a high note (hint: there was lots of mud). Airbrushed murals on the back of RV’s are my not-so-secret favorite thing. Enjoy these majestic road warriors I collected on the way to the mitten state. Happy Camping!

The Pioneer Woman Never Showed Up But Vicki Did!

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Copan Lake was a good, central place to be for our next few activities. It was a decent stopping point as well, and it pointed us north a little so that we’d go through Missouri instead of Arkansas as we continued.

Do you KNOW who lives in that part of Oklahoma? The Pioneer Woman! One of my personal travel goals for the year was to make it over to The Mercantile, Ree Drummond’s fancy store. If you’re not familiar with her, she’s a blogger  and star of her own Food Network show. And she just started a magazine. Oh, and the store. I’ve been following her through her various endeavors for years and years, even dragging a friend (hi, Melissa!) with me to a food show that came to town just so I could see her live cooking demonstration, hear her sing like Ethel Merman, and stare at her like a stalkery weirdo while she signed autographs for other people. Now that I’ve made myself look obsessed I’ll show you the photos I took of the bathroom at The Merc. That… didn’t come out quite like I’d heard it in my head. It’s too late to pretend that I didn’t take a photo of the toilet, humor me and have a look anyway.

They had real house-looking toilets, subway tile, lil’ hooks for your bag, paper towels in baskets, and wood everything. Even the baby changing table was fancy, for cripes sake. Look at that thing! It looks like a fold down desk you’d see in… a place where they have fold down desks. I guess that they ARE for baby “business.”

Ree’s photography peppered the walls in the whole building, and the bathroom was no exception. I imagine that the giant black and white canvas portraits of everyday life are some of her favorite shots.

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The merchandise was as varied as a circus. You could buy a set of cast iron skillets, a wooden bowtie, and a stoneware wiener dog plate. Toys and sundries surrounded tools and decore.

They also sold Pioneer Woman brand jeans and those lovely flowing floral printed tops she always wears. All of this could be expertly wrapped at their gift wrapping station in the rear of the store.

There was also a cafe and candy shop upstairs. I had heard that the Pioneer Woman herself is found sometimes just hanging out up there at the cafe tables, chatting up fans and customers.

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I had also read that some of the kids worked in the various areas, and her husband Ladd’s father sometimes greeted people at the door. This day provided no members of the Drummond family. *womp womp*

Look at these neat little tables! Every inch of this place was a labor of love.

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There is also a restaurant inside The Merc. We weren’t interested in eating there, it was kind of early in the day and we have food allergies. When we left there at 10am the line just to get INTO the restaurant for lunch was all the way down the block. Grown people and small children were huddled together in blankets under giant propane heaters waiting for their turn to shuffle into the building. You’d have thought that Ree herself was in the kitchen cooking the food and hand feeding folks.

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Sorry, lady, you’ve been blogged.

I’m glad that we got to experience The Mercantile. Who knows, maybe we’ll end up in that part of town again some day.

That afternoon we headed into Kansas to meet someone near and dear, more so than that Pioneer lady. It was Vicki!!!

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I “met” Vicki about 15 years ago on a guinea pig forum called Cavies Galore. Once the forum dissolved we found each other as Facebook friends. She has the best status updates, by the way. Her long declarations of love on her children’s birthdays are some of my favorites. We’ve picked her homeschooling brain on several occasions (all FIVE of her kids are/were homeschooled). This was the first time we’d met in person and it was long overdue. She is just as wonderful as I’d always thought that she would be! We really need more visits – LONGER visits.

We met up at the Little House on the Prairie house just to make things interesting.

It’s actually just a collection of buildings on the site where the Ingalls family once lived. The current owner built a little cabin that may or may not look like the one Laura Ingalls Wilder had lived in when she was there. There was also an old post office and a little school house that had been moved to the property in an effort to save them from demolition.

It really was lovely! More new experiences and more new faces. I can only hope that we’ll recreate this wonderful day again soon.

The Day That The Truck Did Not Survive

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Mountains!

April 13th we headed down the road, high on all that sweet, sweet National Parks fun. We were finally going to experience something that we’d been talking about for an entire year: The Musical Highway!

“…the New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT), along with the National Geographic Channel, had the idea to make a roadway that sings—literally. Enlisting the help of San Bar Construction Corp., a New Mexico-based company that designs and constructs traffic control devices and signs, NMDOT created a length of roadway between mile markers four and five that plays music whenever a vehicle drives over it.

But there’s a catch—the tune, in this case “America the Beautiful,” only works when cars are traveling at exactly 45 mph. The road’s purpose is twofold: to encourage drivers to stay the speed limit and to bring a little excitement to an otherwise monotonous highway.” – Source

You can hear our truck singing here. Pretty darn spiffy if you ask me!

That night we decided to boondock at another truck stop, this time it was a place called Russell’s. The building looked pretty ordinary from the outside. Once inside, though, you could tell someone had sunk their life into the place. There was a full 1950’s diner, complete with Coke memorabilia, black and white tile, and those awesome red and white seats. There were shelves all around the ceiling with model cars and trucks, and nestled in the back of the store was door to this:

 

A car museum half the size of the whole building! It had about twenty classic cars, a few motorcycles, TONS of memorabilia from lots and lots of different areas. NASCAR, I Love Lucy, cartoons, brands, cash registers… There were even a few collections that were donated by people who liked the place. It was a really neat find! The open road seems to always hold surprises.

The next day started like any other. Wake up, pack up, hit the road. We woke up in New Mexico, we’d be driving through Texas, and we’d be in Oklahoma by dinner. Three states and two time zones in one day! It was mostly uneventful and peaceful save a few tiffs from the back seat.

When we got into Oklahoma and stopped for fuel Justin noticed that the wheels were streaked with some kind of fluid. Thinking that we’d busted a hub seal again we headed for a Ford dealership because the previous repairs are warrantied for two years. When we got into the dealership though, they had a much, much worse diagnosis for us. The trucks emissions system (EGR) dumped all of the coolant, and the head gasket had blown. If there was ever a time where you’d use the phrase ‘catastrophic failure’ this would be it. The truck was basically dead. To have Ford work on the truck would cost about $13,000 and that would be replacing the horrid EGR system with exactly the same parts, a recipe for future disaster. Luckily one of the shop guys also owned his own shop. He came out to talk to Justin and after a lengthy discussion it was decided that we’d limp to a campground and he’d come pick up the truck that night on a trailer.

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We found a ridiculously affordable campground with a full hook-up in Elk City, Oklahoma called Elk Creek RV Park. You’ve heard of it, right? No? Neither had I until we were unceremoniously trapped there for a week. Their rate sheet was kind of comical. It was $35/night or $100 for the entire week. They cashed in on everybody who was just passing through, and that place was about full every night. Almost nothing exists in Elk City, there’s a Wal-Mart and a Bar-S hot dog factory. No problem, we surmised out loud to each other, we’ll just rent a car. This is how my conversation went with the townsfolk: “Well, Patty used to rent cars but she stopped doin’ it.” I called about four places who rented U-Haul trucks and no one had anything smaller than a 25 foot box truck. The nearest rental car place was 80 miles away and contrary to their well publicized slogan they will not “pick you up” when you are in the middle of nowhere. At least we still had our bicycles.

The second day in paradise I decided to go grocery shopping at Wal-Mart. For some reason I had it in my head that I was going to get everything we needed all in one trip. I set off on my new bike to save us all from starvation and had immediate regrets. 1) It was really windy, 2) There were hills, 3) The crank assembly on my bike started to come apart almost immediately. Any sane person would have turned around right here. NOT ME, THOUGH. 4) I had to ride in the road with the cars

And on the way back, I had all of these regrets PLUS: A) Looming threats of rain, B) A new bike basket that I had to hold up because it rubbed on my front tire, C) 80 pounds of groceries strapped to my back like I was a human pack mule

I walked some of this leg of the trip. I had bruises in my armpits from the backpack when I got back to the camper. I soothed my misery with the ice cream I had fat-assed all the way home. Justin was quick to point out that I had purchased expired bread. *SIGH*

Justin made several more bicycle trips to Wally World before the week was over – several more REASONABLY WEIGHTED trips.

Thankfully the Easter Bunny was able to find us while we were pretending to be Okies.

These bubble guns that the Easter Bunny left us were the BEST THING EVER. We’re still playing with them on a regular basis two months later.

The rest of the week was uneventful. The mechanic sent us naked chassis photos at one point.

So dirty! It took a whole week to get our chariot back in operational order but we had an incredible mechanic on the case. He was committed to the cause and did some things other mechanics wouldn’t have even attempted. We owe him our love and affection until the end of time.

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It LIVES!

We bid adieu to Elk City the next morning in what turned out to be tornado weather. We enjoyed quarter sized hail and no visibility, rivers up to the tree tops, and an interstate that looked more like a parking lot – and that was just through Oklahoma City! By day’s end we were nestled in at an Army Corps of Engineers site to the north on a pretty little watering hole called Copan Lake.

I know that every sunset is technically the same sunset that the Earth has seen for billions of years. It still makes me happy to witness the process. Being able to watch the horizon meet the fire in the sky is a gift, it means that we’ve survived another day. After the week we’d had this sunset was well deserved.

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National Parks Four, Five, and Six, a Zip Line, and a Punch to the Eye

“There is nothing so American as our national parks…. The fundamental idea behind the parks…is that the country belongs to the people, that it is in process of making for the enrichment of the lives of all of us.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Cousin Teddy had a way with words. According to the Ancestry.com app on my phone, Theodore Roosevelt is my seventh cousin, four times removed. Whether or not that’s true has yet to be determined but I like the idea. It gives me the notion that maybe the draw to explore these wild, wonderful parks is in our blood, and adventuring was our destiny all along. Also, maybe the kids are supposed to be presidents. Or maybe they should be photo-shopped riding atop a moose. Either or.

From the Dancing Eagle Casino we could extend our reach to three new places. El Malpais (mal pie EESE) National Monument was the next stop in our National Parks quest. Early explorers called this place El Malpais (which means ‘the badlands’) because most of the area is rough volcanic rock and their horses were unable to traverse the impossibly jagged ground. Honestly, people have trouble as well. We met the Chief Ranger for this area and El Morro and she told us about a man who was rescued from the area within the last year. It took them almost two hours to get to him on foot, and when they finally did reach him they couldn’t evacuate him. They had to call the Navy. Yes, the Navy had to rescue them from the middle of New Mexico. Not to discount the terrible experience for the man who was in trouble but hot damn, that had to be a cool rescue operation. The Chief said the planes whooshed by about 200 feet up from the treetops. I could tell that she was a little excited about it too. Good job, random unprepared hiker!

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This Ranger was super excited about the Junior Ranger swearing in and made sure to grab his awesome hat

After we had explored the museum and completed our Junior Ranger program (YAY) we headed out to explore the park we’d just learned about.

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La Ventana Natural Arch was so high and gorgeous. We stood quietly for a few minutes (seconds probably) to just take in the surrounding and ended up hearing some elk honking away. Justin also thought that he saw a large cat up in one of the holes in the wall but I’m going to pretend that he didn’t.

We also drove over to the sandstone bluffs to look out over the lava field. Again, a moment you could never fully capture.

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That little pool was teaming with life in the form of water bugs of various sorts, unaware that they are several hundred feet into the sky. I would have gotten a better photo of how high up we were but it was really windy and there is nothing to stop you from flying off into the lava rock. I’m adventurous but not stupid. Ok not that stupid. Ok, I wasn’t willing to go to the edge that day. Continuing…

The next day we drove in to Albuquerque to visit Petroglyph National Monument. It’s in a different kind of area compared to other parks. The pieces of land included in the monument have neighborhoods all around them instead of being out in the middle of nowhere. We were able to complete our Junior Ranger goals at the visitors center before we went out exploring.

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This Ranger was one of my favorites, as she was genuinely excited about ALL of the parks and not just her own. The rangers in general thought the kids were just awesome in their little vests covered in badges, clutching their Junior Ranger Camelbak bottles. We got a little carried away – but for a good cause.

The basalt rocks in this area have kind of a black varnish on them due to the desert environment and it provided ample canvas for the migrating travelers to etch a picture or two down to the gray basalt. No one is really sure what all of the glyphs represent and it’s offensive to ask the natives. We can only speculate what they mean. Some of them are obvious, like a bird or a snake. Others may have been placed there by ol’ Uncle Bob who wasn’t right in the head. We may never know.

We also went to a really cool city park in Albuquerque that had zip lines! The kids could have stayed there all night.

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The sixth park in our wondrous National Parks tour was a place called El Morrow National Monument, El Morrow meaning ‘the headlands.’

This area saw travelers of all kinds because it is the site of an ever present watering hole. People traversing the West could count on the pool at El Morrow which is fed from the runoff of melted snow from the cliffs above. The area is also significant because when people came through here they felt the need to write their names on the wall.

It’s pretty neat to see all the different names and such, and the park has done a great job at gathering information about a good majority of the people and including that in their self-guided tour.

I brought the selfie stick with us that day, a device that is incredibly superfluous yet fun to embarrass your family with.

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I LOVE this photo of us for a few reasons. One being that it shows the pool at El Morrow, another being that it captured the moment right after Wesson had inadvertently punched Mara in the eye. Justin and I were smiling like fools, oblivious to the collision,  Wesson with his ‘shit happens’ face, and Mara mid un-grinning. Candid moments caught on camera! Thanks, selfie stick! Before you tell me what a crappy parent I am for getting the giggles when I look at this photo, she was fine. She didn’t even cry and I don’t think that her eye was that black.

We had done it! Six parks in six days, and six Junior Ranger badges! I just love what we gain from the programs. In fact, ANYONE can complete the program, it’s not just for children. I’m looking forward to seeing just how many parks we can visit before we stop traveling. Who am I kidding? We’re never going to stop.

“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” – Gustave Flaubert

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Take it Easy

As we were looking at the map on the way out of Grand Canyon country we discovered that we could totally do an entire week of Junior Ranger programs without any deviation from our route! I hear you chanting “ROAD-SCHOOL! ROAD-SCHOOL!” *crowd goes mild* I know, I was totally excited too! The girl child managed to snake a sweet, pink Junior Ranger vest from us at Grand Canyon. They didn’t have a green one in Wesson’s size but we found them at our next stop: Walnut Canyon National Monument.

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This woman was from a remote pueblo in New Mexico

This was a neat place that I’d never heard of, and the Rangers were so excited about the canyon that it was hard not to be excited with them. The Ranger pictured above talked about a rock slide they’d had like it was Christmas morning. They had a great facility that talked about the natives and showed their way of life in what visually looked like a really rough place to live. They also had a fourth grade program with the local schools in which the students wrote and illustrated books about the people and area. It was a really neat idea, something that I’m making a mental note of for later.

This was a pretty busy day as far as travel days go. We had one more stop to make before we made it to our campground. To the children’s horror we sang Eagles songs most of the way there.

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♫ Standin’ on a corner in Winslow, Arizona ♫

Aww yes! We stood on a corner in Winslow, Arizona! Some nice people took our photo, and in turn we took one for someone else, and so on, and so on. It’s was like a steady stream of tourists who needed another body.

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Not to spoil the illusion but this was literally just a wall made to look like a building. To their credit it’s a darn good looking wall. They even have a girl, my lord, in a flat bed Ford painted in the window like a reflection. The town is pretty desolate beyond this corner. Yet another victim of the freeway bypassing the state route.

Our chosen campground was supposed to be called Sun Valley RV Resort. Sounds fancy, right? The correct analogy for this situation would be a McDonalds salad. “Oh, hey, I’ll just have a salad, those are good for you.” Except it’s a McDonalds salad with brown lettuce and old tomatoes, part of a glove, ranch dressing from last year, and chicken nuggets made from pink slime. When we arrived it was ten feet from the freeway, absolutely no cell service, and the actual name was ROOT 66. Just like that, spelled wrong, with it’s sensory assaulting capital letters and all. It was also situated around an abandoned-looking hourly motel. We ended up back-tracking a few miles to sleep in the parking lot of a Hopi Indian truck stop. It was the correct choice.

Side note: Not having cell service is an automatic deal breaker for us. We don’t ever put ourselves in a situation where we can’t dial 911. We’ve turned around at better campgrounds in the name of safety. It could have been gorgeous there, we still would not have stayed.

Well rested and thankful for the ability to boondock, we set out the next morning to visit Petrified Forest and Painted Desert.

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This was another one of those places that photographs could never fully represent. The petrified wood sparkled and the desert had so many different colors. The layers were so defined yet blended together; painted indeed. Just looking at the landscape you could tell where there had been water and what had stuck up beyond the ocean.

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There were multiple visitor centers within the parks. The first one we visited had an awesome museum full of fossils and full skeletons, giant logs of sparkly petrified wood (polished and natural). They had a great Junior Ranger workbook. It was a real challenge for the kids and they definitely earned their badges that day.

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Right.. Left.. Oh well.

This is the part in the story where we look back and have many regrets. Just before we got to New Mexico – and I mean JUST before, we could see the welcome sign – the truck overheated. Overheated is not a strong enough word to describe what had happened, and we’d discover that much later. We barely made it off the freeway to a truck stop. Justin discovered that most of the coolant was missing from the truck, along with the cap from the reservoir. We thought that maybe he’d forgotten to put it back on and the antifreeze had evaporated. We sat for about 45 minutes letting everything cool then forced our way the 20 miles to Wal-Mart to get some distilled water to mix with the half gallon of antifreeze we had with us. We puttered along at 45mph on the freeway, stopping every few miles to let the engine cool. We ate dinner at Wal-Mart, and we still don’t have a table.

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Mmmm, cart burgers

Then, when the engine was cool enough, Justin added coolant and distilled water. It seemed as if our truck troubles were over and we went on ahead to our next campground: Dancing Eagle Casino. This was not just a parking lot at a casino, this was a parking lot at a casino with a FULL HOOK UP for $10/night! And a grocery store within walking distance! And a gas station across the street! And a Post Office! It was basically a town within a parking lot. We ended up being here for four days while we explored the area. Justin went exploring on his bicycle one evening, got trapped by vicious dogs along Route 66, and we had to go rescue him. He was not happy about getting his kicks that day.

I wish that I could tell you that the truck story was over and done with. Unfortunately it was going to get much, much worse. Another tale for another day, though.

Life is Grand

Happy May Day! When you and I last chatted, friends, we were at Hole in the Wall campground in the Mojave Nature Preserve griping about the camper and it’s bent axle and wonky fridge and busted tires and dead battery. I just haven’t felt like writing lately. We’ve had such a challenging month between camper problems, truck implosion, wicked storms, and our first pukey sickness on our journey that I felt like everything I’d have to say would be fraught with disdain for life in general. Think happy thoughts, right? I feel like I’m back in my comfy hand-basket now and ready to talk! Let’s do it!

We wandered around Hole in the Wall before we beat feet out of there. Justin even harassed the camp host into opening the visitors center so we could stamp our National Parks passport.

We found a shop to look at the camper once we got to Arizona. We determined that the only thing we’d ruin by continuing was part of the tread on whatever tire was on the bent axle, and we could get the beast back to Michigan to do the work ourselves. Good enough for me! We ended up spending a few days in Topock, Arizona while this was happening. Our campground was just off Route 66, and we were finally able to get our kicks.

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This also afforded us a trip to Nevada! It was like, right there. To get the state sticker on the camper we need to actually do something in the state. We found a casino over the border with a big arcade for the midgets, and Justin and I took turns winning and then immediately losing. *womp womp*

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I never saw any burros 😦

Our next hop, skip and jump was to Bedrock. I wish that I was joking, but it’s my own fault. We needed a cheap campground near the Grand Canyon and they fit the bill. It needs A LOT of love.

At least there was no awkward staring.

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Oh yeah.

BUT, we got to see THIS:

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L-O-V-E

There are no photos that could ever really project the actual feeling of being perched on the edge of the world. All of the colors and the depth, layer after layer of history laying at your feet. If only those rocks could talk.

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The kids got to complete the Junior Ranger program while we were there. (This started a six day quest to complete as many Junior Ranger programs as we could get our hands on. We’ll talk more about that later.)

The park rangers were awesome, by the way. They were genuinely happy to talk to the little buggers and had great tidbits for them. Wesson asked this one about the California Condors and got a whole rescue story.

I managed to FALL DOWN at the TOP OF GRAND CANYON. *dry heave* I skinned both my knees because it was either let go of my camera, watch it topple over the rail, and save myself, or hang onto my camera and give back some skin. I can grow new knees and dignity. I texted my mother after it happened because she had very specifically told me NOT to fall while I was there. She suggested that Justin be in charge of the kids for the rest of the day.

When it came to lunch time we had kind of resigned to the fact that we’d have to go home to eat because we had neglected to pack a lunch like we usually do in these situations. Mara being deathly allergic to peanuts makes eating at random places a safety issue. On the off chance we’d get lucky I went into the cafeteria and asked if my peanut free kid could eat there. Not only was I met with an enthusiastic yes, the kitchen manager came out to talk to me about it. He waited around until Mara picked what she wanted and then cooked it himself! He even made a point to tell us that he’d rechecked all of the ingredients in every single thing and wore new gloves. I can’t tell you how much this means when you have a kid who’s life depends on it. It also allowed us to stay at the park that day and explore that much more. I am forever grateful to them for allowing us that small sliver of normalcy and safety.

We are driving through Ohio at this very moment. ” What about Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana, you slacker?” Man, have I got some stories for you. Until tomorrow…

On a Dark Desert Highway, Cool Wind in My Hair

We’ve had an amazing – and I mean amazing – few months here in California, and now we’re on the way out. *insert saddest emoji you’ve ever seen* The bright, hot sun, the shimmery, sandy beaches, the awe-inspiring mountains everywhere you turn, the towering palm trees, the infinite Slurpees…. Uggghhh… Don’t make me go! If some mean person told us that we couldn’t travel any longer and had to choose somewhere to live, California would be my pick. Hopefully we’ll see it again next winter.  Let’s talk about what we’ve been up to in the last few weeks before I start having mixed drinks about feelings.

We did this garbage:

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We went another 15 miles, thank goodness. NO REPEATS, PLEASE.

We went to Coronado beach AGAIN because if I’m going to cry I may as well do it on the most beautiful beach in the vicinity.

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She has a half-stache

One day Justin found a bike trail that he wanted to ride within the Cleveland National Forest and the kids and I tagged along to traipse through the woods. While he rode through puddles and such we lobbed giant pine cones and talked about habitats and life cycles. I do love it when we can pick our lessons right off the ground (and hurl them like grenades).

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Mara was too busy pouting about climbing the hill

While in Descanso we were lucky enough to be neighbors with a legend named Doctor Oliver Luck – an 85 year old Korean War vet who played trombone in the Air Force band (and with Duke Ellington), teacher of music, actor, two time Love Connection winner, and most importantly for this story a GOLD PROSPECTOR. For some reason he agreed to teach us how to search for gold. The process involved something called dowsing rods and included fantastically exciting stories about traveling to Papua New Guinea. We all had an appreciation for the octogenarian treasure hunter.

We soon moved off of the mountains to a park in Palm Desert which lived up to its name.

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Disregard the satellite dish

They even had sneaky cell towers that looked like palm trees.

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You can’t even tell. It’s magic.

The men decided to get haircuts while we were here. Wesson gave up the mullet he’d been cultivating for the last year and a half but still retained his long hair for the most part. Justin decided to lose a little more.

It was drastic but he looks GREAT! He kept the beard, of course. Nobody messes with the majestic brewers beard.

I have been thinking about jalapeno poppers since November, y’all. We were at some weird grocery store in Texas when I saw a $5 poppers kit. It came with eight peppers, a block of cream cheese, and a pound of bacon. As shameful as it is to admit, I do not like grilled bacon. *GASP* I know, I know. I finally sat down and found a recipe I liked. We’ve started making them and now cannot stop. We’ve been adding them to our hamburgers on the reg. I keep thinking of all those pathetic burgers that I cooked that didn’t have piping hot cream cheese filled jalapeno peppers on top and wondering where I went wrong in my life. If you want to change your world, go here: Grilled Stuffed Jalapenos

Speaking of eating cream cheese en masse, I finally purchased a bicycle. I sold my last bike back in September when it wouldn’t fit properly on our original bike rack. My unicycle has been riding in my spot on the newer roof rack. This time I ended up with a black on black Cannondale. Don’t ask me what kind it is beyond that. I know that it has two wheels and I like it, that’s all I need. I got it from this place that used a photo of their previous business card as their new business card just to induce aneurysms.

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Solo bike rides offer deafening silence and I kind of love it. Normally a bicycle purchase would not be a significant, notable event, however now that I go on bike rides by myself I get to take photos of places like this:

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Mount San Jacinto

And mysterious objects like this:

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Behind the campground a mile or two was Coachella Nature Preserve and the road there was shoddily blocked off for some reason. I think it probably had to do with the sand dunes overtaking the roadway.

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They also have something against pomegranates, so maybe the road was blocked off to keep dirty, dirty pomegranates away from their wildflowers? We may never know.

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It took me about five bike rides to figure out that the sidewalks here are so huge because the old folks like to drive their golf carts everywhere.

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There is also ridiculous amounts of golf cart parking at the grocery stores. This makes it extremely difficult to park my excessively large diesel truck when I’m trying to buy jalapenos.

Joshua Tree National Park was on the list of sights to see. The park is an intersection of two deserts: the Mojave and the Colorado. The Mojave has all the Joshua Trees and the Colorado has more brush and cacti. The children were more concerned with climbing than plant life.

We also looked out upon the San Andreas fault line. 

That’s where we lived, come to find out. IN the fault line. Thank you for behaving, tectonic plates.

Most of the National Parks have a Junior Ranger program. The kids collect workbooks at the Ranger Stations and once they are complete they get a badge or a patch. Here’s Mara being sworn in as a Junior Ranger.

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I like the program because A) it’s free and B) it engages us with the park in ways that we may not have considered. Because we’re doing a scavenger hunt or pretending to be lizards we’re actively looking for plants and animals and structures that would probably be overlooked. Lots of learning to be had!

Right behind this Ranger station was a place called the Oasis of Mara! Our girl has her own oasis, can you believe it?

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All in all I think they enjoyed themselves that day.

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Justin replaced the worn out, crooked Super Duty decals on the truck the other day with something a little more fun.

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We’ve been meaning to do it for a while but they’ve been out of stock. If you want your own, you can find them and lots more good stuff here: Hoonigan

Today, we started our journey back East to take care of some VA business in Michigan. It is supposed to take us about six weeks to meander that way. The camper is being a butt at the moment, so I think our trip might be paused. A tire is wearing oddly, another has a bubble in it, and the fridge just went out a few minutes ago. All this as soon as we got to the gosh darn Bob Sagget mother trucking middle of nowhere literal Hole In The Wall campground in the flippin’ Mojave Nature Preserve.

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Look at this view before I implode.

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I climbed on top of the camper to take that photo, and I didn’t fall on a cactus when I came down the ladder.

Thankfully and inexplicably we have internet and phone service here, which is great because tomorrow we will have to find a camper doctor. We’ll also explore this park, because we didn’t come all the way out here for nothing. We need some happy. Whatever YOU do tomorrow, make sure that it makes you happy.

PS – this is the second time I’ve written this post. I had it almost finished yesterday and somehow deleted everything but one lower case n.

Here it is: n