Monthly Archives: August 2012

The Open Road

We left the Umpqua River, the hot tub, the well-kicked can, and the LeMert family, heading south toward California with no clear destination for the night. It would take about three days of solid driving, according to Google Maps and Moneypenny (our nickname for the GPS), so we were planning to just get as far as possible each day. For Thursday, that ended up being a National Forest campground on Hat Creek, just on the edge of Lassen National Park. We stopped at about 11 p.m. and backed the bus into the first available spot, earning kudos the next morning from the campground host in an adjacent spot – “Nice parking job last night!” Ayrril smelled smoke but chalked it up to campfires until it lasted until morning. A forest fire was burning inside the park and we ended up driving through some heavy smoke as we came down off the mountain.

Day two of the journey stretched even longer and the vast stretches of open Mojave Desert landscape made the drive seem like a video on endless loop. We decided to bypass Death Valley National Monument in California (not the best place to break down in August) and instead drove down the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada range. And then, like a mirage rising up out of the desert night – Vegas, baby! No time to hit The Strip and enjoy the nightlife but we did appreciate the overnight stay at Nellis Air Force Base at the end of a 14 hour day.

Saturday was our final push: south from Vegas to I-10, on past Phoenix and Tucson, and finally to New Mexico. We arrived in Silver City, New Mexico at 1:30 a.m. after 16 hours of travel. On the way, we stopped in Quartzsite, Arizona to visit a very unique used bookstore, saw a brushfire raging along the Colorado River, and drove through a serious sandstorm (also known as a haboob) blowing through the desert.

Total miles covered since leaving Corvallis, Oregon: 1651 (2657 km)! That’s the equivalent of driving from Stuttgart to Moscow, then another 200 km.

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Roseburg, OR

We left Corvallis late on Tuesday with the Jeep in tow and headed down Interstate 5, happy to be on the road again and headed to see family. Ayrril’s cousin Lura and her family live in Roseburg, about two hours south of Corvallis, and we planned to continue the Oregon kick-off party with them. We arrived at dusk to much fanfare, with Remi and Sailie running barefoot down the lawn along the driveway to wave us in. As everyone piled out, Levi immediately drew Carson and Bridger into a game of Kick the Can in their awesome backyard and the family fest was off and running! Trampolines, a hot tub on the back patio, acres of yard, a beautiful view of the Oregon hills, and the Umpqua River just down the hill made for a great visit. It was the first time since arriving in the states that we were really able to just relax. With kids tucked into bed late that night, the grown ups (ha!) slipped into the hot tub to watch shooting stars and unwind. The stars were brilliant, giving us a crystal clear view of the constellations, and what seemed to be a miniature meteor shower – it seemed that every few minutes there was another beautiful streak across the sky.

On Wednesday morning, after a delicious home cooked breakfast to get everyone powered up (Thanks Lura!), we loaded kayaks and headed for the river. Uncle Dale had joined us the night before, so with 11 boats in the water we had a real flotilla going! At about the halfway mark we stopped to fling ourselves off a long rope swing into the cool current of the river. After several hours of floating, paddling, and swimming, we pulled the boats out and headed back to the house, more than ready for dinner. After dinner we had homemade huckleberry pie (Thanks McKenna!) and ice cream. Then we waited for dark for more Kick the Can, this time with the adults too,  including the neighbors who came by on their 4-wheeler to drop off some eggs. Anyone who was caught had to sit by the fire until some fast and daring player could free them by kicking the can. Those LeMert kids are ninja fast! Then bedtime, hot tub, shooting stars… the usual. 🙂

The next morning brought another amazing breakfast spread, last minute running around by all of the kids, and then back in the bus to head further south. It was difficult to leave. Having Lura, Shawn, Levi, Sailie, and Remi in Oregon makes it start to feel like home and we’re looking forward to coming back next summer.

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Corvallis – the start

Well, we finally made it to our starting point, which seems a little odd considering that we spent a week in Portland prepping the bus for the trip (pictures and details to follow in another post). Although we had driven down earlier in the week for a quick look and a check of our mailbox, this was the first real visit for Ayrril, Carson, and Bridger.  After checking in at the KOA and visiting the beach, we drove in on Monday morning for breakfast at The Broken Yolk, a local establishment in the heart of the quaint downtown area. In a word – delicious! We don’t want to dwell on all of our meals here in America but it was just terrific, with a great server, wonderful food, and a sign on the wall that read, “Be Nice Or Leave.” 🙂

We visited Corvallis High School, where Carson will be taking his 9th grade classes online, and met the registrar and the assistant principal. Both were excited about our trip and really warm to our whole family. They gave us free rein to wander around the school. We found the German and French classrooms, the math rooms with some hilariously clever hand made signs (“288 is too gross!”), and the library. Great place, friendly faculty, and a very welcoming feel. We stopped in to see Bridger’s potential school, too. He’ll be starting 6th grade next year with the chance to participate in band and take Spanish classes for a couple of years before hitting high school.

Sandwiched in with the school visits, we had more great meals at local restaurants and worked to get the bus ever closer to ready. After stops at Home Depot and various local shops, Ayrril said, “It feels like there’s a contest going on to see who can have the friendliest customer service!” It was truly remarkable. Waiting for our takeout pizzas to be ready at the American Dream Pizza parlor, we enjoyed two of the ten (ten!) local microbrews on draft – Ayrril had a Ninkasi “Maiden the Shade” and I had a Lagunitas “Lil’ Sumpin’.” When the manager called my name, he didn’t have pizzas in hand, though, and told us that they had put the wrong toppings on one pizza by mistake. He apologized, told us that the complete order (including the incorrect pizza at no charge) would be ready in about 10 minutes, and offered us another round of beer on the house. Sweet! While drinking our second round, we overheard someone in the next booth say, “I love Corvallis!” We couldn’t agree more.

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On the road!

We had planned to hit the road on Friday, with visions (delusions?) of making it to Corvallis by Friday evening in time for dinner downtown. Unfortunately, we spent our first night in the bus out in Sandy, Oregon, on the Johnson RV lot after the “4 hour” install of our towing system ending up taking nearly 12 hours. Yes, 12. We made the best of it, though, taking advantage of our down time to work in the bus while they installed the tow bar on the Jeep. We set up bunk beds to fit the back bedroom, put together the sofa bed in the front “studio apartment,” and worked to take full advantage of our storage space. In the bus, every job is a custom job. We capped it all off with a terrific breakfast at the Tollgate Inn restaurant in Sandy the next morning. In Bridger’s estimation, breakfast was “Epic!”

Saturday in Portland they hit a new record high, 103 degrees Fahrenheit (39 Celsius) on the Jeep dashboard display! Perfect day to hit the beach, right? Alas, it was not to be. We spent the rest of Saturday assembling and securing our remaining furniture, setting Carson and Bridger up with their beds for the next year, and doing a final sweep of our storage room before heading out. It was a great feeling to roll out of Portland, down Interstate 5 toward Salem, with our family in the bus and the Jeep in tow, even if (or maybe especially because) it was late at night. The stars were out, the city was lit up, and the open road lay ahead. What more could you ask for? It was beautiful.

About midnight we stopped at a rest stop, pulled in next to a couple of idling semi-trucks, and settled in for a few hours of sleep. The heat had eased off a little and with open windows, we had a small cross breeze that kept the bus cool. Sunday morning we were off again, stopping at a KOA (Kampgrounds Of America) site just outside of Corvallis. Small drama with a flat tire and roadside assistance (thanks, Beggs Tires!)  but Ayrril, Carson, and Bridger hit the pool while the blown tire was being changed. Corvallis had beautiful sunny weather, with a high temperature of 93 F (34 C). Perfect pool weather, but we were really ready for some sun, sand, and surf. Well, two out of three ain’t bad, right? We drove west on highway 20 toward Newport, winding through rolling hills and forests of the Coastal Range. As soon as we crossed the final set of low mountains, we hit a fog bank blowing in off the Pacific and temperatures around 62 degrees F (17 C). Brrrr!! Still, Sam loved the waves and open beach, we had some amazing clam chowder at a local restaurant, and we saw seals swimming in the open ocean. All in all, not a bad introduction to the Oregon coast.

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Our First Weekend

What a weekend! We started our fight against the 9-hour difference jet lag by grabbing breakfast at Shirley’s Tippy Canoe, a classic American restaurant in the Columbia River Gorge on the Historic Lewis and Clark Trail. It was really cool, reminding us of a nice German Biergarten but with ginormous pancakes and amazing omelets. Delicious! We had Papa John’s pizza with garlic butter dipping sauce, visited the downtown Portland artists’ market, and on Sunday visited the 25th annual Oregon Brewers’ Fest in the Waterfront Park.

One thing that we’ve always loved about life in Germany has been the emphasis on family and community. There seem to always be public places and events designed to bring people together. We were/are definitely looking for something similar here in America and we found it in downtown Portland. The big open air fountain was a magnet for kids and adults alike, drawing in pretty much anyone with a little wild streak to run through the cooling jets of water. Bridger dropped his shirt, shoes, and inhibitions to revel in the spray. Sam just drank the water and soaked up the love that he seemed to garner from all corners, including from a cute little girl in a pink tutu who rubbed his ears and hugged him like a big soft teddy bear. This is definitely a dog-loving town!
Portland goes by a few different nicknames, including Portlandia, the People’s Republic of Portland, Bridgetown, and Beervana. The Brewers’ Fest certainly lived up to that last moniker, with an amazing selection of beers available for sampling. Most were from Oregon, with a smattering of others from California, Washington, and as far away as Delaware. Live music, great crowd, and excellent beer – what more could you ask for? We topped the weekend off with a big pink box of locally famous Voodoo donuts, including their signature voodoo doll shaped donuts complete with pretzel stick voodoo doll stickpins. 🙂 Ridiculously good and well worth the wait in line. So far, so good.

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