Summer Blurb #5 - Tennessee, New Mexico, and the West
26 August 2022 | Petaluma, CA
As August wanes, so too does Woodstock's American Summer, now on the edge of the final leg home.
We left Martha's Vineyard under a cloudy sky and had a great trip over a whole lot of states, because for some reason the states in that part of our country are very tiny, mashed together, and oddly-shaped. It's confusing at any given time to know which state you're over. I can only recreate the route thanks to a Rand McNally road map book I bought in Beverly, MA, which became my best friend in the plane as we flew over historic and beautiful places. We crossed a smidge of Rhode Island, the bottom of Connecticut, the SE corner of New York, diagonally across New Jersey, into Pennsylvania which took us south of my dad's birthplace in Wilkes-Barra, Pa, over our airbnb in Lancaster, over Gettysburg, then back and forth between Virginia and West Virginia (which has a very jagged border) and finally into Tennessee. In the Rand McNally book we started on p. 11, then 10, 35, 32, 45, 44, 48, and ended on 21. We flew over a whole lot of 'bergs, 'villes, 'towns, and a few 'tons.
Tennessee seems to be the home of a lot of springs, both warm and hot, some have gorgeous resorts built around them and one even had its own airport. The landscape on this whole leg was truly stunning - the green was relentless, the forests dense, the rivers full. The farmhouses from a few thousand feet look idyllic, nestled in rolling hills.
Our first destination in Tennessee was Knoxville, home of a friend of Allan's from grad school in Tucson some 30+ years ago. Allan found an adorable airpark on a spit of land in a river, a short, grassy strip with water at both ends. He aced the challenging landing, which really means we didn't end up in the river. Eugene and Donna met us, noting that they never knew this little airport existed, which is why the folks at Sky Ranch Airpark call it "the best-kept secret in town."
Our hosts had what they called a "funtinerary" prepared for our short visit, and as a result I now have a better appreciation of Knoxville, TN. We started with dinner overlooking a nearby river, where a high school prom group posed for photos, the girls yanking and smoothing their minuscule dresses incessantly, pushing hair strands into place and nervously assuming perfect selfie smiles. Meanwhile the boys, looking generally uncomfortable and out-of-place, stood around with blank looks and waited for the moment when the moms, proudly holding multiple phone cameras, hollered "smile!" The boys apparently don't spend a lot of time in front of a mirror perfecting their selfie smiles, and mostly just stood hunched over with arms flapping at their sides. The next day, after a wonderful breakfast on Eugene and Donna's huge screened porch (you MUST have a screened porch in hot, humid places, I've learned) we headed for a 9-hole par 3 golf course and whacked small white balls all over the grass. I had a few good strokes that made the exact right "crack" sound and once I even landed on the green, which is apparently a good thing. It was a lot of fun, I enjoyed watching my husband demonstrate his excellent skills at this odd game, while Eugene kept us laughing with his sharp wit and delightful laugh. Donna, who has only been playing for a year, was very encouraging, and made my first attempt at golf not seem so dismal. I'm pretty sure we didn't keep score.
The funtinerary continued with a late lunch followed by a gorgeous walk through the woods at the Ijams Nature Center, which is a "312-acre urban green space" and is beautifully run with lots of hiking trails, activities and a gift shop. We then took a drive through historic Knoxville, which is very cool, and ended our outing with a beer sampling at a local brewery, where you get electronic wristbands that you hold up to a reader under each of the 5,000 beer, wine, cocktail and mocktail taps. You can dispense as little as a half-ounce - just a taste - or as much as you want, while the wristband tallies the take and runs a tab. And finally, home for a great salmon dinner.
A short one-hour flight south the next morning took us to Fayetteville, TN to finally meet a branch of the family we hadn't yet had a chance to meet - Allan's nephew Cody's brood of kids (4) and wife Delanie (1). Allan's sister Virginia and her husband Andy were also in town, so it was a great family gathering. We hung out at Cody and Delanie's while the kids showed off their skills at various things from video games to axe-throwing. Yes, actual axes, and a lot of other things that you can whirl at a big wooden wall Cody built in the grassy backyard. I tried my hand at axe-throwing, a sport I'd had a hankering to try since I found a brochure in Dayton, OH a few weeks earlier. I'm pretty crummy at axe throwing, it turns out, but so was everyone else since the axe was fairly dull. It just made a thud and fell to the grass, with the exception of one hard toss by Cody that actually stuck. But the other objects, which all have fancy names, were pretty satisfying. I stuck three in a row on my first try, but managed to miss the target entirely on the next round, sending one of the objects over the fence and into the chigger-and-tick-infested field next door. It joined another object that Tommy had accidentally tossed over, so in days to come the boys will go out and hack through the grasses until they find said lost objects. Apparently picking ticks and chiggers off children is a normal thing in these parts, and I applaud their spirit of adventure. I have personally never had a tick, nor have I met a chigger, and would very much like to keep it that way. Now, for those of you concerned: Cody teaches great caution and responsibility in these tossing sports, supervises all activities, locks all objects safely away when not in use, and is 100% a good dad.
Delanie made a great dinner for all ten of us, and we retired to the hotel in nearby Fayetteville. The next day after the kids got home from school Allan took them all flying, one by one. Young Sophie took a pass, deciding first that maybe just taxiing around would be fun, and then deciding to sit it out entirely, but Isaac, Tommy and Ellie all went up, and even Cody took a turn. It's beautiful country to fly over! The kids loved it and no doubt have lots of bragging to do at school in the coming days. We ended our visit with a nice dinner at a local Mexican restaurant. (Yes, Mexican food in Tennessee, and it was very good.) Now, we are happily acquainted with our Tennessee family.
The next morning we continued westbound, over western Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas, and New Mexico. (pp. 21, 20, 7, 42, and 33.) The terrain and vistas were incredibly varied on this six-and-a-half hour flight, from mountainous to flat, from lush green to soft pinks and tans. The monsoon season is in full swing in the southwest, and the mesas and deserts are alive with green grass and fields of yellow flowers, I've never seen the desert so pretty. Our destination was a quick overnight stop in Los Lunas, NM (Spanish speakers: this is not a typo - for reasons unknown, that's the correct spelling of this town) where former Air National Guard friend Mark and his wife Daryl live on an airpark. For years, they have graciously hosted any passing airborne Gabel that needs a place to land and rest up for the night, and it's so convenient to just taxi right up to their house and park on the lawn. This time, since Mark's airplane was gone for maintenance, Woodstock had the luxury of staying overnight in the hangar, which was good, since the monsoons can douse the field with little notice.
We took a short drive to have dinner at an old New Mexican favorite, Teophilo's, to satisfy our craving for New Mexican Hatch red chile sauce, which is unmatched in the world, and very addictive. After an early breakfast of oatmeal generously sprinkled with Ceylon cinnamon and walnuts (thank you, Mark!) we loaded up Woodstock for a possibly challenging flight to the Bay Area north of San Francisco. Daryl equipped us with homemade chocolate chip cookies, which I think she got up at 4am to make. We are so amazingly lucky to have such great friends in our lives - that's the thing we have most realized on this trip.
The "possibly challenging flight" took us over mountainous terrain in New Mexico, over Las Vegas, Nevada which had a forecast of ugly, wet monsoon weather, over Yosemite, California (more mountainous terrain) and thence across the barren Central Valley to Sonoma, CA, where our car awaited. We had multiple "outs" if the weather or terrain proved uncomfortable, but the entire day went flawlessly. Other than a fairly boring stretch over Arizona and eastern California, and another dull hour over Central California, it was a beautiful, mostly smooth, weather-free flight.
We landed at tiny Sonoma Skypark Airport (p. 8), flying over Dean and Lesle's house on short final. They had to fly to Denver, so we would regrettably miss having a visit with them, but they'd moved Stumpy from their house, where it had been collecting dirt and waiting patiently for our return, to the parking lot at the airport. So, reunited with a car, I unloaded all my stuff and Allan fueled up. We said farewell, as I was headed to Petaluma to reclaim the camping gear I'd left at Joy's, and he was off to San Jose to have lunch with another Ops-Sci grad school buddy and thence home to Oxnard.
But as it turned out, he flew back to Petaluma after lunch because Oxnard apparently thinks it's still June. Even in late August it's plagued with June-gloom fog and overcast skies, and Allan missed his narrow afternoon window of sunshine before it closed back in. So, we spent the night at Joy's delightful house in Petaluma while she was in The City (San Francisco) working. We're grateful, again, for generous friends who sometimes literally give us the keys to their kingdoms.
This morning Allan will re-attempt the final leg home, hoping to snag that open-sky slot in Oxnard this afternoon. I'll stay another night to spend some time with Joy, then drive Stumpy home tomorrow. And that will sum it up! 5 weeks, 5920 nautical miles, 20 airports, 30+ landings, a gob of expensive gas, a million fabulous views, lots of new experiences, a beautiful wedding, a ton of great friends, and way too many calories.
Thanks for following along, and many thanks to our gracious hosts and dear friends that made this trip simply unmatched. And now we'll settle into our tiny boat-home in Oxnard and enjoy the fall. Cheers!
LOTS of great pictures in the latest photo album in the Gallery!
Summer Blurb #4 - Salem and Martha's Vineyard, MA
19 August 2022 | Edgartown, Martha's Vineyard
Alison Gabel | Perfect Weather!
Taking up where we left off, we were successful at retrieving our wedding clothes on Martha's Vineyard. It was our first time landing at Edgartown's Katama Airfield, which has 3 lumpy grass and dirt runways stretching in all directions, and a very popular restaurant. There's a parking area for airplanes on the far end, and people fly over from the mainland to spend a day at the beach. A few biplanes stay very busy giving rides out over the island and the ocean, and we heard one of the biplane pilots spotted 3 sharks in the water, corroborating other reports, so the island on which the infamous "Jaws" movie was filmed had to close a beach for a little while.
The wedding in Salem, MA last Saturday was fabulous. We loved our teeny-tiny Hobbit house in Beverly and enjoyed seeing parts of Salem, although we avoided the witch museum and ghost tours out of a general lack of interest. The wedding took place in an historic church in Manchester-by-the-Sea, with a clarinet and piano duo playing rich, melodic sonatas by Felix Mendelssohn. The weather was perfect. The guests were delightful to look at, and to meet. The flowers, done by the mother-of-the-bride and helpers, were abundant and gorgeous. The reception, held in downtown Salem in the Old Town Hall was also wonderful with a vegetarian taco bar and all those flowers which were painstakingly transported by multiple volunteers to line the tables and the stage in the 2-story Town Hall. And other than the acoustics, which were challenging in the huge space, the reception was a lot of fun. My favorite part was the sweet, thoughtful, and hilarious toasts by the groomsmen and maids of honor, as well as parents and a few others. My other favorite part was spending time with long-lost friends from my childhood, some I hadn't seen for over 40 years.
The weekend capped off with a casual Sunday brunch at Rupert and Allison's home in Swampscott, MA (I love some of these east coast town names!) The newly wedded couple live in an old 3-story home with a rambling grassy yard strewn with big, moss-covered rocks and woods beyond. Chairs and Mexican blankets had been set out in the yard for people to sit and lie down, talk, relax, look up at the sky. A slack rope strewn between two trees drew the attention of a number of the little kids, who balanced admirably on the strap while a parent held their hands for support. A few of the younger adults gave it a try as well, while the rest of us watched, happily not tempted to try it ourselves.
Once we'd said farewell to the new couple and old friends, we headed for the airport and the short :45 flight back to The Vineyard. This was the 4th time we'd made the flight around Boston's busy airspace in the last few days all because of the wedding clothes debacle, which made the rounds at the wedding - "Oh! you're the pilots who had to fly to the Vineyard for your wedding clothes!"
We've been "on island" now for 4 days, having a great time with friends Jay and Terri, who have an old 1923 shingled home with a wild-ish back yard that fades into a small forest of trees. My favorite place to be is in a chair, gazing out at that backyard with the warm sun glowing through the bright green leaves while birds (and the occasional chipmunk) explore the offerings in the hanging feeder. The other day I sat transfixed as a tiny spider wove a complex web in what seemed like the middle of nowhere. I finally traced the fine support webs to trees on either side, with 20 feet between. A third line dropped to the grass below, and the spider climbed up and down that 15' height to reinforce the line at least 3 times. Finally, as dusk settled it, so did the little spider, right in the center of it's masterpiece, hoping optimistically for a nice meal. Another day I was treated to a playful squirrel who was animating clumps of loamy moss at the side of the yard, grabbing them, tossing them in the air, doing back flips and leaps as though the blob were truly alive. I'd never seen a squirrel play!
As I write there's a flurry of activity in the kitchen - Allan is making oatmeal, Terri is making smoothies, Jay made more coffee and is now reading silly stuff to us from a post online.
So far our time on island has been filled with great, healthy home-cooked meals, a walk into nearby Edgartown for lunch, wandering thorough small museums (the kind I can handle,) lots of sitting around over coffee or sundowners, catching up and wasting time, and for Terri and I, some yoga. She generously bought me 2 private yoga sessions in a local studio for my birthday, and it's been pretty inspiring. Tuesday night we celebrated Jay and Terri's 14th wedding anniversary with a fabulous meal we all pitched in on, and Friday we're going out to their favorite restaurant to celebrate again.
And, we went to the Agricultural Fair! That was truly delightful. As a girl who grew up near Los Angeles, I spent many a year at the LA County Fair, which is huge and sort of citified. Yes, they have pigs and goats and cows, and other fair-ish things, but it's all on a grand scale, with lots of buildings and asphalt. This Ag fair was small, and sweet, and so local. We went on the first day of the four-day event, so the crowds were low, and parking was a cinch. There were no lines. There were places to sit under trees, and long white country benches on the porch to enjoy the breeze while a horn trio serenaded with classic old-time songs. Allan, Terri and I rode the ferris wheel for a view of the whole thing from the air, but of course I was having too much fun and forgot to snap any pictures.
Then, just to make a fun day more fun, we went into Oak Bluffs by the sea and Terri and I rode the oldest operating carousel in the USA, to see if I could catch the brass ring! The carousel was over 100 years old, each horse was unique and carefully made with detailed leather saddles and real horse-hair manes and tails. And, guess what?! I caught the brass ring! Hard to top that one.
Yesterday afternoon we went for a sail in Jay and Terri's 22-foot Catboat, "Whiskers." A catboat is a type of sailing rig with a short mast located all the way on the bow of the boat, a huge boom that's actually longer than the mast is tall. A second short boom angles off near the top of the mast at an angle, making it a "gaff-rigged" boat. They're very popular around here, in all sizes. We'd waited all week for the winds to be just right, and lo, on the last day, they were just right. We sailed up the busy bay, past to the harbor, dodging the ferry that runs between Edgartown and Chappaquiddick. A fleet of tiny catboats was busily tacking back and forth in an afternoon regatta, looking like a row of leaf cutter ants.
The catboat is a handful to sail, literally - a hands-full of wheel and main sheet, both full of wind and water and both requiring constant awareness. It keeps you busy! I have great respect for Jay and Terri when I think of some of the distances they've covered all around this beautiful area since they bought the boat just a few months ago. It's truly a unique experience sailing on their boat in these waters.
And today, we say farewell again and head for Tennessee, where rain, friends and family await.
(FYI there's a new collection of photos in the photo gallery.)
Summer Blurb #3 - Dayton, Lancaster, and Salem
12 August 2022 | Beverly, Massachusetts
Alison Gabel | Weather is cooler here than anywhere we've been so far!
We've made it to the east coast, to the town of Beverly, Massachusetts, just a stitch away from Salem. The Deese wedding, which was the impetus for this entire adventure, is on Saturday.
We didn't think we'd make it, multiple times. The Covid thing in Wisconsin threw a wrench in the works, redefining the shape of our trip and putting doubt, on a daily basis, on the ultimate outcome. But Allan continues to feel better and I continue to test negative, so we press on.
Since our plans to fly to Saranac, NY and thence to Martha's Vineyard before the wedding were thwarted because of Covid, we were faced with a blank week. Where did we want to go? What, in the Midwest and east coast would be fun? I thought of all the years of flying over this beautiful country in airplanes, gazing down at gorgeous lakes, rivers, and mountains and thinking wistfully, "Someday I want to go there." After consulting the giant topographic map of the US on Dave & Mary Ann's basement wall, Allan came up with the idea of Dayton, Ohio, home of the National Air Force Museum and the Birthplace of Aviation. I landed on Amish country in Pennsylvania, and we narrowed that to Lancaster, PA. Some intense computer research later, we'd reserved a hotel across the street from the museum in Dayton and a cute cottage in the woods in Pennsylvania.
We left Madison on Friday with grateful thanks to our hosts an landed Dayton in time for a light dinner. We tackled the museum bright and early the next day. And I mean, tackled. This one required a game plan, as it's a massive collection of historic airplanes from the beginning days of flight through the space program, larger than the Smithsonian collections in Washington. Let me say up front: I don't like museums. My back hurts after an hour, I get bored easily, and I want out long before I've seen everything. Which is why most people take several days to see this place, and which is why we were there for three days. But I must say, it was very well laid out, with a number of improvements that made it good: I was happy to see that they've recently updated their displays to include the contributions made by the many unsung women in aviation throughout history, as well as the African American pilots who fought in WW's I and II and were instrumental in other areas of aviation. There were IMAX movies (we love a good movie nap at a museum!) and the food was decent. All in all it was a very nice museum day.
The next day was my birthday, my 64th, so of course I woke up with "When I'm Sixty-Four" by the Beatles in my head, and thanks to texts with Spotify links from my sister Jennifer, I had some other cool birthday-related songs bouncing around all day. I decided I'd done my best at the museum and would go exploring while Allan headed back to fill in some gaps. After a nice breakfast in downtown Dayton, which has been sort of spruced-up and sort of ignored, I dropped him off and headed into a day of no plans. Just me and the massive Ford truck we somehow ended up with when we'd ordered a "mid-sized" car. As I left the museum and headed to the hotel room to ponder my next move, I saw a sign that said "First Airport in the US" and spontaneously made a right turn in search of said airport. Signs led me to a wonderful National Parks Discovery Center, where a small but smartly constructed 4-room display of the history of Wilbur and Orville Wright was a delight to explore. I learned a ton of things about them, and of the beginnings of something that has consumed most of the last 45 years of my life. After reading every sign and snapping pictures to share with Allan later, I thanked the rangers in the gift shop and headed off to find that first airport, which turned out to be a giant field that had been loaned to the brothers for testing their Wright Flyers II and III, and for flight training. It's currently not used as an airport, but has a shooting range on the south side and a series of signs all around the field explaining more about what the brothers were encountering in those early days of flight.
Later that day Allan and I toured a bit of the downtown historic district that has more Wright attractions (their homes, the 4 sites of their bicycle shops, and a few other things) and also honored Dayton's other claim to fame, African-American poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar. We capped off the evening with a double-feature at an indie movie theatre and a 10pm stop at McDonald's for a hamburger with extra pickles! Do we know have fun?!
And then we were off to Pennsylvania, a 3-ish hour flight with a fuel stop at an adorable airport somewhere in SE Ohio. Unfortunately, and this is something I've groused about my entire career, aviation charts don't show state lines. I can't tell you how many times a flight attendant called the cockpit relaying a passenger's question about our whereabouts, and all we could come up with was "um, we're over the Joliet VOR" which never impressed anybody. I did carry a small laminated state chart but it didn't co-locate the VOR's (aviation navigation aids) so it wasn't perfect. Anyhow, we made it to Lancaster, PA and were very happy with our cottage in the woods, which was also just around the corner from a Starbucks and a mall, but the trees and cornfields mask urbanity pretty well, and flocks of geese wandered through our big grassy back yard while small herds of cows grazed across the street.
Lancaster, PA is right smack in the middle of Amish country, it would seem, and there are all sorts of Amish-ish things to do. I was a bit perplexed about this thing of making such a big deal out of the Amish - a quiet, simple folk who live life as off-the-grid as they can. Did they feel a bit like zoo animals? "Oh look, honey, there's one! Look at her bonnet!" But somehow a tourist industry has grown around them, and they seem to inhabit all that fairly well, and in fact look to be doing pretty well in the tourist industry, running craft shops, bakeries and farm tours. We did partake in a few Amish and non-Amish tourist-y things: we took a horse and buggy ride around the area with an Amish farmer named David who told really bad jokes. We toured a Toy train museum (I love teeny-tiny things) and ate dinner at Miller's Smorgasbord, recommended by Food and Wine Magazine. We watched a huge thunderstorm pass over as we took tiny bites of rich, creamy Pennsylvania ice cream, full of wonder that the sky could release so much water (we're from drought-tortured California, remember) and then wondering with a start how our little airplane was faring, as the eye of the storm was passing right over its parking spot. (We drove up to the airport - the plane was fine.) We giggled when we stopped at the Oregon Dairy Market to buy non-dairy milk. (Yes, they actually had it.)
Overall, we sort of slowed down and babied ourselves. Oh, we did go to a walk-in orthopedic clinic, that's a fun vacation activity! I pulled something in my left shoulder and Allan's been dealing with something in his right, so Dr. Scott x-rayed us both, gave a cortisone shot and a list of exercises to me, and advice and a scrip for a future MRI to Allan. Well, why not? We were there, we had the time.
Now, lest you think this is all fun and games flying around in our little yellow airplane with not a care in the world, let me say this: just like our life on the boat, it's a constant conversation with the weather. Especially in the summer, when the Midwest and east coast love to make thunderstorms. We're always checking the current weather and forecasts for our intended destinations, making plans, changing plans, changing them back. It's a see-saw roller coaster trying to make it all work, in part because neither of us is "IFR current" - which means we can't fly this plane in crummy weather. The plane can do it, but the pilots are just not up to speed legally because, well, we've been in Mexico. So that means we need to fly in good weather, and that's hard to come by around here.
All that said, we made it to Beverly, MA but we didn't succeed at getting our wedding clothes, which in a moment of inspiration I had shipped to Martha's Vineyard a few weeks back. Since we had planned to be in the Vineyard prior to the wedding, I reasoned that was one less bag of stuff I had to take camping, then on the airline, then on the little airplane, all over the country for no reason. So, shipped. And now, Jay and Terri on Martha's Vineyard have our shoes, belts, ties, dresses. We tried to stop at the Vineyard airport yesterday and pick them up but the clouds were just too low for us to be legal, and we had to peel off and head north to Beverly.
We got settled in our miniature VRBO in time to meet some of the Deese family for a splurgy dinner in downtown Salem last night, and today we're going on a little flight around Boston's crazy airspace, south to Vineyard Haven Airport for another attempt at claiming our wedding clothes. If it doesn't work, we'll be shopping at thrift stores this afternoon!
Summer Blurb #2 - Mendocino, Oshkosh and Madison
04 August 2022 | Madison, WI
Alison Gabel | Weather: Humid, green, gorgeous.
Things change, and we have to adapt. We all know it, and as a planet we've learned that lesson even more acutely since the start of the pandemic. And change they have, as Covid finally introduced itself into our lives a few days ago. Before you panic - it's all good, so far, but has required some readjustments.
Going back - Allan left a week ago Sunday in our airplane, Woodstock, for Oshkosh, WI for four days at the Experimental Aircraft Association's AirVenture airshow. There, he and his brother Mark met up with Chris, the former owner of our boat, who sold the boat so he could build the big brother to our Van's RV-7 airplane, the RV-10. The three of them did some serious tromping around the airshow's massive grounds to look at airplanes, lots and lots of them. Mark and Allan got to ooh and ahh over Chris's incredible airplane and its gorgeous new paint job. They ate German brats and other Wisconsin-ish air show food. And they had fun, based on the pictures, and on the huge smile on my husband's face when I saw him Saturday morning.
Meanwhile, I camped in Mendocino, California with a great group and also had almost more fun than I deserve - a costume party, a talent show, mountain bike riding in the incredible Mendocino Woodlands, fireside chats, a cozy cabin of my own in the woods, wonderful camp food (which, thanks to the creativity of all our volunteer cooks, is more like high-end restaurant food these days.) There's always a theme, and this year was "Myths and Legends."
This particular group of friends, which has grown and morphed over the years, has been gathering at Camp 2 in the Woodlands for 38 years, and it's a treat to have been included for the last five years. In my interest to help promote and support the Mendocino Woodlands Camp Association, here's a quick cut-and-paste and also a link to their website:
"The Mendocino Woodlands was built in the 1930's by the Works Progress Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps as part of President Roosevelt's New Deal Projects. 46 of these Recreation Demonstration Areas were built in the United States with the Woodlands being the only one built in California, the only one built in a Redwood forest, and one of only two built west of the Rockies. The Woodlands is the only New Deal-era Recreation Demonstration Area that has continuously served its original purpose (group camping and outdoor education) uninterrupted and virtually unaltered since opening in 1938!" https://www.mendocinowoodlands.org/
After leaving camp on Wednesday last week, I spent two days in Petaluma, CA with my friend Joy, who I've known since second grade, and her daughter Mint, who I've known since she arrived on this planet on Halloween 1998. Mint is on her way to graduate school in Edinborough, Scotland and I'm glad I had a few days with her before she heads off.
Joy's home is incredibly welcoming and reminds me so much of the Claremont professors' homes of my youth. Books and artifacts from antiquity are artfully arranged on the huge bookshelf, hand woven fabrics and rugs from the Middle East color the walls and floors, and it feels so comfortable to be there. Thursday Joy and I took a nice drive to Sonoma to leave my car, Stumpy, with my friend Lesle, who is generously housing it for the next few weeks. (Confused? I know I am. I just have to remember to get my car on the back end of this trip!) We did a bit of wine tasting while we were out in this beautiful wine country, and I ended up joining the wine club at Benziger Winery, one of the few in the region that practices biodynamic farming, which I find quite fascinating and environmentally sensible. For dinner, Mint treated us with her amazing vegetarian miso soup.
It was a delightful few days with Joy and Mint, their sweet dog Sheba and Mint's ultra-soft and adorable kitty, Spice Rack, but it was time to head for Madison, WI via United Airlines to spend some time with my other life-long friend, Mary Ann and her husband Dave. I always say I've known Mary Ann since before we were born, because my mom knew her dad, Rummy Deese, when she was in college in Claremont, CA. Mary Ann and I grew up next door to each other and were glued together all through childhood. Now when we're together it's as if we still live next door to each other. (BTW I feel the same way about Joy!) I've watched her two kids grow up, get married and now have babies of their own. They've invited me on Deese family vacations in Yosemite for decades. When I met Allan, they all told me he'd have to pass the Deese's scrutiny before I could marry him. (Happily, he did.) They're my second family and I'm always so glad to be around them.
I arrived Friday and Allan flew down from Oshkosh, Wisconsin in Woodstock on Saturday morning. We met Allan at the airport and Allan took Dave flying - Dave has taken flying lessons and loves airplanes, and it was an absolutely gorgeous morning. Meanwhile, Mary Ann (who, by the way, is also a pilot - she and I learned to fly together in 1976!) and I went to a nearby German bakery and bought sourdough bread and other goodies, then the four of us made a grocery stop for food for the next few days. We had fun plans for our visit - walks, home-cooked meals and dinners out, visiting the kids, but then ... Allan tested positive for Covid.
Prior to being in close contact with Mary Ann and Dave et al, who have done a stellar job of staying healthy throughout the pandemic, we each took Covid tests - with negative results. But Saturday afternoon Allan started feeling a scratch and a "thickness" in his throat, and was sounding kinda funny - deep-voiced and crackly. He increased his distance from the rest of us, and then in the morning he tested positive.
Mary Ann and Dave have been incredible - both scientists, they approach everything with a cool head and a lot of research, so we caught up on the latest recommendations for Covid exposure and quarantine protocols, and after a frank and earnest conversation, they offered up their entire basement apartment - which is really fabulous, so Allan could comfortably quarantine for the requisite 5 days. He's been squirreled away in a huge space with a kitchen, bedroom and tv room, views out the windows of the beautiful green yard with deer and turkey families wandering through, and regular Zoom calls and texts from those of us upstairs, so it's pretty darn good. He has access to the outside world and can wave at us from the yard. He and I social-distance for coffee dates and short cocktail hours in the evening on the spacious deck. I go down to the basement, masked up and keeping my distance, and bring him things. He gets ice cream. And cookies. ("Not enough cookies!" edits Allan.) He has a new Nespresso coffee maker, a microwave, an induction cooktop, a fridge full of great food, and has not lost his sense of taste, thank goodness.
It hasn't been bad, but for two days he said he felt like "road kill" - achy, stuffed-up head, cough, and a miserable headache. But no sore throat, and no fever. His oxygen level is good. He's nibbling Tylenol and Advil, and I nag regularly to drink lots of water. On Day 3 he started feeling better, and felt almost normal this morning (Day 4) but still tested positive.
We cancelled visiting the kids and grand kids and instead Mary Ann and I drove by their houses so I could get a feel for their new neighborhoods. I got my hearing aids fixed. We grocery shopped some more. We've been reading and relaxing and eating great food, enjoying this green, lush Wisconsin landscape and all the birds. The birds! It's a cacophony. And they're colorful birds - red, bright blue, yellow, not just those cute, but boring little brown ones most prevalent in California. And there are fireflies!
We had a few quiet and lovely days, and then - despite all our careful protocols - Mary Ann tested positive this morning. It's probably been incubating since Saturday when Allan arrived, before we even knew he had the virus. So now, with 2 positive people in the house, we have new protocols. Luckily, so far she has practically no symptoms and he's feeling much better, so it's all as good as it can be. It's an extra bonus that this house, where Mary Ann and Dave raised their kids, is quite spacious. Each of us very comfortably has private space, and we're sharing the kitchen in safe and sensible ways. Because we feel like family, and they treat us like family, nobody feels the urge to be entertained, or to entertain. It's the best place for this to have happened, if we had to be away from home, and we're grateful. We have a stash of Covid tests and are testing daily; so far, Dave and I are negative.
Needless to say, our vacation plans have changed a bit. We cancelled the airbnb in Saranac Lake, NY, moved our visit to Martha's Vineyard until after the wedding in Salem, MA, and are stretching the whole trip an additional week. We're hoping we can still make the wedding on the 13th, which so far looks good. We'll just take this day-by-day and see how the next phase of our summer adventure shakes out.
Stay healthy, everyone!
Photos in the Gallery! Just click on Gallery in the above toolbar, and go to "Woodstock's American Summer" - it's the top album.)
The Big Trip: Woodstock and America's Summer
23 July 2022 | Somewhere in the US
We've been back from our sailing trip in México for a month now, and are readjusting to life in the busy world we'd happily left behind for 7 months. We've reaquainted ourselves with our family, old friends, and neighbors, and settled in to life with one car and a few bikes. In many ways, it feels like we never left - although life in Oxnard is different than it had been for the last almost 20 years - we don't have a house, jobs, or my mom to care for.
We're pretty footloose, and also a bit naturally restless, so we cooked up a new adventure for the next month: a Big Trip in our Little Plane! A revised version of planes, trains and automobiles, only more like cars, buses, and planes, with some camping, an airshow, a wedding, and a bunch of visiting thrown in at regular intervals. Might be an Uber or two, some kayaks, and a sailboat as well. For the next month, we're going to explore America's summer.
Today I'm on my way to the Mendocino Woodlands to camp with a lot of fun people, and Allan is leaving Sunday in our little yellow "RV-7" airplane, Woodstock, for Oshkosh, Wisconsin for the Experimental Aircraft Association's AirVenture airshow. He'll be in the company of his brother Mark, who will be flying his green and white Mooney. Yes, that's the name of his airplane, though I affectionately call it "the Moonster." The two airplanes are very well-matched for speed, and can cover ground at about 200mph depending on what the wind offers up. Their trip will take 2 days to Wisconsin, where they'll stay with a family that rents out rooms every year when this huge airshow comes town.
As for me, I'm finishing this blurb in a coffee house called The Fox & Kit in San Rafael, sipping a macchiato and getting croissant crumbs all over the velvet chair and green carpet while mellow jazz plays over head and a few little kids have a blast in the glass-walled playroom. I had a very comfortable night in an Air BnB in Berkeley, CA - a room in an old house, on an old street, with a few dogs and a very communicative-via-email but physically absent host, which was just perfect. I need to make one more stop for some groceries for my contribution to Sunday night's dinner - gluten-free, vegan pesto pasta. And thence to the Mendocino Camp Association, where this group of folks has been going for decades for fun and silliness, wonderful home-cooked meals in the huge camp kitchen, and lots of activities. It's camp for adults-who-haven't-really-grown-up-and-don't-plan-to.
Allan is sad he's missing camp this year, (this will be the 4th time we've gone, plus one virtual camp in 2020) and I'm sad to miss Oshkosh, as it's the 50th Anniversary of Van's Aircraft, who designed and supply the parts for our homebuilt RV-7 airplane. But, camp and The EAA's AirVenture occur concurrently every year, and this year, he didn't want to miss it, and I didn't want to miss camp. So we parted ways for a week, but fear not, the separation is temporary - next Friday, after I visit my friend Joy in Petaluma and then stash our car at Lesle's in Sonoma, I fly out of San Francisco to rendezvous with Allan in Madison, WI where the Big Trip continues: we'll stay for a few days at my friend Mary Ann's house, catch up with her and the family and then fly to Saranac Lake, NY to do a bit of exploring in the Adirondacks. Next, Martha's Vineyard to stay with friends Jay and Terri for 5 days, and then a hop up to Salem, Massachusetts for a wedding!
The wedding is to blame for all of this - Mary Ann's nephew Rupert, who I've known all my life, is marrying Allison, and we want to be there. So we thought about the airlines and summer passenger loads, and all the other things that complicate airline travel these days, and we decided Woodstock was our chosen mode of transportation. This led to wrapping the wedding on both sides with stops we've wanted to make for years. After the wedding, we head back west with a stop in Tennessee to visit an old college buddy of Allan's, then south to see his sister Virginia and nephew Cody, more westing to Abiquiu, New Mexico to see an old friend of mine, then to Sonoma where my friend Lesle has graciously agreed to house Stumpy, our Honda Element while this whole Big Trip is underway. I'll drive Stumpy home and Allan will fly, or maybe vice-versa, and finally, we'll be back in Oxnard to readjust all over again!
As you can see, there are a million moving parts to this Big Trip - lots of opportunity for things to go wrong - so we'll see if it all ends up as planned. Cars and airplanes can break down, airline flights can cancel, and America's summer boasts some pretty choice thunderstorms, so weather challenges in the airplane await. All in all, we have no idea what we're in for. So, fingers crossed and I'll keep you posted!
Fly Aweigh is in the Nest
01 July 2022 | Channel Islands Harbor
It feels so nice to be here. It wasn't really that long ago that we left - and it almost seems like we never did. We're just fitting right back into a familiar fold. In 24 hours we've sifted through the stacks of mail, opened all the packages, and had our favorite pizza.
Our passage from Ensenada to San Diego was uneventful, with mostly calm winds and quiet seas, but we both felt off - maybe we got soft after 9 cushy days in the marina, we'd lost our sea legs. I felt listless and queasy, Allan was just quiet. We nibbled on crackers and I took lots of micro naps in the salon, moaning in bleak discomfort. It was just a lot of melodrama - queasiness mixed with a bit of sadness at the realization that going home meant the end of our footloose cruising season, mixed with a bit of excitement at seeing family and friends again, mixed with the unknown about what next season holds.
Clearing in at the border was amazingly easy - we downloaded an app a few weeks ago, CBP Roam - a surprisingly UN-bureaucratic thing in an increasingly bureaucratic world - which required pre-loading all our info - passports, addresses, waist size, etc. so that when it came time to actually gain clearance into our homeland, we just made a request on the app and within minutes, approved! We understand they sometimes want to see your faces via a video call, but not for us, not today. A few minutes later, I saw a fancy-looking buoy in the water, a rather James Bond-ish looking thing, and when I pointed it out, Allan said "That's the border!" Weird. So, we waved at the border and a few hours later dropped anchor in America.
Mission Bay, San Diego, to be precise, in the placid anchorage of Mariners Basin which sits between Sea World to the east and Belmont Shores Amusement Park to the west. The beaches all around this calm bay were crowded with families and colorful umbrellas, and happy squeals filled the air. Even at 7pm little clumps of wet and presumably cold people, newly set free on their on summer vacations, were splashing and hanging out, chatting in the 62-degree water. As the sun set, the roller coaster at Belmont Shores clattered away, and then at dark, Sea World welcomed us back to our homeland with a fireworks show. Little bonfires lit the beach, and we wondered how many marshmallows were being charred to a melty ooze.
We rose at dawn for a 9-hour motor in flat, calm seas to Dana Point, where we dropped anchor in the small anchorage on the north side. More happy vacationers crammed the beach, and weirdly, it was blue and turquoise umbrella day. We thought it would be nice to replenish the fridge with actual fresh vegetables, which had dwindled to half an onion and some pithy celery, so we ordered an Uber and an hour later had all our favorite goodies from Trader Joe's. On the drive to and from, I couldn't help noticing how tidy everything was. Tidy roads, tidy sidewalks that weren't obstructed by telephone poles, or dotted with gaping holes, the buildings and landscapes were so new and clean, it was almost too perfect. It was Dana Point, granted, and that's a tidy area, but it was almost weird. We felt more tension in the air, more of a sense of rush. Things were clean on the outside, but felt unsettled.
Another early sunrise departure on Tuesday had us in Seal Beach at the Long Beach Yacht Club guest dock by 10:30am, musing at tiny people in tiny Sabot sailboats, capably maneuvering their craft at 5 and 6 years old, while instructors hollered instructions from a 4-boat fleet of dinghies, motoring alongside and ready to assist at any second.
We had arranged to meet Allan's dad, Grant, and his wife Phyllis for lunch, which took a little effort - places we'd chosen were either permanently closed or not open until dinner. We finally found a table outside at a hip seaside brewpub with that new detached way of being a restaurant these days - is this a Covid thing? An LA thing? Or is this just a thing? We were met by a polite host at the front counter, who told us to sit anywhere, QR the menus, and then order online or at the bar. Sensing impending failure at that, I asked for paper menus, a few of which were reluctantly produced. We found a table, I QR'd the menu, aiming my phone at the little square taped to the edge of the numbered table, trying to see the screen in the bright sunlight, scrolling up and down, clicking here and there. I tried to be modern and order online but special requests like "extra pickles" and "no ice" were not options, so I gave up and went to the bar, where the guy struggled on his computer with the same special requests. Our food was efficiently delivered by young adults with brightly-colored hair and shredded jeans or incredibly short shorts, all wearing t-shirts with the names of one of the beers brewed or represented by the establishment. They were polite but distant. No one person was assigned to our table, any number of different servers came by. The service was good, the food was good, but it all felt so detached. Culture shock stuff.
After waving farewell to Grant and Phyllis, we took a short nap, and then I went for a run in the neighborhood. Naples. Wow, talk about tidy! It was like being at Disneyland. A gorgeous/adorable/impressive array of homes from 800 to 10,000 sq ft all crammed into each other, with balconies and drought-tolerant landscaping, tiny front porches looking out over the harbor with fire pits and colorful throw pillows. A canal system wanders through, with boats tucked in "back yards." When I got back to the boat Allan suggested a short kayak trip. The harbor was filled with vibrance - the little kids were done with their sailing lessons and the medium-sized kids were at it in the slightly larger and faster (and capsizeable) Lasers and Sunfish. People were everywhere on SUP's (stand-up paddle boards) and toodling around in electric boats. There was activity and warmth and health and vitality in the air. We paddled along the fancy houses for about 45 minutes and then returned to shower and get ready for our dinner with my cousin John and his wife Mary.
John and Mary spent 10 years living aboard their Norhavn trawler in the early 00's, and had a marvelous few years of cruising from southern California, through the Panama Canal, all around the Caribbean, along the east coast to Maine, up (or down?) the Inter-coastal Waterway, back through the Caribbean, the canal, and up the coast to home in Long Beach, CA. Over dinner at the beautiful and historical Long Beach Yacht Club, we loved hearing some of their stories, especially those about the Caribbean, as it's one of the places we ponder exploring in the future.
We loved our time in this energetic harbor, and wished we could stay a few more days, but winds were forecast to pick up (going the wrong way) on Thursday, and we were anxious to get north, around Point Mugu and home into our waiting slip before nightfall on Wednesday.
A 4am wake up, and we were underway just minutes later, the boat wet with dew, the lights from the harbor reflecting on the low cloud layer, providing good illumination for our night departure. The Long Beach Harbor, or the LA Harbor (I can't really figure out which is what and what to call where) is busy. This is the main place all the stuff we buy from China and other parts of the world arrives. Gobs of behemoth cargo ships anchored or hovered outside the harbor, waiting for their turn to dock and be unloaded. We're glad we left a bit early, because as the dawn dawned, the pilot boats and cargo ships began to stir, the big ships firing up and moving slowly into the harbor. Everything was waking up. Nice to be past all that before it became too much of an obstacle course.
It was the last day I'll make toast in a pan - a new Oster 2-slice toaster awaits us at Mark & Pam's. Our pan-fried toast, smeared with the last of the avocado made a nice breakfast, a nice first-breakfast, anyhow. The sea was flat and calm as Palos Verdes slid by on the right, all those big houses! So many! Where does all the money come? Who ARE those people?
We caught up on things, the blurb, the logbook, remembering stuff at the last minute, such as - where are our marina gate keys? Did we leave them with the office in December? Will we get in before the office closes? Where can they leave them if not? Do we have our dock neighbor's phone number? Is he even still there? How will we get our car? What's for dinner?
We had second breakfast (cereal for Allan, a banana and almond butter for me) and then I went back to bed. A few ours later Allan went back to bed, and while he was sleeping, I heard a plane fly overhead. Kinda close to overhead. It sounded familiar ... I leapt up and went into the cockpit in time to see a little yellow airplane flying off, turning and readying for another pass. I jolted Allan awake hollering "Allan! Your brother is buzzing us!" We got back in time for Mark's second pass - but idiotically we both forgot to grab our phones, so we missed a fantastic shot of our little yellow Woodstock welcoming us home! It was so cool. Well done, Mark!
Allan went back to bed and I started organizing my head. Not an easy task, these days, but I needed to ponder what happens after we return home, aside from the obvious goal of seeing everyone. We have some things to change-out on the boat, things that were superfluous and things that were redundant. When I loaded the boat last year I over-estimated our needs. I always do. I needed fewer, and simpler clothes, fewer flip flops, fewer hats. Far fewer things in the galley. Less dishes, and one thing we all learn is that we don't need to stock up on food as though we were going to the moon. They DO have groceries in other parts of the world, it turns out. We don't need all the books we have onboard, since we have almost everything on Nook, Kindle, or Audible. So a lot of mildew-prone books will go away, helping to lighten the load and raise the waterline a bit. Oh, but wait! More stuff is coming aboard! I've been ordering things ... we have a stack of packages to unwrap when we get a chance - the toaster, a cooking spoon, a few SPF sun shirts, hats to replace the lost ones, a new SUP! Cookie sheets! And more! So the waterline is probably not going to see any change.
So - 7 months from gone to back, and here's what we did:
Sailed 3800 nautical miles (4375 statute, or, as Allan says, "normal" miles)
Burned 1590 liters (420 gallons) of diesel fuel
Went to 47 different places
Anchored 55 times
Stayed in a slip in a marina 8 times
Stayed in yacht club guest docks twice (thank you Southwestern Yacht Club in San Diego, and Long Beach Yacht Club!)
Stayed on a mooring ball 4 times (all in Puerto Escondido, Baja California)
Lost 3 hats, one of which made it across the Pacific in 2010
Drowned 1 iPhone
Had 19 massages
Ate 1,000,000 tacos
Got 14 mosquito bites (Really! We were so lucky!)
I tried to come up with a list of things that broke, so I could substantiate the old adage that cruising is just fixing broken things in exotic places, but happily, very few came to mind. Some things here and there but all easily remedied, largely thanks to Allan's resourcefulness and myriad capabilities, and the wise input from a few experienced friends.
It was a delightful 7 month escape, we loved almost every day. México is beautiful, varied, and loaded with great people. The weather was amazing! I don't think we hardly saw a cloud after we left Ensenada in January. The boat is all we could have hoped for, we love it more every day.
Now, we'll spend a fun summer flying our little airplane here and there, catching up with friends and family in our "home" town. But as our old sailing friend Dick Dreschler used to say, "Home is where the hull is."
Thanks for following along.