And Now?

When we bought Davista, one of the many shiny objects dangled in front of our overwhelmed faces was a free Thousand Trails membership for a year, to include 30 nights at any TT campground within a certain region that we would later get to select.  Unlike many of the other shiny objects (extended warranties, discounted accessories we would “absolutely need,” RV-safe toilet paper…), this one was free, so we signed right up.  Though we knew nothing about the company or the campgrounds, our membership did come in handy in the northwest, both in Bend (Sunriver actually) and here in La Conner, which sits right across the water from Fidalgo Island and Anacortes.

We opted to burn the rest of our free nights with a two week La Conner stay.  The Sunriver campground had earned mixed reviews from us.  It seemed well-appointed, but not especially well-maintained.  La Conner is similar.  The setting is gorgeous, as would be just about any Puget Sound waterfront campground.  But… something was off.  What was it?  The facilities maybe?  A little too mossy and neglected?  The clientele?  A little too permanent?  Difficult to say. 

We did enjoy it, as it was quiet, relaxing, and fit our mood, which could be described as coming down from gobsmacked.  With Annapolis and the house sale freshly behind us (save for a frustratingly lingering dispute over a refrigerator that we should’ve handled before closing) and the reality of Plan Moon’s new year of travel ahead of us, we felt a bit unmoored, or at least more so than usual.  Adding to that was the quiet of late summer/early Fall.  School was starting without our kids in it, the weather was cooling, leaves were changing colors… we had quite a bit of walking along the rocky beach time to talk things over and try to figure out what on Earth we were doing.

Bonus: if you read the post about Seattle and remember my extended digression on an unconventional work trip I flew, you’ll remember that I said it came into play later.  Well here’s how… essentially that all took place during the time I was bidding for my September schedule.  That’s all submitted and processed via computer, and evidently something about the way that trip was encoded interfered with its ability to award me a schedule for September.  I’ll spare you the intricacies of what happened between my bidding and the final result, but ultimately I lucked into a once-in-a-career-if-ever paid month off.  Yes.  September off, for pay, no vacation time deducted. 

So along with figuring out what exactly to do with this extra year of travel & homeschooling for the kids (and the attendant uncertainty that we’d made the right call), we had a month of no commitments whatsoever to play with.  That’s a lot of strategizing! 

I previously mentioned an impossibly cozy restaurant in La Conner at which Tacco and I had, on several occasions, dug in over cider and stouts to work out our lives.  We returned.  Unfortunately we discovered that they had moved to a waterfront location, selling their original building to another restaurateur.  Quick dilemma – is it the restaurant we need for the planning-our-lives vibe or the location?  We opted for the location.  Good call, we think.

I’m not going to say we figured it all out.  But we did put a sizable dent in it and managed to gain at least a bit of control of the rudder.  We started big with the free month thing, reasoning that this was an opportunity we’d likely never have again.  So… Thailand?  Munich for Oktoberfest?  Normandy?  Head back east to New England, which we’d missed before?  Or maybe better to just slowly make our way down south as planned, but take advantage of the fact that we wouldn’t need to be anywhere near an airport all month.  We figured we’d get some input from the kids as well since, you know, they’d be going with us. 

And as far as everything else – the staying on the road, homeschooling for an extra year, doubling our travel time.  I think more than anything else we, and by “we” I mean “mostly I” needed to just chill the heck out.  My overarching concern with this entire endeavor is that we give our kids a unique and valuable experience without ruining them.  Emphasis on the not ruining them part. And yes, that’s overstated, but missing 6th grade is one thing, missing most of middle school/junior high is another.  Also, roadschooling is different than homeschooling. Homeschoolers who are staying in one place tend to connect with a network of other homeschoolers and pool their resources. In our case, it’s just us. Our kids are troopers and quickly sought out the positives once we told them we would be staying on the road, but they made no secret of their preference to get back into school and start interacting with other kids their age again.  And frankly I don’t know how well we’re doing with their education.  They are ahead of the game in math and probably a few other subjects, definitely so with respect to life experience, but I don’t have a clue what I was learning (and they might be missing) in 7th/4th/1st grade.  I suspect that, just like life in general, there’s a lot of “playing well with others.”  They’re not getting much of that, other than with each other.  This is the call we made, though, and Tacco did a great job of teasing out all the ways that this will continue to be just as, if not more, valuable than our being settled somewhere.  I knew all this, but having her say it was helpful.  Tacco and I both experience and express our concerns in very different ways. She’s an ocean and I’m a river. There are things to be concerned about, sure, but there always are. In the grand scheme, we’re doing fine. We plan to spend quality time with my parents, we plan to use our Epic Passes to do a whole lot of skiing, and we plan to use our time to further refine our choice of where to settle.  It’s going to be a great year.

Back in La Conner at the campground we spent some more time lazily playing on the beach with the kids and reading them into our plans, as well as getting some more input.  Ultimately we decided to spend our September checking out parts of the Washington Cascades and then rolling back south via California’s highway 1, which had been closed last year due to a landslide.  The Coronado Beach Cottages had been a highlight last year, and I managed to get us another reservation there.  So rather than doing a crazy overseas thing, we’ll extend summer.  Nothing wrong with that.

Thousand Trails had a few more interesting experiences in store for us as well.  This one we’ll file under Interesting Neighbors.  The sites at this campground were pretty heavily wooded, just as the one in Sunriver had been, so we were mostly isolated from our neighbor to the north, but we couldn’t help but notice his multiple projects-in-progress as well as his seemingly cobbled-together rig.  It appeared he had been parked for a while.  At a certain point he strolled into our campsite and asked us if we smelled anything interesting.  Not a question we get a lot, but we answered honestly:

“Well…. yeah, I guess we have.  You mean the weed?”  

“Oh no, not that, that was me.  I mean something like rotten crabs.”

“Hm.  Well, no, but we’ll keep our.. uh.. noses open.”

“Yeah, please do, because I think the people who stayed there before you caught some crabs, cleaned them, and then just threw them into the woods, and it’s stinking up the place, and that’s pissing me off if so.”

Later:

“You know we did smell what you were talking about, but didn’t see any crab carcasses in the woods.  I think it might just be the smell of low tide coming off the water.” [spoiler: that’s exactly what it was]

“Oh no, that’s not it, it’s crabs.  You’re not pissed off about this!?! Cuz let me TELL you, I’m a TT platinum [or something] member, and if this doesn’t upset you then… *storm around storm around storm around*… I oughta get that guy kicked out of Thousand Trails!! *mumble mumble storm into RV and slam door twice*”

The next day, after more cannabis clouds wafted through our site:

“Good morning!  Hey, have you ever read this book?” [Shows me about a 1000 page tome on American History]

“Don’t believe I have, no.  Good morning!”

“Well man, you gotta read this, it’ll blow your mind, I’m telling ya!  Here!” [hands me his book]

“Ummm.. thanks, I mean we’re leaving in the morning so I don’t see how I’ll have time to –“

“No man, c’mon, take it!  Just check it out before you go, you can just leave it on my table when you’re done!”

“OK. Sure.  Thanks!”

So… though we appreciated the free camping this year, we decided not to renew our Thousand Trails membership. 

Closed

One aspect of pain that I find fascinating is that when you’re experiencing it, it dominates everything.  You can hardly think about anything else.  But when it’s gone, amazingly quickly you forget it was ever there.  Which isn’t to say you forget that you were ever in pain at all, though that can happen too, but remembering exactly what it felt like becomes difficult almost the instant you no longer feel it.

Multiple reasons for bringing this up – one is that my sciatica is gone, the other is that we closed on the Annapolis house and have finally cut our ties there.

The sciatica… what a relief.  It had been really starting to concern me, and was affecting decisions we were making.  Yet when it faded away, and that happened pretty quickly, I had this odd nonchalance about it.  Tacco would ask me how my leg was feeling, and I’d say “fine, why?”  Oh no reason, only that you’ve spent much of the past few months literally sweating from the pain…  I don’t know whether I can contribute its resolution to one particular treatment or  many, but I know that it began to turn the corner when Tacco did a lot of acupuncture work on me, her friend did the varsity huge-needle-plus-electricity treatment in Albuquerque, and the chiropractor in Salt Lake seemed to put the nail in its coffin.  Wish I knew exactly how to make it disappear if it comes back – I don’t — but I do hope that the knowledge that it originates in my glutes will help me keep it at bay.  Regardless, good riddance!

The house… ok, not good riddance exactly.  It served us well and we made great memories there.  But it had become such an albatross.  A growing albatross.  Its failure to sell was hanging over everything we did and turning what few hairs I still have gray at an alarming rate.  It was long past time to go, and… now it’s gone.  I’d love to say we don’t even remember what the stress of its drawn-out sale feels like anymore, but that’s not entirely true.  We’re still coming down from the experience, and there may be a lingering loose end or two.  But we did close.

The week back in Maryland was fruitful but very difficult.  We didn’t sleep.  We did far too much hauling things and cleaning things and painting things.  I came unhinged over a dumpster order gone awry, which isn’t my way.  I don’t yell at people over the phone well, nor do I enjoy it.

Ultimately though, we all got together on our last day in Maryland and signed the house over to a new and thoroughly pleasant family who we hope will make it their own even more than we did, and create even better memories there. 

We even got to use our newly lined pool.  It looks pretty good!

Before leaving we each signed one of the studs in the basement, something that’s become a tradition for us as we move out of family houses.

I’ll miss the basement we built.  It was only complete for our last year there, but we more than made up for it in how much time we spent down there.

Most of all though, I’ll miss our friends and cousins.  We stayed with them (our cousins) on our last night, and prior to that met in downtown Annapolis for a well-deserved outdoor happy hour.  At one point an ‘80s cover band was belting out Take On Me below us in the grassy area.  I sent a short video of it back to Keeper, hanging out with his cousins back at their house.   Which is perfect, as there’s an infamous video of our three kids heavy into a Just Dance for Wii session in our living room with that song as the soundtrack.  Keeper responded to my message with a spot-on text representation of their Norwegian singer’s falsetto.  He’s pretty funny.

A night with family was the perfect way to bookend our impossibly hectic week and our five years as official Marylanders.  And now we’re back to Washington, and breathing again. 

A-Town Funk

Anacortes, Washington is a magical place.  Reasonable people can and do quibble over its weather and its relative isolation, but no one in their right mind who has really seen it would say it isn’t beautiful.  Most would say it’s drop dead gorgeous.

Though the entirety of Fidalgo Island is considered Anacortes, the actual town occupies approximately the northern third of the island, which, though not technically one of the San Juans, shares their geology and geography.  It looks more like a peninsula from the air, but much of its eastern side is separated from the mainland by a canal, and it is accessible via three bridges, two over that canal and one from Whidbey Island spanning Deception Pass.  As Anacortes is most well known for being the location of the San Juan Islands’ ferry terminal, all most folks see of it are the refinery you pass just south of prior to entering town, and its only two busy streets, one of which runs most of the length of its small downtown (but skips the interesting part) and the other which heads along the northern side of the island to the ferry, in the process also stopping just short of some of the island’s most scenic shoreline.  Consequently many people from the general area (*cough* Seattle *cough*) aren’t aware of its charms.

Several lakes are scattered among its forests, all of which have excellent fishing and some of which are good for more active types of recreation (waterskiing/wakeboarding, cliff jumping…).  Most of the shoreline is rocky and dramatic, but there are multiple beaches as well.  Almost half of the town’s surface area is comprised of the Anacortes Community Forest Lands (ACFL), which are lushly forested and riddled with trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding.  Mt. Erie, in the island’s middle, reaches just over 1200’ high and sports multiple rock faces that attract climbers from far afield.  Two marinas make it a boating hub, with unparalleled access to the San Juans.  And along with the ACFL there are several other parks, including breathtaking Washington Park in the northwest corner and the northern portion of Deception Pass State Park along the southwest coastline.  Orca sightings are relatively common.  Everything smells fresh and green.

Here are a couple more of our pics from when we lived there. 

They’re ok, but there’s a local photographer who has managed to capture the island’s beauty.  Check out his work if you’re so inclined. Here as well. It’s jaw-dropping stuff, at least if you like nature photography. You see the pictures and you think “wait, people actually live here?”

We did live there for the ten years prior to our move to Annapolis, not counting the time we were stationed there for our Active Duty Navy stints.   Our house sat perched on the top of a steep, wooded bluff on the west side of the island, looking out through evergreens and madronas at the San Juans and the Olympic Peninsula.  Bald eagles soared overhead and perched on our trees regularly.  We gasped at and took photos of the sunsets every night until we realized that these sunsets were the norm, not the exception. These were all taken from our back deck.

There were down sides.  I mentioned the weather, and though it never bothered me while I lived there, it’s undeniably chilly and often damp in every month but July, August, and September, with stretches of grey that can extend from days to weeks.  It’s also quite small, with only a few restaurants and not much in the way of retail.  And our house sat on a reasonably busy street, with cars zipping by at 50 mph – having small kids on bikes was a non-starter.

My commute to work was also tricky, entailing an hour and a half drive to the airport followed by a flight to my domicile (initially New York, thereafter Long Beach/LA) prior to starting a work trip.

When we first departed on our adventure, an eventual return to Anacortes to settle was by far our top choice, and it held that position for quite some time, despite an event I’ll describe momentarily.  Each time I would get the opportunity to return for a short visit thanks to my airline schedule, I would steel myself for what I imagined was the inevitable feeling of “this place is nice, but I think we’ve moved past it.”  And each time I would surprise myself by experiencing the exact opposite. 

It wasn’t until we visited for the 4th of July week just prior to our departure on this journey (which, at that time, we were far from certain would even happen) that the first small cracks started to appear.  We were on the roof of the Majestic Hotel downtown, having just marveled at yet another magnificent sunset and just about to watch the fireworks, when Tacco and I looked at each other, shivering from the cold.  “You know what?” I offered gingerly, “… it’s a little chilly!”  What I didn’t add but was certainly thinking, as was Tacco I would soon learn, was “… and it’s July.  I mean, I love this place, but shouldn’t we be in shorts right now?”   I guess Maryland’s soupy summers, though not our preference, had nudged our tolerances ever so slightly toward warmer weather.  And it was hard not to notice how small the town is…

And then came Bend, and Park City, the rocketing West Coast housing market which priced us out of many of the houses we had been previously checking out, and my airline’s partial pull out of Seattle, which promised to complicate my commute even further should we return to Anacortes. 

So we drove across Deception Pass very eager to learn how Anacortes would sit with us and with the kids now that we had a year of travel under our belts.

Our plan was to camp first in Washington Park, and then move to the marina for the weekend, which is walking distance to everything downtown. 

Washington Park is arguably the most sublime place on an already enchanted island.  Tacco has on several occasions called it “sacred,” and I can get behind that — it definitely has that vibe. The campground sits in the interior of the park and therefore somewhat away from its jaw-dropping vistas and waterfronts, but we settled in and wasted no time getting to some hiking.

There are no uninteresting trails through Washington Park; most offer multiple view points, mossy trees and rocks, and calm water lapping against the rocky shore.  The only negative during this particular visit was the smoke.  2018’s summer was an especially brutal one for wildfires in the West, and a lingering high pressure system gave the smoke no escape route. 

Keeper had a bit of a damper thrown on his Anacortes visit as well.  We had been working hard over the previous few months to find a time and a way to fly his good friend out from Maryland to join us for a bit, and had determined our Anacortes stint to be the best shot.  It would require Keeper and I to fly on the redeye from Seattle to Boston and thereafter to DC in the early morning, meet his friend at the airport, and then do the whole thing in reverse to get him to Seattle, but we were all set to go and Keeper was thrilled to get the opportunity both to hang out with his buddy again and to show him his childhood hometown.  Summer is definitively not the best time to fly standby, and this we knew well, but I had checked the loads on all of the pertinent flights, and there appeared to be plenty of space, or at least enough. 

Right up until there wasn’t, that is…  With everything in place and Keeper and I having driven down to the Seattle airport, we arrived at the departure gate only to find that several last-minute tickets had been purchased, not only on our flight out to Boston, but on the subsequent flights as well.  Suddenly the entire plan looked dicey, and the house of cards crumbled.  I searched frantically for other options, but nothing materialized.  This is a semi-frequent occurrence, familiar to all non-revenue fliers (“non-revs”), but still it was difficult to make the late night call back to his friend’s mom in Annapolis to let her know that our plan had fallen apart and that there would be no visit. 

Keeper did take it in stride though, I have to hand him that.  We’ll try another time.

Mountain biking is a year-round activity on the ACFL trails, as well as the many other trail systems in the area, and I had cut my teeth on ACFL’s singletrack back in my Navy days.  We had a group of junior officers who would try to get together to ride every Saturday morning, and I could reach the trails from my house, so I would often go alone as well.  After our Slickrock adventure, I was eager to show Keeper where I’d learned to ride.

What I had forgotten and soon re-discovered, was how technical those trails can be.  They’re narrow, steep in places, and riddled with roots and rocks.  This makes for more exciting riding, and after watching Keeper struggle to navigate some of the trickier stretches, I suddenly remembered from back in the day several tree collisions and “taco-ed” front wheels, not to mention the occasional unintentional fall into one of the lakes.  His bike (my very old bike) wasn’t helping him much either – not only was the front suspension completely non-springy, but it’s a heavy bike, and the front brake is next to useless, having lost one of its calipers.  He’s going to need a new bike if we move to… well, pretty much anywhere. 

He was a good sport as always though, and we made it through a slightly shortened ride unscathed.  As a bonus I was able to show him the spot where I nearly spent a winter night in the woods 23 years ago after having my brand new bike light’s battery go dead on its maiden night ride.  But that’s another story.

After a few days in Washington Park we re-located to the marina area downtown, where I recently learned there are several RV sites available year round.  No electrical or water hookups, but the location couldn’t be more central.  On Saturdays from late Spring to early Fall there’s an outstanding Farmer’s Market that we would now be right across the street from. 

One of the kids’ memorable activities from our time living in Anacortes was picking blackberries on Farmer’s Market days, so they were excited to do it again.  Blackberry plants pretty much blanket the island, or would if the residents didn’t control them like weeds, and they are huge and tasty when ripe.  Some of the thicker patches sit right next to the square in which the Farmer’s Market is held, and there’s a more or less unlimited supply come August.  We ended up with berry-stained faces and enough fruit to make several jars of jam.  Which Tacco did. 

The week passed far more quickly than we had hoped it would, and we faced our return to Annapolis to close on our house for good this time (hopefully!).  We enjoyed ourselves in A-Town, no doubt.  I think everything I’ve described about our visit was positive.  Yet undeniably by the end of it both Tacco and I had at least a taste of the feeling I described earlier – the “I think we may have outgrown this place” feeling.  Perhaps having the unpleasant task of cleaning out and turning over our house hanging over our heads affected our receptiveness to its charms during this visit.  But I do believe it was more than that.  It felt small.  Small and a bit remote.  I’m not sure those are negatives, but they came across that way this time.  And the prices – if they haven’t quite outpaced our means, they’re certainly getting there rapidly.  Many of the places in which we had imagined ourselves raising our kids we can’t quite manage now.

The kids’ impressions seemed to track with our own.  They liked Anacortes. Quite a bit. But they didn’t seem to love Anacortes.

We will need some more processing time for this, but it’s an interesting development.  To be sure, we need to narrow down our options, not expand them, so ruling out a potential future home town helps us.  But it’s difficult not to wonder what happened, whether our needs and tastes have changed or we simply found places that seem to suit us better.  Or whether possibly this was a temporary impression, colored by our current mental state.  Impossible to know, and representative of this entire endeavor… while too much freedom is absolutely not a thing to bemoan, it can make the process of making big decisions dauntingly complex.  At some point you just have to trust your gut and make a call.  We’re not there yet. 

We’re returning to the area after we close on the Maryland house, but we plan to stay in nearby La Conner rather than Anacortes.  There’s an impossibly cozy restaurant there in which Tacco and I have nestled in a small booth on rainy nights over adult beverages and done some of our best collective thinking, hatching some of our greatest plans.  Sounds like we need another session.

Before that though, time to cut Annapolis loose at last.

This Place

My first day on Whidbey Island is a distinct memory.  It was June, 1995, and I had just spent the few years since college graduation in training mode for the Navy.  Learning to fly in Pensacola and Corpus Christi, learning to operate the P-3C in Jacksonville, and learning to what to do if I were ever to be captured in combat in San Diego.  San Diego was the training site, not the theoretical location of combat, if that wasn’t clear.  There were also several boondoggles, mostly of my own making, thrown into that mix, made possible by the temporary glut of newly minted Naval Aviators at the time – I spent a few months hanging out in southern Spain with a C-130 squadron, and another few in Cambridge, England as part of a small permanent detachment flying King Airs.  But all of it was preparation for this, my check-in at my first fleet squadron, VP-40 at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.  Two of my flight school friends who had checked into a sister squadron a few weeks earlier met me upon my arrival to show me around.  We had decided to share a rental house in nearby Anacortes, and they had set everything up and were eager to see what I thought of the house.  I drove onto the base via the back gate, and basically what I saw was this.

Had they plopped a Naval Air Station into the middle of a National Park by accident?  From the end of the runway and along the entire west side of the base you look out the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the mid-line of which serves as the border between the US and Canada.  To the south, the Olympic peninsula with its year-round snow-capped mountains rises jaggedly out of the water, and to the north the hundreds of San Juan Islands dot the calm ocean.  And everything’s green.  Except the water, of course, which is a deep blue that would make you want to jump into it if its temperature ever exceeded 50 degrees or so.  I was overwhelmed; I could not imagine that this was to be my workplace and home for the next three years. 

Check out the geographical setup above. Whidbey is the long island in the middle shaped like an old school telephone receiver, and the Naval Air Station is the somewhat lighter blotch just above the town of Oak Harbor. The nearest sizeable city as the crow flies is Victoria, BC, a few miles to the west.

Impossibly, the scenery got even prettier as we made the short drive up to Anacortes, first crossing the iconic Deception Pass bridge, under which several times per day the water roils itself into standing waves and whirlpools due to the rapid tidal currents. 

We pulled up to the house they had rented and I think my first words were “you can’t be serious.”  The entire front consisted of an A-shaped wall of windows that looked out upon the water, islands, and mountains.  This was to be my view, every day. 

Now, to be fair, I need to concede that I was extremely fortunate to be able to have formed my first impressions at the end of June.  Whidbey Island is a very different place from October to May.  This is not to say it is ever less than stunning, but the grey days, the misty rain, and the temperatures hovering mostly between 40 and 50 well into June at times can be oppressive.  But I didn’t know any of that then.  And it was never enough to keep this Southern California born and raised kid from loving the area for the three years I was there, enough so that Tacco and I moved back for another ten. 

It would have easily and happily been the place we raised our kids and likely retired had the opportunity for Tacco to teach back in Annapolis not arisen.  And at the beginning of our current traveling adventure, it held the front-runner spot by far in the where-do-we-settle competition. 

But the past is prologue, and here we were driving our flight of five in our moving home back onto the base to spend a week soaking up more of the Pacific Northwest summer vibe.  Tacco and I were curious how it would strike us, not to mention the kids, only one of whom had any real meaningful memories of living here. 

And of course this is what we saw. 

Cliffside Park, Whidbey’s RV campground, has got to be one of the nicest, if not the nicest in the military system.  It was given a major overhaul a few years back, and on top of the stunning natural waterfront setting, the trail system, the cheap (often free, depending who’s on duty) rental bikes, and the easy access to civilization, the gentleman who took the permanent camp host job happens to be a master gardener.  So you get this.

The playing comes naturally, and play we did. 

First a bit of work for me though, as I flew up to Anchorage to meet a plane which I then piloted back down to Portland.  It was the only leg I was required to fly on this particular trip, and was the result of another boondoggle for me, the type that rarely falls into an airline pilot’s lap but is hugely welcome when it does.  Here’s what happened… Essentially a flight had gotten “stuck” in Anchorage, presumably because the pilot who had been scheduled to fly it out the following day got sick.  Not having any reserve pilots available on the West Coast able to get to Alaska in time, they began calling “local” pilots to see if any were able to operate the flight, and since I had recently changed my “home city” of record to Portland (seemed as good as anywhere to list, given our lifestyle), I got the call from our scheduling folks just before our family’s departure from Seattle.  If this doesn’t yet seem like a boondoggle, it’s because I haven’t yet described how such a trip pays out.  Essentially what I would need to do is get myself up to Anchorage (easy to do from Seattle) and fly to Portland.  That’s it.  BUT… as I am technically still based in Boston for my airline, they’re required to pay me for the trip from Boston to Anchorage, as well as the return leg from Portland to Boston.  AND… it’s paid at a higher rate due to its being an emergency assignment – almost double.  And as if that weren’t enough, they “bought” my next trip, which I would now not be legal to fly due to my flying this one – i.e. they paid me for it without my flying it.  Basically that’s about as good as it gets airline trip-wise.  And lest you think that description of the ins and outs of how airline flying can sometimes break insanely favorable was excessive, there was a point to it, which will come into play in a future post.

At any rate, I returned to the family happily settled into Whidbey’s rhythms.  The tidal swing there is high, about 15 feet from the highest high to the lowest low, and that makes for fruitful exploring at low tide.  As Cliffside’s beach is quite shallow, that much tidal swing makes for several hundred yards of extra beach when the tide is out, much of which is teeming with semi-trapped sea life that isn’t used to being sought out by curious kiddos.

The crabs were not as easy to see as we imagined they would be, given the fact that they tend to dig mostly into the sand when the water recedes.  But once we knew what to look for (and not to step on, oops…) we were able to spot several Red Rock crab and a few baby Dungeness, whose parents were presumably out foraging in deeper water.

The clams were somewhat trickier to capture, as they tended to be visible only via a jet of water they would shoot from their foot, only the top of which was exposed.  What’s more, they’re skilled diggers, and can immediately sense probing hands.  Keeper was pretty proud of himself for managing to unearth this one (which he shortly thereafter returned to the wet sand). 

And then there was this guy.  A baby flounder maybe?  Not entirely up on my flatfish, but we spotted him hiding from us in at the bottom of a large, shallow pool that had been open water a half hour before.  Keeper chased him a bit, and to both of our surprises managed to grab him once before he skittled away.  Not enough for dinner, or even a snack, but good to know my son can catch fish with his bare hands if it ever comes to that.

In keeping with our National Park site theme, we visited nearby Fort Casey, which I had flown over at low altitude hundreds of times, but never spent the time to visit during my time as a local.  Puget Sound’s relatively narrow and deep waterways make for easily defendable chokepoints, overlooking which sit several gun embankments.  I had ridden by a few of them while mountain biking or unsuccessfully fishing for salmon, but never took the time to learn much about them. The girls did so while earning their Junior Ranger badges, and filled me in.

The rest of the time we spent beachcombing, wandering, and playing in the campground for the most part.  And it was soul-soothing. 

Whidbey is such a relaxing place; it’s difficult to convey how calming looking out at this water is on a perfect 75-degree day, so I’ll just post the pictures.

After this we drive the few miles north to Anacortes, where we’ll camp at a few of our favorite places and attempt to pay attention to what our guts tell us about its prospects as our future home.  It has dropped in the rankings throughout our travels during our time on the road, but that’s possibly just a factor of our prolonged absence rather than anything rational or even emotional.  I’m curious to see where this goes.  In a week we return to Annapolis to close on the house (again), which I’m certain will spool us back up.  But right now, savoring the serenity is the order of the day. 

Sea/Sun/Sky-attle

Still discombobulated from the previous week’s flurry of activity, we flew back to the Pacific Northwest eager to join our friends in Seattle.  Twice before we had made plans to spend time with them at their gorgeous house on Lake Washington, and both plans had been thwarted at the last minute by illness.  Fortunately no wayward bugs this time around, and we lumbered our beastly rig up into their golf course neighborhood on a stunning Friday afternoon.  The only uncertainty that remained at this point was whether we would actually be able to maneuver into their driveway.  My friend had made rough measurements which indicated that we’d make it, but you never know about the angles, the slope, or the vertical obstacles, all of which had bitten us in the past.  His measurements were good though, and I squeaked Davista down and into place in front of their garage.  Let the recreation begin!

Here’s the setting.  Imagine waking up to this view every morning.  “But wait, isn’t it always raining in Seattle?” you say.  Yes, absolutely.  Especially in the summer.  Every day.  Whatever you do, don’t move there. 

Our arrival was a bit late in the day for watersports, but we knew there was plenty of that on tap for the weekend, so dug into the first of several tasty outdoors meals instead while the kids got reacquainted.  Their two sons are the same age as Keeper and Firebolt.  In fact, we took a trip to Tuscany with them back when Keeper and their oldest were just over two months old (they were born two weeks apart).

Summer days are long, but summer days in Washington are even longer, and the wine and conversation stretched well into the evening as the sun didn’t set until well after 9PM.

The following day was Seafair day, Seafair being an annual August festival that centers on Lake Washington and peaks with boat races and an airshow.  It’s quite the floating party, with the best airshow viewing location by far being Lake Washington’s center, where a giant, morphing raft of loosely connected boats bob and drift and their occupants jump in and out of the water.  Water fights tend to spring up frequently as well, and our kids spent some time building up their arsenal. 

First, though, some pre-airshow tubing.  The girls were less interested in getting bounced around on the water, so we took the boys out early.  Probably safe to say they enjoyed themselves.  “Flossing” is even trickier when you’re doing it on a speeding tube, “dabbing” less so.

After returning to the dock and packing up our gear we headed to Seafair central, where a couple more families (friends of our friends) were already anchored and in full celebration mode.  After a few unsuccessful attempts to set our own anchor in the deep water, we tied up to their boat instead, unrolled the floating “party island” and got busy enjoying the day.

Quick Seattle geography digression.  Everyone knows that Seattle is on the water, but some likely don’t appreciate the full diversity of its waterfronts and waterways. 

Essentially it sits on a strip of land between Puget Sound and Lake Washington.  Puget Sound is a large inlet of the Pacific Ocean carved out by glaciers, which left it with countless islands, canals, and passageways.  On the western side of Puget Sound lie several islands and the Kitsap Peninsula, and beyond that, the Olympic Peninsula, with its year-round snow-capped peaks.  To the east, the equally jagged and glacier-dotted Cascades run the length of the state from north to south.  When you see the area from the air, it essentially looks like a maze of waterways sandwiched between the two snowy mountain ranges.  It’s easy to think that they’re all saltwater since they’re all connected.  But Lake Washington is entirely freshwater, fed by the Cascades’ snowmelt.  Lake Washington feeds into Lake Union, which is right in the center of Seattle, and then to the Sound via a series of locks which bring the water down to sea level, as well as regulating the level of the lakes. 

Here’s the point of all that, or at least a point – the perception of Seattle is that the water is too cold to swim in, and that’s true of the Sound.  The lakes, however, are pristine, fresh, and warm up nicely in the summer.  Perfect for swimming and playing.  Best of all worlds.

This being the third time we had seen a Blue Angel show, the novelty had largely worn off, and it was tough to get the kids too enthused about it.  But the water fights and general good cheer more than overcame any airshow ambivalence they were fostering. 

It was more or less a perfect day, capped off by another lakeside dinner and some sunset waterplay. 

Though we opted to depart Sunday afternoon due to our friends having commitments the following morning, we managed to get another tubing run in that morning, with my getting talked into joining my friend and his younger son on the tube.  My initial hesitation sprung from my not finding tubing especially exciting, but evidently that is entirely driver-dependent, as I would soon discover.  We got flipped around like rag dolls back there.  I didn’t know my face could do that.

The ride culminated in this spectacular spill.  Evidently I was in the “lucky” seat.

No one hurt, but we did decide to cut our losses while we were still laughing and get back into the boat.

I think my favorite part of a weekend that was one long highlight was watching the kids play together.  It’s been awhile, but I know that I’ve mentioned one of my overarching concerns about this trip was the lack of “play with other kids” time that we’ve been able to provide for ours.  Their kids are not only close in age to ours, but also close in temperament.  I have the feeling that if they lived near to each other they would become lifelong friends.

That would seem to lead to an argument for considering Seattle, more specifically their area of Seattle (which is actually Kenmore) as an ultimate destination.  Schools are good, we know we love Seattle, there’s an airport nearby and good recreation around…. But of course it’s never that simple.  Seattle of late has gone through a real estate boom that is comparable to the one in California’s Bay Area.  Houses get snapped off the market within days, at prices higher than the asking price.  Which means that we can’t afford it. 

This is not to say that we would live in Seattle if it weren’t for the cost.  We’ve considered it during our brainstorming sessions several times, and it always comes in high on our list.  But the final analysis we’re drawn to smaller towns – traffic drives Tacco batty, and to an extent I agree.  We both want fewer people around.

It’s not ruled out of course… nothing is really.  But we left in a melancholy mood after enjoying ourselves so thoroughly.  The kids connected deeply within 2 days, and we’re pulling them back onto the road and pushing their rediscovered friends back to “hey let’s play Fortnite together sometime” status.  

We did have a little fun with photography before departing.  There are a couple classic pictures of the two oldest kids (and some of the adults) from our Tuscany trip 12 years ago, so we decided to re-create them.  Did a decent job, too, though we couldn’t quite get them into Baby Bjorns.

Ultimately, yet another highlight, leaving us with much more to reflect upon as we head north back to Anacortes, where it all began.

Plan Charlie Whisky? Yes, please!

And so we revised our paradigm to roll with Plan Moon.  You can learn more about how we came to find ourselves in this new mindset in my previous post here.  Since we were no longer tied to finding a permanent home in the immediate future, everything sort of opened up to us.  The temporal reprieve we granted ourselves by taking another year to travel (or, as Flight so eloquently stated, we simply “kicked the can down the road for a year…”) was now wide open with possibilities, but there was so much we had to tend to immediately we couldn’t even contemplate what that meant.

Flight and I made the opportunity to go to one of our favorite places in DTA (Downtown Annapolis for any non-locals) leaving Keeper in charge.  We went to Dry 85 (see below – not my picture, but found it on line…), which we love for fantastic eats and scrumptious beverages served in a gezellig  environment, and squirreled away with computers, paper calendars, notebooks, and pens.  Okay, so the former was all Flight and, as he calls me the “Walking Electromagnetic Pulse” (or “Walking EMP” for short), the elegant tools of 20thcentury record-keeping were all mine.

Photo request: Eats review of Dry 85 Name of event: n/a Run date: 3/19 for b, 3/21 for Live Reporter: Kit Pollard Assignment sta

Based on Flight’s work schedule, we came up with an appropriate means of dividing and conquering the possessions we had amassed to shoehorn as much of them into a POD as possible.  Flight tackled the shed and the garage during his few days home and I packed out the kitchen, all the while lamenting why we have so many dishes (living in 280 sqft has made me very aware that we truly don’t need much to joyfully exist – I think Marie Kondo is onto something…), and started on the basement.

I should mention that (over?)zealously packing up all the pots, pans, and dishes required some culinary creativity.

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During one of our delivery runs out to the slowly filling POD, one of our gracious neighbors strolled over and casually observed that she noticed the “Under Contract” sign had been taken down before asking, “What happened?” We gave her the bare bones rundown of our latest real estate drama (which was nothing compared to the first go around and you can read more about that here) and she said something to the effect of, “Well, good friends of ours put in a contingent offer on your house and were disappointed when it wasn’t accepted.  Let me reach out to see if they’re still interested…”

Within an hour, their realtor called ours to officially indicate their interest and we asked them to put together an offer once our house went active again the following week, most likely after we flew out.  Our fantastic realtor team made the opportunity to reach out to other families who had expressed interest in our house to advise them the deal had fallen through and gauge their interest in writing an offer.  One such family was hours away from writing an offer in on another house and jumped on our recently liberated property within hours after the first deal fell through.  Through the neighbor network, the other couple also put in an offer as well, although as theirs was still contingent, we went with the first.  Although, more than a little jaded by our Maryland real estate endeavor to date, we knew not to get our hopes up…

Flight and I took a break from sorting through, throwing out, and packing up most of our worldly goods to join in the celebration of a friend’s retirement from the Navy after 25 years of honorable service.  Despite neglecting to get a picture of the man of the hour, I managed several with his wife, with whom I’d shared our four years by the Bay at USNA, and several of our Academy classmates.

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While each of these women is remarkable in their own right, this lovely soul picture with me below is one whose friendship dates back to third grade Brownie Scouts.  I’m not making this up.

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After a couple solid days of work, Flight left on another work trip and I got down to serious business. I took the girls to gymnastics camp every day and left Keeper to tend to his own entertainment.  He was so excited to have his own room again, one with a door that actually shut, that I’m not sure my abandonment even registered. Meanwhile, I squirreled away in the basement and streamlined 20 boxes of likely superfluous memorabilia down to eight (translated: 12 boxes sparked no joy…).

In my spare moments, I oversaw the bittersweet installation of our new pool liner chosen by a family who would not be residing here and, as Flight noted, the pool looked its nicest since we’ve owned it.

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As is so often the case, especially when we attempt to fly standby in the summer, all the potential flights filled up at the last minute and we had to change our itinerary countless times.  After being in the Caribbean for a few days, Flight had landed in Boston near midnight, called me and we talked through the possible options for the next day’s travel plans. Ultimately we decided on a late departure the following day to Boston, overnighting in Boston and an early flight to Seattle where Flight, after catching an earlier flight from Boston to Portland to collect Davista and drive to Seattle, would pick us up at SEA-TAC. I told the kids they could sleep in as long as they wanted because we were no longer departing early.

Kidding!

Flight called me at 6:38 the next morning to let me know most of the options we’d previously discussed were no longer possible.  Well, shoot. I had a most impressive to do list still awaiting my attention, but really needed to prioritize because we now had to catch an Uber in less than three hours.  Deep breath and initiate Operation Perfect Stage Triage Departure Checklist…

Okay, first things first – add a few more boxes into the POD in the driveway and secure our belongings in situ and away from the door so that if they move around and make it impossible to open the door when we get our stuff delivered at a time to be determined. Thinking ahead, my last trip to Home Depot was for boxes and more packing paper, but I also bought some rope and a few large boxes to tape together and create a barrier of sorts. Since we had another POD coming in a few weeks, I thought 100’ of rope ought to do it.  After I cut the line in half, the ends immediately began to unravel, really faster than I thought possible. Not really thinking things through, I took both ropes in to the kitchen to burn the newly cut ends to preclude further unraveling. Good idea in theory that becomes a bad idea when the rope burns enough poly material to drip on the wood floors that have recently been refinished.

Idiot.

I immediately tried to get the black melted nylon off the floor but it was as if the new embellishments had been epoxied on.  Awesome.  The POD was going to be collected sometime this morning, so I needed to tie everything down and lock it first before I could tend to the self-induced disaster I just created.

After doing further research, Flight called me as I was, with surgical precision I might add, steadily peeling up the burnt rope droppings with an Exacto knife.  He asked me if we could be ready to go in less two hours and I committed to being so.  A crucial 20 minutes later it was as though I had never engaged in rope burning jackassery and the floor was returned to looking beautiful.  The kids were extremely helpful in getting our house back to show condition, vacuuming all floors upstairs, the kitchen and living room downstairs and sweeping the stairs.  I cleaned all bathrooms, took a four minute shower (and again gave thanks for my plebe year training at the Naval Academy) and cleaned the kitchen with our ride to the airport inbound.

We had hoped Flight would catch an early flight down to BWI and rent a car to come back, help finish up with loading the POD, and run us to the airport.  Sadly, the flight he had his eye on pushed back from the gate 25 minutes early (that never happens!) and he wasn’t able to get back in time to be our shuttle.  So we rolled with it.  The only problem was I couldn’t sort out how to pay for an Uber or a Lyft with only our recently cancelled credit card stored in my phone. Our card had been cancelled the previous day after it was fraudulently compromised – I swear I’ve never been to a Walmart in Ohio.  Given that I was unable to devote any further mental power to sort that out, I requested that Flight set us up with a ride, which he did from afar and we had someone coming to collect us soon.

The kids and I left the house in show ready condition and we made our way to the airport.  We met Flight in Boston and caught a ride to Portland with his company.  Our arrival in Portland was too late to collect Davista, so we collected the Subaru from the Radisson (where we’d parked for free for the last two weeks – !!!) and drove to a Marriott affiliated hotel to stay on points.   As we collected our house on wheels, we were assured that Davista was just fine and sent on our way to Seattle.   It took us about an hour to unpack and settle in before we buttoned up Davista and made ready to get underway again.  No flashing check engine light on our way to Seattle – so far so good… Onto SeaFair and a good single malt…

Oban

Diversion / Resolution

In aviation-speak, a diversion is the term for when unusual circumstances dictate that you change your destination and land somewhere you hadn’t planned to.

So there we were.  Shocked into silence in the kitchen, haven’t slept, home deal almost certainly about to implode (spoiler: it did), motorhome back in Portland not fixed, pool about to be opened with an expensive new liner that we don’t particularly like in a house in which we no longer live, packing everything out but suddenly realizing that we would have to instead get the house back to “show ready”  in the next couple days.

While I realize that having a home sale deal fall through barely even registers on the “unusual events” seismograph (we had already had that happen once after all, though much earlier in the process), there were so many second and third-order effects tied to this particular event for us, that it was too much to process. We had to just stop, pop a bottle of wine, and detach.

My first thought was “Trip’s over!  We’re pulling the house off the market and moving back to Maryland.”  In all the disorientation, it was difficult to see another viable option.  Not how we wanted to end this.

Fortunately we were able to detach enough to recognize that we were in no condition to make any decisions, and we slept on it. 

It was not a fun week.  But it resolved.  And everything’s fine. Rather than drag you through the chaos of the rest of our time in Annapolis, I’ll tell you how it ended:

  • We committed to Plan Moon.  Plan Moon, if you read our earlier post, was one of two “big picture” scenarios we were weighing, and entailed NOT settling as originally planned, but instead staying on the road, continuing our travels (though scaled down somewhat), and home/road-schooling the kids for another year.  The prospect had been slightly terrifying to me when first proposed, but I had warmed to it in the interim, and these recent developments made it the only logical choice.  It felt both right and good to make that call.  A relief.
  • They finally fixed Davista.  Well, maybe.  They “fixed” her.  At some point the technicians back in Portland threw up their hands and opened an assist case with the Ford mothership.  After a string of troubleshooting steps, they landed on the serpentine belt tensioner, which apparently was at least marginally defective on our model of engine.  “Huh??” you say?  Me too.  It took some mental gymnastics to connect a potentially loose belt to random misfires of multiple cylinders, but I pushed the “I believe” button after accepting the Portland folks’ assurances and reading through the self-styled internet experts’ descriptions of how a fluttering belt could case tiny rpm fluctuations, which could be interpreted as misfires, and and and… ok, sure, fine, enough. 
  • Three days after the home deal’s implosion, that word somehow got out, and we got two more potential offers.  Evidently the new sense of urgency spurred them into action. One offer was contingent on at least one home sale and gave us headaches, but the other looked promising, and they wanted a short closing time.  We haggled the price a bit and accepted.  Closing at the end of August.

We flew back to Portland, re-packed ourselves into Davista and hooked up our Toad, and set off for Seattle, where we had arranged to visit some dear friends for the long weekend.  They live right on Lake Washington, with a boat and many toys, they’re some of our favorite people, they like good food and drink as much as we do, their kids are our two older kids’ age, and on top of all that, it was Seafair weekend in Seattle, the pinnacle of which is the Blue Angels airshow over the Lake.  We would be watching from the water, and there is nowhere in the world better to be in August than the Pacific Northwest. 

So ready for this.

Go Around! Go Around!

More aviation geekery.  I’ll let you look that one up yourself.

Go-mode ensued immediately upon our arrival back in the Annapolis area.  It was the proverbial “twenty pounds of stuff jammed into a ten pound sack” scenario, as not only did we have a ton to do in order to clean out the house entirely for closing, but we been out of it since March, with lawn-mowing being the only maintenance that had been performed.  Things were a little rough around the edges, and I started immediately on a new punch list and the attendant prioritization.  Dumpster ordered, storage “Pod” ordered, moving boxes bought, dentist appointments made, trampoline dismantled, unwanted gear onto Cragislist, man that fence looks bad, better pressure wash and paint it, clean the siding, go go go…

We had just shy of two weeks until closing, and it was tough to visualize getting “there” from “here,” particularly with the inevitable onion-peeling that reveals sub-task after sub-task once you start tackling such a big job.  It had been blissfully easy to forget about the state in which we had left the house while on the road.  While it was certainly show-ready, the corners we had cut in order to pack into the motorhome and depart on semi-short notice made themselves painfully apparent; we still had tons (literally) of our “stuff,” mostly in the garage and basement, through which we still had to sort and pack/sell/discard.

And the pool.  I hadn’t been able to come up with a good solution for that.  In normal circumstances we would have “opened” it in the Spring, a process which, after the initial actions by a pool service, can take up to a week of close attention, cleaning, and chemical balancing.  So, even without considering the cost and liability issues involved with maintaining an open pool at an empty house, that was off the table – can’t clean your Maryland pool from the Rockies and Pacific Northwest.  The problem with leaving it closed and covered, however, is that the longer it stays that way in warm weather, the more it resembles a swamp, and therefore the longer it takes to bring it back to swimmable status.  It’s also not an especially appealing way to for a potential buyer to see it.

With our buyers, we had, after quite a bit of back and forth, resolved the issue by agreeing to drain the pool and have the long-in-the-tooth vinyl lining completely replaced, then have the pool filled and open for them at closing.  Reasoning that it was going to be their pool, we even had them choose the lining.  It was a good solution, but added significantly to the effort and expense jammed into our short Annapolis stay.

On top of all that, we wanted to see friends and family while back in Maryland, as did the kids.  So we plowed through the packed days and relatively sleepless nights, propelled by caffeine (me, Tacco doesn’t tolerate it well) and the inertia of our frenetic activity.

Meanwhile in Portland… Davista wasn’t playing nice.  After not hearing from the maintenance folks for several days, I called for a status update, only to hear that they had been unable to duplicate the problem.  Good God.  “Have you driven it?”  “Well, yes.  Some.  It’s tricky to just drive around town you know.”  “Yes, believe me, I know.”  A couple days after that I got a call with “Great news!” Evidently they had gotten the check engine light to flash.  But only at 12.5 miles per hour.  “Consistently??  Because if you remember, we were getting it at any speed and any driving condition, and I couldn’t correlate it to anything th–” “Yes well, it’s 12.5 mph and hem haw hem haw assure you yadda yadda best mechanics don’t you worry…”

Yeah.

I figured they had at least 10 more days to work it out, and besides, we didn’t have time to worry about such things – we still had a house to close on.  Back to the grind.This was the state in which we finally met our new buyers, or at least one of them.  Due in no small part to the rapport we had sensed, given that they were very much in the situation we ourselves had been in when had bought the house five years earlier, we opted to contact them directly during the pool negotiations, as going through the real estate agents was proving cumbersome.  It was a good call, in that we were able not only to communicate and negotiate much more effectively, but to ease some of the tension and uncertainty involved in dealing with a nameless/faceless entity.  So we had exchanged several text messages and emails, as well as a phone call or two.  Since we had been back in Annapolis, the communications had ceased, but we chalked that up to their being just as busy as we were.  They had completed the home inspection just prior to our arrival back in town, and I had remarked to Tacco, after seeing the somewhat alarming sight of the pool drained and green with moss and algae, the old vinyl now hanging limply from the sides, that I bet seeing that freaked them out a little.  Even with pool experience I had found it difficult to visualize that eyesore becoming a functioning pool within a week or two.  We laughed it off though – the pool folks knew what they were doing and we didn’t have the time to sit and worry.  The buyers had one final inspection to perform, this one on the fireplace and chimney, and he (the buyer) was tagging along.  We met in the kitchen, all of us sleep-deprived and harried, shook hands and exchanged brief pleasantries.  His eye contact was tentative though.  Why?  Nah, never mind.  The stress, I’m sure.  The inspection went well, with the chimney inspector finding a few small things, but making a point to turn to the buyer and ensure him that this was a great house, and had clearly been well taken care of.  “Mm hm, yeah, thanks,” he responded curtly while turning for the door.  Stress.  Gotta be.  We felt it too.

“Very nice to meet you – we’ll see you soon!” we offered as he headed for the door.  “Yes.. well… I need to tell you that we’re significantly less enthusiastic now than we were a couple weeks ago.  Uhhh.. we’ll let you know.”  And he left.

Um… what? 

Wait, what??  WHAT?!!  We did not just hear that.  We could not have just heard that.  The real estate agent looked at us, eyebrows raised.  Clearly this was news to her too.  I wish I had a picture here, but I don’t.  This is the best I can do.

Now what?

Plan Charlie Foxtrot…

Plan A or Plan B (or Plan Alpha and Plan Bravo for you military folk our there) is usually how we hope life unfolds, having dedicated ample strategic planning before enacting surgically precise decision-making to effectively direct the outcomes at major forks in the road. That’s simply not how living this nomadic existence has played out as our circumstances change often all the time.  Having already cycled through the alphabet a few times with our continuously evolving plans, Plan Charlie Foxtrot seems an apt title for where we presently find ourselves.

I will try my best to cover the last few weeks in one general post, but will likely come back to flesh out some of the experiences that merit more attention.  As Flight mentioned, we have been a little, ahem, preoccupied as of late.  Our (mostly Flight’s) intent planning for the summer had us celebrating Firebolt’s 9thbirthday in Bend, Oregon, on July 12th.  I know my last post we were traversing Kansas over Memorial Day Weekend just before getting to Colorado.  So much has happened in the meantime.  I promise to go back to share our amazing adventures in Colorado, New Mexico, Colorado (again), and Utah, and all the wonderful experiences we had before getting to Bend, but let me read you into the latest chapter…

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We left Park City the morning after the 4thof July.  We celebrated our nation’s day of independence tucked into the Wasatch Mountains and got on the road again fairly early on the 5th.  Our destination:  Bend, Oregon – WOO HOO! – the most likely candidate for our next permanent address.  However, as it’s quite a haul from Park City, we knew we wanted to stop for the night en route.  Last time we made this trek, we were, ahem, underwhelmed by Boise, so we opted to go through and overnight in NV.  Winnemucca to be exact.  Our night was spent at the Winnemucca RV Park, which is known for its proximity to late-night Rodeo events.  Actually, we were unaware of said notoriety, but we are now quite savvy.  Knowing we had another long day’s drive the next day, we opted not to check out the barrel racing or the cow wrangling, but heard about it well into our slumber.

The next day was an interesting mix of events.  First and foremost, we made it to Bend, however, it’s the journey that was interesting. Not so much in the scenery (have you been to that neck of Nevada?), but the CHECK ENGINE light that began flashing. The light had come on (and gone off) intermittently and we’d had Davista inspected in Durango and they found nothing. With the newest development of the flashing light, Flight and I immediately slid into P-3C crew roles and he was concerned with safety of flight and I was documenting every time it would flash, duration, etc.  Try as we might we couldn’t corroborate why it would come on at any given time sometimes as long as a few minutes, sometimes as short as five seconds.  It was during one of these periods of mental gymnastics in between light flashing episodes that we blew by a police officer conducting a routine traffic stop of a truck.  Distracted by safety of flight issues and unaware of the recent law that requires every vehicle to pull left if possible and yield a lane of safety buffer to these professionals, we neglected to comply.  We were pulled over shortly thereafter and given a hefty fine.  Lesson learned.

On our way through one of the towns along HWY 20 (Burns, I think it was), Flight purchased a device (the fancy title escapes me at the moment) to read the engine’s error messages and we learned that Davista’s engine was misfiring on cylinders 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10. Um, what?!  That was strange as it didn’t feel like it was misfiring. No skipping, nothing.  I’m sure Flight will give his (read: more informed) perspective on this as well, but we were flummoxed by the intermittently flashing cue.

We rolled into the first of our campsites in Bend, the Crown Villa RV Resort, heartily perplexed, but turned our focus on getting to know our prospective new town. Only the day after we arrived, Flight got to try out commuting to work from Bend.  This was a big deal as his commute to work is the only potential drawback of living in this amazing community.  While he was gone, only a slightly less bigger deal (at least to me) was that Keeper and I packed up and moved Davista down the road to the Thousand Trails resort, which is about twenty minutes outside of town.

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During our transit I, too, was favored with an intermittent check engine light.

Flight’s trip was a relatively short one and he met up with us in Farewell Bend Park just as his folks were rolling into town.  Surprising Firebolt (and Woodsprite – but not Keeper as he can now keep secrets), Grammy and Papa met us there as well.  We were delighted to learn it’s only a 7.5-hour drive to make the transit between Bend and where they live in the Bay Area.  After we all stayed at the campsite, we rented a house in Mount Bachelor Village for a few days to better accommodate all of us and celebrate Firebolt’s birthday in style.

While tucked into a “real house” (as Woodsprite says), we turned to some pressing issues with both our house on wheels and our sticks-and-bricks house in Maryland. Flight called no less than half a dozen mechanics and got as many varied potential diagnoses for the misfiring error codes.  Most critical was learning whether or not we could continue to drive Davista or had to have her towed to a mechanic lest we cause further damage to the engine.  It was 50-50 on that recommendation too, but at the encouragement of the Ford warranty folks, we arranged to have her towed to Portland, the nearest shop that could handle Davista’s size, which was only 178 miles away, to be exact.  We are very glad she was still under warranty as that fee alone would have been a pretty penny.

 

Almost simultaneously, we received an offer on our house in Maryland.  After Flight and I realized we needed us (just a little younger) to buy our house, I had been praying that such a family would find us.  Enter the Navy family who put in the offer – he would be teaching at the Naval Academy for the next six years and they were expecting their third child in December.  Excellent!  We were sorting out the details of when inspections would happen (necessitating opening the pool), signing and sending paperwork back and forth with our realty team, scheduling dental appointments for everyone, determining when we’d go back to pack out, how we’d pack out, where we’d store our stuff, etc., all interspersed with Flight’s conversations with various mechanics and his debriefing me on what he’d just learned and my planning an appropriate birthday celebration for our soon-to-be 9-year old.  At one point, Flight realized Papa was listening to our very orderly discussion about all the stuff we were wading through and said something to the effect, “Hey, Dad, you might think this is an unusual occurrence with what you’re hearing us work through right now, but, seriously, this is like almost any other day.” And he’s right.  This nomadic experience has really helped us embrace the adage “Semper Gumby” and has honed our ability to plan important missions (big and little) to allow as much future flexibility as possible, because plans change all the time. At least ours do…

So, just to sum up – house offer accepted (for much lower than we’d anticipated, sigh…) from a Navy family like ours, sorting out how to remove and store our belongings, Davista being towed to Portland to be fixed (we hoped), and Firebolt’s birthday party in the works.

 

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After our day honoring Firebolt’s nine years (that will have its own post when I can get to it), we returned to Davista.  We spent a few days packing up what we’d need in MD (including all the superfluous stuff we no longer needed in Davista but didn’t want to jettison altogether), transferred Flight’s mountain bike from the back of the Subaru to on top of our bed in Davista, watched our house get loaded up on the tow truck, piled into the Subaru, and headed to Portland.

 

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For the night of the July 17th, we stayed at a hotel only five minutes from the repair shop and maybe eight to the airport, which was most fortuitous as we had to drop Flight off at the airport so he could get to Boston to start his next trip. Because Davista didn’t arrive at the shop until after he departed (apparently the highway was closed due to an accident for nearly two hours – we had just squeaked through!), we weren’t sure how long she’d be in the shop.  It could be weeks (if an engine change was necessary) or only days (if it was only a computer glitch) and we wouldn’t learn anything until the following day.

Flight’s trip brought him right back to Portland.  While he was flying back to meet us, the rest of our gaggle made use of our day to check out Fort Vancouver located across the Columbia River.

 

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That was a lovely outing, one I’ll write more about in another post later.  After chatting with the mechanic, we learned it would be at least a week before we knew more, so we made plans to fly back to MD to pack out our house.  In the meantime, we enjoyed dinner at some amazing Food Trucks (those are plentiful in the foodie city of Portland!) and then returned to our respective hotels, planning to meet Flight at PDX in the morning to fly back East to oversee the installation of the new pool liner and get packing.  Flight was the Captain for our flight back – that’s always fun!

After an uneventful flight and sleep in Boston, we returned to the Logan to catch a flight to BWI. We arrived at the house late Friday afternoon, a little taken aback by the dead front lawn (apparently it hadn’t rained for six weeks) and the empty and uncovered pool showing the drained cement pond, but happy to see “Under Contract” posted above the realtor’s sign.  That placard served also a figurative sign for me indicating it was go time, and I spent an industrious evening packing out my home office as the first of the torrential downpours began.

The next morning came very early (we were happily acclimated to the West Coast time zone) and the chimney inspection was scheduled sometime between 7-9 am.  The inspector was a no-show, but we learned later the buyers’ agent neglected to let ours know it would be a little later in the morning.  Due to the added inconvenience, we opted stick around and continue packing during the inspection.

Chimney inspection looked great!  So far, so good, until the prospective buyer let it slip that they were reconsidering the purchase of our house.  Ever the gracious man, Flight said, “Okay, could you please let us know.   Soon.”  He said, “Yes, we’re taking the weekend to think about it and will get back to you on Monday.”

After that bomb was dropped on us, Flight and I took a moment to regroup and went into planning mode, yet again.  We weren’t sure if we should keep packing out or leave the house staged, and ultimately decided we would ride that fence until we knew for sure.  There was plenty of stuff we had yet to sort through, a necessary (albeit less than desirable) activity regardless of how far into the future our impending move stretches.

After a hardcore day of boxing up many things we probably don’t need, we popped over to our cousins’ house for a short visit before Flight departed in the morning for another work trip.  When I said it was torrentially down-pouring, I wasn’t kidding.  Their basement was flooding and we spent much of our visit working to minimize water intrusion and do our best to pump out the lake pooling in their basement.  Oh, and did I mention his business was getting hacked? You simply cannot make this stuff up…

When Flight departed for his trip in the wee hours the next morning, it was raining.

It rained all day.

And rained.

And rained.

The deluge continued for days.  So much so that our classy “cement pond out back” started filling up and, although I didn’t think it was possible, it looked even less appealing than it did upon our return.

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The swamp that is known as Maryland attempted to reclaim our backyard.  I busied myself with setting up play dates and sleepovers, and packing out the bar in the basement and the kitchen until we finally heard from our prospective buyers on Tuesday morning.

They backed out.

The house was too much for them, which was understandable given they had just come from a 1600 sf apartment in Italy and were first time homeowners.  Why would a 5800 sf house on an acre with a beautiful pool be overwhelming? We found it so, and we already owned it. !!  I just wish they had figured that out a little sooner.  Flight and I spoke between his flights and agreed that we should proceed with getting the first of our PODS and start packing.  Regardless of how long our house is for sale, we realized that returning to Maryland was no longer a viable option for us.

When Flight came back from his work trip, we rather unceremoniously removed the “Under Contract” and collectively focused on packing, because at this point we were sure we would not be returning here to live once our travels came to a close.  As the elements whipped around outside, Flight and I took a moment to commit to a decision, the biggest one we’ve made since departing Maryland nearly a year ago. Don’t get me wrong, there’s been plenty of hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth associated with identifying and reserving the perfect campsite along the way, but we’ve wrestled with nothing on this magnitude.  With the deal falling through, we were faced with making the call to choose Plan Sun or Plan Moon.  We knew that it would be fiscally irresponsible to rent or buy a house while still being saddled with this house, or this “albatross” (Flight’s perfect description).  So as we surveyed the backyard swamp, we arrived at a decision.

Plan Moon it is.

Moments after we committed to Plan Moon, we called the kids into the living room to read them into the latest change in plans.  We spoke first of immediate concerns, namely where we’d be dining that evening, and then followed up with our plan to stay on the road for another academic year.  Much to their credit, an additional year of continued travels was met with nothing more monumental than a shoulder shrug and, “Okay, what’s for dinner again?”

Holy resiliency.  May we continue to learn from their gracious flexibility as we plan for what comes next…

Fixing Our House

So about that flashing Check Engine light…

I previously wrote about the diagnosing and repair of its cause leading to, among other things, “the worst sort of bloviating.”  This is probably overstated, and more a more a function of dealing with repair experts in general, particularly self-styled ones on the internet, many of whom I spent a good bit of time engaging in this case.

The issue was this – is Davista now safe to drive in this condition?  And secondarily, if she’s technically safe to drive but it’s not recommended to do so, will driving a significant distance (i.e. Bend to Portland) affect the warranty?

To get answers to these questions, I talked to many, many Ford mechanics at many, many Ford dealers in an expanding circle centered on Bend and eventually reaching Portland.  I also registered on an RV enthusiast website and tossed my question, along with all the pertinent data, into the appropriate forum.

In an ideal world, there would be a simple answer.  What I got instead was a spectrum of info that varied from thoughtful, well-meaning advice to finger-wagging lectures about what was almost certainly wrong with my vehicle and what I Needed To Be Doing, almost all of them to some degree contradictory, and zero consensus.  Which is fun way to spend the better part of a day. 

The “bloviating” came primarily from the internet, and I should have expected that. It comes with the territory, and teasing out the thoughtful (and freely given!) nuggets of actual wisdom from within the sea of anonymous “I have an opinion and an audience now, look out!” noise is pretty much what we do in 2018. The mechanics, at least the majority of them, did their best to help, and I appreciated their time.

But still… nothing approaching consensus, even among the actual experts. Amusing to have two people with “years and years of experience” assure me with total certainty both that I would absolutely be able to detect actual misfires, and that I almost certainly wouldn’t feel a thing in a single cylinder misfire situation. “Trust me.”

I also discovered that, though there are several Ford dealerships in and near Bend, the closest one both certified to and capable of handling a vehicle this size is in Portland.  After aggregating everything and taking what I thought was the best advice I had been given, I called Ford themselves (rather than a specific dealer) and put it into their hands.  After some wrangling and convincing them that no, none of those dozen closer Ford dealers can handle us, they decided that driving was unwise and arranged a tow to Portland.

So we broke camp, put what we needed into our car, and watched as the huge tow truck arrived (three hours late), lifted Davista’s front end, disconnected her real axle, and towed her away.  Disconcerting.

We met her in Portland after checking in at our hotel near the airport, and told our long story to the service coordinator.  To my substantial dismay, he didn’t appear to be interested in any of the data I had collected on the problem or the troubleshooting I had already done.

“Check engine.  Got it.” 

“No… again, it’s a flashing check engine, and it’s throwing these codes, and it’s been happening when we..”

“Yup, flashing check engine, that’s right.  Don’t you worry about a thing.”

“OK, don’t you want to hear about the conditions in which is comes on, for how long, etc?”

“Uhhh… ok, yeah, sure.” [eyes glazing over as I tell him, with his pencil hovering over the page but writing absolutely nothing down]

“OK, so you’ve got all that?  You’ll tell the mechanic?”

“Yup, of course.”

“And you’ll call me if you need any further detail, as well as any time you find out anything?”

“Absolutely”

“Because this is our house.  We can leave it with you for a while now since we’re leaving town for a week or two, but it’s important we get it fixed asap.”

“Oh, I assure you I understand.  Don’t you worry.”

*sigh* “ok.”

And with that we jumped on a plane back to Maryland to throw more money at put the final touches on our actual house and get it completely packed out prior to closing.