We left Glacier on Monday and started to head farther west, to Susanville, California. I was excited about hitting California at last since that put us one step closer to seeing our daughter Kasey and the prospect of getting to be in one place for two solid months, and on full hookups no less, was great. It turned out to be a very emotional day though. I’m not so great with goodbyes and even though we knew we would be seeing Deb and Steve again soon, it was sad for me. And it wasn’t just leaving them. It was leaving the place. Glacier had a tremendous impact on me. It was the kind of place I had only dreamed about when starting this lifestyle, and to leave it for the unknown was tough. So I wasn’t in the best frame of mind when we pulled out, and then I decided that I really needed to drive.
Lee has being doing most of the driving since I have been working in the car and he’s terrific at it, but I want to do my fair share as much as possible. Plus, I need to keep practicing in order to be as self-sufficient as possible. That may be an odd choice of words since we are absolutely a couple when it comes to this lifestyle, but we have never in our life maintained traditional roles and it’s tough for me that this has been so different. Let me take a step back and explain. Throughout our marriage we have often switched roles. I was the primary care giver and Lee worked the travel job when the kids were very small and then we switched later in life and I was the primary wage earner and Lee had a job with flexibility that gave him the time to handle most of the kid things. Lee’s always been a better cleaner than me, he’s always handled the laundry, and I have dealt with insurance, 401K, taxes, etc. At various times in our marriage we have both handled the checking account and budgets and for the first time ever when starting this life we both are doing that together. When you have three kids and two full-time jobs you do a lot of divide and conquer, and consequently we aren’t very good at doing things together despite 25 years of marriage. Now we are trying to do things together and it has caused some conflict along the way. Mainly because Lee seems capable of handling almost any of the aspects of the full-timing lifestyle and I, who consider myself pretty competent person, often find myself floundering. Plus, to be completely honest there is a whole lot of “I don’t want to” going on in my head around dealing with dumping tanks, mechanical issues, and the driving. This “I don’t want to” attitude is amplified by the fact that many people in this lifestyle fall into traditional roles, where the guy handles the outside and the girl handles the inside. Don’t get me wrong, there are advantages. You physically stay out of each others way during the tear down and setup process and it’s certainly more efficient from a time standpoint, at least initially. But it falls into that whole old divide and conquer mentality that we are trying to get away from. And most importantly, I don’t ever want to be in a situation where I am stuck. If something, God forbid, happens to Lee, I need to be able to function. I suppose I could call Greg, Bill, or Steve and say “Hey, can you fly to where I am and drive me to somewhere with full hookups until I figure this all out?,” But seriously, I am a smart, capable woman and no matter how intimidated I am, I never want to be in that situation.
Sorry, went kind of afield on this one. Anyway, driving is a part of that and although I am very comfortable with driving on flat roads, I haven’t done much on hills. So we were coming down out of Glacier and I kept thinking “on the first break we will switch and I will drive”. Well let me say the road was scary. It’s twisty with some steep grades and I started to get more and more nervous. All of this is happening in my head, I am not talking at all to Lee and then at the first break I just started crying. Needless to say he is pretty caught off guard and we talked about it. He didn’t think it was a great idea for me to practice driving on these particular hills either, but I absolutely hated the idea of not trying simply because I was scared. I won’t bore you with the whole conversation but suffice it to say he was pretty great about it, and he got us through the worst of it and then stopped the truck and had me take over. It still wasn’t easy, but less terrifying, and Lee sat and very calmly talked me through it. As a side note this is a huge advantage of only having one vehicle. I drove for about 1-1/2 hours, and largely did OK as he taught me how to allow the engine to do most of the braking for me. I’m not going to say I ever felt comfortable, but I certainly was no longer terrified at the end, and I feel somewhat confident that I could drive my way out of a hilly terrain situation. Anything more extreme, I need more practice for, but it’s a start.
Lee has planned our trip to Susanville in 5-6 hour driving blocks (which always seems to come closer to 7 hours with the stops) and our first night we stopped at Thompson Falls State Park. The campground was recommended by Deb and Steve, and I only say that because it is interesting how different experiences can vary. The park was practically empty and since it was raining most of the time we were there we didn’t really get to see anything. It is a small park and along the river, but I found it to be somewhat depressing. There was a train track pretty close by, and the campground had no services of any kind. Plus it was kind of pricey at $28 and for me had a gentle air of neglect. I freely admit my experience was tinged by my overall state of mind, but I wouldn’t stay there again. To be fair though, Deb and Steve spent several days there and really liked it.
The next day I was happy to leave, and we started out, soon hitting Idaho. I have been to Boise and really liked it and Idaho is definitely on my list of places to spend some time, but driving through the panhandle of Idaho is very hairy. There were several steep hills and one in particular that had a 6% grade and a 25 mph speed limit since it was so twisty turning. Even Lee was sweating it a little and I thought no way would I drive that particular stretch of road again. There are tons of campgrounds along the Snake river though and we saw lots of RV’s despite it being slightly out of season. We think it must be a great place to fish plus there are gold mines still in operation in the hills. It was interesting, mainly because we were roughly following the same trail Lewis and Clark took, but nothing I saw along the way made me want to stop and stay awhile. It was good when we hit Washington finally, because the roads got much better and the landscape started to broaden out a bit. We stopped at our very first Corps of Engineers park in Plymouth, Washington.
People have been raving about Corps of Engineer parks since we started the lifestyle and we have been eager to stay in one. They are reasonably priced, well laid out (sure engineers designed them), and overall considered the best for a place to stay if you run across one. I hate to say that my first COE experience was a bit disappointing. Yes, the park was easy to get in and out of, but again it had an air of neglect to it. There was a ton of dog poop in the field behind where we were, and although it was along a river you couldn’t actually see it because it was so overgrown by shrubs. There was also no access to the water that I could see so when I walked down to the edge the best I could see was the picture below. I was thrilled to have some services though and we hooked up to water and electric for the first time in weeks. We were also excited to see there was a sewer hook-up at the site, but when Lee inquired about it, turns out many of the sewer hookups are “broken” and our site was one of them. If this would have been a regular campground, I am sure my standards wouldn’t have been so high, but after all the hype it was a bit of a let down. The coolest part of the whole stay was the beautiful sunset we saw and for the first time I heard coyotes howling in the distance. That is an eerie sound and more than anything made me realize we were in the West now.
The next day the terrain really started to change and it was definitely more arid. I had heard that the eastern part of Washington, Oregon, and California was more arid and that was definitely the case. My experiences with Oregon and California have all been coastal so it was hard to reconcile what I was seeing with my view of those states as lush and green. In parts it was pretty though, but overall not my favorite terrain. I am hoping to like the desert when we get there, but this is not what I consider true desert, but rather arid landscape with lots of dead plants in it. It’s obvious there has been a drought, and I understand why there have been so many fires because all the vegetation was painfully dry. I did enjoy parts of Oregon though, particularly the Bend area. We stayed right outside of Bend in LaPine State Campground. LaPine was really nice. They have over 125 sites in multiple loops, over 80 with full hookups. Nice separation between sites and although it was wooded, it was not terribly overgrown. Several hiking trails, close to Bend which is a cool little town, and by far the nicest place we stayed on this trip. I thought the price was reasonable at $26 a night and although cell service for AT&T and Verizon was on the weak side we were able to get service with our booster. The only negative part of the experience was when we switched sites to a pull through. We checked with the hosts who were fine with it and moved to an available site that was a bit larger. We were just hooked up when a Class A drove up and a woman got out and said we were in her site. Apparently they had reserved the site for two days, missed yesterday’s date, but were here today. She was adamant that we were going to need to move, and frankly I was not in the mood for this. There were 40 other sites open in the place and the sign on the site we took had said it was available. She and I were about to square off over it, when thankfully her husband walked up and said he would look for another site. Full on rudeness is not something I have to deal with much in this lifestyle, but obviously it does happen. And I have zero patience for an entitlement attitude, which was coming off her in waves. Thankfully cooler heads prevailed and they moved two spots down to an almost identical spot and we were able to relax for the evening.
The next day we finally hit California. For the first time we had to stop at a mandatory checkpoint for both RV’s and Trucks. We were asked a cursory question about whether we were carrying fresh fruit, the answer was no as we had used the bananas up the other night, and were on our way. This part of California is also extremely arid and I could see the results of them being in such a bad drought. Now I know little about farming or the drought conditions, but I will say we saw numerous farms growing hay in August and they were using a serious amount of water to keep their fields green. Again, I am sure there are two sides to this story, but the contrast between the near desert-like ground that was not being tended and the green fields was a little startling. When we hit the Modoc Forest area though the landscape really changed. We were in rolling hills again and lots of evergreens. It was still incredibly dry though and we we were a little concerned when we saw a helicopter flying overhead carrying a large bucket underneath. We have never been exposed to forest fires like this, and when we saw the road was partially closed got concerned. It would have been extremely difficult to turn around, but luckily the firemen were on the job and they were close to putting out a fire that was right next to the road. There were at least 30 of them and I wanted to stop and thank them for their courageous service but of course we needed to keep driving as they were still working. We all know what a courageous job they have done this summer but seeing them at work, covered with soot was humbling. We all enjoy our park system and the work they have done to keep areas safe and open has been extraordinary.
Thanks to them we safely made it through Modoc Forest and then finally to Susanville. I will cover our arrival in my next post, but we are safe and sound and decompressing from our month of boondocking and traveling. Overall, at this point I would say that although Glacier was the experience of a lifetime, getting there and leaving was on the stressful side. Hopefully we will get better at moving around so much, but at this point I still prefer staying in a place for longer stints of time. We will see how I feel though after having exhausted everything to do in the Susanville area, but for right now I am really glad to be in one place and with full hookups.
Thompson Falls State Park Thompson Falls, MT 2 out of 5 pine cones
Very small state campground with 18 sites and no services. Some sites were very large and there was decent separation between sites. There is a train track nearby and a road, and there was some road noise and train noise. Dense tree cover, which is not optimal for solar, and the toilets are pit toilets. $28 a night when we stayed there. They have shelters and some group tent camping areas, but charge premium prices for them. It is on a beautiful river with a boat doc and there was a camp host who politely greeted us when we arrived, but the campground had a feeling of neglect. Close to a small town with some stores, but ATT and Verizon coverage was very weak.
Plymouth Park COE Campground Plymouth Park, WA 3 out of 5 pine cones
Multiple pull through sites with electric and water. Great pads with nice picnic tables and fire pits. There is a day use area with beach and boat launch, but no access to the river near the campground. Close to a small town and near a road with some traffic. Lots of dog poop throughout the grass area and the view of the river is totally obscured by overgrown shrubs and trees. Very strong Verizon and AT&T signal. $24 a night. Two sets of camp hosts on site who were friendly and obviously keeping a good eye on the campground. Fine for an overnight stay, but I wouldn’t choose to spend several days here.
LaPine State Campground 15800 State Rec RD, Bend OR 4 out of 5 pine cones
They have over 125 sites in multiple loops, over 80 with full hookups. Nice separation between sites and although it was wooded, it was not terribly overgrown. Several hiking trails, close to Bend which is a cool little town, and by far the nicest place we stayed on this trip. I thought the price was reasonable at $26 a night and although cell service for AT&T and Verizon was on the weak side we were able to get service with our booster. They would be a 5 but their reservation system is a little goofy and we had a problem with a site being double booked while we were there. I really liked it though and would go back for a longer stay.
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