Sunday, May 30, 2010

Any port in a storm

We are at the Wal-Mart in Colville, Washington (map). Yesterday turned out to be a longer drive than we had planned, which I suppose makes up for the several shorter-than-planned days before it.

This is, of course, a holiday weekend, and perhaps one of the biggest camping weekends of the year. So we knew finding parking would require a bit more effort than usual. We also knew we wanted to tank up on water early on, to give us more stopping options. Fortunately, as we rolled through Okanogan on 215, eschewing the more major US-97, we came upon the "Flying-B" truck stop (yes, "B"), which advertised a free RV dump.

We did not need the dump, but they had a spigot, and we filled up while chatting with the proprietor. Judging from the sign and the parking lot lights, the place has been there forever, but the c-store and fuel islands looked brand new. He told us they had just re-opened five months earlier, after demolishing the old station and building a whole new facility. He and his family were very pleasant and accommodating and we ended up making a token purchase of a nice bottle of Riesling in the store for taking 50 gallons or so of their water. We wish them much luck with the place -- these kinds of RV-friendly facilities are becoming rare.

We stopped again just up the road in Omak, at the Wal-Mart Super-Center there for supplies. It was 70° and sunny while we stopped, and we briefly thought about just staying, as it was already 3:30, but decided that was too short a drive. So we continued onward along Washington 20, which took us again into the forests and over Sherman Pass. Our directory said there was a lone Forest Service campground at the summit, and several pull-outs along the road where we could overnight.

The pull-outs were unappealing on the ascent, so we held out for the campground, knowing that it might well be full. Ha. It was completely empty. It would also have been free, with the iron ranger disabled and a note on the board about limited services. Even with snow blocking the day use parking lot of the adjoining scenic overlook, and also part of the campground road, we could see at least two spaces that we could reach and would accommodate Odyssey, and one of them had a view to the satellite. Free camping, by ourselves, in such an idyllic spot was very tempting.

Ultimately, though, it was now 45° and raining at the 5,000' summit elevation, and we were wistfully remembering the sunny warmth back down at the valley level. Realizing we would basically just spend the whole time in the warmth of the bus, and having to run the Webasto all night in near-freezing temperatures to boot, we decided to head down the mountain to warmer and perhaps drier climes below.

We did pass a few more pull-offs that might have been suitable, and in hindsight, we probably should have just taken one. But instead we headed all the way down to Roosevelt Lake (yes, the very same lake impounded by Grand Coulee Dam nearly a hundred miles downstream) where there is a Park Service campground. In stark contrast to the summit, this place was packed to the gills, with all 75+ sites full. (This cartoon captures the vibe perfectly. -Louise) Even if we could find an empty spot, these type of weekend conditions are unappealing to us, and we knew it was a long shot anyway, so we continued on through Kettle Falls (named for a feature now inundated by the lake) and into Colville, where we knew there was an Elks lodge with parking.

This Wal-Mart was closer to our route, and we spotted a restaurant across the street. It was past 6:30 by the time we parked, uncharacteristically late for us, and not having to cook after a long drive on mountain roads sounded like heaven. Tony's Ristorante, really just a fancy pizza and pasta joint with a beer and wine license, turned out to be a perfect fit, if a bit carb-heavy for us. Not only did we end up splitting a lasagna, but also a cheesecake, tossing our low-carb mantra right out the window.

In a few minutes will we continue east toward Sandpoint, Idaho. We first need to decide if we will continue on 20 and along the Pend Oreille, or instead head south on US395, cutting over to US2 at Deer Park.


  1. Sean -

    FYI, all the years I worked in the charter bus industry, I always used step stools commonly found in a medical office. I still have mine - it's a Brewer, but they're not cheap, currently about $90 or so. Extremely rugged, tho. (And don't ask me how many times I ran over a stool!! LOL)

    So, you might check a medical supply store in addition to other sources for your replacement.

    - RJ

  2. Sean, I'm just curious. You mentioned the drive might be "too short" or "too long." Are you actually heading someplace in particular? And if not, what *is* your usual m.o. when you don't have to be any place in particular? Itchy feet and the urge to move, or do you identify an interesting potential spot and make your way in that general direction? Inquiring full-time wannabees want to know!

    I loved Louise's cartoon! Thanks as always for sharing your journey.

  3. @RJ: Thanks for the suggestion. We've settled on this particular model step for two reasons. One is that it has two different height settings, and since the height of the door sill over the ground is variable (depending on how much we raise or lower that corner to level the bus), we need that flexibility. The other reason is that Louise needs the step, on its low setting, under her feet while we drive -- her seat is just a tad higher than mine and it's an uncomfortable stretch to the floor otherwise. A full-height step would be too big. Plus then we would need a different place to store the step.

    @Debbie: We are, indeed, heading someplace in particular. We are due at a conference in Minneapolis at the end of June. I've "planned" a full route to Minneapolis, generally following US2 across the very northernmost part of the country. From here, that's about 30 hours of wheel time, working out to an average of only 1:20 per day. Usually when we travel we prefer to drive no more than three hours per day. So that bounds the amount of driving we will do each day. When we get someplace where nice weather and a nice place to stay intersect, we will probably spend more than one night.

    Even though we often tell people we have no master plan or agenda, in practice, we end up putting things on our calendar that tend to dictate a general route and timing. Occasionally, we find ourselves adrift with no destination, as we did last fall as we waited in Arkansas at the start of a hurricane season that never happened. Ultimately we just decided that would be a good time to do the fall foliage tour of New England that we'd been putting off, and, poof, suddenly we had a destination and a schedule.

    We are very selective about what commitments we will put on our calendar. Generally the time and place needs to mesh with our overall sense of where we'd like to be in the country and how much driving will be involved to attend. Most commitments can be canceled if we get called to a disaster, and we try to stay within a couple day's drive of the hurricane belt from about mid-July through early November, the heart of hurricane season.


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