On The Trail

Devil's Gate at sunset

Devil’s Gate at sunset

Between 1843 and 1869 (when the railroad finally joined the west coast to the rest of the nation), 500,000 people rode horses, walked beside their wagon or pulled a handcart  by Devil’s Gate (in Wyoming) on their way to what is now Oregon, California and Utah.

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This summer we are camped right on this famous trail which we read about in our American Heritage classes as teenagers.

Our mission this summer is to tell thousands of visitors the stories of these pioneers.

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The Martin Handcart company, made up of over 600 European immigrants bound for the Salt Lake Valley, got a late start on the trail in 1856.  They were seeking refuge from religious persecution in their homelands. Because of their late start, and early snows in the high plains of Wyoming, over 150 of their group perished as they struggled to pull their carts through the snow and sub-zero temperatures.  During the worst of these storms they took shelter for five days in a cove just west of Devil’s Gate, now known as Martin’s Cove.

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On the trail from Martin’s Cove

These are touching stories of sacrifice which families made in order that their children and future generations could be raised in a place that would nurture and promote their religious freedom.

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Many of our visitors come in groups of 30-700 teenagers.  They set up in primitive camp sites, dress in 1850-era pioneer garb, pull handcarts and cross rivers: re-enacting to the best of their ability a small part of the journey their forebears made so that they can appreciate the heritage they enjoy as free people, and as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons).

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During their experience with us, these youth cover mile upon mile pulling their handcarts, fording rivers and thinking about their relationship with God, about what they truly believe, and how they will, in their own way, be pioneers of the next generation.

2016-06-14 09.06.45These are amazing youth!  They get it.  Wendy and I have been in awe of their dedication, their desire to learn and their pure goodness.  They give us hope for the next generation.  We feel so fortunate to be their mentors and guides.

  • Clay
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Things are Starting to Work!

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Winter sunrise over Camden Harbor, Maine

 

I can run again!  I’ve been hobbling around for a long time frustrated by hip and ankle issues.  But here in Maine I’ve had nothing better to do than to show up every day at Planet Fitness.  I start each workout with the back exercises I learned in physical therapy last summer to strengthen my core to support my spine.  Then I wander around and push, pull, lift and squat.  I’m an old guy, so nothing too serious.  The main thing is to show up.

Amazingly, the hip issues gradually have disappeared.  And as I’ve walked on the treadmill the ankle issues have dissipated as well.  Until one day last week I thought, hmmm, what would happen if I ran?  By the end of the week I had a pretty decent pace going on the treadmill.  What a victory!  I’m living pain-free through exercise.

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maple syrup on the rise

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Belted Galloways, Aldermere Farm, Camden

The Work Thing is Working Too.

One of the things we hoped for when we set out on our travel adventures was that Wendy would be able to pick up contracts to work a few months each year to pay our expenses for the remainder of the year.  We are pleased to say that our first foray in part-year work has been a great success — and sooooo much less stressful than owning our own medical practice. Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston has been a delightful place to work.

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Yes, there are moments when the “howler” (pager) goes off in the middle of the night.  This thing has a sound designed to split your brain.  And with it comes the stress of knowing that someone’s life may depend on Wendy’s decisions in the next few hours.  (That’s one aspect of being a doctor that Wendy will not miss when she retires.)  But we no longer have any worries about our employees, payroll or profits.  Physicians contract work is so much less stressful.  This work thing is working!

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A satisfied patient

We Have Been So Welcomed.

Can you believe we have had dinner with three different families in the few weeks we’ve been here in Maine?  At one dinner invite, a hardy woman told us stories about living in Eskimo villages at the Arctic Circle when her dad worked for the Canadian government. So, frigid winters in Maine are just mildly entertaining for her. Another night, we gathered with two other couples over a meal, and then had dessert from an authentic Italian bakery sampling decadent limoncello bars, chocolate truffle cake and eclairs while playing chicken foot dominos.  One of the wonderful things about being a Mormon is that wherever you go, you are welcomed as if you were family. And, as a part of that family, we’ve been given the opportunity to share in the work such as teaching classes, serving with the young missionaries and speaking in our church meetings.  We have been made to feel very comfortable here, greatly needed and wanted.  Gifts of homemade oatmeal bread, farm fresh chicken eggs and tasty pickled relishes have filled our stomachs and warmed our hearts.

-Clay

 

A Gift Freely Given

The most important things I choose to do in life, I do for free.  When you do something with no expectation of compensation, it says something.  It says you are sincere.  You may be misinformed or mistaken, but you are definitely sincere.

I have taken countless people flying, for free.  Why?  To share the joy of flight with them. To see the wonder and thrill of it in their eyes.  Check out this video of an adorable 4-year old getting her first airplane ride.  This is what I’m talking about!

Let’s go fly!

Although I was a Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) for many years and managed retirement portfolios, I much prefer using my experience and knowledge now to teach people to manage their own investments.  Imagining my friends becoming financially independent is reward enough.  I love investing.  And I so enjoy teaching those few souls who can catch the vision, and have the courage and clear thinking to take control of their own financial destiny.

Wendy and I have had a habit, our entire lives, of volunteering at church.  And we love it! I have had so many amazing adventures as a scout leader, a public speaker, a teacher, and a leader through these volunteer church assignments.  I’m convinced that I get far more out of these experiences than those I’m supposed to be helping.  I learn, I grow, and I feel satisfaction.

As Wendy and I looked at our schedule for 2016, we saw a great opportunity to volunteer this year.  So we went through the process (with the help of Bishop Jon Allen of the South Mountain Ward, and President Porter of the Phoenix Arizona Stake of our church) of applying to be senior missionaries for the Church of Jesus of Latter-day Saints. And Monday, January 18, we received a formal letter from President Thomas S. Monson, the President of our church, inviting us to serve for six months, beginning May 2, 2016.  He has assigned us to serve in the Wyoming Mormon Trail Mission.

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Trek group at Martin’s Cove starting their river crossing

 

What will we be doing?  Helping people understand and appreciate what it was like to walk with their families, pulling all their earthly belongings in a hand cart, 1300 miles from Illinois and Iowa to join other members of their faith in the desert of the Utah Territory during the years 1847-1868.  I love this history and am fascinated by what motivated these ordinary people to do such extraordinary things.

There are several historical sites where guests are led on treks, pulling hand carts to reenact and experience for themselves what the journey was like.  And there is also a visitor’s center where missionaries can tell the stories and show video reenactments.

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So that’s where we will be from May through October of this year.  Again, the most important things I do, I do for free.  And I’m looking forward to honoring these pioneers who helped build the character of our nation.  Freedom of religion and the desire to be with others of the same faith was so important to them, they gave up their homes and jobs, sold all that they had to pay for ship’s passage from numerous countries in Europe, to come to America.  Then they took ferries and trains to what was at that time, the western edge of the United States, in Iowa.  And from there they walked with their children to over 1,000 miles to the Salt Lake Valley. I expect to learn a lot from these pioneers as I dig into this part of our nation’s history.

More details to come once we get there and get our assignments.  It’s going to be a fun and meaningful year.

Clay

 

Just Slap Me!

Wendy and I love to take big leaps into new adventures.  One of our favorite movie scenes is when Indiana Jones must overcome the third of three trials of faith to reach the Holy Grail (cup of the Nazarene) by leaping from the mouth of the lion. Do you remember that scene?

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Well, Wendy and I have pictured that moment in our minds as we have held hands and taken that first step into the unknown together.  Marriage, first baby, Air Force, graduate school, second baby, medical school, building airplane, first flight, formation flying, selling house, closing medical practice, buying motorhome, going on the road.

Tomorrow, January 2, 2016, Wendy and I will hold hands and once again take a step into another new adventure.  We will board an airplane from beautiful sunny Tucson, AZ and at the end of the day we will arrive at our new digs for a 4-month stay in Lewiston, ME.  “ME” as in Maine (you know, that state that half-belongs to Canada).  We’re in shorts and sandals today.  Tomorrow, we’ll be in long underwear.  It will be a major shock to our bodily systems.

This transition reminds me of one of the brilliant stunts my high school buddy, Joe Young, pulled our junior year.  Four of us would get up every morning and play racquetball and lift weights at a club before school.  On this fine morning as we were all soaking in the hot tub after a hard workout, Joe said “Hey, let’s all get really hot in this hot tub and then run over there to the showers and take a super cold shower”.  We all looked at each other and said, “OK Joe.  You first”.  So Joe jumps out of the hot tub, turns on the cold water and we watched as he immediately keeled over like an ironing board.  Splat!  Out cold.  We thought he was dead.  It took a lot of face slaps before Joe came around — and he was messed up the entire rest of the day.

So Wendy and I are going to leave the Tucson hot tub and jump right into the Maine cold shower in the dead of winter.  Somebody get ready to slap me in the face!

 

 

You’re Going Where?!!

Let’s talk money for just a moment.

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Masteryourmoney.com

Our retirement fund has not yet caught up with our retirement ambitions.  And a significant portion of those funds are in IRAs, which we cannot use until we are 59 1/2 years old without paying a 10% penalty.  (We are in our mid-50’s, so we have several years before we plan to access the IRAs.)

Although our nomadic lifestyle is cheap, it still requires funding, and there is still RV maintenance (tires, batteries, engine), diesel fuel, food, cellular data, satellite and insurance (RV, car and health) to pay for.

Our plan has been to fund our adventures by working a few months each year and leave our retirement portfolio alone so it can continue to grow (my job).  

Work 4 months, play 8 months. We’re liking that scenario.

OK, so when I say “we” will continue to work, I’m using the royal form of “we”.  Wendy can make a ridiculous amount of money per hour as a surgeon, so our focus is on finding her work and I will tag along and try to be useful too (such as camp hosting, online-based jobs and working magic with the investments).

As with many professions, physicians have their own form of temp agencies.  And of course, because they are doctors, they felt compelled to come up with a highfalutin name for it, in latin of course.  They call it locum tenens (to hold the place of).

Wendy has been working with several of these agencies who have presented assignment options for 2016.

After very little discussion actually, we quickly chose our 2016 work assignment, which will start on January 4th in  (drum roll please……….) Lewiston, Maine.

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Lewiston, Maine (www.bates.edu)

Say what?!!!

So here’s how the conversation went.

I thought we might just hold off on working for 6 to 12 months to give Wendy a chance to rebound from the physical and emotional weight of being a surgeon after closing our practice in September.  She was so psychologically ready to be done.

But these last few months she was getting lots of calls from recruiters and she was starting to bounce around with excitement about the possibilities.  (I don’t understand Wendy, but it’s just how she is built.  She rebounds very, very quickly and she seems to have an unquenchable need for challenges.)

The single most important thing in choosing a work assignment is to select one that meets Wendy’s strengths.  Just like any other profession, there are specialties within specialties.  Wendy’s experience and strengths are a result of being a rural ENT doctor. She is an excellent clinician, meaning she is an expert detective.  She can figure out what’s wrong with you in a 15-minute appointment.  And, she can explain it to you so you understand, order the correct tests and then get you packed and shipped to the right sub-specialist to treat your problem. That is a rare gift.

Her skill set is different from most ENT’s located in urban areas.  They must typically sub-specialize into one or two areas.  So as we consider assignments, we will be looking for rural settings that need a clinician.

So what type of inZanity would cause us to apply for a job in Maine in January?

  1. It’s a perfect fit for her strengths as an ENT surgeon/clinician.
  2. She is ready for a new challenge.
  3. If you’re going to work, it really doesn’t matter where you are because there’s little or no time for play.
  4. They will pay us well to work in Maine in January.

So we said yes and they said yes and the recruiting agency is arranging for our paid housing, rental car, flights to and fro, etc. So, in January, Zane and Squirrel will go to an indoor motorhome daycare center in Tucson for the winter, anxiously awaiting our return in April.

 

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RV daycare center (National RV Central)

Wendy and I love being in a position to be so flexible.  One day we’re planning on living in the desert on BLM land for free from January through April, tromping around in sandals, to the next day where instead, we’re thinking snow shoes in Maine.  How cool is that?!

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Ft. Kent, Maine snow- winter 2007-8 (Kathy Berry)

Or rather, how Brrrrrrrr is that!

Clay

 

The oxen are slow, but the earth is patient

Carlsbad Caverns- worth the trip

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When I was a young girl we visited the caverns at Carlsbad. It left an impression on me– where else could you see such amazing formations and eat snacks in a cafeteria 700 feet underground?  I told Clay, “We HAVE to go to Carlsbad. The Caverns are what all other caves wish they could grow up to be.”

On Saturday, October 31, we drove up the flat ridge that comprises the national park property.  For this first trip into the cave, we chose to ride the elevator down, instead of the hour long, 1.5-mile trek down switch back trails through the natural cave entrance. We’ll save the natural cave entrance for one of next week’s adventures.

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2015-10-31 12.11.29We almost had the entire cave system to ourselves. With hand held audio guides, we wandered on paths through the Big Room (an enormous cavern the size of six football fields, 4000 feet long and 350 feet high), looking at the myriad formations. Strategic lighting illuminated fascinating features, but the cave was mostly left shadowed and silent.
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As each drop of mineral rich moisture frizzled down stalactites from the ceiling, forming daggers and crystals and curtains it also built up mounds, monsters, fairy creatures and goblins on the floor as stalagmites.  Drip, drip, over hundreds of thousands of years.

Time has no meaning in a cave like this. It just takes so very long to get things done. I was reminded of a phrase a Tibetan wise man told an impatient American pilot in the Tom Selleck movie, High Road to China, “The oxen are slow, but the earth is patient.”

Yes, she certainly took her time with these caverns, and I’m so glad she did.

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Bats and more bats, Oh My!

Tonight (Halloween) was the very last Ranger led bat flight program at dusk for the year. How lucky was that! Quite soon, the bats will migrate to warmer climes for the winter.  The bat flight program was scheduled to start at 5:45 pm so the ranger could be done before the bats flew at dusk. We got to the amphitheater at the natural cave entrance at 5pm. Good thing we did, because the bats started coming out right at that moment.  (The bats keep their own schedule and apparently don’t check with the rangers.)

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Postcard view from inside the cavern looking out at a bat flight

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Flying completely silent, there were suddenly swarms of Mexican free-tail bats rising out of the funnel shaped cave mouth, spiraling upwards in a counterclockwise vortex.  Wave after wave of bats arose then shifted into straight flight, regrouped in a hovering swarm of a few hundred bats, and then each group took off East looking for the nearest river to eat beetles and moths.

Although the outpouring of bats was constant, each flight separated from the next group to come out, like every bat knew exactly which squadron it belonged to.

The rangers estimate there are 400,000 bats in this colony.  They migrate during the late fall to warmer climes in Central and South America.

After they arrive at Carlsbad in the Spring, a mother bat gives birth to one offspring. For the first 4-7 weeks, they are left alone in their nursery during the night time hunt, clinging to the roof of the cave waiting for the moms to return (don’t loose your grip, Skippy!).  Although the mother bat calls to her individual pup, the first one to approach gets her milk.

As we watched the silent ballet, a huge hawk, taking advantage of the sheer mass of bats, swooped in and snatched a meal. He snapped up the tender bits for a few minutes and then tried for another one.  He caught four more bats before the flight was over.

About thirty minutes into the constant outpouring of bats we started hearing chirps in the air, like the bats were talking. No, it was the cave swallows, really miffed that they had arrived too late to get back into the cave for the night before the bats started flying out.  The swallows had to wait their turn for thirty more minutes before the bats finished their exit.  So the swallows satisfied themselves by swooping around in anger and hassling the exiting bats.

After an hour, as the sun was setting in the western sky with rosy red and gold and the eastern sky was bathed in blue and pink, the bats were gone.

Happy Halloween!

Wendy

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Get Along, Little Dogies

Free at Last!

After 13 days in OKC, we finally got back on the road Tuesday, October 27. Whew! The last week was spent trying to fix a glitch caused by an engine computer update, which they didn’t charge us for.  But it does cost to live in a motel and eat out every meal. And yes the repair bill was a Zooiinng, but Zane is working great and starts up right away now.

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Farewell, Oklahoma! 

Then we drove south to Aledo, Texas (near Dallas/Ft. Worth) and the Cowtown RV Park for one night, so we could go to dinner at a cajun restaurant with my brother Mark Walton and his wife, Christy who live in nearby Saginaw. It was lovely to see them and to have our rig back!

Wednesday, we scooted down to Abilene, Texas and Wally-Docked (boondocked overnight in a WalMart parking lot). We realized that staying for free in truck stops and rest areas meant we were using our generator for the entire time (15 hours) and that added up in diesel fuel costs. Maybe WalMart would be quiet enough to just leave the generator off and open the windows. It worked out fine. Cheaper boondocking. Oh yeah, now the expenses are coming down.

Thursday, the next morning, I was anxious to see the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature Museum, which Clay so graciously found on TripAdvisor.com (things to do in Abilene, Texas)- wasn’t that sweet of him?  I love, love, love children’s book art. So we found the museum, walked up to the door, and discovered it was closed due to ceiling repairs. Drats and disappointment.

The consolation prize was the Frontier Texas! Museum. Neat displays and hologram images of characters from the old west and the conflicts between the buffalo hunters who wiped out the herds and the Comanche horse culture that depended on the buffalo for their way of life.  We learned some things and had fun doing it.

On we rolled in the afternoon.  We passed endless fields of ripe cotton and bales the size of huge trucks, oil rigs and windmill farms on our way to Hobbs, New Mexico for another Wally-Dock.  Because we have a big fridge and great food, we never eat out for any meal. And the Hello Fresh recipes are amazing.  The grilled chicken breast with peach and spinach leaf salad and garlic/olive oil toasted baguette croutons was so tasty and refreshing after a long day.

Carlsbad For Now

Friday we arrived in Carlsbad, New Mexico, our stay put destination for the next few weeks to a month. So tickled to be out West!  I keep clapping my hands like a little kid.

We had looked on the ALLSTAYS app for BLM (Bureau of Land Management) places to boondock without fees or hook ups of any kind. Our goals for this first extended boondocking experience are to:

  1. Spend no money.
  2. See how long we can live on our 161 gallon water and dump tanks before we have to refill and dump.
  3. See how long we can live on our 6 massive AGM Lifeline batteries before we need to crank up our generator to replenish them.
  4. Be completely alone.

(We’ll let you know how it turns out in a later post.)

Being new to this BLM dispersed camping routine, we drove 20 miles down the road to the first option as it appeared on the app, unhooked our toad (Jeep) to investigate the road condition and any potential problems. These are not official campsites– just pull off areas alongside dirt roads people have used for years and then told others about.  Although it looked like the perfect camping spot on the satellite views, the Dark Canyon area had piles of gravel blocking every entrance. Curses, foiled again.

Plan B: Go to the BLM office in Carlsbad and see where else we could camp.  Mr. Goodbar of the BLM graciously spent time with us, marking a survey map with potential spots we could try.  He was very enthusiastic and helpful.  With some hope, but not much confidence, we set out again in our Jeep, 25 miles out of town, off the main road and over a cow guard onto an unmarked two track hard pack dirt road.  About a mile or so driving through the desert over a rise and down again, we found a parallel pull off that would work great, and then drove further until we found a well head (natural gas?) with a cleared out areas for large trucks to turn around. Should work for Zane!

We drove back to get the RV and a heavy duty brush clipper from the hardware store. I got into my long sleeve work shirt, pants, boots and gloves and drove the toad up the dirt track, with Clay following in Zane, stopping every thirty feet to cut back thorn bushes with 1 1/2 inch long wicked thorns that might stick to the tires or scratch the paint until we got to our site.  It took about five hours to get this all done from the time we arrived in Carlsbad.

This is a good spot!  The coach cockpit faces South, with sun rising at the East-facing head of our bed and the sun setting at the foot of our bed over the low ridge of Guadalupe Mountains out the West-facing living room window.  We placed our lawn chairs on a mat and sat down in the hot sunshine. Home Sweet Desert.

You cannot see the rig from the highway, which we like, and we are surrounded by low desert scrub and cacti as far as you can see in all directions.

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Zane in her native habitat

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No neighbors

 

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There is no noise, no wind, no sound except the other night, about 3 in the morning, cool air through the open windows carried the spooky call of a coyote very close to the RV. Aaawwwwoooooooooooooo.

Next up: Carlsbad Caverns and Bats!

Wendy