Secrets, Miners and Gunfights! Part Two

Bisbee, Arizona:  Attitude with Altitude

 

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Spending a year in Bisbee as a 5th grader was a neat experience.  When I wasn’t rabbit hunting in the hills with biggest brother Creed, or listening to the mountain lion eat brother Mark’s pet rabbit on the carport, I hung out with my best friend Gigi, an 11 year old raspberry snuff-chewing cowgirl whose father worked in the Copper Queen Mine, Lavender Pit.

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Lavender Pit, Copper Queen Mine (credit:www.galenfrysinger.com)

We had great adventures together on her family’s small cattle ranch or shopping at the Phelps Dodge Merchantile Company store, where Gigi was allowed to put the snuff purchase on her dad’s store credit.  It was a different time.

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Greenway Elementary School with mountains of mining tailings dumped behind it.

Crumbling Victorian homes still cling to the steep hillsides of the mining town with 1880’s buildings and the ghostly memories of tawdry red light districts and the dangerous saloon crowds of Brewery Gulch.

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Brewery Gulch: guns, muck, fights, loose morals and hard liquor

 

Come to find out, my mother’s family had history here.  Her father, Willard White, was born in Bisbee in 1910 when his father, uncle and maternal grandfather worked in the Copper Queen mines.

As a young girl, I knew Willard’s mother, Laura Edna Brizzee White Lee and loved her dearly.

Great Grandmother Laura and son Willard White, with impish grin.

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Laura and Willard- Bisbee Arizona hills in the background

 

This time, as I strolled through the quaint streets of Bisbee, I pictured Laura in a prim starched white blouse with long skirt and hat, looking in these same shop windows or reading a book in the old library that is still being used today.

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The library is on the second floor of the building on the left

 

There are tons of stairs throughout the town going from street to street at they climb the hills.

The mine shut down in 1975, just 3 years after we left Arizona.  That was tough on Bisbee and the town nearly died until the hippies, looking for cheap drugs from the nearby Mexican border towns, moved in with their VW vans, free love, guitars and dogs and resuscitated the economy.

Talented artists, shops and tourists soon followed and now the town is back with a new, funky vibrance.

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From what I have observed of the native inhabitants, this motto seems about right.

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I spent time at the mining museum library finding some relatives names in the payrolls and town directories, then we took the Copper Queen Mine underground train tour with Clay’s sister Teri and brother-in-law Doug Cole (who came down for the day from Phoenix).  It’s so nice to see relatives and friends!

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Doug and Teri Cole, looking dapper in Day-Glo vests and stylish hard hats

After taking the old-fashioned work train deep into the mine, I pictured my Great Grandpa Charles Thomas White and Great-Great Grandpa Henry Willard Brizzee, Jr. using faint candlelight to pinpoint the swinging of their sledge hammers against a heavy round iron tamping bar over and over to create a 2 foot deep hole in the granite.  When they had 20 such holes clustered close together in the rock face, they would load each with dynamite, light it up and scurry away.   Each blast created 30 tons of rubble which they would shovel out in choking dust before hammering holes again to repeat the process.  Dangerous, hard work, but it paid well.

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Hey, I work with my hands, too– just not hundreds of feet underground!

As I stood exactly where my ancestors had worked under such brutal conditions,  I felt some tender nostalgic roots find their way through the hard rock into fertile ground.

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Copper Queen Mine train entrance

 

Stay tuned for Part Three– Gunfights!

— Wendy

Secrets, Miners and Gunfights! Part One

Moving Targets

Caveat:  Our blog was originally conceived to be a way to connect with our sweet grandkids, Eric and Hazel, since we don’t get to spend much time with them.  And to keep our kids, Jesse (Terri) and Caroline apprized of where our wheeled home was currently residing, in case they wanted to visit.  We share pictures, stories, geography, geology, history, church missions, adventures and love. Hopefully, our extended family and friends enjoy it as well!  This particular blog series is about Wendy Walton’s family history, before she became a Smith.

I’m not often nostalgic, but Clay and I spent the month of April, 2018 around Bisbee, Arizona and it made my heart gooshy (that’s a Latin medical term for soft and squishy).  Nostalgia doesn’t often bubble to the surface because it seems like I’ve never been in the same place twice during my lifetime.

Thanks to my Dad’s career and our current nomadic lifestyle, it practically guarantees new scenery all the time with no backtracking.

In 1968, when I was 7 yrs old, my father was offered an active duty army assignment, which meant he could finally quit working 4 jobs at the same time to pay the bills (including high school French teacher, counselor at a juvenile detention center, grocery clerk and reserve army major).

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Denzil Ree Walton, at the start of his army career

Major Walton was asked to attend Command and General Staff College in Leavenworth, Kansas– a rare honor especially for a reservist, with the next orders after that being assigned to Intelligence headquarters in Saigon during the Vietnam War.

One of his C&GS classmates was Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. who later became a general and commander of United States Central Command, leading all coalition forces in the Gulf War.  It was a prestigious opportunity for Dad.  We met lifetime friends there, including Blaine and Clarice Jensen and Al and Laura Morris and all their wonderful children.

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Although Dad could never talk specifically about his top secret work in Vietnam, we knew he was the French speaking secret military advisor for the Cambodians fighting the Khmer Rouge when the US government was denying they had any personnel in that country.  He sent daily briefings to General Abrams and President Nixon during that time.

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We were living in Laie, Hawaii when Dad returned from Vietnam 13 months later- safe, tan and handsome. It was the first time I can remember crying tears of actual joy.  It still happens when I look at this picture.

 

We were then stationed at the Military Intelligence School in Fort Holabird, Maryland. From sunny Hawaiian beaches to December on the Chesapeake Bay, freezing our flower leis off!

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But that next summer of 1971,  the entire Intelligence Command operation was moved 2300 miles to the isolated outpost of Fort Huachuca, Arizona, near the Mexican border.

Like the old time land grabs, the Walton clan was one of 500 families set to race directly across the country to snatch up the limited housing options near the new headquarters.  But instead, my parents decided to take a month camping in our tent trailer on a leisurely drive west across Canada, then down through Washington, Oregon and California. Upon arrival, there was no more housing near the post, so we found a wonderful hacienda style home in the old mining town of Bisbee, 30 miles southeast of the fort.

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April of 2018 was the first time I had been back to the area in 46 years.  Clay and I spent a lovely day touring the museums at Fort Huachuca and seeing the history that unfolded when the Military Intelligence schools arrived.

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What did my Dad work on at Fort Huachuca?

[credit: classtools.net]

 Shhhhhh!  It’s probably still a secret.

Clay and I enjoyed the Military Intelligence Museum and while walking out the door into the warm Arizona sunshine, I felt the overwhelming presence of my Dad right there, smiling and happy, looking over my shoulder at his old stomping grounds.

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The Walton family spent 1968-1977 scurrying around the country while Dad was on active duty.  Because we usually moved in the middle of the school year, I had 13 notches on my school transcript belt (even though I skipped my junior year and graduated early).

While Dad was stationed at Fort Monroe, Virginia, he also served as the Bishop of our congregation, which was also a confidential job, where people came to him with their problems and concerns.

Mom: How was your day at work, Dear?

Dad:  Great!

Mom:  How was your evening at church, Dear?

Dad: Great!

I don’t think they had many substantive conversations over the years.

The last time I moved with my parents was to Southport, Indiana.  In the middle of my senior year of high school. During the Blizzard of 1978.  Welcome to the midwest.

But, the miracle is, I met Clay there in the few brief summer months when he was home from college before he left to serve his two year mission for our church. So I’m not complaining!  If you ever feel the Lord does not know where you are, just remember He has GPS: God’s Positioning System.

When the army ended his active duty assignments, Dad worked at whatever civilian jobs he could find (who needs a white-haired French speaking secrets keeper?) until he could finally retire from the reserves as a full Colonel with 32 years of service.

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Colonel Denzil Ree Walton in full medal regalia, with the Intelligence pin on the left lapel.

 

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Military Intelligence pin.  I have one on my charm bracelet to remember his service.

 

Walton family picture Spring 2000

The Waltons, Spring 2000. Back row: Mark, Kerry, Jean, Ree. Front row: Creed, Wendy

Dad died in Greenwood, Indiana at the age of 71 in April 2001, in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease, two months before I completed my Otolaryngology residency training.

When Heavenly Father suddenly called his son home, the Colonel saluted smartly and said, “Yes, Sir!

Never once questioning his newest orders.

I am so proud of my father– an honorable, gentle, intelligent, hard-working, funny guy who loved his Savior, his loyal wife, his four kids, his grandchildren and his country with the heart of a true patriot.

I’m beginning to think the spirit world is kind of like his secret military jobs, because he hasn’t told me what happens on that side of the veil, either!

Stay tuned for Part Two- Miners.

–Wendy

RESET

Farewell my Lovely

2018-04-25_14-54-22_371In April 2018, we rolled Zane (our motorhome) into an impossibly tight spot between evergreens at a beautiful little RV Park in Show Low, Arizona for what we thought would be a month’s stay.

If you’re in Casa Grande, Arizona in April, it starts to get hot, really hot in the desert.  But at 6,350 feet elevation, Show Low is perfect.  Ahhh.  Time to relax and explore the area.

But after a week of cool relaxation, there was something rattling around in my mind that needed resolution.  The “rattle” had to do with our finances.  When we bought our beautiful 2004 Newell motorhome in 2014 we were making significant income and our plan was to retire with $X in the bank at some future time.

Fast forward to 2018 and our plans had changed.  We were now officially retired, significantly earlier than we had originally planned and with ½ $X in the bank.

Hmm.

When Wendy indicated in June 2017 that she was done, done, DONE with her medical career (but would still finish out her 6 month Eureka California contract),  I quickly began to adjust our investment portfolio so that I could pluck every piece of fruit (dividends) out of it without chopping down the orchard (stocks).  Then I created a budget based on that annual dividend income and we began living on that projected amount while she finished her last 6-month assignment. And we kept to our new, leaner, meaner budget.

Freedom is a wonderful thing.  It feels great!  But financial freedom requires some sacrifices.  If we were going to be done working, we would have to stay within this new budget.

And the one thing that was rattling around in my brain was the fact that Zane had a habit of requiring costly repairs.  She’s an older coach.  She has a massive diesel engine.  No, make that TWO massive diesel engines; one to drive her and another in the PowerTech generator which produces 20 kilowatts of electricity (enough to power a motorcoach and a house at the same time).  Everything in her is high end, including a Sub Zero fridge that keeps requiring $800 repairs, would cost $12,000 to replace, is custom built into the cabinet walls, and no appliance repair guy wants to work on it.

In the four years we have lived in Zane, we’ve budgeted $12,000 per year in maintenance and upgrades. And every year we blow through that $12,000 budget.  Like the Roadrunner zooming past Wile E Coyote.  Beep! Beep!

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[credit:Warner Brothers via twistedsifter.com]

How could we remain financially free (live within our budget) with this budget-busting motorhome?

Hmm.

But we love her so much!

One day, Wendy and I are sitting outside under the pine trees when in rolls a gold Ford F-350 pulling a 5th wheel into the spot next to us.  It looked very —nice! I turned to Wendy and said, “I could do that.”  (Meaning, I could imagine us trading down to a truck and 5th wheel.)  Next thing, Wendy and I are making new friends, taking a test-drive in their pickup (smooth ride, not clunky and mean-spirited like big trucks I had driven before) and walking through their spacious 5th wheel.

Hmm.

With a new pickup truck and 5th wheel we could cut our yearly maintenance budget to $2,000, or maybe even lower.  Especially since a new one would have a 1-2 year all-inclusive warranty! And by selling the motorhome, we could buy the truck and 5th wheel with a significant amount of equity left over to provide more cushion in our bank account.

Just for grins, let’s throw in the decrease in RV insurance:  $733 a year for a 5th wheel instead of $4700 for the Newell.  That’s a big, huge, whopping incentive to re-think this whole motorhome issue.

Hmm.

Do I love my freedom more than I love my motorhome?

The answer is a resounding “YES”!

Time to press the RESET button.

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credit:ThisTimeIMeanIt.com

Once the decision was made, Wendy went into action.  She is amazing!  She loves these types of challenges.  Ergo:

  • Where and how do we sell the motorhome? At what price?
  • Which 5th wheel should we buy?
  • New or used?
  • How do you determine which truck to buy? F250? F350? Single rear or dual rear wheel axle?
  • How do you manage the logistics of moving your stuff from a motorhome to a 5th wheel?
  • Should we wait to buy a truck & 5th wheel until the motorhome sells? Or should we cash out some investments to cover the cost and then reimburse the investment account after the motorhome sells? Or should we (No, don’t say it) borrow for the truck & 5th wheel until the motorhome sells?

At the time, these questions were almost overwhelming.  But we’ve dealt with much bigger challenges, so we could handle this one.  Here’s how we ordered our thinking:

  1. Research 5th wheels.  When we bought the Newell we had researched motorhomes using www.rvreviews.net, which is an independent reviewer for recreational vehicles, similar in nature to Consumer Reports. So we got their guide for 5th wheels and began to pour over the reports.  We were looking for a 4-season, high quality product for full-time living.  Answer: DRV, followed by Redwood and then Grand Design.  We’d have to look at them and see where the price point / quality met our comfort zone.
  2. Where can we find some 5th wheels to look at? We can go anywhere in the United States to look, but let’s start where we intend to sell the motorhome.  So we set off for the Dallas, Texas area and unloaded all of our earthly possessions into a 10’ x 10’ storage unit.
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    Our few earthly possessions.  Something of which to be proud.

    Then we put eyes on some 5th wheels and selected a brand new 2017 DRV that had been sitting on the lot for over a year (the 2019s were coming in and they were ready to deal!).  We negotiated a great price with the full 2-year warranty.  We gave them a couple weeks to clean up some issues we found before we would come back to pick up the 5th wheel (by which time we hoped to have a truck with which to pull it).

  3. Where to sell the motorhome? That was pretty easy for us.  Motorhomes of Texas (MOT) sells used high-end motorhomes like our Newell and they draw buyers from all over the continent into their little town of Nacogdoches, Texas. What an amazing experience.  It took less than an hour.  We signed consignment papers with them, they suggested a listing price we liked, and the coach went immediately into their shop for a thorough review.  Their technicians were highly skilled and their service was reasonably priced.  They polished, spiffed it up, took pictures, video and advertised it on their website as well as on RVTrader.  Our experience with Motorhomes of Texas has been excellent!
  4. Next up, lose the Jeep and buy a truck. It’s important to identify the 5th wheel before you pick the truck so you know what pulling capacity you need.  Or be extremely realistic about what your current truck can haul.  The DRV is well built (a.k.a. heavy).  So we did the research and  determined we needed an F-350 Duly.  And thank goodness Wendy’s sister Kerry is married to Jeff who retired from Ford and was kind enough to give us the magic code for family to purchase a Ford for a killer price (Thank you Jeff).  With all these moving parts it just was not practical to try to sell the Jeep on our own so we traded it in as part of the transaction.
  5. So now we’re driving this big Ford beast and it’s surprisingly comfortable and quiet. 2018-06-12 Ford F-350We headed back to Dallas, picked up our DRV, loaded it with our stuff from the storage unit, and off we go.  We also went to the Cat Scale at a truck stop and went through the rigamarole to weigh the truck and fifth wheel using the workbook page in our B&W Hitch instruction booklet to calculate the final weight.  We are not overweight! Those who do chose not to weigh, do so at their own safety and insurance risk should their rig and truck go turtle.  And, you really should know if that bridge tonnage limit will hold before you try to cross it.
  6. We chose to buy the truck and 5th wheel using credit as a temporary stopgap until the sale of the motorhome. We HATE being in debt and it pained us every month to make payments, most of which was interest.  Interest is just — poof — money down the hole.  But it provided us the convenience of staying on the road (and visiting lots of family that summer) while we waited for the right buyer for the motorhome.  And wait we did.  We put our Newell up for sale in May 2018 and she did not sell until January 2019.

So that was our RESET. And it feels like we made an excellent decision.  Yes we loved the Newell.  It was a sweet ride!  There is nothing like rolling down the road sitting way up high and watching the world roll by in a Newell, with the massive semi-tractor engine 45 feet behind you.  You just have to experience it to appreciate it.  We miss her.  But she was demanding.  Her complex systems required constant maintenance and money.

Meet Zane Too.  Our 39 foot, 2017 DRV Mobile Suites 38RSSA.

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Uuuhhh… which way do we tow this thing?? There’s gotta be a manual around here…

We chose to make Zane Too as simple as possible, with no washer/dryer or generator.  Just pull her to the next RV park and plug into the power pole. The truck’s alternator charges the house batteries as we go down the road to keep the residential fridge contents cool.

I find myself with much more free time because I don’t have anything to fix on her.  And our budget is much happier with Zane Too.  And we remain free.

Life is soooo goooood!

~ Clay

 

What’s Your Uniform of the Day?

I just to have to say — I’m completely and totally relaxed. The stress level meter is barely registering.

One indicator of chillness is the UOD (uniform of the day). This is a military term. When I was in the Air Force, each day the base commander would dictate the UOD. Would it be dress blues with jacket and ribbons, or full-on camouflage? Whatever it was, don’t get caught out of uniform (a.k.a. wrong outfit). Make sure your ‘gig-line’ was straight, ribbons aligned, etc.

After the military I moved on to the private sector in the financial industry. There the UOD was full-on suit and tie each day. I had my closet full of Brooks Brothers suits. Then one day the world changed and the CEO said, “We’re going business casual.” No more power suits. No more coat and tie body armor. Somehow we survived the shock of it.

So what’s the UOD in retirement? What tough decisions do I face each morning when I look in the closet? It’s down to this folks: tuck or untuck. Oh, and I have two different hats to choose from. Retirement rocks. Tuck or Untuck

Retirement 3.0

I haven’t personally contributed to the blog lately– Clay has done all the heavy lifting. He does such a good job with painting word pictures.  Yay, Clay!  But I have a great excuse:

I am too busy reading novels.

On my floaty thingy.

In an 80 degree pool.

Being truly and completely retired now (which is supposed to mean there are more hours in the day),  I’m back on the blog road again.  This time, giving my impressions of Retirement 3.0 (as in 3 months since my official last day of work).

On our motorhome bookshelf, sits “The Escape Plan” binder.  Its maroon cover is faded from years of fondling, perusing, journaling and researching.

Not everyone has an escape plan in life. That big red ejector seat button riiigggghhhhttt under their finger (“Don’t pusha da button!!!” as our son Jesse used to say, after he willfully pushed the elevator Emergency Stop button and the ear-splitting klaxon of alarms scared the soup out of him).

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We like pushing da button.

And we were feeling the urge to un-merge from our current lifestyle and change things up dramatically.

Clay and I would look each other in the eyes after a particularly trying day, week or month and desperately say,

“You and Me . . . right?”

Since the answer was always a heartfelt resounding, “Yes!”  then it didn’t really matter what storm or life quake was currently happening.

Our mantra became (because we were thinking of moving to a Spanish speaking country such as Uruguay or Ecuador), “Vayamos, muy muy legos, sin los pantalones.”  Loosely translated: “Let’s go far, far away, without long pants” (nice weather all the time, wearing shorts and flip flops).

The true germination of this wild idea came in March of 2012, on a piece of lined notebook paper, “The Start of It All”.

Our original questions was, “What do we actually want to do when we retire?”

I adore, love, can’t get enough of world travel. Packing for a plane trip makes me grin. Having a passport gives me wings.  Settling into a cruise ship melts my bones. Being somewhere I’ve never seen before makes my pulse quicken (in a good way– not like an anxiety attack). Picking up phrases in another language is a game for me (Please. Thank you. No thank you. Don’t touch me. Left, Right. I don’t speak your language. Do you speak English? Where is the toilet?).  Learning about other cultures and art from a knowledgable native tour guide is like taking a mini-college course and I suck it up like chocolate milk.

Clay also likes to travel, but really loves being in any allergy-free season/zone so he can be completely engaged in what’s going on around him.

I have spent the past 27 years of my life studying to become a physician, going through residency, solo surgical practice and temporary medical assignments on the road. It’s who I am and what I do.  A few years ago, Clay asked me, “I know you are ready to retire, but what are you going to do with yourself to keep fresh, alive, fulfilled and entertained when you’re no longer wrapped up in life as a doctor?”

“You mean, after I sleep for 6 months?”

“Of course.”

“I will be a writer!”  The idea popped into my brain as a full-fledged Aha! moment.  I have children’s book ideas, young adult fiction, medical memoirs and this blog.  Our daughter Caroline introduced us to Scrivener (www.literatureandlatte/scrivener) a word processing program for authors that organizes writing of any sort and gets it ready for publication.  Thanks, Caroline!

And Clay will continue to do what he has been doing:  thoroughly enjoying doing investment research analysis. When he’s not writing his thoughts down or studying astronomy, astrophysics and history.

So we’ve pushed da button.  And virtually every day since, we have a moment when we look at each other and just giggle with delight at our new-found freedom.  We’re flapping our arms and flying away!!!!

-Wendy

Merry Christmas from Tucson

Wendy and I rolled into Tucson Wednesday (Dec. 20, 2017) after spending 6 months in Eureka, California where Wendy completed a work contract for St. Joseph’s Hospital.

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Hmm. Let me just root around in there.

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Surgery co-workers in Eureka

We’re in our pajamas today, but if motivation overcomes us we might change into shorts and bicycle to the store to pick up a few groceries.

Then again, we might just stay in our pajamas because —– (drum roll please) —- we’re officially retired.  Wohoo!  Can you believe it?  On Friday, December 15th, 2017, Wendy saw her last patient.  That’s it and that’s all.

So, on to our next life.  Time to once again reinvent ourselves.  We’ve done this reinvention thing so many times in our lives.  We think up a goal, we research it, we talk about it incessantly, and then if we like what we imagine, we jump in with both feet.IMG_7066

We’ve actually been transitioning into full retirement for several years.  It started decades ago when we became serious about becoming financially independent.  It accelerated 5 years ago when we hired a consultant who asked us lots of questions and helped us envision our future retirement and helped us identify the interim goals needed to get there.

It helps that I have been a lifelong investor.  One core principle I learned at a young age: To become financially independent, you need to be a business owner (i.e., stock holder).  So rather than being the guy who hires/fires employees and invents products and manages services and sweats over the details, you need to be the guy that provides the capital for the business, which in turn manages the people who hire, invent, manage and sweat.  Their work each day produces the income (dividends and interest payments) that we now live on.  And we are very grateful for their daily efforts.

What are we going to do in retirement?  First of all, we’re going to rest.  This first year in particular we’re going to enjoy the simple things that we’ve been too busy to appreciate.  The simple mindfulness that comes from enjoying each day.  I will continue to study history and astrophysics.  Wendy will see if her creative desire to write stories and illustrate her children’s books returns.

Most importantly, we’re going to goof off.  And we’ll continue to improve our health.  Over the past six months, Wendy and I have developed the habit of walking about 3 miles each day.  It takes about an hour.  We listen to books as we walk and enjoy nature.

Northern California had some amazing scenery to walk through from canyons of ferns to  giant redwood forests to spectacular and remote beaches.  We’ve both lost weight this year, so whatever we’re doing seems to be working.

In 2018, our first year of retirement, we’re going to travel, but not too fast.  Here’s our travel plan for 2018:

Be sure to honk and wave as we roll by.  And if you want to hang with us when we’re in your neighborhood just send us an email or text.

MERRY CHRISTMAS to all of our family and friends!!!

– Clay

Time to Bolt!

Our coach is an amazing creature which provides us with mega comfort.  No matter where we explore in the U.S., we always come home to our comfy pillow and pick up where we left off in our novel or watch something on one of our satellite TVs.  No more hotels for us.  We LOVE this lifestyle and we love our coach.

Bedroom

The sleeping quarters of our comfy little castle.

But when our coach has a hiccup, solving the problem can be a real adventure.  Anyone who has a coach knows that there is always a list of things to be looked at or repaired.  Early on, most of our issues were “How in the world does this widget work?”

Let’s face it, this is a complex machine.  A house that rolls down the bumpy road.  Someone once said that if 80% of the stuff works 80% of the time, be happy.  That’s the approach we take.  We fix what we can and live with things that aren’t perfect until we get back to the factory for maintenance once a year.  But sometimes something really important requires that you change your plans and get it fixed — stat!

Uh Oh.  Big Problem!

In February we had such an issue.  Our furnace went out.  Not good when you’re wintering in the Pacific Northwest!  Our furnace is an Aquahot system.  The Aquahot circulates hot liquid to provide:

  • heat to each of five zones (front, middle, bedroom, bathroom and basement of the coach)
  • Engine pre-heat
  • Continuous hot water for ultra-hot, endless showers

The Aquahot can use either electricity (from our generator or a 50-amp service pole) or diesel (from our 238 gallon fuel tank), or both to heat the water.  It’s a complex, whiz-bang system that we absolutely love.  But after 12 years, she had sprung a leak and the Aquahot factory told me — “gotta replace it.”

Shower

We can stand in our shower all day long with our endless hot water and de-stress from our stressless life.

So we patched her up as best we could and headed to the factory to have the furnace replaced.  One thing we have come to realize is that, although it is never convenient to go to the Newell factory in Miami, Oklahoma, it’s where she was born.  And those folks are the only ones on God’s green earth who really know how to fix her and provide the right maintenance.  Since Newell only makes 24 custom coaches each year, no other maintenance shop has seen enough of them to really know what they’re doing.  And the longer a shop takes to figure out this beast, the more we pay for their service.  It seems that anything we have ever had done to our coach by someone other than Newell, had to be undone and redone by the Newell factory.  And the factory hourly rate is lower than most other service shops we’ve been to.  So I think we have finally learned our lesson.  We go to the factory.  It’s cheaper.  They provide better customer service, and they’re much faster because they know what they’re doing.

Time to haul rear!

Up until now, we’ve not had a reason to drive hard.  We typically get on the road by 10am and off by 3pm, with a lunch in between.  Why hurry?  But in this case, who wants to lally-gag across Wyoming in the wintertime?  It was darn cold and we had furnace issues.  So we covered 2,400 miles in four days.  We can really haul when we need to!Hurry to the Factory

It was actually a fun trip.  Quite an adventure.  Our big concern was Wyoming, land of the big winds and snow.  And, true to form, we had to stop in western Wyoming for the night at a truck stop (Little America) because I-80 was closed across Wyoming.  First thing in the morning I checked and I-80 was open again, so off we rolled, passing trucks that had skidded off the road from the prior storm.

Driving all day is really pleasant as we roll along and listen to our books on tape (We borrow audiobooks from all the libraries we belong to in Maine, Florida, and Washington.).  Each morning we were up with the sunrise and we would find a place to stay the night before the sun set at a casino, Walmart, rest area or a truck stop.

Newell Factory.

We actually enjoy our visits to the Newell factory.  They must have close to 30 service bays.  It’s quite a site to see 20 or 30 of these big beasts lined up in the service bays.

As a Newell owner, you are free to walk around the service bay, climb in your coach while they work, watch them work on your coach, ask questions, and inspect what they do as they work.  After three years of owning our coach, we now know these Newell technicians.  And they know us and the coach.  They even remember the first owner of the coach (We are the second owners.).  Our electrician helped build our coach 13 years ago.  The technicians are the best Newell has, having worked in the factory for a decade or two before they are hand-selected to work in the service area.  I think they must select them not only for their technical knowledge, but also for their ability to work well with customers.  Amazing customer service!

Factory Tour.

Newell recently completed construction on a new factory, which replaces the old one.  So we got a tour of the new factory.  It’s mind-bending to see a coach go from the early stages of creation, to the ugly guts-hanging-out almost-done stage, to the finished gleaming product.

Newell - Early Stage

You’re looking at the south end of a north-bound Newell in an early stage of production.

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This is the — guts hanging out ugly stage.  Left front view.

Newell - Needs Paint

Almost ready for paint.  Still a homely beast.

Newell - Final Touches

There’s a newborn getting her final touches.

The list price on a 2017 Newell is just shy of $2 million (and they always sell for list here).  Wendy and I just smile at each other when we consider that we get the same level of service for our 2004 coach as the owner of a $2 million dollar 2017 coach.  Sweet deal!

Everything works now!

We arrived at the factory with our gripe list.  We always keep a list of issues so we don’t forget anything at our annual factory visit.  Topping our list was to replace our Aquahot.  Here’s our newly installed Aquahot.

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The Aquahot 675D.  Our endless hot showers make us happy, happy, happy!

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The Aquahot gets neatly tucked away behind these two stainless steel doors.

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Everything disappears, neat and tidy behind the basement door.

This adventuring thing is not for the faint of heart.  It can lighten your pocket book in a big hurry.  There is a reason we call her Zane.  Because you have to be “in Zane” to roll down the road in this castle on wheels.  But we are happy and off on new adventures, nice and snugly-warm as we see new wonders from our coach.

Self-guided Learning

One of the great things about being a full-time traveler is that you can focus your energy and efforts on just one thing at a time without the daily distractions of typical life.  While on the road sometimes we’re exploring, sometimes we’re working, and sometimes we’re studying.

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This Semester: History and Culture through 1500 a.d.

Last year I studied physics (theory of relativity, quantum physics and astronomy).  So much has changed in physics since my youth.  So much fun!

This year I’m studying history from the beginning of human history to 1500 a.d.  I’m approaching this from four angles:

  1. World history (western and eastern) through 1500
  2. Cultural development through 1500
  3. Western literature through 1500
  4. History of creativity and technology through 1500hrvgpuko5pgkn6jaai-4nprbxu5oqhj7gpw86rqnxsspx92ib

Doesn’t that sound fun?  This will be a foundation for my next “semester” when I will probably explore from 1500 to present.

No, I’m not enrolled in a college.  I have a master’s degree, so I don’t need the twelve credit hours.  And college tuition is way overpriced these days.  I just want to learn, so I bought the text books recommended for the courses.  Nowadays there are online learning opportunities, and I may take advantage of some one day.  But I like this approach of just studying the texts for this semester.

As a 50-something, studying these texts is remarkably different than when I was a 20-something.  Experience has taught me that what they present as facts changes over time.  So I add my own grains of salt to their ideas about the origins of man and the first civilizations.  I anticipate that they will present different “facts” thirty years from now as they discover new artifacts.  That’s the nature of progress.  Sometimes I’m led to conclude — we just don’t know what happened in history at that time.

In addition to my “college classes”, Wendy and I are enrolled in two classes this winter with our boating friends:

  1. Marine Weather
  2. Marine Electrical Systems

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These 9-week classes are taught at the nearby John Wayne Marina by some amazing instructors with the United States Power Squadron.  These are practical classes designed to help us stay safe as we chug our ship through the Straits of Juan de Fuca and Canada’s Inner Passage.  This is challenging stuff and Wendy and I are working hard to wrap our brains around marine weather and the electrical systems of a boat.  Part of the fun is to rub shoulders with our fellow students who are retired pilots, engineers, doctors and educators.  Smart and genuinely good people.

All I can say is — Wow!  What a privilege to have the time, energy and money to enjoy learning anything I want to study.  Life is good.

  • Clay

 

Weekend in Seattle

We were planning on spending the weekend in Seattle anyway, so when the furnace blew up (Don’t worry, I like to say systems “blow up” when they stop functioning and have to be replaced.  If something really does blow up, I’ll let you know.) we figured, we can either hang around the AquaHot service center in Centralia, WA and fret about the thousands of dollars it will cost us to replace our hydronic heating system, or we can go to the Seattle Boat Show and pretend we can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a boat.

So we left our coach in the capable hands of the Brazel’s RV Performance Center and got a great deal on a VRBO (Vacation Rental by Owner) apartment in Seattle for the weekend.

Seattle is such a cool place.  A city surrounded by water with snow-capped mountains in the background.  And it’s a city famous for airplanes, with the historic Boeing factory.

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A Connie welcomes us to the museum.

So our first stop on Friday morning was to once again visit the Boeing Museum of Flight.  This may be one of the three best flight museums in the world.

Our tour guide, Bart, began our day with the fascinating story of the Wright Flyer.

Our tour guide, Bart, began our day with the fascinating story of the Wright Flyer.

A cornucopia of historic airplanes.

A cornucopia of historic airplanes.

The SR-71 surrounded by a gaggle.

The SR-71 surrounded by a gaggle.

The pointy end of the Concorde.

The pointy end of the Concorde.

They have airplanes and excellent displays for WWI on one floor, WWII on another, and an outdoor pavilion with a Concorde, a vintage Air Force One, a 747 and the new Dreamliner, each of which you can stroll through.  I had my pedometer going and we logged 3 miles Friday morning.

But if you really want to log some miles, go to a boat show.  After lunch, we headed to Century Link Field Event Center for the Seattle Boat Show.

Boats, boats everywhere!

Boats, boats everywhere!

What’s up with our interest in boats?  Well, Wendy and I love to explore.  And we love to experience things from a new perspective (i.e., airplanes, motorhomes, and …. boats).  There are three areas of the country that interest us that can only be truly appreciated from a boat.  So let me tell you about them.

northwest-passage

There are thousands of amazing scenes along the inner passageway of Western Canada.

Juan De Fuca Straits to Alaska via the Inner Passage.  This area is vast, with lots of islands and is relatively protected from the wide open sea.  Wendy and I have seen some of the wonders of these waters from the cockpit of my airplane and from an Alaska cruise liner.  But we have only touched the surface.  Since we’ve been in Sequim, WA we have become friends with many people who cruise their boats up into these amazing waters during six months between April and October and we think it would be way cool to do the same.

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The Great Loop.

The Great Loop.  Each year, hundreds of boaters travel the great loop, which circles from the Florida keys up through the intercostal waterway along the east coast, stopping at all the major cities and seeing things like the Statue of Liberty from the water, then inland through the Erie Canal to the Great Lakes, then down the Mississippi and down the western coast of Florida.  So we’re thinking this would be a fascinating challenge and would give us a whole new perspective. 5500 miles of perspective.

A beautiful playground.

A beautiful playground.

Caribbean.  For our 25th anniversary (11 years ago) I took Wendy on our first cruise in the Caribbean.  Boy was that habit forming!  We’ve been anywhere a cruise ship would take us in that area, including the Panama Canal, Costa Rica, Belize, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Colombia, Puerto Rico and all the islands in between.  If we were to buy a boat to do the Great Loop, we would most likely want to motor on over to the Bahamas, since they are nearby.  Of all the places around the world we have snorkeled, the Exuma Cays were the best.

The only questions are: can our energy level and our pocketbook keep up with our ambition?  Hmmmm, we shall see.

Anyway, we had a great time at the boat show.  You can’t imagine how much research Wendy does before going to something like a boat show.  We have read at least a dozen books and mined Internet websites on boats and boating with the idea in mind that we might buy one to fulfill one of the above mentioned objectives.  So when we got to the show, we had a good idea of what we were looking for.

Aspen Power Catamaran.  We’re done with hoisting sail, so we were looking for a power boat.  After a lengthy conversation with Nick Graf at Aspen discussing his fathers’s boat design, we spent the rest of the day  looking at displays and boats (7 miles on the pedometer).

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40-foot Aspen C120 (Catamaran)

The next morning was Saturday and at the invitation of Larry Graf (designer and builder of the Aspen), we met him and his son at the boat dock and took a two hour cruise in Larry’s 40-foot powered cat design.  What a great opportunity for Wendy and me to spend time on the designer’s boat with him.  His enthusiasm was infectious, and with good reason. We love great designs and this one, with it’s asymmetrical proa hull design, silky smooth handling and awesome fuel ecomony was a complete winner.

Beautiful cockpit displays.

Beautiful cockpit displays.

Wendy and I had lots of fun putting this amazing boat through her paces.

And the scenery was awesome as we boated past quaint and colorful floating homes and watched lenticular clouds form over Mt. Rainier.

After visiting the Museum of History and Industry (these Seattlites are an innovative bunch: Microsoft, Amazon, Boeing, Costco, Nordstrum, Cinnabon, Eddie Bauer, Red Robin and Starbucks all started here), we capped the day off by walking the piers and having fish and chips at Ivar’s Acres of Clams.  Our top floor apartment on the hill looks out over bustling beautiful sparkling city as day turns to night.

We love Seattle.

Tomorrow, we plan to go through the Boeing airplane factory tour in Everett, north of Seattle and then take two ferries back to the Olympic Peninsula by way of Whidbey Island.  When you live by a HUGE ocean sound, there are two choices to get places: drive umpteen hours out of your way around the shoreline or suck it up and pay for ferries to hop through islands. Ferries are more fun.

The next couple of weeks should be interesting.  Our motor coach will be in the shop for 7 to 10 days while the AquaHot factory custom builds a new unit and ships it to Centralia, WA (2.5 hrs from Sequim) where it will be installed into our coach.  So we will be staying at a VRBO house in Port Angeles where Wendy will do a short stent of work (5 days over a 2 week period) to fill in for a vacationing ENT doctor.

And… we will continue taking our US Power Squadron Marine Electronics and Marine Weather courses with some great instructors.

We try to stay flexible and wing it as necessary.  Life is good.

  • Clay

What a Year it Was! (2016)

Life on the road means moving from place to place when the mood suits, the weather changes or job opportunities arise.

Auburn/Lewiston Maine (Jan-April)

We started out 2016 by flying from Tucson, Arizona to live in Auburn, Maine for 4 months and work in Lewiston, right across the river.  The weather in January through April was just as you would expect; cold, icy, snowy and wintery. Twenty-foot piles of snow in every parking lot.  But you can stand on your head for 18 weeks. It was a fun adventure.IMG_3988

Valentine’s Day was memorable, as we drove to our favorite seaside town (Camden, Maine) for a weekend trip.  It just so happened that a storm dumped 14 inches of snow centered just on Camden that weekend.  Snow piled up on the dormer window sills of our lovely boutique hotel. We ate a magnificent lobster tasting menu with a decadent dessert and sat by the fireplace and read books.  Ahhh.

 

I worked at Central Maine Medical Center in the ENT department with some fine people, who made getting to know the system (including multiple electronic medical record programs) much more enjoyable. 1ym8h0zetbemtapfcohasipgzkjwkphnknjgjw01brkpx92ib They were gracious enough to want me to stay. How nice is that?

Clay worked on investments and did day trips with the young full-time missionaries.

And he was my driver in the bitter weather for midnight on-calls to the emergency room. That meant the world to me.

Tucson, Arizona to Provo, Utah (April)

Clay left Maine 3 weeks ahead of me to pick up Zane (the motorhome) from her indoor RV daycare center. (The report is she got along well with others and learned to color inside the lines.)  He checked out her systems (after a 4 month rest, sometimes RVs get persnickety) as he drove through Arizona and Utah, meandering around Sedona, Zion’s and Bryce Canyon National Parks.

Wendy finally arrived in Utah the last Saturday in April. We had lovely visits with our nieces Morgan Webb (with Dennis and little sweet Parker Eliza) and Kirsten Walton.  opflrt-z-hhy9xx2gnpw-8abkf2pljiga-rgib-7fp0px92ib

After one day’s rest for Wendy, it was time to get busy again.

Missionary Training Center, Provo, Utah (May)

We entered the peaceful, busy, happy place called the MTC  (Missionary Training Center) on Monday, May 2– ready to start our mission.

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Here we are all polished up for the MTC.

After 10 days of training, and some fine visits by church authorities from Salt Lake City, we headed back on the road to our mission.

Wyoming Mormon Trail Mission, Devil’s Gate, Wyoming (May-October)

Knowing that your mission is in the middle of nowhere and actually experiencing it are two different things.  h_1cd9mfeuoylldatlxfsejdriiczx5kgza4wg8-yfmpx92ib

Even Verizon cell phones and data don’t work on the high desert surrounded by mountains on all sides.  Trying to convince Verizon of such a fact is another story.  So, we got a local cell phone with data and went with that.

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Our spot at Missionary Village

You know you are on a Wyoming Mormon Trail Mission when….

  1. Morning report includes, “We found the mama cow and calf up by Devil’s Gate, but we also saw mountain lion sign. So, if you are sending visitors up into the canyon, just tell them to …. be careful.”
  2. There are TWO dead rattlesnakes in the mission kitchen refrigerator.
  3. Your husband tells you he is going out for fast food drive through (Yay!!), and comes home with roadkill (Ewww).
  4. A gallon of milk costs $13.50 because the nearest grocery store is 60 miles away in Casper and it takes 5 gallons of gas to get there and back.
  5. A hot date is a trip to the Muddy Gap gas station 4 miles away for a fountain drink, bag of chips and a hot dog off the roller grill.
  6. You are not able to donate blood, because it contains 25% DEET.
  7. The mission ‘car ‘ is a 4×4 half ton pickup truck, or a dozer, backhoe, asphalt roller, rover or honey wagon (to pump out the pit toilets at the end of trekking season).
  8. Duties as assigned on the mission include driving up into the Green Mountains (elevation 8800 feet) to cut 90 pine trees to make fence poles.  Or asphalting the roads. Or bottle-feeding orphan calves.
  9. You feel the spirits of those pioneers who died there and more often than not tears choke your throat as you share their journal entries. And it is almost impossible to sing “Hallowed Ground” or “The Fire of the Covenant” all the way through for the same reasons.
  10. When being nearly the youngest in the group of 120 missionaries means nothing, as these Canadian, Utah, Arizona and Idaho farmers in their late 60’s, 70’s and early 80’s run circles around you each and every day.  And then it’s time to square dance.
  11. When high school age kids come in 1856 pioneer dress to trek over hot, dusty trails to re-enact pioneer experiences.  And they enjoy it as their hearts and lives are changed.
  12. Your nearest non-missionary neighbors are the herd of pronghorn antelope with their new babies that graze on your little patch of green lawn. The jackrabbit that greets you from under your RV. The lonely call of the coyotes in the pre-dawn                           hours. The tiny red foxes that skitter across the road. The mule deer herds. We won’t say any more about the gopher snakes or rattlesnakes. Or the mice invasions.

We lived in a lovely bubble of service, taking care of 17,500 trekkers and 26,000 others in the visitor’s centers, museums and 1872 era buildings and served with some of the finest missionaries on the planet.  If you want an amazing working mission for 6 months in your RV, this is for you!

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On the historic Mormon Trail with our teenaged trekkers.

Sequim, Washington (Nov – Dec)

From Wyoming we headed northwest, hoping to get through the mountain passes before it snowed.  Why would we go to the top left corner of the U.S. of A. for the winter?  What are we thinking?

When you spend your summer and fall in the hot, bone dry, constantly windy (I did say WINDY didn’t I?), always sunny high elevations of central Wyoming, the cool, wet, cloudy days of the Northwest are welcome relief.  Ahhhh.

We spend our days biking, walking on the Olympic Discovery Trail, beach-combing along the Juan de Fuca Straits, watching container ships come in from Asia, reading in the library, writing and studying all kinds of things.

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Look at the root system of this giant that washed up on the beach!

Wendy attends plays, musicals and ballet while Clay doesn’t have to.  Happy me, happy him.

Taking the ferry over to Victoria, Vancouver Island, Canada is a treat, as is exploring Seattle (2 hrs away) and Vancouver, BC (the major Canadian city on the mainland).

The US Power Squadron has also become a focus, as we made friends with people with boats (this place is an amazing boating area) and we will explore the world of trawlers and other types of power boats as we take courses in Marine Electronics and Marine Weather as members of the Power Squadron this winter.

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Uh oh.  They’re looking at boats.  That could be expensive.

The large boat shows in Seattle and Tacoma are on the calendar.  Don’t know if we will ever get a boat to use up here or around the Great Loop back East, but knowledge is never wasted and we are always up for new adventures.

Still need to catch some Dungeness crab.

After Sequim

Around April 2017 we will probably start moseying down the coasts of Washington and Oregon on our way to Eureka, California, where Wendy has her next ENT surgeon’s assignment from June-December.

Life is never dull, as we look out our motorhome window at the snow-capped Olympic Mountains and majestic fir trees.  It is wonderful.

2016 was a year full of adventure.

  • Wendy