Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Oregon Trail and on to Idaho

We stopped in Baker City, along the Oregon Trail.
Cons of living in an RV: rounding a sharp corner and having all of your dishes fall out of the top shelf and shatter on the floor.. Yes, we managed to go 9 months without breaking a dish, so I guess it only makes sense that they would all break at once! While this would have once stirred an emotion (understatement), now that we've given up almost all of our worldly goods it hardly phased me.

This old RV.
Our main goal these last two weeks was to try to stay remotely cool during the heat wave dubbed 'ring of fire', which meant drifting toward some remote, yet picturesque small towns at higher elevations. While it would have been nice to stay in Boise for a few days, at a high of 104 degrees this week we opted to pass on that. We did have the opportunity to park our huge rig right downtown in Boise to shop at Trader Joes, which already has a notoriously tiny parking lot. That was fun! We've been working on several projects these last two weeks, including finally putting a piece of cedar that we found in Louisiana to use by making a small end table. Every extra space counts! Now we finally have a place to set drinks, etc.

We've also been getting sick of having to put all the spices away in a cupboard every time we move, so we made a spice rack for the space available behind the stove. I used duct tape to secure it to the counter, so we'll see how that works out :).

Simple table made of found cedar.
Custom spice rack, also made of found wood.
When we pulled into our Idaho destination James noticed the inner side of the front tire was worn down so much that the tube was exposed! Meaning if we hit a rock, or drove a few more miles it probably would have blown. Luckily we had a spare tire that could be used as a replacement. The hardest part about changing the tire was getting the spare down from the underside of the RV. The nut was solidly fused to the bolt and took a while to pry off. Definitely not something that would be easily accomplished from the side of the road.

A new spare cost us a mere.. $200! Apparently tires vary in price from state to state, the west coast being much more expensive than what we're used to in the car capitol of southeast Michigan.  

The desert of east Oregon turns into lush forest right along the river.

James' Oregon follow-up:

 For a few years now I thought I would always want to live in Oregon, and for some reason Eugene had stuck in my mind as the place to live because I envisioned it being a smaller town with easy access to beautiful forests. When we got there the hills weren't as magnificent and the town was busier than we expected. The rv park we reserved for a month was in between an expressway and a trailer park in a small town ten miles outside of Eugene called Creswell.

 When making the reservation I had talked to Dennis, the manager a bit about fishing. I pictured making a new buddie, being away from traffic, and having a great month. When we were setting up some of the long term residents were out drinking beer, and I pictured them in my mind making eyes at my wife all day. Well, we stayed a night and it wasn't so bad, so we reserved a week. By the end of the week I found the longterm residents were actually the some of the most helpful and neighborly people we had met so far. I noticed that people watched each others dogs, shared their barbeque, and all around looked out for one another. The end of the week came and we just didn't feel like moving. We had been doing this one state a week thing for a while and felt like we should just slow down for a bit. By week two I was giving people haircuts, and the manager gave us a monthly rate. All the long term people said that they only planned staying there a week, but somehow stayed for a while. I started to become afraid that we too would get stuck.

  The month went by fast, but then felt like we had been there a long time. Eugene grew on me, and it was nice to be able to get decent groceries for a reasonable price. Surprisingly since Taos I have been able to find organic apples cheaper than what conventional apples go for. Natural Grocers has been a favorite place where I can stock up on grass fed hormone free beef and Hana can load up on her Tofracky.

  I made some good friends most of all, and was sad to leave. My first impressions were completely wrong. I could feel a small corner of my heart making a home of that place next to the noisy expressway, while at the same time it was all too similar to where we had left. It was time to move.

  I spent a lot of time working on my second cigar box guitar. I had struck a deal on a bunch of boxes and went to work on number two. While it isn't perfect, for my second guitar I am happy with the way it came out. I don't have many tools, so most of my work is by using a decent handsaw, a drill, and a variety of files. I did all of the soldering also for the electronics.. I made a resonator out of a small pet dish, which gives it that raw, southeastern blues sound that I wanted. Needless to say, there are more in the works. To justify getting an amplifier I promised Hana I would go busking with my blues boxes out in the streets. There will be more pictures as well as some videos to demonstrate the sounds I will be getting out of them. Before we got to Nashville where I got my acoustic I never dreamed my old passion for music would be rekindled, nor did I dream I would be making my own instruments. Now I am joining cigar boxes together and frequenting thrift shops to find things to make resonators out of. I am also making now making my boxes in a way that will represent some of my favorite places we have been.

   Bend was our next big town, which we thought we would really love. It was a nice town, but the driving and traffic made us thinking Eugene was the better city. We did get a good deal on some tires from a family run business, and a couple of shops offered to sell my guitars for me.

  The drive out of bend to the east side of the state was long, but the landscape was dreamlike in a way. We were happy to find most of the places we stayed had water from wells free from chlorine and everything else. The small town of Baker City had a great restaurant that baked it's own bread, served grass fed beef, and had some excellent cinnamon rolls. I stopped in the local guitar shop a few times trying out amplifiers, and the owner ended up giving me a six string  guitar without the hardware to do what I want with, and sold me the ideal amplifier for seventy less than what I would have payed for it elsewhere.

  So after six weeks in Oregon it feels like home to us in a way. It's an overall easy state to live in, and some parts of it are very beautiful. In Eugene you are less than an hour from the coast, and the same amount of time to get to the mountains. Overall it seems like a generally laid back state, and we may possibly return. Taos, New Mexico is still one of my favorite locations, as well as southern Colorado, but Oregon seemed to really grow on us.  All in all the weather in Oregon has been mild, the people have been friendly, and even in Eugene there is an abundance of farms to get groceries from.

The LONG drive from Baker City to Moore, Idaho.
  We are in our first week in Idaho, and camped out in the middle of the state. The businesses in the small towns surrounding mostly are only open a few days. If you are going to stop outside of the Crater's of the Moon National Park, Moose Crossing RV is the better park to stay in, and the owners Jeff and Barbara are incredibly nice people and will do whatever they can to help you out.  

  It has been a hot week in the desert, and very little shade is to be found. I am not usually one to move too fast, but found the heat even slowed me down more. I spent most of my time working on guitars 3, 4, and 5. I had a lesson this week in cutting and glueing a scarf joint. I am doing all of this without the assistance of any power tools outside of a drill, and occasionally a dremel. I am not going to complain, because doing things the old fashioned way and learning precision with a few crude tools will only build a stronger learning foundation.

 As for animals I seem to have a way with cats that don't like other people. One of the owner's outdoor cats, Stella, has visited me often while I work outside. The owners told me that she doesn't go up to anyone but them. They found her on a hike when she was a kitten. Someone had put her and her brother in a plastic grocery bag, and left her out in the woods.

  Here is a short video demonstration of my second guitar, and first attempt at making one electric:

  I soldered a piezo transducer to a volume pot and jack, and surprisingly I am overall happy with it. The next guitar will have a magnetic pickup.It has a few minor flaws, most of which are fixable. The main thing I would do different from here on out is put the bridge in the middle of the resonator, and set the neck a quarter inch higher. I am not going to attempt to change anything because the flaws in this guitar happen to give it a unique sound even unplugged, and I have ended up playing this guitar every day. It seems to have a raw bluesy sound, which is what I was after. I ate a lot of beets for a couple of weeks to get the red stain. There is about 25 coats of boiled beet water on it. So in conclusion I am happy with this guitar. It has a lot of volume unplugged, and has a raw sound that I would not attempt to change.

  We are now on our way to northeast Idaho, outside of Yellowstone, where it will be a little cooler and give us a good week of sleeping weather.


Sunday, July 17, 2016


Destination: Eugene, OR
After several weeks of hectic travel, we were due for a long stay. We parked in Eugene for a month, then moved on to Redmond (near Bend) for another week long stay. 

Oregon is probably the state that we had highest expectations for. It's always stood out as a kind of dream place to live due to the climate and culture. 
It also has beautiful coast lines, forests, mountains, and is certainly more progressive than a lot of the states we've been to so far. 

The city of Eugene has banned the use of plastic grocery bags, and has a large recycling dumpster right next to every single garbage dumpster. Which came as a relief to this compulsive recycler since almost none of the RV parks we've been to offer that service. Best of all you don't have to pump your own gas here!! I found it strange to have a gas pump attended at first but quickly remembered I've always had a strong dislike for pumping gas, especially in the winter. 

Newport, OR

We took a day trip to Newport, on the coast of Oregon. What a gorgeous town! We walked along the beach for a few miles, then headed downtown for some pizza and beer and Rogue Brewery. We also stopped to watch a few of the local sea lions that hang out near the dock. They bark and bark and bark. Crab, jelly fish, and huge starfish could also be seen from the dock.

James' handmade cigar box guitar. Inlayed copper fret markers, inlayed cork, hand carved bridge, handmade stains, and a dog bowl resonator.
James spent his time making new friends, working on his 2nd handmade cigar box guitar, doing a few haircuts, and even giving a guitar lesson to our neighbor.  Needless to say, this was another location that I had to drag him away from.. The residents of the park even called after we left to say they missed him.
Portland Rose Garden
We took another day trip to Portland. They have a great (free) park on the outskirts of the city. 
We stopped in the rose garden and got a bunch of nice photos. We happened to be there 4th of July weekend, though, and the place was completely swamped. 

The downtown was not very impressive. I had always built Portland up in my mind as the best city evarr but turns out it looks like most other large cities with tall buildings, tons of homeless people, etc. One afternoon is admittedly not long enough to get an accurate feel for a place, but that's what I took away from it.

Mt. Washington in central Oregon
The view from Tupelo Falls, and a mysterious dead forest  
James at work building guitars in our RV park.
On our drive over the mountains to Bend we passed through an eerie dead forest, I'm guessing because of the drought the east side of the state is experiencing.

I knew the east side of the state gets less rain than the west side, but I did not expect it to be a complete desert like it is!

Bend turned out to be a beautiful town, with great parks and restaurants. We also drove in through Sisters, which is 20 minutes outside of Bend. It is a very cute little tourist town, which would have been a nice place to visit if we had had the time!

This week we stocked up on groceries and got 4 new (badly needed) tires and an oil change for the car as we prepare to tackle the trip back to the eastern side of the US. We are probably collecting a few more things that we should be, such as tools, books, etc. But still not feeling too confined in our small space. The dogs probably miss running since we haven't had any fenced-in dog runs at our recent RV parks. The desert is not a friendly place for dogs. A lot of prickly things for them to step on in the brush, sharp rocks, and grass seeds which cause sneezing fits.  Not to mention rattle snakes! It's very nice for them to have a nice grassy yard.


RV Art of the Week(in true Pacific Northwest fashion):