Epic views: Shot of the day

  • A view from Skyline Drive in Skyline Drive, which runs 105 miles along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Shenandoah National Park.

So many places. So little time. Check out some of the cool things we’ve seen.

All my Montana photos are full of sky.

Arizona serenade at Fort Worth Stockyards

  • A Texas longhorn.

Before leaving Fort Worth, we stopped at the historic stockyards, where we got up close and personal with some Texas longhorns and learned a little about the area’s past.

Fort Worth was the last stop on the Chisholm Trail before cowboys took their herds across the Red River into territory controlled by Native Americans. They would party, rest up and resupply here.

Later, when the railroad arrived, Fort Worth became a major shipping center and, eventually, Armour and Swift built packaging plants.

Although the holding pens are mostly gone, some of the buildings have been preserved. We visited the museum, where one of the gracious volunteers, Miss Devon, learning we were from Arizona, serenaded us with a song she wrote about Texas Canyon in our home state. It was amazing. To see the video, go to our Facebook page.

Outdoor obsession: Fort Worth Botanic Garden

  • Live oaks stretching across the path.

We mostly live outdoors, sitting in our camp chairs, hiking, bicycling, hanging by the campfire. And everyone knows that Tom is obsessed with trees.

So, it’s not surprising that we love botanic gardens.

And Fort Worth has one of the best. In we went.

To our delight, in addition to the local and international plant life, there was a rose garden built by the WPA, art by Zimbabwean sculptors on display throughout the plantings and a Stickwork sculpture by nationally renowned artist Patrick Dougherty.

Enjoy the photos.

A hard exit and a soft landing

  • The Periwinkle Polka Dot booth(s) at the Tempe Festival of the Arts, with our upcycled clothes for girls and adults.

It’s been a long time since we’ve been on a multi-month trip in The Epic Van, and we were thrilled to envision ourselves meandering the open road on a loop to the East Coast and back. There it was in my calendar, circled in red ink, April 4, departure day.

But we first had to get out of Arizona, and it was proving to be difficult.

We’re positive that we’re positive

  • Fill it up, we’re hittin’ the road. About 2/3 of a tank for $75. The distance it can take us from the inferno of Scottsdale, Arizona: Priceless. Look out Idaho, here we come!

We’ll, it happened. After more than two years of successful avoidance, we got Covid.

It was three days into our latest nomadic outing, this one a planned loop through Utah’s Uinta Mountains, a long-awaited visit to our friends’ place in Yellow Pine, Idaho, for the annual Harmonica and Music Festival, through Pinedale, Wyoming, and Flaming Gorge, to a stop in Corrales, New Mexico, to visit two other camping couples we love, and back to our Scottsdale perch for a week. Then, out to Big Sur and up the California Coast to Washington to visit family, and on to Oregon for our annual beach cottage reunion with friends.

We were thrilled to hit the road, back in The Epic Van, wind in our hair.

Then Tom got the sniffles. Then I did.

“Allergies,” I told myself. “Something we’re not used to in the Mormon Lake area or near Bears Ears National Monument or at Fred Hayes Lake State Park at Starvation, near Duchesne, Utah, where we stopped on our third night out.

But then, Tom said, “Something is not right,” like Miss Clavel, the nun, said when Madeline (in the Madeline book) was sick.

We bought a thermometer, and I took his temperature. Slightly elevated, but not terrible. I got out the Covid test I’d brought along to use just before our arrival in Yellow Pine, to reassure everyone we were “clean.” After 15 minutes: Negative.

“Maybe you have a cold, or some other virus,” I said, hopefully. My sniffles had stopped, and I felt fine. “Still, we’ll proceed as if you have it.”

Masks on, windows open, fan circulating fresh air throughout the van. Tom took some Advil and went to bed, where he spent a fairly sleepless night with muscle aches and chills, not helped by the cool air being sucked through the van.

Next morning, another test. This time, clearly positive. I took one: Negative.

Full red alert. I called the Walgreens pharmacy in Vernal, Utah, the nearest “large” town, and they said we needed a prescription to get the anti-viral Paxlovid, either from our doctor, or from an urgent-care clinic. I called our doctor, in Scottsdale, who is a saint, left a message, and within a couple hours she had called in prescriptions for both of us, mine to be used only if I eventually tested positive. I ran in to get the prescriptions and we headed back to camp.

I was still thinking maybe I could escape. I had, after all, for more than two years. I read a recent Washington Post article about “Novids,” those people who had, so far, avoided Covid. They feel lucky, grateful, a bit self-satisfied and maybe, just maybe, a little superhuman. I could relate. We’ve been very careful, in part, because of my 93-year-old mother, with whom we stay in Scottsdale when not on the road, and because we REALLY didn’t want to get it and face unknown difficult outcomes. We’re still wearing our masks EVERYWHERE, even at a drive-through window picking up fast food. We’re often the ONLY people wearing them in the grocery store/drug store/hardware store/book store. We very rarely eat in restaurants, rather ordering takeout from our favorites and eating at home for birthday or other celebrations. When we do go out, we sit outside, and wear our masks through the space until seated. We still haven’t gone back to a movie in the theater, which was a regular outing pre-pandemic. Or a concert. We went to an anniversary gathering of Mothers Who Write, a writing group/class in which both Mom and I have participated. It was a wonderful get-together of many of the writers, with several reading in person, and celebrated with a published anthology, in which Mom and I each had pieces. Still, we wore masks, sat apart, stayed only a few minutes after the readings were over and went back home. Tom had gone back to the gym, with his mask on except in the shower or steam room. We had resumed some nomad trips, which is the perfect isolation activity. For months, all was well.

But with the new highly contagious BA.5 strain, things are not the same. All around me other superhuman, Novid friends were succumbing. One, on a cruise to Scandinavia, which had been postponed for two years because of Covid, even though all passengers and crew had to be fully vaxed and test negative before boarding. She was confined to a special isolation room for days, while her husband and friends carried on without her. Another, in California, started feeling ill and still is, after several weeks and a series of Paxlovid, finally ending up in the emergency room and spending two nights in the hospital. Her daughter, who had been staying with her, tested positive, and had to cancel a long-planned trip to Costa Rica. Another friend traveled with her grown children to Mexico to visit relatives and, upon return, both kids tested positive, one continuing to test positive after nine days.

Then, I tested positive, too. Damn. So none of us are superhuman. I felt pretty rough, slightly elevated temps, scratchy throat, and listless.

Tom and I both started the Paxlovid, and holed up in Uinta Canyon Campground for our five days of recommended isolation.

Fairly quickly, we felt better. And on Day 3 of the regimen, I tested negative. Tom didn’t test negative until Day 6.

In all of this, I remain grateful:

• That we developed Covid after leaving my mother’s. She and my sister, Nancy, who lives with her, both have tested negative and appear to have escaped. Our son, Nate, who lives nearby, also seems in the clear. All, so far, retain their superhuman badges.
• That all our former superhuman friends appear to be recovering, albeit some quicker than others.
• That Paxlovid exists, and that we were able to get it quickly and at no cost, yes $0, and that it appears to be working well.
• That The Epic Van is an Epic Isolation Pod. We had plenty of food, ice and drinks on board, our own bathroom, comfy camp chairs and a campsite next to a running creek, pine trees and grazing deer, and were entertained by afternoon monsoon showers that plinked on the roof of our metal cocoon. (To the a-hole who stole our camp table while we were out getting life-saving drugs, the first theft we’ve experienced in eight years of leaving stuff at camp when we’re away, “You, sir, are not a gentleman.” And I’m really glad I didn’t leave my NEW camp chairs. The table, by the way, is a beat-up, 8-year-old, piece of crap that I’d been considering replacing, but couldn’t justify environmentally even though pieces of it were missing.)
• That Tom is an excellent cook, even at camp. We had a camp-chili favorite, with ground turkey and fresh veggies, chicken and apple sausage with a side of corn/chilis/beans kind of succotash, fresh squash, tamales, spinach, egg sandwiches for breakfast, and a sweet-potato tagine.
• That Tom and I are compatible, even in illness, and aren’t claustrophobic even in The Epic Van, which has lovely 360-degree windows to see our ever-changing view.
• That we have portable hobbies, reading, writing and knitting. Covid talley so far: Finished three baby hats and two red-and-white dishcloths. Finished multiple books together and alone, including: In Morocco, by Edith Wharton, a highly recommended, but racially insensitive, Victorian travelogue, in anticipation of a trip to Morocco in January; The Lost City of Z, by the New Yorker’s David Grann, an amazing Amazon basin adventure story that Tom picked up at Changing Hands before we left and which kept our Covid-dulled brains totally absorbed, Craft, An American History, a fascinating analysis by Glenn Adamson, revealing makers’ central role in shaping America, Ordinary Grace, by William Kent Krueger, a lovely story told from a young boy’s view of a summer of many too-close deaths in his small town in Minnesota, some essays from Nobody’s Looking at You, by Janet Malcolm, including the title one on clothes maven Eileen Fisher, and from Tom’s personal bookshelf, The Age of Extremes, by Eric Hobsbawm, a political and social history of the 20th century from World War I to the splintering of the Soviet Union.
• And that we were able to recover and test negative in time to get to the Harmonica and Music Festival in Yellow Pine, Idaho. (More on that in my next post.)

Pandemic left us out of camping shape

  • The Epic Van at McDowell Mountain Regional Park, happy to be on the road again.

As we roll back out on the road this year, it’s clear we’ve lost some of our camping sea legs, so it’s good we’re out on a soft start visiting our camping buddies Jeff and Ann, who are camp hosting at McDowell Mountain Regional Park, a mere 45 minutes from my mother’s house, where we’ve spent copious amounts of time during the pandemic.

We’ve done several short trips and one or two long ones during the pandemic, but haven’t been out nearly as much as we’d like. This year, we’re planning loops to both the East and West coasts, with family reunions, hiking, biking and rafting along the way. We’re pretty pumped about it.

So, only 45 minutes away, we thought. A breeze. We’ll get up, do some last-minute errands, and roll in around noon. We arrived at 4:30 p.m.

First, we were getting our room, which becomes the guest room when we’re not there, back into guest shape with clean sheets and stuff stuffed into the closet.

Then I spent an hour madly searching for the cord bag for the Jackery battery, a vital piece of equipment that keeps our phones and iPads charged when we’re parked and not plugged in (most of the time). I looked through all the (limited) places it might be in the van, NOT in the wire shelves with the books and cans, where I ALWAYS keep it, NOT in the tiny closet with our clothes, cheese board and (new) mousetraps, an oddly satisfying juxtaposition, NOT under the bed in back, NOT ANYWHERE. Back to the bedroom, NOT in the closet or on the shelves in the closet, NOT on the bookshelf, NOT in the many stacks of books on my side of the bed, NOT in the many stacks of books on Tom’s side of the bed, NOT in any dresser drawers, NOT under the bed, NOT, alas, hanging from the ceiling. Finally, FINALLY, found it. On the shelf of my bedside table in plain sight. I say it’s because it’s black and was in a shadow, NOT because I’m blind or senile. Another hour of my life I won’t get back.

Then I had to run to my Periwinkle Polka Dot studio to drop off the last lot of Kantha quilts from India, freshly laundered the night before, so they’ll happily be waiting for me when I return.

Then we threw the rest of our clothes, the coffee fixings, and toiletries in the van and headed to the grocery store to stock up. No problem.

Last thing, propane.

Off we roll to our regular propane spot at the U-Haul on East Indian Shool Road. No can do. Someone stole the adapter for RVs. Later, we learned, it’s because they’re solid brass and worth something on the scavenging circuit. On to the next U-Haul. Out of propane. On to a third. Only the manager fills RVs and he’s not there. Onto a fourth, no connector. Finally, fifth one’s a charm.

When we FINALLY rolled into the park, Jeff and Ann were on duty at the kiosk, laughing at our tardy buts. We settled in before dark, had a margarita when Jeff and Ann got off duty and slept soundly in the dark, quiet hills, happy to be back in The Epic Van.

Like I said, good thing it was a soft launch to get us ready for the Death Valley trip that starts this weekend with camping buddies Keven and Georges. Stay tuned.

The Epic Studio: Finding a nomad’s utopia in a pandemic

  • Upcycled denim overalls, cut off and made into a dress using a vintage pillowcase.

I have a studio. Which, I guess, makes me a nomad with a little perch. It definitely makes me happy.

Carmel and Big Sur: Feels like home to me

  • A panorama shot of Carmel Beach.

We’ve been visiting the Dahl House in Carmel for decades as the grateful guests of my step-brother Barry and sister-in-law Leslie. And after our visit to the eastern Sierras, we stopped here again.

Riding out dangerous Northwest heat wave

  • The Epic Van in an epic heat wave in western Washington state, trying to hide in the old-growth Douglas fir.

By Tom Nichols

We’re baking in the midday sun, even while sheltering under old-growth Douglas firs at Rockport State Park.

“I’m in the sun again and I’m about to cry,” Judy says, as our chair dance, perpetual jockeying on the checker-boarded forest floor, moving away from sunshine and into soothing shade. It’s our third day in the northern Cascades.

Blitzed by a record heat wave in the Northwest, worst since the 19th century, Judy and I scramble to stay as cool as possible while keeping close enough to a sports bar to enjoy the Phoenix Suns playoff run in the Western Conference finals.

Winging it: When you find a good spot, stick

  • Light through the clouds in the Sierra.

Winging It Rule #1: When you find a near-perfect campground, stick around for a while. (I just made up this rule, but I like it. Kind of like Jethro’s rules in NCIS.)

A winging success: Surviving the deserts, near-perfect camp

  • The endless road through the Mohave Desert.

When you’re winging it, all camps are relative. It’s a balancing act between weather, availability, hiking access and routing.