There’s a lot to love in Austin, Texas, and we only had 24 hours. So, we went for it. Here’s our visit hour by hour.
I remember seeing a photo of Lyndon Baines Johnson taking the oath of office on Air Force One after President John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas, LBJ’s wife Lady Bird and JFK’s widow Jackie by his side. The Kennedys were planning to spend the night at LBJ’s ranch on that day when Camelot died. I was eight years old.
Visiting LBJ’s ranch is a strange mix of nostalgia for simpler times and a fairy tale the president created about his own life as a Texas cattleman. You can visit his birthplace, his first school and a living-history farm that gives you a sense of the hardscrabble times in which he was growing up.
My grandparents were German, German-Swiss they would always point out. So the names, Otto, Ida, Ernst, the faces, the food and the artifacts in Fredricksburg, Texas, have a familiar ring for me.
Best laid plans often don’t work out. Sometimes it’s because you need a colonoscopy. Sometimes it’s more than that.
This life of freedom, of endless road trip, of permanent vacation, hangs by a silver thread of health, ours and that of our family. We’re always acutely aware of it and cherish every day in The Epic Van.
And as we continue to make ambitious travel plans, we recognize that, blowing where the wind takes us, means keeping plans fluid.
That’s how year four of our travels in The Epic Van have begun.
Earlier this month, when we were camped near Florence, Oregon, we stumbled onto the 10th Annual Invitational Rods ‘N Rhodies Car Show, a kaleidoscope of brightly painted, souped-up vintage roadsters.
We wandered up and down Bay Street peeking in the windows and under the hoods, marveling at the beautifully restored 1960 Cadillac Coupe DeVille, called the Copper Caddy, which was featured on Bitchin’ Rides, Season 2.
There were woodies, Thunderbirds, Bel Airs, Mercurys and more, all buffed to a sparkling shine.
We met Gordon Orloff, the owner of a 1934 Ford Panel Truck originally owned by the Wasco County Coroner’s Office. Orloff had painstakingly restored the truck from the wheels up. He believes these historic cars should be driven and has taken it from coast to coast.
A couple of times, it broke down, once right in front of the White House. Once, Orloff got it to a garage, but the owner took one look at it and said, “I can’ let my guys touch that.” Instead, he told Orloff to take the last bay, use any tools he needed and even let him borrow the garage owner’s car to go get parts. That’s how much people love these vehicles.
I’m sharing the love with some pictures. Enjoy.
The Oregon Dunes, the largest expanses of temperate coastal sand dunes in the world, stretch 40 miles along the Oregon coast between Florence and Coos Bay. They rise nearly 500 feet above the ocean and were designated a National Recreation Area in 1972.
Imported European beachgrass has created a foredune along the ocean. Behind it, winds create a deflation plain, scouring sand down to the water table and providing tiny oases for plants and animals. Transverse dunes, or ripples on the dune surfaces, are created by shifting summer winds. The largest dunes, called oblique dunes, can be as tall as 180 feet and move inland three to 16 feet each year. Parabola dunes interact with the surrounding forest, sometimes losing ground to the trees, sometimes smothering them, and sometimes leaving pockets of forest called tree islands.
We headed toward the dunes on the John Dellenback Dunes Trail near Eel Creek Campground. The trail meanders about one half-mile through lush rhododendrons, madrone and pines before opening onto the oblique dunes.
A brief rain the night before stabilized the sand and gave us good footing as we climbed to the ridge of the highest dune. We wandered along its curving edge about a mile toward a tree island. If you continue another couple of miles, you can hike all the way to the beach.
We saw shorebirds wading and feeding in pockets of water in the deflation plain, as fog rolled in over the trees at the edges of the dunes.
On our way back, we saw red fescue, described as “globally significant” and in need of protection. Signage notes that, although individual red fescue plants are common, “95 percent of red fescue communities are gone,” lost to competition from invading plants, like European beachgrass.
Books. How could you live without them?
Tom and I both love to read, and life in The Epic Van is rich in hours spent with books.
By Tom Nichols
After almost 2½ years of shirking, I went back to work as a volunteer.
The terms: Twenty hours of work each week, split with Judy, in exchange for a campsite with electricity, water and sewer. After two years of freestyle travel, we committed to spend March, April and May as information center volunteers at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, a U.N. World Heritage site about 40 miles north of Eureka, California. To upgrade our campsite from the maintenance area to a beautiful spot on Prairie Creek, we agreed to cabin hosting, which meant light housekeeping for four utilitarian units with bunk beds and living space but without kitchens or bathrooms.
We ambled back from the Grand Tetons to Yellow Pine to watch the eclipse without crowds, and were rewarded with a perfect day.
Editor’s note: Corbin Shouse, our son Nate’s college roommate and now a dear friend of ours, is the guest blogger today, discussing the amazing soup he made us when he visited. He also roasted coffee and made me a cup every morning (heaven). And he invented the famous campfire-toasted peeps, which shall live in infamy. Enjoy!
By Corbin Shouse
Back in April, I had the great pleasure of dropping in to the redwood forest to see Tom and Judy, a.k.a. the New American Nomads, for a 10-day stay. I brought my little Runaway camper and set up in the “front yard” of their spacious campsite to weather the mists and rain with a couple of my favorite people in one of the most amazing places on Earth.
As Judy has already written about on this site, we had some fantastic dinners by the campfire, reminisced about life over excellent beer, and generally had a grand time in the Epic Van and around the North Coast.
Tom, ever the mobile gourmet, prepared a number of astoundingly delicious and complex meals in the small kitchen of the Roadtrek, much to my amazement. We also had bratwurst and grilled veggies from the campfire, along with the now famous Roasted Peeps with Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs.
As the amount of hospitality shown to me by the Nichols grew and grew, I wanted to offer a small token of appreciation in return, and it came to me instantly: my great grandmother’s Mexican Hat Soup.