Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Turns out Jamie O'Neal was wrong -- Day 152

For a long time, I used to tell people that I hated country music. I wore that label like I had earned it! The ability to malign and dismiss an entire genre of music, and by extension those who would listen to it, made me feel strong and smart. The truth is, anytime you “hate” something, you are putting up walls within yourself that prevent you from enjoying the fullness that is this life experience. The longer I’m on this planet, the more I want to open myself up to new experiences!

But back in 2006, I was still hard-headed, hard-hearted, and walking around with a Texas-sized chip on my shoulder. Doing what I could to make ends meet, and feed my newly minted family of three, I was waiting tables at a Texas-themed steakhouse. In Texas. Because Texas is that special. To Texans. And when I was still in training, my trainer told me that there are only two kinds of music in Texas: Country and Western. I grinned and nodded gamely, because I really needed this job.

As I worked there, I discovered a lot of things about myself.
  • I look really good in wranglers
  • There is no way to look cool while wearing a bolo tie
  • Not all of the Spanish that you hear colloquially is repeatable in polite society
  • There are some country music songs that don’t suck

When you’re stuck in a situation where there is piped in music, whether retail, restaurant, or asylum, there will come a time when you feel like you’ve heard every song a million times. You can probably identify every song by the opening three notes, and sing along to every word. (Assuming you have any sanity left.) In this modern age of digital music, the song libraries are often larger, leading to far fewer instances of nervous breakdowns by the wageslaves; however, there is still going to be a lot of repitition. A LOT. Over time, it burrows into your brain and becomes a part of you. Before you know it, you have become a fan.

Jamie O’Neal, I know you will probably never see this, and you will probably think that I totally missed the point of your song, but I wanted to assure you: There actually IS an Arizona. We drove through it, and it only took a week. We didn’t see the Painted Desert, Sedona, or the Grand Canyon, so I can’t personally vouch for those places; however, we did see signs for all of those places.  I can tell you that Flagstaff is beautiful.

After a lot of driving through the desert, Anya was ready to see some trees.

Kaibab National Forest
Posted by Anya Phenix on Wednesday, March 23, 2016

There was also a lot more desert than I was expecting. I don't know how much would have been reasonable to expect, but Arizona definitely exceeded that amount. It was so arid that some of the animals appear to have been turned to stone. Or metal? We did enjoy staying at this place in the Golden Valley.

But the family favorite stop was our last three days in Arizona, where we had a view of Lake Havasu.

We even managed to fit in a little disc golf!

 And so it goes. Arizona exists, I have photographic proof. We have all of April to get to our summer destination, but the finish line is in sight!

Saturday, March 19, 2016

This week: New Mexico! -- Day 143

Whew! This trip is turning into quite the whirlwind tour!

Currently, we're trekking westward towards summer jobs in the Redwoods of Northern California. The job starts on May 1st, and since we have a limited daily travel radius, we aren't staying too long in one spot anymore. Don't worry, we're all stocked up on chi from our last couple of months traipsing through the Texas State Park system.

Over the last few weeks, we figured out that we don't actually like the driving part of this road trip. Being in new places is great, it's the getting there that is such a hassle. When we started, we had a 150 mile travel radius that worked for us, and it would take us about 6 hours to complete (with the inevitable stops for groceries, lunch, etc.) Travel Day was an ordeal that nobody looked forward to, especially when we had to do it on consecutive days. To alleviate some of the pressure, break up the monotony, and add in a little fun, we started planning a round of disc golf on Travel Day. We would drive 30-40 miles, play a round of golf, and then drive another 30-40 miles to our next spot. This served us well through the panhandle, and made the traveling pleasant. It still took us all day, but at least it was FUN!

Hello, New Mexico!
Posted by Anya Phenix on Monday, March 14, 2016

Leaving Texas meant giving up that cushy travel schedule, as there are far fewer disc golf courses in New Mexico. Driving through the sparse badlands, fighting the wind on the highway, I could see why disc golfers aren't flocking to the area. The countryside was beautiful in a sere, spartan kind of way. We were very thankful to end up at Ute Lake State Park. The State Parks in Texas were all very different, but that didn't prepare me for the Ute Lake experience. Imagine a giant gravel parking lot, with tumbleweeds (that were actually still growing out of the ground) and trees that look heat blasted. It was like being on alien planet, but not the jungle kind, the evil desert kind with Sarlaac pits.

If you squint, you can see Zoe at the water's edge.
Posted by Anya Phenix on Tuesday, March 15, 2016

We mostly hid inside during the day, since the heat was threatening to incinerate us on contact. It wasn't actually that hot, but it was really warm, so we stayed inside and just tried to enjoy each other's company (since we were out of Sprint's coverage, there were few indoor entertainment options.) I had to dig deep to keep Zoe distracted.

Family Music Time is important
Posted by Anya Phenix on Tuesday, March 15, 2016

See the rapture on her face? She can't even tell that I DON'T EVEN KNOW HOW TO PLAY!

Sundown was beautiful, and restored my faith in New Mexico's power to enchant. Anya and I took loads of pictures, most of which are still stuck on my camera. (I have a wonderful DSLR that is incompatible with my netbook, so I'm treating it like a time capsule. One day I'll be able to open it up and look at all the amazing photos that I took while on this trip.)

Posted by Anya Phenix on Tuesday, March 15, 2016

New Mexico is just so very different. I wish we could have had more time to stay and explore. The badlands were not really so bad, although I wouldn't want to spend a whole lot of time there. We got to drive on Route 66 for a little while, which reminded me a lot of the movie Cars. The one thing that impacted me the most was the people. Every single person that I met in New Mexico was really friendly, and that's saying something coming from Texas. We Texans like to pride ourselves on our hospitality, and it's a real thing. But this was ... different.

The coolest stop on our trip was Red Rock Park in Church Rock, NM. There was a sense of elemental power reflected in the wind carved cliffs. Seeing something that took longer to create than your entire culture's existence can make you feel comparatively inconsequential. To know that people have stood in wonder of these same rocks for millenia can give you an interesting perspective on your mortality. To connect with the sense of awe that others must have felt ages ago is a powerful thing.

Or you can just play in the sand.

This place was wonderful and we spent a couple of days here, just soaking in the vitality of nature. It was the perfect conclusion to our trip across New Mexico, and the preparation for the new adventure that would be Arizona.

"Hold on to your butts." ~ Ray Arnold (Samuel Jackson, Jurassic Park)

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Best Laid Plans -- Day 138

I had this entire entry written, but couldn't post it because we were not in a service area -- and then it got deleted. Which is particularly funny to me, since the title becomes more significant.

When we started this journey, there was no end destination in sight. The road was the goal, and we had accomplished it. The new plan was to figure out how to keep the vision going. I figured that with careful planning and budgeting, I could probably make our money last for a year.

Things that I didn't account for in our budget (that maybe I should have):

 Unexpected experiences are a part of life, and the lessons that we learn along the way make us who we are. I don't regret any of the things that we spent the money on, or the life lessons that we picked up along the way. But now, faced with depleted resources, we had a decision to make: was it time to draw this chapter of our life to a close?

"Flow like water" ~ Bruce Lee

When you are flowing like water, your path changes many times. This lesson applies so broadly in my life, from our financial situation to our travel itinerary.

Anya took on the task of finding us jobs, while I tried to rework the budget to stretch our dollars "until the eagle screams" (credit to my wise father for that turn of phrase.) Online searches for opportunities yielded lots of results, but not many that would work for us. We have some needs beyond the financial, and we believe that the perfect job will meet all of them. Encouraged by this initial foray, we planned to continue our westward trek, still chasing that warmer weather.

Hiking the trail through Bull Canyon.
Posted by Anya Phenix on Monday, March 7, 2016

We left Lake Arrowhead in high spirits, spent a couple of amazing nights at Copper Breaks State Park, and got refreshed by nature and rejuvenated during our time of being unplugged. We had planned to hit up Caprock Canyon and then stay at Palo Duro Canyon for a week, where we were going to really delve deep into nature, and commune with the buffalo. However, having disconnected so completely from society, I was unaware that we were running into Texas Spring Break crowds, and both of the campgrounds that we were going to visit were full. So much for my careful planning!

I love the silhouettes of the branches against the sunset sky.
Posted by Anya Phenix on Monday, February 29, 2016

My hours of meticulously planning out the trip, mileage, driving conditions, and budget all went out the window. When am I going to learn that on this journey, when you wake up you may not know where you are going to sleep that night? Gazing into my crystal ball (Samsung Galaxy S6) I sought the answer to our dilemma.

For anyone that is going to take a trip in an RV, or anyone that likes to go camping, I highly recommend the AllStays app. Using it, we traced a new route, still westerly (albeit more northerly than before) and found a few places that would offset the extra gas by actually being cheaper (a couple were even FREE.) The silver lining in this cloud and the confirmation that we were on the right path: three of the four new stops featured 18-hole disc golf courses!

Gone were the canyons, but say hello to small town Texas!

We spent three nights in Childress, which had a beautiful city park with a great disc golf course, a playground, and great LTE coverage. This facilitated the job search, and we actually got to do a phone interview while we were there.

Our next stop was the McClellan National Grassland, balancing our nature needs after three days in town. Serene in the extreme. Also had just enough cell service to get a job offer email, which we accepted. We now had an actual destination!

Disc golf stop in Pampa, on our way to camp out in Borger. Free camping in Borger, with water and electric hookups, is a deal that can't be beaten. They also had one of the most exciting disc golf courses that I have ever played. This is a picture of me walking along hole #9, what you can't see is the canyon drop off just to the right.

Disc golfing in Borger, TX. Some of the terrain was rough, but it was also beautiful.
Posted by Anya Phenix on Saturday, March 12, 2016

After Borger, we stopped in Dumas for a night, and then Dalhart for disc golf and our final night in Texas. Having a deadline and a destination is a bit foreign to our style, but we are flowing with it. Figuring out the budget for the rest of this chapter of the trip was an interesting endeavor, trying again to balance what we had with what we need. But, as always, we know that we will always have enough, because that is the Way of Things.

Of course, this is still just more of the Best Laid Plans that are subject to change. :)

Friday, March 4, 2016

Further ... Farther? -- Day 128

I last wrote about being Unplugged while we were at Lake Mineral Wells, the outskirts of our cell reception area. Last week we were at Lake Arrowhead, near Wichita Falls, where the cell reception was intermittent at best. It’s in these times that you get the chance to rediscover the simpler things in life, like taking a sunrise walk with your daughter, or reading a good book.

We arrived at Lake Arrowhead well after sundown, the rangers in the park office had long since gone home, and I wasn’t looking forward to hiking back up from our campsite to register in the morning. The map that we picked up from the late check-in station showed a quaint little park with all of the RV sites arranged in circles of six just off the campsite driveway. Looking at the map, I instinctively picked out site 21 for it’s proximity to the bathrooms, the lake, and it’s distance from the road.

Sometimes I’m a genius, sometimes I’m just really lucky.

Zoe was up before dawn, excited to see what this park had to offer. I had already watched a promotional video (preview trailer?) of the park, so I was equally excited. Since we had to get to the office before 9am to check-in, I thought that a little walk around would be the perfect way to start the day.

Opening our front door at sunup felt like stepping through the wardrobe into Narnia. The silvery dew glinting off the soft grass looked like a velvet carpet up to the gnarled Mesquite trees hunched around the ring of campsites. Our particular site was blessed with its own path cut through the wooden sentries, leading to the road that separated the campsites from the lakeside picnic areas. The still rising sun gave a soft light that bathed Fezzik in a gentle glow, promising more warmth once its had its morning coffee. The previous campers were gracious enough to leave us with four stout logs for the fire ring, and we had the entire circle to ourselves. Just over the tops of the naked branches, you could make out the expanse of Lake Mineral Wells, and the faint calls of the gulls and coots greeting each other. What a perfect place for Anya’s birthday week!

An old pumpjack kept time as we marched down our secluded path toward the lake. The chitter of the morning birds greeted us like we were Disney princesses while we searched for our true prize -- Prairie Dog Town. Now, I’ve seen a lot of promotional videos that hype up the attractions of a state park and many will list the animals that live there. The odds of seeing these elusive creatures are usually not very good, so I was skeptical of Prairie Dog Town and its ability to impress me. What I wasn’t prepared for was the overwhleming number of praire dogs that we saw prior to reaching the actual Town. From skittish little ones to great lumbering fat ones, all barking at one another what I could only assume was the warning that THE GIANTS ARE COMING. I had hoped to catch sight of one, would have felt lucky to see two. I was completely unprepared to see twenty.

Prairie Dog Town is located toward the end of a peninsula, so we looped around the tip and walked along the shore back toward the camping area. There were about a dozen hardy fisher types out on the docks, braving the chill breeze. There were priarie dogs all along this side of the peninsula as well - in the playground, the picnic areas, and along the roadside. Zoe dashed at the flock of mixed waterfowl, laughing at their indignant squawking as they relocated themselves farther out in the water. “I really love this place,” she breathlessly confessed upon return. And I wholeheartedly agreed.

Afraid to break the magic, I reminded her that we still had to hike to the office to pay for this glorious experience, but she happily acquiesced. The walk from the shore to the park station was almost a mile along the paved road that split the dry, grassy fields dotted with more mesquite trees. We arrived at the office minutes after they had opened, and were greeted cheerfully by one of the rangers. While I took care of the reservation, Zoe gushed about how awesome the park was. She even donated her last birthday dollar to the collection box that was on the counter. The effusive ranger gratefully listed off more of the offerings of the park, including the Junior Explorer Backpack and rental fishing quipment. All of which was free. Zoe giddily clapped her hands and asked if we could go fishing. I hate fishing, but I am not a monster.

The ranger also loaded us down with stickers, jelly bracelets, temporary tattoos, an iron-on patch, a keychain, a flint arrowhead, and a magazine about the attractions of Wichita Falls. We thanked her and loaded everything into the Junior Explorer Backpack, picked up the fishing rod and tackle box, and made our way back toward our campsite. All of this after discovering that we got a discount for staying for the whole week (pay for five nights, get two nights free.)

There is even a disc golf course at the park.

Everyone agreed that this is now the best place that we have ever stayed, meeting all of our needs in all of the categories, with bonuses. Anya had a wonderful birthday that was mostly just relaxing all week, going on nature walks, communing with the prairie dogs and not fishing. Zoe and I tried a little fishing and built an awesome campfire, cooked a bunch of meat and found an LTE signal out on the fishing dock.

Life just keeps getting better and better.