Road Trip – Chapter 14

We head south on Route 90 then Route 67 to Presidio on the Mexican border. The land opens out more and more and becomes grass land. This is not grass as we who live where it rains think of grass, though. It’s brown and grows maybe a foot high in wispy patches. 

There are a few cattle so it’s possible For them to live here but no cow would choose to do so. I take that back. Cows in a concentration camp would relish this freedom. 

Presidio was a bustling small town when Felicity was here a decade or so ago. There was a lot of toing and froing with the small town on the other side of the river. It seemed more like one town then than two.

We’re here in part because Felicity wanted to go back to the restaurant where she enjoyed tacos and the company last time. It’s different now. 

She sits at a table behind two Mexican women who get up and go for salad. An Anglo man comes in and sits at their table with his back to Felicity. “Excuse me. Excuse me” she says but he seems not to hear. The women come back. He seems not to notice. They pick up their glasses and move to a different table as he stares at his cellphone. The waitress moves the rest of their stuff to the women’s new table. He orders waffles. 

We drive southeast alongside the Rio Grande through a jumble of mountains heavily eroded by humongous floods. Gravel plains are covered with creosote bushes all the way to Terlingua Ghost Town where a bar on a boardwalk faces a dirt parking lot full of assorted vehicles. On the boardwalk are chairs, a man with a guitar and a bunch of folks ready for a good time. It’s Saturday night. 

Just down the road is BJ’s ramshackle Campground. It seems to be the permanent abode of most others here. 

Beside the road into Terlingua are some magnificent Texas Longhorns.

Next day – We drive into Big Bend Park, a huge, beautiful array of many kinds of mountains. Different colors, different shapes rising from some flat and mostly undulating gravel plains with washes at the low points. There’s not much vegetation apart from creosote bushes. It would be fine hiking country. 

The two campsites near the Visitor Center are full. Signs say the others are, too, but the Ranger says that was last night. There could be space now. We drive 35 miles to Castolon and find a good spot under cottonwood trees. 

We have lunch then sit in the sun.  I want to know who did what to whom in the novel I’m reading but it doesn’t grip me. 

I have a coughing fit. Haven’t had one for a few days. I read more then have a fit starting with an explosion of saliva that lands on the book. I feel annoyed but don’t tell myself a story about it. Feelings are a spontaneous response to stimuli. Emotions come later and are stories about feelings we’ve had before. 

Maybe I’m reacting to the dust out here. I go inside, lie down and do nothing for a while. I have unusually low energy today. 

Felicity goes for a walk round the campsite. An Englishman with a VW camper has installed a flat plate on the roof as a platform for his tent. He has a ladder to get up there and tells Felicity no bear has ever climbed it. English men do some very odd things. 

Next day – Felicity goes for a walk to the Rio Grande while I allow my formula to settle. 

We drive to the Santa Elena Canyon, a spectacular cleft in the mountain through which the Rio Grande flows. The canyon walls are vertical. It doesn’t look as if erosion could have been the cause but I don’t know what geological event would have this result either. 

Then to Chisos Basin, a stiff climb through trees, the only forest we’ve seen anywhere around here, then an equally steep descent into the bowl. Bears and mountain lions live here but we don’t see any. The views are spectacular. Neither of us has enough energy to go for a hike. 

So we exit Big Bend and drive 70 miles north to Marathon where we camp for the night.  We decide we’ll start for Corpus Christi tomorrow. I seem to remember my dad stopped there when they left the farm. I reread the autobiography he wrote after my mom died.

They did stop there and it’s the scene of one of the seemingly infinite disappointments he remembered so vividly. He and his dad went fishing and got a good haul then moved to a different spot leaving their catch in a net at the harbor wall. An alligator garfish came and my dad could not get back to the net before the garfish ate them all. 

It’s interesting to reread the account now. He closes with his feelings about losing my mom. It is the ultimate disappointment. They finally got their little shop in the West Country of England then, within months, she died. He says nothing about mom’s hopes or fears, or any other of her feelings. Did he ever ask about them? It’s unlikely. 

Next day – We drive east on Route 90 through range land where a very few cattle are visible. The ranches must be very large. Suddenly, I remember how my dad used to enjoy singing:

Home, home on the range
Where the deer and the antelope play
Where never is heard
A discouraging word
And the skies are not cloudy all day.

He had a good voice. I tried to sing it several times but it always sounded bad. 

Windmills are dotted about, few of them working. A village we pass through advertises a hunters’ feast to be held early next month. 

The mountains are gone now. The land is flat all the way to the distant horizon in every direction. Gradually the scanty grass is replaced by low growing creosote shrubs. We pass a Border Patrol pickup dragging truck tires to smooth the dirt track alongside the highway. 

Felicity notices on the map that we’ll reach Seminole Canyon State Park around lunch time and there are pictoglyphs. We stop. There’s a 90 minute guided tour at 3. There’s also a campsite with one space left. It would be quite late before we get to the one we were aiming for if we don’t start until after 4:30 so we’ll stay here tonight. 

I haven’t listened to Zen and MM for quite a while. I do that while Felicity goes on the tour but it doesn’t grip me so I start reading “An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States”

I imagined the indigenous people of North America to be hunter gatherers in transient small communities. That’s what we’re meant to think. But the population of what is now the US and Mexico at the end of the 15th century was around 40 million while the entire population of Europe to the Ural Mountains was around 50 million. 

A city-state in the Mississippi Valley in the 12th century was home to tens of thousands. That’s more than London then.  Those communities had correspondingly sophisticated systems of government. 

The irrigation system at Casa Grande, for example, where we visited had over 800 miles of trunk canals, the largest of them 20 miles long. They were up to 85 feet across and 20 feet deep. Many were lined with clay to prevent leaking. One of those canal systems alone carried enough water to irrigate ten thousand acres. 

Native American society was far from primitive. But invaders with superior weapons established a new origin myth. 

Road Trip – Chapter 13

We head south toward the Tucson Desert Museum. It’s odd to see crop-bearing fields on one side of the highway and sand with a very few stubby mesquite shrubs on the other. Many fields are growing cotton. 

It’s a short side trip so we visit Casa Grande, a four story building made around 1,350 by native Americans  I wonder if anyone would have stayed here if they came from elsewhere? I do some research. 

Humans arrived here around 11,000 years ago when the climate was more temperate. Trees and plants began retreating north a couple of thousand years later and it was another 4,500 years before today’s plant and animal life was established.

So the folks who lived here had many thousands of years to adjust how they lived as the climate changed. They began living in communities around 300, established increasingly ambitious irrigation systems, and the population of the Casa Grande compound was around 2,000 by the time the great four story building was constructed.  

The compound was abandoned only a century later, most likely because massive flooding destroyed the irrigation system. Native Americans who live here now also have a legend that the community was destroyed by war. 

The purpose of the Casa Grande is not known but it has openings in the walls placed so the sun is visible through both holes at the equinoxes. Perhaps it was used by spirit leaders not just to keep track of time in that way but also to predict when the rains would come and when crops should be planted. 

Felicity guesses they got it wrong too many times and were killed, then fighting broke out among the desperately hungry people, survivors of whom returned to the way their remote ancestors had lived. 

From there we travel on to the Desert Museum and camp nearby. 

Next day – Felicity tells me I was grinding my teeth so hard last night that the noise woke her up. Now she’s more awake she realizes it was mesquite branches blowing against Henry’s walls. 

In my dream I was listening to Vera Lynn singing We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when but I know we’ll meet again some sunny day”.

I had a new appreciation for why British soldiers and those they left behind in WW2 loved that song. I did not feel sad. I was happy for everyone who found solace in her song. 

Is my mind hoping for rebirth? I know we have no intrinsic self that could be reborn and I’m happy that every action we take shapes the future of everything, but my mental roommate Mr Ego may not have accepted those truths yet. 

We walk around the desert museum for a couple of hours. I realize now, of course you’d stay if you were born here into the time tested way of life. Also, if you did go exploring you’d find the land all around was pretty much the same. 

The mountain lion is so elegant but its home is so small compared to what a lion is used to. The wolves look bored and the deer seems to have lost the will to live. The javelinas have a much larger territory, though, and they look happy. The desert plants don’t appear to need territory in the way mobile brings do. They come in such diverse forms. How amazing life is!

There are so many places we’re tempted to visit but we do want to be home before Christmas so after lunch we just barrel along the highway to Lordsberg New Mexico. We’re soon away from saguaro cacti and climbing through terrain covered by rounded light brown boulders balanced perilously on others. 

The land flattens, the mountain ranges are further from the road. The cacti are low growing, agave, cholla and others. Then mesquite and what look to be more and more creosote bushes. They smell so fine!

The road goes on and on. We pass a few tracts of pecans. Nothing humans en masse want can grow here without irrigation. How long before that collapses as it did at Casa Grande and what will we do then?  This is why we have science fiction. 

As we get close to today’s destination, road signs warn us about dust storms. If we get in one we must pull over and stop, turn off our lights, stay off the brake pedal, remain buckled, and wait. We’re on a very flat and very large stretch of sand with surprisingly large areas of standing water. The grass growing thinly around the water is brown. 

And now we’re at the KOA. This one is a bare parking lot, very different from last night’s where all the sites were nestled among desert plants and trees. The man who checks us in puts us next to another camper because he knows people like to be close to each other. 

Next day – There are so many places to see in New Mexico but most of them are too cold now and also, we want to be home before Christmas. We’ll head for the Gulf of Mexico and explore the coast. 

We turn off the highway onto a minor road that takes us to the Mexican border through the same sandy, mesquite sprinkled desert. We turn east close to the border and run parallel along it. 

Verizon claims we’re in Mexico and texts us we’ll be charged $5/day extra to use our cellphones now we’re no longer in the US. 

There’s hardly any traffic on this road, just Border Patrol pickups driving along the dirt track beside the road with dust clouds billowing high in the air behind them. Perhaps they don’t want to catch anyone trying to cross the border. 

We pass an encampment surrounded by a high fence. Many, many Border Patrol pickups parked outside the block house. 

Felicity fancies a taco for lunch so we stop in Columbus, a small village with several restaurants. We find one that looks promising. Felicity goes in, I have my formula in the rv and then go across the street to the library where they’re having a sale. I finished the very good Frank Lloyd Wright biography last night. Felicity returns from where it turned out they only sold hamburgers tricked out in many ways. 

Driving through El Paso is quite hairy then we barrel along the highway through the usual desert. Despite seeing it from the air many times I really had no sense of just how much of the US southwest is desert before we did this trip. Roadside signs far from anywhere offer 20 acres for $16,500, zero cash down, zero interest and $165/month. 

Not far short of our destination, Van Horn Texas, we stop at the Inspection Station. “Both of you US citizens?” I give a thumbs up. Felicity says “yes”. The man says “have a nice day” and we’re back on the road. 

Felicity reads that one of its founders said “Van Horn is so healthy we had to shoot a man to start a cemetery” and that he was shot a year later. 

I didn’t feel tired today and I had good energy. 

Road Trip – Chapter 12

I never met a mountain I didn’t like. Maybe it started with the picture of Switzerland on my bedroom wall when I was a kid. It was the only thing, apart from her traveller’s trunk, that my mom kept from before she married my dad.

She was working in Italy as nanny for a marquesa whose husband was a diplomat. She had to leave when he was assigned to Berlin. Marjorie, her friend from the orphanage where they grew up, visited her. I wonder which of them had the idea of going to Switzerland. It could have been my mom or the marquesa may have suggested it. 

Or maybe it was Marjorie. She became a teacher then headmistress and always went traveling in the long vacations. Africa was her favorite by the time I was grown up. “Saw a camel” she wrote from Egypt. 

I think my own relish for travel originated in curiosity stimulated by tales of adventure and was amplified later by wanting to get away from what felt like incarceration in the small town to which we moved from farming country when I was eleven. 

It’s very windy this morning. It’s been so all night, the rv shaking in the gusts. I slept very well after Felicity recommended Nyquil as I struggled to breathe. My nostrils were blocked so hard I doubt I could have freed them even if I could still blow my nose. Thank you, dear Felicity!

We drive south past signs warning of flash floods along miles of flat desert sprinkled in some parts by mesquite, more liberally in others by sage brush, occasionally by both and sometimes by nothing. 

Mountainous hills rear up on the plain. The mountain ranges are far to the east and west. Some are sharply defined in the strong sun, others rounded. The wind is still strong and gusty. We had to stop early on because the front roof hatch was blowing open. I removed the screen and Felicity tied the hatch down tight. The winding mechanism is worn. I wonder if I could replace only that. 

We stop at Baker Market for gas, a few supplies and firewood. Felicity gets me a face mask that we hope will keep the air flowing into my throat moist. A man tells her he comes through here every week making deliveries and always eats at the Mexican restaurant next door. It’s the best restaurant for miles around. So she gets a couple of tacos to go. They’re only $1.99 each and are excellent.  I add an extra helping of curry powder to my formula. 

Now we chug east up, up, up to a Joshua Tree forest at 4,000 feet, continue over the pass a few hundred feet higher then make the long descent to Searchlight where we turn south again. I’m feeling good. The mask is helping and I got 11 hours of good sleep last night after several poor nights. So we’ll go on for another hour or so to Needles and camp there tonight. 

We wanted to go to Santa Fe but it’s too late in the year. Nighttime temperatures are too low. We’d be ok in Henry’s centrally heated cabin but his water systems would freeze. 

Next day – I’ll try growing a short beard. It’s difficult to shave because the skin is so floppy.  I might look better, too. 

The GPS first routes us along a dirt road to a very low underpass below the railroad, then through town to an 8′ one, and then Felicity seizes the map and gets us out of Needles at last. 

We drive south then southeast through higher and wider desert. There are occasional wispy trees up here among the sprinkling of low growing mesquite. Every so often a tract of land is for sale. Who would want it, and for what?

I feel a bit crabby this morning. The mask may be helping because I’m not coughing but air blows up under it into my right eye which already feels irritated. I have my usual choice of biting the inside of my mouth or letting it fall open and dribbling but I’m conscious that neither option feels good. That doesn’t usually bother me. Perhaps not practicing every day is finally catching up with me. 

Mark noted that I mention my symptoms from time to time in these emails but I don’t say how I feel about them. That’s because I almost always just notice them and don’t feel judgmental.  They’re just changes. This morning is an exception. 

We pull over onto a wide area of the hard shoulder for lunch. We’re driving across wider and wider sandy desert. There are mountain ranges in the distance but almost no variation in the land around us. 

We drive on and turn east toward Phoenix on Highway 10. We pass a couple more cattle concentration camps. The low roofs that keep the sun off have big fans just under them which must mean it’s not always as windy as it is again today. It seems utterly perverse to keep cattle in this climate. I wonder why it makes sense. 

My right eye is quite painful. There’s a walk-in health place close to where we camp so we’ll go there tomorrow. 

Next day – My eye doesn’t hurt this morning so it would be premature to get it looked at. We’ll keep track of it today. 

I feel better overall. I woke twice during the night with nostrils completely blocked and had to remove the BIPAP for a while. Maybe it’s the very dry air. I slept long nonetheless after replacing the BIPAP when my nose cleared enough. I felt tired throughout my body when it was time to get up and yet I felt like getting up. 

Now I’ve had breakfast and rested to let it settle I feel good. Perhaps having coffee in my formula this morning but not yesterday is a factor. Whatever the causes I’m enjoying the sun and feeling blessed to be alive. 

We decide to go for some culture today. We’ll visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s home north of Phoenix. Felicity books a 3 pm tour so we’ll have time for lunch when we arrive. 

I tried wearing sunglasses instead of my spectacles this morning because I’m suspicious about the right lens. My distance vision is fine so driving is no problem. My eyes do feel more relaxed. 

A practical issue for ALS patients and their care givers is that new health problems could be unrelated or result from the progression of ALS. I assume new symptoms are unrelated unless the opposite seems obvious. That’s easy for me because I always did think I would recover from illness without needing to take action. I got away with it because Felicity is better educated about the body and she overrode my unwise optimism when necessary. 

Taliesen West is utterly different from Falling Water. That felt conceptual and cold, not a comforting home. This is space that results from living here by someone who really knew his craft. 

The entrances and connecting passages encourage you to pass quickly through to living spaces with ceilings that are not too high, carpeted floors and walls off which sound does not echo. They are spaces where you’d be content to be alone or be happy with others. Many people could be in the larger spaces with no need to talk loudly to be heard. 

The house does not feel separate from its surroundings. It arises from them unobtrusively. I love this place. 

A Tibetan Buddhist long trumpet stands next to the piano in one room. Our excellent guide who knows so much about Wright is happy to know what it is when I ask if he had other things from Tibet. She tells us about the Buddha he brought with him every time he moved between his northern and southern homes.

I ask which biography of him she recommends. Ada Huxtable’s is her favorite. I buy a copy. 

We drive on to camp at Apache Junction east of Phoenix. Tortilla Flat is not far from here. I’ll have to reread Steinbeck.

Road Trip – Chapter 11

I was unusually tired yesterday afternoon. Some combination of two walks at higher than usual altitude and further weakening of my diaphragm I assume. I’ve recently started looking downward as I walk, not just to avoid tripping. My head feels heavier. It requires effort to hold it vertical. 

The pass over the Sierras on the way to Death Valley crests at almost 10,000 feet. Felicity is worried the altitude could be too much for me. I, of course, imagine I’d be okay but I don’t want to worry her. She says we’ll go south around the foothills.

We head toward Fresno through the forest, some of it burned, and stop at the tunnel to view all the famous peaks. The native Americans who lived here used to burn the valley bottom regularly. It’s a winding road up then down so I have to concentrate on the road ahead. We stop periodically so I can enjoy the remarkable views. 

The forest is very beautiful; redwoods, pines and deciduous trees, a few still with green leaves, most bright yellow or gold. 

We stop for lunch a little earlier than usual near a gently flowing river. As I walk down to join Felicity my leg muscles feel weak. They might not support me if I stumble.

Also I have a little discomfort in my belly. Too much coffee with breakfast? Not good to have a beer every night? Too much sausage spice in my formula? The curry powder? So I add only water to my lunchtime formula. 

We descend from the forested mountains to a jumble of rounded hills dotted with granite boulders and California oaks. There are ranches when the valley widens. 

Gradually the land flattens. The ranches grow much larger. Then comes irrigated crop land and tracts of grapes, fruit and nut and olive trees. 

Now we’re bowling south along a highway past the occasional concentration camp for cattle. There’s a referendum on California’s ballot that would require more humane treatment of farm animals. Cattle would get 43 square feet of space each. That’s 6 feet by 7, a bit bigger than a cow, it’s true, but…

The last part of today’s drive when we turn east is along an exceptionally narrow and winding road along a canyon. One side of the road is a jumble of granite, much of it vertical and some of it hanging over the road. The other side is in many places a vertical drop. The important difference between this and a road in Nepal’s mountains is the good road surface. It’s growing dark fast, though. There would be fine views in daylight if I wasn’t driving. 

We arrive at Kern KOA. I feel good but a little tired. “Shall we stay here tomorrow?” Felicity asks. “We could potter around. Or we could go on…  Let’s decide in the morning.”

Next day – we’ll go on to Death Valley where my friend John who grew up in wintry Chicago always said he would go to live one day. He did move at last to Tucson. 

We drive east a little over sand plains with Joshua Trees then north alongside the heavily eroded Sierra mountains. This is desert country. A vast area to our right has been set aside as a restricted area for our military to practice with new weapons. 

We turn east again at a tiny settlement where there’s the store selling jerky that has been advertised on billboards for the last thirty miles. Beef cattle who will become jerky are sheltering in the shade of three large and lonely trees.

The plain we’re on now is increasingly bare. Sand is piled against the edge of the hard shoulder, blown by winds like the one buffeting us today. There are road signs warning of gusty winds. It seems that enough windmills and solar panels deployed here could power our entire nation and more.

Now we must cross the Panamint Mountains. A sign warns drivers to turn off the air conditioning for the next ten miles to avoid overheating. Ours is not on, anyway. The climb of close to 5,000 feet is steep. Henry’s temperature gauge barely moves even though he can’t manage more than 25 mph on the steepest climbs. 

The winding descent into Death Valley is exhilarating. I change down to second gear and enjoy glimpses of the mountains from the straight sections of road. And we arrive at Stovepipe Wells campsite. 

Next day – We both want only a short drive today and to see more of Death Valley so we’ll go on to the campsite at Furnace Creek. 

We stop at Salt Creek Trail where to my great surprise there is a stream. It’s tiny for sure but allegedly it is home to pupfish whose ancestors have been here for thousands of years. Long ago there was a five hundred to six hundred foot deep lake here that was a hundred miles long. Camels and other large animals were plentiful. There’s very little water now and it’s very salty. 

There’s a boardwalk alongside the first part of the stream. We walk slowly around it and meet a man who grumpily tells us he has not seen a single pupfish. “I was here six years ago and I didn’t see one then either. I think it’s a hoax”.  The colors and shapes of the hills are very beautiful. 

Next we stop at a long abandoned borax mine. There’s not much of it left and it was only operated for five years. The owner somehow enticed enough Chinese workers here and had the borax shipped out on wagons hauled by teams of twenty mules. It must have been brutal work in this heat.  

Furnace Creek is a low key resort with palm trees. Next to it is a village of Shoshone Indians who work with the National Park Service folks at the Visitor Center so the museum includes information and exhibits about them. The two were in dispute for many years because the Park Service folks wanted no impact on the land by humans while the Native Americans wanted to live as they always had. Eventually the Park Service decided what those who live here wanted to do is historically authentic. 

Felicity makes a camp fire and I sit with her for a while. I’m wearing shorts today for the first time in quite a while. When I lift one leg and balance it on the other I notice the shrunken calf muscle. The skin sack is the same size as before but it now contains only a small muscle that hangs down leaving an empty space between it and the bone. 

Since I’m reporting symptoms I’ll mention also that I’ve had great trouble with blocked nostrils the last couple of days. Not much coughing except toward the end of yesterday’s relatively long drive. The belly discomfort went away quickly. I’ve been tending to feel tired and not cheerful but I can change my mood now I’ve noticed that.

Next day – Felicity climbs the hill overlooking the campsite after breakfast. I feel a little sad I can’t do that any more but at least I can still walk. 

We start the short drive south through the desert toward Tecopa. The valley floor here is sprinkled with mesquite. 

There’s a turn onto a single lane Artists Canyon road. Will we take it?  Of course we will and it’s spectacular. The heavily eroded mountains are made up of yellow, white, dark and light brown, black, red and even blue rocks with every variety of texture.

Further on we come to Badwater named so by a prospector because his mule would not drink the salty water. Enormous numbers of visitors have trodden a wide path out onto the salt flats. We start the long walk but Felicity thinks it would be better not to push myself. I think about it and realize it will be very little different further out. So we go back to the RV and have lunch. 

The ground further on is extremely dry. Nothing grows here at all. Then the road right angles east and we start to climb. The colors of the mountainsides remind me of Upper Mustang in Nepal but their rounded shape is very different. 

We cross the pass, make the descent then motor south to Tecopa. We never imagined ourselves in RV parks and would have looked down on people in such places when we were young tent dwellers but we no longer need such prejudices. 

There is a hot spring here.  I can’t immerse myself fully now because of the feeding tube in my stomach wall but it’s great to sit in the hot water to just below that level. 

Road Trip – Chapter 10

It’s November 3rd. We got back on the road this afternoon after a lovely long visit with Doma, David and Ilana followed by too-short ones with NCSS friends from long ago. It was great to catch up with them after so long. It felt as if I’d last seen them quite recently and Felicity, who barely remembered them, enjoyed what felt like meeting great new friends.  

Henry’s transmission is restored to full health. Google enabled me to diagnose the problem that remained after the transmission guys fixed what they could and I had the part shipped to David’s house. It was the speedometer circuit board that signals the transmission at what speed to change gear. Finding someone to do the replacement was hard. 

David eventually found a friendly truck repair shop many miles away. We drove there and persuaded them to look the next day. But their priority, of course, is to get commercial trucks back on the road. We were fine with that but day after day passed. At last we went back, I looked as sick as I could, and Felicity told them it’s urgent for me to get back to my doctors. 

They had the rv fixed the next day. Not only that, they thoroughly cleaned the outside. They were very sweet. Now Henry changes gear just when he should and very smoothly. If only it was this easy to replace his cracked manifolds. 

We stop for propane on the way to Marina on the Monterey Peninsula where we’ll camp tonight. Felicity likes the look of a Mexican road food stand so we stop for lunch. On the opposite side of the road two men on horses wait for food to be brought to them from the store. 

We’ve arrived at Marina. Felicity went for a walk on the beach. I’ll go in the morning. There my be sea otters. 

Next day – We go to Monterey Bay Aquarium and learn that it wasn’t just over-fishing that ended sardine canning here. The ocean cools and warms cyclically, suiting sardines for 25 years then anchovies. Sardines are back in the bay now and the fishing is regulated. 

The elegance of the bat wing rays in the floor to ceiling tanks is especially captivating and I’m entranced, too, by the bigger fish. They’re moving gracefully in three dimensions almost without effort. It’s joyful, too, that so many small kids are screaming with excitement. 

We saw no otters in the sea but three that were rescued are in the aquarium. They swim swiftly on their back then flex and dive instantaneously. So elegant!  We wait for feeding time. Food is thrown to them in plastic balls which they set on their breast and ransack as they swim. 

Next day – We can’t go further west so it’s time to head toward home. We’ll make for Yosemite today. 

There’s a low growing plant stabilizing the sand dunes that the guide books condemn as invasive. A little further inland we see what really is the invasive species.  The hillsides are covered with glistening plastic protecting what, strawberries perhaps? Homo sapiens has changed this area beyond recognition, specifically those from Europe. Not too long ago this was Mexico and now the Mexican laborers without whom the rest of us would starve are called immigrants and are hated and feared as invaders. 

I like the rolling hills covered with brown grass and sprinkled with dark green California oak trees. They do feel a bit alien but I reckon I could quite easily have gotten used to them, especially if I had a horse. 

West of those hills we’re rolling across flat land toward the mountains. I love all this sunshine, and the mountains. 

And now west of the mountains it’s entirely flat. The fields are vast. There are huge bales of cotton wrapped in yellow plastic. A few fields are iridescent green. Lettuce, perhaps. Most of them are bare. As we travel further there are enormous tracts of irrigated fruit and nut trees. 

Everything is irrigated. This feels more like mining than farming. We’re forcibly extracting food from the environment. 

Further still huge flocks of milk cattle are packed under low roofs to protect them from the sun. The cruelty with which we raise meat, milk and eggs is very distressing. If I could still eat meat of course I would because I enjoyed the taste and texture, so it’s good I can’t. 

We stop by the roadside for lunch. I’ve realized it’s good to add an equal amount of water to my lunchtime formula. Helps to keep me hydrated. The idea dawned on me after I’d been adding coffee to my breakfast for a while. 

After lunch we ascend a scenic canyon. It’s barely 3 when we reach the campsite but the sun has already gone from this narrow valley. I’ll enjoy the scenery more in the morning.

Next day – We drive up the canyon and stop beside the river. There’s very little water now but it must be spectacular in flood. The bed of the river is entirely filled with gigantic round boulders. The canyon walls are vertical, many of them hundreds of feet high. 

This road was made in the twenties. People used to come by train to the nearest town then travel in on the dirt track by horse drawn wagon. Rich people took long vacations back then.

Further on we stop and walk through the trees to a meadow of tall dry grass. This must be the most beautiful time of year. Shimmering yellow leaves dance on the breeze to the ground. Felicity says she must return to paint and stay here for many weeks. 

We continue, stopping often for photographs. While my lunch settles Felicity goes for a walk through the trees to the river. “A small bear just walked down to drink!” she texts. 

Of course I immediately set off to find her. The bear finished drinking and has gone back up the bank and been joined by another. They’re quite young. The mother must be close by but there’s no sign of her. 

One of them climbs a tree covered by a vine on which there must be berries. Then it rejoins the other one and they tussle like small boys. They aren’t at all interested in us. 

When we get back to the RV I realize I locked my keys inside and Felicity didn’t take hers because I was in the RV. I always take my keys, except this time because I was in a hurry to see the bear. What to do?  

One of the side windows is open. Felicity borrows a screwdriver and pries the screen back. I climb a little way in, Felicity pushes on my feet, I pull with my arms and tumble exhausted to the floor. My diaphragm must be getting weaker. But who cares when there’s a chance to see bears?

There’s no cellphone service here so I can’t see how the election is going. I voted out of revulsion against Trump and the Republican program but disgust is not enough. The Democrats must have a compelling alternative platform. 

My ALS Adventure – December 2018

We got home from our long road trip around the middle of the month and planned to visit our three sons for Christmas. I was quite a lot weaker than when they’d last seen me and I didn’t want them to be surprised so I sent them the following note.

Hi Guys, I included health related events in some of my road trip emails but it’s a while since I gave an overall picture.  It sounded gloomy when I started writing this so I stopped because that gave the wrong impression. I felt a bit low that day but I almost always feel happy to be alive, enjoying the things I can still do. I just rehung prayer flags that blew down a couple of nights ago then walked round the yard, for example, but I’ll start with what I wrote then because I’d be pretending if I gave the impression that I never feel at all low.

I wrote:  My equanimity is incomplete today. I’ve been tired since we got home from our road trip, exhausted the first couple of days then with a little more energy each day but with no improvement the past couple of days. I’m tired of being tired. 

I’m not aware of telling myself stories about my possible future. I completely accept, as far as I can tell, that my strength will keep declining. I think it’s just that my limits really are a nuisance and I can’t get used to what I can still do because the limits on that keep increasing. It continues to be an adventure, a thought provoking opportunity for learning, but right now it’s as if I’m in an area where it’s colder than I’m used to and it’s raining. 

I’ve walked round the yard a couple of times since we got back. I had to keep stopping to catch my breath the first time and I was wearing my neck brace to see how that would feel. It was uncomfortable. I didn’t wear it the second time and I felt stronger so it was more enjoyable. 

I expect I’m disappointed that I stopped getting stronger and our trip is over and that’s compounded by frustration over my nostrils being so plugged the last two nights that I couldn’t use the BIPAP. Not using it may, of course, be why I’ve been so tired yesterday and today. Felicity did a lot of vacuuming and air filter cleaning and I’m breathing better today. 

Another factor could be having our first really frustrating experience because I can’t speak. It was the first problem we’ve been unable to fix. I realized how difficult everyday life must be for those who are more disabled than I am. 

So, here’s what’s going on as best as I can tell.  My diaphragm, neck, leg and other muscles all continued to weaken in the months we were on the road.  I was driving, which requires little muscle strength, and I was getting very little other exercise so I didn’t notice any change until it recently became an effort to hold my head upright.  Now I’m home I’m walking a bit more, climbing the stairs and whatnot, so I am noticing that my body is weaker.

I hadn’t had the energy to climb to my practice room until yesterday afternoon.  I sat meditating for half an hour, and although it felt similar to reflecting in other places it was more productive in the place Buddhist teachers refer to as a container.  I’ll reestablish my practice up there for as along as I can climb the stairs.

We need strength to control our body. We also need it to control our mind, our consciousness  There’s nothing I can do beyond what I’m already doing to avert my loss of physical strength but I can keep on gaining more control of my mind.  The new challenges I will keep encountering as my body keeps losing functionality will give me new opportunities for learning so long as I view them in that way.

To summarize, I’m happy to be alive today and I almost always am but I don’t want to pretend I’m entirely happy in every instant.  How could I be when I don’t yet have full control of my mind?  It doesn’t play scary videos about my future but I do still hear gloomy background music sometimes when I get very tired.  I’m less tired today because Felicity persuaded me to take a half measure of Nyquil last night in case my nostrils blocked again. They did and I had to take off the BIPAP but I got a lot of good sleep, anyway. Thank you so much, Felicity for that and for all the other things you do!  I’m blessed to be with you.

January 3rd – Being with family for the holidays were very happy times.

It was also tiring. Our last visit was on New Year’s Day and by the time we got home I felt I’d reached a plateau of permanent tiredness.

It wasn’t true, just a story I made up. The next morning I decided to restart pushing myself, not hard but every day. I would resume my daily Buddhist practice and build it back to at least an hour. I would walk round the yard every day, and/or do something productive. This afternoon I tried to jump start my car that died while we were away and determined the problem is something other than or in addition to a dead battery. I also drove the mower around to charge its battery.

I sent my health update to Doma, too. She now goes for teachings by my first Buddhist teacher. Here’s part of her reply to what I wrote; “You spend most of your life in equanimity but disruption of that state is a very natural human experience. The realization of that means you are conscious and with consciousness comes work. Today, Anam Thubten said practicing Buddhism and meditating would be so boring if you do not find a piece in you that needs work.”  He’s so wise and so funny 🙂

Road Trip – Chapter 9

The man at the Visitor Center says you can see Japan’s north island from the top of the lighthouse on a clear day. This is not one, though, and the lighthouse is closed so the lady shows us on a map how to get to the harbor, a beach and a campsite among redwoods. 

First stop the lighthouse. But on the way back to the RV there’s a small farmers’ market with a single stall of veggies, two with jewelry and stuff made of rope and wood, a taco vendor who I would patronize if I could and a BBQ one where I would get lunch to go. Felicity selects a cinnamon Danish and coffee from the baked goods man. 

The lighthouse is a three floor building on an island just offshore that can be accessed at low tide. It’s shrouded in mist right now. The fog horn is not there but out on a jetty. On a bluff facing the island Bigfoot is making for a house, not with good intent. 

There are many working fishing boats in the harbor.  Why is every one of them spotlessly clean?

At the beach Felicity is elated by the big waves.  She read about sneaker waves, big ones that come much farther inshore than you expect and sweep you back with them. There’s a sign warning that if you feel an earthquake tremor you should immediately go to high ground, which explains road signs that we’re in a tsunami area.  Plenty of earthquakes in this part of the world. 

We drive to a place where Felicity can take a coastal hike. I feel it’s better that I conserve my energy so I stay in the rv, do some Buddhist practice then listen to more of Zen And. 

Now we go further and are soon in a forest of giant redwoods. There’s no way to prepare for the experience. They’re gigantic and have been alive so long. They know how things were before Columbus. They stay still with no urge to speak of what they’ve seen. 

Our campsite is very peaceful. No cellphone service so we’re off the grid. As Felicity prepares to go for a walk a gray fox trots past.

When Felicity returns she sits outside with a glass of white wine. It’s a little chilly so I sit inside and, since it’s still afternoon not yet dinner time I have a Deschutes Obsidian Stout. Very tasty. I know because I put my finger in the syringe then run it around my tongue. I can’t lick my finger now because my tongue muscles have atrophied. 

I drink slowly while continuing to listen to Zen And. He’s talking about Phaedrus’ puzzlement over quality. I see it as our measure of how close things are to their ideal version. Quality is mysterious only in that the scale has no numerical markings. 

Our sense of the ideal is shared to a great extent and it changes as cultures evolve. We usually don’t have words to describe our ideal forms adequately but we know when we see, hear or otherwise feel them. 

The beer finished, I turn off the audio book and lie down to contemplate further. When Felicity comes in I’m fast asleep. She has dinner while I sleep on. At last I surface, partly. “Did you have dinner?” Thumb down. “You need to eat.” I get out my sleeping bag. “Please eat something.” I lie down and am unconscious again. 

Next day – Felicity was worried that I’m about to need a wheelchair. I resolve to go back to having a beer only when it’s almost time to sleep. 

We drive to the Big Tree trail after breakfast. The one in question is not necessarily the biggest but it is close to the road. It’s almost 300 feet tall despite its top having broken off and it was already tall when Muhammad was born. It’s estimated to be 1,500 years old. 

We walk the easy circuit through the giant trees. It’s remarkably close to silent here, just the call of a few birds.  The redwoods grow like very tightly bonded families, younger ones snuggled against the central one.  

The first part of our journey onwards is over flat, low fertility land bordered on one side by ocean and on the other by scrubby hills. The second part is through hills densely covered with magnificent evergreens and with a few open areas of light brown grass. I wonder why they exist?

We set up at Leggett around 5:30 in a campsite among redwoods. Felicity learns that it’s owned by an 82 year old English woman who bought it twenty years ago. Her staff tried to get her to take a week’s vacation this summer but she said she’d go crazy if she didn’t stay busy. 

Felicity lights a camp fire and I sit with her for quite a while. “Shall I get you a beer?” Thumb down. I don’t want to go to sleep again before eating and I don’t want to sit outside with a bare belly, anyway. The fire isn’t that hot. 

Sitting by a camp fire without a beer or snacks is disappointing because I have a concept of how it should be. We must do this more often so I can work on shedding the concept and enjoying the experience just as it is. 

Next day – It’s a fine sunny day. We’ll take a leisurely drive to Mendocino. 

I’ve been measuring my muscle strength for four months now so it’s worth looking at the changes. The results vary from day to day so I’ll eyeball the averages. That will be okay because I just want to see trends. 

Hmmm. My legs are losing strength rapidly. 

R quads mid-Jun 85% mid-Oct 50%
L quads 80% -> 60%
R hamstring 80% -> 50%
L hamstring 80% -> 50%
R calves 85% -> 65%
L calves 70% -> 65%

My forearms have lost a lot of strength and my shoulders are also much weaker. Not so much change in the rest of my upper body. 

R shoulder 65% -> 50%
L shoulder 60% -> 42%
R chest 45% -> 50%
L chest 40% -> 30%
R biceps 50% -> 43%
L biceps 45% > 43%
R forearm 70% -> 40%
L forearm 60% -> 35%
R triceps 60% -> 55%
L triceps 60% -> 60%

My abs are weaker but the rest of my core seems to be doing reasonably well. 

R Abs 60% -> 45%
L Abs 60% -> 40%
R upper back 55% -> 50%
L upper back 50% -> 35%
R lower back 80% -> 80%
L lower back 65% -> 69%
R glutes 90% -> 90%
L glutes 85% -> 80%

I wonder to what extent my legs are weakening because their motor neurons are dying and to what extent because they’re getting so little exercise?

It’s not far to Mendocino. We stop at several overlooks and a beach. A dog here is very skilled at catching the Frisbee his people throw for him (but I only have video of that). 

A mile or so south of Mendocino there’s a state park just across the road from the beach. This is the place for us for tonight. There’s no cellphone service, though, and while I’m content not to know the “news” I do miss virtual contact with my family and friends. 

Felicity says my affinity for the redwoods is because neither of us can talk. I still sometimes talk in my dreams though. Do the redwoods? My instinct is they’ve always chosen silence. 

Breakfast time. I grind up my nine Tibetan pills. Later I will take three Western supplements and later still my anti-drooling meds, the Western ALS medicine, the anti-depressant and baby aspirin.  Tibetan and Western medicine are sciences in that both are based on experiment and observation. They both have imperfect theories, however, about how the body works. The Tibetan channels, winds and so forth don’t make sense to most Westerners but it’s also the case that while they are effective, Western medicine’s theory about how anti-depressants work is wrong. 

Felicity takes her painting gear to the beach. I drive around Mendocino and out to the headland where there’s a fine view and cellular access. A pair of divers ask to “leverage my cellphone” and call someone to pick them up. Then three dudes who would have fit here perfectly in the ’60s yell to ask if I can jump start their car. I drive over and they’re soon back on the road. 

Mendocino Headlands State Park

Now I check out the used bookstore. It’s not as if I need more books but I get five, anyway. There’s a great bonus, too; I get a dog fix. He’s shy but he relaxes and is very happy to have his ears whirdled. 

The coastal road south is even more winding than I remember but it’s not all along the cliff face. I guess I remember it that way because of the one very sharp turn I took too fast in 1970 on what I hadn’t noticed was a wet mud slick. The car slid straight toward a plunge into the ocean before the tires bit. I can still see and feel it happening. 

The campsite we’re aiming for is full but the exuberant Ranger, who must be resting between theatrical gigs, says there’s a spot left in the overflow area. Felicity buys firewood and ignites a smoke storm that envelopes our neighbors downwind until one of them comes and sprays her smoldering logs with lighter fluid. 

Our upwind neighbors are a very friendly woman who, with her sister, has an event catering business. She lives in town but comes here because she loves camping. She’s here with her mom, her mom’s female partner and two tiny dogs. The mom gives Felicity a bowl of shrimps cooked in garlic butter. One of the dogs wants to share. 

I stay in the rv because it’s cold and I’m coughing. Wood smoke would not be helpful. Our female neighbors wave to me with big smiles. I read more about logging in the northwest then switch to an excellent Henning Mankell mystery. 

Next day – There’s a farmer’s market in Bodega so we stop to see what they have and get small gifts for people we will stay with as we continue our trip, I buy a California Delta Blues cd from the performer and Felicity enjoys an ice cream. 

The hills further south are mostly cattle pastures. And it’s sunny again!  Mist is romantic but the sun feels so much better. We drive on and are soon with Doma and our dear friends in El Cerrito. How great to be with them again!  

From the balcony, looking out over Oakland, we see a big fire that’s unrelated to the devastating forest fires north of here.

Next few days – We’re having a lovely time catching up. This could, of course, be the last time I can be with Doma, David and Ilana but it doesn’t feel that way and there’s no value in fearing that it may be so. 

David found a truck repair shop where they’re willing to install and calibrate the re-manufactured speedometer module that I had shipped here and we took the rv there this morning.  I’ll report its health after we’re back on the road. 

Road Trip – Chapter 8

It’s a beautiful sunny day. Felicity finds a place four miles from here, on the coast of course, where she wants to paint. I’m still feeling a bit tired so I’ll be happy to rest. 

The GPS takes us to the place, up extremely steep hills with extremely tight turns until we reach a single lane dirt track that goes down hill. It ends with a Private No Entry sign. 

I back laboriously to a place where I can, with considerable difficulty, turn and Felicity says she’s given up on painting today. “Let’s go to the Creamery Museum”.  On the way I stop at a tiny turnoff overlooking the spectacular bay. Felicity gets out to take pictures and I follow. We both take many pictures. 

“It’s too bright and hazy. I can’t paint that today”.  So we set off again. I see a turning to a boat launch and take it. Felicity says she just doesn’t have it in her to paint today. “I’ll just get out and look, though”.

She’s gone quite a while. I see her sitting on a bench looking out at the ocean and I get out to take more pictures. An old guy in a boat has just come in. He’s sitting waiting for the boat owner to bring his truck and trailer to haul the boat out. It’s most picturesque. 

Felicity returns. “I’m just going to have to do it, aren’t I?” I confirm that destiny is calling, she collects her backpack and bravely sets off, then I get out my lunch stuff. There’s no longer any pleasure in eating but it keeps me alive and I do like that. 

I read more of Barry Maitland’s “The Chalon Heads”. It’s the first of his books I’ve read, an excellent mystery. 

Felicity returns feeling rejuvenated. She’s pleased with her painting and she should be. “Let’s go to the Creamery now” she says and off we go. She’ll have lunch there while I get gas and beer and check out the nearby Goodwill store for more books. 

It turns out liquor stores don’t sell beer in Oregon. You go to the supermarket for that. I guess the logic is it’s a staple of existence. A man with no legs is sitting across from the supermarket. I give him a few dollars, something I never used to do. 

At Goodwill I find two hardcover novels at $6.99 each and realize I’m spending more on them than I gave the man with no legs. I need to do a lot more work on miserliness. 

We return to the campsite. Felicity goes to paint another picture. I listen to more of Zen And. I’m hooked now. 

Next day – Felicity finds a place on the coast about an hour south where she wants to paint. The GPS takes us along the coast then inland through the hills where a few small scale beef cattle ranches have been carved out of the pine forest. 

Every so often there’s an area of clear cutting. One, surprisingly high, is now a giant sand dune. 

Our destination turns out to be a resort. Painting isn’t really practical here so we go for a walk on the beach where we’re joined by a group on horses, then we sit in the sun. I’m coughing today. It’s quite windy on the beach so maybe something in the air is making it worse. 

Felicity is still recovering from her cold. She doesn’t feel up to painting now. We’ll head inland and explore. There’s a woolen mill museum that looks worth visiting. 

East of the mountains the land is first rolling then flat. We’re back in arable farming country. As we bowl along the highway I realize I can start using cruise control again. But it doesn’t work. That will help to diagnose the remaining problem. Neither the speedometer, odometer nor cruise control work. Everything else is okay although the transmission still hesitates briefly before engaging gear and it tends to slam into gear. 

There’s an orientation film at the museum that tells the area’s history. Methodist missionaries came shortly before the Oregon Trail was established. Their mission was to “educate the Indians and teach them agriculture” while bringing them to Christ. 

The native Americans were in poor shape to stand up for themselves because an estimated 90% of them had already succumbed to diseases brought by fur trappers. 

We tour the woolen mill, which is similar in many ways to the cotton mill where my great grandfather, John Henry, worked in England but my enjoyment is increasingly hampered by coughing. There’s a wonderful smell of sheep. I have such happy memories of ours. The coughing grows almost continuous so at last I sit and rest while Felicity continues to study the exhibits. 

We drive on to a campsite near Corvallis where the previous owners of our Newtown CT sheep farm, in their case a horse farm, moved. I Bullfrog myself. It’s hard to believe it’s beneficial not the reverse.  

Next day – I’m emailed by a woman who, while researching her family history, found my website where I posted the Sidwell History I wrote a few years ago. Her grandmother was the sister of the mother of my dad’s cousin Richard who felt like a brother to him. Her aunt has happy memories of Richard and Gill. We chat and she sends photos. I’ll put her in touch with Richard and Gill’s daughter, Amanda.

I Bullfrog myself again then we start driving to Bend to visit Elaine who I worked with at DunsGate. The road is at first flat and leads through mostly arable country with a few cattle farms and a couple of sheep farms. Then we reach the mountains. 

Up, up we go through mixed pine and deciduous forest beside what must at times be a raging torrent but is now almost dry. There’s been a drought here for the last four years. Trees beside the river bed are still thickly encrusted with moss. 

As we continue up, up I recall a trek where we made a very long climb. I asked Dhiren, our guide, from time to time if we were near the top. He smiled each time and said yes. At last I concluded “the top” is a metaphysical concept with no parallel in nature, not in the Himalayas at any rate.

The mountain sides further up are covered with dead trees. There was evidently a big fire here. We stop where there’s a description and learn it was in fact a gigantic fire that spread over 90,000 acres. There’s a short description of why such a fire could happen. 

These forests had a crown when only native Americans lived here that shaded the ground. That meant the forest was relatively open, growing grass not shrubs and saplings. Then the settlers came with tools to “manage” the forest. The pines were grown closer and closer together. Lightning strikes that used to cause small fires had so much more to combust, generating more and hotter flames whose roaring updraft accelerated and spread the wildfire. 

Our predecessors were such arrogant people. Their sense of entitlement and contempt for others continue to be a deep stain on our culture. But we have learned some things and we can keep working to grow more aware.  

Next Day – We’re going to visit Elaine in Bend today and we’ll probably stay the night. 

Doma’s mom and her community evaluate a person’s heart as well as their brain. Both must be strong if you’re to depend on someone, if they are to be your true friend. 

Elaine and I depended on each other when we worked together in New York but Felicity is apprehensive that we will quickly run out of topics for conversation because she only met Elaine once, it’s almost twenty years since Elaine and I last met, and I can now only communicate by writing. 

We arrive and start talking and although there’s a lot to catch up on, it feels like only a few months since the last time. We talk about our families, how Elaine’s co-housing community works, Colorado and, along the way, what we value. No need to reminisce about when we worked together and no need to avoid it either. Felicity and Elaine enjoy each other very much. It’s a lovely time. 

Next day – Elaine suggests we visit Crater Lake. We drive south through forests that have been thinned to become as they were before logging began. I couldn’t live here for fear of forest fires. But now I say that I realize I’d have said the same about living on a sand bank at the ocean’s edge. 

It’s mostly single lane but it’s a straight and flat highway. Henry would thank me if he could. Or maybe not because he’d know it couldn’t last. As indeed it doesn’t. We turn west and start to climb. I love the hot, bright sun and the sharp contrasts in this light. 

There’s a pull-off when we’re in the Crater Lake park. We walk up a sandy bank and with no warning, suddenly there below us is a great body of brilliantly blue water. We’re on a volcano’s rim. It’s so beautiful! Breath talking. 

Literally breath taking for me, in fact.  The oxygen content is lower at 7,000 to 8,000 feet above sea level and, because my diaphragm now pulls in less air, I feel the way I did at 13,000 feet on my first Himalayan trek fifteen years ago. 

I was a bit worried then but with that experience I know now to adjust the demand I place on my muscles to a level at which my lungs can supply enough oxygen. I was fine on subsequent treks at 19,000 feet and it’s possible to summit Everest without supplementary oxygen ten thousand feet higher. You do have to have intact lungs, though. Ed Hillary couldn’t go higher than 10,000 feet on his last visit to Nepal. 

“Shall we do the 30 mile rim drive?  What do you think?” asks Felicity. I do think for a moment but of course I give her the thumbs up. It can take quite a while to drive 30 miles if you keep stopping to marvel at the view and take photographs. We’re lucky to be here at this time of year because school holidays are over. There must be huge crowds in summer. 

Half way round we stop stopping at every view point. We’re both getting tired and we’ll have to find a campsite. Felicity studies the map while I nurse Henry up and down the very steep road. “We shouldn’t go the way I originally wanted” she says “because now I’ve looked at the contour map I see the road is very steep and winding. We should go back the way we came in, then south or west. South is easier but west gets us closer to the coast.”

I’m feeling very happy and sign that we should go west. The very dry air is making me cough but that will pass. My BiPap slightly moistens the air so I’ll be better in the morning. 

Next day – After going to bed very early and sleeping long I feel much better. When my nose finishes draining and the coffee I added to my formula has taken effect I feel great. 

Felicity wants to see waterfalls near this campsite in Prospect. The signs at what seem to be viewing spots are either non-existent or confusing. We start down a steep footpath with the sound of falling water in the distance. 

“Are you really up for this?” Felicity asks. “It will be a hard climb back.” I’m doing okay so far. “I’m up for it if you are” I write. Long pause.  “I’m not sure I am, and I really think it’s too much for you.” “Okay”, I gesture, pointing back uphill and start walking. 

I have to stop for breath quite soon. Then I have to stop again and breathe for a long time before starting again. I have to stop several more times on the short ascent.  My legs are okay, I just can’t get enough breath. 

That’s when I remember the other thing that happens at high altitude. Your judgment turns to shit. 

The first part of the drive is through hay fields and pastures liberally sprinkled with deciduous trees whose leaves are every shade of yellow and gold, with just the occasional burst of red and even more rare, a tree whose leaves are still deep green. Everything is vibrant in the strong sun. So much energy here, so beautiful and invigorating.  

The steep hillsides enclosing the valley are forested with a mix of pine and deciduous trees. 

Up we go into the mountainous hills then down, down until we follow the Smith River along an exceptionally winding road cut into the rock beside the river. All I can see is the road just ahead. 

Then we’re in a forest of truly gigantic trees, old growth redwoods. They are so tall and of such huge diameter. They block that strong sun so it’s actually dark in here. I feel humbled by their presence. 

Our campsite also has redwoods and is quite close to the ocean. A mournful lighthouse fog horn is almost the only sound. 

Road Trip – Chapter 7

It’s raining gently when I wake. I take off the BIPAP and go to the bathroom. When I get back in bed it’s no longer raining but it soon resumes. This is no climate for the clinically depressed. 

My Sidwell grandfather who suffered from depression said his ideal job was a golf caddy. The tournaments are scheduled where rain is unlikely and you keep moving from one to the next so you always have good weather. 

We, the weather and everything else appear from the ever changing energy field that is the universe. I don’t understand what enables us to make choices but whatever it is, it’s a great blessing. Among other things it enables me to not live in a rain forest. 

Driving south on the highway through this swirling blend of air and water that forms rain and cloud I realize how lucky I am that I’ve never been entirely certain about anything. My mind is open to the implications of experience, information and hypotheses. Relatively, at any rate. 

I wasn’t always happy about change.  Depression makes you fear that change will make your situation even worse, which would not be the best frame of mind on a long road trip. 

We head west on highway 30 aiming for Seaside as Alison recommended. I hope to see ads for lutefisk when we go through Svenson but it turns out to be off the highway.  Many folks came here from the Nordic lands for the fishing. 

Lutefisk is by far the worst tasting food I ever had. It was on the menu in Oslo so I had to try it and, having been raised in immediately post-war England, I then had to finish it which was possible only by washing every bite down with schnapps. By the end of the meal my lips were completely numb. 

We stop off at the Columbia River Maritime Center. The river brings huge amounts of sediment down to where it meets the Pacific and the sediment is deposited as fast changing sand banks, which makes entry to the river very dangerous. Many, many boats have foundered here. 

Since it wasn’t possible to build a lighthouse on the Bar they moored a lightship there and provisioned it with enough food and other supplies so the crew could survive long spells when the waves and winds made reprovisioning impossible.  

The ship would bob up and down as much as 40 feet and roll from side to side. Everyone aboard was likely to get seasick. Felicity asks why anyone would choose to live that way. The guide says: “In the military you don’t get a choice”

We arrive at a campsite and find we’d have to make a booking by telephone and the site is very expensive so we set off for another one close by. The speedometer starts to flog up and down, the odometer flickers and the RV can’t stay in gear. 

It’s a bit better when I put it in 2nd instead of Drive. An electrical problem caused by the rain?  It’s Sunday so not much we can do today. We’ll see if it’s any better in the morning and call for help. 

Later, after researching possible causes online, I text my son Steve the symptoms. Low transmission fluid, he replies, and if it’s not low the transmission died. I remember how it’s been feeling for the last few days, definitely not right. 

Next day – Felicity begins calling around. The place nearby that Google points to and whose customers rave about it doesn’t deal with transmissions. A place further away couldn’t fix the rv today but they could take a look.  If we can get there. 

Felicity calls our rv travel insurance. She’s told the insurance the rv dealer sold us only covers cars. Felicity is very nice and at last Taisha the representative says maybe they can help us anyway. Eventually she says they will arrange a tow for us. 

The tow truck arrives late in the afternoon. It takes a long time to get Henry hooked up but we do get to the AAMCO hospital before they close. The owner, Scott, is an ex-cop who bought the business five months ago. He says the previous owner stole a lot of money from many customers but he is building a business to benefit his community. He seems honest and competent. For sure he has a high opinion of himself. 

Scott says the transmission fluid smells fine and when he takes Henry for a drive all seems well!  The speedometer is what tells the transmission when to shift, he says, so that could account for most of the problem.  They’ll investigate in the morning.  We can stay here in Henry tonight.

We’re up earlier than usual and leave Henry to be made well again. We go for a walk along the harbor front to where seals and sea lions are basking in the mist, barking like a pack of big dogs.  

Felicity feels the need for exercise so we walk along the harbor wall. I walk slowly so I won’t run out of breath. She alternates between a normal pace and stopping to take pictures. She says we are the tortoise and the hare. 

We go to a coffee house then the cannery museum. There is no staff here, just photographs and canning objects, especially cans, and a couple of small screen videos. One is a collection of oral history recordings, the other a respectful TV documentary from the ’50s about Bumblebee Tuna and Salmon. 

Many young men came here in the late 1800s, especially from the Nordic region, to work in the fishing industry and the Columbia River became one of the great fish canning centers. Cannery owners at first had complete control and life was very precarious for the fishermen. They unionized and got better conditions and prices for a while, then the industry relocated to Alaska. 

We amble back to AAMCO. Scott very much does not want us to bother him. He will call when he has something to say. We should let him work. And so on. Felicity goes for lunch. I sit in the waiting area. 

A couple of hours later I take a casual walk to the other side of the shop. It looks like they’re working on Henry. 

The sun comes out!  I go to join Felicity in the Rogue Bar where she had fish and chips which, since the local fish is salmon, was fried salmon and chips. She says it was delicious, the batter having the same taste and texture as English batter. Then she apologizes because I can’t have any. But I really don’t mind. I’m happy she enjoyed the meal.

Late in the afternoon Scott explains what they’ve been doing.  Henry’s computer gave them three codes about problems. Two were obviously spurious. The other indicated that he needed a new VSS sensor. When that was replaced Scott went for a test drive. The transmission worked fine but the speedometer needle didn’t move and the odometer was dead. 

They then walked the diagnostic decision tree, took off the dashboard, and found none of the potential problems was present. Either the dashboard console or the computer is defective. We’ll have to go to a Ford dealer. 

Scott calls his buddy at the local Ford dealer. Too late to go today. We should go first thing in the morning. 

Scott feels bad that he can’t entirely fix the problems so he charges us only for the sensor and one hour’s labor. All the other hours are on him. We thank him effusively for his help and generosity. Later, I post very positive reviews on his website and Yelp. 

Scott is what Christine, my extremely smart last boss, referred to as a “look at me” guy. He wears two diamonds in his ear, a big gold bracelet, a Rolex, and a massive ring with sapphires.  He’s an ex-cop and he carries a pistol at all times. His car is bright red. He comes across initially as a hardass but he is very friendly once respect has been sufficiently demonstrated. 

Felicity made a great effort to win his approval. She learned the techniques while dealing with frightened patients when she worked as a dental assistant. When we check out she comments on the huge bullets standing on the counter. “50mm” Scott says, “The largest you can legally own”. He goes into his office and returns with his enormous 50mm caliber revolver. 

“I built a handgun shooting range at my house” he tells us. “I practice a lot. If I do ever have to use my weapon I want to be sure nobody else gets hurt”

We spend the night at a very good campsite. It’s still not raining so Felicity celebrates with a campfire. 

Next day – we’re at the Ford dealer just after 8. Scott’s contact didn’t book us in but they have an open slot at 10. We settle in the waiting room. 

Just before 11 we’re told the console containing the speedometer and other instruments needs to be rebuilt. They don’t make new ones for this 23 year old truck any more. It will probably take a month all told. 

I ask if it’s okay to drive. It is. We just won’t know how fast we’re going and the odometer won’t track our mileage. We can’t wait here for a month so we’ll drive on.  I could get a GPS speedometer but I drive slower than everyone else so it doesn’t seem worthwhile. Henry won’t pass inspection unless the odometer is working so we’ll try to get it fixed when we get home. 

I’m a little skeptical about the diagnosis and I’d like to be more confident that the new sensor completely fixed the transmission.  If I could I’d avoid steep hills and minor roads where a breakdown would be a problem but that’s impossible round here. 

So we rejoin Rte 101 and start down the spectacular coast. Felicity is very excited. Then the GPS takes us on a short cut through narrow valleys among the hills. The grass is astonishingly green. Beef cattle grazing on these small fields look very happy. How could anyone not be happy in this beautiful, verdant place?

Henry does fine but we’re tired so we camp earlier than usual. One benefit of that is I can sit in the sun (that’s right, sun) with a beer.  It would be better still if I could join Felicity with the pita chips, but a Guinness is very welcome even on its own.

Anticipating the arrival of my Guinness

Road Trip – Chapter 6

The thing about a wasting disease like ALS is you never know if today is the new normal or an aberration. We’re accustomed, if we’re lucky enough to have a healthy body, to thinking that if we feel a little low today we’ll feel better again tomorrow. The long term ALS trend is you’ll keep feeling worse but on any given day you really might feel better than the day before. 

I was very tired yesterday. Could the slightly lower oxygen level in the air a mile above sea level be affecting me? Who knows? This morning I’m happy to find I have what is my currently normal level of fatigue.  

Felicity didn’t feel good and slept poorly last night so we set off late. The road to Jasper is spectacular and we keep stopping to take photos.  These mountains were pushed up between 70 to 80 and 35 to 55 million years ago when tectonic plates piled in from the west under the plate that was already here. I imagine an aging Tyrannosaurus gazing where the horizon used to be and saying “Eee, when I were a lad...”

There’s a toilet at one of the places we stop with a man about my age waiting.  His back is a little bent. His arms are shaking spasmodically and hard, his hands flailing back and forth. He looks painfully cold and perhaps he does feel cold but it’s Parkinsons Disease. I want to give him a hug but would he understand?  Since I can’t talk I couldn’t explain if he didn’t understand my gesture.  

I wondered if I’d have the urge to climb the mountains or hike among them and if I’d feel disappointed that I can’t. I didn’t. I think I didn’t have the urge because we were driving not walking and also because they’re of a size where there’s no doubt they could be climbed. The Himalayas are quite different, vast, not on a human scale. 

Further on, though, the valley is narrower and its entire bed is a jumble of small rounded rocks. The surge of water through here when the snow melts must be amazing. It reminds me of trekking up the Kali Gandaki river bed toward Upper Mustang in Nepal. All of a sudden I do have the urge to do that again and I’m happy to find I’m not disappointed that it won’t be possible. 

Further on still I’m excited to see a glacier with a perfectly shaped moraine. Felicity is excited by a waterfall. 

We’ve driven slowly and stopped often so it takes far longer than scheduled to reach Jasper. Felicity finds a great campsite at Whistler just short of town. The woman who checks us in tells us where we can go in the morning to have a good chance of seeing bear, elk and moose. 

Next day – Gentle rain all night. We’re both off to a slow start. I’m not motivated by the prospect of my breakfast rigmarole and make some coffee. Excellent. Now I can tackle breakfast with equanimity. 

After booking a second night here we drive into Jasper for milk and drinking water. It feels like a village and is much more appealing than Banff. There are many people even though it’s the end of the season. I imagine this would be a fine place to live if I was still strong. 

We head out on the road we were advised to take, the road to Lake Maligne, and soon see an elk pottering about in the middle of the road. They sure are big. It continues to look around, bends to lick the road surface, then takes another look at the lines of cars building in both directions. Eventually it ambles nonchalantly up the bank and looks back as the cars move on. 

We see no more animals on the way to the lake where Felicity goes for a short walk. After enjoying watching a group of Japanese joyfully raising their hands for birds to perch on I plod back to the RV for a rest remembering my grandfather’s visit when I was seven. It’s my only memory of him and it’s no more than a two second video. We had gone for a walk and I was amazed that anyone could walk so slowly. He died a few months later. 

The only animal we see on our way back to Jasper is a red squirrel but on the outskirts a female elk is grazing. I cross the road to take pictures. 

We go on a little and there’s a buck lying in the middle of a meadow digesting his evening meal and observing all the people taking his picture. 

A little further on another buck is still grazing. Another is a hundred yards away. The bucks keep themselves to themselves but females are grazing together several hundred yards away. 

The elk seem entirely comfortable with cars and people nearby. Bears are not so we don’t see any. 

Next day – We set the GPS for Clearwater on the way to Kamloops then drive in to Jasper for propane and gas. That takes us off the route so the GPS tells me to make a U-turn and when I don’t do that to go left, and so on and so on.  

Felicity says she could never live here: “The mountains are beautiful but there’s no horizon and there are so many people. So many people!”

It’s a magnificent day. The colors are spectacular. Road signs tell us we must have winter tires and have snow chains after October 1st. It’s September 28th today. 

We cross the Continental Divide, drop into the sandy valley and after a while head south down the valley. There are big signs for a river safari to see moose and bear. I point to one as we pass and look questioningly at Felicity. “I thought about it but I don’t think so”.  

Later she says: “I do want to see a bear but it’s not Spring so they won’t be coming to the river for fish”.  A while later she says: “I do want to but it’s probably closed”.

So I pull into the dirt track when we get there. I’d like to see a bear in the wild but I’m not feeling up to a river trip. Felicity books herself a ticket then gets food while she waits for the ride to start. 

Felicity texts that a bear emerged from the trees opposite the restaurant, looked around, inspected the river, then went back into the trees. 

I potter about then remember my friend Harold gave me an audiobook of “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”.  He wondered if I would write something similar about this trip. I enjoy the first chapter but it seems quite different from anything I might think or write.  He seems to feel superior to his friends who don’t want to tune their own machines. 

Felicity’s father liked the book and he thought everyone was his inferior.  He could be very condescending. Our attempts at conversation were not very satisfactory. I’m eager to see how the book develops. 

The safari is a huge success. Felicity sees a bear, learns much about them and their lives, and also sees a waterfall. I’m delighted it worked out so well. 

Next Day – It’s windy and cold outside this morning. The RV’S central heating is a blessing. 

We take a scenic and circuitous route to one of the areas of — I was going to say dry land but there seems to be none around here, so better to say land higher than the ocean. We will meet cousin Alison there. 

We’ll arrange that for tomorrow because we’re long overdue for a shower. There are showers at most campsites but the weather has made getting to them unappealing. A motel sounds better for tonight. 

Nothing to report about today’s drive. I couldn’t look around because there was too much traffic on the highway and the minor road was too windy. Henry enjoyed the highway. He tries too hard on hills to stay in high gear. 

Felicity finds a B&B. She’s excited by the advertised spa bath but it turns out to be the same shape and size as a regular bathtub. I suspect she was imagining a hot tub. 

The floor seems to move as I sit here in our room. Living in the RV has the same effect as living on a small boat for a few days. 

Next day – I greatly enjoyed the spa bath and I’m enjoying feeling clean. There was something about the bed though. I felt twice as heavy as usual and my monstrous body weight caused painful pressure on my hips. I had to keep moving, which was hard, in order to avert bed sores.

Felicity is told at breakfast that we should have booked the ferry. One of the two boats ran aground yesterday so only one is running today. The earliest slot available is 7:30 tonight. She books it but we hope there’ll be a no-show for an earlier one. We arrive shortly after the boat leaves and are booked onto the next one. 

Felicity walks around enjoying the ocean view. I listen to more of Zen and etc. I’m starting to get the idea now. 

Port Townsend where the ferry lands is an appealing town. It’s quite small but it has at least three large bookshops, one of which I explore while Felicity visits the museum. She learns that many hippies moved here as tech wealth made San Francisco increasingly gentrified and expensive. That explains all the VW beetles. 

We haven’t heard from Alison but there’s no hurry. I come back to the RV for my formula. Felicity goes to a Fifties Diner overlooking the water. As she walks back she meets Alison. 

Alison is the daughter of my dad’s sister, his only sibling and one of the only two of his relatives we saw most years. Happy memories. She grew up to be among the most universally capable, kind and fun people I’ve ever known. It’s so good to see her again. 

As we set off to camp for the night I notice a Jiffy Lube that is still open. I’ve been hoping to find one. We have to wait quite a while because only the manager and one tech are still working and the van they’re working on needs a lot done. 

When my turn comes I type “It’s been a long day for you guys. Thank you for staying for me.” The manager says I made his day. I’m glad it occurred to me to express my thanks. How much happier we’d all be if we thought of thanking each other more often. 

Next day – Yesterday was sunny, a beautiful day. It’s raining again this morning. We drive south to see Mount St. Helens tomorrow. 

It rains the entire way, sometimes intensely. The wind is strong and gusty and much of the route is a narrow winding road. I have to pay close attention the whole time so I can’t say much about the scenery.  The leaves have turned on a few trees. The dead ones are covered with Spanish moss. 

I’m preoccupied by the Kavanaugh nomination. Republican leaders will force him onto the Supreme Court despite that he lied under oath and he is judged unsuitable by retired Republican Supreme Court Justice Stevens, 12,000 law professors and so many more. 

The Republican leaders don’t care about the character of the man, only the positions he will take, positions he refuses to acknowledge but which his record makes clear. This is not the America I thought I was joining. 

Next day – it’s damp but not raining. I slept well but with long wakefull spells fretting about the damage being done by our corrupt and bigoted politicians. I download my absentee ballot. 

The Jiffy Lube manager’s granpappy lost the ability to speak or eat but he’d already lost the use of his legs by then. Maybe it was just the tone of his voice as he told us but granpappy felt such a sweet name. As I’m about to sign a birthday card for Eleanor I almost rename myself. I’ll sit with it longer before deciding. 

Adding coffee to my breakfast formula was an inspiration. Because the formula is less viscous, it drains into my stomach faster, and there’s that wonderful fragrance. My entire body is already infused with sausage spice so I lost nothing by replacing it with coffee for once. 

We head for Mount St Helens where I learn that it has erupted massively many times and recently enough to give rise to native American legends. One is that Coyote first made a snow mountain he named Tahoma, which we call Mount Rainier, then went south and when Tahoma was no longer visible made a mountain that he named La-We-Lat-Klah meaning “smoker”. It was renamed in 1792 by the British explorer George Vancouver to honor his friend Lord St Helens. 

The mountain is quite young, formed less than 40,000 years ago. In 1480 it erupted much more massively than recently and again two years later with about the same force as in 1980. Another spell of activity began in 1800 with an eruption similar to the latest one which cut it from 9,677 feet to 8,363 feet and left a 1 mile wide horseshoe shaped crater. 

You can just see that the peak is missing

All this activity results from the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate driving east under the American plate while the Pacific plate drifts west away from the Juan de Fuca. We must expect more eruptions here along with earthquakes further south.