Home For Christmas

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“Stay home for Christmas if you want to see the New Year.”

This was the advice from Bay Area officials announced in early December. And so we did just that. The rest of this story is a fantasy, what we dreamed of doing over the Christmas break, with doctored photos to match.

To those I haven’t seen in a long time, I miss you.

To those I haven’t spoken to in a long time, I hope you’re having fun.

To those I see every day, thank you.

Take 1

My last day shift for the year was frantic, with a last minute print of engineering drawings to be reviewed and a confusing mono cooling system failure in the last hour but I left the building before 6pm with a huge smile on my face and well wishes to my colleagues that I’ve had such a great year with.

At home, Dan presented yet another home improvement with the TV stand that had me smiling even more than I was as I walked through the door. We moved out of our 350 square foot studio a month ago to 800 square feet of glorious living space AND a double-garage (workshop) AND a backyard AND a driveway that easily fits both vans and Mobie. We’d definitely settled in enough that we could leave and come back to a place that felt like home.

I made us a tummy-warming dinner then we both got to packing half-heartedly, knowing that we’d do most of the work in the morning. There wasn’t much thinking to do – all climbing gear and all snowboarding gear – done.

The next morning we were up early and Dan was excited to get going. “We’ll be on the slopes by 1pm!” he proclaimed! I was skeptical, but he wasn’t far off either. We left the house by around 9:30am, right on track.

Things took a turn when two thirds of the way up Donner Pass, we pulled off the highway to take a pee. Unfortunately Ramsie was peeing also – from the water pump – and it looked like she was slowly emptying her bladder. Bugger! I was pissed! Before our trip, I’d meticulously given her a thorough look over, rotating the tyres, doing an oil change, inspecting everything underneath and under the bonnet. For what?

Considering we hadn’t seen the temperature gauge move (we wouldn’t have even known we had an issue if we hadn’t stopped) and the below-freezing temperatures outside, we decided to press on. Once we were over Donner Summit we’d be home free.

That worked out just fine. We stopped at the Truckee O’Reilly’s for a new water pump ($50, in stock – always buy American-made!) and carried on to Northstar ski resort. This is our local mountain and we always love it here. We parked at the door and within minutes of parking up a guy was at our side door curious about the van. He obviously hadn’t noticed the coolant piddling onto the ground. I had time to give him a quick tour before Dan was geared up and ready. “Let’s go! There’s powder!”

We had a glorious afternoon of snowboarding. Thanks to a snow storm that had been going for the last few days, we had great conditions and rode until the last lift. Back at camp, the sun set quickly as we watched Thursday night football between the Raiders and the Chargers. Great game! By the time I got outside to cook dinner, there were four other cars parked near us at a place which is normally deserted. Scary thing was that they were mostly sedans – seemed like these people intended to sleep in their cars when it was -10*C at least. Not good.

Friday was a full day of riding and this time the backside of the mountain was open so we did a couple of runs back there and the powder was beautiful! Having snagged our park right by the snow, we enjoyed a long lunch mid-day with Cleo tearing it up in the snow, deciding that while she liked eating snow, she much preferred it when eaten out of someone’s hand.

With the new reservation system in place for skiing/snowboarding at Vail’s resorts, we hadn’t been able to reserve for Saturday, but that changed on our first chairlift Friday. Every morning it’s become a ritual to log on and try get a spot for whatever days we need. It’s a system, therefore there is a way to scam it. Sure enough, Saturday had freed up so we were staying another day!

With the coolant issue, we weren’t going to carry on down the Eastern Sierras as we’d planned. The impending water pump failure wasn’t something we wanted on our minds and doing a replacement in the freezing cold wasn’t our idea of fun. And so we snowboarded all morning Saturday, dealing with ridiculous crowds made worse by the hundreds of ski school goers, then topped Ramsie up with coolant and drove home.

Obviously I watched the temperature gauge the whole way but I didn’t see it flutter and we were home just fine with the water pump still dripping away.

Repairs

Unfortunately, I’d replaced Ramsie’s water pump two years and 41,000 miles ago but fortunately, that meant I knew what was involved. Even more fortunately, this would be the first major mechanical job I did in our fancy new workshop and it was an absolute pleasure. Yes, I’m still working outside (the vans are too tall to fit inside the garage) but with all my tools around me and Dan able to work on other things, it is a different world to our dinky little carport.

It was a whole day job. The fan and belt came off, A/C compressor removed, alternator removed, huge pulley bracket gone and then I could get to the water pump. I was very, very happy to see that the pump was indeed leaking from the weep hole, not from some other place like a hose or gasket, so I was doing the right thing replacing the pump.

Light was fading when I filled the system and turned the engine over and the result wasn’t good. Water was now pissing out from above the water pump. Dan came over immediately when he heard me swear and it only took a minute or so with torches pointing in all directions to figure out the water was coming from a hose above the pump. Thankfully of the two hose clamps on that hose, the one that is accessible was loose. In my excitement to get the job done, I hadn’t tightened it all the way. With that fixed, I turned her over again and hey, presto! No more leak.

Take 2

I confirmed no leak in the morning, watching the engine bay from all angles for a good five minutes before I allowed myself to be convinced. Cool! Let’s go again! We debated changing our route to Phoenix to stay on this side of the Sierras but that was our normal way and we wanted to do some exploring so we stuck to our original plan of heading down on the east side.

We left around 1pm after I’d done some shopping, laundry and cleaned up the van a bit while Dan did his final test on the boot dryer he’d made yesterday (computer fans + electric blanket heater coil). Ready.

We made it all the way to San Francisco airport when I asked, “Did you turn the heater off?” Bugger.

Take 3

The heater wasn’t on, but we had to drive the 20 minutes home to check or we’d have had it on our minds the whole trip. The detour meant we got stuck in major, major traffic heading into and out of the city.

No matter, we found a couple of podcasts to try out, caught up with my parents and learnt about the newest additions to the Gooding family: six chickens by the names of Speckles, Goldie, Snickers, Amelia Egghart, Chick-a-deedee and Jenny Penny.

Once we hit Sacramento, we drove into an uncanny fog. Considering night was almost around us, it was a weird time to see such a thick layer of cloud at ground level and it persisted as we drove out of the city and onto Highway 50.

It was well and truly dark when we crossed into Eldorado National Forest and started camp hunting. We’d been this way before and so already had a few spots picked out. We were stoked to find a secluded spot down by a wide flowing river with the ground sparkling in our headlights. A thick layer of frost covered the earth and glistened with every flash of light. It was absolutely gorgeous and even more impressive under just the half moon’s light. This is what I’d been looking forward to. We parked up and took a minute to appreciate our van and the start of our trip (properly this time). Cleo seemed appreciative too.

Climb? Nah, Board.

It was nice to explore our surroundings in the morning with daylight. I was up early and wandering along the river bank with Cleo. We had an abandoned pile of rubble and a broken down trailer behind us and another better-looking abandoned camper at the other end of the spot. The frosted ground was crunchy underneath my boots as I traipsed around.

Dan made himself a second cup of coffee after spilling the first one I made him and after breakfast we were ready to roll. It took Dan two attempts to get up the icy hill we’d come down and on the way out we met a construction crew who looked like their job was to remove all the crap we’d seen at camp.

As we meandered along Highway 88, we were overtaken by a Subaru with skis and a snowboard on his roof. He was obviously heading to Kirkwood Mountain to the east of us and it made me think, why don’t we go to Kirkwood? It was part of the Vail family of resorts that our season passes got us into and though Dan had been years before and didn’t much like it, I had never been. It seemed way to cold to climb so why not? I got onto my phone and made the necessary reservations and an hour later we were driving up to the mountain.

Kirkwood is more of a bowl than a mountain with a flat ridgeline surrounding the resort with chairlifts pointing up the various ramps. We parked below Timber Creek, in the sun for Cleo and off we went to suss it out. Without the crowds and fanfare of Northstar and Heavenly, it was a nice vibe and we were soon on our first chair. It was a little icy but we were both having fun just exploring somewhere new.

Our second chair took us to the top of the ridgeline and we were warned by many signs and two lifties that there was no beginner terrain to come down. You must be an expert to ski from this chair! Haha, ok. They weren’t kidding. While it was a nice view from the top, the way down was mogully with very thin cover in places so it was hard work.

The rest of the morning we tried different runs, unstrapping and hiking a couple of times to get out of some flat spots but it was a fun explore. Back at the car for lunch the frozen ground had turned to mud so Cleo had her fun as I made toasted sandwiches.

We went back for a couple more runs but after discovering that a ten minute lift line got you a sub-3 minute ride down, we were done. Thanks Kirkwood, don’t think we’ll be back.

On the way out we stopped in at Caples Lake. This was the site of our rest day during Climbing Week back in September and it was interesting to see the scenery painted a completely different colour than a few months ago.

We followed an already trudged path through the snow, through the locked up cabins and down to the water’s edge, or should I say ice edge. I was game, walking out onto the solid ice but Dan was content skipping rocks over the stuff.

All the while, Cleo busied herself trying to keep her neck above the snow.

I drove us further east along Highway 88 and through the canyons we’d climbed in back in September. Before we knew it, we were into Nevada and out of the snow.

At Topaz Lake we came back into California on Highway 395 heading south and the snow returned. We listened to a podcast as we drove through familiar small towns and wound through the mountains, Cleo crying at the sight of cows she couldn’t chase from inside the car.

Dan was directing me to a couple of hot spring spots I’d found earlier and since Buckeye Springs presented us with a 5 mile stretch of uphill road, we carried on to Travertine Hot Springs which, while mostly snow covered, was a more flat option.

Just after passing a couple of parked cars on the side of the road, Ramsie pulled up short on an icy hill. My road-going tyres and lack of 4WD was limiting us. I cycled the brakes in an attempt to control the slide downhill and managed to keep us out of a ditch. Dan offered to take over driving then and I was happy to let him handle it. With me outside the car, two more cars were approaching and so I waved them on through before we navigated our way down the hill. Both with 4WD, they made it look easy.

Dan was a magician getting Ramsie safely back down the hill. With his wheels locked up most of the time he managed to keep it in a straight line, out of the ditch on one side of the road and avoided the parked cars on the other. Once at the base of the hill, another two cars passed us so the hot springs didn’t seem so appealing anymore – no one likes a crowd.

Retreat! We turned Ramsie around and found camp in a pull-out with a beautiful view of the valley below. Dan used his driving skills again to get through a patch of snow and onto a flat spot, getting us dead level with a rock underneath the rear left wheel. Just in time to watch the last light fade from the day, we made camp. With the hot springs only a half mile away, we figured we can always check them out in the morning.

Springs? Nah, Climb!

It was -15*C when we opened our eyes at around 7am and boy could we feel it. Our instincts told us to get clothed and get out and that’s what we did. No matter how hot the springs were, there was no way we were getting naked at this temperature. Dan maneuvered Ramsie safely out to the main road and we laughed as we drove out because we’d got the best camp in the area. There was a Sprinter van parked on the piss, people sleeping in a Subaru right next to the road and a full on camper right next to that. We got our priorities right I think.

We carried on south on Highway 395 until we saw the view of Mono Lake. With a patch of cloud sitting above the salt lake, we stopped for our breakfast and coffee.

Cleo spent her time enjoying the view while Dan perused the stickers lining the guard rail.

A couple hours later, we pulled off the highway to find Owens River Gorge. I’d bought the climbing guide for this area before we left and with the sun out, I figured it would be warm enough for a climb or two. Dan didn’t think so, but I convinced him by offering to carry the pack of climbing gear and taking all our warm clothes. He promised bitching would be kept at a minimum, so I packed up some snacks and scrounged all the water we had (the onboard water tank system still wasn’t thawed out from the freezing temperatures of last night).

Off we sauntered down the service road at a glacial pace, steadily descending into the beige/pink canyon. The access was so well established because this land is owned and actively operated by the LA water & power department. Nice of them to share the space with climbers like us!

We saw climbers as soon as we got to water level. They looked cold, setting up at the base of climbs in the shade. I’d nerded out the night before with the guidebook and had a few spots pegged that were described as being in full sun during winter, but we didn’t that far. As soon as we saw Diamondback Wall, we’d found our crag.

But how to get there? There was a fully flowing river between us and the sun-soaked wall. We passed the first haphazardly-made bridge knowing Cleo wouldn’t be able to cross it and sussed out options further upstream. There was much faffing and in the end we decided to try the first bridge and figure out what to do with Cleo.

I pack-muled all of our gear across to start with and, anticipating getting our lower halves wet, we removed our shoes, Dan pulled up his pants and I took mine off completely. We were being cautious. The sun was warm but we feared wet clothes would be dangerously cold as the day wore on.

With Dan in position on the far bank, I staged myself at the middle point of the bridge. Dan with his feet in the water encouraged Cleo across the first log. Her claws barely touched the wood and her lack of confidence showed in her eyes. It became a pass-the-pitbull deal. Dan kind of supported Cleo along the log until I could grab her. Once I had her, Dan walked around me to take her from me and get her across the wider part of the bridge. All safely across, I put my pants back on, we donned our shoes and walked up to the base of Diamondback.

Within 5 minutes we were in our t-shirts, such was the power of the sun and the heat radiating off the rock. We were pleasantly surprised and Dan was happy that I’d convinced him climbing would be possible. After a bit of mucking around identifying climbs with the guidebook, I got started on a 5.7 called Finked. A pitiful grade yes, but we hadn’t been on rock in months and this was a new place so we played it safe. It was a nice route and it was refreshing to do a climb so tall. Dan enjoyed it as much as I.

Having not packed lunch, we downed some snacks then started up “Chewey the Beaver”, the 5.9 next door that stretched 35 meters up the rock. Another easy route but it was enjoyable, requiring all 14 of my quickdraws to get to the anchor. By the time Dan neared the peak, it was only 2pm but the sun went behind the steep walls of the opposite side of the gorge. I was in his jacket by the time I lowered him down.

I desperately wanted to continue, getting onto some harder stuff but the shadow was creeping fast up the wall and we still had to get back across the river, getting our feet wet. Playing it safe again, we packed it up for the day and retreated across the river to the main path. We used the same process as we had for the first crossing but this time our feet ached from the cold. We shouted unpleasantries at Cleo and her incapable bridge-crossing paws.

We still had the rest of the afternoon to kill so we hid our packs behind some bushes and wandered off up the gorge for an explore. We knew we’d be back here for a proper climbing trip so we wanted to suss it out a bit.

We were surprised at the number and variety of climbers we saw. Every corner we turned we saw a bright-coloured jacket on the wall. We saw an older man hanging from a rope bolting a new route, small groups of people nestled in a corner and a free soloist down-climbing from at least 20 meters off the ground.

As well as the climbers, we saw fly fishers and ancient power-generation structures dotted along the river. Right in the middle was the modern version with huge powerlines carrying electricity out of the canyon. We must have strolled for about an hour until we reached the end of the road. There was still two more sections of canyon to be explored along a foot trail but we were ready to head home to Ramsie. With the sun gone, the temperature had faded fast and we’d started dreaming of Ramsie being nice and warm having baked in the sun all day.

We picked up our packs just fine and Dan carried the heavy one as we made our way out. Cleo was keenly leading the way – she knew the end of the day meant dinner and sleep in our warm bed. The man that had been bolting passed us on an old bicycle, pedaling slowly up the hill moving at about twice our pace. After a couple of false summits, we were happy to be back at the top with Ramsie waiting for us.

We had beers in hand as we drove a half mile up the road to find our secluded camp. What a climbing spot this was! Free camps everywhere with stellar mountains providing the backdrop, it was beautiful. We relaxed in the van a while before we both made dinner, happy that we’d parked the van perfectly to combat the slight breeze.

What we weren’t happy about was stepping in Cleo’s poo. Our shit-bag storage system at the back of the van in the spare wheel carrier had failed and so while cooking, we’d both stepped repeatedly on a used shit-bag, thus spreading its contents all over the ground. Thankfully we caught on before trudging poo all through the van!

Why Make Plans?

The night before, I had flicked through the Bishop Area climbing guide while Dan pointed his finger to choose our climbing spot for today. He chose “The Corridors” on the foothills of Mount Whitney. That was that. When we woke though, we found the sky cloudy. Not in a rain-threatening sort of way but we knew we wouldn’t find the sun-baked heat we’d experienced yesterday. We didn’t decide anything, but after making coffee and hitting the road, we figured we’d check out Keough Hot Springs to see if they were (a) real, (b) accessible and (c) not crowded.

Turned out they were all of those things. A lady was returning to her car with her dog as we arrived, hair wet and towel wrapped around her waist. This was a good sign! We readied ourselves and walked past a gate down a dirt road. Though we couldn’t see any steam, we found the hot source within 100 meters of the car. The place was deserted. The small river ran slowly down a gentle hill and I soon discovered that the top pool was the warmest. We were down to our swimmers and shoulders deep in the water within minutes.

It was blissful. Despite the morning hour, Dan cracked a beer – a necessary celebratory drink while I simply enjoyed the warm water on my body. If the pool was just a few degrees hotter it would have been perfect, but it was perfectly warm enough to stay in for a good hour. Cleo, always the guard dog, silently sat and watched the entrance.

Just as we were about done, another car pulled up and a couple approached. We took that as our queue and stepped out into the cold air, our fingers barely functioning thanks to the prunes they had become. We dressed quickly and said a quick hello to the arriving couple before retreating back to Ramsie. It was a perfect way to start our day but it set us into “relax” mode. With the sun away, we couldn’t bring ourselves to go crag hunting so we changed our plan to drive a ways today and climb at Red Rocks Canyon, near Las Vegas for Christmas tomorrow.

With that, we continued south, stopped for breakfast at a rest stop, then did a tour of what would have been had we hiked Mount Whitney in September. It was a trip we’d booked back in May of this year with high hopes and anticipation, but it was cancelled due to fires so we missed our chance. It was nice to see the 14,505 ft peak along the Sierra ridgeline and drive through the small towns that sat at its base.

Around Lone Pine, we turned east, driving away from the Sierras and dropping more than a mile in altitude as we descended through Death Valley. The scenery hadn’t changed much since we’d both been through years before. The most amazing attraction we saw was the vast number of tourists parked at the Mesquite sand dunes walking in the sand! People were obviously desperate for an excuse to go outside if they thought that was a reason for excitement!

It felt like a long drive through the desolation until we got to the Death Valley Inn – an oasis-style massive resort with views of… nothing. We were in awe! There must have been 1,000 palm trees on its grounds with a grandiose that was completely out of place. On top of that, it was temporarily closed for obvious reasons so it looked even more weird.

Back into semi-civilization, we didn’t really stop for lunch, just snacking on some chips and salsa as we drove into Nevada and towards Vegas. Since we were back in service, I started fleshing out the Red Rocks Canyon plan. I soon lost interest. It was impossible to find out the status of the campground and you were required to book a “timed entry” to get into the park. Too hard. After a bit of mucking around with indecision, Dan made the great point that there are plenty of places to climb in Arizona so we could head on and climb tomorrow instead of today.

That’s what we did. We drove straight past the dark red rocks and into Las Vegas. We went out of our way to drive down the Strip just to see.

Like a tourist I took photos through the windscreen, marveled at the Bellagio fountain show and questioned the 10+ car lines at each drive through coffee shop we saw. I wouldn’t say the place was crowded, but it didn’t have much of a vibe.

Carrying on, we drove past Hoover Dam without seeing it because the highway bridge hides the view. A shame, because I love that dam, it is such an amazing feat of engineering. Not long after, it was getting dark and so we drove into Kingman Wash and found a glorious wide open spot not far along the washboard dirt road that was flat with a fire ring.

It was at least 5*C so we scrounged up a few bits of driftwood from the nearby wash and had a quick fire. We only had enough to burn for about half an hour but it was worth it. A Christmas Eve fire to get us ready for Christmas tomorrow.

Dan cooked dinner tonight giving me a break, but I couldn’t help myself in the end, getting back there with him to make naan to accompany his curry. It was later in the evening that our Buddy heater told us we were out of gas, making a little squeal before dying out. No matter, we were warm enough and only had a couple days until Phoenix.

Climbing for Christmas

Merry Christmas! We were happy to be exactly where we were for our holiday. Without gas, we couldn’t make breakfast so we just soaked up the cold of the morning with a bit of walking around then hit the road. The highway wasn’t busy but there was the typical Christmas traffic with packages and totes strapped to roofs and hitches all over the place.

We drove about an hour until we arrived in Kingman. Though we tried, being Christmas day, we couldn’t fill up our propane so we were forced to find breakfast at a fast food joint. It wasn’t the worst breakfast. The lady at the drive-thru promised we’ll be filled up all day with the breakfast burgers we were given.

We drove back through the suburbs of Kingman then towards the Beale St crag. We were stoked to find sandstone-looking towers baking in the sun, making us think we’d gotten the crag description wrong and we’d be climbing in the heat all day. Unfortunately we read it wrong. When we got to the carpark we saw the smaller crag that was north-facing and so covered in shade. We wouldn’t be discouraged though! We walked over to the rock along the short path and found it standing alone. It was pretty cold in the shade and the slight breeze ran along the rock, getting us to make sure we really wanted to be there.

The rock reminded me a little of my home crag at Kangaroo Point, with short routes but many of them all within meters of each other. Wanting to warm up, we got started on a 5.7+. With all the routes in front of us, we could take our pick and slowly work up in grade.

The climbing was great but we both struggled with cold hands, not quite getting the feeling we’re used to, resulting in a lack of confidence on some of the holds.

As Dan started up our second route, he thought he heard a car alarm and when he looked over to Ramsie in the carpark, saw that her hazard lights are on. What the? As far as I’m concerned, Ramsie doesn’t have any sort of alarm, but Dan was sure he’d heard something and the hazard lights couldn’t really be explained. I dropped him onto the ground and we ran off to investigate. I got started down the trail as Dan untied and grabbed the keys. There were no other cars in the lot and I couldn’t see anyone around the car so when Dan caught up to me, I slowed. When we figured maybe someone had broken a window, we picked up the pace again until we reached Ramsie. Nothing was amiss, but we couldn’t figure out how the hazard lights came on. One of us must have bumped it, that’s all we could come up with.

Nicely warmed up from our jog, we returned to the crag, thinking that Ramsie could have been the distraction for someone to steal of our climbing gear, but everything was in place when we returned.

By the time we started climbing again, three cars had rolled up to the carpark and a family was approaching the crag. Two young guys asked us what route we were on as soon as they rocked up and we shared how little we knew about the place. The two of them got climbing and we soon learnt the family was pretty loud and so we moved to the opposite end of the crag.

On my next lead, Dan had to take action. I was between bolts and Dan couldn’t hear me for the screaming of one of the daughters. She was incessant, just making noises trying to get an echo or something. Dan gave her a stern, “Can you please be quiet, I can’t hear my climber.” That hushed her and the family soon left, leaving the two boys climbing.

We carried on working up through the grades until we reached the hardest climb on the wall, a 5.10d. Since I’d lead the 5.10 next to it we kept it on top rope and it had a beautiful crux at the third bolt that took me a couple of goes, then felt brilliant as I figured out the sequence.

Dan was in relax mode, so I pulled the rope through to give the 5.10d a go on lead. Unfortunately my head got in the way and after back-clipping and falling a couple of times, my forearms had burnt out and that as the end of our day. I as a little disappointed but I took my first run up the 5.10d as a success.

As soon as we started walking back to the car, we appreciated the sun warming our bodies. It was about 2pm and we started on some beers and I made chicken wraps for lunch before we moved on towards Phoenix.

Now came the coordination of our surprise. As far as Dan’s parents knew, we were somewhere in Utah or Colorado snowboarding but since Dan’s brother Peter and wife Jody were visiting from Hawaii for Christmas, we’d made the special trip down this way to have Christmas with the Goodings. The original plan was to show up on Boxing Day since the Hawaiians were arriving on Christmas day, but after sending a couple of messages to Dan’s Mum, we found out their house was empty until tomorrow. And so, Dan was going home tonight.

We listened to a couple of podcasts as the sun set over the cactus-ridden plains along Highway 93. It was a beautiful highway I hadn’t driven before and it was a nice drive, especially knowing a surprise was at the other end.

It felt late as we rolled in around 7pm but that’s just because we’d normally be camped and relaxing. We tried texting Momo to get her to come to the door but that didn’t work, so then we snuck into the side yard to check they weren’t asleep and we found Debbie and Peter on the couch in the living room. We contemplating another way to get Debbie to the door, but in the end we just rang the front doorbell. Peter answered and he was surprised to see us. He called Debbie to the front door and she was just as surprised and super happy that we’d showed up. “What a wonderful surprise!” she said and we were happy we’d pulled it off.

Within twenty minutes, Popo had put dinner of steak and veggies on the kitchen bench for us and so we took our positions and caught up with both Dan’s parents. We had a great evening catching up and we went to sleep looking forward to Christmas with all the kids tomorrow.

A Good(ing) Christmas

We had a great sleep in on boxing day morning, enjoying a cozy bed. At the kitchen counter, we caught up some more over a light breakfast then Peter got cooking, Momo went out to pick up a few last things and Dan and I got to work constructing Christmas gifts.

First there was the doll house, then the pedal cars, then the 25-year-old play house in the bottom yard, then a run to the grog shop for a re-supply mission. By the time we returned, everyone in the house was restless awaiting for the “zoo” to arrive.

We didn’t have to wait long, by 2pm the crowd had arrived. No surprises for the kids, they knew we’d be here but they were still happy to see us.

The next couple of hours were a blur. Kids vying for attention, telling us their latest adventures, all about their new house. There was lots of “Uncle Daniel! Uncle Daniel!” We managed to sneak some adult conversation in as well.

Later in the afternoon, Peter (Dan’s brother) and his wife Jody arrived. They’d flown in from their home in Hawaii yesterday. It was their first time seeing everyone and they got everyone! We hadn’t met so it was nice to complete my Gooding family acquaintances.

We sat down for a delicious Christmas dinner and chatted away after a lovely prayer from Emmi and Momo. A family photo followed, then presents! There were many under the Christmas tree and though at least one child always seemed to be crying, there was much merriment. After dessert and stockings, the family with children departed to their home and the rest of us stayed up chatting some more before bed. Since the older brother and pregnant wife were staying the night, we happily relinquished the spare bedroom to them and retreated to Ramsie for the night.

Fencing

After more chatting in the morning, Peter and Jody were off to see her family for the day, Dan and I did some odd jobs around the house with Momo then the three of us loaded Ramsie full of the big Christmas gifts from yesterday and drove over to Alex & Matt’s new house. Or should I say farm?

They’d very recently moved from a small house around the corner from Momo to a 1-acre property on the outskirts of Phoenix, now an hour’s drive from the grandparents.

As we approached their driveway, we saw that every yard down the long street had a horse float in it. We’d already seen a girl riding a horse around a small paddock so now it was really obvious. This was horse country!

We found Emmi and Ava riding their new bikes as we pulled up and Matt appeared soon after with the twin boys in a cool-looking wagon. He immediately took us on a tour. The place is beautiful. Built in the 80s, it had the perfect charm to suit this big family and in such a short time they’d made it their own. The house was spacious inside, their front yard was lined with pine trees (the previous owner had planted his Christmas trees every year) and their backyard was towered over a huge gum tree. Then there was the guest house which Matt used as an office, a gorgeous little secret garden to the side and THEN, the massive paddock out the back which would soon be home to goats and ALSO the horse stalls and chicken coupe which was home to half a dozen chooks. It was heaven.

We found Alex in the “pasture”, mucking boots on, shovel in hand. After we’d finished the tour we got to work with her. With her goats arriving soon, she had to improve the fence to the point where it would prevent any escapes. There were many rusted poles and general dilapidation but whatever we did to fix it didn’t need to be pretty or permanent.

We moved dirt from the horse stalls over to the broken fence to build up the bottom level, then using a ratchet strap we connected two pieces of broken fence. Bailing wire was the main tool we used to bring it all together. All the while, the various children were talking to their parents using the walkie talkies they’d equipped themselves with – an essential tool that they all made good use of.

By the time we moved on to repair the fence that backed onto the canal, the two oldest girls were jumping on their neighbours trampoline and while Matt and Alex met their catty-corner neighbours properly for the first time. All the while, Momo was attending to the younger kids, keeping them occupied as we hammered star pickets into the ground.

We were surprised at how long we worked, by the time our hunger pains became strong, the sun was almost set, but we’d done what we needed to. I’ll be disappointed if any goats manage an escape after our improvisations.

Work done meant play time. Everyone started on beer and wine while Emmi, Ava, Heidi and I jumped around on the 16 foot trampoline. It was an old-school ankle-spraining one with the black mat and huge coil springs every few inches but it was in great condition. We must have been on it for at least half an hour before dinner was officially called.

Play time continued as Matt prepared a delicious spread of leftovers from their Christmas dinner. All 10 of us sat down to dinner and there were laughs all round. Each child has their querks and it was fascinating to watch and talk with all of them. Having finished our plates, Dan and I helped Heidi and Hannah finish theirs and then it was dessert time. Bradley and Augustine at the end of the table were discovering new things with their hands and Augie just couldn’t stop staring at his Uncle Daniel.

As the small kids had showers, Emmi gave Dan and I a piano recital. Only a few months into lessons, she has it made. It will be exciting to hear her play each time we come back.

We took our leave not long after, glad to have spent the day with this gorgeous family. Alex and Matt are amazing people and even more amazing parents and now they have an amazing place to watch their family grow.

On the way home we picked up a new car battery for Dan’s Dad’s old Mercedes Wagon. That was to be tomorrow’s task. After a dip in the hot tub, we had ourselves an early night.

No photos, too busy shoveling and playing!

Fuel Pump???

With Momo off at work, we were left to our own devices in the house. After stepping out in the morning to get some snowboard-repair materials, we played cars with Popo’s 1994 Mercedes Wagon. It had been sitting too long and so the battery was properly dead. Quick job right?

After installing the new battery, we couldn’t get the car to start – the alarm would go off every time we turned the key. After consulting the owner’s manual and coming up with nothing, Dan did a quick google then dick some locking/unlocking of the doors with the master key and then it turned over, but it still wasn’t starting. It was about then that we smelt petrol.

There was pools of the stuff underneath the car and it was still dripping madly by the time we got under for a look. We jacked the back of the car up, removed a couple of plastic vanity covers and I was surprised to see TWO fuel pumps along with a fuel filter and the fuel lines. It appeared to be leaking from a couple of different spots.

With Dan underneath the car watching with a torch, I turned the car over again and wow did he figure out where the fuel was coming from. Both the rubber fuel lines we could see were perished to all hell, to the point that they looked like irrigation hoses when the fuel pumps turned on. The poor car had sat outside untouched for the entire Summer so it wasn’t surprising to see such damage. Hey, at least it wasn’t the fuel pump(s)!

We found the replacement parts we needed with some Googling and discovered they were not available same day and of course, being Mercedes, they had custom fittings and so were expensive.

The end result was for us to tow the car down to the local mechanic, only a couple miles away. It was just as we were talking logistics that Peter, Jody and Momo came home. Wanting to do more family time, Dan, Ramsie and I got to work.

On the phone to each other with air pods in our ears (thanks Apple), I used Ramsie to pull Dan in the Mercedes out of the driveway and through Paradise Valley. Hazard lights on and cruising at 15 mph, we made it to the mechanic and pushed it into a parking space. While Dan went inside to deliver the keys, I packed up my tow rope and away we went.

Back home, we enjoyed a few beers, sat down to a dinner of burgers and salad with Peter, Jody, Momo & Popo. It was great to hear the brothers catch up and there was much debate about the benefits of fishing for yourself.

After dinner, the youngens all went out to a place called the Coach House after picking up Ryan, a highschool friend of Peter’s who Dan also knew. After meeting and chatting with his parents in the front yard, we all squeezed into Jody’s Mum’s truck and head over to the bar. It was a cute little place with every piece of wall and ceiling lined with Christmas lights. The music was loud, the outdoor heaters were on and the drinks flowed fast. The Americans made fun of my accent, I made fun of their stupid highschool nicknames and we generally had a blast.

When we dropped Ryan off, Peter took delivery of a big old fish that had been caught by Ryan’s family that morning down in Mexico. Thankfully the fish was in the back of the truck as we drove home.

The four of us snuck into the house around 1am, Peter put the fish in a bag for his parents to discover in the fridge the next morning and we all went to bed.

Snowy AZ

Everyone was feeling pretty slow in the morning, but I was up at 8am to have a shower and get Ramsie cleaned up for the next step of our journey. We did some couch time with the family over breakfast, then Dan and I gave Ramsie a good wash, surprised at how well she cleaned up. After Dan repaired his snowboard and waxed both his and mine, we were ready to hit the road.

Just before noon, everybody mobilized. Momo was off to work, Peter and Jody going out for a hike and me, Dan & Cleo off to Colorado for some snow. Hugs all around, we said our goodbyes and left the Gooding house until next time.

Dan drove until he got tired then I took over while he napped. I had to wake him up when we drove through a snow flurry. It was so strange! We’d been approaching an ominous looking low cloud for miles and now that we were driving through it, snow swirled all around us but the sun shone on our backs.

We crossed into New Mexico and saw many fireworks stands (New Years and all that), discovered their lowest petrol offering is 86RON (everywhere else is 87RON) and, when driving through Navajo Nation we noticed that all the town’s lights were the same colour. We soon discovered that this is because all of the houses are exactly (since they are government provided) and they all have porch lights!

As soon as we entered Colorado, we saw snow on the ground again. About an hour after a gas station gas station where Cleo relieved herself, Dan desperately needed to relieve himself. He’d eaten a fair amount of hot sauce the last day or two and now he was paying for it. Night had fallen and so it was easy enough to find cover down a residential road. Following that, it was past 9pm and we were well and truly ready for camp.

We found an open ploughed road headed into a national forest and while the original potential spot I’d pegged was completely snowed in, we found ourselves a pull out at the information sign that served us well.

Van-essa

We woke up early and got away fast, wanting to get some snowboarding in today. It was such a pleasure to drive under sunlight after the dark camp-finding of last night. In our normal fashion, we were on minor highways and so we enjoyed the snowy scenery and slower traffic.

We were surprised to come to a near-stop winding around a mountain, fearing an accident up ahead, but it was just a ski mountain taking in its morning crowds.

Dan drove all of the way, leaving me with the non-intense job of navigating which involved work every hour or so as we turned onto a new highway. We listened to a few podcasts, I planned out our meals for the next week and we generally had a good drive.

We rolled into Keystone Resort around 1pm, earlier than we anticipated. While the carpark was full, we found an empty spot easily enough and Cleo was happy to get out and run around. She was tired from all the “driving” and she knew parking up in a snowy lot meant nap time for her. I cooked us up a quick lunch, we got our gear on and walked up to the mountain.

We’d spent a couple days at Keystone last year and while it has the appeal of night skiing until 8pm each day we remembered it being icy. Absolutely nothing had changed. We had enough time to ride up the Gondola and catch a couple of lifts over to the back side of the mountain and the snow there was pretty decent. We pretty much caught the last lift out of there and then were limited to the front side for the rest of our day. This was the icy side.

While we were tempted to make the most of our time and ski into the night, we called it around 5pm. The ice just didn’t make it worth it. We wandered through the crowded village and back to Ramsie and Cleo.

Now, it was time to do the dreaded shopping. I never used to mind grocery shopping, but I’ve come to really dislike it with all the new rules. Dan went off to a dispensary while I trolleyed through a Walmart, finding most things, then we both went to the nearby Safeway to get the rest. NEVER shopping again!

We cracked a couple beers, warmed up a bit and marveled and the vast number of vans in the Walmart parking lot. Free camping obviously, it has become a very popular way to travel. We left there and after a horrendous navigational error by me that took us ten miles up a mountain pass on a highway, we pulled in to a spot on a residential road behind Keystone. There was a big white Ford Transit van already parked there but there was heaps of room for us as well.

Vanessa opened the side door of the Transit and we said hello. She’d been the proud owner of this van for three days, having picked it up in Kansas City (Missouri) and driven it over to Colorado. It was good to see she’d made it safely.

We had a tour of the van and soon discovered that the Transit is very spacious and with the engine running for a heater, much warmer. We brought Cleo inside and caught up while V cooked herself dinner. We mostly talked vans and continued to do so while I brought my cooking stuff in and cooked at her kitchen. On such a cold night, it was much more comfortable than standing outside and boiling eggs.

We retired into Ramsie for the night after making plans to ski and ride at Breckenridge tomorrow.

Hello 2021!

With traffic steadily increasing along the road we were parked on, we made out of camp around 8:30am. We let the engine warm up for a generous amount of time and drove out together past Keystone (stupid ice) and towards Breckenridge resort. At the parking lot, we were directed by “parking ambassadors” to the very edge of the lot thanks to our van size. Suited us just perfect. I took Cleo for a quick walk underneath the Gondola while Dan did a clean up inside Ramsie.

Having stocked up on food, it was nice to return to our routine of coffee and breakfast so I enjoyed making us some hearty egg, spam and cheese bagels. V needed more time to ready herself for skiing so we made sure Cleo was warm enough in Ramsie then headed over to the Gondola, paying our $17 parking fee along the way.

At the first gondola stop, we saw the huge lift line and thought, “Bugger that, let’s go to the next one!” That was a mistake. It was insanely crowded at the final stop. Oh well, we got into a lift line and as we approached the chair I exclaimed to Dan just had good their crowd management was. They were managing to funnel hundreds of people onto a chairlift with brilliant efficiency.

My first choice of run was terrible, but things kept getting better. We moved our way over from Peak 8 towards Peak 9 and 10, doing a couple of fun rolling groomed runs there before getting in touch with V and working our way back to Peak 8.

We met up with her easily at the base of Peak 8 and while Dan took a trip back down to the car to check on Cleo and get us some more beer, V and I took a couple of rides. It was great to catch up with her on the lifts, find out more about her plans to get back to the west coast. When we took to the singles line to avoid the wait time, I had great chair lift conversations with people – none of them local.

The sun was out, it was a gorgeous day to be on the mountain. When Dan joined us again, he surprised me with a pair of toasted cheese sandwiches so the three of us sat in the sun in some Adirondack chairs and watched the massive crowds before us.

Time to get after it again, we spent the rest of the afternoon riding and skiing together on Peak 7. We had a LOT of fun. We got some tree runs in amongst the groomers and the snow just felt great beneath our boots.

The crowds thinned for the last hour of lift service and we enjoyed it thoroughly. When we learnt from the lifties that we could ski all the way down to the car instead of catching the gondola, we were excited.

On our second last run of the day, we found a kids adventure zone that went through the trees. V was our kid since all adults needed to be accompanied by a child and we wound our way through the banked turns cut out of the thick pines.

Despite V losing a ski, me falling on ice and Dan catching an edge and going down, It was easily our best run of the day.

We made the last lift by a few minutes and laughed at how good a time we were having. Now, we took “Four O’Clock” all the way down the mountain. It was a beautiful cruise that took use by roads and through residential areas. It was a great way to end our day on the mountain.

Back at our vans with the sun setting down the valley, we had some chips and salsa in the big van and found a camp spot west of us towards tomorrow’s ski resort.

V lead the way driving over there but we beat her thanks to her own navigational error. After checking out the rest area at the bottom of the hill off the highway, we found ourselves a nice private carpark behind a snow bank that was level, quiet and technically legal. Perfect!

Dan and I cooked dinner out the back of Ramsie while Cleo slept and V warmed up her leftovers. We all ate together in the big van before turning into our separate homes for the night. This was our last day of 2020 and it felt good to cap the year off with such a great day in the snow.

Bye V, Hi Beaver.

We all slept great thanks to the stellar camp. After making coffee and eating breakfast, we said our goodbyes to V. She doesn’t have the vacation time that we do so she was in more of a rush than us to get back to California. We drove out of the rest area leaving that big white van behind us.

The carpark had been slowly filling up throughout the morning and we soon discovered it was because this was a cross-country ski area. There were snowshoers, skiers and snomobiles all around. As we drove out, we saw a guy on a snowmobile pin it up the hill only to roll the bloody thing over and narrowly escape ending up underneath it. Not a great way to start their trip. His mate came over to help flip it but they were still struggling with it as we drove on by.

We were at Beaver Creek resort today. Thanks to a new reservation system and our season passes, we were limited to where we could ski on what day but we were winging it pretty well so far.

After parking up at Elk lot (paying $10) we meandered up the path up the hill to our first chairlift. We spent a couple of hours exploring the mountain, heading all the way to left side of the mountain and once to the tippy-top.

The powder in the trees was tempting, but we soon discovered it was powder on top of the ground and so no good for venturing into. No matter, we had fun enough on the groomed runs and didn’t find many icy bits.

After a couple of hours we needed a break and so retreated into a lodge for the bathroom. When I came out, I found a high top table free by the bar and so snagged it. After unloading my gear onto the table, I grabbed us a couple beers and started looking around for Dan. I eventually spotted him at an outside table so called him in. He was reluctant, obviously proud of the table he’d managed to find but he relented and was immediately grateful for the inside warmth and IPA in front of him. We sipped on our beers for a good hour watching the football with one eye and watching the crowd with the other.

Time to head home, it took us over an hour to do so. Beaver Creek mountain is massive and more than once we ended up at the wrong chair lift. After following way too many cat tracks, we eventually made it onto “Leave the Beav” that took us all the way to the bottom of the mountain. We could have waited for a bus to take us down the hill but we weren’t interested in that. Dan strapped in and rode the pathway down while I walked, happy to take it slow at the end of the day.

Since last lifts at Beaver are at 3:30pm, we still had plenty of daylight left to find us a decent camp. Naughty me, I hadn’t saved our camp from last year and couldn’t remember it so we were starting from scratch. I took the wheel while Dan navigated us to a number of potential spots. Finding winter camps is especially challenging because you have to make sure the road in is ploughed , that you won’t be in the way of snow ploughs if they happen to come by AND the spot can’t have any “no overnight parking” signs. Mountain towns really hate campers since their residents are paying millions of dollars for the same view we get.

We drove through the small town of Midturn and found a few potentials, all with “no parking” signs and so we were losing faith as we drove out of town to our last potential pick. I perked up though when we drove past a National Forest road. I knew that was where we’d camped last year and it had been perfect. I turned Ramsie around and drove down the snowy road to a familiar place.

There were a couple of other cars along the road and after seeing one snow-shoer return to his car just before sun-down, we figured their owners were all out in the National Forest enjoying their sport. We parked up easily and after Cleo had a good run around, we settled inside for the night.

After dinner, we watched a movie “Uncut Gems” which was a terrible choice and so we finished up with that after half and hour and had an early night.

Rest Day Stacks

Waking up seeing our breath, we were stoked that we’d found our camp again. This would be our spot for the next couple of nights so we were happy that it was so accessible and isolated. Who knows where the other dozens of vans we saw in town are parked up each night.

I spotted a maybe- free parking hack yesterday as we left Beaver Creek and so we skipped coffee/breakfast to get to the mountain and check it out. I had my biggest snowboard stack before we even got to the mountain. As Dan cornered through a roundabout, our snowboards fell from their place in the driver’s overhead storage and mine fell directly into my left arm, just above my elbow. I keeled over immediately holding my arm, crying/laughing from the impact while Dan finished out the roundabout then pulled over to appease me. I was thankful for my layers of clothing that somewhat dulled the impact of the sharp edge of my board but that didn’t stop it hurting!

Once we’d sorted the boards, we carried on, my left arm throbbing and Dan apologizing profusely (as he should!). We later discovered that my arm wasn’t the only victim of the snowboard falls – the TV had a pretty major scratch on it now too. No matter, it was only $60! We will replace it when we get home and the scratched one will become our workshop TV!

We drove past both Elk and Bear lots up the hill to the base of the mountain and saw the parking that I’d noticed yesterday. There were “no parking” signs everywhere and no cars lining the street and so we were scratching our heads as to why the road had been lined with skiers’ cars yesterday. As we turned to come back down the mountain we saw a couple of cars parked and a Vail employee wearing a vest approaching them at a fast trot waving his finger in a disciplinary way. Obviously not allowed to park then!

Back down to Bear lot ($10/day), we parked Ramsie in the sun and did our coffee/breakfast routine. I was taking my sweet arse time, nursing my left arm, feeling like I’d already done a full day of snowboarding. I enjoyed the slow pace that meant we walked up to the chairlift around noon. At the mountain base, I saw that the parking we’d sussed our earlier was now stacked! What?? I walked right up to some information people and asked them what was the go. Those parking spaces are used only when the lower Bear and Elk lots are filled up – makes sense. Might be a scam for our next trip if we can time it perfectly.

I was getting cuddles from Dan all day, feeling sore and tired. We really needed a rest day but there was nothing else to do (thanks COVID) but snowboard less intensely than normal and so that’s what we did!

We explored the right side of the mountain this time since it was open for the first time in the season. It was short-lived thanks to the icy-ness. Then we tried out the Elkhorn lift and that was fun but the chairlift was slow, so we moved over to the left side where we’d had fun yesterday. Much better, I got to work on my 180 jumps while Dan flipped and twisted around like normal, working on his stuff.

I my second big stack of the day trying to get my left leg to work harder while riding switch and caught my front edge, landing on my knees and rolling down the mountain a short ways before digging in and stopping. As ever, Dan was soon on the scene with his “Oh no! Are you okay?” face and I took a minute before getting up and carrying on. Still learning!

We made our way back across the mountain and home a short time after that, navigating the lifts better than we had yesterday and avoiding most of the flat cat tracks. I was stoked to unstrap from my board at the base and we joined the rest of the lazy tourists in the short line for a bus down the hill. A nice man returned Dan’s lost beanie to him while on the ride so it was a good decision.

Cleo was happy to see us back at Ramsie and after running her around a little bit, we had us some crackers and brie while we got out of our gear. I was nervous we were nearly out of gas and since we were so heavily reliant on our gas heater did not want to run out, so we went a few minutes out of our way en route to camp to a propane fill station (Conoco). While Dan walked in to see the man, I got to removing the gas bottle and after lifting it out, I found that it felt half-full (the gauge we have isn’t incredibly accurate). Since the servo-man was working solo, Dan let him know we’d be ok and so we moved off to camp. At least we knew where to go if we ran out mid-morning.

It was a great drive back to our known camp and we took our same spot. We were a little concerned that four of the cars we’d seen parked there yesterday morning were still there, but we figured people must be crazy enough to want to go camp out in the snow. Our suspicions were confirmed later in the night when more than one camper returned from their wilderness journey. One man was travelling solo on skis towing a sled behind him with all his gear. No thank you!

Cleo had herself a great run-around, getting to the point of panting after she got back into the van and we enjoyed our camp. Dan cooked since it was chilli night and that is his specialty. I must say it was a pleasure sitting in our backwards seat, blogging away while he cooked in my kitchen.

Sorry Vail, Can’t Do It

We moved onto Vail Resort today, this is the flagship mountain, where the “Vail” expansion started, giving us the season pass to ride at all these mountains. Dan navigated us over there by memory and by 9am we were in the parking lot, knowing we’d pay $30 for the privilege on our way out. Yes there’s free parking available on the main road but it is a bus-ride away and we’d rather pay to have Cleo closer to us.

After breakfast, we suited up and wandered through the European-style village towards the main gondola. When we saw the insane line there, I asked a man and he suggested we walk the five minutes over to a chairlift which would be less busy. Great advice, we did just that and found a much less crowded base area. While in line we discovered it was race and training day for every kid involved with the ski team. We rode on the chair with a very polite young man who seemed to have become separated from his crew. He departed the chair lift mid-mountain while we carried on around a turn, down a valley and up another peak. It was a long lift.

Having got to the very top of the mountain after another lift, we rode to the “Legendary Back Bowls” and wholly shit that was work. Mogules for days with thin cover, there was nothing to excite us and so we quickly got outta there. Searching for some blue runs, we tried the Sourdough area, but stuffed up and ended up back where we’d started earlier in the day. We were riding on icy stuff, the tree runs were no good and I started thinking I’d rather not be on the mountain. Having done Vail and Beaver Creek, it seemed like all we did was get off chair lifts and look at maps, trying to find a good run, but we just never got there. From what I remembered of last year’s trip, it hadn’t been like that at all, we didn’t care where we went, we had fun wherever we rode. We put it down the conditions because obviously the mountain hasn’t changed that much!

In our third or fourth lift line, I mentioned to Dan that maybe this wasn’t worth it. We were on the same page. Our bodies were exhausted and neither of us could see doing another day of this, let alone finishing out the day.

We kept going with our navigation of the mountain for a couple more runs, but neither of us were feeling it. The day had started our blue-bird like the last few but with grey clouds now over our heads we were over it. Dan did well to get us back to the base of the mountain for a reverse wander through the village and back up to our van. Cleo was stoked for the early return and we were happy to save $10 on parking since we’d be parked for under 4 hours.

Dan attended to Cleo, stashed the boards and de-robed while I filled up our water containers in the nearby bathroom (onboard water tanks have been frozen a long time). He picked me up on the way out, minutes away from the extra $10 parking fee, then we parked it at a Safeway to plan our next move.

We treated ourselves to a hot lunch from Safeway and ate it while watching some football replays and watching other vanners doing their thing in the carpark. I cancelled tomorrow’s booking for Vail and we decided to slowly drive over to Utah, aiming for Salt Lake City.

And so we left the Colorado mountains and descended into Glenwood Canyon along Highway 70. It is a gorgeous drive, following the Colorado River for its entirety with snow dusting every layer of the canyon walls. We even spotted a group of mountain goats at the base of the cliffs, right by the highway!

I’d found some hot springs on Google Maps only an hour out of Vail and so we turned down a slightly snowy road to see if we could get lucky. It had been multiple days since we bathed ourselves with anything other than baby wipes. There were about half a dozen cars parked at the trailhead and across a small ravine we could see a man dressed only in swimming trunks surrounded by steam – a good sign!

We donned our swimmers under our warm clothes, packed a bag with the essentials (towels and beer) then Dan lead the way down an obvious path in his grossly inadequately soled work boots. We managed to get down the hill, cross the small creek and up the other side without any stacks. What we saw at the top of the hill was a large steaming pool full of people. There must have been at least 10 and so we were happy to see a smaller pool completely vacant and so opted for that after saying a quick hello to the masses.

It was plenty warm enough as we first dipped in and after Dan found the source of the heat, we stayed just warm enough to justify the soak. Dan enjoyed a couple beers while we appreciated the view of the canyon and enjoyed the feeling of snow lightly falling on our heads.

The entertainment started when the college kid group left the main pool. They complained fiercely about the cold as they got dressed, carrying on loudly to draw much-wanted attention to themselves. After they left, we took our leave as well. Whenever I find hot springs, I always imagine spending hours there but once in, twenty minutes always seems like enough.

Dan and I helped each other get dressed as quickly as possible and we kept our complaints minimal. Despite the murkiness of the water, I felt clean, it had been worth it.

No slides on the way back, we were in the car with the gas heater on quick smart.

As we carried on through the canyon towards Utah, the sun was fading and so I started searching for camp. We were wary that we hadn’t been very successful finding camps in Utah last time round and so we played it safe with a rest area in the town of Rifle. What a stellar choice that turned out to be! After touring the rest areas facilities, we drove over to the ploughed but deserted boat ramp that lead into the Colorado River, with the lights of Rifle shining just over the water. It was a beautiful spot and provided our warmest night in over a week. It didn’t look that way, with frozen bits flowing gently down the river just next to us, but I certainly felt it. When Dan checked the temperature it was still 25*F (-4*C) but I was cooking without gloves or my extra pants layer. Obviously toughening up!

We had a couple neighbours during the night but weren’t bothered. Over dinner we watched a great 90s action moving starring Wesley Snipes that sent Dan to sleep before the final scenes.

Actual Rest Day

For the first time in a week, we had no snowboarding plans for the day. Just driving. Dan took the wheel for the entire morning and took us east across highway 70 and into Utah (petrol prices dropped below $2/gallon!). Bloody hell snow it pretty but I’d forgotten just how little there is in Utah in the way of scenery. The towering canyons of Colorado were replaced with small white bumps and mountains in the far distance.

We discovered a new podcast about the Williams sisters (“Sports Wars” by Wondery) that kept us entertained. With the heater core crapping out, our feet were cold and we were constantly scraping the windshield down from ice but we didn’t let that bother us. Having done this trip twice now in Ramsie, we’ve decided she is not a winter van.

The highlight of the drive was probably when Cleo knocked over Dan’s coffee, spilling some on his knee but the sippy-cup cap amazingly stayed on preventing further spillage.

As we drove into Salt Lake City, we desperately wanted to sit inside where it was warm – preferably with Cleo. The poor girl has been pretty much trapped in the car for this entire journey. At City Pub & Grille, we got the former, but unfortunately not the latter. We were thankful for the indoor dining but made it quick for Cleo’s sake. Dan managed a couple of beers and we both had a big lunch. It was our first time eating out in months. The food was great at the time, but as we left it made me just want to eat healthy food the rest of my life.

Back to Ramsie and the day had pretty much gone so it was time to find camp. As I said before, we had issues with camping around Salt Lake City last year so we wanted to give ourselves plenty of time. As we neared Park City Mountain, where we’d be snowboarding tomorrow, we marveled at the traffic heading back towards Salt Lake. I assumed that being the first workday of 2021, the crowds would have disappeared, but nope! Thankfully we were going against the flow and so found it easy to drive past the mountain and into the town on the far side.

Dan had pinned a “free” parking lot and we snagged the last space in it. There were no signs about overnight camping, so this was a great find but it was on a busy road and right in the backyard of multiple houses. It would be our backup – we carried on hunting.

Next we tried a snow-covered access road off the main drag leading out of town. Dan bravely tried to power Ramsie up the small hill but we were spinning our tyres on the snowy ground within a few meters so that wasn’t going to work. Very skillfully, he found a gap in the traffic and rolled us back down the hill and onto the tarmac. Next was a trailhead and it was here we struck gold. Right at the end of a residential road, away from any houses, no signage and we backed onto a babbling brook.

It was snowing gently as we took Cleo out for a walk, joining the locals in the walking of their dogs up the short trail. She got her run on through the snow before we all hunkered down in the van for the night, the sound of the flowing water behind us sending us to sleep.

Pow-Pow!

This is what we’d been waiting for all trip – snow! Yes there’d been plenty of it on the ground at each of the mountain resorts we visited, but it wasn’t the quality fresh stuff. This morning we woke up to at least three inches of white covering Ramsie. Woohoo! We couldn’t get to the mountain fast enough!

I scraped the snow off Ramsie’s outside while Dan prepared the interior. The snow layer meant that we didn’t have the usual layer of frost on the inside of the glass to scrape off. Dan gingerly drove us down the hill and five minutes down the road to Park City mountain resort. Free parking, yay!

Dan did a bit of sliding around the carpark to get us into position, but once there, I got into the kitchen for breakfast with snow gently falling onto my beanie. I got halfway through boiling water for coffee and toasting bagels when the gas started to sputter. Since the false-alarm the other day when I thought the tank was empty, I hadn’t thought about the gas level. Whoops. Thankfully I hadn’t started the eggs! Dan was ok to skip the coffee and I improvised by making us some cheese and avocado bagels – they were slightly warm.

Since it was quite cold with the snowy cloud cover, we propped up the doona in the bed so that Cleo could work her way under it if she got cold. We walked up the the base and enjoyed the squishy feeling of the snow under our boots as we approached the Crescent chairlift.

Snow continued to fall as we climbed up the mountain, marveling at how much fresh powder there was beneath our feet. At the top of our first run, we didn’t look at any map, we didn’t care where we ended up, the snow was good everywhere. Our first run was through the park where Dan hit a couple of jumps but I just sailed through the untouched powder at the sides of the run. He soon followed suit.

Later that morning, on the Motherlode lift, we saw an ungroomed hillside with a few skiers on it but barely any tracks. We’d just snowboarded past there and were kicking ourselves for missing it. After unloading, we made a beeline for it and discovered the hill had been roped off as closed. Having already received a warning earlier in the season for ducking ropes, we were hesitant but when five other skiers ducked the rope around us, we ducked too. What a brilliant decision it was. The powder was so deep that it didn’t matter when I came to the edge of a couple of small cliffs and dropped off them. We surfed over and through it all.

We broke for lunch just as the sun started coming out and we found Cleo lying very comfortably in bed. Seeking hot food, we decided to fill up on propane now and drove 15 minutes out of Park City to a highway servo that sorted us out. Since they were equipped with a pizza bar, they sorted us out on the hot food front as well. We were back at the mountain within the hour and straight back into it. It felt like a new day with the bluebird sky and while most of the powder had been tracked through, there was still plenty of soft stuff to be found.

I talked to everyone I could on the chairlift, hearing some interesting stories from people that had family members that attracted COVID with no symptoms, a local that said this was the worst season for snow he’d seen in about twenty years and a couple guys visiting from the east coast. What fun!

We stayed on our side of the mountain, repeating a small handful of runs until the last chair at 4pm. We were glad to have ducked the rope on that powdery slope when we did. Despite still being closed, that hill was now completely tracked out, the magic gone.

By the last run, we were both shattered. I’d had a pretty awkward stack early in the day that twisted the inside of my right knee and Dan had gone down a few times catching his edge and tumbling downhill. Back wtih Ramsie and Cleo, we were smiling bit as we relaxed in the car taking our time to wind down. Our camp was only a few minutes away and we had a full tank of gas to keep us warm.

I drove us to camp, but when we got to the trailhead, Dan had to take over because my driving skills only got us halfway up the hill. He got behind the wheel and managed to park it first go, my hero! We saw a couple people arrive at their parked cars having skied down the hill with their dogs in tow and once the other pups left, I took Cleo out for a walk.

We found a lookout trail that went up the hill and so followed that. Cleo was in the mood for sprinting and so to keep her on leash I ran with her up the hill. While we didn’t quite reach the summit, the view of the snow town below was pretty with everyone’s Christmas lights still up.

We made our way down and when I knew the coast was clear and we could see Ramsie, I let Cleo off and she sprinted away, full tilt. She didn’t stop until she got to Ramsie where Dan immediately let her in. That was her done for the night.

Some time halfway through the night, we decided we were done for our snow trip. The two of us could barely lift our heads off the pillows thanks to our sore neck muscles. With no more snow coming for the next few days and having just enjoyed the best snow of the trip, we decided it was a good time to call it.

Poor Cleo

We had an alarm set for 6am to make sure we’d be in Salt Lake City by 8am for Cleo’s vet appointment. Wow was it hard to get out of our warm bed. It was dark enough to be midnight. I took Cleo out for a walk while Dan shoveled some snow out from in front of the rear tyres to make sure we could drive out. We were going against the traffic into Salt Lake and made it to the vet with enough time to fill up on a coffee and smoothie from Maccas.

Why the vet in Utah? During last year’s trip we’d noticed how bad her breath smelled since she was sitting between us. We knew it was because of her dirty teeth and so, on the way to Utah, I called a bunch of vets to see if any would do a teeth cleaning. I found this mob, Pet Stop that would do it for cheap and didn’t need to “do a consultation” first. It cost us $300. It would have been over $2,000 in the Bay Area. So we’d discovered a hack and I’d scheduled in with these guys again.

We dropped her off at 8am and with snowboarding out of the question, we had pretty much the whole day to kill. What better way to rest our tired bodies that with a hot spring! We went back to our spot from last year in Saratoga Springs, south of the city.

There were a few other cars in the lot where we parked and as we ate our brekkie of pancakes and eggs, we figured out most of the car’s owners were not here for the hot springs. They were wearing camouflage and carrying shotguns. Hunting! It seemed so out of place when we were right by a residential area, but hey, America! On top of that, the hunters were taking to the water, walking over a frozen inlet to get to their positions.

We took our time with breakfast then got suited up and walked down the short trail to the steam source. There was only one guy occupying the large, shallow pool that was surrounded by mud. There’d been some improvements since last year with some new benches and hanging racks which we made great use of.

The other gentleman in the water was welcoming and we got straight into chatting with him. He was pursuing a certificate in English teaching while looking after his ill mother in Utah. He had a lot of opinions to share about California, Utah, hunting and was interested in the outside world but vowed never to go to Australia because of the spiders. We were joined by a couple shortly after and they were great to talk to as well. They’d just moved from California a few days ago with their 18-month old daughter, declaring that they’d “had it” with California, wanting something new.

Two older men jumped in both the springs and the conversation but it soon turned to politics in a negative way and so we took that as our cue. Our original friend took his leave also. We must have been soaking for nearly two hours. Hard not to with the surrounding mountain and lake views and a perfect water temperature.

Our timing was spot on. A Mexican family showed up as we left along with another couple with a small child. With the few of us that left, it gave them plenty of room. What a sublime way to spend a morning. There was no rush to get dressed and walk back to the car because our cores had been warmed sufficiently to keep us toasty.

By the time I heated up some leftovers for lunch and we’d caught up on the latest Dakar rally action, it was time to go and collect our pet. We pulled into the vet and they brought Cleo out to us. She looked a little groggy but seemed happy enough. During the teeth cleaning, they’d found a bad tooth and so pulled it out but otherwise, she received a clean bill of health. We got some great advice from the nurse and were out the door for under $500.

We knew driving was probably the last thing Cleo wanted to do, but it was time for us to slowly head home. Dan drove us a couple blocks but Cleo started crying quietly so we stopped and let her out onto the grass. She went to the bathroom, but everything came out as a liquid so she was obviously not feeling well. The poor girl was starving (having not eaten since yesterday), groggy from the anesthetic, in pain and shit-tired.

I took the wheel now and drove us west out of Utah’s capitol. Dan consoled Cleo whenever she let out a whimper and let her ride in his lap from time to time.

We stopped for fuel after an hour or so and still she wasn’t happy gong to the bathroom. While I was washing Ramsie’s windscreen and Cleo had taken up her position in the driver’s seat, a UPS driver pulled up next to us and she asked if she could give Cleo a dog treat. While I thanked her for the generous offer, I explained that she couldn’t eat hard biscuits just yet because of her tooth extraction, so she settled for a pat and gave us the treat to save for later. What a lovely lady, she didn’t have any dogs herself, but carries the treats with her to give to dogs on her delivery run.

Another hour of driving got us over the border and into Nevada. It wasn’t so much the “Welcome to Nevada” sign that told us we’d left Utah, but the massive casino parked quite literally on the state line. Many casinos followed in the eastern-most town of the state but we drove past them all.

Dan found us a stellar camp a little ways beyond a 15-mile stretch of dead straight highway with random pieces of Burning Man-esque art strung along the salt flats for us to contemplate.

Nevada camping is so easy its ridiculous. We drove down a dirt road and had our pick of pullouts with barely any snow cover. I found us a beautiful flat spot amongst the desert brush and we were set for the night. Cleo was happy to be at a standstill.

While I made human dinner, Dan made doggy dinner by soaking her food in water to soften, giving the patient two rounds of food to fill her tummy. She was still looking for food afterwards, managing to sniff out the UPS lady’s treat that Dan had stashed beside the bed. When she finally lay down for sleep, she was happy.

Home.

Cleo woke us early with scratching at the door and so we got ourselves out of bed and Dan took kitchen duties heating up water for his coffee and Cleo’s breakfast. Dan drove us out of camp as the sun peaked over the nearby mountains and a couple hours later we pulled off the highway for our breakfast. We enjoyed the sun’s warmth as we cooked and ate and Cleo took great pleasure/anguish in staring after the cows that were moving across the nearby paddock.

I next, getting lost in my own thoughts, excited for the projects we had waiting for us at our new home. When Dan took over the driving in the afternoon, I put my ideas down on paper, presenting to Dan my prototype designs for a Cleo fence, bedside tables and the brewery bench.

As we followed the Truckee River past Reno and into California, we were happy with our timing. By the time we reached the Bay Bridge coming into San Francisco, the sun was setting behind the city’s sky scrapers. It was a beautiful view.

The last half an hour along highway 101 dragged on but finally at dusk, we pulled into our driveway and parked up next to Air Force One. If we were happy to be home, then Cleo was absolutely ecstatic. We barely unpacked, enjoyed a long hot shower, I made us some huge Burritos and we settled into the couch to watch some Dakar before heading to bed. Cleo was already there.

We managed 3,500 miles across our three week journey and I didn’t have to top up the coolant once!

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