When we first decided to plan an Airstream trip for late in the summer when our second daughter would be about 6 weeks old, our thought was take over a month to work our way up the coast north from Bodega Bay to the Oregon border, then cut inland to see Ashland, Crater Lake, Bend and Mt Hood, the parts we’d missed the last time we’d been in Oregon and had decided to take the coastal route. We neglected, however, to consider the fact that our doctor would likely want to see the baby again somewhat soon after she was born and that she’d be needing some vaccinations. Sure, we could have found another doctor in a town like Bend or allowed ourselves to be convinced by the anti-vaccination propaganda (which I won’t comment on further here) and skipped it altogether, but we were willing to accept that we’d have to be flexible traveling with two kids and just tweaked the plan.
As it happened, our friends Luis and Lacey from Lost World Expedition were putting on a slide show of their trip south on the Pan American Highway in their home town of Arcata. Theirs had been one of the first blogs we’d read about a young couple getting in an SUV (though Luis would bristle at that description of his classic Toyota Landcruiser) with a roof top tent and taking off for Mexico and beyond and had inspired us to do the same the following year. Of course, their trip ended up lasting 4 years and taking them to the southernmost point in South America. While we never caught up with them on the road, since we’d come home, we’d been chatting with them frequently online and had had them out to the Farmlet several times. Arcata seemed like a perfect destination for the first leg of the trip, after which we’d return home for vaccinations and visit from Ann’s Dad.
As you may have already read in previous posts, we had ideas of hitting several locations on the way but had come to the realization that it was much nicer to stay three or four days in one place than feel like we were always packing up. Plus, a two to four hour drive seems to be a sweet spot that makes it worth strapping everyone up into the car seats, perhaps timing things well to encourage a road nap, and covering some ground without hitting a meltdown point.
After 11 days off the grid in rustic campgrounds (and yes, our own back pasture), we’d decided that we’d spring for a KOA while staying in Arcata. In the past, my main complaint about KOA’s, in addition to something of a “Disneyland” atmosphere, was the price. At the office, there’s usually a whiteboard filled with movie nights and campfire circles and hay rides, and in between the sites are swimming pools and playgrounds and arcades and mini golf courses that were just not part of the camping experience I was willing to pay for. In other words, a Disneyland atmosphere. Well guess who loves Disneyland? Kids! And guess who’s got kids now? This guy! So yes, we now see the value of an occasional KOA, not just to do some laundry, hog some wifi, actually scrub the dishes and take ridiculously long showers.
As I often do when pulling into a campground, I scanned the sites for other Airstreams. There’s one! Wait, there’s another one! And another… wait a second… Pan out and I finally notice that an entire three rows of the campground were filled with Airstreams, proudly displaying their WBCCI (the Wally Byam Caravan Club International) numbers, those red decals you see on the front of Airstreams. I pushed Wynne on her tricycle up and down the rows the first afternoon, but didn’t see anyone outside of their trailers. On the second day, someone came by our trailer and invited us over – seeing as how we all have the same color trailer, and all – for a potluck that evening. We were in!
Wally Byam, the founder of Airstream, started by building trailers in his backyard in Southern California, envisioning a trailer that could provide the comforts of home anywhere in the world. In fact, Wally himself personally led caravans of trailers through Central America in 1951 (the Pan American Highway only went as far as Guatemala), Europe in 1956 and Africa in 1959, among others, and is credited with some of our favorite quotations about getting out and seeing the world.
“Don’t stop. Keep right on going. Hitch up your trailer and go to Canada or down to Old Mexico. Head for Europe, if you can afford it, or go to the Mardi Gras. Go someplace you’ve heard about, where you can fish or hunt or collect rocks or just look up at the sky. Find out what’s at the end of some country road. Go see what’s over the next hill, and the one after that, and the one after that.”
Turned out, this group was spending the last night of their WBCCI Landmarks West caravan, 8 weeks from Cody, Wyoming to California by way of Yellowstone, Glacier, Olympic and Crater Lake National Parks. Wynne and I made it over just before her bedtime to say hi and allow what turned out to be a caravan of silver seniors deeply missing their grandchildren to offer her cookies and pinch her cheeks.
The slide show in the performance room of Humboldt Brewing (“Humbrews”) was well-attended by local friends and few of us overlanders who either lived in town or had come up special for the event. It can be really tough for people who have gone on these epic, life-changing trips to communicate those experiences to their friends and family back home, some of whom barely knew they were gone (“Wait, how long were you traveling, like 6 months?” Uh, no, 4 years.), but I’m sure seeing Luis and Lacey in their perspective trickery shots from the Salar de Uyuni or Lacey lounging in a hammock suspended over the water on an impossibly white sand beach or Luis cooking up a feast off the back of the Landcruiser helped quite a bit. And for other overlanders or prospective roatrippers, it was pure travel porn. We picked up a couple t-shirts literally hot of the presses and some stickers and stayed as long as we could before our tired two and a half year old needed to be put to bed.
I tried to stay busy during the boring parts…
Fortunately for us, Wynne can’t seem to do any wrong with her “Tio Luis” (pronounced all slurred together as “t-wo-uis”) as he showed us around Arcata including the great Saturday farmer’s market in the plaza.
I even met up with him and Lacey back at Humbrews for an all female Led Zeppelin cover band Zeparella, whose musical process, hard rocking note-for-note renditions of Zeppelin classics and frankly, tight pants and wild hair led me to name them my 18 year old nephew’s (and perhaps the 18 year old boy inside me’s) new favorite band.
And for the rest of the weekend, we basically just did a lot of boring things around the tiny homestead. I took an afternoon to make some chicken tortilla soup with hominy, an attempt to recreate the pozole we had a few times in Mexico, to load up the freezer and give the kitchen a serious workout. The extra counterspace we reclaimed from the microwave and the sink insert made a huge difference.
We did laundry…
And basically just enjoyed having running water…
Sunday morning while hitching up, I realized a neat trick. While the backup camera on the Sequoia has made things a lot easier to get connected, particularly while Ann is cleaning up inside and tending to the kids, it can be hard to tell how far to come back unless the hitch is at the exact right height because of the perspective on the camera. While standing next to the hitch wondering what I had that I could use as a guide, I noticed that the ball of my knee is the exact same height as the ball on the truck. I raised the hitch so I could have slipped my knee underneath and backed the truck right under!
Nice lookin’ combo if we do say so ourselves!