Sunday, June 2, 2013

Sierra Foothills and a Musical Homecoming

We continued making our way up the western side of the Sierras, remembering how starkly different things had looked at this point on the other side of the mountains four weeks earlier. Scoping out our route, I noticed a familiar name on the map, Jamestown. A guy I know through the bluegrass world had some property there that, at least from the pics and stories he’d post from time to time on Facebook, had always reminded me of ours. I gave him a call from the overheated strip mall that is the city of Clovis, just outside of Fresno, and told him we were on a bit of a family road trip and could we swing by the property to say hello. He said, “Sure, but if you’re in Clovis, you’ve got a different idea than I do about where to go on a family trip.”


We angled back up into the foothills on Highway 41 towards Yosemite and started to look for a place to stop for the night. We’d Googled some reviews of campgrounds, but again found only “It’ll do" comments on the available options, so we opted for the KOA just south of the entrance to the park. The folks inside seemed nice enough as we went through the usual “how long is your trailer stuff,” and the guy helping us top off our propane tanks outside even nicer, though it could have been the fumes. We followed the map we were handed at the counter up a narrow road to our numbered site and just kinda scratched our heads. We could have backed the trailer into the narrow slot next to our site number but our truck would have blocked access to a few other sites. We drove back down the hill and popped back into the office to explain that we weren’t going to fit.

“Well, how long are you?”

“We’re 36 ft hitched.”

“Well, that’s not what you told me before,” she snipped, performing a sudden and unexpected transformation from kindly elderly counter person to snarky bitch.

“I told you we had a 19 foot travel trailer…” matching her tone but leaving out the “I was assuming you could figure out that we were towing it with something and since we’re only staying for one night probably don’t want to unhitch and even if we did there was no place to park our truck” part.

She grumbled at her computer screen for a while, cross referencing with a map of tons and tons of sites marked available. I pointed to a few, but she protested that those were full hookups; We’d elected not to pay $12 more on top of the already exorbitant $49 for a sewer connection. They only had a few water and electric sites available and most wouldn’t fit us hitched. I suppose that those were put in mostly for conversion vans or Westfalia’s without a bathroom. I suggested she put us in a full site and we just wouldn’t use the sewer connection. Problem solved! The look she gave me confirmed that this idea was INSANE.

There was one spot that might work, tucked in behind a few of their rental cabins. We went up to check it out, and with some hot shot trailer backing skillz, I was able to line us up. I started to ease back and then heard a loud hissing sound. My first thought was the propane, that I’d forgotten to tighten something and we were spraying compressed gas everywhere. I jumped out and ran back to check. That’s when I saw the large, rough-cut  granite curb block pushed off at an angle near the rear tire. Are you effin’ kidding me?! After all this, I clip the sidewall of the trailer tire on the sharp edge of a block?! I watched helplessly as the right side of the trailer sunk, along with our plans for an early dinner.


I took deep breaths as I made situational lemonade, explaining to Ann that really this was the best possible time for us to have gotten our first flat on the trailer. We were already at our destination, mostly in the shade and could take our time figuring out how to release the spare and find the jack points. This was really a good thing, actually. Down on one knee to slide the jack under the belly of the trailer, I discovered the true culprit, a metal tent stake buried deep but extending 4 inches out of the dirt, and the rage came flowing back. I hadn’t hit the block I should have seen, I’d hit the invisible stake some jackass had left behind! I poured my mental lemonade out in the dirt and stormed towards the office with Ann calling out to remind me that she didn’t want to have to leave to find another place at that hour, particularly not with a Sheriff’s escort off the property.


I had a serious head of steam as I approached the office door. We were already getting gouged on the price, this being a KOA and so close to Yosemite, and had had to hassle to find a workable spot, with an attitude to boot. Okay, I’ll add that I also discovered that “FREE WIRELESS” on the sign actually meant *one free hour* per 24 hour period. That may have been the killer. I took a few deep breaths at the door and marched in. Fortunately, my nemesis was on the phone, so I explained the situation to an older gentleman shuffling some papers behind the counter. He immediately grabbed his truck keys and said, “Well, let’s go take care of that.” Phew!

Back at the site, we quickly got the trailer jacked up, the wheel removed and everything loaded into the bed of the truck. As I climbed into the front seat of the tired diesel F250, placing my feet carefully among the tools and spare parts that littered the passenger footwell, I heard a horrible hacking cough as the driver’s door opened and he got in.

“Summer cold? Man, my allergies have been killin’ me up here,” I offered.

“No, emphysema,” he managed between labored breaths. Now I felt terrible and turned my eyes down to pick through the screwdrivers and miscellaneous PVC fittings at my feet.. “Don’t worry, it’s not contagious.” Ugh.

Just a couple miles up the road was a tire shop where he was greeted warmly by the workers who quickly grabbed the tire and went to work stripping it off the rim.

“How was business last weekend? Memorial Day, must have been busy,” I attempted by way of small talk.

“Not great. I need to take a look at my numbers. If we don’t have a big summer, I’m going to have to close over the winter.” Ya know what? I’m just gonna shut up now… But he continued, “You want to know what’s wrong with this country?” I had a feeling I didn’t. “This Obama guy poking into everything, making the government huge and destroying small businesses.” I was right, I didn’t. “Half this country is so illiterate [not sure what he meant by that word] they got their heads so far up their asses.” Alright! Now, we have something we can agree on! Sometimes I have no idea what the other half of the country is thinking. Tell me more! “These college educated, latch-key kids. All they know how to do is computers. They couldn’t change a tire if they had to. They don’t know how to run a small business.” Okay, so it’s the college educated people with technology skills that are illiterate not the dis-information gobbling, fear mongering, intolerant ones. I think we’re done here…  He paid for the tire, not the same brand but a good match, and dropped me off back at the trailer while I tried not to choke on the blood in my mouth from biting my tongue so hard.

The next morning, we made our way to Jamestown and found my friend’s property. He was down in the Bay Area for a couple days, but we were assured that as long as we had a cute little girl with us, his wife would be glad to show us around. And one of the main attractions, especially for a little farm girl who’d been away from home for a while, was their four llamas.





The property did remind me of ours about the same size and a variety of plants, gardens and of course, on going projects. In fact, it’s over these projects ranging from irrigation to protecting animals against predators to mending fences that I’d gotten to know this guy beyond the bluegrass world. His wife asked me if we were excited to get home. The answer was tricky; We loved knowing we had our home to return to, but for the time being, we were enjoying the relative simplicity of life on the road.




Yes, I said simplicity, even in light of the tire incident. And to boot, when I was opening windows and turning on fans in the trailer to keep Gorilla comfortable while we walked around the property, I heard a pop and a rain of glass come from the “bedroom” window. It seems the glass had stuck to the gasket in the 100+ degree heat, and when I put a little too much pressure on it – probably using only one side of the raising mechanism instead of both – it blew out. Do I need to remind you that we’ve had pretty much no problems for almost five weeks and that this is all on our last couple days before home?


We found a campground near Angels Camp, only a short drive from our weekend destination, that actually got good reviews online. Apparently, its location next to the fairgrounds makes it a favorite for those attending the Calaveras County Fair & Frog Jumping Jubilee which actually looked like some good small town fun. Laundry, a grocery and party supply run in town and a really good “gourmet burrito” at a place called Sidewinders, we were ready for the weekend.


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We were headed to a friend’s parents’ house where, for the last 4 years, they’ve been nice enough to let him throw a music festival for 200+ of his closest friends. For the past couple years – we missed one while in Panama – we’d been getting there a little early and helping with the setup. Building the stage, riding the ATV and ferrying supplies in the old F150 was actually my idea of a good time. College-educated, latch-key kid my ass.

Does this look like the daughter of an illiterate?


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Actually, don’t answer that.

The festival was a perfect final weekend to our trip and a chance to reconnect with a buncha friends we’d been missing on the road. Everyone set up tents on the ridge and chairs down on the lawn and enjoyed great food, music and foothills views.






After a good time jamming with a banjo player the night before, I even got asked to sit in for their mando player during their set. I did not get the memo about the white shirts but was able to scare up a ridiculously large white hat. Pulling… it… off.




Packing up to leave on Sunday afternoon, the carefully choreographed routine we’d developed over five weeks was unceremoniously abandoned. Dishes were piled in the sink, instruments strewn on the bed and a wagon rolled around on the gray shag carpet, having been evicted from its spot in the back of the truck to make room for four empty kegs of Lagunitas beer we’d been asked to return to the brewery near our house. We may not quite have been ready for the trip to end, but it was over. With drapes fluttering in the wind from a broken rear window, we limped home through the central valley heat on mismatched tires, expecting to pull through our front gate a couple hours after dark, 41 days after leaving home.