Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Airstreams and Flying Machines

Despite our power hiccup, this morning marked the beginning of a crucial section of the carefully choreographed plan that had allowed us to make this trip to Banff happen. If all went according to schedule, in the next days we’d make it to Seattle, drop off Gorilla at a kennel, leave the trailer at the Airstream dealership, board a plane to San Francisco and arrive just in time to meet Ann’s 15-year-old sisters coming in on a flight from Boston, rent a car and be home for a week of hanging out and catching up with everything around the Farmlet.

We’d been told about a dog kennel in Gig Harbor and realized that a good family friend and his wife lived there. We arrived in the cute waterfront town in time for a bike ride and to head out with them for a pint at the Seven Seas Brewing Company and surf and turf on the water at Anthony’s.



Okay, I know you like it better when things don’t go quite that smoothly for us, so I will mention that when we got to the campground in Gig Harbor, we were told that the only site available was sandwiched between the road and the office. It took us 10 minutes to explain to them that in addition to having the skills to actually back our trailer into a site rather than needing to pull through, we could also unhitch and fit into a spot not much bigger than our 19 ft length. We finally settled into a site backed by trees along a quiet row. Well, quiet until we noticed the sporadic gunfire from the “sportsman’s club” in the woods behind us. There, you happy now? Don’t worry, there’s more…

The next morning, we plugged the location of the kennel into the GPS and arrived in about 15 minutes. Ann went in to drop off Gorilla while I sat in the car with Wynne sleeping in her car seat. She returned to the car a few times to get Gorilla’s bed, toys and food, but the last time she did, she looked concerned and said, “I don’t know if I’m just being overly emotional about leaving her, but I just don’t really like this place.” I made up a pretense to go in and, while mostly indoors with chain link fencing, a couple dogs were lounging around in a common area, and I thought it looked pretty normal. Plus, we were in the process of putting a complex plan in motion, remember? We negotiated the trailer around the tight turn out of the driveway of the kennel, leaving Gorilla behind.


It wasn’t until we were well into the 45 minute drive to the Airstream dealership that Ann started digging through the reviews for the kennel. A few were the usual whines about some very specific situation in which someone felt their needs weren’t perfectly catered to, but one in particular got her attention. All caps: “UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD YOU LEAVE YOUR DOG HERE!” While Wynne and I walked around the Airstream dealership, Ann hung out in the trailer looking for other last minute options for Gorilla.

Ann and I do talk about the possibility of upgrading to a bigger trailer at some point, and mumbling those words to the salesman really got him salivating. He was sure to mention how generous they would be on a trade-in. We had actually bought our trailer from this dealership after comparing prices and availability up and down the west coast and had them deliver it to us in California for less than the local dealership would offer. Of course, each time we mentioned where we lived, someone would ask us if we knew about the new dealership down there under the same ownership as this one, and I’d have to launch into the account of my less than positive experiences with them trying to order a replacement window which culminated with an email to the general manager that went unanswered. It turns out, that manager worked out of this dealership and was in the corner office. Honestly, I just didn’t feel like dealing with it and let it lie.



It was, however, fun poking around all the different models on the lot. They had one of the new 30 foot bunkhouses with a corner bed like ours in back, a bunk above it and a separate bedroom at the front of the trailer. In the middle was a lounge, a booth dinette, a long kitchen and tons of light from vista windows. The down side? 30 ft to tow around with you (and the price tag).


We’d seen the inside of plenty of the 25 and 27 ft trailers, the most popular models and the ones many of our Banff caravan would be pulling. It’s a great layout with a separate bedroom, large bathroom with a separate shower across the hall, good pantry space and a useable kitchen with a larger round sink. And one of the best features, it comes in a model with the lounge at the back of the trailer (called the FB for “front bedroom”) so you can look out the panoramic windows at the scenery rather than at the back of your tow vehicle while sitting at the dinette. Still, we’re leery of the extra length, finding again and again that at 19 ft we often just barely fit in the last spot available in state park campgrounds and like the ability to pull through a double length spot in a grocery store parking lot.

There was one model we’d never seen before that got us thinking a little, the 23D. The other 23’s we’d seen that had some potential had a separate bedroom in front, a dinette along one side (though really only for 2 people since it straddled the wheel well making the inner seats unusable), and a bathroom right by the back where you enter. The 23D, for “dinette,” was basically the rear of our trailer with the corner bed and bath combined with the lounge and dinette section of the 25. Unfortunately, they don’t make one reversed with the dinette looking out the back.


The 23D is kinda like our 19’ below with a couch/lounge. It also adds a bigger fridge and sink which would be nice.


But the question is, once you make the jump from 19 ft to 23 ft, what’s 2 more feet to go to the 25 with a separate bedroom and no crawling over each other in the corner, a full bathroom where one foot doesn’t need to be in the shower while you’re on “the throne” and a more normal shaped shower? And then you gain the option for the 25FB with panoramic windows on the front and back. And the 27 has all that plus you can walk around the bed. Hey, that 30 foot bunkhouse was pretty sweet too… Ugh, maybe we shouldn’t have spent so long at the dealership…


Still, back in our own trailer feeding Wynne a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in her high chair that hangs off the dinette and packing stuff we’d need for our trip to the Farmlet, it felt like home. The 19 has a uniquely wide kitchen area – perhaps since it’s the only floor area in the whole trailer! – that allows Gorilla and Wynne and sometimes one of us to dump out a buncha toys to play and sprawl out. Unhitched in the service queue, we had the door open to let some air in while we ate. Outside, we could hear two sales people talking, “Look at this one! It looks like it’s been up the Dalton Highway!” I get the feeling they don’t see too many trailers that actually get used.

Ann had found a much better looking kennel and a plan was hatched to break Gorilla out of the other one. Of course, that meant a 45 minute drive back down to Gig Harbor. The address was still in the GPS so we called it up and set off. The girl at the reception desk didn’t bat an eye when we told her we were picking Gorilla up a week early. Maybe this happens a lot. Another 45 minutes back the other direction, and we pulled into a nice, rural neighborhood and up to a big house with the kennel in the back. Inside a large, grassy area with tons of shade and benches, four nicely-finished shed buildings that basically looked like “tiny houses” were each divided in half with indoor and outdoor space for two dogs. We met the woman who told us all about how often they all get let out to play (let’s just say a couple more times than we usually let her out!) and loved the place. Plus, they take pics and post them on Facebook (below)!


With Riller happily set up at “camp,” we started our one hour drive towards Seattle where we were going to stay with an old college friend who had a daughter about Wynne’s age. Not so fast… Did you grab the laptop out of the drawer under the dinette? No, I thought you did. Why would I have grabbed it? You were packing the backpack. No, I was packing the diaper bag.I thought you’d see it. I thought you’d already grabbed it. Okay then, the address for the Airstream dealership should still be in the GPS, we’re headed back! Another 30 minute drive, and by this time, Seattle traffic was starting to develop. We got to the dealership, broke into our own trailer with the spare keys, and finally found my friend’s house at 6:30, 4 hours after we’d said we’d be there.

It’s a little weird when the first thing you do after seeing an old college friend is strip your kids naked and put them in a tub of hot water together, but it worked perfectly that we were all in the same parenting mode and on the same schedule. And with the girls asleep by 8, we had a couple hours to sit outside on their deck and try to shock each other’s wives with stories of our youthful, collegiate exploits. 

The next day was pretty much a reminder of all the reasons traveling overland with the trailer instead of flying sounds so much more appealing right now. Early morning expensive taxi, slogging through the airport with bags and a car seat hanging off every available limb, $20 muffin/banana/coffee breakfast in the airport. Since we booked the flights a little late once we realized we could make this all happen, we had two middle seats with Ann and Wynne sitting behind me. As young guy in full camo military uniform slid into the row behind Ann, he spied Wynne and let out a barely audible “Oh great.” When a couple minutes later someone informed him that he was in row 25 instead of 24 and in fact had the ticket for the seat right next to this disaster of a family, Ann jumped at the chance to offer him my seat. Well played, Mommy.


To cap off an uncomfortable though thankfully short one hour and thirty-eight minute flight, I spent an almost equally long time waiting in line at the rental car office while Ann met up with her sisters. It’s going be weird to be home after 2 weeks on the road and with some many more planned but will be great to hang out with the girls.