We ended Chapter 3 with the hope that we could get out of Lacey immediately after the Seattle Boat Show but we didn’t get underway until March 1st as several issues had to be addressed.
The first problem was that I was having severe nerve pain shooting down both legs which was rapidly escalating to the point I was considering using a walker for fear of falling. I would be fine walking along and then, zing zing zing and I was barely able to stand at times. Initially I responded well to medication but it wasn’t long before I called my physician back and asked that he arrange for an MRI of my back as this pain was awfully similar to the pain I had when I had a spinal tumor clear back in 2006. He agreed and after looking at the results sent me a short email, “….we have a lot to talk about.” After agreeing during a phone visit that a non-surgical approach was worth trying he sent me to the spine clinic where it was recommended that I have an injection of steroid solution into my back. Initially I was told to expect to wait a month before an appointment was available as the procedure is done in an OR setting but when I indicated I was willing to travel to Seattle if I could get in sooner I was told it could be done 3 days hence. So Monday morning February 28th we fought our way through record rainfall and the resulting rush hour traffic jams to get into Seattle for the first opening of the day. The injection was pretty uncomfortable but in retrospect the pain followed the same nerve paths that I had been having the zings along so it seemed those very tender nerves didn’t like fluid being injected at their roots. I was told IF the injection was a success it might take anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks to feel the difference. I’m pleased to say that within 24 hours most of the pain was gone (at least for now)!
The other issue that needed to be addressed was my mother, nearing her 95th birthday, was falling and injuring herself regularly in her independent living apartment. On one hand she is very competent and is NOT ready to give up her independence even though she admitted to being frightened. For a while we were able to use an Alexa devices as a safety stop since she could call for family members while lying on the floor as long as she was alert. I helped her purchase a climbing helmet so she was less likely to get knocked out but she didn’t like how she looked in it and was too stubborn (“independent” in her words) to wear it when she was alone. We arranged with her doctor to have home physical therapy but they (like us) kept telling her to use her walker everywhere in her room (and to move some furniture to make more space) both of which didn’t fit her lifestyle choices. In the end it was her friends who convinced her she needed to be where 24 hour help could be summoned if need be. The good news was her very good friend had previously moved to an independent apartment very near our home and encouraged her to move there and since the facility also has assisted living rooms it has staff available 24/7. Her new apartment is smaller but after getting rid of a love seat and extra bed she has made everything fit and still has room to get around with her walker. When she has fallen she has been able to get help getting back up and no one tries to force her to go to the emergency room so she is much more willing to ask for assistance. The best thing is that, whereas the previous apartment complex had yet to open their dining room after 2 years of Covid closure, she now goes to the dining room and interacts with friends twice a day. She is also closer to children and grand-children so she has more visitors. The end result is she sounds much happier and more alert when we talk to her. We also feel good about leaving her while we travel.
To try and stay as active as possible during the wet and cold northwest winter Clarice and I have increased our activities with our church and have gotten involved with a local non-profit that owns a trailer with 5 shower stalls in it so every Saturday the homeless folk in the area can get a hot shower, get some clean clothing and a hot lunch. We thought our involvement would be helping out maybe once a month but when the leadership learned of my mechanical skills and familiarity with working with mental health issues as well as Clarice’s organizational skills we have become significant members of the team. I have done some major redesigns on how the trailer is powered and setup is done so that we have reduced the setup and takedown time significantly. The next step is helping arrange a new box truck that was purchased after we left so that loading and unloading is a much more organized activity.
We also wanted to leave Hyacinth the boat as protected as possible while we were gone so Clarice worked madly to get the cockpit cover sewn as much as possible.
We did take one short trip in the trailer which was notable as due to our son’s nanny having a possible Covid exposure he asked us to care for the Flaming Haired Grand-Daughter for several days which happened to overlap our planned outing. We took her to the Oregon coast and had exceptional weather for the PNW for that time of year and she took to camping like a proverbial duck to water. (Actually the biggest challenge was to keep her from running straight into the Pacific Ocean just like a newly hatched duckling!) She and Jarvis get along like a pair of siblings; he likes her to pet him but its not OK to rearrange his food while he is eating and they both compete for time on my lap while I have my morning coffee.
With things finally settled on the home front we handed off care of the house to our friends who house sit for us and headed south on March 1st. The first thing I noticed with my leg pain well controlled was my muscles were very weak from lack of exercise so we have been trying to walk or ride our bikes at least daily. The second thing I realized was that the cloud of depression I have felt since I was sick back in January of 2020 is finally lifting.
We first headed to our son’s house in Beaverton Oregon to spend a bit of time with his family then we headed to the southern part of the state. Our goal was to cross the Siskiyou Mountains in one jump as they are the highest point on I-5 and can be messy this time of year. We arranged to stay with a Harvest Host winery and were told to camp on the bluff overlooking a river at the back of the vineyard where we watched the winery’s flock of sheep mow the weeds between the rows of grapes. Next we headed over the mountains to an organic farm in the town of corning where their specialty was growing luffas and lavender. We spent the next night at a campground on a reservoir outside of Bakersfield before we headed over the Sierras to boondock outside of Baker California.
Our first real goal (other than to find elusive sunshine and warmth) was to go to one of our very favorite campgrounds in Valley of Fire State Park between Las Vegas and Lake Mead. We wanted to see the Cirque du Solei show of O while we were in the area. We had seen it many years ago and wanted to enjoy it again. We found a nice campground on Lake Mead that was close enough to downtown Las Vegas that we felt comfortable leaving Jarvis in the trailer while we watched the performance.
Next we visited friends in the Tucson area and stayed for the full allowed 7 days at Gilbert Ray County Park where we charged up energy and batteries before moving on. While we were there we took day trips to see sights in the area including Mt. Lemmon which is considered to be a sky island in the desert. At 9000+ ft of elevation the mountain’s vegetation and animals represent a much different climate zone than in the desert below. At the top the ski area was still melting out from winter snows. I also visited the Titan Missile museum where the only intact Titan missile silo is retained after it was made to be visibly inert to passing satellites to comply with the START agreements with Russia. I also visited one of the huge open pit copper mines that dot the Arizona landscape.
Our goal this trip was to explore New Mexico so we moved to our next stop which was the ghost town of Shakespeare. We both were expecting pretty much of a tourist trap but instead found the “real thing” where the family who had long owned the property and used it for a cattle ranch were trying to preserve what was left of the town and it’s history.
My “bucket list” has long included White Sands National Park and Carlsbad Caverns National Park. They are both located in the far south part of New Mexico where the general scenery reminded us of West Texas (boooorrrrinng). White Sands on the other hand was pretty impressive once we got off the highway and into the dunes area. The gypsum sand is held in place by the very high water table so while we expected it to run through our fingers instead it is moist and clumps. Lots of kids were having a ball exploring the huge sandbox and sliding down on sleds they had rented from the visitor center (along with their parents). Jarvis just couldn’t quite figure it out but seemed to appreciate that it was soft to walk on. Carlsbad Caverns were just plain amazing. We walked about 3 miles on the tourist trails and felt like we had seen enough to really appreciate why they are an international heritage site. So going to the ends of New Mexico to see these places (along with Guadalupe Mountains National Park in the corner of Texas we passed through) was well worth our effort.
We have now turned northwest and the New Mexico scenery we remembered from when we passed through the state during the worst of the Covid epidemic is starting to show itself. Yesterday we stayed in the middle of a massive lava flow and now we are in an area of fascinating sand stone formations and more lava flows. Our next goal is to head to Navajo lands but we are currently hunkered down with very high winds, sun, rain, sleet and snow today. This is certainly an interesting place that changes scenery, weather and cultures from one moment to the next.