Midnight Chicken

Lee used to bring me chicken at midnight.

When I got up Monday afternoon, Heidi said: Our kids and grand-kids are all OK. The rest of the family is OK and everyone here on the rig is OK but I have some sad news. Lee was killed last week.

I’d been watching for him for several nights. I’d already set aside the peanut brittle I was going to give him.

Lee was a pusher (field supervisor) for a company that we’ve worked with for the past year and a half. I talked to him almost every week, sometimes several times a week. We work with so many nice guys, but he stood out. Lee wasn’t unusually handsome or charismatic. Lee stood out because he was unusually kind.

He was always worried about my torn meniscus.  He’d jump out of his truck to meet me on the RV steps so I wouldn’t have to make the climb. When it rained, he’d race to the door to make sure he was the one who got wet.

Lee would check out our next location before we even knew where we were headed. On his own time, he’d drive the torn up Texas back-roads to find the route that would cause the least amount of rocking and rolling to our RV. The glove compartment is stilled stuffed with his hand drawn maps.

Lee was only 45 years old when another driver crossed the center line and hit him head on. He wasn’t even supposed to be there. Like me, Lee works nights and his shift  was over. Typically, he volunteered to make one last run to save David the long drive out.

David’s face fell when he told Heidi the news.  Everyone is sad. Everyone says the same thing: He was a very good man. Unanimous praise is rare in this industry.

Someone new just came in a few moments ago, with Lee’s plate on his truck. I felt my gut synch-up as I wrote down HN6 and asked him how he was. He said: I’d be better if I didn’t have to be here.

He may be nice enough. I don’t know. I only know he isn’t Lee.  I was thankful to make it through Be safe and have a good night before my throat closed up. Tears were flooding my face as his tail lights faded.

The nights down here are quiet and sometimes lonely and I’ve truly lost a friend. There won’t be any more gifts of chicken at midnight.

But I didn’t sit down to write about me or my grief. I sat down to write about Lee and about how one man’s kindness moved my heart.

Life is short.

Be kind. Be kind all of the time because there may not be another time.

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In A Land Far, Far Away

So many people have written, asking what in the world possessed Heidi and I to embark on this wild ride. Since I began writing Fork as a way to up date a few friends and family who already knew the whole story, I guess it never occurred to me to begin at the beginning! I’ll try to move the tale along with photos (that way you can skip the narrative if you wish and still get the general idea).

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It all began in a land far, far away called Iowa. Heidi and I met, I’m guessing, in 1982 in the nursery at our church. Our boys were both born that year, 6 months apart, so we spent quite a bit of time in the nursery.

To be honest, we didn’t hit it off at first. Actually, she didn’t particularly like me and I was afraid of her. 😀

We were just about as opposite in our relational styles as two people could be.

Heidi was a fiery, straight to the point, red-headed Fighter.

I was a classic, non-confrontational, peacemaking Flighter.

We got used to each other after a while. 😉

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The first Fork in the Road really took place in the late 1980’s when we started, what eventually proved to be a fairly successful Speaking/Training business, capitalizing on our opposite-ness. We taught communication skills – primarily to healthcare professionals – for the next 20 years.

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In the spring of 2008, Heidi found a renter for her house, bought a 32 foot Motorhome and packed up to escape Iowa winters, which were becoming miserable for her due to some health issues.

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With one half  hour driving lesson and verbal instructions on how to hook up her Saturn for towing, she was ready to go. Did I mention she’s a Fighter? She was completely undaunted.

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I was recently divorced so Henry and I decided to hitch a ride. We said many, many tearful goodbyes and set out to begin a grand adventure.

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Initially, we’d hoped to take the business on the road, but the logistics of marketing 6-9 months in advance when you didn’t know where you’ll be living stumped us. At this point we came to another Fork in the Road.

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When we’d spoken at the National Health Care Convention in Portland, Oregon several years earlier, we rented a car and took a road trip to Cannon Beach. I’d always loved the ocean, but Heidi, not so much. She fell in love with the ocean in Oregon.

Many of you are familiar with an organization called Workamper which caters to part-time and full-time RVers. Before leaving Iowa, we saw a Workamper ad for a job in a private RV park in Gold Beach, Oregon (on the southern coast, 60 miles north of the CA border). We called and got the job. We work-camped (each working in the office 20 hrs per week) in exchange for free site and utilities, with the promise of pay for hours over the required 20.

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At this point in our newly begun adventure, we ran into two problems. The first is fairly common. There didn’t turn out to be any hours over the required 20. The second was hopefully rare: the owners of the park were unethical and unscrupulous (which is why I’m not mentioning the name here).  There is an English proverb that says:

Every path has its puddle.

Well, yep, we  stepped in that one. No extra hours meant no income. I was a frequent visitor at the Gold Beach Visitors center – coming in for tide tables and trying to learn all I could about the area. One of the part-time employees told me there was a position opening up. I was fortunate enough to be hired. It was an incredible job! I loved promoting the area and I could watch the waves break on the beach from my desk.

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As much as I loved the Visitors Center, it was only 18 hours a week at minimum wage. So when our 6 months of work-camping ended, we came to another Fork in the Road.

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We said goodbye to our new friends, left Oregon and headed to California for another work-camping job.

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For 6 months we worked at Edgewater Resort and RV Park on Clear Lake. This time we got paid for every hour worked and then we repaid the park for our site (at a reduced rate).

I cleaned the pool. That was the easy job. 😀

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We cleaned cabins, campsites and did yard work. We cleaned the restrooms… all the time!

I’m sure we had the cleanest restrooms in the state of California. Not only did we clean them every hour –  each Monday we spent half a day power washing and bleaching every inch from the ceiling to the floor drains and all the fixtures in between.

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We painted fences and built fire-pits and shoveled gravel.

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It was tough, physical labor and it made for one long, hot summer. We worked 5 days a week and cleaned houses for our boss on the 6th.

I don’t think either of us had ever been as tired in our lives as we were that summer. At the end of the day, Henry had to help me hold my book. 😀

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This fishing was good, though! I was rarely too tired to fish (catch and release).:D

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Six months later, the season was over in CA and we’d come to another Fork in the Road. Henry’s traveling companion in these photos is Harvey, the un-invisible Pooka – my homage to my favorite movie, Harvey.

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We longed for the wild Oregon coast.

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My wonderful boss at the Visitors Center did some fast talking and I got my job back. This is a photo of Heidi and I with Sue, who was my boss, and now is a life long friend!

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While I worked at the Visitors Center in Gold beach, we lived 27 mile to the north in Port Orford where we worked as Park Hosts. We worked in two stunningly beautiful State Parks.

This was my commute.

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If you’ve never driven 101 along the Western coast, it would make a great bucket list addition!

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I don’t think anyone’s ever had a more beautiful drive to work.

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At Cape Blanco, Heidi cleaned 5 little cabins while I worked in Gold Beach.

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Two nights a week, we sold firewood. We were frequent visitors to the lighthouse in the park.

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Tseriadun State Park, also in Port Orford, is a day use only park. We were there Oct – Dec, so all we did was keep the path to the ocean and the beach litter free.

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It was a rough gig as you can see. 😉

We were the only ones there. We closed the gate every night at 6 p.m.

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The State Park jobs in Oregon are usually set up on a 3 month rotation. When our time in Port Orford was over, we settled in a little RV park in Gold Beach. It was off-season so most of the time we had the whole park to ourselves.

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We left our chairs in the lighthouse for storm watching. It was also a wonderful place to watch the highway of crab boats that ran from December through March.

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I literally walked out the door and down the beach to work. It was incredible! Then, one day, it dawned on us that we were still really quite broke and were running out of  years to rectify that.

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Through my contacts at the VC, I was offered a job as a live-in night manager at a beautiful resort in town.

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Within weeks, I was also the Guest Services Manager, Heidi was the Assistant General Manager and Henry was the Mascot.

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Which is all the data my computer can handle for tonight.

Next stop, Texas.

To be continued…

Travel Lodge(ing)

Do you remember the old Travel Lodges billboards with cute sleep walking bear?

For the best rest –  East or West

I’m looking for that right now. Just a little rest. 😀

Our company let us know on Sunday that the gate guards we were subbing for would be back Monday instead of Wednesday. This wasn’t a big deal except Heidi had already called all of the  RV parks within 60 miles and everyone was full.

The gate guard lot in Gonzales was full (unlike when we were there 2 months ago).

And the gate guard lot in Whitsett was full and overflowing.  We had already contacted Hidden Valley RV park in Von Ormy (just south of San Antonio) and Teri had room for us but not until Tuesday. She said that if it didn’t rain we could boondock in her field for $10. 😀

Scott  (our FS) said to be ready to leave at 9:30, so of course the new gate guards were there at 8 a.m. and Scott was there at 8:45. We were sure glad we’d gotten the hitching up over with the night before. You know how it is when you already feel a little awkward or unsure and then you add an audience. We left Westhoff/Lindenau at 9 and headed north by northwest.

Teri was gracious and accommodating. We parked at the far end of the RV park in the open field.

This is a lovely side shot of $7000 worth of damage I inflicted on the new RV when I tangled with the tiny palm tree – repairs next month – hopefully.

Unlike many of our gate guarding friends, we aren’t really boondockers at heart. In 4 years of full-time RVing, we used the generator in the Motorhome once. When we bought the 5th Wheel, we didn’t want to spend the extra $5000 for a generator (we also didn’t want that much more weight and opted for storage instead).

Monday, if we’d had one, we would have used it. It was about 80 degrees by the time we got parked. No electricity. Our phones soon ran down. We had just enough battery life, in the laptop and in us, to change all of our passwords since Zappos had been hacked that morning and that’s where we order our shoes. 😀

We really didn’t mind boondocking. We were thankful for a quiet field. We took Henry VIII for several walks along the river and listened to cardinals and woodpeckers and mockingbirds.

We played cards. Actually, Heidi played cards and I was more of an out-of-body participant. By the time we were finishing, I’d been up for 28 hours. You night-shift folks know how the transition can be when you’re switching from nights to days. This was my 5th switch in 2 months. I didn’t care if we went east or west, I just wanted some rest. I think I was unconscious by 5:30.  Heidi made her way around in the dark with a Coleman lantern and a flashlight.

The only time boondocking was at all inconvenient was the next morning when my caffeine craving body woke up at 4 a.m. screaming: You’ve got to be kiddingNo biggie I thought and I boldly boiled coffee on the stove. I’ve haven’t done that for a while. There must be a trick to it that I’ve forgotten. There’s nothing more surprising when you’re happily drinking hot coffee in the dark and suddenly your mouth fills up with grounds. Actually even that’s still a little better than the live things I’ve swallowed in Texas like beetles and fluttering moths; or the time I looked at my bowl of Grape-nuts and saw one half of a spider trying to swim in the milk (don’t ask, I have no idea).

My Kindle cover has a book light, I had coffee and Henry had a lap so all was well with the world. I enjoyed the early morning view as I watched the sun rise. The view out my window was a little different from what I’m used to after 13 months on a gate. 😉

The folks at Hidden Valley were very nice. The rate for Passport America members is $16 a night with full hookup which you’d be hard pressed to beat anywhere.

We were supposed to move near Three Rivers saying a spot just opened up there and to head on down.  So, once again, we hit the road. It was an hour and a half drive which only took us 2 hours because the GPS led us to a sheet metal building in Whitsett and proudly announced that we had arrived at our destination.

 

Dropping the RV Unhooking went as smoothly as hitching up. No job yet, but hopefully soon.

Today we went a callin’ on our friends Jill and Rob. We’ve only met though Fork, never in person, but they’ve become dear friends. They’re in Tilden, of all places! Tilden, no kidding!

Tilden is where we got our start, 13 months ago. We couldn’t wait to take Jill to lunch at Max’s Cafe and Motel. I think I scared her with all the animal  head photos so she hadn’t been there yet!

Rob and Jill were even more delightful in person! Thank you for your kind hospitality. How fun to finally meet! It’s was like reuniting with an old friend and picking up where you left off, except we’d never started. 😀 Rob was kind enough to watch their very busy gate and we rewarded him by bringing back half of Jill’s leftover Max’s Special Nachos.

Since I likely won’t be on a gate for a bit, I may tell some stories about the wild guys from Lantern 16 or write about our amazing encounters with the Nutria and the Alligator in the bayou tomorrow.

Life is good! However, the rumor that the lots are full is true – today. You never know about tomorrow in this business. For the best rest –  East or West, I think  you have to be willing to just kick back and enjoy the ride!