Friday, August 31, 2007

7/27-7/30/07 In the Wine Country -- and Back in August to the OC

I flew into San Francisco and joined the family who had spent the day doing the Alcatraz boat tour at the end of July as they 'hunkered down' in the Cloverdale/Naco RV park on the banks of the Russian River ... having had too much fun, while they "claimed the coach was broken for two weeks" and they were 'forced' to go to Monterey, and visit the aquarium and shoreline; and then Santa Cruz, where they 'had' to go to the pier and hang out; and then into San Francisco for another night in a hotel; and yet more nights at my cousins' home across the bay in Oakland.... Yes, the scars were -- indelible? Nope... hmm.... non-existent!

So, local drives into the nearby towns and countryside yielded some great wineries and wonderful food. One morning, we took a barely-on-the-map road over the coastal range, stopping for blackberries, admiring the oak/grass rolling hills that soon graded into occasional trees, and then into deep coastal redwood forest - dark, foreboding, quiet. You just knew that if you stopped the care, you'd see fairies playing just above and in the streams and there, just at the ridge and hardly within sight, could it be...yes..., a horse? ... but the horn...ah! yes!! a unicorn.... Yes indeed, truly primitive stretches of forest, and magical creatures, can still be found in the north woods!

And then, all of a sudden, we came out the bottom of a steeply cut river canyon onto the ocean. What a sight. Kayakers were playing in the nearby estuary, just in from the protecting sand bar. We were starved...and the restaurant we wanted was not yet open. Alas, with nothing else to do, we were again forced to eat wild blackberries, though these at the shore were nowhere near as sweet as the ones in the bright sun on the high ridges we had left but a few miles back.

After a fine meal and a drive out to the Pt. Arena lighthouse, we found another minor backroad which took us through the deep woods again, and eventually spit us out onto a main coast road between Cloverdale and Fort Bragg. No unicorns here, no sir!

With a flat tire in the Maxx as our reward for the long drives, and with an early (5:15 a.m.) flight commitment to meet the balloon folks in Santa Rosa, Dave and I changed the tire (yes, we did it ourselves -- at that time of day, the covered AAA wagons were in the barn for the night, and the horses were bedded as well). was kinda fun, and, um, kinda not. Hadn't done that in a lot of years.

The next morning found us under clear but cold skies. As we drove down the valley to Santa Rosa, we picked up a cloud layer that left the airport in fog. So they piled us all in vans, drove back up the valley, right past our campsite [darn: could'a slept in] and further up Highway 101 to Ukiah, another 1/2 hour in the opposite direction from Santa Rosa. The Parducci Winery folks are kind enough to offer the balloon company a field in which we set up and launched the balloons. We flew for more than an hour, landing at the Ukiah airport. Wow, as a pilot, I can tell you I have never spent so much time on Short Final!! And a few planes out that morning had to land and take off only using the south end of the runway, as we were hogging the airspace to the north! Glad there weren't any training flights that morning.

The flight was spectacular, though we were surprised at the noise levels when the two big burners kicked in. Jackets? None...there was plenty of radiated heat downwards into the basket for the nine of us. Like in gliders (and when the burner was not on), we floated in silence in the early morning's light high above the valley floor. A wonderful experience that is worth repeating.

Once all three balloons landed and were deflated and repacked, we piled back in the vans and drove to Santa Rosa, concluding at an "al fresco" breakfast set out for us in one of the orchards at Kendall Jackson wineries. Very neat! Champagne, quiche, sweets, orange juice, fresh fruit.... not hard to take.

The last evening I was with the family on the Russian River, we went to a wonderful restaurant in Healdsburg. On the leisurely drive back, Sarah suggested we stay on the country roads and not get back on the 101 highway. So, we had a very nice drive through Alexander Valley, yet another noted winery area, and eventually met back up with the highway in Cloverdale. The sun set, and all was right in the world.

The next morning, we drove the coach and toad to Oakland, where we abandoned our still-troubled coach (needed more debugging to track down the snapping, bending noises in the steering column). The five of us - me, Mary Ann, Dave, Sarah and Mayim piled into the Maxx and drove back to the OC, with luggage! To say it was tight -- well, Mayim had one very small clear spot in the hatchback area, and that was that!

A few days later (beginning of August), Mary Ann flew up to Oakland (alone), for the repair garage had found no identifiable cause or source of the problem and referred us, again, to the manufacturer. She was not feeling too swift, and took 12+ hours to go the 6.5 hours home. With many stops to nap or just rest, we didn't know then that she was beginning the serious stage of gall bladder problems. She had been feeling "off" the prior week we were all together at the Russian River, but it wasn't too uncomfortable just then.

The coach did get fixed, by a wonderful place (RV Solutions in Colton, CA).... the steering column was attached by a single bolt! The repair required 6 new bolts, plus three new welds on broken frame connections. Now, we never hear a squeek or groan in the steering or frame -- thank you Steve Bishop.

August was spent with surgery, a milestone/turning point Homeschool Conference in Sacramento (after which we decided to "unschool" our kids), the Maccabi Games, and packing up our belongings for three different locations (the RV, the boat, and long-term storage). The kids now attend the Sierra Institute for Research and Technology ("SIRT" - see it on the WEB), a private ISP (Independent Study Program). SIRT has two fully matriculated students, two full-time staff (Mary Ann as Principal and Instructor, and Mel as CFO and Instructor), and a school mascot (Mayim). We have a posted cirriculum, accept other students, record attendance... and meet the State of California requirements for educating our children.

On August 30th, the movers came to our rental house, and took our stuff to a storage locker (for the boat and to do a final sort of some personal papers and junk), and to Al's house (where I moved into one of the bedrooms) and then to their long-term storage warehouse. With no furniture left in the rental, we slept in the RV for the last two nights of our former OC life!

Few of the final planned repairs and anticipated improvements to the RV (including, even then, my desire for a voice-annunciated GPS system) got done in the month of August, as there were just to many other little things going on in our lives... Some of the repair/upgrade work we have done this Fall; other tasks are yet to be done, on the road.

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