Saturday, September 22, 2012

Relaxing at Last - Wallowa Lake State Park

We are loving our new “neighborhood” here at Wallowa Lake!  Where is that?  We are in the Northeast corner of Oregon, about 60 miles from the Oregon-Idaho border.  We are about 6 miles from Joseph, Oregon, a somewhat well-known art community, and about 11 miles from Enterprise.  It’s something like 75 miles from LaGrande.  The campground brochure for Wallowa Lake State Park says, “Nestled between the south end of a scenic glacial lake and the towering peaks of the Wallowa Mountains, Wallowa Lake State Recreation Area is ideally positioned as a base camp for both wilderness treks and water sports fun.”  That sounds pretty good!  There are fishermen, hikers, bikers, and plain old families who are coming here.
The campground is pretty good sized – 200+ campsites, 121 full hookup, and 89 tent sites.  They have 2 yurts - with wood sides.  We have been hired as Campground Wood Hosts, which is to say we are selling wood to campers (2 days/week), and cleaning vacated campsites (3 days/week).
Even though the State of Oregon Park and Recreation Department officially approves our application to be hosts each year, even doing background checks, each park is run somewhat uniquely under the big umbrella.  However, the parks hire their volunteer hosts from the State “bucket” of volunteers.  Each park varies according to their setting, and their management to some degree.   Even how wood is sold, how much it costs and where the proceeds go, vary from park to park.  At this park, we load individual cut pieces of wood into wood bins that have wheels and a handle for pushing like a lawnmower.  We collect vouchers (paid for at the registration booth) instead of cash, to pay for the wood.  The customer takes a preloaded wood cart and delivers to their own camp site, then returns the cart for the next customer.  We have 7 carts to keep full for the next camper.  The carts are probably 2-3 times more wood for $5 than other parks we're familiar with to date.  Perhaps they can just get it cheaper here?
I have to say selling wood is probably the most fun job for us, as we get the most opportunity to visit with campers.  It's amazing how many people just stop by to chat, whether they need wood or not.  We think there is just something special about people who camp.  It seems most are just a bit more outgoing and friendly.  Perhaps part of that reason is that we all instantly have something in common - camping and enjoying the out-of-doors to varying degrees.  We live in somewhat close proximity to our neighbors by choice.  In the real world, we're always trying to put distance beween us and others.  Not so much when we are camping.  Whatever the thing is, we find it easy to talk with total strangers, something we're less likely to do if we're back in our usual lives.  When Steve and I put on our uniforms for work, we are in essence putting out a sign that says, "Talk to me - we like people."  That's a fun thing! 
When we left Camping World after two nights there at the end of August, we headed first to Memaloose State Park, about halfway between Hood River and The Dalles in the Columbia River Gorge.  It was our first opportunity to take advantage of one perk for Oregon State Park Hosts: - a free night of lodging!  Our Devil's Lake Ranger arranged that we could spend the night there for free as we were in route from one job to another!  We can have up to two free nights along the way if necessary.  This is a more recent added benefit for hosts, one we really appreciated having access to, in order to have a shorter day of traveling.  Where would we find to spend a Friday night at the last moment during Labor Day weekend?! 
Steve and I have always enjoyed Memaloose State Park.  Some people might be bothered by trains going through on both sides of the Columbia, or by noise from I-5 up at the top of the hill, but those things have never really bothered us.  The trains are part of the charm of the gorgeous park with all it's trees and beautiful view of the Columbia River.  We assumed our free night would most likely have us camping at the top of the park, up under I-5 - beggars can't be choosers.  However, when we received our site assignment, we were put in a site within a couple sites of where we have reserved space during vacations!  Too bad we didn't have time to enjoy it.  We spent the night and then hit the road about 10:00 the next morning. 
Something really great happened during our trip from Memaloose to Wallowa Lake .  I realized I felt comfortable driving Moby!  It was a good day!

Steve helped direct me coming out of our campsite because we had a good sized tree with big limbs close to us on the downhill side I'd be turning toward.  I didn't want to risk hitting that tree if I cut too sharp!  Naturally, there was a group of onlookers from the campsite across from us.  I was so focused on watching for Steve's direction, it didn't bother me this time.  Once sucessfully out of our site, Steve jumped back in the car with Parsley and led the way.  I remember watching where the back wheels of the coach were as I drove around the park on the way out.  Those paved roads aren't very wide, yet I didn't have any trouble staying on the paved surface.  We had to drive West on I-5 to Mosier, where we took the exit and then headed back East, as Memaloose State Park is only accessible heading West, with no overpass to get us from the park to the eastbound lanes.  I noticed as I turned around on the Mosier overpass that cornering seemed less of a challenge.  Even braking felt more natural. 
Back onto I-5 heading East, on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, I felt relaxed behind the wheel.  Yes, the circumstances were great: low traffic, no nasty winds, gorgeous blue skies, etc.  Something clicked though.  I think I just got comfortable.  It made for a great trip!  With a rest stop near Boardman for lunch, during which I was able to whip up a quick taco salad from leftover taco meat, I drove as far as Pendleton, where we stopped at a truck stop at the Indian Reservation.  I quickly handed over the driver's seat when I saw it was self-serve!  I assumed my position as driver of the Buick, with Parsley as my co-pilot. 
We pulled into Wallowa Lake State Park around 5:30pm.  It was a good day, but we were tired.  Naturally, at our new camp site, we had a bit of a challenge with the motorhome.  The auto-leveling didn't seem to want to work for us.  We were warned to be careful about manual leveling, as the frame can get twisted if we did something wrong.  That warning was enough to scare both of us.  We don't want to be responsible for twisting our frame, let alone having to deal with the consequences of having done that ... 
Our assigned site sloped downhill slightly to the back of the coach.  I should mention here that that is the difference between camping and living in a RV park.  Sites in an RV park are generally cement, and leveled quite nicely.  There are generally never any trees to get in the way either at RV parks.  Our camp site here is a camp site!  This park was laid out long before people began driving large motorhomes and 5th wheel trailers, let alone RV's with slide-outs on one or both sides! 
We are beginning to deal with challenges better, and immediately assessed that life would not be totally miserable if we just lived with the downhill business for awhile.  I joked that at least the tilt made us move more quickly toward the bathroom and bedroom! 
The wood barn, directly in front of us, was swarming with campers buying wood.  With our big front window facing it, it felt like they were right in our livingroom.  We opted to close the front shades, and turn in early for the night.  Imagine our surprise when a knock at the door had one of our new fellow hosts asking if we were going to clean camp sites at 8 a.m the next morning?  We explained we had been instructed to be at the office for orientation at 10:00, with no mention of working prior to that.  Our fellow host left mumbling.  Not the start we had hoped for! 
The next morning, we managed to get up and made it to orientation on time.  Our host coordinator, Ranger Shawn Dutcher is really great.  Long before we met her in person, we were impressed by her organizational skills.  We'd signed our paperwork while we were still in McMinnville!  We completed our online safety modules while we were working at Devil's Lake.  It made for a more laid back beginning at this new park.
During the beginning of orientation, a funny thing happened.  The host who'd been less than thrilled at our not wanting to join him cleaning camp sites early that morning came in to hand in his August time sheet to Ranger Shawn.  She greeted him with "Good morning, Ed, my little trouble-maker.  What trouble do you have for me today?"  Ah!  It wasn't just us!  We've since had the chance to get to know Ed a bit and find he is a very nice and personable man.  I'm pretty sure he just has a bit of ADHD.  Also, it's possible he didn't realize that it was Labor Day weekend when we arrived and campers wouldn't be leaving on Sunday morning.  The mass exodus would likely be Monday.  Ed is also a very thorough camp site cleaner and perhaps was concerned he might have to clean many, many sites with only one fellow host to help him.  It was just an unfortunate beginning that has long been replaced with good impressions.
Our first day here, while meeting the other park hosts, we discovered God had given us another special gift.  Larry and Karleen are fellow believers, which is nice enough news, however Larry also had been a RV technician for 7 years, having worked at Olinger Motorhomes, who has since become Camping World's RV Sales - Hillsboro, where we bought our coach.  Larry was able to give Steve a new understanding of how leveling systems work.  We learned that just perhaps the post that wasn't coming down on the back passenger side, wasn't actually supposed to!  Apparently they come down one at a time, and the auto leveling system was stopping before it was supposed to come down.  Just possibly, the post wasn't jammed?  Steve got through to our service guy at Camping World first thing Tuesday morning.  Having read all the material we have, and received the great information from Larry, Steve felt confident to go ahead and manually level the trailer, as our service guy said.  A few seconds later and we were level!
There's an on-going lesson we're learning.  Every time we struggle with something, and eventually learn the solution, we learn it so completely that we're pretty sure we won't experience the same stress should it happen again.  We're simply in a steep learning curve these days.  So many things are still new to us.
We are still counting our blessings.  With the exception of driving out to refill our 28-gallon propane tank (we can't find anyone who will deliver), we get to live in one spot for two whole months in this beautiful park.  We are so pleased with our fellow hosts here that a few of us have already reserved this same time next year to work together again!  One of our most treasured blessings are the new friends we are able to add as we spend time working together.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Camping at Camping World?

Yes, we “camped” at Camping World’s RV Sales in Hillsboro (used to be Olinger).  Not exactly glamorous, but we were thankful to be able to sleep in our own bed at night while they again worked on various issues with our motorhome.  Seems this is a normal courtesy for full-time RVers.

We left Devil’s Lake State Park in Lincoln City on Wednesday afternoon, after we’d pretty much completed our work for the day.  Our kind fellow park host, Joe, finished up our last couple of camp sites that weren’t vacating by 1pm.  He’d offered earlier in the day to simply do our job for us that day!  We turned him down, as we told him we didn’t really want to spend any more hours at Camping World than necessary!

The appointment for our motorhome repair was for 8:00 Thursday morning.  We had to arrive before the business closed for the evening so we could get an extension cord to at least support our basic electrical system’s needs.  They locked the gates at 7pm, and we were parked just outside the gates.  We were able to open slides on both sides of the trailer once the gate was locked, as we blocked a portion of the driveway.  We decided to make sure we were up at about 6:00 the next morning so we’d be able to be clean and dressed for the day before the place opened (assuming 8:00 was the time, since that was their earliest appointment.  Imagine how surprised we were to hear cars going by us before we even got out of bed!  Seems several workers show up that early to prepare for the day, moving motorhomes around, doing paperwork or whatever.  Live and learn!

We quickly closed things up and Parsley and I headed to the Buick to wait for Steve to check in Moby.  More than an hour later he showed up!  It had taken that long to go over everything.  Again, I was so thankful to have such an easy-going cat with me!  She’s happy just being with me and looking out the windows.

Once Steve was ready, we went over to my parents’ place where Parsley and Steve spent the morning while I ran errands – Costco, Winco, Trader Jo’s, Penzey’s Spices … It was also nice to be able to see my parents again before leaving for a further distance for a couple months.  They have graciously allowed us to use not only their address as our own, but they let us hang out when we have no where to hang out.

There were a couple other errands I had wanted to run that day, but decided we could live without a couple things on my list.  There's just something very attractive about being able to shop for specific things you know are at certain stores on our old turf.  After the errands, I came back and stayed with Parsley while Steve ran a couple errands of his own.  By this time my parents had left for the coast, where they were to enjoy Labor Day weekend with my sister and her daughter and family up from Andersen, California.  Coincidentally, they would be staying perhaps 15 miles from where Steve and I had been for the month of August.  We missed their visit by perhaps 2 days ...

We returned to the motorhome about 5:30 and set up for night #2 behind their lot.  This time we got to enjoy a visit from our former neighbors, Don and Nancy, who treated us with fresh vegetables from their garden and a yummy pineapple pie!  The food was almost as appreciated as their visit.  We'd wanted to visit at their home, but then couldn't figure out how we could "do it all" in our limited hours being in the area.  We were thankful they were willing to come see us at Camping World!

Once again, we were up early – this time we were up soon after 5:00.  Steve decided to hang out at Camping World in case they had questions this time.  Parsley and I went to have the oil changed on the Buick.

It’s fun to notice people’s responses to seeing a cat riding in the passenger seat (usually in her carrier, with the front door removed).  Steve and I used the drive-thru at Burger King for dinner one night, and the young lady at the window noticed our cat.  It surprised me as it’s just become normal for us to have her there.  One of us rides in the back seat.  The guys at Jiffy Lube either didn’t notice, or didn’t mention it.  Parsley wasn’t sure she liked it there.  Too many strange noises, and she didn’t like the black desk that was looming above her eye level.  I just scratched her chin, which always distracts her from her fears.  She just didn’t come out of her carrier during that visit.
The motorhome was ready for us about noon, and we picked it up closer to 2pm that second day.  Time to head out to Memaloose State Park, in the gorge, between Hood River and the Dalles, where we were treated to a free night, courtesy of Oregon State Parks!

Steve was driving from Hillsboro.  We were both very tired after three very busy days with much less sleep than we actually need.  I checked in at the booth at Memaloose and was happy to find they did indeed expect us!  Yet another blessing was that our spot was not up at the top of the hill under I-5 as we expected.  Instead, we were in the middle of the center of the hill going down toward the Columbia River, probably 4-5 sites above our most desirable camping spots!  While we only got to stay for one quick evening, we were very pleased with our location.  We were up, fed, and on our way by 10:15 the next morning.  A relaxing day would be somewhere yet down the road...