Sunday, October 17, 2021

Big Eddie meets The C.O.W.

This past week we finally  got to spend a couple days and do some traveling and camping in our latest camper. Finally Big Eddie, our Ford Expedition, and the camper we bought after many trials and errors with a bigger camper, the “damn” camper and the RV “guzzler” got hitched. Originally, we were going to go to Nashville to see our son who had recently moved there from California. But due to timing and new jobs and schedules that trip won’t be happening until possibly early December. So we decided the best plan would be to do some camping within Minnesota and try out the new camper for the first time. And also try out Big Eddie pulling the camper for the first time. Sort of our Maiden Voyage.

So instead of hurrying to pack and hustling out the door early Saturday morning as originally planned, we casually spent Saturday packing up and figuring out how we were going to make a place in Big Eddie for the two big dogs to ride in back comfortably. We have a 75 pound Labradoodle, Max and an even bigger yellow Lab, Zoe. While they are awesome when traveling, they do take up a lot of space. 

So we put the two rows of seats down in the back and separated the middle area for them to stay. A perfect place for them to crash and sprawl out with windows all around for them to look out at the countryside. I started to think our 4 kids didn’t have it as nice as these 2 four-legged friends. But then again the kids didn't take up as much space sprawling out as these two do.
Once everything was in the camper, it was time to hitch it up to Big Eddie. Over the years this has become my most dreaded task of traveling preparations. I know for a fact this is not the favorite task of any traveling partner and the person behind the wheel hooking it up. But it gets magnified doing this with a deaf person who really doesn’t listen anyway or watch for hand signals until I have to go to his window and pound on the vehicle or his shoulder. But the time had come to hook up the camper.

I took my position between the camper and Big Eddie and started making my hand gestures to him to come back slowly and to aim the bumper left or right. And it never ever fails...when he is spot on and about 2 inches away, he will bypass my instructions and put it in drive and pull ahead to start over. About this time, I will throw my arms up in the air and ask myself, since he won’t hear me, “what the heck are you doing?” And the process will begin again to get that bumper lined up with the camper hitch. I can only say that after 42 years of marriage, hitching up a camper is not for the faint of heart or a weak marriage.

But for whatever reason, backing up Big Eddie to hitch it up to the camper, went smoothly without any issues or wild gestures on my part or pulling forward just as the bumper was ready to meet the hitch. Maybe Big Eddie and this camper are more visible to the one backing up to hitch it up. 

Once the camper was hitched up and everything was secured inside, it was time to head out. The dogs sensing they were going to go with on this adventure had been waiting inside Big Eddie while we packed the camper and hitched it up. They had each claimed their spot in the back and were napping while we finished everything up.

Off we set out down the driveway to the gravel road and out onto the highway for 6 days of camping. We had decided to go more North and see if the leaves had colored up. And then after a day or two in the North country we were going to head to Western Minnesota and go South and check out some state parks we have yet to go to. Our retirement goal over the next few years is to check out every state park in Minnesota. We have plenty and all over the state which is nice. A person can go from almost mountains and a lake that can feel like an ocean in the very northeast part of Minnesota to prairie land in the West and Southwest, to river bluffs in the Southeast. Minnesota has so much variety it is possible to feel like you have traveled all over the US without even leaving the state. We both are looking forward to doing more in-state traveling and camping between the visits out of state to the kids. 

Our first campsite was at Itasca State Park. The Mississippi Headwaters park. We pulled in and got a beautiful site by the lake for the first night. The spot was reserved after that so we would need to move somewhere else if we stayed another night. After driving a few hours in the wind and pouring rain we were glad to park and plug in the camper and have some coffee and tea and warm up inside. We watched out the window as the waves were kicking up on the lake and the rain was now coming sideways against the camper. As we sat there we both agreed this was so much better than tenting, or even the conversion van, or any other camper or RV we have had over the years. We were warm and dry and able to move around some. We started talking about how this camper seemed more like a little cabin than a camper. All the amenities like a fridge, a sink, a bathroom made it feel more like a little cabin on wheels. And everything actually worked. And then it came to us, a name for the new camper. It really was not a new camper, it was used. It was nice so it wasn’t thought of as the “damn camper”, and it was easy on gas compared to the “guzzler”. It was at that moment we christened the camper The C.O.W…the “Cabin on Wheels”. Yep that was what we would call it. Big Eddie and the C.O.W., our new traveling retirement rig.

The next day was sunny and beautiful after an all night rain. We went to where the Mississippi river begins its journey South to the gulf. We crossed over it and let the dogs wade around in it before walking back to the gift store to get a few postcards to send the grandkids. While inside we got to visit with the gift shop employees. This is the one thing I love about traveling, getting to meet people from the area. It was a great conversation as we all own electric bikes. We were able to hear about all the miles and miles of bike trails in the area. The park itself has incredible trails, not to mention the MRT trail that runs through the park. The Mississippi River Trail has hundreds of miles of trails not on a roadway. Just a paved bike trail. 

Our very first time to Itasca State Park was close to 32 years ago when we had gone with our 4 young kids and a big van and tent. As we went by that campsite we had been in years ago, the memories came flooding back to me. 

It was early Summer, the kids had just finished up school. They were about ages 2, 4, 5, and 7 at the time. We had pitched the tent and the kids were exploring around the campsite. My Best Half was getting stuff ready for a campfire. I was sitting at the picnic table and started feeling dizzy, a headache and then queasy. I grabbed the ice cream bucket used for putting fish guts in when we cleaned them and proceeded to puke my guts out sitting at the picnic table. I couldn't move so I just sat there while other campers I am sure were getting grossed out at this crazy lady puking. I was feeling sicker and sicker as the minutes passed by. My head was pounding, I was puking in a bucket in the middle of the campground sitting on a picnic table. Could it get any worse?

As I sat there and tried to pull myself together, I watched the kids. They were in their swimsuits as we were going to go to the lake once camp was set up. One by one, I watched 3 of them start scratching at their backs and arms. Mosquitoes..maybe? Pretty soon they had spots on their backs and arms but not looking anything like a mosquito bite. And then I remembered...two weeks before our 4 year old came home with chicken pox. Great, the other 3 were breaking out with chicken pox. I wasn’t a nurse at the time and never thought about the other kids being exposed and breaking out when on vacation. 

I sat there with the ice cream bucket in my lap and started to cry. I was so sick, the kids were breaking out with chicken pox literally right before my eyes and I wanted to go home. The 3 kids began to feel miserable with fevers and itching. My Best Half looked around at the sight and saw me crying. He and the 4 year old started packing up to go home. It was about 9 PM and there was a 4 hour drive ahead of us. He basically threw everything into the back of the 1 ton van, loaded the kids up and threw me in the way back seat by myself, with my bucket. I truly believe other campers were glad we were leaving. They probably had had enough of my retching and puking.

It was a long drive home for the two healthy ones up front. But the 4 year old managed to stay awake and work as co-pilot. Little did I know my Best Half was driving with one eye closed as he had a migraine and probably getting what I had.

About 2 AM we were home and the kids were in bed and I was finally done puking. We all slept through the morning. When the kids awoke, they were all 100% covered with chicken pox and had fevers. The next week was spent trying to keep them entertained and not scratching themselves. The TV got a good workout that week.

And then there was the very last time we were there camping with the kids. We were generous and let the kids spend the night in the old RV,named Harvey, while we pitched the tent and spent the night in there. They had reached junior high and high school age and liked the RV and comforts of a mattress over a sleeping pad on the ground. 

Along about supper time we saw the Park Ranger go by hauling a large cage past our campsite and about 20 yards from our tent. It was some kind of looking trap.They dropped it off there and we assumed they would get it later and put it where they really wanted it, by the garbage dumpsters farther away. That night we crawled into the little tent we had set up away from the RV and lights. The kids were settled in for the night and we were dozing off when we heard a metal ruckus on the other side of us. The trap must have been tripped. Figuring a raccoon  were inside it for the night we fell asleep feeling just a bit safer. But all night long we could hear snorting and banging on the cage.

That morning we awoke to a lot of conversation just on the other side of our site. It was other campers and the DNR guys over by the bear trap. Yep they had caught a bear that night. The only problem was they couldn’t get too close to it because another bear was sitting on top of the trap waiting for his buddy to be freed. All night we had heard the bear trap rattling around and thinking the racoons were trying to get out. Little did we know that there was a big bear inside it and another completely loose and a few yards away from our tent trying to open the trap. You have to love Minnesota wildlife. When they aren’t racing across the roads as you're coming down the highway, they are perching atop their friends a few yards away from you as you sleep.

After reminiscing about the past trips to Itasca with the kids, we decided to unhitch the C.O.W from Big Eddie and take a drive up to Bemidji and look around and go to the state park there on the lake. So we drove, had a picnic at the park and decided to head back to our campsite. On the way the brakes on Big Eddie started getting spongy. The week before we had just had the brakes fixed and a whole new master cylinder and lines put in. It was expensive but we knew when buying it that it would need to be done. By the time we got back to the campsite, we pretty much had no brakes at all unless they got pumped several times.

After discussing that more wet and windy weather was coming in, and not knowing how the brakes were going to respond with the C.O.W. hitched up we decided we probably needed to head home in the morning to avoid the weekend traffic and the wet roads and no brakes. Just another chapter in the adventures of our travels. That’s about normal for us. 

The next morning we hitched the C.O.W. up to Bid Eddie without a single thought of divorce from either of us. It was the smoothest hitching we ever have had in 42 years. Maybe a couple of old dogs have learned some new tricks over the past years. We had everything stowed away and set out for home. It was a scary and slow drive home. We did finally make it and got unhitched and brought Big Eddie in to get checked out. It turned out the new master cylinder was bad, so a new one has been put in. So fortunate we made it home safe and it was under warranty so there was no charge for the repairs. 

We still have a few days before Monday morning work starts for my Best Half. Unfortunately it has been raining and windy most of the time. We have been doing odds and ends around the house getting ready for Winter when it comes. And it feels like it will be sooner than later.

This week after 38 years working at the same company, my Best Half will be letting them know he is going to retire December 3rd, less than 50 days away! The past few months we have been preparing for that moment. We have been finding a way to travel safely and comfortably, and finally we think Big Eddie and the C.O.W. will be the ticket. We have tried to simplify things around here since it is only the 2 of us and the dogs now. We have good neighbor friends down the road who will keep watch on the farm and keep the chickens fed and watered in return for fresh eggs daily. Neighbors looking out for each other is common in Minnesota, and it makes us very grateful for them. I think we are ready for us both to be retired after all these years. Bring it on!

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