I once worked with a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist whose notorious inability to make deadline prompted me to chart his daily filing times as a way to illustrate the irrefutable consistency of the problem.
“You are so anal,” the cartoonist protested when presented with the carefully compiled evidence of his transgressions. Then, perhaps sensing his intemperence, he quickly added with a winning smile, “but in a positive way.”
OK, so I can be a bit OCD.
On this yearlong trip around the perimeter of the United States, my anal retentive tendencies have exhibited themselves as a compulsion for counting states, Casita trailers, Mom visits and the cities in which we’ve attended Apple classes. None of this has improved anybody’s deadline performance, but it’s led to interesting observations and prompted some great conversations.
STATES AND PROVINCES
Nearly 10 months into our trace-the-border adventure we’ve visited 33 U.S. states, seven Canadian provinces and one Mexican estado. We’ll spend some time in New Mexico after the first of the year on our way home to Dallas, so by the time we finish our loop in March, we expect to have experienced a grand total of 42 states and provinces in three countries on this trip.
That’s two-thirds of the 50 U.S. states, more than half the 13 Canadian provinces and territories and one of 31 Mexican states (Sonora). If you laid end to end the 21,449 miles we’d traveled by the time we settled in Tucson for the holidays last month, our trek would nearly equal the Earth’s circumference at the equator.
It doesn’t feel that long.
Some states we passed through quickly. We spent only one night, for example, in Mississippi in March. The Magnolia State has a gorgeous coastline – I remember the squint-white sandy beaches and cobalt blue water as we biked from Gulfport to Biloxi – but there’s barely 50 miles of it. Before we knew it we’d already crossed into Alabama.
We also breezed through Delaware, the site of our three-month anniversary on the road. We loved the state – especially our impromptu evening dancing to Richie Fields live on the patio of the Harrington Racino – but it’s a tiny state. We spent just one night in it.
Not so Florida and California. We spent the entire month of April ambling down the gulf coast of Florida and back up the Atlantic side. We passed all of October and into November crawling down the coast of California. Who knew there was so much of the state north of San Francisco? We found ourselves stopping every 10 minutes to drink in more of the sapphire-blue ocean views, trimmed in white-froth waves. This portion of the state’s famous Highway 1 is tops.
Our favorite state? Impossible to say. Even New Jersey impressed, thanks to the Cheesequake State Park across from Staten Island, which counterbalanced the state’s astronomical highway and bridge tolls, crappy road quality and goofy law that forbids motorists from pumping their own gas.
In sum, we loved every state we visited. Usually, we just answer the what’s-your-favorite question with “whichever state we’ve just visited.”
Our 17-foot fiberglass home-away-from-home is manufactured by Casita Travel Trailers, a 38-year-old family-owned business just 40 minutes south of our Dallas home. The company is known for making “small travel trailers that are easily towable with small cars and trucks.” Ours is a 2007 and it’s the largest of the company’s three models; the other two are 13 feet and 16 feet long.
Here’s a photo of our beloved comfort egg at Rocky Creek State Scenic Viewpoint in northwestern Oregon from September.
We love our Casita’s space efficiency. (Think IKEA’s smallest apartment design, then slash by four-fifths.) We get good gas mileage, maneuver off-road easily and are totally self sustaining thanks to our solar panels, battery, propane tanks and 25-gallon water tank. But they’re not for everybody….
Certainly not for the “RV crowd,” a reference that conjures up images of generator-rumbling monsters-on-wheels with old fogies in recliners glued to football games on their big screens. Casitas aren’t really even for “glampers,” a term I initially liked, as having a chef for a husband admittedly allows us to eat like royalty. But that too is a distortion of the Casita experience.
“Comfort camping” is a better descriptor. It’s camping because we do much of our cooking and eating outdoors and we spend our down time hiking, biking, meeting new people, reading – or just daydreaming. We’re forced to travel light as we explore new places, going without luxuries like electric blankets and hair dryers.
It’s comfort because we have hard sides which provide a comfortable, dry, safe-from-bears bed every night that’s barely three steps from our own bathroom – no more so 2 a.m. walks to outhouse! – and our own shower, sink, stove and fridge. We sleep in the same (tiny) bedroom every night but our “living room” changes nearly every day.
The fact that Casitas appeal to but a niche crowd – together with their distinctive fiberglass egg shape – make it fun and easy to spot them on the road. And if we’re going to spot them, we may as well count them, right?
Ten months on the road and we’ve tallied 51 Casitas. We’ve seen them cavorting along the perimeter from Texas to British Columbia, Sonora to Nova Scotia.
We expected to see Casitas in the South; this would be the company’s home territory. And we did – five in Texas, one in Louisiana, six in Florida, three in Georgia, one in South Carolina.
Here’s a photo of Casita sighting #11, belonging to Al and Peggy, who, coincidentally, pulled in next to us at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo in April. Aren’t the twin comfort eggs cute? (Ours is in the foreground.)
But we were surprised to see a fair sprinkling of Casitas way up in Canada and across Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Montana and Idaho. And by the time we got to the West Coast, we figured the trailers had learned to reproduce on their own. We saw nine Casitas in nine days on the Oregon coast alone.
Casita sighting #30 was at Fort Stevens State Park just across the Columbia River in Oregon from Washington State. We enjoyed chatting briefly with Randy and Jennifer. From the LA area, they were traveling with their golden retriever and chocolate lab in a five-year-old very shiny Casita. Turns out Randy went to Alhambra High School in Phoenix, a city where I worked for nearly 23 years….
Our best Casita cousin experience came the next day when Bob and Alison of western Ontario pulled into our campground loop with their perfectly appointed Casita trailer. We bonded that evening over Dark Horse Cabernet and marveled at the parallel arcs of our lives and our travels: They’d been on the road since June, puttering westward like we did along the U.S.-Canadian border all summer, but on the northern side (Saskatchewa) to our southern side (Montana). They were at the same spots in the Olympic National Park just days after we were. They planned to head further south along the coast into Oregon and California – just like us – before pointing their noses northeast and heading home for the winter.
The night before we met them they’d camped in spot #55 at South Beach in Washington State – the exact same spot we’d camped in two nights earlier!
(Another Casita joined us at the campground’s dump station a few days later, an 11-year-old high axle, 16-footer. Then Bob and Alison pulled up with their Casita. I’m still kicking myself for failing to snap a photo of the three Casitas in a row, all with catheters connected, draining their excess fluids….)
Two days later, completely coincidentally, we landed next to Bob and Alison’s Casita at Cape Lookout State Park, some 75 miles further south on the lovely Oregon coast.
We enjoyed a wonderful sunset together on that beach.
Bob and Alison joined us nearly a week after that when we hooked up with longtime friends and fellow comfort campers, Tom and Judy from Phoenix, at Prairie Creek Redwood State Park in California. It was a ménage a trois for the memory books!
Since then we’ve seen a half dozen Casitas in California, another half dozen in Arizona and two in Sonora, Mexico. They’re not as common as Airstreams, Winnebagos or Jaycos, but they’re clearly growing in popularity.
A trooper extraordinaire, Mom, who turned 91 earlier this month, joined us from Dallas five times throughout the year.
She started the trip with us, trekking the first six days of our journey west and then south across Texas. That was a tricky time as we struggled to adjust to a just-retired rhythm of life and the confines of tight living quarters.
We left Mom with a niece in South Texas. She flew home to Dallas as we turned north to begin our amble up the Gulf Coast.
We tried to get her to join us in St. Augustine in April or Charleston in May, but the idea of traveling again was a non-starter until we hit Connecticut, where another niece and her family lives. Mom flew into Providence on June 13 and we all had a lovely five days together before she winged it back home to Dallas.
Barely six weeks later we’d traversed up to Maine, out to Cape Breton, across New Brunswick, through Quebec and Ontario en route back into the United States in time for a mini-family reunion at yet another niece’s cottage on Lake Erie. That was another fun week together before Mom flew back to Dallas and we headed into Michigan.
Mom joined us a fourth time in Washington State in September to visit longtime friend Lynn who moved to Lopez Island a few years ago to be near her daughter and son-in-law. Lynn’s other daughter flew in from New York to join the fun.
And now, Mom is with us in Tucson for the holidays. FaceTime is great, but nothing beats flesh-and-blood time together.
APPLE STORES ALONG THE WAY
I was a Microsoft maven my entire profession life, 38-plus years at two newspapers and a wire service. Whenever I needed tech support, I just called an in-house IT department for help.
Once retired, I’d be without an IT department for the first time in my life – the prospect of which sent shivers of fear down my spine. So G and I decided to go all Apple. Their products are great, their customer service even better.
We know of what we speak, having now attended dozens of Apple classes in eight cities across the country since investing in our iPad Pros last fall.
We started in Dallas, of course. Crysstoffer, Justin, Rachel, Cindy and Kevin at the Knox Street store were wonderful teachers as we began learning how to get the most out of our iPhones and iPads.
In March, somewhere along the gulf coast of Texas, the map on this blog began malfunctioning. And G was having a hard time making his expense spreadsheets roll up. We spent hours trying to figure out how to get new travel segments and expense tallies, respectively, to display properly. To no avail.
A week or so later, about an hour outside of New Orleans, I went online and enrolled in a Studio Hours class later that afternoon at the Apple store in the Lakeside shopping mall. Apple’s Howard and Scott were super. Howard unraveled my bungled map; Scott set G’s numbers straight. I was so relieved my blog had been saved that I nearly cried, hugging Howard twice as we exited the store to resume our travel toward Mississippi.
A month later, we had some time to kill between bike rides in and around Miami. So we enrolled in an Apple class at The Falls shopping center. Grant, a singer-songwriter during his Apple downtime, was warm and enthusiastic. He taught us some new tricks using the Pages word processor and various photo applications.
We took another class at the Apple store in downtown Charleston in May, where we not only learned new tricks but also made new friends. Derek, a musical artist when he’s not doing Apple stuff, answered our questions about backups, downloads and updates. By the time the class had concluded, we’d invited the only other student in the class – Tania, a native of Holland vacationing with her husband in Charleston from their home in LA – to dinner.
We had a delightful time together over G’s corvina with fresh veggies and fingerling potatoes drizzled with beurre blanc. A few days later, Tania and Michael hosted us on a tour of their favorite haunts in the area. By the time we departed, we’d been invited to include their LA home on our perimeter path later in the year – which we did to great effect.
(Now that’s customer service. Maybe Apple should add a Make New Friends bar next to the Genius one.)
In July, we signed up for a 1 p.m. Apple class in Cleveland. Big John helped improve our photo and selfie skills, even sticking around after class to answer additional questions. Here’s one of our practice shots from the store….
By October, we were craving more technical knowledge. So we signed up for an Apple class in Berkeley. Major taught us tons about repeating templates, resizing photos and editing videos.
Now we’re in Arizona and I’ve already taken one class in Phoenix (Scottsdale) and in Tucson. (Did I mention all these classes are free?) I’ve picked up some newsletter-formatting skills and updated my social media tools, thanks to smart instructors Aimee and Danny.
THERE YOU HAVE IT
Forty-two states and provinces, 51 Casitas, five Mom visits and eight Apple stores across the country. Lots of record keeping….
So why do I do all this tallying? I’ve no idea.
Maybe Steve, the famed editorial cartoonist, was right: I am anal.
But in a positive way.
UPDATED Jan. 16, 2019 to add Cleveland (July) to the tally of Apple stores visited, complete with photo. UPDATED again Jan. 30, 2019 to add Phoenix (November) to the tally of Apple stores visited. I’d inadvertently omitted both in the original draft of this post.