Oak Creek Canyon

alOha : ) 

   Hope everyone's having a great New Year !! We were just going through some pictures and thought we'd introduce you to a little hideaway of ours, Oak Creek Canyon. This special place is nestled between our snowy, pine-scented perch in Flagstaff and our next favorite southern town called Sedona.

   Every couple of weeks, we descent the narrow, winding two-lane highway from Flagstaff down into Oak Creek Canyon. These cold days, our hunt is limited to Blue Gold - fresh spring water from a very conveniently tapped source just off the road. (We call it the Drive Thru spring because it seems like the fast food version of collecting spring water compared to the journey we used to make back in California to reach our fountain of youth ((many miles by car, hoofing it up a mountain, through the stream, poison oak, amongst snakes, hungry bugs, and strapped with backpacks and totes heavy with water)).

   At Oak Creek, we just reverse the truck up to the spring and fill weeks worth of crisp, clean H2O, but back in the warm months, the land holds even sweeter rewards...

   The shallow water in the creek stays nice and warm : ) 

And life springs up in all forms and textures. 

Some of the most delicate and juicy treats lie amongst a bed of thorns ... 

These made a delectably sweet and tangy spread for our morning buckwheat pancakes : ) 

They were everywhere !!

And from the very same patch, just a few steps off into the shade of the trees, the buffet continues with a nutty, rich King Bolete mushroom.  This was just a random goodie .. but since finding this little fungi, our appetite has been whet, and we have another woodland blog on the way where you can join us through an enchanted forest to a mushroom land of stir-fried delights : ) 

   But the most exciting wild treat (at least to us) was living on the branches of the scruffy looking trees below ....

Fresh, sweet, and plentiful heirloom APPLES : ) 

  We found green ones and red ones and yellow ones, and after picking a mixed bag for juicing, we crawled under the shady branches, and resting up against the tree trunk, snacked on a few of these bite sized nibblers. While we were down there, planted in the cool dirt, I picked up a few fallen apples that looked perfectly fine, and wouldn't you know it - they were the sweetest ones of all. I guess the giving tree knows best when it's time to offer her fruit to us land bound creatures.  MMmmmmMmmm : ) 

Until the bees play Cupid between these flowering trees, and the fruit returns again, we'll think our time of picking and plucking and remember you well. 

night, night, love, 



Woodland Gypsies

    "So ... Miss Winnie, what do you think of the forest?" 

    "Well, the pine needles kind of tickle my toes...." 

    "Oh, yeah : ) " 

    "Yep - and the other day, I had a tiny grey fox take a nap behind my front tire ... he snored little, but he was cute."

    "Anything else?" 

    "Ummm ... do think you could move the fire pit a little closer to my rear end ... I'm still getting used to this chill in the air .."

   So we finally made it to the mountains : )

   By the time we hit elevation, we'd spent the majority of our money getting the old ship to sail (we were a few thousand over expected budget, and our nest egg had been scrambled along with our piece of mind on the tedious drive up). And so it became that our idea of rolling off into the forest and living as woodland gypsies had become an only option rather than just a playful idea.

   Our candle endeavors have long since outgrown the small space of our Winnie's counter top, and we've both agreed that we need our neat and palatial playhouse back for nesting and cooking and closing our eyes, so after a bit of scouting, we rented the entire second level of a big old industrial warehouse. It's a nondescript tin cube on the edge of town near the train tracks and nestled against a little pine covered hill. The houses and cabins on this end of town are quaint, and since Jack Frost blew in, they always have the most delicious scent of smoke twisting up from their chimneys. It's like walking through a Christmas movie for two kids who've been in sunny Southern California for so long.

   When we first got into town, we followed our directions to the new house my little brother (the Math teacher) and his wife had bought. They're p&j, too .. Paul and Junli. My sister and her hubby are another p&j as well .. Pat and Jennie. What are the chances ? ! ?

   The Winnie and the Trucka couldn't have been more out of place. Paul and Junli live in the kind of neighborhood where you get a ticket from the HOA if your trashcan sits on the curb for two minutes too long, and a common builder resulted in everyone having the same powder coated front porch lights ... which are always left on to ward off bad guys.


   Enter the Winnie plus two weary and frazzled artists with wrinkled clothes and sleep in their eyes. No doubt, the figurative cup of coffee had been dropped by neighbors on both sides of the street.  

   Our back axle was still leaking oil, and since his street was at such a severe angle, the puddle ran and looked twice as bad. We had the back tires blocked with chunks of firewood ... since the brakes had gone all bipolar on us back at the Pound, and people passing by in mini vans or being pulled along by their smiling Golden Retrievers, looked at the Winnie as though she was a dead elephant. Pee U !!

   "Wait ... she's actually quite beautiful ... on the inside."

   I was getting bad flashbacks to the latter days when we were living in the Winnie in Venice Beach and the neighbors started going crazy on all the people who lived on -their- streets in motor homes. We've gotta get the hell out of here. (Yes, this is a theme with us ... we'll, really, with me. Juwels thinks everything's fun and games and positive intentions : )

   We slept an entire day, and then my brother showed us a few spots in the forest where he thought we could park ... for a while ... but he always ended by saying, "... but ... they'll prolly chase you outta there." (Apparently, they don't want people just carting off into the woods and living free off the land ... I tell ya, we were born in the wrong century. Bring back the times of men in tights, whizzing arrows and split red apples. We wanted to tumble wash in the river and dance 'round the campfire.)

   The next day we pulled off the curb in the burbs, hosed and scrubbed our oil stains off the otherwise spotless blacktop in front of the house, and made off for the south end of town. We had a general forest in mind, and we knew from reading a sign the other day that we had to drive at least one mile into the woods before camping was allowed.

   Juwels was up front in the trucka, and we kept pace on our walkie talkies.

   I noticed a cop pull off the side of the road behind me a ways back (I'm seriously cat nip for these guys...) "Babe," I called over the talkie, "what's the speed limit here?"

   "I don't know ... 45 I think."


   "Here we are! Here we are!!" Juwels sang over the speaker as she pulled off the main road ahead of me.

   "Remember," I said, "once we get onto the gravel road, you can't make me slam on the breaks for any reason, okay? The Winnie's not gonna stop."


(In the rear view you can see the little camera we use to shoot this blog .. as well as our product shots. It's a champ, but the holidays have been kind to us, and soon we'll be upgrading to something a bit more reliable. Long time in the making ... can't wait to share every pixel : )

   We pulled down a long dirt road and passed a trailer park. An old guy watched us go by. Dogs ran back and fourth against their wire fences barking at our dust cloud.

    Zip Ziiip. We crossed some cattle gratings as we entered the national forest.

    "It's so beautiful out here!!!" Juwles said.

    I was impressed with how well the old Winnie handled on the lose gravel and dirt. I was just puttering along behind Juwels, but it seemed that her weight really pressed down into the earth and kept us grounded around every turn.

    "Let me know if there are any big rocks or potholes in the road up there, okay?" I called to Juwels.

    "Okay! Isn't it beautiful out here?? Look at these lovely flowers lining the side of the road!"

     Thump - THUMP. I hit a huge rivet in the road which made the CD player turn off. "Babe .. don't forget to tell me about the bumps up ahead."

   "Oh .. whoops .. sorry. It was just that one." She was too busy scanning the trees for hobbits, talking flowers, or something mystical. "There's a little bump coming up here. Stay left."

   I could see her eyes in the rear view watching me swerve around it. "Thanks."

   We passed the one mile marker, so we could pull off anywhere. "What about that spot over there?" I'd ask.

   "No. Too close to the campers across the way.."

    Another mile went by. "How about there?"

    "Umm .. not enough trees .. it's all out in the open."

    Another turn. Another twist ... "Just a little farther. We can always turn back and go to one of these other sites." She said, at the wheel of the tiny trucka.

    "Babe, you do realize we have to drive all the way out here every night when we get done at the studio, right?"

   "That's great! I love this drive!" She said. 

   She was right, and as our days would soon be filled with buying old shelves and ridiculously heavy desks and tables to heave up onto our second story studio, this drive home would turn out to be one of the points of the day that we looked forward to.

   It's amazing to see what creatures are stirring at 2 or 3am on these dark and empty dirt roads. Our first sighting was a tall and lanky jack rabbit. Juwels had never seen one before. "WHAT is THAT!!" We skidded to full stop just ahead of him. He looked like a little dog with these tall rounded ears, and he didn't know what to make of our high beams, jumping a few lengths this way and then turning around and going back the other way. It was a surreal sight through bleary eyes at the end of a long day.

   We just sat there watching him dance, but in the end, we clicked out the lights so he could get his bearings and head off to whatever tea party he was late for. On that same road we'd see, leaping deer, galloping elk, and a pack of tiny grey foxes. The little juveniles played with our presence, running up ahead and then veering into the darkness, but then they'd cut back onto the road here and there, looking back at the truck and no doubt feeling the rush of the chase.

   (The Ponderosa Pines out here smell like sweet vanilla. There's a faint scent of it everywhere when you're deep in the forest, but if you just nestle your nose between the split brown bark of one of these trees, and it's like you just opened a French pastry oven. Magnifique !! Most trees only have a few pea-sized kernels of sappy resin ((which we collect and burn as incense)) but we found this tree that was literally dripping with it. Gobbledy goodness .. great balls of resin!!)

   Finally, about two or three miles in, I saw a little turn off that looked interesting to me, so I called out to Juwels over the two-way, "Hey, flip around back this way. I see the spot!" I cranked the wheel to the right and pulled off onto a more narrow red dirt road.

   Just a few hundred feet down the way, I saw a nice little opening in the trees. A spot where we'd get shade for some of the day but full sun for our solar panel at other points. I pulled off the road and drove through the tall grass. Fallen branches crunched under the tires, and I couldn't help but smile the smile of a boy jumping on the bed with his shoes on.

   I saw Juwels coming back down the road just as I was shifting into park. I shut down the engine, and listened to the light hum of the wind through the trees.

   We had arrived.

   We spent quite a while tucked away in that forest, and I'm guessing that our out-of-state plates may have saved us from the toils of the territorial forest ranger (who we'd heard about soon after arriving) but all we experienced out there was peace and beauty. On new moons, when the sky was cosmic black, the stars scintillated amongst the tree tops. Full moons cast soft shadows of the trees at our feet, and we'd take walks in the foggy midnight meadows. "Did you hear that !!??" Friends and family came out, and we all warmed ourselves by the fire as the dogs ran off in this direction or that, barking at night critters and rustling the grass. We'd bring in a few gallons of water from the studio when we needed it, but everything was so simple and available. The feeling of granted tranquility out there was something that we'd only before experienced at the end of a long meditation ... but it was everywhere and ongoing. Can't wait till next Spring : ) 

    One morning, as we sat at the kitchen table waiting for our French press of loose leaf tea to brew, Juwels spotted two baby deer bouncing through the tall yellow grass alone. Boing. Boing. And then I noticed a little creature with a different trot; it was another cute and cuddly fox. He seemed to be tailing the deer, but headed off in the other direction soon after.

   The fresh Mullein grows chest high in these parts. They've got such a nice soft and fuzzy feel to them ...  See those buds way up there at the spire? One evening, when we were gathering kindling for the night's fire, I spotted a chipmunk scaling one of these bean stocks straight to the top. The whole thing bent down and arched over, but he just hung on almost completely upside down and feasted on the delicate seeds inside. Too cute : )

   (A bird's eye view of our solar panel on the roof top. Just a few warm rays through the treetops to keep our music playing, computer running and lights aglow.)

   At the far end of the field, right next to where we'd park the truck each night, I spotted another chipmunk hanging out on this tree stump. The next morning, there he was again, and studying him closer, I could see that he had something else up there with him. As I walked over to investigate, he bolted down the stump and disappeared into a burrow, but his companion remained: a large mushroom .. about half the size of him. It had this tough, deep red skin and was riddled with gnaw marks and little pin pricks where he'd been holding it steady.

   I went back to the Winnie into some of Juwels' amber glass jars, and scooped up a bit of raw sunflower seeds. It didn't take him long to sniff it out, and he soon found my offering. He ate some, but as the days went by, and I'd leave more and more out there for him, I realized that he couldn't be eating all of it, and that he must have been socking some of it away for the winter. What a responsible little critter. I left him raisins, hemp seeds, dried cranberries, mulberries, pumpkin seeds, and Himalayan goji berries. And as it's now snowing, I like the idea that he might be strolling around to his seed cellar, comfortably dressed in his house slippers and a terry cloth robe to snack on a few of those seeds and berries that I left him. He must be throwing some lavish dinner parties with these exotic tastes and treats that the forest simply doesn't offer. Merry Christmas, Alvin : )

   Juwels tried to get a picture of him, but he's no dummy. She made us late for work as I was running the car and threatening to honk the horn, as she crouched by his feeding stump, but all she got was this sideways glance from the little guy.

   Well, the Spring and Summer have come and gone, and as some thrilling dark cloud thunder storms and buckets of rain started to fall on our roof top, we thought it best to get out before we needed a paddle. In fact, just at the base of the narrow road that I'd originally pulled off to find our camp, a low spot in the road had quickly turned into a small pond. We wanted to wait until the sun came around and dried it up, but then in rained again, and the mud thickened.

   On the morning of our departure back into civilization, I had plotted a zig-zag path through the trees which I intended to drive the Winnie along to keep us on higher ground and avoid the pond. I setup markers with branches and explained the route to Juwels, so she could walk along side of me and make sure that I wasn't going to peal the roof off on a tree or anything. I drove the light-weight truck along the route first as a tester, and even there, it was tight, and I felt the tires sink into the damp and spongy soil.

   Juwels was not convinced, but she was going to let me have a go at it. As I backed up from the space that we were in, careful not to drop a wheel into the deep fire pit, I hit the brakes, but they were rock hard, and the Winnie just kept rolling.

   "Okay, stop. Stop!" Juwels called out from behind me as I closed in on a thick tree trunk.

   I didn't bother telling her the brakes weren't working ... there was no time, and it would only send us both into a panic anyway. Somehow, came to a stop just inches from the tree. Eash ...

    This killed my confidence for the zig-zag .. where I'd be doing a lot of breaking and turning, so as I got out of the field and onto the road, I pointed the nose toward the pond.

   "What are you doing?" Juwles asked.

   "I'm just going to charge it through the water."

   "You think she'll make it?"

   "Yeah." I said, trying to sound as confident as possible.

   "Do you want to lay down some branches, so you'll have traction?"

   "Nope - I can't plot and plan anymore. It's driving me crazy. I'm just gonna charge it."

   There was nothing solid in the way after the pond, so provided I made it through, even if the brakes were slow, I knew I'd have time to stop.

   I revved the engine.

   "Wait," Juwels said. "Should I get the video camera?"

   "Wish me luck."

   "Good Luck, BayBee !!!!"

   I picked up some speed and debated whether it would be better to cut through the outer edge of the pond even though there was a large hump that my dry tires would have to ramp over, or if I should keep it level and plow straight through the middle. Before I knew it, I was spraying mud from both sides and cutting straight through the center. The Winnie dug deep grooves through the mud, but ripped through with little trouble.

   Farewell, Alvin.


   With the snow and wind and ice blowing in, the Winnie would need a place to keep her feet dry, and we happened upon a great and serendipitous one ... which we'll tell you all about later, but for now, we're gonna crawl up into the frigid crow's nest, pull the sheets over our heads, do the running man until the temperature warms above 40 .. night, night, love,



Crossing the Mojave by night - Part Two - the Finish

   At the slightly dismal close of part one of our journey, we left off on a stormy night in a little one-horse town called Blythe. Juwels was on the verge of a breakdown (much like the Winnie) and I was atop the roof trying to keep the skylights from blowing away in the wind. Veins of electricity shot webs across the sky, and the wind was gusting in the wrong direction, so we'd be struggling even harder to cut through and make any headway. 

   As we waited in the lot, I sat in the driver's seat, listening to my dad on speaker phone. He read me the mileage between the next half dozen towns we'd hit from there, and I tried to fix the windshield wipers for the last time. After a small flame appeared at the tip of the wire in my right hand, I thought it best to just keep my fingers crossed that the rain would stay light rather than burning out the fuse to something serious like the headlights or the ignition. We decided to venture on after all, thinking that we'd rather be stuck in the rain on some peaceful and desolate side road in the desert rather than this Mickey D's/ Greyhound lot where things were beginning to mirror the final scenes of MJ's Thriller. The lyrics even started to play out in my head, "It's close to midnight .. and something evil's lurking in the dark."

   After filling up with gas (and taking full-nude bird baths in the restroom sink) we pulled back onto the I-10 and fought the storm. A short ways down the road, our directions actually steered us off the 10 East , and we entered another small highway ... north !! We were driving into better weather, climbing elevation, and the temperature was dropping.

   (above is a picture taken the following day ... still not at our destination, and still stuck in a little cross-roads town, but if you look way up there past the Winnie, you can see what kept us sane and cool and alive as we waited for the heat to pass so we could reach another night of driving: Water !!


   After we left Blythe that night, things were looking good. We weren't being blown off the road and the Winnie's temperature gauge was actually cooling. Everything was going so well that there were even some murmurings about just charging the whole rest of the trip that night, but when we pulled off at a gas station in Parker, AZ, and I went in for a drink ... I came back out and found Juwels dead asleep at the wheel of the trucka .. with engine still running ; ) I kissed her on the forehead, and asked her to turn off the engine. She did without hardly opening her eyes ... which is no small task seeing as though the truck's missing her ignition, and has to be skillfully cranked on an off using a pair of needle nosed pliers and a loose gear.

   I went back into the gas station, and asked the woman behind the counter where we might be able to find a place near by to rest our eyes for a while.

   "That's your old motor home out there in the lot?"


   "You can just leave it right there where it is ... I'll tell the guy who works in the morning that I said it's fine."

   She was rather chipper for 2am, and she even told me about a swimming hole just down the street at the Parker Dam. She said it was crowded on the weekends, but that we should have the place to ourselves tomorrow. The idea of swimming and scrubbing and floating on our backs sounded too good to be true. 

    Back at the truck, I roused Juwels out of the bench seat. "Come on, babe, let's get you to sleep."


    "Right here. I talked to the lady inside, and she said we could crash in the lot."


   Even at that hour of night, it was still very hot, about 90 degrees, and I let Juwels sleep up in the crow's nest alone (that little bed near the ceiling really traps the heat, and we'd slow cook if we were both up there together.) I popped the small windows at the head and foot of the bed, and bid Juwels goodnight. To reach my slumber, I had to literally tunnel through boxes and bins to get to the back of the Winnie. I removed a big box from the foot of the couch and then climbed into the cubic space; then I pulled two more out from behind my back and lied down in the little void, with boxes stacked up tall on one side and the open windows on the other. A faint breeze came in every time a night train would hiss and rumble past, and I even felt a little guilty that Juwels was up in the stale forehead of the Winnie, but I soon passed out. 

 We set the alarm for 6am, because we needed to hit the black top before the heat waves rose and we'd get stuck at that gas station until the next sunset ... we needed to reach that oasis. It would be our second honeymoon ... our heaven.

   After waking up in a cold sweat at the end of a blink-done sleep, we headed out and found the dam. Juwels brought her soap and shampoo, and we scrubbed and swam and floated like jelly fish. And Juwels even made a little friend (pictured above) .. it was the funniest thing: every time she'd get into a good float, and close her eyes, Zzzzt, this sleek gray dragon fly would hover about and then land on the tip of her nose ; ) It happened over and over. We thought it was just this one enamored insect, but at one point, she actually saw two of them swooping in and fighting over who got to land on her nose .. ha ha ha. 

   It was a special place, this tiny alcove near the pit toilets, tangled fishing line and rusty lures. Our thin blanket was spread across gravel, but we were together, away from the machines, so it might as well have been goose down. I had to flick some dry-yet-potent dog doo away from our space using a littered Coke can as a shovel, but we were gitty. We tried to control our glee and splashing about because some all-American Dad and his young son were fishing just 5 feet away. I met a school of small fish who took a liking to pecking at my toes. Juwels called it a Pesce Pedicure : ) And then, just before we left, this extra large diablo fly came by and landed on Juwels' shoulder. This was like no other fly we'd ever seen - jet black with a tuft of velvety light gray fur on his back and giant all-seeing eyes. He should've had spurs, a six shooter and a sombrero : )

    "You've gotta see this giant fly that just landed on your shoulder !!"

    "Is that what that noise was?" (he was beautiful and loud)

    "Wow .. he's cool," Juwels said, peering at him from the courner of her eye.

    He took a few steps around, standing on her wet blanketed hair closer to her neck. She couldn't see him anymore, but she had this excited look on her face over the idea that yet another strange creature of flight had chosen to pay her a visit. "What's he doing - What's he doing  ?? !!"  

    "He's nestling his face in your hair."

    She smiled. "He must like the smell of my conditioner..." (Juwels likes to think of herself as some kind of whisperer of all creatures ... a belief that'd just been confirmed and inflated by her magical encounter with the dragonflies.)

     I saw her face contort into a kind of grimace of pain. "Ouch !!!" She yelped. "He just BIT me !!" She thrashed around in the water and then submerged completely, leaving me alone with the little blood sucker.

     He went buzzing off, and then circled around us ... he had blood on his breath. I dunked under water and tried to wait him out, but when I popped back up, there he was. We retreated to the blanket, and hid under our towels. ZZZzzzz ...

     "There he is!!"

    "He's everywhere!!" 

     I grabbed a book off the gravel next to us, something about mindfulness and meditation. "That's it - I'm gonna get that little vampire!!"

     "Don't kill him," Juwels shouted. "He's too pretty."

     I couldn't help but laugh ... "All right ... he's after you anyway."


   Okay - my selective attention span is maxing out on this drive story .. so we'll sum it up by saying:

   We left that night in another electric storm, but it stayed dry, and we were refreshed and all wrinkle toed and blissed out from our life aquatic, and the Winnie drove amazingly : )

   Once we passed through Parker's beautiful rock formations, back lit by lightning, the air grew cool, and in that cool air, the Winnie was a rockstar. Besides having to crawl under the rear tires and keep squirting oil in the axle, everything went great - 55 miles an hour up hills that ran for 50 or 100 miles at a time. It was an unbelievable rush to be at the wheel of that beast, like riding a 6 ton bull, all grit and muscle and sugar and spice. We were so proud of her, and my thinking went from, god, I can't wait to moor this thing and not drive again for a long, long time, -- to --  maybe we should drive to Alaska : ) We drove all night and through the early hours of the morning, and as the frost was steaming up in the warm sunlight, we'd made it to our new town in the mountains, Flagstaff.

   It's so beautiful here ...can't wait to share more !!

 thanks for reading, love,



Crossing the Mojave by night - Part/ Book: One

   *** Disclaimer: This is a long post, much like the trip we're describing (move is a better word ... a trip is something that can be called off, shortened, decided against - this was a move that was put into motion, and come hell or high water, it had to happen, and as the bridges where crumbling at our heels, there was only one way to go ... ) Do keep in mind as you scroll down the old dark well of this tale ... we're only half way. We may never finish this thing - seeing as though it's been sitting in our drafts folder for way too long, but we've photographed a few other blog topics in this new land of ours, and since we haven't even written ourselves into the mountain pines where the Winnie's now parked, (and being snowed on) we just had to tell you where we're at, so we're all on the same page.

  Cliff's Notes - Moved from CA to Flagstaff, AZ (which is beautiful by the way) .. getting ready to move and adjusting to fit the road again was a challenge, and the 500 miles between the sand and the peaks was an all out war. But we made it : ) We're here! Swimming in beeswax - quick, somebody .. throw us a honey nut cheerio .. we're drowning ; )

   .... Okay, we're going to hit "publish post" now (even though it won't notify anyone for a good 8 hours ..) we always push the publish button at the same time (we do this with important emails as well ... I usually don't push, I just wait for Juwels' finger, on top of mine, to click .. Yeeeee : ) 

Hello Friends : )

  A few weeks ago, (these first 4 words were true at the time that we stared this post ... about 2 months ago...) we loaded up our caravan, tightened down the straps, and set sail across the Mojave Desert for the unknown. It was slated to be a 7-hour drive by the calculations of Mapquest .. so we budgeted 10 or 12. (It took three days) The Winnie moves to the beat of her own muffler, and all you can do once she starts running is hold her reins and let her drink.

   When we embark any distance past the county lines, and the pavement swells like tidal waves of hot blacktop, we know we're entering international waters, and anything can happen.

   You'd figure that having a house on wheels would mean that when it was time to move, all you'd have to do is start the engine and go, and it has been that way in the past, but since we started this little (turned big) candle company of ours, necessary tools of the trade have begun to pile up. On this move the Winnie became a nonfunctional moving truck. It actually gives us a little anxiety to see the Winnie in this state... it's a bit like climbing out of the storm cellar to see what the twister had done. She was packed to the gills all the way up to the driver's seat. The shower was stacked to the roof with bins and crates and beeswax blocks ... we really could've used that cold shower when we were stuck for days amongst the horny toads, triple digits, and tumble weeds.

   Once the sun was out, and the air was hot, the Winnie would overheat about every 15 miles. We finally hunkered down on the side of the 10 freeway and waited for nightfall. Below, you can see the temperature reading through the skylight. Good times : ) 

   As we mentioned in our "Farewell to the Pound" post, we've moved on from our last place of mooring, (the artist collective). We needed a change from the sultry Southern California script of cloistered condominiums, clogged storm drains and one legged pigeons. We yearned for clean air and simplicity - more trees and less traffic lights. (We do love So Cal so so much, but the call of the wild has been strong in our dreams of late, so off to the pines we go to dance the fox trot 'round the camp fire : )

  We scoured Craigslist in search of studio spaces in different parts of  the country. We found old barns, air plane hangers, garages, and sheds. We fell in love with Taos, New Mexico, Portland, OR, pondered little red brick nooks back east, and shanties in the Bayou. And when all was sifted down, much like the old story of the sheep herder in search of gold, we found our perfect space in a familiar place ... right in the Northern corner of my old home state, a lofty 7000 feet above sea level in a dreamy little town called Flagstaff, Arizona.

   The Winnie shuttered and growled a little when we scratched an X on the map way up here in the mountains. "You want me to climb how many feet ?? In the dead of summer???" We did a lot of work on the old girl though: new front tires (couldn't afford the back ones which were riddled with tears ... fingers crossed), new radiator, water pump, hoses, belts, filters, mufflers ... I was covered in grease with bloody knuckles and had rust falling in my eyes for weeks, and all of our money quickly bled into transmition fluid and cast steal auto parts. We were literally counting change for gas money as the move date approached.

   Juwels was packing and nesting and kissing things goodbye ... she had to figure out what we could fit into our box as we d(r)ove into a new chapter of life. "Things" are heavy, and since we were moving our entire studio out of state, beautiful scrap wood and metal which we salvaged for future projects came under close examination, and much of the fat was trimmed in the name of gas mileage and keeping the old Winnie from burning up and over heating as we climbed the expanse.

  For instance, we were tipped off as to the location of an amazing skeleton of an old grandfather clock in the alley just a few days before we left. "This would make such an amazing shelf. We could use it as a display at our next show!!" Juwels wanted to strap it to the roof. I didn't even know how we'd get it up there. "It doesn't weigh that much ..." I just smiled. In the end, father time stayed back in trade for her commercial freezer packed with her rationed seasonal fruit and dry ice. (Note to self: dry ice will make everything taste fizzy and carbonated ... even frozen avocado.)

   We needed to leave at night to keep the engine cool and the tires from exploding on the hot blacktop. Days went by that we proclaimed to be our last.

   "We're leaving tonight!"

  Linnie, the mother hen of the art studios, would come out into the lot each night with her camera and take pictures and get all teary eyed, and as the clock struck 10 and 12 and then 2am ... we'd decide that we needed another day of packing and shedding our ballast. I thought we'd never get out of the gate. We took test drive after test drive, and it seemed like every time we'd return to the Pound, there'd be something else to fix or tighten or replace. The brakes were locking up and making noise, fluid was leaking, the temperature gauge was boiling over, and each time I'd climb back under the beast and furrow my brow.

  On our final day, we left town at 2:30am. It didn't make any sense, but we just HAD to get moving. It'd dragged on too long, and the Winnie was ready(ish).

A few weeks earlier, my parents had surprised us with a set of walkie talkies (We'd be driving two separate cars and we only have one cell phone between the two of us. Our synchronized lane switching can get a little hairy when orchestrated entirely by way of hand gestures and frantic lip reading in the rear view .. oh, and the Winnie's horn doesn't work either, it just throws sparks when pressed.)

  Juwels was driving the trucka, and I was driving the hive. "Can you believe it, baybee !!!" Juwels came in over the two-way radio. "We're doing it ... we're finally on the road."

  I yawned. "Okay, Miss Muffet. You ride behind me and let me know if my tail lights go out again."

  "They're shining bright!!"

   Within the first ten miles on the freeway, orange cones started to appear on the far right shoulder. They tapered in, turning four lanes to three, two, and then one. Perfect. I was pinched in against the cement barricade on my left with a line of cones on the right. Men with jackhammers wiped their brows under electric white light. And cops stood around in their red and blue strobe lights.  

  Don't hit a cone, swerve, don't hit the divider, swerve... repeat. Now's not the time to get pulled over ...

  Driving the Winnie is not like driving any other car. You know the way a little kid pretends to drive a car by swerving the wheel back and forth back and fourth in quick successions .. you actually have to do that to keep the nose of the Winnie in a straight line. It's a never ending flow of minor alignment swerves and corrections, but you get used to it after a while.

   We hit a couple of hills, and the temperature gauge climbed high enough to motivate me to pull off the road to splash cold water on the radiator and admire the stars. Juwels loved these little rest stops and would always meet me in front of the open engine toting her little cooler packed with mason jars full of cantaloupe juice and nut milk and raw chocolate.

   The Winnie's gas gauge is broken, so we decided to just clock the miles on the truck, and fill up every 150 miles or so (incidentally, the odometer on the truck mysteriously stopped working about midway through the trip as well : ). At about Palm Springs, we pulled off for gas. The oil was low as well as the transmission fluid, glug glug, and the sun was just starting to come up, but everything was going great, and we had no inclination that we wouldn't be in the pines in the near future.


   CUT TO: beads of sweat rolling down my forehead, and heat waves permeating from the road. The Winnie did NOT like driving in the high desert under any other light but moonlight. (we were supposed to make the whole drive in one night, but ...) I asked Juwels not to run the AC in the truck either because we had stacked so much weight in the bed, and she said she wouldn't, but I think she may have fibbed a little because on a few occasions, when I'd walk back to the truck to grab the phone, the steering wheel was cold. "I just had it on for a minute ... she's running cool as a cucumber anyway.."

   The road started to climb, and I stayed optimistic. It climbed and climbed and climbed, and so did the temperature gauge. (watching this gauge would become a theme/ obsession for the trip ... and I have my suspicions that it may have been misreading the whole time.) I shifted down into 2nd gear and then 1st. I was going ten miles an hour with the hazard lights on, and cars flew past the old Winnie blaring their horns.

  We pulled off and splashed the steaming radiator with water, and then climbed a bit more. I felt like the hill would never end. Another twist, another rest on the shoulder and splash of cold water. She was running so hot near the end, that I pulled the cover off the engine and just left the fuming knot of steal and hoses exposed in the carpeted hole next to my chair .. just so I could watch and make sure she wasn't spitting fire or dumping coolant. With one hand on the wheel and the other clutching a Meyers spray bottle filled with water, a leaned in toward the volcano of an engine and tried to mist the backside of the radiator while I drove. It didn't work. The fan just blew it back in on me. Horns blared, sweat poured, and eventually ... we made it to the top of the hill. (by the way, for those of you who don't know the consequences of extreme overheating, it can ruin your engine. Although there's surely some interesting characters and stories to be mined out of these little crossroad towns, we were praying not to become the 235/6 resident of any town consisting of one street light, the gas station and a subway.)

  I grabbed my walkie talkie and said. "Let's pull off at this next rest stop."

  Juwels said something back, but I couldn't hear her over the growling engine.

   We were starting to get those up-all-night jitters, and we'd only gone 150 miles or so, but we were proud of the Winnie, and I even called my mom to tell her how great things were going. I told her how beautiful the desert looked and how I missed the smell of it. I told her about the giant hill the Winnie had just climbed, and as she was congratulating the three of us and wishing us luck, I walked back to have a look at the rear tires to see if the cracks in the rubber had grown any. She had just asked me a question like, "So when do you think you guy's will get there?" when I noticed a stream of liquid pouring out from between the the dual rear wheels ...

  "Okay," I thought, "we're screwed."

  "Peter??" Mom asked. "Do you know how much longer?"

  "Ummm ..." I reached down and dipped my finger in the fluid. If we blew a break line, we'd be glued to the spot and fall victim to the roadside assistance tow drivers and whatever back alley shop they'd drop us at. "Ahh ... I think we should be able to make it there tonight." I said. I didn't want to tell her about the blood on my hands. She was so excited for us.

  While this was all unraveling and spilling over, Juwels was frolicking around the rest stop talking to a group a bees she found drinking from a leaky faucet. "Oh .. hi, bee. You're thirsty, huh : )" 

   "Babe ..."

   "Hey, look at all these bees I found."

   "That's nice. Come over here. I want to show you something."

   I showed her the leaking fluid and explained what I thought it might be, and she didn't say much. We were both way too tired to be towed off onto some expensive subplot of the trip ... Neither of us wanted to call a truck, so the choice became do we, A. Keep driving forward toward the next town, Blythe, CA which was almost 80 miles ahead, or do we B. Go back down the hill to the town that we had just crossed through? The thought of having to drive back up that hill again was ghastly, and if there was a problem with the breaks, we'd be going about 150 miles an hour by the time that we finally reached bottom. (the emergency brake doesn't work either - Ha!)

  At that very moment, the cell phone started ringing. (a wonder that we had service way out there to begin with.) It was some random 4 digit phone number, and standard practice would never prompt me to answer any unknown call, but for some reason I picked up the phone on the first ring. Maybe whoever it was could help in some way ...


  "Hi, is this Peter?"


  "Hi Peter. This is Jason from Pete's Roadside Assistance."

  I paused for a second. What the hell? Roadside assistance? Right now? Huh ... I actually looked over my shoulder wondering if I was being watched or something ... not that that would make any sense anyway. How'd they get my number?

   "O... kay."

  The guy went on to tell me that I had called him a month or so back asking for a quote on RV tires, and he just wanted to see if I might still be interested in them, or if he should take me out of the system. I remembered the phone call.

  " I thought you said you were roadside assistance?"

  "We are - but we also have an RV service center ... where you'd called about the tires."

   I told him that we found some tires since then but that we were actually on our trip right then, and I asked him if he might know anything about this fluid leaking out of the rims. With the phone pinched to my ear, I slithered under the Winnie across the gravel and dust as he asked me a series of direct questions about the color and scent of the fluid. He knew exactly what it was. I called to Juwels to toss me a wrench, and I loosened a drain plug on the rear differential.

   "Now stick your pinkie finger in there."

   I did.

   "Can you feel the oil?"

   "Yeah. It's hot."

   "Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention that ..."

   He told me that we'd be fine, and that if anything the brakes were going to stink a bit when we hit them, and we'd need to plan more time to come to a full stop, (not my strong suit) but that he'd seen people cross country with a broken seal.

   "Just climb back under there every so often, and if it's low, put a little squirt in."

   I thanked him profusely, and wondered what the chances were that of all the moments he could've called to check back in with me, how he had picked that exact moment. I guess we plant these seeds for flowering good luck without even knowing it. So we were on the road again. And at the same time, I had another thing to obsess about other than the temperature gauge : ) Of course, I couldn't leave it at that - I had to get a second opinion and make sure that this Pete's guy knew what he was talking about. I called the old Napa Auto Parts that I used to go to in Long Beach. There's a slightly eccentric guy who works there who used to work on old motorhomes, and I call to pick his brain from time to time.

   "Napa Auto Parts, how can I help you?"

   "Is Jess working today?"

   "Yes he is. Please hold."

   Thank God - if anyone knows .. he'll know, I thought.


  "Is this Jess?"

  "No, this is Barrack Obama. What do you need?"

  "Oh .. uh .. this is the guy with the old motorhome who's been asking you abou-"

  "Whaaaat?!? What are we talking about?"

  (He's actually a very nice and helpful automotive genius, but he lives in fast forward and does a lot of talking to himself while he's thinking.)

  "Hey, so I'm crossing the desert into Arizona right now in the old Winnie, and -"

  "Why the hell would you do that?!"

  "... and I've got this little leak between the back wheels."

  "You blew a wheel seal."

  " I know, but I'm just wondering if ..."

  He went on to tell me that I might be fine, but I might also burn up the rear end and cost myself thousands of dollars in damages.

   "What would you do if you were me?" I asked.

   "I wouldn't be driving that old toaster through the desert in the middle of the day. The oil might stay in ... or it might not, but you're gonna burn your engine up driving it in that heat!"

    "Ahh ..."

   "Good luck!"

   "Thanks ..."



    I hung up.

   "So what'd he say?" Juwels asked.

   "Let's get going."

   The next few hours were filled with doomed attempts to cross to the next town. We'd get moving, and five minutes later, the heat gauge was in the red, and I'd grab the walkie talkie and ask Juwels to follow me off the road. We finally decided that we had to just pull off and wait the rest of the day out, and hit the pavement at nightfall. We exited on a desilate road and shifted into park in a dismal lot of dumped junk, car tires, and hot plastic bottles of darkened urine. Juwels was concerned about her freezer full of chopped frozen fruit. We had dry ice in there, but we never meant for the plug to be dangling through the night and into the next day. I told her to pull on the right side of the Winnie and to get as close as she could. There was no shade there yet because the sun was directly overhead, but in 4 or 5 more hours, the Winnie's tall frame should offer some shade on that packed camper shell with the freezer inside.

   Hiding out in the cluttered sultry Winnie for the day was an act of spiritual willpower, like chanting in a sweat lodge and seeing visions of eagles and serpents. Juwels actually started to embrace it, and pulled out the computer to work on this very blog. I find that life's little blips are a lot more bearable when you think of yourself as the protagonist and envision some imaginary audience enjoying the show. We don't Tweet (yet) but we shot off a couple picture text messages to friends and family who were at work or school. I actually fell asleep in the driver's seat for a half an hour or so but woke up only to feel more dazed and confused. We debated at length whether or not we should pop open the freezer, dig out the blender and make an ice cold fruit smoothie, but Juwels didn't want to open the lid for fear of loosing any of her precious cold air. It was buried behind an avalanche of other things in the back of the truck anyway, and if we went out there in the sun, we'd probably wither away before reaching the frozen mango anyway.

   About 5 or 6 hours into our sweat, Juwels was on the phone talking to her sister in NY. She asked her to look up the weather in this neck of Haities to see when it cools down. We were getting really antsy to get a move on and needed a time to focus our hopes. And by the end of that conversation, we realized that we were waiting there in the sun for almost no reason at all. It was never going to cool down. From what Juwels' sis told us, once the sun went down, the temp only dropped 2 degrees, and then at about two in the morning, the temp would drop about two more ...

   When would it be cool enough to drive again? December? Oh, Lordy ... It was during this time that there were even some whisperings about heading back to the beach. Why did we leave the perfect weather, sun, sand, palm trees in the breeze ... the Whole Foods bulk section ? Oh Lordy, Lordy Bee !! 

   My brother called around the same time (he lives in Flagstaff and had been (im)patiently waiting for us to arrive for the last six weeks as the move kept getting pushed back.)

   "You guys leave last night?"  (He's asked us this same question every day for the past 6 or 7 days that we thought we'd be leaving... )


  "You here?"


  "Where are you?"

  "Just outside of Blythe."

  "Blythe !! ?? What the hell have you guys been doing all this time. That's only like a 100 miles outside of LA."

  "I think it's more like 180 (I said, knowing that we'd earned every mile at our tail) ... but we're not quite to Blythe yet."

   I told him about all the hullabaloo we'd been through in the past 18 or so hours, and he went on and on about how we should have already been there. I assured him that we wanted to be there even more than he wanted us to be there, and he went on an on some more.


   I hung up the phone.

  "What'd he say," Juwels asked.

  "Let's get moving."

   To get to the next town, I had to literally put a piece of black tape over the heat gauge (see no evil, hear no evil, yada yada yada... I assumed that the rotten thing was lying to us anyway) and we just charged it to the city limits. Blythe - what a little slice of heaven. The whole town was basically centered around a McDonald's and a Del Taco. There were cops and tweekers everywhere, and we weren't sure which could cause us more problems. The whole place gave us the willies. We parked the land yacht at the Mceedee's, and Juwels drove across the street and found out where a Napa was. I wanted to replace the heat gauge with the high-end one that I was too cheap to buy from Napa a week ago, and we needed more oil for the leaking wheel seal. I climbed out of the Winnie, but just as I was locking the door and getting into the truck with Juwels, we noticed this couple dragging their feet across the lot and staring right at us. The woman was pushing a shopping cart packed with all sorts of clothes and bags, and the guy was scratching at his tattoo covered neck.

  "Well," I said. "I'm not going. I'll stay back here to guard the Winnie."

  "Good idea."

  It seemed like Juwels was gone forever, and I waited around on the curb across the parking lot snake eyeing the couple and the rest of the walking dead who staggered through the lot between the Mc D's and the Greyhound station. I couldn't get myself to go back into the Winnie. She stunk of fumes (I had the engine cover off again) and she was too cluttered and claustrophobic to seek shelter in ... but then it started to pour rain.

  I ran across the lot and pulled myself inside the music box. The Winnie sounds really cool in the rain. The drops are all amplified and differentiated, and it almost sounds like each drop has its very own microphone. I sat in the driver's seat with my feet on the dash and watched the lightning and the push and pull of the wind.

  Juwels finally showed back up at the lot. Apparently she had been given directions to Auto Zone, not Napa, and she said that there was some 16 year old girl behind the counter who knew absolutely nothing about what we were looking for, and the only heat gauge they had was the same kind I had bought a week before that didn't seem to tell the truth. Napa had a better one, and they actually did have a location in town, but Juwels had just missed closing time while she was talking to the young girl who was blowing bubbles of hot pink chewing gum. And it was storming, badly. Great.

   "It's always an adventure with us," Juwels said.

  "Does adventure mean that everything always has to be going wrong?"

  "With us ..." she said, "yes."

  It was finally dark, and rainy, and the wind was gusting in the opposite direction that we were supposed to be heading ... oh, and our windshield wipers don't work : ) I know, I know ... why do we have solar panels and archways, and bamboo flooring but no E-brake or windshield wipers?? In my defense, the wipers literally stopped working the night before we left town. The running lights had been out for over a year, and I finally rewired those and got them shining, but in the meantime, when I hit the wipers just to make sure, they threw a puff of smoke, jarred half way across the windshield, and died. I checked the weather before we left, and it was supposed to be all clear ... well, for the night that we were supposed to be driving at least.   

   My mom called to see how the trip was going. Juwels sis text to ask if we were there yet, and the tweeker couple parked their cart next to the pay phone, and went into McDeath.

   I had my mom pass the phone to my dad, so I could ask him an automotive question, but he didn't really know the answer (neither of us like messing with engines so much) but he did tell me that there was a Motel 6 down the street for just $36 dollars per night. "Oh, wait ..." He read an online review. "It says here that a lot of people have gotten their cars broken into while they're staying there. I probably wouldn't go there. I'd just keep driving."

   A blast of wind rocked the Winnie around, and a web of lightning shot across the sky. 

  "Okay, thanks dad. We'll let you know how things go."

   One of the skylights blew off the roof (the skylights had all blown off in the past and been crushed into a million pieces in the road, and we just replaced them with clear plastic, held down with bungee cords for the drive, classy, I know, but we were short on time to build anything better before the move, and besides, it wasn't supposed to be raining.) so I climbed up the slippery ladder to wrangle the sheet back on. My hair whipped around in the wind like wild snakes, and the cop across the parking lot watched me like a cat watches a feather on a string.

   We've gotta get the hell out of this town...

to bee continued...

    You can see Part Two - the finish - {Here}