Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Ten Years Ago

Everyone knows we occasionally launch off into a retrospective.  It comes with the turf here.  So, how about the Year 2002?  What was happening ten years ago?

Ten years ago today, we were preparing to embark on a huge road trip.  We did a huge road trip earlier in the year and that's part of this story, too. We spent most of the summer on the Oregon Coast.

Meanwhile, our straw house was flooded and we were temporarily homeless.

We'll try to keep this relatively short.  It all began on New Year's Day 2002 when we "discovered" Secret Shopper volunteering for the Forest Service.  Our very first duty was at the Barnhart Trailhead on the Tonto NF south of Payson the first week in January.  By the time May rolled around we were headed off on our first epic road trip.  We traveled thousands of miles by mid-July and were in Bend, Oregon, preparing to head to The Dakotas when our Supervisor told us the program was out of money to pay our mileage.  Undaunted, we returned to our favorite spot of that trip--Gold Beach, Oregon, and set up our tent camp in the Huntley RV Park alongside the Rogue River maybe 8-10 miles inland from the Pacific.  It was a great summer and we were on one of those "hiking streaks."  The hiking streak ended at 125 consecutive days in Red Bluff, California, on our drive to return home.

Neither of us will ever forget the moment the streak ended.  We were in the Red Bluff Library doing some historical research when we checked our voicemail and received an urgent message: "CALL HOME!"  It was a neighbor in Rimrock telling us our straw house had flooded.  We hurried tore down our tent camp rig and drove through the night.  I'm pretty sure we set a record time driving from Red Bluff to Rimrock, arriving early the next morning, September 12th.

Our house was uninhabitable.  A thick coating of gooey, sloppy  wet mud covered most of the brick floor.  The adjacent wash had flooded and water reached nearly two-feet high on the front side of the house.  The water pressure forced its way through the front door.  The water that entered wasn't deep, it was just almost purely mud.  What a mess.

We knew there was no way to truly tackle the mess.  We knew our only hope was to leave it alone, open the windows and doors and go someplace else.  So, we went up to tent camp at the Kaibab Lake Campground just north of Williams, Arizona.  That's where we were when we got the call from our Supervisor asking if we wanted to do another Secret Shopper Road Trip.  This one was a genuine epic.  We got the call on a Tuesday, October 15th, and we had to be in Southern Indiana by Saturday night, the 19th.  Of course, we received this proposition while sitting in camp chairs amid the ponderosas north of Williams.

We knew we wouldn't be able to mess with our house for weeks and we also knew cold weather was destined to come soon so we agreed.  Since we were basically all rigged to tent camp out of our pickup truck, we took off right away.  We headed east ten years ago today, October 16th, and drove from dawn to late evening dark each day.

We arrived in Southern Indiana late Saturday night and found a state park in which to tent camp. It was raining and nearing midnight.  By that time in our tent camping career, we could each set up our tent blindfolded.  We didn't want to wake all the sleeping neighbor campers so we set that tent up in the dark in a rainstorm without so much as a word to each other.  It was stealth camping at its best!

Then we had to break camp practically as soon as we made camp in order to be at our first secret shopping appointment in a fake wilderness area in Southern Indiana.  After that interview was over, we had to drive through the hoots and hollars of hill country to be interviewed at a campground we never camped in.  We faked our way past the interviewer by telling him we left a "family heirloom" Swiss Army knife at our campsite the previous night.  He fell for it and we got our interview.  After that, we could take a breather and regroup.

Thus began a 30+ day, 7,000+  mile road trip that spanned almost a third of the country.  We were all over the map and visited 15 states as far east as West Virginia and Virginia, doing Secret Shopper volunteer work in most of them.  It rained almost the entire trip.  There was no actual budget for us to stay in a motel but we had no choice.  Our Supervisor said she might be able to get us reimbursed if we stayed in the cheapest possible motels.  Susun became The Negotiator and, believe it or not, we stayed mostly in motels for the better part of a month for far less that $1000.  I think our nightly average was something like $27.65.  You can imagine the types of flea-bag, dive places we slept in.

Speaking of flea bags, we had to spend a couple of days in the capitol of West Virginia and we went to this funky state museum where they actually had preserved and put on display a FLEA CIRCUS!  Apparently, the dead fleas on display were once very famous, well known fleas, so much so that there was a public hue and cry when the fleas died that they be preserved wearing their circus top hat and tails.  I am NOT making this up!  Susun can vouch for my veracity here.

Long road trips really wear you down and we limped back to Rimrock over a month after we had departed., thoroughly worn out and somewhat numb from being cooped up in a pickup truck and cheap motels for the more than a month.

Luckily, by that time, the mud had dried out to dust in our straw house.  Since we laid our brick floor directly on the earth itself (not concrete) the water had drained out of the mud back into the earth and had not molded or mildewed.  By keeping the windows and doors open, the air flow had prevented a biological disaster that would have destroyed our home.  All we then had to do was spend the remainder of the Year 2002 cleaning the dried mud and dust out of the house.  If you look closely at our floor, you can still see traces of that mud caked into some of the bricks.

Well, there you have it, Ten Years Ago.

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