Category Archives: Camping and Travel

T@B Diaries #4: Steens Mountain 

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In my second year of camping inside the t@b, I returned yesterday from my most ambitious solo trip to date. The following images provide evidence of these new experiences:

  • With my brother Dave and his friend Dave (that’s not a joke) in another car, and towing the t@b behind the new Honda Ridgeline, I drove all by myself to the Steens Mountain Wilderness Resort, located right along side a funky little historic town called Frenchglen, Oregon.
  • It was the longest drive I have ever done in my life. About 7 hours from Milwaukie to Frenchglen.
  • It’s the first time in my life I have ever been this far Eastern Oregon.
  • We stopped at a rest area in Brothers, Oregon. I found it so lonely and quaint, I had to take a picture of it.
  • My brother Dave and his friend Dave stayed in a “cabin” and I had my own full hook up rv site. The cabins in this park, while functional and comfortable enough, were really just single wide mobile homes, the kind you’d find in the most low rent trailer parks in America. That’s not a criticism.
  • I took pictures of my brother Dave and his friend Dave. In almost every panoramic shot I took, one or the other of them ended up on one end or the other of the panorama. The one panoramic shot my brother took caught Dave at the very edge of the photo taking a piss.
  • On this trip, in particular around the Steens Mountain loop and around Hart Mountain Wildlife Refuge, there were lots of occasions for panoramic photos.
  • Panoramic pictures are very strange things. Maybe I’m doing it wrong, but my panoramas wrap themselves in this bizarre fold, so that rather than seeing a wide scene looked at straight-on, you see a single road, for example, going two directions. Almost impossible to describe in words. Take a look.
  • There’s a strange satellite tower at the peak of Steens Mountain. Alien observation? I don’t know. Communications to the outside world? Doubtful, since most of the time I had no or little phone access, although my brother Dave’s friend Dave seemed to have all kinds. He called his wife from the top of a mountain. I’m told this is the highest accessible peak in the state of Oregon. It was awesome. I mean, really. In the true sense of the word: full of awe, awe inspiring, awful in a good way. And dirty. Very dirty.
  • My brother Dave’s friend Dave’s car was covered in dirt.
  • I’ve never seen so many butterflies.
  • Or Jack Rabbits.
  • Or Owls (1).
  • Or mosquitos.
  • My ankles are a swollen itchy mess.
  • We drank some Scotch in Eastern Oregon.
  • I talked politics with my brother Dave’s friend Dave.
  • On one evening it was cool enough to have a tiny campfire.
  • We visited several towns that had only one or two buildings in them: Frenchglen, Diamond, Plush, Fields, and Denio, Nevada. There’s a town in Oregon called Remote. I challenge Remote to be as remote as these towns were remote.
  • Yes, we went to Nevada. Having driven all the way around Hart Mountain on super rough gravel roads, we decided to drive an extra 150 miles on pavement over to Nevada and back again, rather than return on that gravel washboarding hell.
  • I learned a new word, or, a new use of an old word: washboarding.
  • On the way back to camp, we found cows wandering around on and near the roads.
  • Sometimes we’d drive a half an hour or 45 minutes before seeing another car.
  • We camped for four days. We spent almost half of our time, outside of the time we were sleeping, in a car.
  • The sign on the Hart Mountain Store in Plush said: A small drinking town with a cattle problem.
  • On the early morning of our departure, I left my trailer to get some clean clothes out of the truck. When I came back to the trailer, the door was locked. The keys were inside. Now, it’s impossible to lock the trailer door from the inside unless you use the dead bolt–in which case you would not be able to open the door, walk out the door, and shut the door again. The dead bolt would be sticking out, right? So, my guess is, and this is messed up, that somehow the locking mechanism engaged itself, locking me out of the trailer and the keys inside. After I panicked, I thought, clearly, this door cannot be locked, really. No way. So I went to get my brother to see if he could help solve the mystery. We ended up concluding that the door was, in fact, locked. I panicked. I was sure that the day before, as I set about to fire up the air conditioner in this 100 degree heat, that I had locked all of my windows. My brother Dave said, did you lock all the windows? I said, yes, I locked all the windows. He went around and checked. I had NOT locked all the windows. I climbed back into the trailer through the emergency exit window and happily liberated my keys and my sunken heart.
  • I learned NEVER to be without your trailer key.
  • And then I drove home for seven hours.

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Dispatches from Writer’s Camp: A Few Goodbyes, Reading with a Friend, Writing Some More, Going Home


I’m sitting in the airport in a beat up arm chair looking out over the tarmac through these gigantic windows. I’ve got three hours to kill because the ride from Mt. Holyoke dropped me off early. It’s an ugly, long flight clear across the country, from Hartford, Connecticut to Chicago and then home to Portland. I will get home tonight at 11, but it will feel to me like 1 in the morning. If I can keep from sleeping on planes, I’ll sleep well tonight after a little reunion with my family. As much fun as I’ve had, I miss them very much, my wife and boy. Dogs too. I can’t wait to see the place. It should be freshly painted when I get home, a project going on all through my absence.

I’m struck by how the Writer’s Camp has a way to linger on until the very last minutes. I slept in this morning so, missing breakfast, I was able to say goodbye to only a few of my writer buddies–my departure felt less like a closing and a little bit more like an opening. A little breakfast and coffee with Dave and Dawn, and then a road trip.

David gave me a ride to the airport from the college, and while he drove, for about 40 minutes, I read out loud to him from a novel that I’ve been jonesing to read for several years now, Renata Adler’s Speedboat. So we had ourselves a little experience. I suspected I would dig this novel, as it came with some super duper high recommendations from other writers I love, but I had no real idea what it would be like to read or what it would be about. It turned out to be about the most perfect book for a road-read one could possibly hope for. On every page there seemed to be some key thing that we wanted or needed to stop and discuss. And because the novel, at least in the first section, is broken up into these little vignettes, it lended itself perfectly to interruptions for driving conversations. From the opening epigraph from Evelyn Waugh, to the first chapter title (we couldn’t decide whether the single word title was a noun or a verb, decided it could be both, and then after reading for awhile decided it was indeed both, and that both interpretations worked equally well); each little piece we read, short, punchy, puzzling, enigmatic, surprising and funny, distinguished from the other vignettes by a double space between paragraphs, intrigued us, brought us together trying to puzzle it out, made us hunger for more, made me sorry David wasn’t driving me all the way to Oregon.

Reading out loud to another person, especially a friend, is a heavenly experience. I mean, I think David liked it, at least he said he did, but I loved it. Because the book was awesome, yes, but also because there’s something of constant discovery or surprise in it, and a phenomenal intimacy is forged as these funny shapes on paper turn into words spoken and sentences uttered and those utterances become a shared experience, a common or mutual understanding, constructed in partnership. What’s cooler than that?

So in the car with David I was giving a reading, taking a class, and here, at the airport, with a three hour window of waiting by a big window, I’m writing. I’m still camping. Oozing with gratitude and missing the tribe already. I’m reading, writing, napping, having a meal clear across the continent, getting on a plane again and again, going home.

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#269: A Letter of Gratitude to My Wife and Son (another prose poem)


Dear family,

I am about to begin my journey home. Almost everything is put away and the trailer is hitched up (I never did unhitch); all I have to do now is climb in and start up the engine. It was a good trip. Even though I was with my brother and his friends, I spent a lot of time by myself. I read some and I wrote some and I listened to music and I walked and I rode my bike. I took in the good Willamette Valley air under cover of giant oaks, just like ours, but older and over miles and miles. Last night it was so clear; the stars were lovely and David and I kept the fire going until 10 or so. I slept well and ate well and it was easy to be good. I have some Easter surprises for both of you that I hope you will like.

Just before I leave I am thinking about how grateful I am for both of you, and how thankful I am that you both were willing to (maybe even happy to) have me out of the house, let me do my thing, allow me this space to travel both outward and inward. I love you both. I am enriched beyond words having the two of you in my life, challenging me and growing me toward this hidden wholeness.

Yours,

Michael

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#268: The Middle Way (a prose poem)


Somewhere between asceticism and an orgy of consumerism and excess lies the middle way. I must confess I have not found it yet. I tend to waffle in my struggle to find the center. Against my better judgment I tend to err toward excess. Here I am camping in comparative luxury with my new trailer and my new truck, and yet I am abstaining from alcohol, sugar, carbs, grains, dairy, beans, any thing artificial or processed. I continue to meditate daily. I fantasize about tiny houses. Living more simply. After seeing the film “Minimalism,” I have thought about whether I could reduce my closet down to 30 pieces of clothing, including socks, underwear, pants, shirts, shorts, and coats. I keep doing the math. It doesn’t add up. I must keep my disco pants and my disco shorts and my disco hoodie and my disco bowtie. That’s four. There are things too difficult to give up. And that’s the project, isn’t it? What can you live without? What’s necessary? Who do you love? Do they know? What hurts? What helps? Are you prepared to find the center out and hold on loosely, loosely, but for dear life? Beckett:  We try, fail, fail again, fail better. I’m failing my way toward the middle.

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T@B Diaries #3: Barton Park

The t@b trailer’s fourth voyage, third diary entry, and second father, son, and dog camping trip, this time to Barton Park on the Clackamas river . . .

  • during which frogs from a nearby pond sound off all night a noise not unlike the Australian didgeridoo, several of them, all resonating in different pitches;
  • during which Michael and Emerson get along pretty famously and the dog gets lots of attention and exercise;
  • during which Emerson feels bad on Sunday afternoon, sleeps for five hours in the middle of the day, wakes up hungry for hotdogs;
  • during which Emerson eats hotdogs for breakfast the next day;
  • during which Dad sits in a gigantic Adirondack;
  • during which we meet two former and favorite students working in the park, County employees, big kids, adults! Good on ya, Jacqui and Hailey! 
  • during which my son tells his uncle Dave that he loves him!  

 

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T@B Diaries #2: Stubb Stewart St. Park

  • in which Michael almost gives up on the trip before calling neighbor Dave to help him hitch up the trailer to the stupid van
  • in which Michael and his son Emerson and their new dog Tana embark on the first father-son-dog trip with the T@B
  • in which it snows and rains a lot, but still opportunities occur for long walks with the dog, dog park action, and even a few solitary moments
  • in which Michael gets along with his son swimmingly, but is bugged by how easily he is bugged and wishes he could stop
  • in which Michael, late on a January night way too cold and wet for a campfire, turns his son on to the X-files

Here’s a late posting of a blog entry I started to write way back in January after my son and I went on our first camping trip together with the T@B. I wrote the little blurby-blurb thing above but never got around to fleshing it out and posting pictures from our lovely little winter trip to L. L. Stubb Stewart State Park.

I don’t know if there’s anything else to say that isn’t neatly and concisely expressed in the above blurb bullets, but I do want to attach some pictures for general perusal and make a promise that I will be better and more timely about posting entries in the T@B Diary series for whoever might be interested. This memorial day, next weekend, we have planned our next trip!  Meanwhile, here are some pictures of the Jarmer boys and their dog.

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T@B Diaries #1: Champoeg St. Park

  • in which Michael Jarmer begins a new blog series;
  • in which Michael Jarmer provides a brief history of his life as a camper;
  • in which his somewhat checkered RV history is revealed;
  • in which an experience camping solo at Champoeg State Park is described;
  • in which funny and archaic subtitles are used to arouse reader interest in the following blog post.

Here’s an idea, I said to myself: I’ll write a series of travel logs as I journey out into the world with my new travel trailer, a T@B, made by the folks at Little Guy, recently purchased and out just this last week on its maiden voyage to Champoeg State Park (pronounced Champooey) in the lovely Willamette Valley right here in Oregon.

Here’s a picture of my new baby right before it left the showroom.

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This could be interesting, or not. Time will tell. It’s worth a try. First, a bit of background.

I grew up camping with my parents and extended family mostly all around the state of Oregon with a few excursions into Washington and California. My folks were trailer campers and as I recall, all through my childhood and into my early adult years, it was my family’s tradition to make several camping trips a year beginning late spring and into September. These trips as a family and with friends stand out as being some of the most cherished experiences of my young life. I loved the adventure of it, the way it exposed me to the natural world beyond suburbia, the various abundances of camp experience: riding in my uncle’s boat, fishing, crabbing, hiking, biking, beaching, site-seeing, the community of the camp-fire, and the coziness of the trailer or the tent, or, as I became a teenager and always had a friend along, the back cabin of my Dad’s truck. Camping was huge.  And as a newlywed, in my early twenties, camping was almost killed for me forever after I took my wife and my dog on a tent-camping trip beset with nightmare: bad weather, sick spouse, spastic dog, tiny tent, our first serious marital dispute–resulting in a silent and angry two and half hour car ride home at 3 o’clock in the morning.  This was the key factor, but other things as well kept me from camping: mostly, a commitment to finishing college, finding a job, finding some kind of economic security, and then the demands of working and keeping up with the needs of a house, our first foray into homeownership–not to mention the still serious effort to play music as much as we possibly could, searching for that illusive and perhaps illusory big break all through the end of the eighties and the nineties. We were too busy to even think about camping.

Fast forward to 2001. It took 15 years to convince my wife to camp with me again–and the inspiration came with our first RV, a Coleman tent trailer.  It kept us busy and happily camping for four or five years, but with the arrival of our son in 2005 and a new, very serious commitment and demand on our attention, some early and unhappy camping trips with an infant, and the need to make some money to make up the short-fall of the extra income lost to full-time parenting, we sold that little trailer to a Canadian and watched it ride off into the sunset. It turned out to be the first of two very similar experiences over the next five years. I was unhappy selling the trailer, but in my heart of hearts I had a very selfish reason for wanting it to go away: I had my eyes and my heart set on bigger and better fish–an Airstream 16 foot Bambi International. It would take three more years of embarrassingly obsessive plots and maneuvers before that little dream would come true.  And it did.  And we had two and a half years of joy in an Airstream before, again, a shift in the financial winds on several simultaneous fronts forced our hand: the Airstream had to go! I really mourned that loss. I went on and on about it for years. And perhaps, when I was finally ready to do the whole RV dance once again, I would have happily gone back to the Airstream if I could find one that I could afford, but we sold the tow vehicle that pulled the 16 footer and ended up about a year later with a mini-van with a significantly lower tow capacity. All of this is just to say that if we were to purchase a new trailer, it would have to be light weight; it would have to be tiny.

Here my son and I are after the “red carpet” walk-through before towing home the T@B, a truly light weight trailer, clocking in at about 1900 pounds:

That's really a red carpet.

That’s really a red carpet.

So, within a week of bringing the trailer home, and anticipating two weeks off for the holiday vacation, I booked myself a two night stay at a local and nearby favorite camping destination, Champoeg State Park.  I chose on this first expedition to go it alone.  The weather would not likely be good; my son, without lots of outdoor activity, would be bored; and my dear wife had working responsibilities at home.  And I may as well come clean about this now: as excited as I am about camping with my little family, I will likely, as I did with the  Airstream and the Coleman before, use the trailer as a writing retreat on wheels and will often be alone.

I used this little excursion to get to know my trailer, most of all. I did do a little writing and some reading of things I have written with an eye to finishing a draft of a novella and starting the revision process. I listened to a lot of music (not, however, in continuation of the A-Z listening blog project). I got a visit from my brother for a few hours (Champoeg State Park is close to where we both live). And in between downpours, sometimes torrential downpours, I walked. I took pictures in the day of soggy fields and raging muddy streams on the verge of flooding. I took pictures of myself and my hat. And I looked at the moon peaking through clouds. It was a lovely and successful first trip. I leave you with some photographic evidence of this first trip and hope to write another installment in a month’s time.

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