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I Own Amador County

May 13-15, 2005

The Bounder’s crapped-out water heater during our first camping trip in April turned out to be one of the cheapest repair jobs yet, resolved with the replacement of a circuit board. Still, I was hesitant to get too far away from home without at least one problem-free weekend under our belts, hence, after suffering through two weekends of Pat having to work on Sunday and a third weekend at a family birthday party down in Gilroy, we set out on the second weekend of May once again to Point Reyes to the other campground in the area, Lawson’s Landing.

Pat took Friday off from work and we were on the road by 11:30 a.m. with Bonnie, our GPS navigation system, programmed to find us the fastest route. Two of our three cats, Mouse and Samantha (Sammy for short), traveled with us last summer for the ten-day trip up the north coast and on to Oregon, Idaho, and Nevada so it was a foregone conclusion that they would suffer again the indignity of engine noise and jostling along America’s highways. Our street cat, Wheezie, who adopted us four years ago and never liked to be in the house more than 25% of the time, had stayed behind to be fed by our house-sitter. When all else failed to convince us that she wanted to be let out, Wheezie would either pee on the living room carpet right in front of us or go to the kitchen and sling all of the kibbled cat food out of the bowls onto the floor.

Concerned for her welfare, Pat insisted she either be locked in the house with plenty of food for the weekend or be allowed to come along on the two-and-a-half-day trip to Point Reyes. Coming home to a house destroyed by a pissed-off cat who didn’t like being locked inside did not appeal to me. Neither did the image of a pissed-off cat peeing all over the inside of our motorhome. Convinced that upon arrival home we would be getting out the steamer and stain remover to clean the limited space of the motorhome versus the whole house, I finally agreed it was time to give Wheezie a chance.

The yowling started with the engine and all three cats dove under the covers of the bed in the back of the coach. After a few miles the yowling subsided, but nary a whisker was seen until at least a half-hour had passed quietly in our chosen spot at the campground two hours later. In the interim, Bonnie guided us to Richmond and across the San Rafael Bridge, but instead of having us turn off onto Sir Francis Drake towards Olema, directed us northward on 101 to Petaluma where we finally got off the freeway and onto the county road heading over to the coast.


Lawson's Landing from the air. We camped near left-edge center.

I’m not a big fan of speed, certainly never go over the speed limit, and frequently, especially on country roads, drive under it to enjoy the scenery. The leisurely approach to driving on country roads means pulling over in turnouts often to let cars pass, but for me that adds to the enjoyment of the drive. Bonnie took us the long way to Tomales rather than choosing an obvious shortcut and eventually brought us to the small town from the north rather than the east on a classic Marin County narrow, winding, hilly, and shoulder-less two-lane Highway 1 where we turned off to the west for the three and a half mile jaunt over to the village of Dillon Beach.

We descended the bluff upon which Dillon Beach sits and arrived at the gate of Lawson’s Landing at 1:30 p.m., paid for two nights, and entered the campground. The rough road probably hadn’t been resurfaced in twenty years, so we lumbered along at no more that 15 mph while we took in the meadows, sand dunes, and the herd of cows that served as the campground’s lawnmowers. Several folks had already set up camp in the protective lee of the sand dunes while others had grabbed spots on the lush meadow. Lawson’s Landing hugs the cape along the eastern shore of Tomales Bay where its mouth and the north tip of the Point Reyes peninsula meet the ocean and we wanted a view of the water. Suddenly, a very annoyed driver whom I hadn’t noticed behind us, swerved around onto the meadow and sped ahead down the road.

We had arrived well ahead of the Friday night rush and picked a spot along the seawall facing the bay. Engine off, levelers down, too windy to pull out the awning. Windows open, make a sandwich, and after thirty minutes of taking in the scenery, still no sign of the cats. Pat grabbed a book to read and I trundled off to the bedroom for a short nap. Two lumps in the bed indicated the location of Mouse and Sammy, but Wheezie was nowhere in sight. Not needing three pillows, I grabbed the one with the sham to toss it aside and was startled to hear it meow; Wheezie had burrowed inside.


Geraldine

An hour later I got up and Pat and I decided to take a walk through the campground admiring the collection of 50's era permanent trailers, stopping at the store to see what they had, then out on the fishing pier where we watched a young boy struggle to pick up a red crab without getting pinched by its claws. Next we headed out across the huge beach populated by only one other couple and their dog who tirelessly retrieved the tennis ball they kept throwing for him. Where the bay became the ocean, we cut back and through the sand dunes using a distant kite as a beacon to lead the way to the meadows.

The kite fliers were camped at a grassy cove in the dunes that blocked the wind off the ocean and we stopped for a spell to chat with them and pet their dogs. Eventually we found ourselves walking down the same road we had driven in on and stopped periodically to talk with a few of the cows we met munching meadow grass along its side.

We arrived back at the Bounder to be greeted by three cats who, after deeming it safe enough to come out from under the covers of the bed, demanded to know in their feline-attitude way why we had left them home alone. Pat prepared their dinner plates which they refused to touch while I gazed out on the incoming tide which had already covered the exposed mud flats and sandbars visible when we first arrived. A half-mile out seagulls power-dived into the bay at a school of fish, a squadron of pelicans flew past, a loon dove below the surface of the shallow water to scour the bottom for clams, and a pair of sea lions swirled in a mating ritual just 100 yards beyond the windshield.

Our apologies made to the fasting cats, Pat returned to his chair with his book and binoculars while I grabbed one of the walkie-talkies and told him I was going out to do a little more exploring. A hundred yards up the road, my attention was caught by a brand new fifth-wheel trailer with fenced-in yard on its leeward side. The yard was carpeted with Astroturf, had a potbellied stove in the middle, a stack of firewood along one side of the fence, a picnic table, plenty of chairs, and was nicely appointed with abalone shells, lighthouse lanterns, outdoor potted plants, and other decorative knickknacks that lent someone’s summer palace a homey feel.

Out in the graveled roadway, a woman was slinging a tennis ball with one of those plastic ball tossers for her Weimaraner. One shot rolled nearby, unseen by the dog, and I bent over to pick up the tennis ball. “Oh, you don’t want to touch it,” she said. “It’s covered with slobber!” Picking up the drool-covered tennis ball anyway and tossing it for the dog, I quickly realized why she had a plastic ball tosser. We chatted about the campground, I learned the fifth wheel and fenced yard belonged to her, and told her we were down for the weekend from Oakland.

“Where are you from?” I asked.

“I own Amador County.”

“Excuse me?”

“Ione. In Amador County. Southeast of Sacramento.

After we chatted a little longer, she headed into her trailer while I strolled further up the road. As I passed her place on the way back, Chivas, her Weimaraner, was standing on his hind legs with his front paws resting atop the plywood-sided fence looking out at the road. I stopped to say hello and one of the three women in the yard told me his ball had bounced outside.

It was clearly the cocktail hour on the property and after a brief exchange of conversation, the gregarious women dropped their No Men Allowed policy and invited me in for a beer. They were a rough bunch, clearly way past their first cocktail, and believing I had just stumbled across a gathering of lesbians, I scanned the premises for rainbow logos, bumper stickers, or any other indication that this was a gay group.


Janice (left) watches Renee tell her story.

Renee, Cheryl, and Janice introduced themselves and invited me to pull up a chair while Linda, the property owner, insisted I have a Heineken and brought an open bottle out to me. “So, where are you parked,” one of them asked?

“Oh, I’ve got that Bounder about a hundred yards up the road.”

“So! You’re the idiot that was driving at two miles an hour that I had to drive off the road and into the meadow to get around,” Janice bellowed. And with that, Janice launched into a soliloquy on annoying drivers that go too slow. All of the women were clearly in my own age bracket and it looked like I had found a niche for Pat and me in the campground.

I found Janice’s bellicose demeanor amusing and never took offense at it. All of the women were lifelong friends who had grown up together in the small town of Ione. Before they got too far into their life stories, I wanted to get Pat there to enjoy the sideshow I had stumbled upon and made an excuse to run back to the Bounder.

“I found a bevy of dykes!” I told him as I stepped inside. “They’re having a party and we’re invited. Bring the Point Reyes Lighthouse (collectible) from the dash.” I can usually hold my own in a group of women, but Pat, with his twenty-five years working for JCPenney and his prop building for community theatre can be the hit of the party, as was the case with this group. Chivas, like most animals, adored him. With Pat there I could sit back quietly and observe the group dynamic.

The conversation descended to the boisterous level achieved only through mass-inebriation and included one-liners, brutal insults, don’t-ever-tell-anyone-I-said-this anecdotes… the whole range typical of the brashness embraced when the group mentality realizes a rare moment of opportunity to safely let one’s hair down has arrived. Body parts, physical ailments, daring moments of youth, paybacks, and observations on the idiocy of others were all fair game. But as boyfriends, children, and husbands were brought into the picture, my initial impression of “lesbians just wanna have fun” began to deteriorate.

Clearly Pat and I were also being observed and analyzed by them, as became apparent with their confusion when Pat started telling a story about his former mother-in-law.

“Mother-in-law,” Janice asked? “But I thought you two were…”

“We’ll explain it to you later, Janice,” Linda interupted, cutting Janice off. “Go on Pat. Tell us the story!”

I never did quite figure out what everyone did. Janice and her husband had been in the Air Force for twenty years stationed for the last few years of his service in the Washington, D.C. area and had retired back to Ione where Janice drove a school bus. Linda had been, and perhaps still was, a librarian. Cheryl volunteered little about herself and mostly listened and laughed at what the others had to say, occasionally starting a story of her own then slipping quietly back into the woodwork when the story got picked up by the others.


Linda's Weimaraner, Chivas

Janice and Cheryl had their own trailers at the campground where both their husbands had stayed behind for the evening. Renee was a guest in Linda’s trailer. Everyone talked about Geraldine who also was staying at the campground. Apparently Geraldine had gotten quite inebriated the night before. To hear the girls tell it, Geraldine was their tour d’ force, an even more compelling personality than Janice whom everyone agreed was in rare form this evening.

As darkness enveloped the campground and the chilly breezes picked up off the water, Pat helped light the lighthouse lanterns and fired up the potbellied stove in the center of the yard. The booze continued to flow, the stories became more raucous, the temperature continued to drop and with it the chairs moved ever closer to the stove for warmth. When the night air became too much for Renee, she disappeared into the trailer for the night. Linda, Janice, and Pat carried on a conversation amongst themselves while Cheryl filled me in on how this sisterhood of straight, not gay, women had formed.

All had grown up together in the Sierra foothills town of Ione, gone to school together, married, started families, and went their separate ways with some staying in Ione while others, like Janice, went out into the world. With children raised and careers retired from, those who left returned and childhood relationships were rekindled. Two couples discovered that both had been camping at Lawson’s Landing for years but had never run into each other. Another couple also enjoyed camping in their free time but had never been to Lawson’s Landing.

But the real unity in the group came when Linda’s husband of thirty years died of complications from surgery. Geraldine, survivor of several failed marriages, moved in with Linda to care for her during the transition to widowhood and empty nest. Renee always stayed with Linda at the campground. And now Linda spends every April to October at Lawson’s Landing. As do Janice and husband Pat. As do Cheryl and husband Jim.

A cell phone rings, Linda answers, her mood switches to giddy teenager in love and heads inside her trailer to take the call.

“She’ll be gone for an hour and a half,” one of the girls tells us. “It’s Jim, her new boyfriend and he’s coming down here tomorrow. She’s been on pins and needles all day waiting for the call.” Renee comes back out and pours us each a mug of hot cream of spinach soup.


Cheryl, aka Kathie Bates

It had taken the sisterhood two years to get Linda through the depression of losing her husband and now she was dating another childhood friend from Ione who had recently lost his wife. Janice, Renee, and Cheryl felt Jim was just perfect for Linda and were delighted she was starting to enjoy life again. Geraldine, on the other hand, had been living with and caring for Linda for the past two years. The girls were quick to point out that the relationship between the two women was strictly platonic, but all the same, Geraldine was not taking Jim’s coming into Linda’s life well.

Tomorrow was to be the big day. Jim was driving down to the campground from Ione and Linda was putting on a dinner party in his honor. Would Pat and I please join them for homemade chile rellenos? The cold night air blowing off the bay broke up the party by 10 p.m. and Pat and I returned to the Bounder to three cats who wanted attention. We locked the door, pulled the curtains, and I fired up the furnace which quickly dispelled the chill in our motorhome. Within half an hour we were in bed and all three cats joined us.

I awoke around three in the morning to the sound of the furnace going nonstop. After waiting ten minutes in vain for it to shut off, I got up to investigate. Sure enough, it was blowing cold air. I turned it off and went back to bed, not waking again until 9:30 the next morning. Pat had been up for an hour or so and the coffee was already waiting for me on the stove.

We still had plenty of hot water, so clearly the water heater problem of our previous camping weekend had been resolved. However, a test of the furnace indicated we now had a new problem and I had no clue how to fix it. It would have to wait until we got the Bounder home, but I really would like to have one problem-free weekend with the beast.

By this morning of our second day, Mouse and Wheezie were wandering freely throughout the motorhome, occasionally hopping up on furniture to peer out the windows. Sammy continued to hide out in the bedroom. Sitting in a chair with my coffee and binoculars to watch the outgoing tide and throngs of clammers and fisherman on the exposed sandbars, I propped my feet up on the sofa. Wheezie promptly jumped up in my lap and made herself at home just as she does when I’m watching TV at home. A mooing cow or screeching seagull would send her running for cover in the bedroom, but within a few minutes she’d be back on my lap. She was using the litter box when necessary and wanted nothing to do with going outside the Bounder, much to my relief.

Pat and I finally stepped outside into the overcast day around 11:30 with the intention of exploring the beach and dunes in the opposite direction of yesterday's hike. During the night, a small trailer had backed in next to ours and we were greeted with a hearty “Good morning!” from its owner, Jay, who promptly pulled out some chairs and invited us to sit down with him. His wife, Denise, was inside doing needlepoint.

Jay was an ex-trucker from Roseville. Eventually we moved inside the Bounder to get out of the chilly breeze and shared a couple of beers while trading old trucker stories. It was two o’clock before Jay returned to his wife and Pat and I finally left on our hike. Beyond the south dune, we retrieved a runaway kite and returned it to its owner, then made our way along the beach towards the flier of a kite shaped like the Red Baron’s tri-plane.


This camper had a skewed concept of the great outdoors.
Note cows grazing in the foggy background.

Eventually we headed back up the main road checking out the campsites along the north side and came across a full bar set up on two folding tables between tents. The setup was truly amazing and I counted at least twenty-five bottles of booze, not to mention the ice chests full of beer.

Farther up the road we found Janice with husband Pat and Cheryl with husband Jim out in front of their adjoining seasonal trailers. Were we coming over for dinner at Linda’s? Yes, but what should we bring? Yourselves; there’ll be plenty of food. Besides, Linda’s boyfriend, Jim, would soon be arriving with a pickup full of firewood and we could help unload it. The six of us headed across the road to Linda's where boyfriend Jim had just arrived with the firewood. Agh! Two Jims and two Pats. This was going to be a confusing afternoon.

A few other couples were present and everyone pitched in to unload the pickup. Perched atop the firewood was a homemade barrel-shaped heater which Linda's Jim assured us would throw off more heat than her pot-bellied stove. Next came the two cords of firewood which we stacked along the inside of Linda's fence in short order. Linda called out from her kitchen for help and we carried half a dozen aluminum pans full of chile rellenos, rice, and beans over to Cheryl and Janice's trailers to heat up. I helped Cheryl's Jim light his propane grill and covered over two pans of rellenos while Pat helped Cheryl put the third pan in her oven.

Cheryl’s trailer had slide-outs and the inside was spacious and immaculate. Nothing out of place, not a speck of dust, and Perco floors that looked as if they had just been waxed. We had met their guard-dog on the previous day’s walk, a tiny miniature poodle-mix who weighed less than three pounds but barked ferociously at anyone who dare approach the fenced in property. The dog had been given to Cheryl, but clearly was Jim’s dog as he carried it around in his arm inside the trailer. Cheryl, having accurately determined our warped sense of humor from the previous night, pointed out a small sign on the backsplash of her stove that had a comic book drawing of a World War II GI holding a steaming cup of coffee with the caption, “How ‘bout a nice hot cup of Shut the Fuck Up!”

Husband Jim was the campground’s resident RV fixit guru and, after I told him of the problem we were having with our furnace, he took me outside to show me a few things he had done to his rig to avoid problems. I quickly realized he knew his stuff and implored him to walk with me over to the Bounder to have a look-see while Pat and Cheryl stayed inside her rig and chatted about who knows what.


Pat & Geraldine feed the barrel heater.

After removing the outside panel to the furnace, Jim went straight to a relay switch and tapped it with the screwdriver. “Try it now,” he said. I went inside, turned on the furnace, and within a minute or so felt warm air emitting from the registers. Jim told me that over time, moisture can cause the relay to stick and all I had to do was replace it with a new one for $17. Next he told me that several of the motorhome’s electronic parts had been exchanged with very high quality replacements that would probably last forever. He then pointed out a loose wire connection to the circuit board that controlled the refrigerator and said he’d come back in the morning to fix it for me.

We carried the bubbling food pans back over to Linda’s where a hungry crowd of new faces had gathered with the ones we met the night before. I helped Linda’s boyfriend Jim move the potbellied stove out of the way and set up the barrel heater he had brought down from Ione. Soon after, a fire was lit inside using the fresh firewood and folks loaded up their plates to eat. Loaded plate in hand, I pulled a chair up by the barrel heater where Pat was already chatting with Geraldine, the woman everyone had talked about the night before.


Janice

Geraldine, with her imperative style, had latched onto Pat and expounded upon her ability to peer into people’s souls and determine their nature good or bad. Unable to follow the conversation, I opened my mouth only to savor the wonderful homemade rellenos. “How old do you think I am?” Geraldine asked. “Pat? Lee?”

A loaded question that no one should ever answer honestly. Sixty-five to sixty-eight was what popped in my mind when Pat blurted out, “Forty-eight!”

“You’re low,” Geraldine told him. “Lee, you haven’t said anything. What’s your guess?”

“Fifty-two,” I replied, assured by her comment on Pat’s guess that it was a safe answer.

“That’s too close,” she snapped! Was it my answer or my matter-of-fact, why would I care tone of voice that had insulted her?

“I don’t trust him,” she told Pat and quickly changed the subject. Unable to follow where she was going, I kept quiet and refilled my plate. “You’re a good person,” I heard her say to Pat, “but I’m not too sure about him!”

The enigmatic Geraldine was everything the girls had told us the night before and I was beginning to feel sorry for Pat, unable to escape her grasp. I moved my chair to the far side of the barrel heater to distance myself from the heat it was putting out as well as Geraldine. Fortunately, Cheryl left the picnic table, sat down beside me, and we started chatting amicably.


Linda presents Jim with a hat she had made for him giving his new welding business address as Dillon Beach instead of Ione.

Suddenly, from the other side of the barrel heater, Geraldine blurted out to Pat, “I don’t trust him!” while staring me down with piercing eyes. “I’m going to ask you a question,” she said to me. Good lord, what’s coming now, I wondered? But, just as quickly, Geraldine went back to talking with Pat and seemed to forget she had a question for me. As the evening wore on, the trust and question routine replayed three more times with the same result.

As close as we had huddled for warmth around Linda’s potbellied stove the previous night, Jim’s barrel heater kept pushing us farther away. Except for Geraldine, it was a booze-free night for everyone and thankfully, the party broke up just after dark. Back at the Bounder, we went to bed right after feeding the cats.

Finished with feeding the cats, morning coffee for us, and gazing at the outgoing tide slowly revealing the sandbars, Pat and I got about the business of readying the Bounder for the trip back home. Next-door neighbors Jay and Denise had already pulled out by 7:30. By ten o’clock we were ready to go and, with only an hour and a half drive home and a football field size roadway in the campground, I decided the perfect opportunity had arrived for Pat’s first driving lesson behind the wheel of the Bounder.

Initially Pat had been intimidated by the size of our Sienna van which replaced his aging Toyota pickup back in 1998 and he had sworn he would never get behind the wheel of the Bounder. But after a few loops around the campground coupled with some careful backups, his fear of the behemoth evaporated… not that he was ready to take it out on a highway yet… but at least he had overcome his sense of doom. Seeing Cheryl, Jim, Janice, and Pat out in front of their trailers, I had him pull up alongside so we could say our goodbyes.


Linda, Chivas, Jim, & Cheryl

Jim and his sidekick immediately opened up the side panel on the Bounder, fixed the loose wire on the refrigerator’s circuit board, and replaced the panel all in under two minutes, then left to fix someone else’s rig up the road. We hugged the girls goodbye and stopped at the dump station on the way out to empty our tanks.

The Bounder lumbered up the bluff into Dillon Beach and when we got to Tomales, I turned right towards Olema, taking the scenic route home along the eastern shore of Tomales Bay. On a hunch, I pulled into the Olema Ranch campground to check the transmission fluid. Nothing showed on the dipstick despite the three quarts we had added last summer. Clearly, the overflow puddle in our driveway had not been from excess fluid but rather a serious problem with the transmission. I added our last quart of transmission fluid, thankful we were less than fifty miles from the house.

Tuesday morning I took the Bounder down to the Oakland Truck Center where they gave me a $3,000 estimate on a new transmission. On Thursday they called back to say it only needed a new seal for $1,200 parts & labor. Next stop was Allied Trailer Supply in San Leandro to get the replacement relay for the furnace. Owner Greg Beyers looked at the relay, concluded it was fine, then looked at the Bounder’s batteries. The cells in both were nearly empty of water. Crap! Another thing to remember!!

Well, at least the problems are getting fewer and cheaper. Maybe we’re starting to get the hang of this motorhome living! Time will tell, but until we can get through an entire weekend without any problems, we’ll continue to stay close to home.