So Gangsta

Thanks to Autie Susan for being ever so generous to Maya and Taylor, and keeping the motion lotion flowing!  It’s been a crazy few weeks.  We’ve been back a few days now.  It does look like our trips are over for the summer.  There’s a part of me that wanted to squeeze in the places which we did not get to see.  But, there’s a part of me that says that it’s enough.    It’s been an amazing trip in many ways.  What’s really important is that Maya really enjoyed the entire trip.  There were days when we were couped up in the RV for the entire day.  And there were many “walmart days” as well.  All good as far as Maya’s concerned.

And in closing the trip for the year, I am faced with one question.  Was it worth it?; the RV, the trailer, family member etc etc.  I think for Maya definitely yes.  For her, the adventure began in the RV, in Toronto.  The entirety of the trip was an adventure.  The destination was only an incidental hapenstance for Maya.  And I only wish I could have shown her more.

It was a very difficult trip for me.  There were more things to worry about than one could imagine. These things take both time and energy because left unattended, can become a big issue.  I’ll have time to reflect on the merit of the trip in my blog section at some point…

But let’s talk about our Gansta!

Maine was a practice run.  It was a very difficult trip for us.  The trailer was the big issue.

Michigan showed us an area, we never thought existed.  Beautiful beaches to boot as well.

Rockies is always beautiful, raw.  I learned to fear the incline and the decline. Pulling a heavy load took a lot of effort.

Arizona (Grand Canyon) took our breath away.  Even Maya said that the Grand Canyon as cool.

Utah is more beautiful than one can imagine. Both Grand Canyon and Utah was very special for me, as my family saw the places that I had always wished they’d see.  It’s not too difficult to become emotional here, and we did.

Antelope Canyon was … amazing!

California was beautiful. It’s all true. Disney in Anaheim for Maya was a trade for not being able to attend the Camp Ooch this summer.  Ouch!

Redwood National Park was awe inspiring.  So worth the drive… and drive and drive.  The last section was the drive back from Vancouver to Grand Rapids, Michigan. We made the trip in less than three days.  Long days and nights and both Taylor and Maya leaned back and tried to enjoy the ride.  Maya did better than both Taylor and I.

We made it safely back to Michigan as well as back home.

Road Trip Part 1 (The Rockies)

The road out to the Rockies was… painful.  It just felt hard.  The RV was loaded with both the family as well as two bikes. The trailer itself was also larger and hence heavier.  The fact that I’ve never drove such a big rig did not help the matter at all.  It just dragged on and on.  It wasn’t supposed to be this hard!  But it was. Plus, it was very hot. it took three days to get out to the rockies.  The high we got fromsilver lake, MI did not last.

The muffler job failed within the first 30 minutes or so.  The noise was maddening.  What do you do?  We were on the road and on a start of a weekend.  Where could I find a light truck muffler shop in the middle of nowhere?  So it meant that I needed somehow to find a “good enough” of a fix. Of course!!!  We need two cans; one to fit inside the broken pipe and one to fit outside.  But the typical tin cans you find are not strong enough…  The fix was this.  I bought a muffler tubing that could fit over the broken pipe.  If the world is perfect, this piece would have fit nicely over the two broken sections and I could C-clamp it down. But nope, it couldn’t be that easy. One side fit, but the other side had some welding already and there was no way to fit the second half.  I ended up cutting the pipe section.  The section was probably an 1/8th of an inch thick. The metal shear I had bought with a lot of “elbow grease” and a hammer did the trick.  After that, it was as “simple” as wrapping the metal pipe over the broken section and clamping it down. Not perfect, by any means, but most of the noise disappeared with this little trick.

To be honest, I don’t really know how we got out.  We did stay on the main road. The thing that I recall is that I needed to see the mountains.  The rockies was the start of our adventure.  It’s where the real journey was supposed to start.  So, seeing the foot hills was very encouraging for me.

When we got to the rockies, we were very happy to see the foot hills.  We found a Walmart parking lot for the evening.   Walmart allows RV’s to park in their lot for free because they figured out that RV’ers tend to buy a lot of stuff when they shop.  So, good for the RV’ers and Walmart!

Redwood National Forest

In San Diego, Maya had a transfusion.  That was 8 days ago.  The staff at San Diego hospital were incredibly nice. We felt very well taken care of.  Because Maya’s platelets were suspect, we wanted to do another blood test in San Francisco.  Dr. Sholler set up an appointment for us to see Dr Melton and Dr. Stewart at UCSF.  While I love San Fran, I really did not enjoy heading into the city this time around.  Imagine lovely San Francisco and imagine the 45 foot RV trying to negotiate the narrow roads up and down the streets.  Well, that’s what was happening.  And of course, we can’t forget Cali drivers.  In a word, assholes!  (This is coming from a seasoned Toronto Driver) On top of that, trying to find parking for this behemoth was also an exercise in patience and stupidity. Somehow, that’s exactly what I ended up doing.

The hospital visit was typical. After all, it was only a simple blood work. We were ushered to finance dept and back. Because we were “True Self Pay”, we were elligiable for 40% discount!!!! Yay???  weird… I should have tried to knock off another 10 percent. Then, off to get the blood work. Wooops!  Sorry Maya dosen’t do pockies.  In that case, the technician can’t draw the blood from Maya’s CVL. Only an RN can do that.  OK… back down to the clinic to wait.  All this time, Jonathan my nephew was feeding the parking meter for two spots, as parking gestapo is circling the hospital area like a vulture ready to pounce on those who are chronologically challenged.  But the thing that got me stressed was the fact that at 4 PM, the coveted 2 parking spaces became no stopping area.  That means the RV could be towed.  It wasn’t until 3:45, we got the preliminary lab results back.  And to see the lovely and kind Doctors, another 30 minutes. So, we were scrambling to get back to the RV around 4:30. Luckily, the RV was still there and even more amazing, we did not get a ticket.

Of course, the most important thing was that Maya’s platelets were holding at 55. It was at 26 in San Diego,when we transfused her.  Maya’s white cells were around mid 3’s in San Diego. Now, it creeped up a bit to 4.2. While not great, the rebound was most welcome.  To have this complication continue in the downward trend  would have been quite worrisome. So, the change in the direction, or minimally holding pattern was also very welcome for me.  There seems to be significant amount of immature WBC, but this is something which we will discuss with Dr. Sholler as well as our primary Oncologists back at Sick-kids when we return.

But for now, with the weight off our shoulders, we were free to leave San Francisco.  As was the case in Utah, I had this sense of urgency wanting to leave California behind into Oregon. The time had come.
We’ve been on the Pacific Coast Highway the good part of the day.  We were greeted with countless numbers of little beaches. It is really beautiful here.  However, what I would have embraced with open arms on my motorbike was the bain of my existance as the captain of a gas guzzling 45 foot train.  Up a hill, down the hill. Twisty roads with few blind curves strewn in there for good measure.  If you’ve experienced the road to Tofino in Vancouver island, you get the right picture.  On top of that, going up the hill means chugging the RV pulling a heavy load.  C’mon… you can do it!!! And all along, you keep your eyes on the temperature gauge when you hear the intercooler kick in.  And on a long down hill, you open up your nose for the smell of burning rubber.  If you are heavy on the brakes in mountainous area, the brakes will over heat and start to burn the tire.  How sensitive one becomes to these little traturous traps that may leave you stranded.

And yes we did run into a minor issue today. Nothing big, but added some excitement for the day.  OK… here’s the set up.  The RV has a trailer attached.  When the RV turns either left or right, the trailer follows. Good!  But if the RV goes up a little hill, the trailer will dip down, because the back end of the RV becomes the lowest point. Today, after stopping at a scenic point, I had to climb a little on ramp onto the high way. Wrong!!! As the RV climbed up, the back end dropped and the hitch was digging into the dirt.  It dug in enough that I was stuck.  Could not go forward and could not back out either. The hitch was at ground level and had dug into the dirt.  What to do?  Well, dump the Gray water first to try to lighten the RV.  Kinda illegal…well illegal, but I didn’t have much a choice. In any case, it didn’t work and we had to resort to pulling Jonathan’s motorcycle out of the trailer. With his bike out of the trailer, I applied the gas along with some “f!$# it… we’ll do it live” atitude and scrapped myself out. I was worried that putting the amount of force to the hitch might damage the RV.  But really the most amount of damage was done to my ego for getting into this potential mess.  Well, all good.  Ummm… no!!!  Getting the hitch stuck in dirt trashed the tail light wires.  We cut the damaged section of the trailer light cable, some 6 inches or so and with the help of Walmart and wire crimpers etc, we were abled to fix the damage. Taylor came up with the solution and I was glad to have him take the lead on this.We were out and aside from having to turn the RV around some miles back and getting the bike back in, we headed towards Oregon.
So tonight, with everyone in bed, we are in Redwood Forest National park.  We got here sufficiently after sunset to not see anything outside the headlight range. I am excited to see where we are… We want to see these behemoths, that are 2K – 3K years old.

Sitting in the dark, in the redwood forest, caressing the bruises from the day is not such a bad place to be.  Tomorrow we will cross into Oregon.

I Left My Heart In San Francisco

Not really.   I rather San Diego, to be honest.

In San Diego, we checked Maya’s blood.  It turns out that her platelets have actually dropped.  It was decided that we’d give her platelets.  Something which we did not think about twice in Toronto, was something that became an issue.  We have now seen both sides of the coin WRT health care in USA.  Last year, NIH paid for everyting when we went down for the study.

This time, we paid.  It was not cheap!   I joked with the nurses that if the platelets which Maya received was scotch, it would be one of the most expensive scotch I would have had purchased.

We are now in San Francisco.  From San Diego, we bypassed LA.  From San Diego on, traffic just got heavier and heavier.  I had no desire to get right in the middle of the traffic jam.  So, we just got on Pacific Coast High way to came up most of the way to San Francisco.  We are sitting outside McDonalds so that we have access to WiFi near Sacramento.

We will be heading in to Stanford for another blood test.  We hope Maya’s count stayed constant or recovered some.

In any case, in light of the blood count issue, Dr. Sholler wants to see her on Aug 16th.  It looks like we’ll have to come back home.  It means we won’t be able to head north to Alaska.  While I am disappointed, the feeling that dominates me is that of gratitude.

It’s been a crazy few weeks.  The details, I will blog as I get some time.  We’ve put on quite a few miles.  This trip has been everything I have expected and then some.  Some of the events were great; others, not so much.  To be honest, the feeling of gratitude was not something that I expected.  Of course, in hind sight, it’s hard not to be grateful.

I am grateful that the RV has stood up, thus far. We had minor issues, and to be sure, these issues where sufficient enought to warrent full attention.  These little issues can turn into a big problem, if left unchecked.  For example, replacing a couple of tires on the RV does not sound like a big deal.  But towing a big ass trailer down the rockies, one’s perspective changes rather quickly.  What about rolling into Las Vegas, where the temperature soared into high 30’s and low 40’s?  Again, climbing hills and going down them caused some tense moments for me.  The RV held up.

When I started the trip, I had not thought about fulfilling *my* own goals. But, this trip has been so far, exactly that, albeit, it was more for my family.  When we got to Grand Canyon and we took in the vista, I chocked up a bit.  I was blown away at the scenary. But, I was also choked up because I always wanted my family to see it.  Now they have.  Everyone also loved the view from Moki’s point in Monument Valley Utah.  Taylor told me that the vista was better than Grand Canyon.  And there it was.  The valley that I always talked about was now shared…. That struck me pretty hard!

And Maya, my little awesome girl.  She’s been great.  She loves the RV and she is happy to be in it hours on end.  She’s been having a great time.  No, we won’t see the North.  It seems like it is thwarting us/me again.  No matter.  The destination in this case, while longed for, is in some sense not the point.

What I am happy about now, is that this trip has so far offered some closure for me.  It has given me the opportunity to put some holes in my bucket (as in my bucket list)

The trip is not over.  We still have some time left and we’ll be heading into Oregon, which I am excited about.  We will spend a day in the inter tidal zone around Vancouver.  But, shortly thereafter, we’ll be driving back home.

The photo’s will come shortly as well.



Road Trip Part 1 (The Praries)

July 19, 2012 we decided to head out west.  I was anxious to get to the rockies.  Rockies always made me feel at home… more grounded and more at ease.  After getting everyone packed in, we started out.  Just outside Chiicago, we had our first incident.  We heard some loud popping sound and the the RV sounded very loud.  The sinking feeling quickly disipated as I came to realize that the problem was the muffler. We stopped at some non descript town outside Chicago to assess the problem.  The pipe broke very cleanly just before the muffler.  Driving for the next 4000 km with a busted muffler was not something that I was looking forward to.  Additionally, it was the weekend.  Finding a muffler shop that could handle an RV was also not an easy thing for “passer through’s” like us.

Luckily, we ran into someone who would help us.  His name is Lee, a black gentlemen who for 30 dollars would help us with the muffler.  Of course, things are never that easy.  This little exercise turned into a 4 hour problem where we went back and forth to the auto parts shop as well as Menards (home depot analogue).  We could not get the C-clamp off.  The pipe that we bought would not fit over…etc.  At the end, I bought an aluminum sheet that could be used to wrap the broken pipe and clamped down.

After our four hours, we thanked Lee and headed out.  During the four hours, Lee pretty regularly preached to me.  His heart was in the right place and I listened to what he had to say.  What was really nice was that as we parted, Lee offered a little prayer for Maya.  That was really touching.  I guess this is what I really love about the road.  Road trip of some magnitude is an exercise in solving and preventing problems as well as finding solutions under non  ideal conditions.  But, ultimately, what I love about the road is that you often run into people who will offer help without any gain to them.  It is under these circumstances, I see the goodness that is part of our nature.   And I like being in circumstance where I can see this goodness.  It always reminds me of the book “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho.  There is a passage in the book that states “Universe favors beginners and will help them along their journey”.  Well, it’s a paraphrase but that always stuck with me.   Well, I feel that the universe was looking out for us now.

Hello from San Diego

Hi Everyone,

Yup…  we’ve made it to West Coast. It’s been a loooong haul.  It was harder than I had anticipated. But, we’ve made it.  There were some tense moments but there were some great moments as well.

The first part of our journey has come to a closure.  Namely, the rock and the dessert.  So far, we’ve been to Rocky Mountain National Park, Idaho Springs, Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, Glen Canyon, Canyon Lands and now finally to the beautiful San Diego.

This evening, we actually dipped our toes in the pacific ocean.  To me, it was a momentous occasion.  We crossed the greater part of North America to be here.

There will be more in the near future. And there will be lots of more photos to come.

Maya is having a great time.  Taylor has been a great older brother and a solid should for me.

Today, we had our regular check up and her platelets have come down.  More on this as we figure out the next steps.

Stay tuned…

Road Trip Part 1 (Grand Rapids, MI)

We’ve been on the road for two weeks now.  Of course, when we started, I wanted to document everything and keep a meticulous journal of all the things that have happend.  Well, meticulous journaling did not happen.  What was I thinking?  However, we do have a decent number of photo’s to remind us of all the things that has happend.  So, I don’t feel so badly.  I also thought that I would keep of all the expenses.  Keeping track of expenses did not occur either.  Well… visa will curtly remind me of my expenses.   I will tell you that filling up the RV takes about 170 US on average.  One might cringe… but it’s not really that bad, considering the fact that it takes 5 people and their housing plus pulling two motorcycles.  Anyways, it is what it is.

I love Grand Rapids.  It’s a beautiful town.  The quizzical thing about GR is that it has one of the remarkable hospitals in US.  If you think of a typical sleepy, tired US town you have it right.  Except imagine a larger Toronto  hospital district (more of a modern version) right dab in the middle of it, you have GR.  The facilities are truely impressive.  And the careproviders are equally wonderful as well.  Well, it’s not a big secret that I think the world of Dr. Sholler.  I believer her name will be part of who’s who in the pedeatric oncology in the world in the next 20 – 30 years.  Well, it already is…

Maya’s therapy was less than remarkable.  There was blood work.  There was a check up.  We were given DFMO, which is to be taken (3 pills) morning and night.  We had some slushies (Children’s clinic has slush miachine.  The builders asked the kids what they wanted and the children asked for a slushy machine and they put one in)  and we left.  That was it.  Now the only thing that stood out was that Maya’s platelets were low; it clocked in at 40.  Over 100 is where we want to be and if it drops below 20, transfusion is typically given.

OK… off we go.  We decided to spend the day at the manistee national forest. Except we could not find it.  Don’t ask…. What’s really important here isn’t the fact that we as the male species are incompetent with directions, even with GPS, but rather, being lost gave us the opportunity to find adventure!  😉  And we did.  Namely we ended up at silver lake area.  And we had a wonderful adventure there.  We never thought that such a place existed just around our neck of the woods.  After all, it’s only about 6 hours drive from Toronto.  And it was just wonderful. We hired a guided tour and had a blast on the sand dunes.  The video was posted on Maya’s section.

For me, it felt just wonderful to hear everyone enjoying our experience.  I could hear Maya squeal in delight.  That was wonderful.  Taylor and Jonathan (my nephew) also enjoyed the experience. It was a great start to the summer and I reveled in the present as well as the promise of the exception summer that I planned.

Things would not be that easy, so I was to find out…