(Excerpt from our forthcoming book Dear Bob and Sue: Season 3 – not yet available for sale.)
January 8, 2018 (Monday)
Catalina State Park
Dear Bob and Sue,
Today, we traded the seclusion of Chiricahua on the eastern edge of the state for the convenience of camping just outside the suburbs of Tucson. Catalina State Park is a beautiful area, and the campsites have large, paved pads with full hookups. Karen and I are looking forward to hiking in the mountains here tomorrow; we can walk to the trailhead from our campsite. But first I need a full night’s sleep. The furnace woke me so often that I didn’t get a minute of REM sleep last night.
I told Karen that we’d have to try sleeping without the furnace tonight regardless of how cold it gets. She said, “Oh, Honey, I don’t think so. We’ll freeze. Once you get tired enough, you’ll pass out.”
“Believe me, I’m tired enough, but I didn’t sleep longer than nine and a half minutes last night. I need my REM.”
“REM is overrated; try breastfeeding a baby every night, all night, and see how much REM you get. You’ll be fine,” she replied.
“I’ll be fine? That’s how Michael Jackson died: lack of REM.”
“Yeah, but he went like two months without sleeping. You’re not through your first day.”
“I’m just saying, if I start acting incoherently…”
I couldn’t hear Karen’s mumbled response, but it sounded something like, “In that case you’ve been without REM for at least 35 years.”
This morning as we were straightening up the RV and securing our stuff for the drive out, we realized we didn’t have soap to do the dishes: rookie mistake. There weren’t many things to clean, but the few that were dirty Karen had to wash with the shampoo she’d packed in her travel-sized squeeze bottles. Soap is soap–I guess–but I got a little gag reflex watching her lather up my coffee cup with her New York Salon Care Ultimate Moisture shampoo.
“You’re not going to put conditioner on those are you?” I asked as she rinsed the suds off our forks.
She didn’t answer my question although her look concerned me. It was the same look I’ve seen Sue give you after you’ve made a smart-ass comment. It’s so sweet and charming and so out of place that you’re sure she’s done something to retaliate, and you’ll never know what it is. I think she may have spit in my coffee cup after she washed it. Problem is: I don’t have any soap to re-wash it. A crazy thought went through my head: maybe I should stop making smart-ass comments when Karen’s trying to do something nice for me. This is what the lack of REM will do to a guy.
It was mid-day before we rolled out of Chiricahua. By mid-day I mean it was 7:30 am; we would have been on the road earlier, but Karen insisted on curling her eyelashes before we left.
“Why can’t you do that while I’m driving?” I asked.
“Because I’ll lose an eye.”
“I’ll drive carefully.”
“Why are you in such a big hurry? Saguaro is at most a two-hour drive from here.”
“What would be the worst thing that would happen if you didn’t curl your eyelashes one day? Let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that you have straight eyelashes on a day when the only thing we’re doing is hiking in the desert.”
“Don’t you have something to do for a few minutes? Check the RV’s oil, or split a log? Anything?” she asked.
Karen was correct; from the time we left Chiricahua, it took us about two hours to reach the Rincon Visitor Center at the east unit of Saguaro National Park. I’m beginning to appreciate the benefits of driving a 19-foot RV; I can park it in normal-sized parking spaces in most lots. I was fortunate to get an end spot at the visitor center, and after we parked, we had a leisurely first lunch in the dining area with the windows open and the sun shining on us.
We use the term first lunch as a way of letting each other know that we’re reserving the option to eat another lunch later and not to have that later meal count against dinner. First lunch can occur as early as 10:00 am, but the closer it is to noon, the more likely it becomes merely lunch. Although, we don’t forfeit the option of having a second lunch if we don’t designate the first one first. It’s just that if you don’t call the first one first, you run the risk of confusing your partner by having a second lunch later and getting reactions such as, “I didn’t know we were having second lunch today, I wouldn’t have eaten so much earlier.” The same terminology applies to breakfast with the exception that we rarely call our first breakfast first breakfast. What usually happens is Karen catches me eating a large cinnamon roll at 9:30 am and asks, “So, is that your second breakfast or your third?” For the record, I’ve never had a third breakfast. Maybe three lunches, but never three breakfasts. Dinner, on the other hand, is just dinner. All eating after 4:00 pm that’s not clearly designated dinner is lumped under the category of grazing.
After lunch we drove the one-way Cactus Forest Loop through the park, stopping about halfway at the Loma Verde trailhead. (The loop drive begins at the Rincon Visitor Center.) Karen had scouted a trail for us to hike this afternoon: the Loma Verde and Squeeze Pen Loop which is about 3.7 miles in length with little elevation change. Once we were at the far end of the trail, we added another mile or so, making our outing about two hours in total. The Loma Verde trailhead is an excellent place to begin a hike because there are numerous trails in the area north of the Cactus Forest Loop that connect, giving you options to hike whatever distance you’d like.
I wanted to get back on the road by early afternoon, heading toward our home for the evening, because there was no way to avoid driving most of the distance through the city and I was hoping to miss rush hour traffic. By the time we had snaked our way to the north end of Tucson, I was feeling pretty confident about driving our 19-footer through traffic.
Catalina State Park is on the western slope of the Santa Catalina Mountains, home to a couple of other popular outdoor destinations: Mount Lemon and Sabino Canyon. With Coronado National Forest adjacent to Catalina’s southern and eastern boundaries, the park has a wilderness feel even though it’s only about 15 miles north of the center of Tucson and a stone’s throw away from residential areas. BTW – Sabino Canyon is a beautiful area and has interesting trails through the canyon if you’re ever in the Tucson area and have time for a half-day hike.
When Karen booked our campsite, she chose a spot at the back of Loop B so we’d be up against a green space. Driving through the campground, I was impressed with how clean and well-kept the area was. Most of the other RVs towered over our little 19-footer. Southern Arizona in January is the big leagues of RVing, and we felt like posers in our Cruise America rental. I could swear that some of the tow-behind vehicles we saw parked next to the land yachts were bigger than our entire unit. Even the parking pads here are enormous; so big that I didn’t need Karen’s help backing the rig into place. Although it did take me a couple of tries—maybe three.
Not long after we were settled in, which amounted to plugging our land line into the electric hookup, connecting our fresh-water hose, stringing a couple of strands of Christmas lights around the outside of the RV (Karen insisted), and setting our camp chairs out front, a pair of fast-walking woman circled past our site. On their first pass, we exchanged friendly waves and hellos. On their second pass, they took a detour and walked toward Karen and me sitting in our camp chairs.
“Here comes the welcome wagon,” Karen said.
“Yeah, they’re probably eager to have new people to visit with,” I said. “Some of these RVs look like they’ve been parked here for a long time. They saw us pull in and thought fresh meat in town.”
The two of them could not have been nicer. They asked us how we liked our pint-sized motorhome. One of them told us that she and her husband had rented a similar one a couple of years ago and how much they enjoyed it. I took that as a neighborly sign they weren’t RV shaming us for being renters.
Karen and her new friends spoke for about ten minutes, long enough for me to get another beer and drink it before they were aware that I’d left. When I came back out to the front of the RV, it was apparent that they were wrapping up their conversation. Just before they walked away, one of the women said to me, “You need to put those around the bottom of your RV.” She was pointing at our Christmas lights.
I had noticed earlier that several of the RVs in the campground had rope lights underneath; I’d even seen a couple in Chiricahua with the same. “Why do people put lights under their RVs?” I asked.
“They keep rodents away,” one of the women said. “We used to have a problem with them getting into the engine compartment of our Winnebago and chewing on wires. Ever since we put the lights out, no problem. Some people say they won’t cross over the strand of lights when they’re on.”
It took Karen about three seconds to say goodbye to her new friends and rearrange our lights so they made a protective barrier around our RV. Every so often I see her out there straightening the strands to make sure there are no gaps. I’ve never heard of the light trick before, but it makes sense. Regardless, it’s an inexpensive thing to do, and even if it just gives Karen some peace of mind, it’s worth it.
That’s about it for our daily report. I’m hoping that I’ll pass out and sleep long enough for my brain to repair. Just a few minutes ago I began dozing off while writing to you and was startled by a new sound: a coyote yipping and howling. He couldn’t have been more than ten feet from our side door. That drew a shriek from Karen in the top bunk; then she pulled the curtains to her sleeping area closed. (Because that will stop the coyotes if they happen to get through our locked door.) I’m guessing that with all of the lap dogs we saw owners walking through the campground today, the local coyote pack was signaling that the buffet is open. You don’t want to let Muffy out to tinkle on her own in Catalina State Park. Good night for now—I hope.