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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Cluck Truck Returneth

More pictures here!

It was a (miraculously) sunny, fast and fun couple of weeks on Orcas Island and we weren’t sure we ever wanted to leave.  Then the weather turned back into Northwest Gloom, a hawk attacked Louise, Rosco’s nose started bleeding and River fell into a depression.  So it was with nine happy hearts that we all packed up, jumped on the ferry and headed back to Colorado.

Let’s start with all the drama:  Before we had the chicken coop erected, The Ladies were hanging out in their travel tent when a hawk zoomed down from the sky, talons out, and attempted to grab Louise through the netting.  Louise has not laid an egg since and, in expected solidarity, neither has Thelma.

Rosco, poor guy, had two long pieces of grass stuck up his nasal passage for days, causing an infection and a bout of bloody sneezing the likes of which I never need to see again.  Late one night he was sneezing so fiercely we had to hold one of his diaper sleeping pads in front of his face for a good ten minutes after which it looked like a Pollock painting.

The following day yielded a quick trip to the vet where, while waiting in the exam room, Alan noticed something hanging from Rosco’s nose, he gently began pulling it out and it just kept coming:  At least 6” of bloody grass.  Once the first one was out, Rosco sneezed out the second blade so the vet walked in to find two bloody lengths of grass, a mess of blood on the floor and more dripping from Rosco’s nose.  But mystery solved.  I am happy to report Rosco is feeling fantastic now.

As you will see in the pictures we managed to get the Gypsy Chicks coop erected, thanks to Alan and the folks at Urban Coop Company.  Amazing service from that company and they send everything you need except for a screwdriver and hammer.  I thought it would take two weeks, Alan thought two hours, it turned out to be two days.   The Ladies, however, never quite felt right on the island.  First the hawk attack, then eagles would soar overhead almost constantly waiting for their chance for a chicken dinner.  Dom could be heard quite often emitting a throaty growl alerting all chickens to take cover.

So when the drama hit the sky in the form of sunless days, we hit the road.

Already being in northern Washington, we decided to start our drive over the North Cascade Highway (Highway 20 is closed in winter but opened this year in early April.)  I had forgotten how beautiful that drive is although I disagree with their characterization of it being the “Alps of America”.  It in no way resembles the Alps but is a gorgeous drive in its own right.

We spent our first night in Alta Lake Campground, a Washington State Park on the other side of the mountains.  A fire had ripped through the campground last year so it was quite barren of trees, but due to all the spring rain, green sprouts were emerging, making it appealing.  The chickens went into their travel tent and we went fishing.  Alan caught two trout and we enjoyed them for dinner.

The next night we made it to Fish Creek, Montana, about two hours east of Couer D’Alene, Idaho, on I-80.  I had read about the area and the abundance of dispersed camping options and we were thrilled to find it absolutely true.  More details on how to find the spots can be found here

Our spot had so much space around it we decided to let the chickens out of their travel tent for some real free-ranging.  What a blast!  They ran around and ate a ton of bugs and only occasionally ended up inches from River or Rosco’s teeth. 

I worried about how to get them back but one of the greatest things about chickens is that they like to go to bed.  So as darkness began to fall, they easily returned to their tent and then we helped them into their travel cages for the night.

Our third night was spent five miles down a dirt road at the Cliff Lake Campground off the beautiful Highway 287 in Montana.  (Next to Wade Lake.) It was a long, slow, dusty five miles but it paid huge dividends in that we were completely alone.  (There are only seven campsites anyway but it was still nice to be all alone.)  What wasn’t so nice was the howling winds which made it difficult to put up the chicken tent.  But we muscled it up and pinned it down and set The Ladies inside.  They hated it.  With the wind blowing so hard, they just wanted out.   But we wanted to fish and the dogs were running free so I made them tough it out.

Until I heard Alan call, “Chicken loose!” 

I ran from the lake back up to the tent to see that JJ had gotten out and was hiding under the truck.  Thankfully, River and Rosco were completely unaware. Good thing it was JJ; she is the only one that will come when called.  And so I did and she did and I picked her up and listened to her griping about the wind as I put her back into the tent.  (Yes, chickens have a lot to say.) 

Day four on the road was Rookie Mistakes Day—two Rookie Mistakes in one day. 

We headed into West Yellowstone to get some gas and then entered the park with the intention of scooting around the western edge and out the southern entrance as quickly as possible.  

Hello?  When doing my route planning did I even check whether Yellowstone was open?  No.  It was open but the only way out was the way we came in or exiting even further to the north.  We turned around and promptly created our now favorite saying, “If you aren’t going to be smart, you better be adaptable.” 

So adapt we did:  Unfortunately, we had had so much fun with our short drive days and long fishing afternoons that we still had over 800 miles to go and only two days in which to do it.  So we opted for a long highway drive-day.   It started out nicely on Highway 20 in Idaho through the Targhee National Forest, a spot at which we will stop next time, but ended with hours and hours (and hours and hours) along Interstate 15 south through Utah.

Not long after Salt Lake City we jumped on Highway 6, found our way to Scofield State Park, hooked up to water (hot showers!) and power (electric tea kettle!) and promptly made our second Rookie Mistake:  We left the hose attached all night and the weather dropped below freezing.  How easy it is to forget the small stuff!  Thankfully the sun rose to shine on our hose and after about an hour we were back to flowing water.  (Equally thankfully Salt didn’t burst any pipes.)  The Ladies enjoyed extra time free-ranging around the (again empty) campground.

And so we made it to I-70, home so close we could taste the martinis.  But it was a long haul; we got stuck in construction traffic for over an hour, had temperatures up to 81 degrees and down to 39 degrees (with snow!), and totally pissed off dogs and chickens who had spent two long days in the car.  We pulled into our sweet spot in Evergreen around 5:30 p.m., after eight hours in the car. 

The Noses hopped out, we carried The Ladies’ travel cages to their Country Club and set them free.  They had a good two hours of running around their quarter acre yard before climbing their familiar ladder and putting themselves to bed.


PS:  Sadly, Thelma and Louise are still not laying.  The most consistently laying chicken turned out to be Goldie Hen who, as I first posited, enjoyed the privacy and peck-free environment of her travel cage.   Dom and JJ are close to back on track.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Cluck Truck: Days 6-9

Notice those tall shoots coming off the bushes just in front of our chairs?  They play an important part of this tale.

An inquiring mind wanted to know, “What happened on Day 6?”  Well, not much other than a great hike up Mt. Constitution in Moran State Park.  Every day finds us anxiously awaiting the arrival of our coop and me fighting off feelings of claustrophobia brought about by living on an (albeit gorgeous) island.  (“What if you miss the ferry?  What if there is no ferry when you want to leave?  Want to leave, hell, have to leave, must leave . . . “  You get the idea.)  But Days 8 and 9 turned out to be much more exciting.

Day 8 finds us all settled in our lovely full hook-up site on Orcas Island, chickens in their 10 x 10 pen, Rosco running free because running freely is really just a vague idea to him anymore and River, sadly, tied to Salt on a long but annoying (to her) run cable. 

The weather has cleared and we are making our way through the over-growth, getting the yard back in shape.  Alan decides it is a good day to see what the chickens would do with a lizard.  He has found one while digging around and takes it over to the bug tent.  JJ, of course, knows exactly what to do with it:  She grabs it by the neck and runs around in circles as the other four each grab a leg and literally, rip the poor lizard apart.  Fortunately, I only saw the end of this massacre.  I was inside preparing dinner, looked outside and thought, “What is that thing dangling from JJ’s beak?”  Turns out it was the head and what was left of the body.

Day 10 started in the usual way with River and I taking a long walk to a public open space park wherein lies a sunny field perfect for morning yoga.  I set about my yoga stretches while she waited patiently under my legs knowing at some point the forward bend would yield a hug to a very expecting upward facing dog.

But Day 10 is special as it is the much anticipated arrival of the chicken coop.  For those of you who read the chicken postings of years past, you may recall that it took us an entire summer to build our coop from scratch in Colorado.  We started on the July 4th weekend thinking the long weekend would be a perfect amount of time in which to build a coop and, indeed, did finish on a long weekend; Memorial Day Weekend.  So when it came time to think of a coop for our second home, we opted to have one shipped from Urban Coops.  It comes flat packed (like Ikea stuff) with excellent directions and all the hardware you need.  (Alan thinks it will take 2 hours to put together, I say 2 weeks, the next posting will cover the result of that debate.)

But back to Day 10:  We absolutely did not want to miss the FedEx delivery so planned our day making sure one of us was always home.  When it was Alan’s turn to leave for errands, I decided to continue on the hedge/blackberry yard work.  Starting on our upper level and working my way down the (very rocky, very steep) bank to the lower yard. 

I’m chopping away nicely when I find myself in a free fall.  My thoughts are alternating between, “Flying does not feel light, I feel like a brick.” to “Shit, this is going to hurt.”  When I open my eyes, I am lying beneath the giant (7’ tall) boulder on which I had been standing (or so I thought) in a deep den-like cavern with smaller rocks to my left, and my body in a position for which my morning yoga did not provide adequate preparation.

I wanted to cry.  But realizing that the only thing really hurt was my ego, I summoned the strength of my 99 year old grandmother and hauled my butt up to a standing position.   Wow, I thought I was claustrophobic before;  The giant boulder is still above me, the smaller rocks to my back (now that I am facing up the boulder) and beyond the smaller rocks, nothing but blackberry bushes.  I am about half-way down the hillside.  Not sure when Alan is going to be back, can’t go up over the boulder and can’t go down through the blackberries.  I really wanted to cry.  But it was a nice sunny day, so I brushed myself off, clambered onto a sharp rock just big enough for my left foot and stretched up the boulder to reach the very tip of my lopper. 

Lopper in hand, I set about cutting blackberry bushes and using the hardened stems to build a nest beneath my feet so that I could gain some purchase outside of my den like arrival area.    After about an hour, I had built enough of a platform to gain a couple of feet.  Then I heard a truck coming up the drive!  Alan!  No!  FedEx!  Crap!

My first concern is not getting out but fear that they might need a signature for the coop and drive away thinking no one is home.  I call and call up but she does not hear me.  I can hear her motor still running and doors opening so I am hopeful, but still trying my best to clamber up the boulder which is not working at all.

Another truck!  Alan!  Yes! 

I can hear him talking to the FedEx driver:

“Hi, this is good timing.”
“Yes, no one else seems to be home.”
“My wife hasn’t come out?”
“No one around but the dogs.”

Alan knows how strange this is; two dogs out and one running (in his mind) freely around.  So he wanders over to the ledge and hears my call.  After making sure I am ok, he returns to the FexEx driver.

“My wife is stuck on the hillside.”
“Is she ok?”
“Yes, she suggested I make sure to get the coop before coming back and helping her out.”
“OK, you guys new around here?”
“Lovely weather today . . . “

Yada yada yada, Hello?  Your wife is still stuck on the hillside.  They finally part and the FedEx driver waves to me as she heads down the drive.

After handing my 6-8 foot long cuttings up the boulder to Alan for burning, I eventually hack my way out heading downhill.  Overall, it was about a three hour ride.  A three hour ride.


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The (much anticipated) Cluck Truck Hits the Road: Evergreen, CO to Orcas Island, WA

More pictures here!

I always wondered why I never bothered to separate the Salt & Pepper Adventure blog from our Backyard Chicken Extravaganza blog, and now I know why:  The day has come to combine traveling in Salt with our love of chickens.  Voila, the Cluck Truck Adventures.

To be clear, though, we are not back on the road full-time.  We are starting a new business,, and in doing so need to be out on the road some of the time to locate new properties.  For this trip, we packed up the dogs and chickens and headed to our prime RV rental location on Orcas Island, WA

After doing some research on traveling with chickens, we determined that they would be happiest and safest in their own individual traveling crates.  Thus we purchased five wire crates with plastic bottoms and decked them out with individual water, food, grit, and oyster-shell eating areas all with individual perches.  The chickens hate them.  Of course, we lined the bottom with a few inches of pine shavings and plenty of straw which, every single day, Thelma pushes right out of her cage.  (I long suspected Thelma of being the nest-wrecker in the coop back home and now I know for sure.)

Chickens, being social creatures despite their almost incessant desire to peck each other, were not thrilled with the separate cage arrangement; the exception being Goldie Hen who, as soon as she heard of the plans, began her own rendition of MC Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This” in anticipation of days without being hen-pecked by her coop mates.

Preparation done, it was time to set out.  We had a little more than 1,400 miles to go from Evergreen, Colorado to Orcas Island, Washington but wanted to make sure The Ladies had time in the morning and evening to run in their free-range travel cage (a 10x10 netted bug tent with an open bottom—sets up in seconds and was perfect!) so planned only a little over 300 miles per day.  We also found out of the way places to stop, assuming most KOA’s would not relish the idea of a free-range chicken tent in their yards.  Here we go:

Day 1
Goal:  Jim Bridger Recreation Area, WY
Actual Stop:  BLM Land off of WY-84.
Egg Count:  4 (All the Single Ladies except Louise.)
Kit’s Chicken Stress Level:  5 (out of 5.)

Loaded up the chickens from (what must now look to them like a country club) their ¼ acre free-range, worm filled yard and plopped them into their travel cages.  Everyone went in willingly enough (once they saw the scratch being tossed inside) except for Louise whom I had to chase around for a good ten minutes, finally trapping her between the cage and the fence and physically putting her inside. 

During the drive, I worried every time we hit a bump or took a sharp turn.  “Those poor chickens!” was almost a constant lament.  I checked on them at every stop and they had all hunkered down and gone into a bit of a dazed state.  But they were still laying eggs which is always a good sign.

A side note:  If you are ever west of Cheyenne, WY on I-80, there is a gorgeous National Forest, Medicine Bow Routt National Forest, with plenty of campgrounds.  I would have loved to stop but we needed more miles, baby.

We kept on cluck-trucking toward our first choice for the night, the Jim Bridger Recreation Area (near the Jim Bridger Power Plant in Wyoming.) Unfortunately, it turned out to be a day use area which is really too bad as there were a couple of small lakes and lots of picnic tables with no one around.  Deciding to obey the No Overnight Camping signs, we opted to head over to some BLM land off of Black Buttes Road (WY-84), along Bitter Creek (which is close to bitterly dry.)  We backed Salt up a side road, jumped out, set up the chicken tent, unloaded the crates from the truck to the inside of the tent and set The Ladies free.  They were thrilled and did not seem to mind the sandy, desert soil at all but jumped right to hunting and pecking around.  We unlatched the bikes and took a short ride along the dirt roads.

Nearing dusk The Ladies were getting anxious to bed down for the night but chose not put themselves to bed in the crates (damn!  A human can hope, can’t she?)  It took a bit more scratch, and, of course, chasing Louise, but I managed to get them all loaded in and the crates back into the truck for safety overnight.

When morning came I ran out there and reversed the processes, giving them at least an hour of free range time before we packed them back in for another 300 mile day.

Day 2
Goal:  Lake Wolcott, Idaho.
Egg Count:  2 (Thelma & Louise)
Kit’s Chicken Stress Level:  4 (The Ladies’ egg production of Day 1 providing some hope that they weren’t fairing too badly back there.)

On the drive we had everything from rain to sleet to snow but arrived at the lovely and serene Lake Wolcott by 3:30 PM.  There are only 18 RV sites, most with a nice amount of space between them with lovely grassy areas (chicken heaven) and level, asphalt pitches (Kit heaven.)  The lake, however, we have declared fish-less.  (To our defense, it is rather early in the year.)

Of note:  The water at the pitches was turned off (not sure if this was a seasonal thing or they are permanently turned off) but if you have a long hose, you can pull over to the day use parking area and fill up via the red faucet near the bathrooms.  I pass this along as we only noticed it by watching our neighbors drive over, the whole time thinking, “What in the world are they doing?”   Electricity was on at the sites.

While in their free range tent, JJ and Dom set about feuding over two of the crates, each chicken going in and setting up a nest before the other one came in and chased them out.  This went on for at least an hour.  JJ finally won (no surprise there) and laid an egg overnight in one of coveted cages. 

Day 3:
Goal:  La Grande, Oregon (343 miles)
Actual Destination:  Farewell Bend, Oregon State Park (250 miles)
Egg Count:  3  (JJ, Dom, Louise)
Kit’s Chicken Stress Level:  3 (They seem to be getting enough free run time as they are often just milling around cleaning their feathers after a couple of hours outside the crates.)

We got a late start due to hot showers!!  Yahoo!   (Drove over to the aforementioned day use area at Lake Wolcott, hooked up to the faucet and showered like there was no tomorrow.)   We also opted to stop twice on the road to attempt to catch some fish.  Still nothing.  Still too early in the season.  Still our story.

When the clocked passed 4:00 PM and we were still on the road with about 100 miles to go to La Grande, we carpe campem’d when Alan noticed a sign for Farewell Bend, an Oregon State Park just after crossing the border from Idaho on I-84.  Ahh, those Oregon State Parks!  Never disappointing.  Lovely (and large but empty this time of year) campground along the shores of the Snake River's Brownlee Reservoir.  Lots of pitch types to choose from and we opted for one in the back with lots of area for the chicken tent.

Up went the tent in record time (it was a long, hot day back there for The Ladies) and out they popped and almost immediately began a dirt bath extravaganza.  The first one of the trip and they were really digging in.  With The Ladies so happy, we poured a cocktail and nestled near the campfire for some quiet time.  Before I had finished my gin, I noticed people trying to take pictures of the chickens from afar; I invited them over for a closer look.

They were four Canadians heading home from Arizona and amazed that we were traveling with chickens.  (They might be the first on the trip to even notice we had chickens along.)  Lovely people (as most Canadians are) and they departed with eight fresh eggs for breakfast.  I am betting that is a camping story that will get told!

Day 4:
Goal:  Cle Elum, WA
Egg Count:  2  (Thelma & Dom)
Kit’s Chicken Stress Level:  2  (When Louise, of all chickens, jumps up on your back for a ride, you know things can’t be that bad.)

In preparation for the trip, I had done a ton of research to find out-of-the-way places in which to camp; one such place was the Red Mountain Campground (USFS) outside of Cle Elum, WA.  Although it is technically closed for the winter, it is one of the few campgrounds that allow you to dry camp for free.  Winding along the Cle Elum River, it is a beautiful spot.  Being very off season, we expected the campground to be empty and were disappointed to find that at least three other vehicles had found the place before we did. 

None-the-less, it was a nice spot and Alan scouted out a site that I reserved by standing in while he drove ahead to turn Salt around.  During his drive, he found an even better site in one of the dispersed camping areas.  So he came back to get me and we set up camp just down the road.   Chickens ranging in their tent, we set about fishing the river to no avail.  But the sun was mostly out (“mostly” being a good percentage for the Pacific Northwest) and the evening was delightfully complete with Manhattans and a campfire.

Day 5:
Goal:  Orcas Island and our own Private Camping spot!
Egg Count:  4 (All the Single Ladies but Dom)
Kit’s Chicken Stress Level:  0

Packed up in the light snowfall and were on the road extra early.  Delightful to be driving in an area we know almost by heart!  We stopped at a couple of new favorites in Mount Vernon:  The Calico Cupboard for bread and a Mexican grocery (can’t find them on Google maps but they are on the corner of Freeway Road and I-5) for marinated meats and one old favorite, Compass Wines in Anacortes, before getting into the ferry line.  We had hours to spare so I used the time to collect eggs and clean out Salt.

We arrived at the site while it was still light out (a must if you are going to rent this site!) and with the sun shining, it was gorgeous.  Our intention while here is to get it ready for rental on Private Camping and we have our work cut out for us:  We forgot how mossy things (drives!) become when in the Pacific Northwest so we will be adding “Gravel Drive & Pitch” to our list of to-do’s (which include “Erect Chicken Coop” and “Build Shed”.)   In between work, we plan on hiking, biking, tennis and finding all the other fun things to do on the island which I will write about on our blog.