Irene Karel Bailey, May 30, 1949 – April 7, 2014

Rene at the River

Irene in Yosemite, Summer 2013

I was perfectly serious yet quite pleased when my observation regarding the death of Cousin #3 caused her sister, Cousin #2, to laugh for the first time in days. As you may recall, I spent the summer traveling with Cousin #3 in the California Gold Country, Yosemite and Lake Tahoe. She passed away April 7 when her liver and kidneys ceased functioning due to congenital problems of which we were unaware until recently. She would have been 65 next month.

More than 35 years ago, I thought I had lost Cousin #3 when she was traveling in Guatemala during a 7.5 earthquake that killed and injured many thousands of people. That was in 1976.  I remember thinking how strange it would be to live without her in my life. I feel the same way now.

It was weeks (months?) before the family heard that she was OK. As Americans returned from Guatemala to the U.S., they were armed with lists of phone numbers of families to call to let them know their relatives were still alive. Shortly before the call came to deliver the much welcome news, my Uncle Glenn was about to charter an airplane to fly down to Central America to look for her. How he intended to locate Rene was never made clear. I imagine he felt helpless and wanted to do something, anything, no matter how futile.

Cousin #3 was the best travel companion ever. She established the standard by which I judge other guests. Should you spend time with me in the RV, you’ll soon notice I say things such as, “Rene did it this way,” whether referring to washing the dishes, making the bed, doing the laundry or setting up the BBQ.

As we are first cousins born only six months apart, I can’t remember a time I didn’t know Rene. Of all the women in my family, she was the most feminine in her youth and into her 30s. There’s a photo of all the cousins taken in the 1950s when we were in Tijuana. Rene is in a pretty little dress and practically curtsying in front of the camera. Cousin #2 is staring defiantly at the camera and I look as if I was almost caught picking my nose.

When Rene and I were young women and in the presence of men, they were always attracted to her (vs. me). Unfortunately, her choice in men was not always good, nor were some of the other choices she made in her life. Which led me to what I said that made Cousin #2 laugh:

“She’s going to have a lot of explaining to do when she sees your mother.”  If you knew my Aunt Betty, you’d understand.

I Have A Plan

 “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” 
― Dwight D. Eisenhower

 Market research, including extensive use of Focus Groups, shows that my target audience wants to know, in order of priority:

1. Where am I?
2. Where was I?
3. Where am I going?
4. Is Missy still with me?

Present. I’m in Fort Stockton/Pecos, Texas, which represents achieving a goal to be on I-10 East by April 1.  Coincidentally, I recently finished the Jack Reacher novel, Echo Burning, which takes place in this exact area. In fact, the book references Hwy. 285 South, which I took from Santa Fe (oops, spoiler alert). Truth be told, I’m actually ashamed every time I read a Jack Reacher novel, lecturing myself, “OK, you want your brain to rot, go ahead.” I was introduced to this series by Cousins 2 & 3, among the smartest women I know. In fact, I recall Cousin #3 telling me how much she enjoyed meeting the people trying out for Jeopardy (she ultimately was a contestant and I still don’t understand how she couldn’t know Joni Mitchell’s Hissing of Summer Lawns) because, like her, they read text books for fun. Look what’s become of us.

Despite learning about this area from Lee Child, I’m quite proud that I am at this specific location – Fort Stockton/Pecos – because it proves that I achieved my objective of reaching I-10 on April 1 to begin the next part of my journey.

Pecos front yard

Typical front yard in Pecos, Texas


I arrived here via Hwy. 285, a 75mph/2-lane road running through the middle of nowhere and towns that are boarded up. I repeated the “Darn it, you know you’re always supposed to fill up with Diesel when you can get it” mantra and finally concluded that if anything happened to the RV by way of breakdown (OK, OK, or it ran out of gas), I’d just unhook the Smartcar and drive it to the next town, in the hopes the next town wasn’t boarded up. So long as I didn’t run out of gas in the Smartcar, which, unfortunately, I know for a fact can happen.

Although I made it to Pecos safely, I was frightened for my life on Hwy. 285 South. I figure my grey hair and the poodle on my lap (oops, second spoiler alert) helped save me from the Texans in pick-up trucks passing me as I toodled along the road with my California license plates and hippie-dippie car. My fear was that somewhere under the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law, it’s acceptable for residents, as they pass an out-of-state vehicle going 55 mph, to blow the driver (me) away. 

Past. I had absolutely no interest in visiting Santa Fe (don’t care for Georgia O’Keeffe; don’t care for Southwest style; don’t like turquoise; and not in the market for artwork), but so many people urged me to visit that I figured it was easier to just go and be done with it. I did enjoy the outdoor sculptures on Colorado Street. I now know, however, that I can add Santa Fe architecture – one boring adobe-style home after another – to my “don’t care for” list. I have since found the term, “faux-dobe” (pronounced as one word: “foe-dough-bee) to describe the city’s appearance. 

Moreover, at least according to my bus tour guide, the original popular book, Santa Fe Style, was created in the mid-1980s by an advertising agency, N.W. Ayer & Son. Other notably successfully campaigns by the agency included: When it rains it pours (Morton Salt); I’d walk a mile for a Camel; A diamond is forever; Reach out and touch someone; and Be all you can be. These guys were good!

Future. I need to be St. Augustine, Florida, by May 1. That’s where I’ll meet up with RV’ing Women (RVW) for a Rolling Rally up the east coast. I plan to remain with the group until mid-September, when we’ll be in Nova Scotia. My next destination is in mid-October in York, Pennsylvania, for the annual RVW Conference. I am in charge of publishing the 72-page Conference Program. Don’t ask.

I’m looking forward to the Rolling Rally because it means I’ll be traveling with other women. We’ll see the local sites, as recommended by local women, and I’ll likely be able to look forward to a daily Happy Hour. Although I’ve not minded traveling alone, I’d prefer to be with others.

Once the RVW Conference is over, rather than starting out in late-October for the west coast I plan to head south to Florida, where I hope to find part-time employment in a campground until Spring. “Workcamping” typically involves a free site, discounts and other perks, as well modest payment.

You may have noticed that I’ve scheduled a full month to get from Texas to Florida on I-10. I drive a maximum of 250 miles a day, which, at 55 mph tops, is 4.5 hours. Add in frequent rest stops for gas, food and walking Missy, it can take me as many as 6 to 8 hours to cover those 250 miles. Once I pull off at an RV Park, I find I need at least two days to rest.

I-10 map

I-10 crosses the warmer parts of the U.S. It stretches from the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) in Santa Monica to Jacksonville, Florida. Red dot shows my April 1 location.

Pecos to St. Augustine is about 1,500 miles. That works out to 6 days of travel, plus another 12 days of rest = 18 days. Given the nature of RV’ing, I’m building in time for the unexpected — a regular occurrence, unfortunately. I also may want to stay in one place for more than the allotted two days, or take a detour from I-10. The interstate will take me though Texas (El Paso, San Antonio, Houston; and I may pay a visit to Port Arthur, birthplace of Janis Joplin); Louisiana (Baton Rouge; I plan to detour north around New Orleans); Mississippi (Jackson, Gulf Port, Biloxi); Alabama (Mobile); and Florida (Pensacola). Depending on how my travels go and how much time I have, once I enter the Florida Panhandle I may detour south and follow roads along the Gulf of Mexico. Ever the optimist.

Missy.  She’s doing fine. She’s even stop peeing, shaking and panting while I’m driving.  Should you join me, I hope you’ll follow her excellent example. During my travels I’ve been invited to join people, mostly couples, for drinks, dinner, a movie and Spider (a game of dominoes). Every invitation has come from people I’ve met through Missy.

Despite intentions to the contrary, I did have Missy groomed. Although I had planned to cut her fur (hair, actually), myself, out of sheer terror she would squirm and wiggle whenever I made an attempt at grooming. Her moving about led to nicks and stabbings, which for some reason compounded her fears. I have a budget of $60 a month for haircuts, so now $40 plus tip goes to her grooming and the money remaining is for my haircuts. I’m confident I’ll get better at giving instructions to the young women at Supercuts and Great Clips. Alternately, I may just go to Missy’s groomer. 

Missy groomed

Missy groomed. You can’t tell from this angle but she had a Brazilian wax.

Karel haircut

And this was a GOOD hair day!