Category Archives: The California Quest

Our journey from Michigan to California, winter-spring 2014.

Steinbeck Wrote the Book on RV-ing – (Kaye)

Milepost 613:   Salinas to Redding, California

His book is called Travels With Charley, and John Steinbeck did his research for it while on an extended circle tour of the lower 48 states in a Chevy pickup camper that he called Rocinante.

Steinbeck's pickup camper, Rocinante, at the Steinbeck Center in Salinas, CA
Steinbeck’s pickup camper, Rocinante, at the Steinbeck Center in Salinas, CA

We stayed two nights at Salinas, California, so we could spend some time at the birthplace and museum of John Steinbeck.  We feel a connection with the author as similar travelers a generation apart.  Kaye writes about it here.

The interior of Steinbeck's pickup camper.
The interior of Steinbeck’s pickup camper.

(Kaye writes)  Travels with Charley is John Steinbeck’s story of traveling the country in an early version of the pickup camper “in search of America” in the fall of 1960. I had read it several years ago, but it seemed only fitting to re-read it while on our epic journey. I carried it in the cab of our pickup truck to read while driving across the country in January, but discovered very little time to read – maybe because I was too busy observing America on my own journey.

Once we settled in at our new spot in southern California, I pulled out  the book and once again appreciated Steinbeck’s writing. I did a bit of research on his life and decided to read some more of his stuff. In that process I discovered that he had grown up not too far from where we were living. When we began to plan our journey northward, we decided to drive through that area that had shaped so much of his writing. So we did that two days ago, up along the Salinas River, past the town of Soledad which provided the setting for Of Mice and Men, and then to the town of Salinas where we became tourists for a day. We took pictures of the house where Steinbeck was born, we walked the streets he walked and we ate lunch where he had eaten. And yes, we toured the National Steinbeck Museum which by the way is the only museum in the U.S. dedicated to a single author – and learned much more about his life and his writings and about the area that provided the background for so many of his stories.

I enjoyed the exhibits which are arranged according to the geographical settings of his many titles, but the culmination of my quest was to see Rocinante, this vehicle that has inspired so many of us. It was a good day, a fun day, and an educational day.

But more than the area, more than the historic sites, more than the accolades (and there were many!) even more than Rocinante, what I like best about Steinbeck and what I can carry with me are his words.

“A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. … We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.”

“I saw in their eyes something I would see over and over in every part of the nation – a burning desire to go, to move, to get under way, anyplace, away from any Here. They spoke quietly of how they wanted to go someday, to move about, free and unanchored, not toward something but away from something. I saw this look and heard this yearning everywhere in every state I visited. Nearly every American hungers to move.”

“I pulled Rocinante into a small picnic area… and got out my book of maps. And suddenly the United States became huge beyond belief and impossible ever to cross. … It was like starting to write a novel. When I face the desolate impossibility of writing five hundred pages a sick sense of failure falls on me and I know I can never do it. This happens every time. Then gradually I write one page and then another. One day’s work is all I can permit myslf to contemplate… So it was now, as I looked at the bright-colored projection of monster America.”

The birthplace of John Steinbeck is now a restaurant.
The birthplace of John Steinbeck is now a restaurant.

(Bob writes)  Our epic trip to Alaska has to be advanced in small sections too, a day at a time, so that we aren’t overcome with that “sick sense of failure” that Steinbeck experienced.

Today we head north only 130 miles, to visit some of Kaye’s relatives in Ashland, Oregon, then on to Portland the next day, “gradually writing one page and then another,” like Steinbeck.

(This is our last post under the category, The California Quest, as we are leaving the state today after 5 months of west coast residency.)

On the Road Again!

Milepost 265:  Fillmore to Salinas, CA

Yay!  We have finally re-started our epic road trip to Alaska! We left Michigan last December to get away from the harsh winter, and for five months we work-camped at Kenney Grove Park,  a private campground at Fillmore, California.

The beach at Seacliff.

Finishing our duties there and leaving in the afternoon, we decided on a short jaunt to the sea coast where we found a campsite right by the ocean.  There are a few places in the world where RV camping is allowed virtually on the beach, and Seacliff, California, is one of them.  We set up in the middle of a 2-mile stretch of seashore lined with more than a hundred RV’s parked for the night in a sort of linear campground, if you will.  This is classic boon-docking, as there are no services, no hookups, so only self-contained rigs can do it.

We clambered down the rocks to the beach for a long walk before sunset, then went to bed early.

The sun sets over the RV on the shore at Seacliff, California.
The sun sets over the RV on the shore at Seacliff, California.

This morning we did a U-turn and headed north over the pass to spend much of the day crossing another dessert and through the vineyards at Solvang to end up at Salinas by mid-afternoon.  We moved into a site at the KOA campground at Prunedale just north of town.  Salinas was the home of John Steinbeck, who inspired us with his American road trip epic, Travels with Charley.  We are planning to see his home place tomorrow and visit the Steinbeck museum before we break camp and continue north toward San Francisco.

It looks as though our route will need to be kept rather fluid, since we keep discovering changes that need to be made.  One of the latest is the news that our route north of the Redwoods requires a white-knuckle climb through a dangerous mountain pass that has travelers leaving fingernail marks in the upholstery.  We might have to skip the Redwoods this time around.  Maybe we’ll come back some other time and do that one in the red convertible (we’ll rent one somewhere).

We are trying to keep the main thing the main thing here.  Getting to visit our kids in Alaska at Denali is the main thing, and having an enjoyable time doing it is the next main thing.  A route that delivers too much stress may result in a change of direction.

I’m not sure where we’ll be the next time I post.  Our mobile internet has been quite dependable so far, but we may be boon-docking some more, and that means no electricity to run the computer.  We can still post from the iPhone or the iPad like we did last night on the Facebook page (“Like” it in the right sidebar to join the Facebook group or click here) but I prefer the photo editing programs on my Mac, so my posts from the other devices are short and not very aesthetic.Bob's feet on the beach

Tomorrow we’ll take the next step and see where we end up by evening.

Thanks for reading!

A Day in the Life of a Work-Camper

The Santa Ana winds torn down a huge oak that landed on the camp office (yellow motorhome).

Milepost 5-2-14   Fillmore, California

It’s not every day that we get out the chainsaws along with the heavy equipment to remove a huge fallen oak tree.  Last night the vicious Santa Ana winds knocked down one of the charter trees here at Kenney Grove Park, and it partially damaged the camp office, a vintage motorhome.  We used the backhoe and a chain to pull sections of the tree off the old camper.

The golf cart is loaded with tools for the tasks.
The golf cart is loaded with tools for the tasks.

Every work-camp location has its unique set of tasks that comprise the typical day.  My current jobs include tree trimming, painting, weed whacking, raking campsites, prepping for groups who are coming in and then cleaning up after they have left.  I have repaired golf carts,  sharpened chainsaws, and replaced rusty hardware.  Most days require a string of light duty tasks; it’s an unusual day when we have to clean up a massive oak tree.

Yippie!  I get to drive the 1963 GMC pickup today!
Yippie! I get to drive the 1963 GMC pickup today!

Actually, the timing of that was pretty good, since I’ll be moving on in a month and there may not be another helper right away to help Rona,  the manager who usually works alone.  Apparently, I’m the first chainsaw operator she’s had here in four years.

It’s important that the worker matches the job requirements, and it helped that I had a lifetime of experience with the chainsaw, the backhoe and antique manual-shift trucks that date back to 1957.

Kenney Grove is a regular destination for the Songmakers camping club.
Kenney Grove Park is a regular destination for the Songmakers camping club.

Since I am not a morning person, it helps me that starting time is 9:30 or 10:00 and there’s a half-hour break for lunch and then another two hours of work in the afternoon.  I’m often done by 2:30, so evenings are open for going out to dinner or meeting with friends or visiting some of the plentiful attractions along the southern California coast.

Mugu Point Beach is populated by surfers.
Mugu Point Beach is popular with surfers and has a famous 1950’s-style fish-fry diner across the road.  Go to Neptune’s Net website here to see what famous movies they are in.

Though it was the mild winter weather that drew us here from cold Michigan in the first place,  Kaye and I have enjoyed an assortment of local sites, including the Reagan Presidential Library, the Old Mission at Santa Barbara, the historical railroad museum in Fillmore, the national forest wilderness, and of course, the beautiful Pacific coast beaches that line the shore from Malibu up to Santa Barbara.  And then there are the eateries which run the full spectrum of world ethnicities from the local Mexican cuisine to — well, you name it, you’ll find it nearby.

With our kids we dined at 150-year-old Coldspring Tavern which started as a stagecoach station in the mountains above Santa Barbara.  Celebrity sightings are common here.
With our kids we dined at 150-year-old Coldspring Tavern which began as a stagecoach station in the mountain pass above Santa Barbara. Celebrity sightings are common here.

I am retired, and I like to feel like it.  I wasn’t sure that work-camping would actually work for me, because I haven’t worked a full day in several years.  But the placement here at Kenney Grove Park has been just about perfect for me.  I usually work for 3 or 4 half-days, and then get a couple of days off before reporting in again.  The campsite that I am working for is beautiful and secluded with a canopy and storage shed on site.  This was probably the best first-time work-camp assignment that I could have hoped for and I might try it again.  But I am also an adventurer, so I will likely not return to the same location for a five month stint again.

Have at it, friends!  The west coast awaits you!  The link to the Workers on Wheels listing for Kenney Grove is here.

The 1976 Dodge motorhome emerged from under the tree with only one broken window.
The 1976 Dodge motorhome emerged from under the fallen tree with only one broken window.
Kenney Grove Park manager, Rona, keeps everything running like clockwork.
Kenney Grove Park manager, Rona, keeps everything running like clockwork.

Work-Camper Needed: Here!

Milepost 4-6-14  Fillmore, California

 Just a quick note here to let our readers know that our current location, Kenney Grove Park, in Fillmore, California, is looking for it’s next work-camper.  The job starts June 1st, which is coming up soon.  See the listing on Workers On Wheels here.  This is the same ad that we answered last November when we were searching for a location on the west coast for the winter.  Our 5 months will be done on Memorial Day – just 7 weeks left.

Our work-camp site in California.

The campsite here includes a covered canopy,  a storage shed and small patio and personal parking spot.  It is a $1,000 per month value, provided free – including all hookups – in exchange for half-time work around the campus.

The climate has been beautiful here all winter with temps in the 40’s at night and the 70’s + during the day.  Great working weather.  Of course, it may be warmer here during the summer.  We have experienced 3 rainy days here in the last 3 months!

Golf carts shuttle tools and workers to and from the various work sites. Golf carts shuttle tools and workers around the park.

Kenney Grove Park is sheltered by massive old oak trees. Kenney Grove Park is sheltered by massive old oak trees.

We are 35 miles from Malibu Beach, 45 miles from the Old Mission at Santa Barbara, and only 19 miles from Six Flags Magic Mountain.  We are 2 miles from the entrance to the Los Padres National Forest and 20 miles to the shuttle boats to the Channel Islands National Park.

Come to California!  Answer the ad if you want to get into a great place to live and work for the rest of this year!  California groovin’ might be right for you!

I spent a day hiking on Santa Cruz Island with my daughter, son-in-law, and his folks. I spent a day hiking on Santa Cruz Island with my daughter, son-in-law, and his folks who were visiting from Texas.

Work-Camping. It Works for Me

I am two months into my first work-camp experience and thought it time for a report.  Kaye and I have been camping at Kenney Grove Park, a historical site established in 1888 and coinciding with the founding of the town of Fillmore, California.  The park is owned by the County of Ventura, but is under private lease.  It is used mostly for events by groups who lease the campground.

Kenney Grove Park is sheltered by massive old oak trees.
Kenney Grove Park is sheltered by a canopy of massive old oak trees.

The work-camp arrangement is growing in popularity and there is an abundance of listings online at sites like Workers on Wheels, The Sowers, and Work-Kamping and others.  The assortment of possible jobs ranges from camp hosting to maintenance to trail guiding and a lot more.  Most workers put in 20 or so hours per week in exchange for a campsite with hookups for their recreational vehicle.

Our campsite includes a storage shed and patio area.
Our campsite at Kenney Grove Park.

Our site includes a canopy over the RV and a storage shed and small patio surrounded by oak woods.  It sits on a small hill in the middle of the park at the foothills of the mountains and at the edge of Los Padres National Forest.  We are 30 miles from the Pacific beach.

My responsibilities include a wide range of tasks such as painting, repairing old equipment, felling trees and chipping them for mulch, washing picnic tables, and so on.

Kenney Grove Park is known for its canopy of ancient oak trees.
Kenney Grove Park is a beautiful and quiet place to work and the winter weather is mild.

I am not sure if I will pursue the same sort of plan for next winter, but it is really working well for me now.  The work pace is relaxed, the tasks are not back-breaking, and the manager is pleasant and flexible. And it helps that the location is in a quiet valley in southern California where the winter temperatures are mild and the sunshine abundant.  Well, honestly, the location is what attracted me to this spot in the first place.  Back home in Michigan, I would have been dealing with the harshest snowiest winter in recent history.

After work, Kaye and I enjoy relaxing on the patio between the camper and the storage shed.
After work, Kaye and I enjoy relaxing on our own private patio next to the camper.

Yep, this is working very well.

I have three more months to go here before we hitch up again to pursue our epic trip to Alaska for the summer.  Stay tuned!

Short Sleeves and Hairpin Turns: The New Normal

Milepost 1-22-14  Fillmore, CA

Part of the adventure of the traveling life is the new things we discover when we round the bend into a new town.  Settling in at Fillmore, California, for the next few months, we are adjusting to some amazing differences from where we came in Michigan.

Of course, the weather is the biggest change for us.  Our friends back home are dealing with sub-zero wind chills while we are perusing the local farm markets in short sleeves and flip flops.  That’s part of the reason we chose this corner of the country.

Kaye checks out the dragon fruit at a local open-air farm market.  Hard to find that one in Michigan.
Kaye checks out the dragon fruit and other oddities at a local open-air farm market.
Fillmore farm markets offer an abundance of varieties, but oranges are everywhere here.
Fillmore farm markets offer an abundance of varieties, but oranges are everywhere here.

I mentioned in an earlier post that a quick run to Walmart from here meant a rather frightening trip over the mountain ridge on switchbacks and hairpin turns.  Today I retraced part of that route to grab a couple of photos.  In Michigan our path was straight and flat.

A quick trip to Walmart requires both hands on the wheel and eyes on the road at all times.
A quick trip to Walmart requires both hands on the wheel and eyes on the road at all times.
Vehicles negotiate the switchbacks on county road 23 between Fillmore and Simi Valley.
Vehicles negotiate the switchbacks on county road 23 between Fillmore and Simi Valley.

On a side trip today, we headed north into Los Padres National Forest, but we didn’t get very far.  The one-lane trail was a scary climb around sharp turns and blind corners above sheer cliffs.  It sucked the courage right out of us, so we turned around – at an almost wide enough pull-off – so we could come back down.  Kaye got out of the pickup and stood off at a safe distance while I made the u-turn with the front bumper almost hanging over the edge.

My biggest question about the national forest was, "Where's the forest?"  No trees were evident.
My big question about the national forest was, “Where’s the forest?”  Few trees were evident.

We also did a bit of exploring in town today, enjoying a very delightful chat with the volunteer at the local historical museum, who informed us about the history of the town, including stories about the old swimming hole that she used to visit with friends back in the day.

Martha Gentry talks of old trains and avocados - and everything in between.
Martha Gentry talks of old trains and avocados – and everything in between.

Martha Gentry is a walking encyclopedia of knowledge about Fillmore and the surrounding area and the one who told us where to find the most respectable farm markets.  She and here husband are avocado growers.

This caboose is one of a score of railroad cars and engines at the Fillmore railroad museum.
This caboose is one of a score of railroad cars and engines at the Fillmore railroad museum.

Another of the significant changes in our experience here is the presence of so much Spanish.  It seems that every vendor and clerk is bilingual, and they mix it up sometimes swapping Spanish and English a number of times in the same sentence.  We don’t hear that much in Michigan.

Every cashier is fluent in both English and Spanish.
Every cashier is fluent in both English and Spanish.

So far, we are adjusting very well to our new location.   Most of it is really not very hard to get used to.

Surfers wander home after a day on the waves near Santa Barbara.
Surfers wander home after a day on the waves near Santa Barbara.

See my 19-second video of the traffic on the mountain road here.

The West Coast Vibe

A Family Reunion on the bluffs at University of California, Santa Barbara.
A  family reunion on the bluffs above the beach at University of California, Santa Barbara.

I’m pickin’ up good vibrations.  The west coast tribe has a laid-back vibe.  At least this is what I picked up from my weekend by the ocean.

We visited our kids in Santa Barbara this weekend and experienced some of the coastal charisma.  From the beach to the wharf to the art exhibit on the waterfront, there was a relaxed groove going on here.  Nobody seemed stressed, hurried, or impatient.  Even the kids at the skate park seemed nonchalant, quietly waiting their turn for the next flip and grind.Santa Barbara beach biker/skater trail.

Santa Barbara beach biker/skater trail.
Santa Barbara has a top notch skate park that also accommodates bikers.
Santa Barbara has a first class skate park that also accommodates stunt bikers.
Sand volleyball is popular on the wide sandy beaches of Santa Barbara.
Sand volleyball is popular on the wide sandy beaches of Santa Barbara.
The Wharf is a popular attraction on the waterfront at Santa Barbara.
Stearn’s Wharf is a regular destination for diners out on the waterfront at Santa Barbara.
Wendi is a member of the local artists guild and spends her Sundays exhibiting at the waterfront park.
Wendi is a member of the local artists guild and spends her Sundays exhibiting at the waterfront park along the beach.
Downtown Santa Barbara is beautiful at night.
The downtown outdoor mall sparkles at night with shops, theaters and eateries.

A sailboat leaves the harbor and heads out to sea.

After a rough day of skaterboarding Rusty's Pizza Parlor is the spot for skaters from all over (two Swedes and a Canadian in this photo).
After a rough day of skateboarding, Rusty’s Pizza Parlor is the rendezvous for skaters from near and far (two Swedes and a Canadian in this photo).

On our first visit we didn’t have time to visit any of the historical sites like the famous old Mission, so I guess we’ll have to return.  Our mail is being forwarded to our kids’ place at the University of California – Santa Barbara, so we’ll need to get back there every few weeks anyway

Wendi's oil painting of the famous Santa Barbara Mission is part of her collection for sale on the waterfront.
Wendi’s original oil painting of the famous Santa Barbara Mission is part of her collection for sale on the waterfront every Sunday afternoon.