A Race Against Time

Milepost 12-10-13   The newer RV arrived yesterday, and Kaye and I are on a mission to have it ready by our departure day, December 28th, when we hope to head for California for the winter and spring.  Today we emptied the cupboards and drawers of the old RV and carried everything across the yard (through the snow) to the new rig for sorting and re-assigning places – for the stuff we want to take with us for the next phase of life.  It feels like we are in a race against time.

It’s a small slice of the larger race against time:  Life.  And it is informed by bucket lists and lifelong dreams and a watchful eye on the clock of human life expectancy and physical well being.  Can we get everything done before we are too decrepit to climb the proverbial mountain (because it’s there)?  Or will we die trying?  Or will we die NOT trying?

I climbed to the top of a mountain with family members on the Skyline Trail at Glacier National Park.
I summited a mountain with family members hiking the Skyline Trail at Glacier National Park.

It’s been 10 years since Kaye was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer, and we have been keenly aware of our mortality since that day, two days before Christmas, 2003.  There’s nothing like cancer to remind a person of the shortness of human life and to cause one to formulate  some quick plans about how to spend what’s left of it.

We decided to travel more, to see more of the world, but our financial situation wouldn’t accommodate us.  All of our capital was in real estate, and none of it was liquid.  We had to make radical changes.  For us, it meant downsizing, and we are still in the process.

Finally, later this month, it looks like we will get to hit the road and wander around the country for a few years…  perhaps until we can’t climb the steps of the RV anymore – let alone the proverbial mountain.

To my younger friends who haven’t yet given a thought to the future and how to make the most of it,  I have some words of wisdom:

  • Enjoy the moment.   Stop and smell the roses.  Don’t wait until retirement to have adventure or to take risks (and don’t seek adventure if you don’t like to take risks; they go hand in hand).
  • Upsize when you need to.   You need a bigger house and vehicle  during the family years.    And a bigger garage — for the Harley.
  • Downsize when you need to.   For us it was after the kids had moved out and we realized our house and 30-acres were too big for two people.
  • Prioritize from the outset.  If money is important to you, get an education.   With a college degree, on the average, you’ll make 30% more over the span of your career (if you can get a job in your field).   At 17 years old, a major factor in my decision to become a teacher was having summers off.  No way would a 2-week vacation every year satisfy my need for extended adventure trips.
  • Love people more than stuff.   Your friends and family will determine your quality of life more than the job you have or the stuff you own.  Respect them even when they don’t seem all that respectable,  hold them tight for the most part,  but give them space when they need it.
  • Go climb a mountain.  Start on your bucket list while you are still young.  Believe me, it’s a big world, and there is too much to see in one lifetime, so you better get started now.
My kids set the pace.

My daughter, Wendi, has visited all 50 states and has backpacked with her husband from Mexico south through South America to Argentina.  She and Scott own an adventure tour business in Alaska where they spend their summers.*  My middle daughter, Angie, has lived on four continents and resided with her husband in India for two years.  She planned their 10th anniversary trip to Florence, Venice and Rome without the help of the tour companies.   My oldest daughter, Stacy, has visited 46 states and will get the other four in 2014 before her 40th birthday.  She could write the book on lone wolf adventures for women (and she might do it), as her husband often works weekends.

Three sisters at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.
Three sisters at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.

They’ve been great adventuring role models for me!  Maybe this post isn’t really about the race against time that is life, but more about the race to keep up with my daughters on their adventures!

Angie, Stacy and Wendi camping on South Manitou Island as young adults.
Angie, Stacy and Wendi camping together on South Manitou Island as young adults.

Anyway,  Kaye and I are taking off to assume the gypsy life for a while – and the risks and adventures that go along with it.  Maybe we will meet other vagabonds along the way.  Perhaps we will bump into YOU somewhere between the oceans in the next couple of years.  I hope you will give us directions if we seem to be lost.

Just remember, “Not all those who wander are lost.”   –J.R.R. Tolkien

 What adventures are on your bucket list?  In what phase of life will you make them happen?   Click  “Leave a Comment” at the top to tell me about it.  Also, if you’re interested in life on the road, please “Follow” (in the left sidebar) to see where we end up next time.

* Also see the BBC story from Lonely Planet writer Roff Smith mentioning Wendi and her work at the famous Black Bear Coffee House at Denali.

Oh, The Irony… (Our New Home Has Arrived)

Milepost 12-9-13   Today we went and picked up our newer RV,  a 2001 Coachmen fifth wheel that will be our home for the next couple of years,  and we drove over snowy roads with a blustery cross-wind while towing it home.  Exactly the sort of weather we are trying to get away from.  How ironic.   Or maybe just really appropriate.

We just brought home our new home-away-from-home... in a snowstorm.
We just brought home our new home-away-from-home… in a snowstorm.

We will spend the next few days transferring stuff from the cabin and the older RV into the new rig.  We are moving out of the cabin so it will be available to rent while we are away.   The plan is to head west to California for the winter around December 28th, so we have a lot to do in the next couple of weeks.

It just occurred to me that perhaps we should christen the new rig before we take off.   When they were still at home our daughters used to name all of our vehicles.  We took “Oliver”, our white Ford van for our last trip to California back in 1991.  It was a month-long camping trip that included 8 national parks on a wide circuit from the Tetons and Yellowstone over to the Redwoods and Yosemite in California and then back east via the canyons, Bryce, Zion, and the Grand, and over to Texas for a quick visit to Carlsbad.

The Ford van was perfect for our family of five in the Teton Mountains on an extended camping trip.
The Ford van was perfect for our family of five in the Teton Mountains on a 6000-mile trip.

So, how does one name a vehicle?   I am not sure what method my daughters used back in the day,  and I don’t know if the style or appearance of the rig had any bearing on its eventual moniker.  Shall we call the new RV “the RV”?  Or “The Coachmen”?   Or shall we be a little more creative?

I’m open to suggestions.

My first car I simply called "The T-Bird".
My first car I simply called “The T-Bird”.

Take It Or Leave It?

Milepost 12-3-13

 We are in downsizing mode.  Again.  This time we are packing for the trip to California where we are scheduled for a 5-month work/camp stay at Kenney Grove Park in Fillmore,  through the winter and spring.  We get a free camp site with full hookups in exchange for some part-time handyman work and camp hosting,  an opportunity that Kaye found on the Workers On Wheels website.

Then around June 1st, we head north up the coast highway on our epic journey to Alaska.  We probably won’t get back to Michigan until August.

We have been down this road before, but not quite this far.  It’s the weight of everything that’s the biggest consideration this time, and I do mean weight — as in pounds and ounces.  We are moving into a 29-foot fifth wheel RV that will be our home for the next few years.  We have to cross the continental divide several times in the next year,  hauling this rig and every bit of  cargo we put into it.

So, the importance of each item has to be weighed in terms of its actual usefulness.  Too many heavy things will result in higher fuel consumption and engine work load.

This is where we part with our decorative knick knacks and pottery collection.  The 12-piece cookware set will be left in storage and a single skillet selected.  The glass cookie jars are out, the light weight plastic containers are in.  The toolbox will be culled until only the most essential tools are included.  My piano and organ are going into storage.  I’ve already moved to on-line banking so I don’t need to carry much of an office,  so even the office supplies will be reduced to a bare minimum.

Let's see now, which tape dispenser shall we take, the desk model filled with sand, or the store bought plastic one?
Which tape dispenser shall we take, the desk model filled with sand, or the disposable plastic one?

This is a deeper level of downsizing than we have experienced up until now.  Three years ago we started sorting and pitching so we could move out of our 10-room house and into a one-room log cabin. A lot of our stuff just went into storage sheds, even after we had yard sales and umpteen Craigslist listings to reduce our inventory.

But this is where the rubber meets the road.  Actually.  Because there is only so much space in the RV and only the essential necessities will pass muster.

This can be really difficult.  Kaye is a book lover who had a library in the big house with hundreds of volumes.  Now she will carry a dozen titles at most.  Fortunately, she owns a Kindle and has it loaded with hundreds of digitized books — which are weightless.

And I am leaving my workshop locked up at home with all of my prized power tools and sawhorses; I’m only taking one toolbox, and there’s no room in it for a table saw or a chainsaw.  I’m hoping we don’t have a repeat of our earlier Smokey Mountain encounter where we came around a bend in a narrow mountain road and found a tree down across the road.  I had to use my small campfire axe to cut it in two so we could get through.

Well, it looks as though we will leave the Michigan log cabin around December 28th for our westward winter wanderings — which will turn into our spring and summer sojourns.

With careful packing, our load will be light enough to climb every mountain with ease.   And our adventurous spirits will reach new heights as well!

Neighborly Natives

Milepost 2-2-13   Have you ever met someone for the first time and felt like they were an old friend?  Did you visit a new place and immediately feel that you were home?  That’s what happened when Kaye and I arrived at The Cove in the Dominican Republic last winter.  We were renting a VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner) apartment on the beach on the Samana Peninsula at the east end of the island of Hispanola, and as soon as we started to meet the locals, we knew we had come home – at least for the winter.

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Manager Coco – and his son Alexandro – keep everything running smoothly at The Cove.

  Coco was the first to welcome us as our taxi driver dropped us at the front door of our home.  He was the manager of the complex and immediately started taking care of us, first with a tour of the house and a how-to-start-the-air-conditioner demonstration.   The next morning came more info as he delivered a 5-gallon water bottle and told us how to hire the local women to come in and cook a full meal of chicken or fish and rice and salad.  And a whole lot more.  Coco smiled a lot and his default reply to every question was, “No problema!”  He told us where we could buy provisions and cold Coke at the nearby colmado (general store) only a five-minute walk from the house.

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Grandma and her kids and grandkids run the local colmado.

  When we arrived at the colmado we were welcomed with quick smiles as we brushed the cobwebs off our Spanish and dove into the indigenous mode, ordering flour and sugar and milk and eggs… and banana chips.  Processed foods simply weren’t available.  Behind the counter grandma reached for this and that as we pointed at the stuff we wanted, and the grandkids scrambled to help.  We discovered later that the tourists who stayed at The Cove rarely shopped at the local store and in fact, didn’t cook for themselves much, choosing to eat out more often than not.  So, seeing our willingness to engage the local culture and support the neighborhood economy, we made ourselves popular very quickly.

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The guaguas shuttle passengers and cargo on a fixed route all day long.

  We saw even more surprise and pleasure on the faces of the neighbors when we showed up at the bus stop to board the guagua for a trip to the nearest town.  The guaguas are beat-up vans and small pickups with benches built in the back for passengers.  They come by every half hour and charge about 70 cents for a ride to town.  They were often crowded, but people would quickly scoot over to make room for the Americanos every time.  It seems that the foreigners rarely  ever ride the guaguas because they all have rental cars.  Except for us.  We like to get as close to the culture as we can.  Believe me, in a guagua, the culture is very close!

A Dominican visits the local colmado.
A Dominican girl visits the local market.

  The camera was the next thing that promoted our welcome with the neighbors.  The Dominicans love to have their pictures taken.  I rarely shoot a photo of a stranger without first making some introductory small talk, but these folks were eager to smile and pose for the camera.  Sometimes, when I was standing near someone, they would get my attention, point at the camera and then at themselves, and smile real big.  Man, this is easy!  Even teenage guys would pose when they saw the camera without the slightest hint that there was anything uncool about it.

These guys asked me to snap their picture while enjoying the seaside.
These guys asked me to snap their picture while waiting for friends at the seaside.
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These guys invited me in to share their fried fish with me.

  One day I grabbed the camera and headed out for a walk through the neighborhood of El Frances near our house.  The first guy I met on the street motioned me toward the path around behind the colmado where we took a shortcut through the baseball field and ended up standing in front of his house.  Next he took me to the school which was in session, disappeared inside and came back out with the principal so I could take her picture.  From there I continued on down the street where kids were running around naked while their moms hung up laundry in the yard.  Some guys invited me into their kitchen to share some freshly fried fish – right out of the pan.  I love these people!

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A local family on the front porch of their home in El Frances.

  I tell you, at the end of our stay as we said farewell to these great neighbors, it was like parting with family members.

  I love the Dominican Republic.  It’s a beautiful land with splendid beaches and forests of coconut palms.  But the biggest draw to this gorgeous tropical paradise is its beautiful people with their unpretentious grace and easy smiles.

This roadside vendor claimed his Mama Juana makes you strong and sexy.
This roadside vendor claimed his Mama Juana makes you strong and sexy.

  On my next visit to The Cove at El Frances I’m hoping to stay longer if I can possibly do it.  It’s like home after all.

  See my gallery of 250 photos of the land and the people of the Samana Peninsula, Dominican Republic, at my online gallery and photo store here.

Dominican teenager on the seashore.
Dominican teenager on the seashore.
These girls were prepared for an afternoon rain shower.
These girls were prepared for an afternoon rain shower with an improvised rain poncho.

The Dry Tortugas and Fort Jefferson

Milepost 11-13   If I were to compile a bucket list for nature lovers and history lovers – and adventurers who like to find the most isolated corners of the country, the Dry Tortugas and Fort Jefferson would be on the list.  The Dry Tortugas are a cluster of islands in the Gulf of Mexico 68 miles west of Key West.  This remote destination is managed by the National Park Service.

  It is a great location for nature lovers because of its diverse aquatic life.  As an avid snorkeler, I was astounded at the wide range of sea creatures I saw there.  Besides the scores of tropical fish, I saw stingrays, spotted eagle rays, nurse sharks, reef sharks, lobsters, tarpon, barracudas and of course, sea turtles (tortugas in Spanish).

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The moat seems unnecessary as the fort is surrounded by the ocean on three sides.

  Fort Jefferson is a massive structure built of bricks, 16 million bricks!  In fact, it is said to be the largest brick building in the western hemisphere.  It was  built over a 20-year period beginning in 1846.  The fort was never attacked, and none of its cannons were ever used in battle.  One of those guns was capable of firing a cannonball 3 miles!

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Now THAT’S a cannon!

  Probably its foremost claim to fame is that it was used as a military prison and was the place where Dr. Mudd was incarcerated after the assassination of President Lincoln.  He was later pardoned after saving many lives in an outbreak of yellow fever at the fort.

  There is a small campground on the island in the shadow of the fort, and campers pay a few dollars per night.  When I camped there the ocean was almost dead calm and the snorkeling was easy.  My friends and I snorkeled all the way around the island in an hour-and-a-half in about 12 feet of water.  Then after dark some us returned to the water with a dive light for a nighttime skinny snorkel.

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The small tent campground offers about a dozen sites.

  There are a couple of reliable shuttle services that zoom to the islands from Key West with powerful double-hulled catamarans – in only a couple of hours at about 35 knots!  If you want to get there even faster, take the sea plane.

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The fastest shuttle to Fort Jefferson is the seaplane from Key West.
Even though it seems huge, the fort was once crowded with 400 residents.
Even though it seems huge, the fort was once crowded with 400 residents.

Best lightning photo

A nighttime thunderstorm interrupts the normal summer calm just offshore from Garden Island.  A sheltered cove protects boats.

Retiring the Old RV

Milepost 10-1-13 

  We just camped in our old travel trailer for the last time.  We have put money down on a newer rig but haven’t taken delivery of it yet, so we made a spontaneous decision to take advantage of the mild weather of early autumn and take the old camper out for one last outing.

  It’s only an hour’s drive to our favorite campground on the beach at the tip of the Thumb at Port Crescent State Park, and we were able to get the same site we had last year within a few yards of the beach.

We can enjoy a panorama of Lake Huron from our favorite campsite at Port Crescent.

  Port Crescent’s golden sands are perfect for beach walking and the water was still relatively warm.  The weather was unusually mild for this time of year and we were able to linger out by the campfire well into the evening.

Our favorite beach walk takes us west a half mile to where the Pinnebog River empties into Lake Huron.

  We have been really excited about the newer fifth wheel and are anxious to bring it home and set it up with the necessary provisions for our once-in-a-lifetime journeys to California and Alaska and the other far corners of the country, but on this excursion we did a lot of reminiscing.  We have owned the old travel trailer for ten years and have built a lot of memories.

Anybody looking for a vintage travel trailer?  It’s a 1978 Jayco, and it’s too small to live in for more than a few days.

  This is one of the trailers that my construction crew stayed in while we were building new log homes all over the state a few years ago.  We worked year ’round, so this was our home away from home even through several winters.

  But we have to have something bigger for our next adventures, because Kaye and I will be living in it for months at a time as we tour the U.S. from coast to coast.  The new RV has a slide-out that expands the living space and should be a great help in preventing  cabin fever.

So the sun has set on another Lake Huron shoreline adventure.

  The sun has set on our adventures with the old Jayco.  We are looking forward to a new dawn with the newer Coachmen.  Watch for upcoming posts with the new rig!

Summer Shenanigans

Milepost 8-1-13 

  The seasons are no more obvious in the northern U.S. than out in the country.  In the city it is hard to see the changes that take place so gracefully and continuously outside of town.  In farm country there are more than four seasons as each one can be further divided into a myriad of micro-seasons.

  In the summer, for example, over a few weeks the wheat changes from bright green and grassy-looking in May and June to golden and grainy at harvest time in July.  The corn changes from knee-high by the fourth of July to nine feet high or more by August first.  The entire landscape goes through a continuum of overhauls right before our eyes.

  Kaye and I have not been traveling as much this summer because we enjoy the beauty of our secluded home in the log cabin here in central Michigan.  And we’ve been staying home intentionally to save money for our next big ventures to California and Alaska.

  So we are enjoying the sojourn of the seasons all around us here in the middle of the farm community where Kaye grew up as the daughter of a dairy farmer.

  I am a visually stimulated sort of guy, and I often see things that ignite my imagination on this journey through the seasons.  Today I pictured some nonsense in the field of huge round straw bales that we pass on our way to the highway and back.  Staging a bit of silly-ness is a lot of fun for me and even more so when my wife is willing to go along with it.  Here are the results of our latest craziness, some just-for-fun photos of our peaceful countryside surroundings.  The straw bales were rolled a day or two after the wheat was harvested.  They’ll probably be around for a while, so who knows what nonsense will follow over the next few weeks.

  Thanks to Kaye for conspiring in the nonsense!

  Hmm, I wonder what we can do with 10-foot high corn fields next?

 

Travel and Life on the Open Road