Milepost 3395 Fort Nelson, Yukon, to Delta Junction Alaska
Well, we have traveled the official distance of the Alaska Highway which covers 1,488 miles between Dawson Creek, BC and Delta Junction in Alaska. But nobody stops and stays in Delta Junction; it’s just an intersection on the way to several other more distant destinations. We are heading on to Fairbanks tomorrow and then to our final goal, Denali Park where our kids live and work every summer.
I have made few blog posts along the way because I didn’t have access to the internet. Further, several of the RV parks we stayed at were so far from the electrical grid that they were operating on their own power plants, so we could hear the faint hum of the generator all night. Every village and lodge north of Fort Nelson has to generate its own electricity. I guess wifi is a bit much to ask for when there isn’t even an electrical power grid in place.
For hundreds of miles we traveled along the foot of the Canadian mountain ranges. That is, when we weren’t working our way over some steep high pass or through a narrow canyon. We developed a new respect for the Rockies here. No, call it what it is: fear. These mountains are beautiful from a distance, but up close they are intimidating. Our adventure threshold was crossed several times into the area of anxiety.
It seemed we spent an entire day in second gear as the pickup labored up the steep climbs to Summit Pass only to be followed closely by the decline that required many miles of engine braking in order to save the brakes. Scary stuff, man.
Our trek through the Yukon was an episode that deserves its own coverage, but let me quickly say that the roads there are terrible. The Canadian engineers either haven’t learned yet how to design roads that will not be heaved by the permafrost every winter and summer, or they don’t have the money to do it right. I suspect that funding is the big problem as there was a marked difference in the quality when we crossed into Alaska which is a rich petroleum state.
Anyway, the frost heaves have rendered the pavement a mess of dips and ridges and mounds that have turned the highway into an off-roader’s dream. But for the RV-er it’s a nightmare. 35 mph was too fast for a lot of it. We entered the RV with caution at every rest stop to push things back into their places in the cupboards and re-organize the stuff in the fridge.
I’ll be writing much more about this epic adventure in subsequent posts, but I want to say right here that, even though I didn’t entirely know what I was getting into, I do not regret my decision to assault the Alaska Highway with a pickup and an RV. It assaulted me back, but I have lived to tell about it, and tell about it I will.
Watch for it in subsequent posts. With photos. I’ll add photos as soon as I return to digital civilization.
Milepost 2040 Cache Creek to Dawson Creek, British Columbia
Today we made it to the official start of the Alaska Highway, Mile Zero, at Dawson Creek, British Columbia, Canada. That is after driving 2,000 miles northward from where we spent the winter and spring near Los Angeles, California. We’ve been on the road for eleven days, covering 1,300 miles up the west coast and another 700 after crossing the border into Canada.
We celebrated our arrival at the beginning by treating ourselves to a pizza in downtown Dawson Creek. Then we hit the Safeway market to stock the fridge and cupboards for the big stretch across the mountains and tundra to Alaska. It will take another week or more, and the outposts and fuel stops are few and far between.
The scenery has been beautiful, an ever-changing panorama from narrow rocky river canyons to hilly forested highlands to snow-capped mountain ranges. We have churned our way up steep climbs, over passes, and then descended carefully down the other side. We have passed through tunnels and crossed countless high bridges, marveling at the engineering feats pulled off by the early trail blazers.
Tomorrow we are hoping to put a bit more west in our northwest; it’s been heavy on the north so far. In fact, the compass on the dash seemed confused today as we managed a twisting stretch around a mountain range and drove east instead of west; it was dizzying.
Tomorrows’ route is more straightforward, so we’re hoping to cover a lot of ground. Denali is waiting for us.
Milepost 1518:Chilliwack to Cache Creek, British Columbia
We crossed the border into British Columbia yesterday and the border guard wanted to know where we were going.
“Alaska, where our kids live and work every summer,” I said.
“Do you know how far it is to Alaska?”
“Yes,” I said.
“And how long will it take you to get there?”
“We are allowing two weeks,” I replied.
“So you’re taking it nice and slow.” He seemed satisfied that we knew what we were up against and waved us through.
Today I wasn’t so sure I knew what we were doing up here.
We are traveling northward through the rugged Rocky Mountains, and our winding route today took us through seven tunnels and over several passes. There’s no easy way around it for the RV-er. The easy way would have been to fly to Alaska, but it’s too late for that, and where’s the challenge in that anyway? We must keep going.
It seems to be slow going for us with the formidable terrain we are facing these days. We only covered about 150 miles today before we tired out and headed for a reprieve at a wayside RV park at Cache Creek, an old gold rush supply town that continues its service to wayfarers 100 years later.
Today I re-named this place “the land of 1,000 waterfalls,” because it seemed that every little stream we crossed was plunging to its death in some beautiful leap off a precipice. The melting run-off has no other way to get to the mighty river below and eventually to the ocean. Rather like us having no other way out of this canyon but to get back on the highway and head farther north tomorrow morning.
But at least if we are in the middle of nowhere, nowhere sure is beautiful!
We have been on the road for six days now and have covered just about a fourth of our distant from Fillmore, California, to Denali, Alaska. We have slowed down a couple of times to visit with friends and family that we haven’t seen in decades. Great reunions!
The days are getting longer as we head farther north each day and it’s still almost three weeks to summer solstice. Tomorrow our goal is to cross the border into Canada near Vancouver, British Columbia.
We have been enjoying a variety of campsites, from crowded line-ups with little privacy to the big woods in the middle of nowhere like where we are tonight near Olympia, Washington.
While we have been charging through the west coasts great cities, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, we have also blown right past some of the lower 48’s signature mountains: Mt. Shasta, Lassen Peak, Crater Lake, Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helen’s and Mt. Rainier. I guess we are on a mission to get to the continent’s premier peak, Mt. McKinley (Denali).
I have hardly had the camera out yet, because I’ve got both hands on the wheel all day. And when we finally stop to find a campsite each evening, we are usually near the freeway and don’t have time or energy to venture to the nearest attractions.
We may have to return at some future point and dedicate more of our attention to the bountiful world of beauty that blankets America’s west coast. For this time, unfortunately, it’s mostly a means to an end.
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.
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.
(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.”
(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.)
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.
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.
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.
Tomorrow we’ll take the next step and see where we end up by evening.
The countdown has begun and the anticipation is building with every passing day now! In just a few days, we’ll be pulling out onto the highway and heading north on our epic 4000-mile journey to Denali. We have spent the winter and spring in our first work-camper assignment at Kenney Grove Park in California but our time is about up and the open road beckons.
Our original plan was to spend only the winter in California and then wander across the south and head up the east coast back to Michigan in the spring, but our park manager talked us into staying here for five months. We have really enjoyed living in California for awhile, but the restlessness has started to set in over the last few weeks; it’s time to move on. Our route to Alaska has changed since we are heading there from California rather than Michigan. It’s a triangular path that gets us back to Michigan by mid-August.
We have been studying the route via Google maps and the standard Alaska highway resource, Mileposts, a 760-page volume that includes every detail of the route, from fuel stops to campgrounds to historic sites. I don’t think we’ll get lost if we stick to the main highway. Then again, this is all about adventure and exploration, so what are the chances we’ll stick to the main highway?
All right, then, we are going to get lost.
We are loving the Pacific coast and plan to follow the shore for the first few hundred miles, first visiting the hometown of John Steinbeck who inspired us with his novel, Travels with Charlie. Then we’ll rubberneck our way through the giant Redwoods and north through Oregon and Washington to Vancouver where we cross into Canada.
Our goal is to make it to Denali before the summer solstice when they are experiencing more than 21 hours of daylight. Cool!
If you’d like to see where we end up each night along the way, subscribe to the blog on the left sidebar above, or Like the Facebook link on the right sidebar. We will post updates whenever we can find an internet connection, which might not happen every day while we are traveling the actual Alaska highway, because the hotspots are few and far between.
Our planned departure date is Thursday, May 29th. Yippee!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Some days I can’t believe where we are. In fact, some days I don’t know where we are. I wake up in the morning and open my eyes with a bit of surprise to see the inside of my fifth wheel bedroom loft and see the California sun peeking in through the mini-blinds – and I remember again. We moved out of our big house after the kids all grew up and left. We sold or gave away much of our furniture and tools and extra clothes. And we hit the road.
It had been a dream of ours for a long time, but we’d been anchored to a large property by debt and a mortgage. There was no money for traveling more than a few miles from home. Having raised our three daughters – as well as 17 foster kids, 5 foreign exchange kids, and a few other extras – all on a solitary public school teacher’s income, we reached retirement age still carrying a mortgage. And we still had liabilities from my log home construction company that had closed when the housing market tanked in Michigan in 2006.
Here’s how we were finally able to realize the impossible dream:
Downsizing the property. Many of our friends have had two-income households pretty much all of their lives. They are able to keep the home place and still afford another place in Florida. Or a brand new RV. Not us. We had to be willing to part with our homestead of 40 years. There was just no way around it. And it was pretty much empty with the kids gone anyway. Every time the furnace kicked on in the wintertime I cringed at how much it was costing to heat a 10-room house with only two people in it.
When we couldn’t sell after two years, we put renters in the big house and moved ourselves into a one-room log cabin on the same 30-acre property. Finally, we split the property, sold 10 acres to a neighbor, paid off the last of our credit card debt, sold the farm tractor, and then bought a strong 10-year old pickup and a used RV.
Downsizing the possessions. We sold the construction equipment on Craigslist along with the extra furniture and the SUV, and then we took many loads of extra clothing and housewares to the local thrift store. We gave as many of the family heirlooms to our kids as they would take. They finally told us we didn’t have anything left that they wanted. We put the rest in storage.
Buying depreciated vehicles. Did you know that a car loses about half its value in the first 5 years? And the quality of American-made vehicles is so much improved over the last 30 years that a diesel pickup may well go a half-million miles before it’s done. We were able to find an RV that had been given much TLC by the previous owner – he even waxed the outside – and even buying from a dealer, we paid $8,000 for a 12-year-old RV that had cost $27,000 new (That’s 70% depreciated). It had been parked much of the time, had new tires, and no roof leaks ever. It is probably the last RV we will ever buy, ’cause with standard maintenance it will last longer than we will.
Okay, that was all just to get started. But how could we afford the gypsy life? We looked at campground costs and freaked. A one-night stay in a typical KOA was $45. At this rate a month in the same park would cost $1,350! Yow! And then we discovered the monthly rate.
Stay long-term. The same private campground almost certainly has a weekly, monthly, and seasonal rate that reduces long-term costs significantly. Most private parks have monthly rates under $400, including all hook-ups, even cable TV and Wifi. And if you want to stay for an entire season, you’ll do even better. Of course, parks along the ocean and near popular attractions will not be so reasonable. They don’t have to be, because people will pay the premium rate to be on the waterfront or next to Disneyland, etc.
Stay for Free. When you are on the road, it is possible to save camping costs by not setting up for the night. Most Walmarts (but not all) will allow overnight stays in their parking lots if you don’t unhitch.
Of course, truck stops are available, but you need to be a sound sleeper who won’t be wakened by the rumble of truck engines all night. Friends and relatives are a resource for backyard camping, but you need to be socially savvy enough that you don’t invite yourself where you are really not welcome. And don’t over-stay your welcome. State and National Forests allow camping just about anywhere, for free or for $10 a night, within certain guidelines. This sort of off-the-grid camping is called boon-docking and there are various websites dedicated to the practice. RV’s are designed for self-contained camping with storage tanks and batteries for several days of service – off the road and off the grid.
Work-Camp. You’ll find a plethora of websites that will help you get started earning a free campsite by working half-time at a campground. Our first experience here at Kenney Grove Park in Fillmore, California, has been working out fine for us. I am doing tree trimming and handyman work for the park and enjoy a beautiful campsite surrounded by live oak trees, cacti, and Bird-of-Paradise. In keeping with the higher costs in southern California, the campsite is valued at $1000 a month and includes full hookups, private patio, and storage shed. Malibu and Hollywood are nearby (a film crew was parked onsite last week while filming just down the road). Kaye and I are living here for free this winter and spring by helping out around the park.
When I first looked into work-camping I found many kinds of assignments available, from park hosting to nature trail guiding. One spot in the desert was needing a host for a campground at an off-roading racetrack. I passed that one up thinking that all-night security duty would be part of it and I didn’t want to play bouncer to a bunch of rough-and-tumble monster truckers. Matching the worker to the job is definitely important. Many work-camp arrangements run for 6 months but are negotiable.
These are some of the most significant endeavors you can undertake to achieve and then pursue the wandering life. There are many more, from gas cards that offer discounts on fuel, to memberships in camping clubs, and yearly rates for state and national park access. And a whole lot more. I think we will be in the discovery stages of this for a long time.
There are many dreamers in the world. But turning dreams into reality is a pro-active pursuit, and it doesn’t happen by wishing, and it doesn’t happen by accident. It might start with wishing, but making it happen takes careful planning and determination.
Oh, one more thing. Many of my readers are looking forward to a wandering lifestyle after retirement, but a few very lucky – or very determined people are making it happen sooner. One couple I know sold their business in Seattle and left the rat race to live in the desert in a 40-foot motorhome. They are total boon-dockers, living completely off-grid, operating on solar energy and batteries and running an internet-based business by satellite uplink. Way out in the wilderness, legally living for free on government land, and totally connected. Cool.
See? There are ways to get where you want to be. Start planning now and make the lifestyle changes that are necessary… and you’ll get there! Maybe Kaye and I will bump into you somewhere along the way.
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.
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 around the park.
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 who were visiting from Texas.
If you have read Bob’s latest blog post about risk and adventure… AND if you know me very well, you may be wondering how I feel about all that. You may be thinking that I am not quite the adventurer he is. And you would be right.
I’m the cautious one. The one who likes safety and security. The one who doesn’t much enjoy driving on mountain roads or going out in a boat. I’m pretty much a wimp when it comes to scary adventures. I guess I’ve always been cautious – both by natural temperament and by family upbringing. I was raised to be careful and conservative. Calculated planning was valued. Dependability, faithfulness, responsibility and wisdom were the highest virtues. Risk-taking, irresponsibility, and recklessness were flat out wrong.
I don’t like to take risks. I like to make wise choices. I like predictability and routine. I love to have a schedule and a map in hand that show exactly where we are and where we are going. My idea of adventure might be to order something new from the menu, to take a different route home, maybe even to go red-lining. You know… getting off the interstate and exploring those red lines on the map and maybe even the gray ones. Ooh, scary stuff. We don’t know what we might find back there on those roads – or even worse – what we won’t find.
But I married an adventurer. How reckless of me.
Oh, I had done adventures of my own. Well, one anyway, that I can think of. During college I went to a foreign country all by myself – well, along with a bunch of classmates and our professors. But I did it by myself – meaning that I stepped out and made the decision – even though decisions often paralyze me. So yah, it was a dramatic step for me to do something this big on my own initiative without my family, without anyone leading me or holding my hand. That might be my only big adventure on my own, but I did have that one. I had stepped out of my comfort zone – and made a choice that felt scary and risky. And I had the reward of a wonderful experience, one that I would forever cherish.
A seed was planted.
Risky adventure does not have to mean dangerous or extreme sports. You can choose to take big risks in other ways. Like selling your home of 40 years. That was a biggie for me. Besides being cautious, I am also sentimental. Letting go of security and stability was a huge leap. Trading them in for an unknown life on the road filled with risks of all kinds became an adventure for me that was definitely scary.
But we realized that we wanted to go, that we wanted the freedom to move. We made the choice. We took the leap. We weighed the risks and the rewards and made the best decision we knew how to make. Yes, we took the risk, but not recklessly.
In his article, Bob spoke of the risk-reward ratio – partly because I’ve been thinking out loud about that idea lately. As I deal with scary mountain roads and other risky adventures, I am trying to learn how to find a balance that works for me. For us. At this point my formula is pretty simple. The reward has to be big enough to be worth taking the risk. In other words, I won’t choose to go on “those” mountain roads unless it’s for a really good reason.
As for the big picture…
On this big wild and crazy journey we are traveling, we try to be patient with ourselves and each other as we weigh the risks and rewards of this new life. I must admit that there have been some scary days, when it seemed like the very things I feared were coming true. That too many things were going wrong or the sadness was too great. But there have also been the days when the rewards have been wonderfully sweet.
And so the adventure continues. There will be risk and there will be rewards – hopefully with some balance between them that is healthy and good – even if not always fun.
“I can’t move my legs,” my friend whispered in the pitch black darkness as he slipped into unconsciousness. We were teetering on the face of a steep mountain in the Sierra Madres of Mexico where Marc had just tumbled head over heels 90 feet down a rough slope, his balance thrown off by the overloaded backpack. It didn’t help that there were only three flashlights for 15 hikers; because of delays, we had been caught on the mountain after dark, something that our guide hadn’t prepared us for. Our efforts for the next hour proved to make the difference between life and death; not to worry, Marc lived. And he recovered quickly over the next few days, having no broken bones and no lasting injuries.
That was a bit more adventure than I had counted on when I organized this trek for a group of young summer missionaries. Marc’s fall caused him no small amount of trauma and an equal amount of stress for me and the rest of the trekkers.
And that’s the risk one takes when he signs on for an adventure.
Most Americans never have such a scary experience, because most do not sign on for much adventure at all. For many, their most risky experience is the morning commute to the job in the city. Mind you, it can be stressful too, but is hardly ever an adventure.
The American dream is a comfortable one and not very adventurous. Most of us spend our summer weekends on the backyard patio with a steak on the grill and a cold drink in hand. We don’t paddle any whitewater or jump off any cliffs. And that’s how we like it. No adventure, no risk, and no worries. Mind you, for some, that is the best thing.
But there are others who become restless if they haven’t had the crap scared out of them a time or two within the last six months. They get cabin fever when the winter is too long, and they start dreaming of tents, sleeping bags and the latest climbing gear.
I’m not sure if it is personality that makes the difference, or if family history is a more profound ingredient in the adventure quotient. My dad was a camper and loved to take the family on an adventure every summer. Some of his kids are the same way, but not all of us.
On the other hand, my three kids are all adventurers and world travelers. I give partial credit to an extended adventure that I took the family on in the middle of my small-town teaching career. Taking a one-year leave-of-absence, we moved to an underdeveloped country in the Caribbean where Kaye and I taught in an international school. We lived in an indigenous neighborhood where we were isolated from other Americans. This experience changed our family forever. The adventure factor has run strong in all of us ever since.
Are you a restless adventurer? Do you get frustrated when you spend more time punching a time clock than kicking through the gears on a motorcycle? Do you live for the weekends? Have you applied the risk-reward ratio to your financial portfolio but never to the balance of comfort and adventure in your life?
Maybe it’s time for a change – If you feel that you need more excitement in your life. If you are young, you might want to take this into consideration when you are choosing your career. At 17 years old, I chose teaching partly because of the long summer vacations. I knew myself well enough to know that I would not be happy with only the two weeks off every year that my friends who went to the auto assembly plant would get. They made a lot more money – I had a lot more fun.
And it was a wise decision, because I eventually became the adventure trips planner for our local church youth group and found myself in all kinds of exciting locations over the next 35 years.
I had teams of 13-year-olds squeezing through wild caves in southern Indiana, groups of boys lost at night on the sand dunes by Lake Michigan (just because their group leader was an Eagle scout didn’t mean he had earned the badge for orienteering).
I have been skinny-dipping with friends in the middle of the nighttime bioluminescence of the Indian Ocean – green sparks exploding in the water with every movement. I’ve crashed a motorcycle on the most winding two-lane road in Michigan (my only broken bone ever), and rafted the whitewater of the Ocoee River in the mountains of Tennessee – the same river used for the kayak races in the 1996 summer olympics.
And now I’m living on the road in an RV with my life-long companion as we explore the backroads of America. And Kaye and I are gearing up for the ultimate road trip this summer, the Alaska Highway, with a pickup and a fifth-wheel.
When our appetite for risk and adventure is satisfied, we pull into an RV park or a friend’s backyard, and we stay a while. We fuel up our comfort-and-safety quotient for a while until we start to get restless again and long for the open road. A couple of months is just about the perfect duration for us to stay in one place.
The adventure appetite runs pretty strong with us right now. Age and failing health will park us someday, but for now we plan to git while the gittin’s good.
How about you? Do you have your summer planned full of adventures yet? What about the rest of your life? Are you assigning enough risk to satisfy your adventure quotient?
Don’t get me wrong, adventure is not for everybody. It depends on your appetite for risk. If you don’t have it, you are fine to enjoy the security of a comfortable and stress-free life in America.
But, if you are increasingly restless and keep gazing out the window of your office or your kitchen, it’s possible that the adrenaline runs stronger in your veins than you thought. And maybe you should do something about it. Increase the risk factor. Dive into the next adventure.
Okay, so maybe too much adventure can be deadly, but a more common tragedy is the slow death of dreams and bucket lists while we safely watch the grass grow in our comfortable back yards, the regretful long-term product of too much comfort and security.
For your own well-being, maybe you should get some adrenaline going on this summer. Have fun. And be safe.
Today I spent some time exploring a section of Los Padres National Forest nearby. The border is only about three miles from my current campsite near Fillmore, California, so I didn’t need to travel far. The terrain is extreme, very mountainous and with no developed campgrounds in this section of the park. Camping is permitted just about anywhere, but good luck finding a level spot of ground for setting up a tent or a camper.
The weather was comfortable at 68 degrees and mostly sunny – really nice for early March for me, but it’s normal here in southern California. When you are driving or hiking to higher elevations remember this rule of thumb: The temp drops 3-1/2 degrees for every thousand feet of elevation. Take this into account and you’ll be ready for changes in the weather. Also, campers and hikers are used to layering, adding or removing clothing as the day – or the exertion level – warms up or cools off.
Los Padres is a beautiful but challenging destination for the intrepid hiker or camper. A bit of research will be invaluable before you leave civilization and head into the mountains. And it’s all mountains.
Oh, a footnote is in order here. If you do a Google Maps search of this area, you’ll see a spot named the “Sespe Condor Sanctuary”. Don’t get excited; there are no condors out here. There used to be a few of the giant birds, due to the efforts of a few scientists and nature lovers, but their efforts proved futile. It’s a long story.
Milepost 2540: Fillmore, CA. Elev. 469 ft. 30 miles from the ocean.
We have safely arrived in our winter home at Fillmore, California, where I have signed on to a work-camp assignment for the next five months, earning a free campsite. We have been out and about exploring this old railroad town where the Mexican restaurants and markets outnumber all others combined.
It is a pleasant little town with palm-lined streets, occupying the floor of a wide and verdant valley surrounded by parched mountains – they are in their fourth year of drought here. The valley is irrigated and the orange groves are full of fruit right now, spilling windfalls into the ditches.
Upon setting up the RV, we found our sewer line too short and had to run to the store to buy another section. The nearest Walmart was over the mountain ridge in Simi Valley. Our satellite maps did not prepare us for the topography on this quick jaunt. The mountain road was a tangle of switchbacks and hairpin turns climbing steeply – and populated with double-bottom gravel trucks heading to and from the quarry. It left our nerves an equally tangled mess.
Kenney Grove Park is a scenic garden of eucalyptus, sycamore, palm, pine, oak and cactus.
I’ve already had a lengthy orientation into my job as handyman and part-time camp host. I consider it a privilege to add my effort and attention to such a picturesque slice of the world. It helps that I am missing the blizzards back home in Michigan while I work in short sleeves in southern California where it is 70 degrees and sunny every day.
This afternoon I got my bike out and took off to the explore the local bike trails, my first ride since October in Michigan. There are paved trails here, some following the old railroad grade and some following the levee along Sespe Creek (which is totally dry right now) upstream toward the condor sanctuary a few miles into the national forest to the north of us.
Tomorrow we get to head up to Santa Barbara along the coast highway to visit our kids who work and study there in the winter. I wonder what marvels await us there.