Tag Archives: California

The Economy of the Wanderlife

Milepost 4-7-14   Fillmore, California

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.

Bunkhouse porchWhen 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.

Truck stop parking lots can be welcome places for overnight stays.
Truck stop parking lots can be welcome places for overnight stays, where restrooms – and breakfast – are close by.

 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.

It's good to try things out before sinking a lot of money into it, so start small if you need to.
It’s wise  to try things out before investing a lot of money, so start small if you need to.

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.

Too Much Adventure Can be Deadly

Milepost 3-18-14   Fillmore, California

“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.

Hiking in the Sierra Madre Mountains in Mexico.
Hiking in the Sierra Madre Mountains, Mexico.

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.

Here I'm rappelling into the 30-foot pit entrance of Coon's Cave.
Here I’m rappelling into the 30-foot pit entrance of Coon’s Cave.

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.

Dad took us to the narrows at Zion Canyon Nat'l Park when we were kids.
Dad took us to the narrows at Zion Canyon Nat’l Park in Utah when we were kids.

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.

Our girls posed with the neighbors in Santiago, Dominican Republic.
Our girls posed with the neighbors in Santiago, Dominican Republic.
Kaye visits with neighbors in Santiago.
Kaye visits with neighbors in Santiago.

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.

Our three girls explored the ghost town of Red Mountain, Colorado.
Our three girls explored the ghost town of Red Mountain, Colorado.

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.

Kids climbed and jumped off the shipwreck at South Manitou Island, Michigan.
Kids climbed and jumped off the shipwreck at South Manitou Island, Michigan.

 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).

Hikers at the Pictured Rocks, Michigan.
Hikers at the Pictured Rocks, Michigan.

 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.

Life on the open road takes us... just about wherever we want!
Life on the open road takes us…  well,  just about anywhere we want!

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.

Bob's ven burst bckgrnd _0001
Too much comfort may result in boredom – and too much risk may bring on stress.  You need to know yourself and discover what level of adventure you require to keep a satisfying balance.

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.Tony dives in

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.

On a Mission – at Santa Barbara

Milepost 3-15-14   Santa Barbara, California

One of the joys of settling into a new community is exploring the unique features that make it what it is.  Santa Barbara, California, is known for its premiere historical site, the old mission.  Kaye shares her perspective on our visit there yesterday:

(Kaye writes) Much of the California coastline is dotted with charming old missions that stand as monuments to the religious and cultural history of this region when it was still part of Mexico. One of the more beautiful and more famous ones, Old Mission Santa Barbara, is wonderfully restored and maintained.

Mission Santa Barbara has 150 years of historical charm.
Mission Santa Barbara has 150 years of historical charm.

Visitors are greeted by a lovely view of the old church – which has been expanded and repaired many times through the years – and by a welcoming portico that runs the full length of the adjacent mission structure.

SB mission front porticoI was enamored by the uneven tile floor full of dips and smooth worn edges, but still shiny as can be. Meanwhile, Bob was fascinated with architectural details like the awesome arches, magnificent doors, quaint windows, and walls that were more than three feet thick –  photographic opportunities galore.

SB mission portalAfter buying tickets for the self-guided tour, we stepped through a door into a dim hallway, past the first of many beckoning stairways, and back out into the daylight of the huge square courtyard, dubbed the Sacred Garden – which is in the midst of major rejuvenation, but still lovely with roses and plants of all kinds and graceful palm trees encircling a modest three-tiered fountain.

View from inner courtyard.

Visitors are allowed to wander along two sides of this wonderful courtyard before finding our way up picturesque staircases and through stone pathways skirting yet another lovely courtyard and leading eventually into the cemetery.

The inner courtyard is home to the Sacred Garden.

Signs seemed to indicate the possibility of using the Mission Renewal Center for personal or group retreats – an idea that I find very appealing. We also learned of the possibility of having one’s cremains buried in the mausoleum – an idea not quite so fun to me.

Full-length porticos are lined with old-world charm.
Full-length porticos are lined with old-world charm.

From the cemetery we went into the nave of the church and spent a leisurely time soaking up the beauty and symbolism and stillness of that great place.Santa Barbara mission hall _0107 I almost would have expected that to be the climax of the tour, but then came the museum room – and then another room and another. This was actually a rather impressive and extensive museum with re-created rooms from long-ago mission life as well as a good variety of artifacts displayed and historical events illustrated and well-explained for those who took time to read them.SB mission side doorway.

The experience was well worth the five dollars we paid and I would recommend it to people who enjoy history and culture. We prolonged our enjoyment of the gorgeous sunny day by sitting on the grass out front for a couple more hours.

SB mission cemeterySB mission church doorway.SB mission detailSB mission front doorsSB mission front facadeSB mission gatewaySB mission interior windowSB window shuttered

Whew!  That was exhausting!
Whew! That was a work-out!

Where the Robert Leaves the Road – a day in the National Forest

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 road into Los Padres National Forest isn't for the timid.
The drive is beautiful but can be rather intimidating.  A few feet in front of my pickup is a thousand-foot drop if you miss the hard left turn!
The road into the national forest is one lane and steep most of the way.  Not a good drive for the timid driver.
The road into the national forest is only one lane and steep most of the way with no guardrails anywhere. Not a pleasant walk-in-the-park for the timid driver.
There are a couple of fords above Sespe Creek.  Here's a Ford fording a ford.
There are a couple of fords above Sespe Creek. Here’s a Ford fording a ford.

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.

A steep climb up a dry creek bed offered a nice spot for a picnic lunch and a rest.
A steep climb up an almost dry creek bed offered a nice spot for a picnic lunch and a rest.

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.

There's no straight or level section of this road into the wilderness.
There’s no straight or level section of this road near the “California Condor Sanctuary”.

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.


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.