Stuff comes with stress attached. The more stuff, the more stress. It’s an unfortunate by-product of the American Dream. Our garages and basements are full of stress, the overflow of our lives of excess.
But the antidote is fairly simple: Downsize. Reduce stress by reducing stuff.
When I was young and newly married and just starting my career, I didn’t even think about whether I might like my life to be any different than my friends. I just automatically started in on the dream, buying a large property and starting on a house that was way too big for two newlyweds. I struggled to keep up with it for most of my adult life while raising a family and starting several businesses.
Fortunately, Kaye and I were able to reverse the process later and achieve the freedom to travel and relax.
A few years ago, Denmark was named the happiest country in the world. Somebody asked why, and the researcher pointed to “low expectations” as the main reason. So when the American said, “maybe I should move to Denmark,” the Dane replied, “You probably wouldn’t like it.”
And there it is. Low expectations.
But that’s not how most Americans think. We are programmed by life and the ad agencies to believe that more happiness comes with more stuff. “Go Big or Go Home!”
I think a life of balance is the best. I don’t tell people to downsize to a point of feeling starved for comfort or convenience. The ideal is to get rid of the unnecessary – and the stress that goes with it – and be left with the basic essentials for a measured life that is fun and relatively hassle-free. In all things, moderation.
It may not be the American Way, but it could deliver greater contentment.
Just ask the Danes.
Anyway, you are never going to hit the road with all that stuff holding you back.
The American Dream isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. A house with a two-car garage and a nice yard in the suburbs is not what everybody wants. In middle class America sometimes it is assumed that we will raise our kids to go to the right school to get the right degree to land the right job, find the right spouse, and raise the right family – who will do it all over again.
That’s fine if it is what you want, but very often middle-agers wake up one morning and discover they are tired of working the job, tired of paying the mortgage, and tired of weeding and feeding and mowing those relentless lawns.
They suddenly realize that maybe they are living somebody else’s dream.
I think the best case scenario is when young people don’t assume that life has to be lived in a certain way – before they rack up all that college debt, mortgage debt and credit card debt that seems to go with the status quo.
If you like what you are doing, it is more like play than like work. You can work 9 to 5 and love it and go home at the end of the day refreshed.
But if you have become weary of the rat race, maybe it is time to look for a change.
I loved my first 20 years of school teaching. But after that, it started to get old. I had a different roster of students every year, but the same age-appropriate behaviors. My school board offered an early buy-out for experienced (top of the pay scale) teachers, and I went for it.
It was actually too early for me to retire, and I had always wanted to work more with my hands; I took the chance to start a log home construction company that employed a mobile crew of carpenters who built new log homes all over the state of Michigan. I had a wonderful crew of workers, and I loved getting up every morning and going to work.
I had my second wind and was living my second dream for the next 8 years.
Then the housing market in Michigan collapsed and there wasn’t any more work. I had to lay off the crew.
Okay then, my next dream had been to operate a business in barn recycling and again I went for it. I rented a huge forklift and dismantled unwanted barns, hiring a couple of helpers to de-nail and sort the materials. I sold a lot of the boards, and constructed furniture from the vintage material to sell on the side. I even constructed several rustic log cabins that I sold online and shipped across the country.
I was having fun again.
Then we got the epic idea to sell our property and hit the road full-time in a 29-foot RV. Oh, the places we went! Surf this blog and you will see an amazing variety of places we experienced over several years.
But after a while, we found the downside of that too. We missed the kids and the grandkids when we were down south for those long winters.
And now we are pursuing the next wild dream. We have bought a historical house, a fixer-upper in the city and started ripping down old wallpaper and plaster.
I think we all wise up as we get older. Well, most of us do. We develop a philosophy of life as we go. And I guess this post is about ideology as much as it’s about a timeline of my life.
As much as it is possible, I think we should seek to do the things we enjoy. Somebody said to use your resources to buy experiences, not just stuff.
If the old job has become monotonous, maybe we should change directions. It is not always easy, and it doesn’t always happen right away. When I wanted to get out of teaching, I started to work toward getting my builder’s license three years before the next retirement buy-out was offered by my school district allowing me to retire and start collecting a pension.
If change is not possible, I would look for ways to adapt my lifestyle to make it more enjoyable. It’s calling living for the weekend, and millions live life this way, but it is better than hating every day of your existence.
A final word: Sometimes the things we enjoy are not obvious. We have to try things out in order to discover our passion. It can take years, it can take decades to find the fun. Shoot, it can take a lifetime of happily skipping from one thing to the next.
This too: Sometimes the passion will change. Some things just run their course. When a door closes, be a good finisher… and move on.
And then you can be off to try out the next new thing.
Life can be an amazing journey even when you are stationary for long periods of time. Some folks are happy to put down roots in one place and never be curious about the distant horizon. Adventure seems frightening and inconvenient. As Bilbo Baggins says in Lord of the Rings, “We have no use for adventures – nasty disturbing uncomfortable things; make you late for dinner.”
And that’s fine. If you don’t have a desire to see the world, don’t let me or anyone else prod you into far-flung unpleasantries.
But then there are people like me.
Though I lived for 43 years in one secluded rural retreat, my routine was punctuated by adventure. Whether heading up north to camp in the woods, down south to crawl around in the caves, out west to hike in the mountains, or over the ocean to an island hideaway, I couldn’t sit still for long.
So the last few years Kaye and I have been pioneering with an RV, living on the road, always peering around the next bend to get a glimpse of what we haven’t seen before. And it has been fun.
But right now, my travel quotient is satisfied. I am ready for a break. We have visited 49 of 50 states and are not making plans to visit Hawaii. At least not for now and maybe never.
But I think I am ready for a different kind of adventure.
While taking a breather from travel and staying in a small apartment for the past several months, we have plugged into the local scene and gone after other stuff that we like to do. We didn’t get enough of hosting foreign exchange students in our home when our kids were in high school years ago, so we have had a lingering desire to work with international students again.
We started volunteering at the local campus of the University of Michigan and helping internationals to improve their conversational English and learn more of American culture.
And we really came alive.
When we discovered that a historical house was on the market only a 10-minute walk from the campus, we jumped (carefully) at the chance to buy it, and today we signed the papers.
We are going to stay put for awhile and pursue our own brand of urban homesteading. Pioneering without wheels, as it were.
Our “new” house is 117 years old and already set up for urban homesteading in the inner city. There are rain barrels at the four corner downspouts, raspberries along the fence, an herb garden where the front lawn used to be. The climbing roses have been growing on the front fence since the 1920’s. There is a storeroom in the cellar for stockpiling canned goods and drinking water. Cool.
For a long time I have wanted to experiment with solar power; this house has a southern exposure that will accommodate my future solar panels. We might start composting too, just like my grandmother did back in the day, feeding those tomatoes that will grow in containers along the back wall.
It seems that urban homesteading is essentially a return to the way our ancestors lived a hundred years ago but updated with a lot of modern technology.
Owning property again – on a much smaller scale than before – does not mean we won’t travel anymore. We still have the fifth wheel so when the travel bug bites we can answer the call of the wild.
Stay tuned for reports on our latest pioneering adventure, a trip back in time, as it were, in the historical district of Flint, Michigan, in the center of the university neighborhood. Just around the corner is the Durant-Dort Office building where General Motors Corp (GMC) was founded in 1908!
It looks as though what’s next for us going forward, is a trip backward in time!
There are many ways to approach the journey of life and we have explored a bunch of them. This is about the different beaches where we have lived for a time.
One of Kaye’s favorite activities in the whole world is beach walking. I love sitting and soaking up the sun and synthesizing vitamin D. So beaches work for both of us.
It seems that the ultimate destination in the Caribbean is the beach and we have had the experience of enjoying many of them, mostly in the Dominican Republic, one of our favorite island winter respites.
Playa Rincón, Samana Peninsula, Dominican Republic.
Because of it’s remoteness, this beach is still largely undeveloped. It is possible to be alone and unbothered. We first visited this beach in 1990, camping in a tent in the coconut grove. Our last visit there -via a rented quad runner – was in the winter of 2016 and it was still unspoiled and beautiful.
La Playita, Las Galeras, Dominican Republic.
The Little Beach offers snorkeling on the reef just offshore, and there is a beach restaurant and masseuse on hand. It was a 15-minute walk from our last vacation rental in the little fishing village.
Las Galeras Municipal Beach, Las Galeras, Dominican Republic
A short walk from our vacation rental, the “town beach” offered beach bars and “tipico” restaurants and shuttle boats to other beaches nearby.
The Cove, Samana Peninsula, Dominican Republic
This beach is smack in front of the resort by the same name and is shared with the local fishermen who store their boats on shore every night. The local kids love to get attention from the tourists and will put on a show whenever there is a camera around. We stayed here for the winter of 2013.
West Coast Beaches
Santa Barbara Beach, California.
This large beach is nicely maintained by the city of Santa Barbara. There is a bike path, volleyball courts, an art show every Sunday, and a wharf with restaurants on stilts. We visited several times when we were doing the work-camping thing at nearby Fillmore, California, in the winter and spring of 2014.
While in California for the winter, we also explored Mugu Point Beach and had lunch at the famous beach diner, Neptune’s Net pictured in movies and TV shows.
We also enjoyed camping at the beach at the linear park at Seacliff where the beach was walkable for miles. Boon docking at its best (no hookups).
The Gulf Coast and East Coast
Dauphin Island Beach, Dauphin Island, Alabama
In the winter of 2015 we set out to spend the entire winter on island beaches. Dauphin Island was our home for January where the beaches are white sand. They are walkable for many miles.
St. Augustine Beach, St. Augustine, Florida
We spent the month of February in this historical town where driving on the beach is permitted. Bonus!
Emerald Isle Beach, Emerald Isle, North Carolina
In March, our RV site was a short dune walk from this beautiful white sand beach.
The Great Lakes
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Empire, Michigan
Being Michiganders most of our lives, this is probably one of our most frequent beach destinations. Of course, Lake Michigan is too cold for swimming except in the late summer and early fall.
Port Crescent State Park, Port Austin, Michigan.
The closest beach to our house for over 40 years, this beach and several others along the east shore of Michigan were our favorite sun-and-sand destinations in the summertime.
So this is a sampling of the many beaches where we have spent some time.
This is the first in the Life’s A Trip series featuring different ways we are approaching this journey of life.
Life’s a journey – whether you are on the road to adventure or parked in one spot for a while. There are many different stops along the way.
This is about the places we have discovered while venturing around the U.S. in a four-wheel-drive pickup truck for the last couple of years.
We had lived in the same place for over 40 years when we looked around one day and saw that our kids were grown up and moved away and exploring distant horizons. We looked at each other and decided we could do that too. Selling the 30-acre homestead, we downsized our stuff, upgraded the RV and took off. We spread a map on the kitchen table, closed our eyes and jabbed a finger at… Alaska. (It wasn’t quite that random; we had a daughter living and working in Alaska every summer and had been wanting to go there for a long time.)
Summer was months away, so I got a work-camp assignment at an old campground in Fillmore California for the winter and spring.
Michigan to California
We had family nearby at Santa Barbara and accompanied them to the beaches and eateries in the area.
California to Alaska
Summer came and leaving our work-camp assignment, we headed north up the Pacific Coast Highway toward the Canadian border.
We drove 1900 miles before reaching the beginning of the Alaska Highway at Dawson Creek, British Columbia.
After 15 days of driving we arrived at Denali Park where our daughter was working and living for the summer. We stayed through the middle of the summer.
Our trek back to Michigan in the late summer took 11 days returning over the same mountain passes and open prairie.
Michigan to the Gulf of Mexico.
After spending the late summer and fall in Michigan, we set our sights on the south, again hoping to escape the harsh northern winter. Leaving at the end of December, we arrived in Memphis on New Years Eve for dinner and a party at B.B. King’s Blues Club.
The local Mardi Gras parade marched right by our campground. We also visited New Orleans on a day trip.
Alabama to Florida
I was delighted to arrive in St. Augustine, Florida and discover that driving on the beach is a thing there, four-wheel-drive required.
At low tide the beach is 100 yards wide and allows plenty of room for drivers, bikers, and walkers.
Up the East Coast
In the spring, we wandered up the east coast through Georgia and South Carolina, staying for a month at Emerald Isle, North Carolina, then stopping for a few days in Virginia from where we made day trips to Washington D.C. visiting the major sites by means of the double-decker bus.
Arriving back in Michigan, we spent the summer at a campground with a bike trail and a small lake.
At the end of the year, we parked the rig for a while and flew to the tropics for the winter. That’s another story.
In the spring we decided to take a break from the gypsy life for a while. We moved into a small apartment in a small town in Michigan.
West again to Utah – the Pickup Camper
We were enjoying staying put for a while, but for some time I had been planning a return to the southwest for a photo shoot in the canyons of Utah. Rather than haul the RV, I switched to a pickup camper that was just big enough for one person.
Canyonlands National Park is a vast area of bare rock cliffs, mesas, and canyons. It is trisected by the Colorado and the Green Rivers which divide it into the three districts, the Needles, the Maze, and Island in the Sky. Most tourists only visit the highest area, Island in the Sky, which is a huge flat-topped mesa surrounded on three sides by the canyons. The Needles is reached via a single rugged road, and The Maze is entirely deserted but for a few adventurers coming down the river on rubber rafts or an occasional fly-over by a sightseeing airplane.
The defining theme of Canyonlands is the grand vistas available from theedges. The road on Island in the Sky provides easy access to the edge of the cliff that offers such expansive views that they are almost incomprehensible. The hiking trails are likewise perched on edges.
I was glad to be without small children when I was at Canyonlands because there are unguarded drop-offs everywhere.
In my experience, there seems to be a psychological connection between risk and adventure: The greater the perceived risk, the greater the sense of adventure. Because of this phenomenon, I would call Canyonlands a high-adventure location. There is an abundant risk factor because of the abundance of edges. The drives and the hikes all require frequent encounters with the edge.
After exploring Island in the Sky, adventurers who can afford the time and want to multiply their sense of adventure will likely drop down off the edge via the Shafer Trail and explore the White Rim Plateau 1200 feet below.
The White Rim Road is another level of high risk and delivers correspondingly high adventure. It follows the edge of the Colorado River canyon for 100 miles of rough one-lane rocky off-roading fun. (See my scary YouTube video of a 3-mile stretch of the road at the bottom.)
My drive on a section of the White Rim Road was a bucket list experience never to be forgotten. Those with a fear of heights will be ill-advised to attempt either the Shafer Trail or the White Rim Road.
Visitors with Jeeps and high-clearance SUV’s will have the easiest time at Canyonlands National Park. Despite the huge expanses of geography, the parking lots on Island in the Sky are small, and below the rim the turns are too tight for the big rigs. If you want to get off the high mesa and explore the more challenging areas below, it’s best to leave the RV in the town of Moab and rent a Jeep.
Otherwise, there will be chaos in the chasm.
Beyond the Jeep trails, there are multiple adventures for river rafters, hikers and mountain bikers.
This is the 5th in a series on the Southwest. Find the others in the left sidebar or at the bottom of this post.
Sometimes I can’t believe how I get into such scary spots… and then I remember exactly how it happens: I am always looking for the obscure sites where there is nobody else around. I don’t like crowds, but for a photographer, they usually come with the job.
Not so with the obscure Navajo ruins of the southwest. Three of these four sites are not even on a map; I found them through some meandering research, and some of them I had completely to myself. Now that’s what I’m talking about.
There is a reason why the hundreds of ancient ruins are not publicized and it has to do with preservation. Heavy traffic can destroy irreplaceable artifacts in a short time. Most of these locations are protected by conservation laws, but that doesn’t stop some folks from picking up a curious arrowhead here or a stone tool there… and soon there is no way for archaeologists to piece together the true history of the place when they eventually get to study the site. Obscurity is their best protection.
Pedestal Rock Ruin
I don’t think there is anything to worry about when it comes to the long-term preservation of this amazing location. Not only is it difficult to reach by road, it is perched on a high ledge that can’t be reached without risk to life and limb. It’s just not worth taking the chance.
Further, though it is in plain sight, it blends in with the background cliff so well that it is all but impossible to spot without knowing where to look.
When I finally reached Pedestal Rock after several miles of off-roading (yes, four-wheel-drive was absolutely necessary) and a hike on foot across the desert, I still had to scramble 150 feet up a loose talus slope to get within 100 feet – and still 30 feet below the ledge – to photograph the stone ruin. No way was I climbing any farther!
Nobody is going to bother Pedestal Rock ruin for a long time. It’s a thousand years old now and will continue to last undisturbed until… well, a major earthquake or something.
This site was another well camouflaged structure. I drove right up to it on a ranch access road and when I got out of my truck I still couldn’t see it. It’s perfect blend with the huge alcove in which it sits also made it hard to photograph.
Again, I was in for a challenging climb on a boulder-strewn slope. Man, these guys knew how to pick their sites to ward off attackers!
Many of these ruins were abandoned 700 years ago, but they date back to hundreds of years before that. Just think, Columbus hadn’t even arrived yet in North America by the time these installations were vacated. Historians say they moved southeast to more fertile locations, but I think it was because somebody had to carry water and firewood up that slope everyday and they just got tired of it.
My hike to False Kiva and back had me focused intently on my own survival. The site is located in a high alcove overlooking the expansive views of Canyonlands National Park but it requires a sketchy climb across the face of a loose rocky slope on a rather obscure pathway where one wrong move can mean a disastrous tumble and certain death. The drop to the Green River is over 2000 feet!
Long before I reached the ancient site, I was dizzy with vertigo. Finally, the enormous alcove offered a secure place to rest… and grab the photos for which I had just risked by life. Wow! What a view!
I still had to climb back out of here. My original plan to stay for some night sky shots now seemed rather foolhardy and an invitation to trouble on the dangerous slope after dark. A quick change of plans had me gulping Gatorade and trail mix and resting for a few minutes before initiating an immediate return to the canyon rim before darkness would set in.
Hovenweap National Monument
This place is actually on the map and gets a light flow of visitors even though it is a long way from anywhere. It’s location near the Four Corners area makes it accessible on mostly nice paved roads, but it is still not really on the way to anywhere. There is a rustic campground where I stayed the night.
Though you have to be a bit intentional about getting here, at least you will not be challenged by strenuous climbs. The only real danger is that, just like every other ancient Anasazi installation, the buildings are perched on the edges of drop-offs. Make the kids hold your hand.
Some of these remarkable buildings are three and four stories high and really impressive. The stonework is nothing short of amazing.
Every building is contoured to the ledge that it sits on. And apparently, the rock didn’t need to be level to be a desirable construction site. It just had to be on a dangerous edge. Amazing.
Anyway, it was a relief for me to be able to wander around pretty much on the level and wonder about the way of life that the ancients experienced. How deep must have been their fear of their adversaries to feel they had to protect themselves by building and living their lives on the edge every day.
My visit to four ancient sites afforded only a brief glimpse of the historical installations. There are hundreds of them, and I was amazed that most of them sit unprotected on their original ledges with nary a visit from anybody. Hopefully, they stay that way, because they are a real treasure to all of us, not only to the native descendants.
I came away from all of my cliff dwelling adventures without a scratch, just some achy leg muscles from all the scrambling up and down steep rock-strewn slopes. For that I am really thankful.
This is the 4th in the series on the American Southwest. There are links to the others at the bottom… or click on the others in the left side bar.
There are no buses or safari trucks hauling tourists to this remote spot. In fact, if you don’t have a high clearance vehicle, you might not make it here yourself. The road is gravel and sand and if you are coming in from the west, it crosses no less than 20 dry washes. You descend steeply, cross the stream bed, and then climb just as quickly out the other side. If it’s raining, forget about it. Crossing streams here can get you stuck for hours or days – if you aren’t washed away entirely.
What this lack of accessibility adds up to is a lot of solitude… in the middle of a magnificent valley filled with rugged silent beauty. It is often described as a slightly less spectacular version of Monument Valley which is within sight, a few miles to the southwest. To me, it looks as though the two are just part of one larger geological area, with the San Jaun River gorge cutting across the middle.
The camping is free here, and that is one thing that attracted me to the spot; I saw it as an affordable overnight alternative to the expensive campgrounds and dude ranches that service Monument Valley. Of course, boon docking is for those who are self-sufficient. There are no restrooms or water pumps here; you are entirely on your own.
I had checked off a mental inventory of my provisions before turning off the highway just north of Mexican Hat, having already filled the fuel tank and eating a hearty fast food meal at Kayenta, Arizona earlier in the day.
The campsite I chose was at the valley’s northernmost point at the foot of a giant butte and across from its twin. There were cliffs both east and west of me and a view to the southwest that stretched almost to infinity where I could see the hazy buttes of Monument Valley in the distance.
There is no restriction on hiking and exploring here, so I scrambled around for a while with the camera, just enjoying the sights.
Of course, boon docking means there are no improvements to the campsites; there are no RV pads or leveled platforms. I soon realized that my site was sloping a bit and decided to make my own improvements – by backing the truck onto some slabs of rock for the night. Perfect.
After the sun went down, I became slowly aware of another spectacular scene: the Milky Way was brilliant in the dark sky above me. After all, the nearest town was 20 miles away and the nearest city was more than 100 miles south. Out came the camera and tripod for a few time exposures of the starry sky.
Though there had been a few tourists driving by in rented SUV’s during the day, the place became extremely quiet after dark, almost too quiet. There was not another soul nearby… or was there?
A light wind was causing a moaning in the highest crags of the stone tower near me. It seemed a little bit spooky, and I started wondering how this desolate place first got its name. Did the natives name it? Had they been conjuring spirits out here in the past? Were there still manifestations that were floating about in the dark?
Climbing into the comfort of my camper loft, my weariness caught up with my consciousness and put me under a blanket of sleep. There were no nightmares. Just peace and quiet.
I loved Valley of the Gods and if I ever return, I hope to stay longer.
It’s a lot of fun if you like traipsing about in the desert among the most fascinating of rock formations. Or if you just like quiet solitude. Beautiful.
I once wrote about the different modes of travel that we have employed at various times in our lives, from tent camping throughout the family years, to the 29-foot fifth wheel that we have lived in for the last few years, touring the country from one end to the other.
We “parked it” a few months ago, moving into a small apartment so we could have a home base again for a while not far from our grandkids. We need some family time.
And now we have purchased a used pickup camper so that I could try some solo adventures — sort of a mobile bachelor pad, if you will. My first safari is to the American Southwest canyon lands and arches of southern Utah on an extended desert photo shoot. Kaye needs a break from the wandering life for a little while, so I am doing this one alone.
The pickup camper, sometimes called a slide-in, is the smallest version of the self-contained RV. It has a tiny kitchen, bathroom, living room/dinette, and bedroom. It is a tiny house on wheels.
One of the advantages of the pickup camper is that because of its size, it can go anywhere that a pickup truck can go. Not only is driving easier, fuel stops and restaurant visits are streamlined because the rig only takes one normal size parking space. There are a lot of places that the larger fifth wheel simply can’t go because of its size. Tight turns and low canopies are the dread of every big rig owner and driver.
Boondocking is easier with the pickup camper as well, because you can head out on the back roads and two-tracks where the larger rig would be dragging its tail. You can reach remote destinations.
Bad weather is not such a spoiler with a hard top camper either. I have had many uncomfortable experiences while tent camping when the rain set in and I had to break camp with a wet tent and sand that stuck to everything. More than once I forgot to air out the tent after arriving home and found it moldy the next time I wanted to use it.
Another big plus for the pickup camper is that it is not one more set of wheels to be maintained. It does not add another engine and tranny to the fleet.
Of course, there is a trade-off with everything, and with the pickup camper it is the limited space inside. It is not so well suited for the family as it is the solo traveler or couple.
Pickup campers were invented in the 1940’s and I am sure the most famous one was Rocinante, the camper that John Steinbeck had custom built for the cross-county trip that he wrote about in his novel, Travels with Charley.
Watch for reports on my Southwestern Safari starting soon. I’ll let you know how pickup camping is working for me.
It is no secret to outdoor photographers that the color red is an eye-catcher, and they use it at just the right times (usually) to add pizzazz to their photos. I don’t know what aesthetic operative comes into play when I see a nature photo with red in it, but it gets my attention anyway. I have been using this natural phenomenon in my photos for a long time.
When I rented kayaks for a recent paddle along the rugged shoreline of Michigan’s Thumb, I chose red kayaks. The outfitter had yellow, blue, orange and green, but I knew what red would do in my photos of the event. Yes, yellow or orange would probably have provided a similar effect, but red delivered the classic look I was hoping for.
Sometimes, it’s not up to me to be intentional about using the color red. Sometimes, I get lucky and it is already there. Last weekend I was camping at Tawas Point State Park to test some new camping gear and when I hiked out to the historic lighthouse — Voila! — the lighthouse keeper’s dwelling had a red roof. Cool. That was easy. Somebody on the lighthouse restoration committee apparently knew the secret too.
This knowledge has cost me a small fortune. It didn’t cost any more money to rent a red kayak than a green one, but I have spent money on red shirts, jackets and sweaters to insert in my photos, and now, anticipating some upcoming road trips to the seacoast, I have bought a red convertible. No joke. I would not buy any other color than red, and I actually have been watching the online market for two years waiting for the right car and the right time.
Two years ago, when we were hauling the RV up the Pacific Coast Highway from southern California to Alaska, we had to bypass the California redwoods because we were pressed for time and we couldn’t invest the necessary extra day that it would take to handle that winding narrow road through the tall trees. At that moment we pledged to ourselves that we would return sometime later and approach it in the proper manner… in a red convertible.
So, you will be seeing this car on the blog a lot in the coming days.
For our first major road trip with it, we have chosen to take on an adventure we missed last year while heading up the east coast from Florida in the spring. We want to visit New England and pick up six states that we have never been to, bringing our tally from 43 states to 49. Not only that, the trip will coincide with our 45th wedding anniversary. We plan to be cruising the coast of Maine on our special day.
I can’t think of a more appropriate way to celebrate 45 years together than to cruise the seashore in a red convertible — with the top down, of course.
Maybe we will get back to the redwoods sometime – and now we have the right car for it – but for this time it will be the other end of the country and a place we have never been before.
It’s the appropriately color-coordinated adventure of a lifetime!
Watch for the red sports car in subsequent posts.
Unfortunately, not every photographic prop can be purchased in red. Part of the new inventory of camping gear that I was testing last weekend is a new tent. It’s yellow. But a red light stick inside changes the color for photos.
And anyway, it is possible to get too much of a good thing, so yellow will be fine for my photos of my tent in future camping pics. Any bright color will add visual punch to a photo.
Try it if you want to, and see what happens to your photos.
Milepost: 5-11-16 — Just moved into a small apartment
For many years it seemed like this day would never come — the day that we would be free to wander around the country in an RV and a pickup truck and choose our next destination with a random finger stab at the map lying in our laps. But the day did come, not by accident but by sheer determination and hard work. There were hard choices.
Six years ago we were living on a retired 30-acre Christmas tree farm with too much mowing to do… and a mortgage we could no longer afford. Our kids had all grown up and left our spacious rural estate and our large house, and our nearest grandchild now lived 80 miles away.
We had become weary of the upkeep on so much property and wanted to see the world — and our grandkids. But we couldn’t afford it. I had been running a full crew with my log home construction company when the housing bust arrived in Michigan — two years before the recession. It was 2006 and nobody else wanted a log home. Even the log home dealers were closing one by one — the people who had been referring their buyers to us to build their homes. I had to lay off the crew.
Our financial plan for retirement crashed and burned.
We had arrived at retirement age still owing a mortgage. Reality was brutal: We could afford to own and maintain this property OR we could afford to travel. But not both. We had to choose one or the other.
It looked as though our businesses had run their courses and we wouldn’t be needing so much space and so many resources — tools, machinery, etc. and the kids weren’t coming home to visit but once or twice a year. We were ready to downsize.
And so we did.
We spent the next few years cleaning out sheds and closets and selling stuff or giving it away. We put the property up for sale. But we were in the middle of the recession and nothing happened. Finally, a neighbor showed up at our door asking if we would sell him 10 acres. We did, and then used the money to buy a used RV. We put the rest of our stuff in storage, put renters in the big house, and we hit the road.
And the next year, while we were wandering around Alaska with our rig, the rest of our property sold. Our once impossible dream was becoming our new reality.
Over the last couple of years, we have explored three corners of our country, from Florida to California to Alaska and a thousand points in between, and have moved offshore for a couple of winters living in the tropics in vacation rentals.
New England (the fourth corner of our country) will have to wait for us, because we have decided to take a vacation from traveling (that sounds odd, maybe?) and move into a small apartment for a while.
And we can finally afford to do BOTH. We can have a Michigan home base again AND continue to travel. Our new apartment is only 13 miles from our kids and grandkids, and the rent is less than half of what our old mortgage was!
Somebody else mows the lawns, shovels the walks, and repairs the leaks… while I head down the rail trail with my bike or visit the local farm market or ice cream shop (One of the bike paths here ends at the local Dairy Queen).
If I have one regret, it is that we didn’t start downsizing sooner. Fortunately, Kaye and I are still physically fit and able to pursue our travel goals, and we really do appreciate and take advantage of our good fortune. Lots of folks run out of good health before they ever get to realize their dreams.
Anyway, I was doing a bit of reminiscing today and thinking about how far we have come in the face of a lot of challenges, and decided to write about it here. I am so happy that our present circumstance is so far different than where we were just a few years ago.
If you, my reader, find yourself in a similar almost impossible scenario, take heart; there is much that can happen to improve your outlook and bring your dreams within reach.
I suspect that your journey will begin with some difficult decisions and will be followed by a lot of hard work. That’s okay, isn’t it?
The struggle makes the reward all the more satisfying.
On the other hand, if you are in upsizing mode right now, it might be smart for you to stop and think about what you really want in 10 years or 20 years from now. Maybe you should quit bringing more stuff into your garage and basement and attic. It might turn into a ball and chain later and keep you planted at a time when you want to be free.
Milepost 3-12-16 — in a vacation rental in the tropics
Most of the time it is simply called wanderlust. It’s that compulsive condition that makes people restless when they’ve been in one place for too long. Sometimes it is in the DNA and whole families are afflicted with it, and sometimes it is brought on suddenly by a single extraordinary experience, perhaps a childhood trip to Disneyworld or a memorable weekend in a cottage on the seashore.
Somehow, somewhere, the infection gets under your skin and ends up flowing through your veins and you can’t sit still anymore. You are compelled to move, even if it is just for a weekend road trip.
Right now, we are getting ready to reposition, and the excitement is building every day. We have been in the tropics for the winter and are flying back north a few days from now. There are certain symptoms that accompany the onset of ORD for us:
Emptying the fridge and cupboards. I am not sure how we developed this habit, but part of the excitement of moving on for us is eating leftovers and trying to finish stuff up right down to the last egg in the fridge and the last squeeze of toothpaste. There is a certain check-it-off-the-list mentally that besets us when we are getting ready to move. I guess we like to travel light.
Daydreaming. That blank stare might mean I am reminiscing about that great campsite we had on the Pacific coast a couple of years ago, but if I am suffering from ORD, it’s more likely I am dreaming about what the next destination will be like… or the journey from here to there.
Obsessive Googling. We are both online checking the map of the next destination. “Hey, there is a bike path in our new neighborhood!” “Oh, cool, we will be able to walk to the cafe down the block from our place!” Before we even leave for our new location, we feel that we already know what’s there and what’s not.
One-Last-Time syndrome. It may seem weird but we both take note of the last time we use something before moving. The last time we charge the camera batteries, the last time we order pizza in this neighborhood, the last time we do the laundry, the last time we visit the grocery store, and so on. I think it is part of the countdown for us. Does that happen to you?
Planning ahead. This is where we prepare for the trip and the new location. Maybe we buy jerky and crackers for the plane flight. Perhaps we lay out our entire wardrobe for the trip and the arrival at the new place. Will we need a jacket? Where will we eat on the way? Do we need a haircut before leaving?
Stocking up on arrival. This is the counterpart to one-last-time syndrome. It is the excitement of re-stocking the fridge upon arrival. The first trip to the grocery store. The search for the nearest farm market. Which restaurant will we start with?
Since we are heading “home” to Michigan next, we have the added anticipation of seeing the grandkids for the first time in a couple of months. That is a biggie for old folks like us.
Plus, there is an epic change in store for us with this move since we are planning to “park it” for a while and actually move into an apartment near our kids for at least a year, and maybe a lot longer. We are going to get everything out of storage and rediscover the archives. We are even planning to stay there through the next winter. It will have been five years since that has happened. We are still planning to travel, but we will have a home base again. We still want to do the New England coast during fall color change… in a red convertible. And there is my Southwest Photo Safari coming up this fall in the canyon lands of Utah. And we haven’t ruled out an Art Tour of Italy later on.
So, when the ORD kicks in again, we are not sure what will happen. Probably shorter trips and less distance from home. I am sure that we are not done traveling yet. As long as we are physically able, we plan to keep scratching that itch.
How does Obsessive Repositioning Disorder affect you? How did you contract the bug in the first place? Do you have to fight it off because of work or financial constraints? What do you do when it’s time to move? Can you take a spontaneous road trip?
Sorry, I don’t think there is a cure for ORD. You might die with it someday. Too bad.
In the meantime, have fun!
(*There’s really no such thing as ORD other than common wanderlust or the travel bug, I made it up. Except that it is also the airport code for O’Hare in Chicago., and that carries it’s own suggestive travel connotation.)
Milepost 3-11-16 –at a vacation rental in the Dominican Republic
Our tropical winter hiatus is about to end, so we rented a quad yesterday to visit our favorite remote beach for one more time before heading north for the spring and summer. Playa Rincon is an unspoiled and mostly undiscovered haven for all but the most ambitious adventurers because it takes a lot of effort to get there. It is thirty miles from the nearest gas pump, and the last few miles of the trail are a disaster waiting to happen for rental vehicles with anything but high clearance and four wheel drive.
We first discovered this beach 26 years ago when we were in the Dominican Republic while teaching at an international school. I was looking for a quiet place to get away from the noise of the city and a friend told us about this secluded spot that was as far away as a person can get in this country and still be on land. With our three daughters, we camped in a coconut grove next to the beach. Nobody came near us the whole time.
This time there was a bit of nostalgia mixed with the crashing waves, the hot sun and the swaying palm trees. We weren’t sure when we would be returning to this tropical paradise, maybe never.
I had been hoping to get some photos and video of the four-wheeler running through the edge of the waves, but the surf was up today and I chose not to chance it, not wanting to risk sending a rented quad out to sea.
We spent our time walking the beach and soaking up sun until we judged we were about to get burned, then headed down the trail to the beach bar for a cold coke and some native cuisine.
After a couple more runs up and down the beach road with the quad, Kaye invited me back on and we waved a reluctant farewell to the beach and took to the rough road back home.
On the way back, we stopped at one of our favorite roadside fruit markets to stock up on produce
So the winter is over and we are leaving soon, heading back to the messy purgatory that is Michigan in the spring.
That will be another beach and another story. The water in Lake Michigan will reach 80 degrees by about… the twelfth of never.
Milepost 2-26-16 -at a vacation rental in the Dominican Republic
“Introvert, Know Thyself”. This is my most recent note-to-self. I am experiencing a bit of emotional discomfort in my current setting, and I’m realizing that I over-estimated my ability to find solitude in a highly social culture. For an introvert like me, solitude is essential to a balanced life and healthy emotional equilibrium.
Everybody is different, and it would be easy to assume that the majority of travelers and adventurers are extroverts, loving the excitement and the challenges of far-away places and exotic cultures. I don’t know if that is the case, and I am not about to launch a study to find out.
What I do know is what an introvert like me needs when it comes to adventure – and life in general:
I can enjoy crowds and parties and parades and other highly social settings, but only for a short time, and those experiences need to be followed by a season of hibernation, of being alone so that I can refuel my emotional tank.
On the other hand, if I am inactive for very long, I will get restless and need to get outside and satisfy my adventure quotient.
The best balance of these two factors – of solitude and adventure – is to find adventures in sparsely populated locations. Or to follow my crowded adventures with solo adventures in solitary places.
I don’t like cold weather for very long. I can handle Michigan through Christmas every year with just the right allocation of snow and brisk clear air, but after that, the winter is far too long. This is a third factor that complicates my search for the right balance. There aren’t that many southern destinations that offer solitude. RV parks are notorious for noise and overcrowding. For the solitary soul, they are tolerable when and if there are quiet areas nearby.
Where I ran into trouble this winter was that I chose a tropical setting in the middle of a highly social open-air culture for too long a period of time. 10 weeks of noise, bustling streets, merengue music blasting until after midnight every night… well, I just can’t seem to get away from it long enough to refill my emotional tank. Of course, even the beaches are crowded with bodies this time of year.
I find myself avoiding the interaction with the locals that I love so much – for short periods. I just want to stay home and be alone.
Fortunately, Kaye and I are very much alike in most of these ways, only she likes the northern winters and doesn’t need as much adventure as I do.
We solve this by scheduling what we call Bob-alone times. I can head off on a solo adventure, thus satisfying my appetite for adventure, while both of us get to refresh by being alone for a while.
Most of my solo adventures are short, lasting only a few hours. A bike ride down the nearest rail trail works just fine, and I don’t have to talk to anyone along the way, simply nodding to other cyclists that I meet on the trail. I do this several times a week during the fair weather seasons.
Longer alone times usually involve a tent, a sleeping bag and a cooler full of goodies… and my camera, of course. Last summer, I celebrated my birthday by heading up north to the woods with my bike to pedal for miles on end at a beautiful paved bike trail through the woods and dunes of the national lakeshore in northern Michigan. I camped at a state forest campground by a quiet stream where there was hardly anyone else around. Ah, solitary bliss.
I always feel that when I am alone with myself… I am in good company. If you are an introvert, you likely know what I am saying.
Anyway, I am sharing this side of myself for the benefit of other would-be adventures who may not entirely understand what happens to them when they feel stressed while living in a foreign culture for an extended period of time. Maybe you are an introvert. Maybe you need to study yourself a bit more and find ways to hibernate from time to time for the sake of your own well-being… and the well-being of those who are traveling with you.
I really do write notes-to-myself that I refer to before scheduling the next outing. It is good to know yourself. The thing is, you can’t always know how you will feel or react in a given situation until you try it out.
Milepost 2-6-16 -We are at a vacation rental in the tropics.
Here’s a tip about travel that first-timers may not discover on their own: The real adventure is often where the realpeople are. I am talking about the backstory that is on the backstreets of your travel destination. I am talking about the true cultural realities that exist outside the walls of the gated resort where you are staying.
Many travelers see a carefully scripted performance when they go on vacation at the all-inclusive resort. Even the cruise lines that claim to visit exotic islands, as it turns out, may have bought the island and designed an elaborate facade that is only a fake reproduction of the real culture that they are trying to depict. But it’s not real.
If you like it that way, fine. If you want to stay within the enclave, you should be comfortable and safe. Hopefully, you will be able to relax and have a good time, maybe even make some new friends. For you, it may be exactly the right thing. But you might be able to ratchet your adventure factor to the next level with a venture outside the walls.
Culturally, the real fun begins when you leave the reservation. When you leave Front Street and venture to Second or Third Street… or even farther to where the street turns into a pathway.
When the waiter comes to your table at the resort, do you ever ask yourself, “Who is this person? Where does he live? Does she have a family? What’s her name?” Better yet, don’t just ask yourself… ask the waiter.
When I was in the Maldive Islands, my scuba diving buddies asked these questions of our guide, a young man named Ibrahim. After 2 weeks of friendly interaction with him, we were surprised when he invited us to come to his home and meet his wife — they were expecting their first child. This sort of encounter is unheard of in the Maldives where the government requires strict oversight of tourists; it just never happens. But for us, it happened. The day before Ibrahim escorted us to the airport, he started crying, and threw himself at us with hugs and weeping as we parted company. I couldn’t believe it. This was unreal. No. This was real.
This sort of rich adventure can be really hard to find when you are on a 10-day cruise where your movements are scheduled and your encounters carefully scripted. It is hard to escape the confines and get to the raw realities of the real culture.
One of the blessings of the traveling life that Kaye and I are now enjoying is the extravagance of being able to stay as long as we want wherever we want. We love to find out where the natives live, and we have been invited into their homes lots of times. Nobody tells us where to be or at what time. We decide for ourselves.
This winter, we are staying 10 weeks in a little town on the beach in the Dominican Republic. We have learned enough Spanish to be able to venture onto the side roads and back alleys to see how these people really live.
In fact, by planning ahead, we were able to visit an indigenous family in the interior of the country just yesterday. We have been sponsoring a kid through an international humanitarian organization that provides underprivileged children with a quality education and health care. Yorgelis is now 15 years old and we got to meet him. We hired a car and driver who was able to find his way through the maze of backroads and the small towns (on the cell phone with the host several times for directions) to find these guys in an obscure neighborhood far (4 hours one way) from the tourist resorts.
What an amazing experience! Their family is actually part of a community of artists and have a pottery factory in their backyard. Did you ever wonder who makes the vases and bowls and cups that you find in the gift shops at the resorts where you stay? We found them.
We got to tour the school where our kid has been educated for the last 9 years, and then his family put on a demonstration for us in the pottery shop. We could not have asked for a more beautiful experience with an authentic indigenous family. Precious.
We now have some pottery to add to our international collection at home. And here’s the thing: We know the people who made it.
That is the stuff of real adventure.
Here are a few more photos from our visit to the interior yesterday:
I hope you are able to get outside the walls on your next adventure!