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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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!
Milepost 12-10-13 The newer RV arrived yesterday, and Kaye and I are on a mission to have it ready by our departure day, December 28th, when we hope to head for California for the winter and spring. Today we emptied the cupboards and drawers of the old RV and carried everything across the yard (through the snow) to the new rig for sorting and re-assigning places – for the stuff we want to take with us for the next phase of life. It feels like we are in a race against time.
It’s a small slice of the larger race against time: Life. And it is informed by bucket lists and lifelong dreams and a watchful eye on the clock of human life expectancy and physical well being. Can we get everything done before we are too decrepit to climb the proverbial mountain (because it’s there)? Or will we die trying? Or will we die NOT trying?
It’s been 10 years since Kaye was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer, and we have been keenly aware of our mortality since that day, two days before Christmas, 2003. There’s nothing like cancer to remind a person of the shortness of human life and to cause one to formulate some quick plans about how to spend what’s left of it.
We decided to travel more, to see more of the world, but our financial situation wouldn’t accommodate us. All of our capital was in real estate, and none of it was liquid. We had to make radical changes. For us, it meant downsizing, and we are still in the process.
Finally, later this month, it looks like we will get to hit the road and wander around the country for a few years… perhaps until we can’t climb the steps of the RV anymore – let alone the proverbial mountain.
To my younger friends who haven’t yet given a thought to the future and how to make the most of it, I have some words of wisdom:
Enjoy the moment. Stop and smell the roses. Don’t wait until retirement to have adventure or to take risks (and don’t seek adventure if you don’t like to take risks; they go hand in hand).
Upsize when you need to. You need a bigger house and vehicle during the family years. And a bigger garage — for the Harley.
Downsize when you need to. For us it was after the kids had moved out and we realized our house and 30-acres were too big for two people.
Prioritize from the outset. If money is important to you, get an education. With a college degree, on the average, you’ll make 30% more over the span of your career (if you can get a job in your field). At 17 years old, a major factor in my decision to become a teacher was having summers off. No way would a 2-week vacation every year satisfy my need for extended adventure trips.
Love people more than stuff. Your friends and family will determine your quality of life more than the job you have or the stuff you own. Respect them even when they don’t seem all that respectable, hold them tight for the most part, but give them space when they need it.
Go climb a mountain. Start on your bucket list while you are still young. Believe me, it’s a big world, and there is too much to see in one lifetime, so you better get started now.
My kids set the pace.
My daughter, Wendi, has visited all 50 states and has backpacked with her husband from Mexico south through South America to Argentina. She and Scott own an adventure tour business in Alaska where they spend their summers.* My middle daughter, Angie, has lived on four continents and resided with her husband in India for two years. She planned their 10th anniversary trip to Florence, Venice and Rome without the help of the tour companies. My oldest daughter, Stacy, has visited 46 states and will get the other four in 2014 before her 40th birthday. She could write the book on lone wolf adventures for women (and she might do it), as her husband often works weekends.
They’ve been great adventuring role models for me! Maybe this post isn’t really about the race against time that is life, but more about the race to keep up with my daughters on their adventures!
Anyway, Kaye and I are taking off to assume the gypsy life for a while – and the risks and adventures that go along with it. Maybe we will meet other vagabonds along the way. Perhaps we will bump into YOU somewhere between the oceans in the next couple of years. I hope you will give us directions if we seem to be lost.
Just remember, “Not all those who wander are lost.” –J.R.R. Tolkien
What adventures are on your bucket list? In what phase of life will you make them happen? Click “Leave a Comment” at the top to tell me about it. Also, if you’re interested in life on the road, please “Follow” (in the left sidebar) to see where we end up next time.