A fortunate byproduct of our quest to live on southern islands and forever walk the beach this winter has been the close proximity of so many beautiful historical sites, especially old forts and lighthouses.
We spent January on Dauphin Island, Alabama, within walking distance of Fort Gaines, and five miles from Fort Morgan just across Mobile Bay.
In February we were on Anastasia Island near the archaic Castillo de San Marcos at St. Augustine, Florida.
Heading from Florida to North Carolina we stopped for a week at Savannah, Georgia where we visited Fort Pulaski on Cockspur Island in the Savannah River.
And in March we are on Emerald Isle, North Carolina, sharing the island with Fort Macon which we visited yesterday.
We are ending our winter sojourn in early April and heading back to Michigan, and I wanted to post a photographic review of these historical attractions that offered us so much aesthetic intrigue while wandering around the south this winter:
1. Fort Gaines, Dauphin Island, Alabama. This fort was less than 1/4 mile from our campground.
2. Fort Morgan, Mobile Bay, Alabama.
3. Castillo de San Marco, St. Augustine, Florida (1565). This one is really old and was built with local stone – coquina – before bricks were manufactured in the U.S.
4. Fort Pulaski, Cockspur Island, Savannah, Georgia.
5. Fort Macon, Emerald Isle, North Carolina.
Kaye and I have really enjoyed our southern sojourn and the side trips that have been available to us. I love old architecture, so this was a great place for me to explore while avoiding the hostility of the northern winter. This is the final post to the Southern Sojourn as we are heading back to our new summer home (campground) in Michigan soon.
There are more photos of these beautiful historical sites on my Flickr photo stream here.
And they are available for purchase as prints and other great gifts at my photo galleries and web store here.
Kaye posted an account of our visit to a glass studio…
“One of the cool things about all of our wandering is that we get to meet interesting people along the way. People with fascinating stories. Everybody has a story, you know – about where they live, where they used to live, about where they’ve traveled, what they’ve experienced. About their jobs and hobbies and accomplishments. Maybe about things they are good at or things they love.
“Lauren is one of the interesting people we met in St. Augustine. A friend of ours who has lived here for a few years has formed a band with Lauren and her husband and we were able to hear them play one night. Besides being a talented musician Lauren is also a glass-blower. How cool is that?!?”
It’s the middle of the winter and we are in the middle of our sojourn at St. Augustine, Florida, the oldest town in America. They are celebrating their 450th anniversary this year, so there is a lot going on here. Then again, this is one of those hidden pearls where there is always a lot to enjoy, even when there’s nothing special happening.
When we pulled into town and moved into our campsite near the ocean, we were surprised to see vehicles driving on the beach. Yes, this is one of the few places in the world that accommodates the sport. The beach is a hundred yards wide at low tide allowing plenty of room for walkers, bikers, kite flyers and four-wheel-drivers all at the same time.
The historical fort is well preserved and maintained by the National Park Service. Castillo de San Marcos was built in the 1560’s using the local coral stone (coquina) quarried from Anastasia Island near where we are camped. This is the third of four historical forts I’m visiting this winter. (I’m planning a post next month reviewing all the forts on my itinerary.)
St. Augustine is built to accommodate the thriving tourist industry and there are trolleys running tours every day throughout the historical downtown district. Some of the old narrow streets are closed to vehicle traffic so visitors may peruse the old shops at their leisure.
A great place to get an overview of the area with a bird’s-eye view is the huge old lighthouse dating back to 1861. One of the more recently-built landmarks, it was built of brick. In fact, it took more than a million bricks to construct this 165-foot-tall edifice, one of the tallest in the country.
Kaye and I are engaged in an ongoing challenge of testing the local eateries. It became apparent very early on that we will certainly run out of time before we manage a comprehensive knowledge of the plethora of amazing culinary options here. But we’ll do our best.
Average temps here are in the 60’s during the day and the mid-40’s at night, so we are enjoying our success at finding an affordable location for missing the brutal winter weather back in Michigan.
After four years on the market, we have finally sold our houses and property. We’ve been working on the downsizing for about as long, so we have said “Good-bye” to a lot of things. We have parted with lawn mowers, construction machinery, sporting gear, household furnishings and personal keepsakes. It’s been a monumental process.
But here’s the other side of it. We are saying “Hello” to a lot of things too.
While we are saying “Good-bye” to the snow shovel and the windshield scraper, we are saying “Hello” to flip flops and beach towels. Not a bad trade-off, I’m thinking.
When you move in a given direction, you move away from one thing and toward the next thing, and it’s the moving toward that is the fun part for us at this juncture. We are moving into the RV as a lifestyle now, so while we are saying farewell to a spacious kitchen and a nicely organized workshop where the tools can be laid out all the time, we will shift to outdoor living, dining outside on lawn chairs, and I’ll have only the most essential tools in the traveling toolbox.
There’s good and bad in everything, and this is no different. But we are very nearly done with the hard part, the downsizing and parting with old favorite worn-out sweaters and no-longer-used kids toys and two wheelbarrows and three ladders. We are not planning to own property again while we are well and able enough to travel. Maybe later when we are too decrepit to move and climb into the cab of the pickup.
So I left the snow shovel and two lawn mowers for the new property owners along with rakes, shovels and weed whips. I did keep a small chainsaw — just in case — but I don’t know if I’ll ever use it again, so I left it in storage.
Chainsaws aren’t needed much when you’re living on the road. And since we are heading south every winter, a snow shovel is about as useful as a comb for a bald man.
Well anyway, having said a thousand good-byes over the last four years, we are planning to say about as many hello’s for the next few.
Maybe we’ll be saying “hello” to you if we cross paths while wandering across the south this winter. Here’s the plan:
Three months of winter, three islands in the south.
Dauphin Island, Alabama for January; Anastasis Island, Florida for February; and Emerald Island, North Carolina for March.
Then back to Clearwater Campground, Holly, Michigan for next summer and fall.
If we do come your way, don’t forget to say, “Hello”. That’s what we’re all about these days.
“Tree line is at 3,000 feet,” said our pilot, Dan. “Above 7,000 feet there’s just rock and snow.” We had just taken off in a little 8-seater plane for a fly-by of Mt. McKinley, the highest point on the North American continent, and Dan was already sharing his comprehensive knowledge of the mountain geography, naming rivers, glaciers and mountains as we skimmed over snow-capped peaks on a bee-line for Denali.
At first there was a lot of color as we climbed out of the dark green forest, but before long there was only snow and rocky cliffs, sure enough. There were glaciers by the dozen, some of them perched in hanging valleys, others stretching into the distance like long wide rivers of ice.
Our flight took us delightfully close to the jagged peaks as Dan zig-zagged his way between spires and pinnacles all along the way. We soon reached Mount McKinley itself, a huge, disorganized heap of rock with all sorts of cliffs and mounds facing in all directions and several glaciers oozing from its high canyons and valleys.Pretty soon we made a wide banking turn over a massive glacier and headed back through the dizzying maze of peaks as Dan pointed out a trail across a snow field left by the last team of climbers on the mountain. I wondered how they knew where it was safe to cross; I was seeing dozens of crevasses from the air.
This flight to the Mountain was certainly the pinnacle of my Alaska experience. We are just about halfway through our summer in the land of the midnight sun and realizing that it is such a vast area that we will not get to see everything; there is just no way.
Seeing it from the air certainly covers a lot of territory in a short time. Maybe I’ll get to catch another flight around the Mountain before my time is up here. What a natural high!
My flight was arranged by my son-in-law, Scott, the owner of Denali Adventure Tours. It’s just one of many adventure trips they provide.
(Click on any of the photos in this post to see a larger view.)
We have been at Denali for a few days now and are enjoying the international flavor of the tourist scene. Not only are the tourists from every place you can imagine, so are the seasonal workers. We are camped right behind the ice cream shop where several Bulgarians are working this summer. It’s one store in a long line-up of services offered along the boardwalk, from souvenirs to adventure trips to salmon bakes and pizza.
Any day on the boardwalk or the campground we may hear an assortment of languages spoken, from German to Japanese to Russian.
Not only are the inhabitants of this community a very diverse bunch, so are the sights and surroundings of the area.
This morning I went for a bike ride through the canyon where the whitewater rafters and kayakers venture, while on the high bluff above a train went by loaded with sightseers, and a helicopter took off to fly over the ridge to a glacier landing in the next valley.
It is a delightfully eclectic mix of sights and scenes here, that makes every day interesting in its own way. It is very much unlike our environment in Michigan. Even the wildlife is foreign to us. We haven’t seen a whitetail deer in months, but yesterday were up close and personal to the caribou in the Denali high country. Weird.
Summer solstice was a new experience for us, with a beautiful sunset after midnight that didn’t turn into nighttime… the sun skimmed along sidewise just behind the mountain ridge and then came back up at around 3 am!
Every morning when I wake up I have to remind myself where I am… or just look out a window and let the mountains above the RV park do it for me.
I finally got to photograph Mt. McKinley yesterday – from 75 miles away with a telephoto lens! I’m hoping to get closer on a flight-seeing trip sometime in the next few weeks.
So the Alaska vibe is a very eclectic one. I’d say that if variety is the spice of life, the flavor of Denali is seasoned to perfection. Great fun!
Milepost 3395 Dawson City, BC, to Delta Junction, Alaska.
Everywhere we stopped along the Alaska Highway we met people, and here’s the thing: They were all originally from somewhere else. Texas, Utah, Ohio, Ontario, Ireland or parts farther removed, they gave varying answers to the first question that we all asked each other at every new stop: “Where are you from?” Not until we reached the most remote settlements in the Yukon did we encounter the First Nation folks who would answer, “Here. Always been here.”
The other unique trait of these immigrants to the great north was their eccentricity. It seems that the sort of people who would answer the call of the wild are the sort that are essentially non-conformists. Undaunted by solitude and the lack of conveniences, they had settled into the most unwelcoming locations this side of the border where services were limited and dangers were high.
Every roadhouse and lodge was operated by displaced or re-placed – or maybe mis-placed wanderers. We met RV park owners who had come out from the city to start a new life, we met university students working a summer job in the tourist industry, and there were cooks and heavy equipment repairmen helping to keep the outposts operating for one more season.
The other thing that was unusual about these unusual business owners was the quirky attempts they made at competing for the diminishing tourist dollars. Chainsaw carvings were popular, Old West themed RV parks, the “world’s largest weathervane (a DC-3 airplane mounted on a post)”, a museum of stuffed trophies from musk-ox to moose, or left-behind WWII vehicles (the troop transport still operating for bear tours through the forests out in back).
So, one of the off-handed delights of the Road Trip of a Lifetime along the Alaska Highway is the quirky and tenacious proprieters of the entire 1,500-mile-long complex who are keeping it all going.
Or not. Perhaps two-thirds of the lodges we passed were closed and boarded up, some a long time ago, some last year. It’s a rough life up here, and it’s a rougher job trying to keep the outposts open when the tourist revenue is diminishing year by year.
We developed a deep appreciation for these tough folks who serve the would-be adventurers like us, keeping us safe for the night and fueling us up for the next stretch of highway. Mighty good folks there, all along the way, and we enjoyed meeting them!
Here are a few more photos that we captured along our transit of the official 1,488 miles of the Alaska Highway from Dawson Creek BC to Delta Junction, Alaska:
We finally reached Denali, a day’s travel past the end of the Alaska Highway, beyond Fairbanks. We have found a campsite right behind The Black Bear Coffee House where our daughter, Wendi, works every summer. I’ll be writing about their transient lives next.
Milepost 3395 Fort Nelson, Yukon, to Delta Junction Alaska
Well, we have traveled the official distance of the Alaska Highway which covers 1,488 miles between Dawson Creek, BC and Delta Junction in Alaska. But nobody stops and stays in Delta Junction; it’s just an intersection on the way to several other more distant destinations. We are heading on to Fairbanks tomorrow and then to our final goal, Denali Park where our kids live and work every summer.
I have made few blog posts along the way because I didn’t have access to the internet. Further, several of the RV parks we stayed at were so far from the electrical grid that they were operating on their own power plants, so we could hear the faint hum of the generator all night. Every village and lodge north of Fort Nelson has to generate its own electricity. I guess wifi is a bit much to ask for when there isn’t even an electrical power grid in place.
For hundreds of miles we traveled along the foot of the Canadian mountain ranges. That is, when we weren’t working our way over some steep high pass or through a narrow canyon. We developed a new respect for the Rockies here. No, call it what it is: fear. These mountains are beautiful from a distance, but up close they are intimidating. Our adventure threshold was crossed several times into the area of anxiety.
It seemed we spent an entire day in second gear as the pickup labored up the steep climbs to Summit Pass only to be followed closely by the decline that required many miles of engine braking in order to save the brakes. Scary stuff, man.
Our trek through the Yukon was an episode that deserves its own coverage, but let me quickly say that the roads there are terrible. The Canadian engineers either haven’t learned yet how to design roads that will not be heaved by the permafrost every winter and summer, or they don’t have the money to do it right. I suspect that funding is the big problem as there was a marked difference in the quality when we crossed into Alaska which is a rich petroleum state.
Anyway, the frost heaves have rendered the pavement a mess of dips and ridges and mounds that have turned the highway into an off-roader’s dream. But for the RV-er it’s a nightmare. 35 mph was too fast for a lot of it. We entered the RV with caution at every rest stop to push things back into their places in the cupboards and re-organize the stuff in the fridge.
I’ll be writing much more about this epic adventure in subsequent posts, but I want to say right here that, even though I didn’t entirely know what I was getting into, I do not regret my decision to assault the Alaska Highway with a pickup and an RV. It assaulted me back, but I have lived to tell about it, and tell about it I will.
Watch for it in subsequent posts. With photos. I’ll add photos as soon as I return to digital civilization.
Milepost 1518:Chilliwack to Cache Creek, British Columbia
We crossed the border into British Columbia yesterday and the border guard wanted to know where we were going.
“Alaska, where our kids live and work every summer,” I said.
“Do you know how far it is to Alaska?”
“Yes,” I said.
“And how long will it take you to get there?”
“We are allowing two weeks,” I replied.
“So you’re taking it nice and slow.” He seemed satisfied that we knew what we were up against and waved us through.
Today I wasn’t so sure I knew what we were doing up here.
We are traveling northward through the rugged Rocky Mountains, and our winding route today took us through seven tunnels and over several passes. There’s no easy way around it for the RV-er. The easy way would have been to fly to Alaska, but it’s too late for that, and where’s the challenge in that anyway? We must keep going.
It seems to be slow going for us with the formidable terrain we are facing these days. We only covered about 150 miles today before we tired out and headed for a reprieve at a wayside RV park at Cache Creek, an old gold rush supply town that continues its service to wayfarers 100 years later.
Today I re-named this place “the land of 1,000 waterfalls,” because it seemed that every little stream we crossed was plunging to its death in some beautiful leap off a precipice. The melting run-off has no other way to get to the mighty river below and eventually to the ocean. Rather like us having no other way out of this canyon but to get back on the highway and head farther north tomorrow morning.
But at least if we are in the middle of nowhere, nowhere sure is beautiful!
We have been on the road for six days now and have covered just about a fourth of our distant from Fillmore, California, to Denali, Alaska. We have slowed down a couple of times to visit with friends and family that we haven’t seen in decades. Great reunions!
The days are getting longer as we head farther north each day and it’s still almost three weeks to summer solstice. Tomorrow our goal is to cross the border into Canada near Vancouver, British Columbia.
We have been enjoying a variety of campsites, from crowded line-ups with little privacy to the big woods in the middle of nowhere like where we are tonight near Olympia, Washington.
While we have been charging through the west coasts great cities, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, we have also blown right past some of the lower 48’s signature mountains: Mt. Shasta, Lassen Peak, Crater Lake, Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helen’s and Mt. Rainier. I guess we are on a mission to get to the continent’s premier peak, Mt. McKinley (Denali).
I have hardly had the camera out yet, because I’ve got both hands on the wheel all day. And when we finally stop to find a campsite each evening, we are usually near the freeway and don’t have time or energy to venture to the nearest attractions.
We may have to return at some future point and dedicate more of our attention to the bountiful world of beauty that blankets America’s west coast. For this time, unfortunately, it’s mostly a means to an end.
His book is called Travels With Charley, and John Steinbeck did his research for it while on an extended circle tour of the lower 48 states in a Chevy pickup camper that he called Rocinante.
We stayed two nights at Salinas, California, so we could spend some time at the birthplace and museum of John Steinbeck. We feel a connection with the author as similar travelers a generation apart. Kaye writes about it here.
(Kaye writes) Travels with Charley is John Steinbeck’s story of traveling the country in an early version of the pickup camper “in search of America” in the fall of 1960. I had read it several years ago, but it seemed only fitting to re-read it while on our epic journey. I carried it in the cab of our pickup truck to read while driving across the country in January, but discovered very little time to read – maybe because I was too busy observing America on my own journey.
Once we settled in at our new spot in southern California, I pulled out the book and once again appreciated Steinbeck’s writing. I did a bit of research on his life and decided to read some more of his stuff. In that process I discovered that he had grown up not too far from where we were living. When we began to plan our journey northward, we decided to drive through that area that had shaped so much of his writing. So we did that two days ago, up along the Salinas River, past the town of Soledad which provided the setting for Of Mice and Men, and then to the town of Salinas where we became tourists for a day. We took pictures of the house where Steinbeck was born, we walked the streets he walked and we ate lunch where he had eaten. And yes, we toured the National Steinbeck Museum which by the way is the only museum in the U.S. dedicated to a single author – and learned much more about his life and his writings and about the area that provided the background for so many of his stories.
I enjoyed the exhibits which are arranged according to the geographical settings of his many titles, but the culmination of my quest was to see Rocinante, this vehicle that has inspired so many of us. It was a good day, a fun day, and an educational day.
But more than the area, more than the historic sites, more than the accolades (and there were many!) even more than Rocinante, what I like best about Steinbeck and what I can carry with me are his words.
“A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. … We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.”
“I saw in their eyes something I would see over and over in every part of the nation – a burning desire to go, to move, to get under way, anyplace, away from any Here. They spoke quietly of how they wanted to go someday, to move about, free and unanchored, not toward something but away from something. I saw this look and heard this yearning everywhere in every state I visited. Nearly every American hungers to move.”
“I pulled Rocinante into a small picnic area… and got out my book of maps. And suddenly the United States became huge beyond belief and impossible ever to cross. … It was like starting to write a novel. When I face the desolate impossibility of writing five hundred pages a sick sense of failure falls on me and I know I can never do it. This happens every time. Then gradually I write one page and then another. One day’s work is all I can permit myslf to contemplate… So it was now, as I looked at the bright-colored projection of monster America.”
(Bob writes) Our epic trip to Alaska has to be advanced in small sections too, a day at a time, so that we aren’t overcome with that “sick sense of failure” that Steinbeck experienced.
Today we head north only 130 miles, to visit some of Kaye’s relatives in Ashland, Oregon, then on to Portland the next day, “gradually writing one page and then another,” like Steinbeck.
(This is our last post under the category, The California Quest, as we are leaving the state today after 5 months of west coast residency.)
Yay! We have finally re-started our epic road trip to Alaska! We left Michigan last December to get away from the harsh winter, and for five months we work-camped at Kenney Grove Park, a private campground at Fillmore, California.
Finishing our duties there and leaving in the afternoon, we decided on a short jaunt to the sea coast where we found a campsite right by the ocean. There are a few places in the world where RV camping is allowed virtually on the beach, and Seacliff, California, is one of them. We set up in the middle of a 2-mile stretch of seashore lined with more than a hundred RV’s parked for the night in a sort of linear campground, if you will. This is classic boon-docking, as there are no services, no hookups, so only self-contained rigs can do it.
We clambered down the rocks to the beach for a long walk before sunset, then went to bed early.
This morning we did a U-turn and headed north over the pass to spend much of the day crossing another dessert and through the vineyards at Solvang to end up at Salinas by mid-afternoon. We moved into a site at the KOA campground at Prunedale just north of town. Salinas was the home of John Steinbeck, who inspired us with his American road trip epic, Travels with Charley. We are planning to see his home place tomorrow and visit the Steinbeck museum before we break camp and continue north toward San Francisco.
It looks as though our route will need to be kept rather fluid, since we keep discovering changes that need to be made. One of the latest is the news that our route north of the Redwoods requires a white-knuckle climb through a dangerous mountain pass that has travelers leaving fingernail marks in the upholstery. We might have to skip the Redwoods this time around. Maybe we’ll come back some other time and do that one in the red convertible (we’ll rent one somewhere).
We are trying to keep the main thing the main thing here. Getting to visit our kids in Alaska at Denali is the main thing, and having an enjoyable time doing it is the next main thing. A route that delivers too much stress may result in a change of direction.
I’m not sure where we’ll be the next time I post. Our mobile internet has been quite dependable so far, but we may be boon-docking some more, and that means no electricity to run the computer. We can still post from the iPhone or the iPad like we did last night on the Facebook page (“Like” it in the right sidebar to join the Facebook group or click here) but I prefer the photo editing programs on my Mac, so my posts from the other devices are short and not very aesthetic.
Tomorrow we’ll take the next step and see where we end up by evening.
The countdown has begun and the anticipation is building with every passing day now! In just a few days, we’ll be pulling out onto the highway and heading north on our epic 4000-mile journey to Denali. We have spent the winter and spring in our first work-camper assignment at Kenney Grove Park in California but our time is about up and the open road beckons.
Our original plan was to spend only the winter in California and then wander across the south and head up the east coast back to Michigan in the spring, but our park manager talked us into staying here for five months. We have really enjoyed living in California for awhile, but the restlessness has started to set in over the last few weeks; it’s time to move on. Our route to Alaska has changed since we are heading there from California rather than Michigan. It’s a triangular path that gets us back to Michigan by mid-August.
We have been studying the route via Google maps and the standard Alaska highway resource, Mileposts, a 760-page volume that includes every detail of the route, from fuel stops to campgrounds to historic sites. I don’t think we’ll get lost if we stick to the main highway. Then again, this is all about adventure and exploration, so what are the chances we’ll stick to the main highway?
All right, then, we are going to get lost.
We are loving the Pacific coast and plan to follow the shore for the first few hundred miles, first visiting the hometown of John Steinbeck who inspired us with his novel, Travels with Charlie. Then we’ll rubberneck our way through the giant Redwoods and north through Oregon and Washington to Vancouver where we cross into Canada.
Our goal is to make it to Denali before the summer solstice when they are experiencing more than 21 hours of daylight. Cool!
If you’d like to see where we end up each night along the way, subscribe to the blog on the left sidebar above, or Like the Facebook link on the right sidebar. We will post updates whenever we can find an internet connection, which might not happen every day while we are traveling the actual Alaska highway, because the hotspots are few and far between.
Our planned departure date is Thursday, May 29th. Yippee!
It’s not every day that we get out the chainsaws along with the heavy equipment to remove a huge fallen oak tree. Last night the vicious Santa Ana winds knocked down one of the charter trees here at Kenney Grove Park, and it partially damaged the camp office, a vintage motorhome. We used the backhoe and a chain to pull sections of the tree off the old camper.
Every work-camp location has its unique set of tasks that comprise the typical day. My current jobs include tree trimming, painting, weed whacking, raking campsites, prepping for groups who are coming in and then cleaning up after they have left. I have repaired golf carts, sharpened chainsaws, and replaced rusty hardware. Most days require a string of light duty tasks; it’s an unusual day when we have to clean up a massive oak tree.
Actually, the timing of that was pretty good, since I’ll be moving on in a month and there may not be another helper right away to help Rona, the manager who usually works alone. Apparently, I’m the first chainsaw operator she’s had here in four years.
It’s important that the worker matches the job requirements, and it helped that I had a lifetime of experience with the chainsaw, the backhoe and antique manual-shift trucks that date back to 1957.
Since I am not a morning person, it helps me that starting time is 9:30 or 10:00 and there’s a half-hour break for lunch and then another two hours of work in the afternoon. I’m often done by 2:30, so evenings are open for going out to dinner or meeting with friends or visiting some of the plentiful attractions along the southern California coast.
Though it was the mild winter weather that drew us here from cold Michigan in the first place, Kaye and I have enjoyed an assortment of local sites, including the Reagan Presidential Library, the Old Mission at Santa Barbara, the historical railroad museum in Fillmore, the national forest wilderness, and of course, the beautiful Pacific coast beaches that line the shore from Malibu up to Santa Barbara. And then there are the eateries which run the full spectrum of world ethnicities from the local Mexican cuisine to — well, you name it, you’ll find it nearby.
I am retired, and I like to feel like it. I wasn’t sure that work-camping would actually work for me, because I haven’t worked a full day in several years. But the placement here at Kenney Grove Park has been just about perfect for me. I usually work for 3 or 4 half-days, and then get a couple of days off before reporting in again. The campsite that I am working for is beautiful and secluded with a canopy and storage shed on site. This was probably the best first-time work-camp assignment that I could have hoped for and I might try it again. But I am also an adventurer, so I will likely not return to the same location for a five month stint again.
Have at it, friends! The west coast awaits you! The link to the Workers on Wheels listing for Kenney Grove is here.
Some days I can’t believe where we are. In fact, some days I don’t know where we are. I wake up in the morning and open my eyes with a bit of surprise to see the inside of my fifth wheel bedroom loft and see the California sun peeking in through the mini-blinds – and I remember again. We moved out of our big house after the kids all grew up and left. We sold or gave away much of our furniture and tools and extra clothes. And we hit the road.
It had been a dream of ours for a long time, but we’d been anchored to a large property by debt and a mortgage. There was no money for traveling more than a few miles from home. Having raised our three daughters – as well as 17 foster kids, 5 foreign exchange kids, and a few other extras – all on a solitary public school teacher’s income, we reached retirement age still carrying a mortgage. And we still had liabilities from my log home construction company that had closed when the housing market tanked in Michigan in 2006.
Here’s how we were finally able to realize the impossible dream:
Downsizing the property. Many of our friends have had two-income households pretty much all of their lives. They are able to keep the home place and still afford another place in Florida. Or a brand new RV. Not us. We had to be willing to part with our homestead of 40 years. There was just no way around it. And it was pretty much empty with the kids gone anyway. Every time the furnace kicked on in the wintertime I cringed at how much it was costing to heat a 10-room house with only two people in it.
When we couldn’t sell after two years, we put renters in the big house and moved ourselves into a one-room log cabin on the same 30-acre property. Finally, we split the property, sold 10 acres to a neighbor, paid off the last of our credit card debt, sold the farm tractor, and then bought a strong 10-year old pickup and a used RV.
Downsizing the possessions. We sold the construction equipment on Craigslist along with the extra furniture and the SUV, and then we took many loads of extra clothing and housewares to the local thrift store. We gave as many of the family heirlooms to our kids as they would take. They finally told us we didn’t have anything left that they wanted. We put the rest in storage.
Buying depreciated vehicles. Did you know that a car loses about half its value in the first 5 years? And the quality of American-made vehicles is so much improved over the last 30 years that a diesel pickup may well go a half-million miles before it’s done. We were able to find an RV that had been given much TLC by the previous owner – he even waxed the outside – and even buying from a dealer, we paid $8,000 for a 12-year-old RV that had cost $27,000 new (That’s 70% depreciated). It had been parked much of the time, had new tires, and no roof leaks ever. It is probably the last RV we will ever buy, ’cause with standard maintenance it will last longer than we will.
Okay, that was all just to get started. But how could we afford the gypsy life? We looked at campground costs and freaked. A one-night stay in a typical KOA was $45. At this rate a month in the same park would cost $1,350! Yow! And then we discovered the monthly rate.
Stay long-term. The same private campground almost certainly has a weekly, monthly, and seasonal rate that reduces long-term costs significantly. Most private parks have monthly rates under $400, including all hook-ups, even cable TV and Wifi. And if you want to stay for an entire season, you’ll do even better. Of course, parks along the ocean and near popular attractions will not be so reasonable. They don’t have to be, because people will pay the premium rate to be on the waterfront or next to Disneyland, etc.
Stay for Free. When you are on the road, it is possible to save camping costs by not setting up for the night. Most Walmarts (but not all) will allow overnight stays in their parking lots if you don’t unhitch.
Of course, truck stops are available, but you need to be a sound sleeper who won’t be wakened by the rumble of truck engines all night. Friends and relatives are a resource for backyard camping, but you need to be socially savvy enough that you don’t invite yourself where you are really not welcome. And don’t over-stay your welcome. State and National Forests allow camping just about anywhere, for free or for $10 a night, within certain guidelines. This sort of off-the-grid camping is called boon-docking and there are various websites dedicated to the practice. RV’s are designed for self-contained camping with storage tanks and batteries for several days of service – off the road and off the grid.
Work-Camp. You’ll find a plethora of websites that will help you get started earning a free campsite by working half-time at a campground. Our first experience here at Kenney Grove Park in Fillmore, California, has been working out fine for us. I am doing tree trimming and handyman work for the park and enjoy a beautiful campsite surrounded by live oak trees, cacti, and Bird-of-Paradise. In keeping with the higher costs in southern California, the campsite is valued at $1000 a month and includes full hookups, private patio, and storage shed. Malibu and Hollywood are nearby (a film crew was parked onsite last week while filming just down the road). Kaye and I are living here for free this winter and spring by helping out around the park.
When I first looked into work-camping I found many kinds of assignments available, from park hosting to nature trail guiding. One spot in the desert was needing a host for a campground at an off-roading racetrack. I passed that one up thinking that all-night security duty would be part of it and I didn’t want to play bouncer to a bunch of rough-and-tumble monster truckers. Matching the worker to the job is definitely important. Many work-camp arrangements run for 6 months but are negotiable.
These are some of the most significant endeavors you can undertake to achieve and then pursue the wandering life. There are many more, from gas cards that offer discounts on fuel, to memberships in camping clubs, and yearly rates for state and national park access. And a whole lot more. I think we will be in the discovery stages of this for a long time.
There are many dreamers in the world. But turning dreams into reality is a pro-active pursuit, and it doesn’t happen by wishing, and it doesn’t happen by accident. It might start with wishing, but making it happen takes careful planning and determination.
Oh, one more thing. Many of my readers are looking forward to a wandering lifestyle after retirement, but a few very lucky – or very determined people are making it happen sooner. One couple I know sold their business in Seattle and left the rat race to live in the desert in a 40-foot motorhome. They are total boon-dockers, living completely off-grid, operating on solar energy and batteries and running an internet-based business by satellite uplink. Way out in the wilderness, legally living for free on government land, and totally connected. Cool.
See? There are ways to get where you want to be. Start planning now and make the lifestyle changes that are necessary… and you’ll get there! Maybe Kaye and I will bump into you somewhere along the way.