Tag Archives: travel

Trombones and Troubadours – A Visit to New Orleans

Milepost 1-19-15         New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA)

Our southern wanderings landed us in New Orleans yesterday for the very first time, a day trip from our current campsite at Dauphin Island, Alabama.  The first thing that anyone needs to know about visiting the Big Easy is that one day is nowhere near enough to take it all in.  Kaye and I knew this going in and decided to dedicate our limited time to the French Quarter.

The French Quarter is known for its porch-lined buildings the reflect the traditions of the old country.
The French Quarter is known for its porch-lined buildings that reflect the traditions of the old country.

The streets are rather narrow and lined with old two and three-story  brick buildings with beautiful balconies that add a distinctive charm suggestive of Paris.  Of course.

Our tour was self-guided and on foot, so we avoided the buses and carriages and asked for directions whenever we wanted to;  there were always very talkative locals willing to help.  They were oozing with city pride, walking encyclopedias of local trivia.

There are carriages and rickshaws available and the streets are shared by cars, bikes and pedestrians as well.
Carriages and rickshaws are available and the streets are shared by cars, buses, bikes and pedestrians all at the same time.

We hadn’t wandered very far before we came upon the first of many street bands blaring Dixieland jazz with lots of horns.  It seemed there was a band on every street corner…   and in many of the restaurants as well so the visitors’ meals are always serenaded.

Our lunch and dinner were both seasoned with music at outdoor cafes, first at the Market Cafe, then the Beignet Cafe at Music Legends Park.

We were surrounded by brass statues of music legends at Beignet Cafe.
We were surrounded by brass statues of music legends at Beignet Cafe.
A 12-piece youth band was performing on the street corner across from the Market Cafe.
An 11-piece youth jazz band was performing on the street corner across from the Market Cafe.
This 12-year-old was a spirited trombonist.
This 12-year-old was a spirited trombonist who put a bit of southern soul into every note.

The French Quarter is a wonderland of street performers, and they are not all musicians.   Some were troubadours, artists and statues…  who came alive at choice moments and startled passersby.

This silver Steampunk statue came alive with whirring sounds when he moved.
This silver Steampunk statue came alive with whirring sounds when he moved.

Troubadours

There is a plethora of shops down both sides of every street between the cafes and pubs,  so the signature pralines and poboys and beignets were readily available…  and a whole lot more!

Spiritists and palm readers abound in the French Quarter.
Spiritists and palm readers abound in the French Quarter.

Pink shop

A part of the architectural extravaganza here — and not to be missed  — is the famous Saint Louis Cathedral in the middle of the French Quarter.  It is beautiful both inside and out.

Saint Louis Cathedral towers over Jackson Square.
The fairytale-looking Saint Louis Cathedral towers over Jackson Square.  It’s taller than wide.

Saint Louis interior

Anyway, I would not recommend the French Quarter of New Orleans for a quiet getaway.  It’s a loud and raucous place full of brass bands, rich cuisine and southern soul.  And that’s in the daytime.  After dark, add neon lights and a bit of decadence.

Street performing is hard work and this guy was done for the day.
Street performing is hard work and this guy was done for the day.  We could relate;  walking tours are exhausting too!

And check one more amazing place off the bucket list!

 

DREAM BIG. start small. (guest post)

This is a great New Year’s post (but it speaks to lifestyle as well) that Aunt Sassy (my daughter) published on her site for solo travelers on January 1st:

———————————

DREAM BIG.  start small.

I can’t count the numbers of times others, upon learning that I am travelling alone or camping alone or going to the movies alone, incredulously say “I would love to do that, but I just can’t!” And “just can’t” has a different meaning for everyone but usually it is some variation of being scared or anxious or overwhelmed or intimidated or….you get the picture. Here’s the thing: if you have actually said some variation of wanting to do that someday but being too scared to do it then you are actually worlds ahead of those who have never even considered doing anything as “crazy as this.” If you are one of those who has never ever in your life considered challenging yourself in this way and are totally happy the way your current level of adventure is in your life, then so be it and awesome for you (and why are you reading this blog?) BUT if you are so blessed/cursed with this desire to go out and explore the world, then you are already at the “but HOW do I actually do it” phase. This phase is where I am a Viking. So I got your back. Here’s the dealio. Ya gotta DREAM BIG! But start small.
First, spend some time daydreaming about those huge things you wanna do and where you wanna do them. This is not the time to be practical or reasonable, this is the let your inner child run wild. For instance, I want to sip wine (and eat pasta) in a café in Italy after a day of gazing at art and architecture. I wanna gulp beer in a Bavarian tavern after touring the Neuschwanstein Castle. I want to blissfully wander around Quebec City some long winter weekend. I want to sweat in a bazaar in Istanbul. I wanna savor Scotch after a day of angling in Scotland. I want to sip pina coladas on tropical beaches (at least once a year). And, above all, Iceland. All of it. Etc. And so on, and more. These are my dreams. (And someday, many of them will be my stories). Take some time to dream big. Write those big dreams down. Tell them to someone. Speak your fantasy into a wish. Turning those wishes into goals comes later.
So, now you are dreaming big….. but, did you get overwhelmed at all by thinking about actually doing those? Did you catch yourself saying “aw, but I can’t actually DO these things.” This is where the starting small comes in. When it comes to action, small steps are the key to later taking big leaps. The truth is I already have a lot of my big dreams done, many of them were easier to do with other people….I’ve wandered art museums and sipped wine in Paris in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, I’ve toured London several times, I spent a month in Hong Kong, a summer in Morocco, and sipped many a pina colada on many a tropical beach. But I can’t do all of those remaining wishes of mine right now…not only do I not have the time and money yet, but I also don’t have the research done yet. And some of those are really intimidating if I don’t know what I’m doing yet. It doesn’t matter how much I travel, I am still very intimidated about travelling to unknown places (especially where I don’t know the language) alone. I’ve done it and I will continue to do, but it is still scary. And the longer times in between trips, the more anxious I get before the next big one. So I often have to start small again.
Starting small means starting where YOU are NOW. And it’s different for everyone so it isn’t gonna be starting at the same place someone else starts (so stop comparing). What are you currently comfortable with and is there a way you can push just a teeny tiny bit past that? Are you okay with flying somewhere alone for business, but get overwhelmed with going on a vacation by yourself? Are you ok with driving a few hours away but not quite ready for a big road trip by yourself? Are you okay with running into Starbucks and waiting in line for your Pumpkin Spice Latte alone but not ready to go to a nice dinner by your lonesome? Figure out small step things you can do. For instance, on your next business trip, maybe stay 2 days longer and do some sightseeing alone. Or perhaps choose a place you are okay driving, but book a night in a hotel and go out for dinner while there to make it more of a roadtrip. Next time you are in the Starbucks line, get your coffee “for here” and get used to sitting alone quietly reading a book while caffeinating. This is your chance to push yourself just a little more and have some fun with it. Once you start small where you are NOW, you will have found yourself just a little further along. And then, you start small from where you are then. Before you know it, small steps turn into quite the epic journey.
image
This is me exploring our nation’s capitol by night when my work sent me there for a conference by day. Starting small. But I’d been dreaming big about visiting DC for decades.

——————————–

Here’s the link to Stacy’s site ( You will also find a lot of women’s self-confidence content there).  Consider Following her at:

 http://fatauntsassy.com

You Say Good-bye, I Say Hello.

Milepost 12-18-14     Waterford, 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.

We just hauled away the last pickup load of stuff from the Michigan cabin.
We just hauled away the last pickup load of stuff from the Michigan cabin.

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.

No show shovel is needed on the southern beach.
No snow shovel is needed on the southern beach.

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.

Which road will you say "Yes" to, right or left?  This time it doesn't matter -- they both lead to the beach!
Which road will you say “Hello” to,  right or left?   Don’t worry,  this time it doesn’t matter — they both lead to the beach!

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.

An Extravagance of Space

I have lived in North America for most of my life and have only been vaguely aware of the luxurious space in which we live.  I became more aware of it while traveling the Alaska Highway last summer. Many times when I was ready to pull back onto the road after a fuel stop or an overnight campground stay,  I would look both ways for an opening in traffic…  and not see another vehicle in either direction.  Really.  As far as the eye could see.  Nobody.

I was repeatedly surprised — and a bit unnerved — at the vastness of it all.

Not another vehicle in sight, as far as the eye can see.
The Alaska Highway across the Yukon.  Not another vehicle in sight, for miles and miles.

Canada has a population density of 9 people per square mile (the US has 48).  That amounts to a lot of uninhabited space.  I have had anxiety issues in traffic before, usually in the middle of a 5-lane-wide traffic jam in some inner city.  But out in the vast and lonely stretches of the Alaska Highway I almost had anxiety issues of another sort imagining what it would take (and what it would cost) to acquire help in case of a breakdown when the nearest town was hundreds of miles away — and there was no cellular service anyway.

The reality of our isolation was profound.  We were quite truly and utterly alone.

_______________________

And now there’s another sort of space situation that we are facing, but it has more to do with elbow room than the availability of roadside services.

After four years of downsizing,  first from a 10-room house to a one-room log cabin,  we have finally sold both the house and the log cabin on our 30-acre property of 42 years and are hitting the road in a 29-foot fifth wheel.  Fortunately, we have already tried it out for awhile, traveling the country for the last year, but we still had the Michigan property and plenty of storage space for our stuff.

We have started moving the last of our stuff into the storage unit.
We have started moving the last of our stuff into storage.

 We were able to be extravagant about what we kept while sorting through our lifetime accumulated stash, because we had enough room to store everything.

But that is no longer true.

We just brought home our new home-away-from-home... in a snowstorm.
We are moving from the log cabin into the RV for the next few years – and leaving snow behind.

So we are moving the last of our keepsakes into one of those self-storage units and will inhabit a tiny mobile space for the next few years.  They say that that sort of close co-habitation will either cause two people to bond inseparably…  or make them kill each other!

Our salvation from cabin fever has always been the great outdoors.  We have lived in rural Michigan for most of our adult lives and could safely walk or bike the side roads or the pathways and lanes on the property.  Shoot, I had a private  route mapped out — and mowed — for jogging a mile without even leaving the property.

But part of our reason for selling the place is the brutality of the  Michigan winters.  The cold and ice and snow brought about a virtual house arrest as it were, trapping us inside for a third of every year.

For two active retirees who like to get out and walk several miles every day, that’s not good.  And we are doing something about it.  We are heading south during the wintertime.  Now we’ll be looking for new open spaces, new bike lanes and boardwalks and walking trails in every new place we live over the next years, hopefully in places where we need not worry about slipping and falling on icy roads or sidewalks.

We’ll be looking for other extravagant spaces.  Nature trails and wildlife areas and rail trails and beaches.  Especially beaches.

The beach at Seacliff.
I loved the beach at Seacliff, California last winter — entirely unaffected by the Polar Vortex.

Because Americans really do enjoy an extravagance of space.  Even RV-ers living in their highly efficient but tiny mobile spaces.

(Just think, you could have been born in Macau, the most heavily populated country in the world, with a population density of more than 73,000 people per square mile.)

Work-Camping Goes to New Heights: Lighthouse Keeping

Milepost 10-17-14   Ludington, Michigan

I have just added lighthouse keeping to my bucket list.

Visitors approach the lighthouse after a 2-mile hike through the sand dunes from the park visitors’ center.

Kaye and I just spent some time at Ludington, Michigan, where we visited with the lighthouse keepers who are volunteering at the historical Big Sable Point Lighthouse.    This is one of multiple locations in America — there are several in the Great Lakes region — where volunteers may actually stay at a lighthouse for a period of time and offer their services in a variety of assignments.  At this site, they even stay in the original keepers’ quarters dating back to 1867.

The historical 1867 lighthouse and keepers' house at Big Sable Point.
The historical 1867 lighthouse and keepers’ house at Big Sable Point.

The folks who were on site when we visited are from all over the country and serve as guides, historical interpreters, and gift shop operators.  They also help with maintenance and upkeep when needed.  They stay here for two weeks at a time, then a new group arrives, a few of them overlapping to help with orientation.

Resident volunteers run the gift shop and museum for visitors inside the historical keepers house.
Resident volunteers run the gift shop and museum for visitors inside the historical lightkeepers house.

The volunteers often develop a camaraderie and lifelong friendship during their stay at the lighthouse.

Russell welcomes tourist to enjoy the museum displays on their way to the tower stairway.
Russell welcomes tourists to examine the museum displays on their way to the tower stairway.
Volunteers staff the lighthouse in 2-week stays.  Here, Thom welcomes visitors to the lantern gallery at the top of the tower.
Thom welcomes visitors to the lantern gallery near the top of the tower.
Thom offers to snap photos for the guests on the tower walkway.
Thom offers to snap photos for the guests on the tower walkway.
Nancy welcomes new workers to the front door of the old keepers house.
Nancy welcomes new workers to the front door of the old keepers house.
The volunteer light keepers stay in the upstairs rooms of the historical residence.  Wanna hear some ghost stories?
The volunteer light keepers stay in the upstairs rooms of the historical residence. Nancy’s first-hand ghost stories will send chills up and down your spine.

This is one of several Michigan historical locations where paranormal activity has been observed and ghost stories abound.  One of the regular workers,  Nancy,  tells of the ghost of a young girl who has appeared in an upstairs bedroom on at least one wildly stormy night apparently frightened and asking the residents if she can climb into bed with them.  Now that’s downright creepy!

Big Sable Point Lighthouse looks foreboding in a storm.  Is it really haunted?
Big Sable Point Lighthouse looks foreboding in a storm. Is it really haunted?

Kaye and I are looking forward to pursuing our new dream of living and working at a 150-year-old lighthouse, and this spot would be our number one choice…  even though the old fashioned beds are quite small and won’t offer enough room for more than the two of us in the bed at one time.   Hopefully.

My bucket list is a short one  (and it does not include sky diving),  and it’s going to take something pretty amazing to rival the Alaska Highway experience.  This looks like a promising candidate.

_____________________

Postscript:  We have been accepted and scheduled for a two-week stay at Big Sable Point Lighthouse for next fall.  Come and visit us while we are on duty from September 14 – 28 and we’ll give you a personal tour of the historical light station!  Maybe get a campsite at Ludington State Park; the lighthouse is a 1-1/2 mile hike from the campground.

On and On and On… On the Open Road

We finally made it to the lower 48!  It took 11 days to cover 3,678 miles from Denali to Lincoln, Nebraska, where we are visiting with friends for a few days before finishing the trek to the log cabin in Michigan.

Of course, the terrain changed with every passing state or province.  We finally left the northern Rocky Mountains in British Columbia and spent several days crossing the northern plains.  Our photos captured the corresponding changes.

The first several days we spent inching our way through the high mountains.
The first several days we spent inching our way through the high mountains…
... and the last several days we flew across the open prairie.
… and the last several days we flew across the open prairie.

Kaye and I are currently resting up, restocking the fridge, and enjoying the return of decent internet services.  We’re pretty worn out but basking in the accomplishment of driving the Alaska Highway… both ways!  We’ll be writing lots more about our experiences as we get rested up and ready to return to a more normal flow of life.

The Alaska Highway – Here We Come!

 Milepost 5-21-14  Fillmore, California

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.

We got to hike the Pacific shore with daughter, Wendi, who lives at the University of California
We are loving the Pacific coast where the daytime highs have been in the 70’s all winter.

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 daughter, Wendi, took us for a hike on her running trail at Goleta, California.
Our daughter, Wendi, took us for a hike on her favorite running trail at Goleta, California.

Our planned departure date is Thursday, May 29th.  Yippee!

This was our first winter living near our daughter and son-in-law.  Here we are at Joe's Crab Shack, Venture, California.
This was our first winter living near our youngest daughter and son-in-law. Here are Kaye and Wendi at Joe’s Crab Shack, Ventura, California.

A Day in the Life of a Work-Camper

The Santa Ana winds torn down a huge oak that landed on the camp office (yellow motorhome).

Milepost 5-2-14   Fillmore, California

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.

The golf cart is loaded with tools for the tasks.
The golf cart is loaded with tools for the tasks.

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.

Yippie!  I get to drive the 1963 GMC pickup today!
Yippie! I get to drive the 1963 GMC pickup today!

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.

Kenney Grove is a regular destination for the Songmakers camping club.
Kenney Grove Park is a regular destination for the Songmakers camping club.

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.

Mugu Point Beach is populated by surfers.
Mugu Point Beach is popular with surfers and has a famous 1950’s-style fish-fry diner across the road.  Go to Neptune’s Net website here to see what famous movies they are in.

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.

With our kids we dined at 150-year-old Coldspring Tavern which started as a stagecoach station in the mountains above Santa Barbara.  Celebrity sightings are common here.
With our kids we dined at 150-year-old Coldspring Tavern which began as a stagecoach station in the mountain pass above Santa Barbara. Celebrity sightings are common here.

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.

The 1976 Dodge motorhome emerged from under the tree with only one broken window.
The 1976 Dodge motorhome emerged from under the fallen tree with only one broken window.
Kenney Grove Park manager, Rona, keeps everything running like clockwork.
Kenney Grove Park manager, Rona, keeps everything running like clockwork.

Another Side of Adventure (Kaye)

Milepost 3-21-14   Fillmore, California

(Kaye writes)

Adventure, huh?

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.

Leaving the home place was a monumental move.
Leaving our life-long home was a monumental move for us.

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.

We moved from a 10-room house to a one-room log cabin.
We moved from a 10-room house to a one-room log cabin.

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…

Our work-camp site in California.
Our work-camp site for the winter and spring in California.

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.

Read more of Kaye’s stuff at her blog, Wondering Journey.

Too Much Adventure Can be Deadly

Milepost 3-18-14   Fillmore, California

“I can’t move my legs,” my friend whispered in the pitch black darkness as he slipped into unconsciousness.  We were teetering on the face of a steep mountain in the Sierra Madres of Mexico where Marc had just tumbled head over heels 90 feet down a rough slope, his balance thrown off by the overloaded backpack.  It didn’t help that there were only three flashlights for 15 hikers; because of delays, we had been caught on the mountain after dark, something that our guide hadn’t prepared us for.  Our efforts for the next hour proved to make the difference between life and death;  not to worry, Marc lived.   And he recovered quickly over the next few days, having no broken bones and no lasting injuries.

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

That was a bit more adventure than I had counted on when I organized this trek for a group of young summer missionaries.  Marc’s fall caused him no small amount of trauma and an equal amount of stress for me and the rest of the trekkers.

And that’s the risk one takes when he signs on for an adventure.

Most Americans never have such a scary experience, because most do not sign on for much adventure at all.  For many, their most risky experience is the morning commute to the job in the city.  Mind you, it can be stressful too, but is hardly ever an adventure.

The American dream is a comfortable one and not very adventurous.  Most of us spend our summer weekends on the backyard patio with a steak on the grill and a cold drink in hand.  We don’t paddle any whitewater or jump off any cliffs.   And that’s how we like it.   No adventure, no risk, and no worries.  Mind you, for some, that is the best thing.

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

But there are others who become restless if they haven’t had the crap scared out of them a time or two within the last six months.  They get cabin fever when the winter is too long, and they start dreaming of tents, sleeping bags and the latest climbing gear.

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

I’m not sure if it is personality that makes the difference, or if family history is a more profound ingredient in the adventure quotient.  My dad was a camper and loved to take the family on an adventure every summer.  Some of his kids are the same way, but not all  of us.

On the other hand, my three kids are all adventurers and world travelers.  I give partial credit to an extended adventure that I took the family on in the middle of my small-town teaching career.  Taking a one-year leave-of-absence, we moved to an underdeveloped country in the Caribbean where Kaye and I taught in an international school.  We lived in an indigenous neighborhood where we were isolated from other Americans.  This experience changed our family forever.  The adventure factor has run strong in all of us ever since.

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

Are you a restless adventurer?  Do you get frustrated when you spend more time punching a time clock than kicking through the gears on a motorcycle?  Do you live for the weekends?   Have you applied the risk-reward ratio to your financial portfolio but never to the balance of comfort and adventure in your life?

Maybe it’s time for a change –  If you feel that you need more excitement in your life.  If you are young, you might want to take this into consideration when you are choosing your career.  At 17 years old, I chose teaching partly because of the long summer vacations.  I knew myself well enough to know that I would not be happy with only the two weeks off every year that my friends who went to the auto assembly plant would get.  They made a lot more money – I had a lot more fun.

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

And it was a wise decision, because I eventually became the adventure trips planner for our local church youth group and found myself in all kinds of exciting locations over the next 35 years.

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

 I had teams of 13-year-olds squeezing through wild caves in southern Indiana, groups of boys lost at night on the sand dunes by Lake Michigan (just because their group leader was an Eagle scout didn’t mean he had earned the badge for orienteering).

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

 I have been skinny-dipping with friends in the middle of the nighttime bioluminescence of the Indian Ocean – green sparks exploding in the water with every movement.  I’ve crashed a motorcycle on the most winding two-lane road in Michigan (my only broken bone ever), and rafted the whitewater of the Ocoee River in the mountains of Tennessee – the same river used for the kayak races in the 1996 summer olympics.

And now I’m living on the road in an RV with my life-long companion as we explore the backroads of America.  And Kaye and I are gearing up for the ultimate road trip this summer, the Alaska Highway, with a pickup and a fifth-wheel.

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

When our appetite for risk and adventure is satisfied, we pull into an RV park or a friend’s backyard, and we stay a while.  We fuel up our comfort-and-safety quotient for a while until we start to get restless again and long for the open road.  A couple of months is just about the perfect duration for us to stay in one place.

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

The adventure appetite runs pretty strong with us right now.  Age and failing health will park us someday, but for now we plan to git while the gittin’s good.

How about you?  Do you have your summer planned full of adventures yet?  What about the rest of your life?  Are you assigning enough risk to satisfy your adventure quotient?

Don’t get me wrong, adventure is not for everybody.  It depends on your appetite for risk.  If you don’t have it, you are fine to enjoy the security of a comfortable and stress-free life in America.

But, if you are increasingly restless and keep gazing out the window of your office or your kitchen, it’s possible that the adrenaline runs stronger in your veins than you thought.  And maybe you should do something about it.  Increase the risk factor.  Dive into the next adventure.Tony dives in

Okay, so maybe too much adventure can be deadly, but a more common tragedy is the slow death of dreams and bucket lists while we safely watch the grass grow in our comfortable back yards, the regretful long-term product of too much comfort and security.

For your own well-being, maybe you should get some adrenaline going on this summer.  Have fun.  And be safe.

Work-Camping. It Works for Me

I am two months into my first work-camp experience and thought it time for a report.  Kaye and I have been camping at Kenney Grove Park, a historical site established in 1888 and coinciding with the founding of the town of Fillmore, California.  The park is owned by the County of Ventura, but is under private lease.  It is used mostly for events by groups who lease the campground.

Kenney Grove Park is sheltered by massive old oak trees.
Kenney Grove Park is sheltered by a canopy of massive old oak trees.

The work-camp arrangement is growing in popularity and there is an abundance of listings online at sites like Workers on Wheels, The Sowers, and Work-Kamping and others.  The assortment of possible jobs ranges from camp hosting to maintenance to trail guiding and a lot more.  Most workers put in 20 or so hours per week in exchange for a campsite with hookups for their recreational vehicle.

Our campsite includes a storage shed and patio area.
Our campsite at Kenney Grove Park.

Our site includes a canopy over the RV and a storage shed and small patio surrounded by oak woods.  It sits on a small hill in the middle of the park at the foothills of the mountains and at the edge of Los Padres National Forest.  We are 30 miles from the Pacific beach.

My responsibilities include a wide range of tasks such as painting, repairing old equipment, felling trees and chipping them for mulch, washing picnic tables, and so on.

Kenney Grove Park is known for its canopy of ancient oak trees.
Kenney Grove Park is a beautiful and quiet place to work and the winter weather is mild.

I am not sure if I will pursue the same sort of plan for next winter, but it is really working well for me now.  The work pace is relaxed, the tasks are not back-breaking, and the manager is pleasant and flexible. And it helps that the location is in a quiet valley in southern California where the winter temperatures are mild and the sunshine abundant.  Well, honestly, the location is what attracted me to this spot in the first place.  Back home in Michigan, I would have been dealing with the harshest snowiest winter in recent history.

After work, Kaye and I enjoy relaxing on the patio between the camper and the storage shed.
After work, Kaye and I enjoy relaxing on our own private patio next to the camper.

Yep, this is working very well.

I have three more months to go here before we hitch up again to pursue our epic trip to Alaska for the summer.  Stay tuned!

We Came, We Saw, We Camped.

Milepost 2540:  Fillmore, CA.   Elev. 469 ft.  30 miles from the ocean.

  We have safely arrived in our winter home at Fillmore, California, where I have signed on to a work-camp assignment for the next five months, earning a free campsite.  We have been out and about exploring this old railroad town where the Mexican restaurants and markets outnumber all others combined.

The mountains loom over the town in this shot taken a half mile from our park.
The mountains loom over the town in this shot taken a half mile from our park.

It is a pleasant little town with palm-lined streets, occupying the floor of a wide and verdant valley surrounded by parched mountains – they are in their fourth year of drought here.  The valley is irrigated and the orange groves are full of fruit right now, spilling windfalls into the ditches.

The orange groves are loaded with the current crop of fruit near our camp.
The orange groves are loaded with the current crop of fruit near our camp.
The central park in Fillmore is lined with palm trees and backed by old railroad trains.
The central park in Fillmore is lined with palm trees and backed by old railroad trains.
Fillmore boast a large railroad museum with train cars and locomotives from several eras.
Fillmore boasts a large railroad museum with train cars and locomotives from several eras.

Upon setting up the RV, we found our sewer line too short and had to run to the store to buy another section.  The nearest Walmart was over the mountain ridge in Simi Valley.  Our satellite maps did not prepare us for the topography on this quick jaunt.  The mountain road was a tangle of switchbacks and hairpin turns climbing steeply – and populated with double-bottom gravel trucks heading to and from the quarry.  It left our nerves an equally tangled mess.

A quick trip to Walmart requires both hands on the wheel and eyes on the road at all times.
A quick trip to Walmart requires both hands on the wheel and eyes on the road at all times.

Kenney Grove Park is a scenic garden of eucalyptus, sycamore, palm, pine, oak and cactus.

Kenney Grove is a sprawling park with a nestled in the valley below 4,000-foot peaks.
Kenney Grove is a sprawling park nestled in the valley below 4,000-foot peaks.

I’ve already had a lengthy orientation into my job as handyman and part-time camp host.  I consider it a privilege to add my effort and attention to such a picturesque slice of the world.  It helps that I am missing the blizzards back home in Michigan while I work in short sleeves in southern California where it is 70 degrees and sunny every day.

There are three beautiful foot bridges spanning a dry creek bed in the park.
My first task here is to re-coat this foot bridge, one of three spanning a dry creek bed in the park.
One of a half-dozen kinds, the prickly pear cactus grows 14-feet tall here.

This afternoon I got my bike out and took off to the explore the local bike trails, my first ride since October in Michigan.  There are paved trails here, some following the old railroad grade and some following the levee along Sespe Creek (which is totally dry right now) upstream toward the condor sanctuary a few miles into the national forest to the north of us.

The bike trail along the dry Sespe Creek bed reveals the mountains behind the camp.
The bike trail along the dry Sespe Creek bed reveals the mountains behind the camp.

Tomorrow we get to head up to Santa Barbara along the coast highway to visit our kids who work and study there in the winter.  I wonder what marvels await us there.

Starting With Zero

Milepost Zero:  Kingston, Michigan, 12-29-13

 We’re leaving in the morning!  Yippee!  We have been working toward this for three years!  We’ve been downsizing from a 10-room house on 30 acres to a 29-foot fifth-wheel on the open road.  Tomorrow  morning I will set the odometer on the pickup at zero, and we will head out of snowy Michigan and into new territory.  The first leg of this epic journey takes us across the midwest and the southwest to California where we will be doing a work/camp thing to earn a free campsite at a small private campground called Kenney Grove Park north of Los Angeles.  It’s the first time for us to attempt this sort of thing.  From there, in June we head north to Alaska where some of our kids have spent their summers for the last eight years.  We might not return to Michigan until August.

It’s the time of year when a lot of folks are getting a fresh start, although not everybody is starting at zero.   lt’s a time of hope and resolve:  Lose some weight, exercise more, pay down debt, and so on.  Not everybody is actually taking to the open highway toward a new destination, but many are setting a new direction in other ways.

It can be a hopeful time, but can also be a bit depressing if your goals are born out a dissatisfaction with life and the way things are, especially if your hopes are deferred by burdensome obligation.

I like my daughter’s approach to a new year and a new beginning:

Stacy with another pina colada in Mexico.
Stacy enjoys another pina colada in Mexico.

Earlier today in a Facebook post Stacy announced, “Hey everyone; I’ve been putting a lot of thought into it in the last few months and I’ve decided to scrap my [weight loss goal] by my 40th birthday.  This is not a decision made from discouragement or laziness, but is a decision made from a place of immense freedom. It has been dawning on me lately that I am so very okay with the way I am NOW! I really like me and I don’t need to change at all. That said, I find happiness in the chase….the chase to be better, be stronger, live life more to the full. So THIS chase will be my focus. I want to hike more, climb more mountains, be healthier, see more places, try more exotic foods, feel more, taste more, challenge myself more, and kick ass more. THAT will be my focus for momentum this year!”

Sounds like Stacy is harking back to a Dr. Seuss book, Green Eggs and Ham, a children’s book about a guy named Sam who doesn’t like to try new things like…  well, green eggs and ham, but when he finally does, he finds them delicious.  Trying new things can be risky but fun.

There is security and comfort in staying put.  But not so much adventure.

To arrive in a new place you must first leave the old place, whether or not the old familiar place offers security and a sense of roots,  or whether it mostly offers monotony – and the roots feel more like a ball and chain.

A new direction,  a new destination

So anyway,  we are not really starting at zero when you consider all the adventures we have pulled off in the past.  Our direction was to the southeast last winter where we lived on the beach in the tropics.  But this time we are heading to Alaska, a place where we have never been, first by way of California and the coast highway, and we’re doing it with a heavy duty pickup and an RV.  This is something we haven’t attempted before.

Maybe we should name the rig “Green Eggs and Ham”.  Because we’re going to be trying something new.

In the next few days, watch for new posts from parts farther west.  I may not get to post every day – because I’ll be driving – but I’ll try to let you know where we are every little while.

What new things are you going to try in the coming year?