Tag Archives: travel

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?