Tag Archives: wanderlust

A Day-to-Day Guide to the Alaska Highway

How to Drive it in 6 Days at a Moderate Pace

So…  you are thinking seriously about going after the Road Trip of a Lifetime… and maybe you are having anxiety issues thinking about all that could happen.

I’ve said this before: Yukon Do It!

When Kaye and I made our epic journey towing our 28-foot fifth wheel, we had our copy of Mileposts and our paper maps in the truck cab and referred to them constantly… and everything went just fine.  We didn’t have any problems, going or coming.

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Our first camp north of the border was at Chilliwack, BC

But it would have been so much easier if we had had the piece I am writing for you right now —  a daily guide that would connect the dots from Point A to Point B each day.  Well here it is.

Before You Start.

First of all, make sure your vehicles are in good condition.  Have a mechanic replace any worn belts or hoses and change the oil in your tow vehicle.  Tires should be in like-new condition all the way around with a good spare on hand.

Take a supply of cash along with your credit cards which may or may not work at some road houses.  There are ATM’s in a few spots along the way delivering Canadian currency, of course.

Get used to navigating without your cellphone.  You are not likely to have service except in a few towns.  Weak wifi can be found at a few RV parks so each night you can plot your map apps for the next day (GPS may work when wifi doesn’t).

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Getting to Mile Zero

The official Alaska Highway begins at Dawson Creek in northern British Columbia.  When we did it we had to drive 1,900 miles from Ventura, California and it took us 8 days.  Just to get to the START of the Alcan.  We stayed at Northern Lights RV Park on the hill west of the town of Dawson Creek.

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The official start of the Alaska Highway, mile zero.

Day 1:  Dawson Creek to Fort Nelson.  282 miles.

Stock up on provisions before leaving Dawson Creek; you won’t find another good market for several days.

Fill the tank, then drive your first 101 miles to the Esso at Wonowon, BC.  Fill up again.

Drive 181 miles over easy hills and through forests on wide open highway to Fort Nelson. We chose the Triple G RV park for our overnight.  The power grid ends at Fort Nelson.

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We passed roadhouses that had been closed, some for a very long time.

Day 2:  Fort Nelson to Coal River (or Watson Lake)  225 (or 319) miles

Fill up the tank and head uphill from Fort Nelson.  You will be topping a high pass a couple of hours in; remember to engine brake – downshift to second gear – on the downgrades to save your brakes.  This section takes awhile if you are towing a heavy rig; your speed will be down to 35 MPH on winding mountain roads.

At 118 miles stop at Toad River for fuel… and lunch if you want.

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The restaurant at Toad River Lodge has 6,800 baseball caps on the ceiling!

Drive another 107 miles to Coal River Lodge, Muncho Lake BC, a lonely outpost in the wilderness.  Basic services are available including diesel fuel and at the restaurant inside, their signature buffalo burger at a ridiculous price (everything north of Dawson Creek will be expensive).  There is a bare bones campground with 20-amp electricity and a laundromat – all run from a generator onsite.

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We had the campground to ourselves at Coal River Lodge for the night.
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The pies and the buffalo burgers were all home cooked by Donna at Coal River Lodge.

We found friendly owners and had a great time at Coal River, but not everybody will like the spartan accommodations that haven’t been upgraded since the place was built in the 1940’s.  If it is not to your liking, fuel up and head for the Downtown RV Park at Watson Lake another 101 miles.

Day 3:  Coal River to White Horse, Yukon Territory.  359 miles

Fuel up.  This is a more ambitious jaunt, with two stops.  First drive 101 miles to Watson Lake  (if you didn’t go there last night).  Tour the Sign Forest in the middle of town and fuel up at the Tags station at the west end of town where there is a deli with deep fried delights and a little store.  You will be criss-crossing the BC/YT border a couple of times today.

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We added our sign to 70,000 others at the Sign Forest at Watson Lake, YT.

Drive on through the forests and hills to Teslin where you can fuel up again at the Yukon Motel & Restaurant (ATM) or Mesutlin Trading Post.  Then on to White Horse and the Pioneer RV Park where you might get wifi.

If you have any mechanical issues, you might find help in White Horse.

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The road mostly follows the valleys between the mountains and is a relatively easy drive.

Day 4:  White Horse to White River.  249 miles

Fuel up and head west to Haines Junction.  We experienced some awful roads and construction in this section, but maybe it is all fixed by now.

Fuel up again and continue to White River and the Yukon Lodgings Campground which is easy to miss on the left after a bend in the road in the middle of nowhere.  There is no town (keep an eye on your mileage and watch for it).  If you come out of the woods and cross a river and come to Beaver Creek, you just passed it; maybe just stay at Beaver Creek where there is a motel and an almost RV park. Basically a parking lot.

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There is no end of beautiful scenery along the Alaska Highway.

Day 5:  White River YT  to Delta Junction AK.  249 miles

Fuel up at Beaver Creek, then head across the U.S. border and at 142 miles stop at Tok.  Fuel up at Chevron or Shell or Tesoro.

Head west to Delta Junction another 107 miles and maybe camp at the Alaska RV Ranch.

Congratulation!  You have just completed the official Alaska Highway, approximately 1,365 miles!

However, you are still in the middle of nowhere.  So…

Day 6:  Delta Junction to Denali National Park.  244 miles (through Fairbanks AK)

If you go southwest through Anchorage, add another 100 or so miles.

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The Alaska Range escorts you toward Fairbanks.  You don’t have to drive over those mountains.

At Fairbanks or Anchorage, stock up on provisions at the Fred Meyer store, because everything at Glitter Gulch (the tourist village a mile from the entrance of Denali National Park) will cost at least TWICE the price and many items will not be available at all!

Congrats again, and check this off your bucket list!  You have covered the Alaska Highway – and beyond, a distance of 1,580 miles (by way of Fairbanks).

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Two dozen shops, outfitters and eateries line the boardwalk at “Glitter Gulch”.

We stayed at Rainbow Village RV Park behind the row of log cabin shops on the east side of the highway in Glitter Gulch (affectionately called “the Canyon” by the locals).  It is not actually an incorporated municipality so your map app won’t find it.  Try searching for Healy, a small town north of the Canyon a few miles, or try Denali National Park; you’ll only be off by a mile.

We stayed about six weeks, hiking and biking around the area and venturing into Denali National Park for hiking and sightseeing.  Then we took 11 days to make the return trip down to Lincoln Nebraska, then home to Michigan a few days later.  We covered about 7,500 miles over all.

Now you only have to make it back down!

So are you going to do it?

I would love to know what you are thinking.  Let me know in the comments below.

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Denali – the mountain – is still 90 miles away.  Take the park bus for a closer look.

Disclaimer:  Though I have done my best to update and verify this information since our own trip, things can change from season to season along the Alaska Highway.  (We found that even the Mileposts resource was inaccurate at a couple of points.)  You are responsible for your safety and accommodations on this road trip of a lifetime!

Have fun!

Where the Robert Meets the Video Camera

I have been active on YouTube for several years, posting an occasional rare video of my adventures, but until now I really haven’t developed that aspect of my travel expression. Last spring I started ramping up my documentation of my outdoor experiences on video and I am having a lot of fun with it.  For one thing, video conveys a much richer dimension of my reality.  If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth ten thousand.  You can hear my voice, see my mannerisms and get to know me a lot more than you could with a still photograph.  It’s not always pretty, as I make a lot of mistakes and you get to see a much less polished “me”.  It is more like a reality show, because you have to take the bad with the good.  I can’t edit out my crooked teeth or my slow speech.

Anyway, the result is a richer expression of my travel experiences.  I am able to share more about my adventures and throw in a bit of sage advice, some camping hacks that I have picked up along the way.  And I am sharing my campfire cooking, something that is hard to do without video.

I hope you like it:

Adventure Bob & Company on YouTube.  Camping and travel videos.

Thank you for watching!

12 Wild Places Where I Have Spent the Night… in no particular order

For a guy who has spent much of his life on one adventure after another, this could be a really long list.  To narrow it down, I will post only my favorites…. and tell why they have special appeal to me.  Since I am a quiet laid-back guy, most of these are away from the crowds and the noise of the popular parks and resorts.

Valley of the Gods, Utah.

The desert landscape is remarkable enough; it is an extension of the iconic Monument Valley Tribal Park a few miles away.  But when the sun sets you discover you are in Dark Sky country.  The Milky Way is dazzling above and hanging over the nearby cliffs.

My free campsite was just below a huge butte and there wasn’t a level spot to park, so I drove onto some rocks to level the camper for the night.  Complete solitude.  And almost unnerving silence.

Valley of Gods pickup campsite crop

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Bob V.O.G. Milky Way corner fix 2

 

Hole-In-The-Rock Road, Escalante, Utah

After spending a rainy afternoon at Devil’s Garden, I drove a couple of miles farther down the washboard road and found a flat spot on the open prairie across from Dinosaur Tracks road.  This is boon docking – no facilities.  No problem, I am self-contained with the truck camper.  And all alone for the night.

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On a rainy day at Devil’s Garden near Escalante, Utah, I was glad not to be camping in a tent.

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Pacific Coast Highway, Seacliff, California

It is hard to find places where one can camp on the beach.  Especially on the west coast.  This park is two miles long and about 20 feet wide.  Everybody gets a 40-foot-long space to park for the night and our rig fit exactly from bumper to bumper.   You can walk the beach for miles.  No hookups.  Again, no problem.

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Coal River Lodge, Coal River, Yukon Territory

I think this was one of the most remote campsites we ever stayed at on our epic trek along the Alaska Highway.  At Milepost 533, Coal River is one of the original Roadhouses built to accommodate the construction of the Alaska Highway in 1942-1943 and is beyond the reach of the electric grid.  They were generating their own power while we were there.  We had the campground to ourselves with hookups to water and electricity.

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Denali Canyon “Glitter Gulch”, Parks Highway, Alaska

After driving up from southern California, we were fortunate to find a campsite at the Rainbow Village RV Park right behind the coffee shop where our daughter was working every summer.  We stayed half the summer, biking the canyon and hiking the ridges and peaks surrounding the village.  A highlight was backcountry hiking with two of my daughters inside Denali National Park.

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The RV was nestled snugly behind the row of log cabin tourist shops, a great base of operations.

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Wendi could write her own story about “wild” places she has stayed the night.  She spent 12 summers in a row in this dry cabin near Denali.

 

Dauphin Island, Alabama

One winter we set out to camp only on islands where we could walk the beaches all winter long.  Dauphin Island was our choice for the month of January and we were camped in the woods a short walk from the gulf beach and historic Fort Gaines.

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The beaches along the Gulf are white sand.  Dolphins cavort just offshore.

Dauphin Island campsite

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Fort Gaines surrendered to the Union Navy during the Civil War.

 

South Manitou Island, Leland, Michigan

This is one of my favorite backpacking spots that’s not far from my home in Michigan.  The island is part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and is run by the NPS.  It is entirely covered with hardwood forests or perched sand dunes.  The extensive network of hiking trails can thoroughly exhaust even the most hearty of souls.  As a lifelong adventure sport director, I have been there several times with groups of kids.

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Hobo dinners are wrapped in foil and cooked directly on the campfire.  No pans, no grill, no problem.

 

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The Cove, Samana, Dominican Republic

What I liked about our winter vacation rental on the beach was not the infinity pool or the air-conditioned condo, but the close interaction with the natives.  Many resorts are isolated and walled away from the locals meaning you miss a lot of the indigenous flavor.  Our beach was shared with the fishermen and their kids.  We were able to walk to the local tienda for a cold Coke and provisions for cooking our own meals.  Local shuttles would take us to the nearest village for a few cents.

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Big Sable Point Lighthouse, Ludington, Michigan

The lighthouse is staffed by teams of volunteers who spend two weeks living in the original light keepers’ quarters and running the gift shop, museum and tower which is open for a fews hours every day.  The rest of the time we are free to hike the dunes or splash in the refreshing waters of Lake Michigan.

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Volunteers take turns preparing meals for each other in the old kitchen.  Also the best place to get wifi.

 

Port Crescent State Park, Port Austin, Michigan

We used to live about an hour’s drive from this park so we got to know it pretty well.  One of our favorite things was when we were lucky enough to get one of the campsites that are right on the shore with our rear bumper almost hanging over the beach.  The water is shallow and stays warm in the fall so we would often wait till after Labor Day when the kids were back in school and there was plenty of elbow room in the park.

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Sierra Madre Mountains Trek, Central Mexico

I usually avoid the resorts when I want an authentic experience and hiking in the mountains of Mexico is one I have been able to do several times.  Usually I have been directing a group of youths on a cross-cultural experience.  The organic nature of this kind of adventure means that we eat the local foods and use the local outhouses. –  if there are outhouses.  Fun!

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Redwoods National Park, California

Okay, I have spent the night in at least 15 of the most amazing national parks.  That could be a list all of its own.  But the Redwoods were so remarkable I had to mention them.  We pulled into a deserted county park in the redwood forest late at night and weaved our way between the giant trees that showed in the headlights.  We found a spot to set up the tents and went to sleep.  Climbing out of the tents in the morning, we were rendered speechless at the fantasy land that surrounded us.  Nothing tops this.  Huge!

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Well, this listing is just a sampling of the wild places where I have stayed.  It makes me sad to leave out a whole bunch of wonderful places.  Maybe I should  write a Part Two including Glacier National Park, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, the over-water bungalow in the Maldive Islands…  and so on.

I would be interested in hearing about a wild place you have stayed in the comments below.  Do tell!

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Note:  Header photo at the top is Butler Wash, Bluff, Utah, banked by cliffs on both sides and sheltering many ancient cliff dwellings nestled on the ledges and alcoves.

If Variety is the Spice of Life, I am a Well-Seasoned Soul

I have been skinny-dipping at night immersed in the glowing bioluminescence of an island lagoon in the Indian Ocean (Sorry, no photo).  Green “sparks” darted in all directions when I splashed my arms in the warm tropical water.

I have crawled around in the “wild” (non-commercial) caves of Southern Indiana and played fluorescent frisbee in the Monument Room, a cavern the length of a football field and over a mile from the entrance of Buckners Cave.

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Some of my sixth-graders posed in the Monument Room of Buckner’s Cave.

I have been frightened by the steep descent on the edge of the cliffs after topping Summit Pass heading across the Yukon Territory on the Alaska Highway, my 3-1/2-ton RV pushing me toward the sharp turn and the cold lake below the drop-off at the bottom of the grade, second gear engine braking all the way.  Whew!

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I guess I am one of those restless people who can’t sit still for too long before needing a change of scenery.  For most of my life I satisfied by wanderlust with summer camping trips and weekend getaways.  Later, Kaye and I took to the road full-time.

My kids loved all that “variety” and became world travelers.  And now my grandkids are getting a chance to experience the great wonders that our amazing world has to offer.

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I hope you are following your dreams – and the open road, if that’s part of it for you.

Have fun and be safe!

Life Hacks #2: Downsize

Stuff comes with stress attached.  The more stuff, the more stress.  It’s an unfortunate by-product of the American Dream.  Our garages and basements are full of stress, the overflow of our lives of excess.

But the antidote is fairly simple:  Downsize.  Reduce stress by reducing stuff.

When I was young and newly married and just starting my career, I didn’t even think about whether I might like my life to be any different than my friends.  I just automatically started in on the dream, buying a large property and starting on a house that was way too big for two newlyweds.  I struggled to keep up with it for most of my adult life while raising a family and starting several businesses.

Fortunately,  Kaye and I were able to reverse the process later and achieve the freedom to travel and relax.

A few years ago, Denmark was named the happiest country in the world.  Somebody asked why, and the researcher pointed to “low expectations” as the main reason.  So when the American said, “maybe I should move to Denmark,” the Dane replied, “You probably wouldn’t like it.”

And there it is.  Low expectations.

But that’s not how most Americans think.  We are programmed by life and the ad agencies to believe that more happiness comes with more stuff.  “Go Big or Go Home!”

I think a life of balance is the best.  I don’t tell people to downsize to a point of feeling starved for comfort or convenience.  The ideal is to get rid of the unnecessary – and the stress that goes with it –  and be left with the basic essentials for a measured life that is fun and relatively hassle-free.  In all things, moderation.

It may not be the American Way, but it could deliver greater contentment.

Just ask the Danes.

Anyway, you are never going to hit the road with all that stuff holding you back.

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Phase One in our downsizing process included putting renters in our big house and moving ourselves to a one-room cabin.

 

September Solitude in Michigan’s U.P.

One nice thing about the late summer and early fall is that summer vacation has ended and the kids are back in school so the parks are virtually empty and it’s easier to find a campsite.  Traffic is thinning out at the popular attractions and the pace is relaxed.

The second blessing is that the lakes are still warm enough for a refreshing dip.  The water of the Great Lakes cools down more slowly than the air temperature in the fall, so though the days are cool and comfortable and nights are getting chilly, the water is still enjoyable.

Here are some quiet spots where you will likely find the crowds thinning out after Labor Day.

Whitefish Point

There is a world-class Shipwreck Museum that’s part of the complex at Whitefish Point Lighthouse north of Paradise.  The state forest campgrounds are still open into October, and there are abundant vacation rentals and cabins in the area.

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Want a historical adventure?  Stay overnight at the old Coast Guard Station at Whitefish Point.

Crisp Point Lighthouse

It’s best not to attempt the road to Crisp Point with a low-slung sedan.  You’ll be bottoming out several times on the one-lane 19-mile logging road that is rough and sandy and takes an hour to drive one way.

Your reward for the tedious drive is a remote lighthouse on a mostly deserted stony beach.  The site is tended by volunteers who stay in their campers next to the beach.

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Rock hounds love the pickin’s at Crisp Point.

Au Sable Point Lighthouse

The trailhead to the isolated lighthouse is at the Hurricane River Campground that is part of the large Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.  The 1.5-mile hiking trail hugs the shore just above the rock ledges and stony beach.  The road through the national lakeshore is nicely paved but winding, so your average speed will be about 35 mph getting there.  Don’t rush.

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AuTrain Bay, AuTrain

This tranquil shoreline is super easy to reach as highway 28 runs right along the lake here just a few miles west of the little village of Christmas.  Pull off at one of the beautiful roadside parks where there are restrooms and running water.

The sandy beach is walkable for nearly a mile and the water is shallow enough for wading and swimming.  Rocky outcroppings bookend the beach at both ends.

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Scott Falls is visible from the highway, but pull into the roadside park at the east end of the bay for an easy walk across the road to this personable little falls where you can walk right up to it… or behind it.  On a warm day it may seem to invite a shower, but you are in for a bit of a shock, as the water is not as warm as the lake.

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This is a great time of year to explore the wilderness of northern Michigan, but the window of opportunity is short.  By October 1st the lake will likely cool beyond the tolerable range and a tranquil dip in Lake Superior will be out of the question.  Snow isn’t unheard of in this part of the world during the month of October, and the warm pasties will warm body and soul at the local restaurants in Munising.

So get while the gettin’ is good.

Life’s a Trip – When Work is Play

This is the 4th in the Life’s a Trip series.

The American Dream isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.  A house with a two-car garage and a nice yard in the suburbs is not what everybody wants.  In middle class America sometimes it is assumed that we will raise our kids to go to the right school to get the right degree to land the right job, find the right spouse, and raise the right family – who will do it all over again.

That’s fine if it is what you want, but very often middle-agers wake up one morning and discover they are tired of working the job, tired of paying the mortgage, and tired of weeding and feeding and mowing those relentless lawns.

They suddenly realize that maybe they are living somebody else’s dream.

I think the best case scenario is when young people don’t assume that life has to be lived in a certain way – before they rack up all that college debt, mortgage debt and credit card debt that seems to go with the status quo.

If you like what you are doing, it is more like play than like work.  You can work 9 to 5 and love it and go home at the end of the day refreshed.

But if you have become weary of the rat race, maybe it is time to look for a change.

I loved my first 20 years of school teaching.  But after that, it started to get old.  I had a different roster of students every year, but the same age-appropriate behaviors.  My school board offered an early buy-out for experienced (top of the pay scale) teachers, and I went for it.

To change things up a bit I took a leave of absence during my 19th year of teaching and took my family to a foreign country to teach at an international school. What a trip!

It was actually too early for me to retire, and I had always wanted to work more with my hands; I took the chance to start a log home construction company that employed a mobile crew of carpenters who built new log homes all over the state of Michigan.  I had a wonderful crew of workers, and I loved getting up every morning and going to work.

I had my second wind and was living my second dream for the next 8 years.

Two of my carpenters were positioning a porch post of a new log home up north.

Then the housing market in Michigan collapsed and there wasn’t any more work.  I had to lay off the crew.

Okay then, my next dream had been to operate a business in barn recycling and again I went for it.  I rented a huge forklift and dismantled unwanted barns, hiring a couple of helpers to de-nail and sort the materials.  I sold a lot of the boards, and constructed furniture from the vintage material to sell on the side.  I even constructed several rustic log cabins that I sold online and shipped across the country.

I was having fun again.

I built this deacons bench starting with an old barn loft door and building it forward from there.
This log cabin from old barn beams was sold on eBay and shipped to North Carolina.

Then we got the epic idea to sell our property and hit the road full-time in a 29-foot RV.  Oh, the places we went!  Surf this blog and you will see an amazing variety of places we experienced over several years.

We visited 49 states and drove the Alaska Highway with our truck and RV.

But after a while, we found the downside of that too.  We missed the kids and the grandkids when we were down south for those long winters.

And now we are pursuing the next wild dream.  We have bought a historical house, a fixer-upper in the city and started ripping down old wallpaper and plaster.

More fun!

I can’t wait to get into the upstairs rooms of the old place with a paint brush!

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I think we all wise up as we get older.  Well, most of us do.  We develop a philosophy of life as we go.  And I guess this post is about ideology as much as it’s about a timeline of my life.

As much as it is possible, I think we should seek to do the things we enjoy.  Somebody said to use your resources to buy experiences, not just stuff.

If the old job has become monotonous, maybe we should change directions.  It is not always easy, and it doesn’t always happen right away.  When I wanted to get out of teaching, I started to work toward getting my builder’s license three years before the next retirement buy-out was offered by my school district allowing me to retire and start collecting a pension.

If change is not possible, I would look for ways to adapt my lifestyle to make it more enjoyable.  It’s calling living for the weekend, and millions live life this way, but it is better than hating every day of your existence.

A final word:  Sometimes the things we enjoy are not obvious.  We have to try things out in order to discover our passion.  It can take years, it can take decades to find the fun.  Shoot, it can take a lifetime of happily skipping from one thing to the next.

This too:  Sometimes the passion will change.  Some things just run their course.  When a door closes, be a good finisher… and move on.

And then you can be off to try out the next new thing.

Oh, yeah, there was this too: We also owned a Christmas tree farm for about 20 years.