Tag Archives: work-camp

First Week at the Lighthouse

Milepost 9-15-15    Big Sable Point Lighthouse, Ludington, Michigan

Kaye posted a daily journal of our first few days of volunteering at the Big Sable Point Lighthouse:

Day One – Tuesday, 9-15-15

  •  We arrived last evening and met our team members. The place is so beautiful. It’s hard to imagine we have this amazing opportunity. And so it begins.
  • There is WiFi at the lighthouse!!! Wahoo!!! I am downright happy about that.
  • After a brief demonstration from one of the other volunteers, I worked the video room most of the morning, re-stocked the cooler, gave tours of the keepers’ quarters to some possible volunteer recruits, shadowed someone closing out cash register, learned to open safe. Bob worked in the tower and at various other jobs.
  • I am on a steep learning curve! Lots we need to know to be lighthouse keepers. Glad we don’t have to haul oil up the tower to light the lamp. Also thankful for a great team to work with and to learn from.
  • Exhausted. Feet hurt…
 Day Two – Wednesday, 9-16-15
  •  From our bedroom window, we saw the Badger leaving the harbor on its way back across Lake Michigan to Manitowac, Wisconsin.
  • I learned a bit about running the cash register.

Day Three – Thursday, 9-17-15

  •  Field trip!!! Craziness.
  • Somehow Bob and I ended up having the place to ourselves for the evening. The whole freakin’ lighthouse and the whole dang beach. How bizarre! Wonderfully peaceful and quiet after having those students here all day. Well, quiet except for the wild wind and pounding surf.

Day Four – Friday, 9-18-15

  • Our day off – so we visited the new grand-daughter who is one week old today.
  • Stopped at the famous House of Flavors for supper. Fish is excellent.

Day Five – Saturday, 9-19-15

  •  Busy day. I worked the video room all morning, the cash register in the afternoon, and then back to the video room.

Day Six – Sunday, 9-20-15

  •  What an awesome view. Nine miles to the south, the Badger is heading out of the harbor and across the lake passing a row of seven sparkling white sailboats as a speed boat zips by all of them. Several fishing boats are spread across the horizon as well.
  • Lots of interesting and inquisitive visitors came inside and still more lounged outside. On a quick afternoon break upstairs, I glanced out windows to the scene below. Families were sitting and/or playing in clusters on the beach. People strolled along the boardwalks and hiked into the surrounding dunes. So lovely.
  • One of my online writing friends came to visit today. It was our first chance to meet face-to-face after corresponding for three years. Fun times. Actually all of us on the team had friends or family visit this evening.

Day Seven – Monday, 9-21-15

  •  Another gorgeous morning – in a long string of beautiful weather. We sure picked the right time of year to be here!
  • An interesting day. First visitors were from London, UK, and later some from Winnipeg, Manitoba. Then a keeper from Passage Island and Rock of Ages in Lake Superior. What fun to chat with him.
  • It was 2 o’clock before I even knew it – and before I had chance for a break.
  • I feel like I’m beginning to understand the process of closing out the cash register. We were one penny off.
  • State park ranger, fire and rescue paramedics, and ambulance all showed up in our yard responding to a medical emergency call during the evening. Turns out all is well.
  • Finished out our first week with a campfire out on the dunes.
(Click on photo to view in full screen mode.)
Read more of Kaye’s accounts at her blog, Wondering Journey.

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.

Itching to Go… Again

Nomadic Matt speaks for me when he describes his post-trip depression.  Before I had been home from Alaska for a full month, I started getting restless again.  As of now I’ve been home at the Michigan log cabin for less than two months and have already started making plans — and reservations — for the next journey…  to the south this winter.

I’m getting ready to scratch that travel itch.   Adventure keeps calling.

Click here to read Nomadic Matt’s post.

The Denali Back Alley

Milepost 9-2-14

“And where are you from?”  It is usually the first thing that comes out of anybody’s mouth as they are meeting someone new in Alaska, and all along the Alaska Highway, for that matter.  It seems that everybody there is from somewhere else.

Oklahoma, Ontario, Florida, Washington, California, Ukraine, Bulgaria.  We met people from all over the world.  But we only saw a few native Americans – or First Nation – as they are called in Alaska.

Wendi is a shift manager at the popular Black Bear Coffee House on the boardwalk.
Wendi is a shift manager at the popular Black Bear Coffee House on the boardwalk.

Our destination in Alaska was the Denali area because our daughter and son-in-law have lived and worked there every summer for the last nine years.  Wendi is a barista and shift manager at the popular Black Bear Coffee House, and Scott runs their adventure outfitter, Denali Adventure Tours.  The two shops are  located on the boardwalk in McKinley Park about 200 feet apart with about ten shops between the two.

Scott and Wendi own Denali Adventure Tours and supply the tourists with adventure trips from whitewater rafting to fly-overs of McKinley.
Scott and Wendi own Denali Adventure Tours and supply the tourists with adventure trips from whitewater rafting to fly-overs of McKinley.

Rainbow Village, the RV park where we stayed, was right behind the row of shops, a virtual parking lot with utility hookups.  It was really handy to the back doors of the shops and helped us to see the back story of the lives of the seasonal workers, an intriguing sub-culture.

These young seasonal workers at the coffee house are all from somewhere in the lower 48 states.
These young seasonal workers at the coffee house are all from somewhere in the lower 48 states.

The village completely shuts down in the wintertime, so everybody has to go somewhere else.  Many of the workers get seasonal jobs elsewhere in the country, or like Scott, they are students or teachers at universities.  Wendi gets a temp job where they live in California during the  winter.  One of the pilots at Denali Air flies shuttles in the Philippines every winter, so he works the tourist industry in two hemispheres.

Pilot Bob flies tourists over Denali in the summer - and over the ocean in the Philippines during the winter.
Pilot Bob flies tourists over Denali in the summer – and over the ocean in the Philippines during the winter.

It was fun for us to stay at Denali for more than five weeks so we had time to get acquainted with Scott and Wendi’s friends and learn a bit about their lives at both ends, the summer at Denali and the other three seasons somewhere else in the world.

Kaye talks with Michelle, a shop owner from Toronto, about how she ended up in Alaska.
Kaye talks with Michelle, a shop owner from Ontario, about how she ended up in Alaska.

It’s a transient life for those guys, and I think we understand it a lot more now that we have lived on the road for the last seven months, covering 10,000 miles of contrasting geography from the Great Plains to the deserts of the Southwest to mountains of the west coast and western Canada.

Waking up every morning we have to look around and see where we are to get a sense of location.  The seasonal workers must have to often think about where they are at the dawn of every new day.  It’s an interesting way to live.  We loved getting behind the scenes while we were there.

Scott and Wendi live in a 10'x12' dry cabin during their summers up north.
Scott and Wendi live in a 10’x12′ dry cabin in the forest during their summers in Alaska.
Head space and elbow room are limited in the little cabins.
Head space and elbow room are limited in the little cabins.
The workers come to the "cook shack" for their meals which are prepared by a hired chef.
The workers come to the “cook shack” for their meals which are prepared by a hired chef.
"Cooky" makes sure everybody is well-fed with bountiful balanced meals
Bijan makes sure everybody is well-fed with bountiful balanced meals.
Keith is a performer at one of the dinner theaters...  and a salesman at a gift shop during the day.  He's from Washington D.C.
Keith is a performer at one of the dinner theaters (the beard is part of his stage persona)…  and he’s a salesman at a gift shop during the day. He’s from Washington D.C.
These performers stayed in small bunk rooms with common restrooms... down the hall or out in back.
These performers share small bunk rooms with common restrooms… down the hall or out in back.
Shop owners Andrea and Brandon are from Anchorage and Michigan but now spend their winters in Arizona.
Shop owners Andrea and Brandon are from Anchorage and Michigan but now spend their winters in Arizona.
Scott enjoys the view of McKinley Park and Mt. Healy from the front door of Denali Adventure Tours.
Kaye and Scott enjoy the view of McKinley Park and Mt. Healy from the front door of Denali Adventure Tours.
Get your adventure fix from Scott when you are in the Denali area.
Get your adventure fix from Scott when you are in the Denali area.

So everybody’s from somewhere.  Kaye and I had a great time this summer  discovering the back stories on our kids’ friends and fellow workers at McKinley Park near Denali National Park and Preserve.


Heading Home

Milepost 260  Palmer  Alaska

Alaskans are only half civilized… and proud of it.  The call of the wild includes the lure of wild wide-open spaces, but it brings a lot of inconvenience for the outsiders from the lower 48 who are used to their perks.  While camped at Denali for the last five weeks Kaye and I have had to accept that we won’t have a good internet link, and for me that has meant a long silence with regard to my travel blog.  I haven’t posted because I simply couldn’t get online for much of the time.

Anyway, we departed Denali yesterday for the 4,000 miles trek back across the Alaska Highway to Michigan and plan to take about three weeks doing it.  Our first stop near Anchorage provided a good internet connection, so I’m logging a quick post to let everyone know we are on the road again and will likely not be posting very often while heading across through the Yukon and northern Canada.

I am planning to write some more extensive reviews after arriving back in civilization.

Bob and Kaye at the entrance to the 6 million acre Denali National Park and Preserve.
Bob and Kaye at the entrance to the 6 million acre Denali National Park and Preserve.

Life on the Road has its Ups and Downs

Milepost 1518:  Chilliwack to Cache Creek, British Columbia

We crossed the border into British Columbia yesterday and the border guard wanted to know where we were going.

“Alaska, where our kids live and work every summer,” I said.

“Do you know how far it is to Alaska?”

“Yes,” I said.

“And how long will it take you to get there?”

“We are allowing two weeks,” I replied.

“So you’re taking it nice and slow.”  He seemed satisfied that we knew what we were up against and waved us through.

Today I wasn’t so sure I knew what we were doing up here.

We are traveling northward through the rugged Rocky Mountains, and our winding route today took us through seven tunnels and over several passes.  There’s no easy way around it for the RV-er.  The easy way would have been to fly to Alaska, but it’s too late for that, and where’s the challenge in that anyway?  We must keep going.

One tunnel leads to another on the road through the mountains.
One tunnel leads to another on the road through the mountains.

It seems to be slow going for us with the formidable terrain we are facing these days.  We only covered about 150 miles today before we tired out and headed for a reprieve at a wayside RV park at Cache Creek, an old gold rush supply town that continues its service to wayfarers 100 years later.

A close look at this photo reveals 4 railroad tunnels on the other side of the Fraser River.
A close look at this photo reveals 4 railroad tunnels on the other side of the Fraser River.

Today I re-named this place “the land of 1,000 waterfalls,” because it seemed that every little stream we crossed was plunging to its death in some beautiful leap off a precipice.  The melting run-off has no other way to get to the mighty river below and eventually to the ocean.  Rather like us having no other way out of this canyon but to get back on the highway and head farther north tomorrow morning.

Last night we camped below Bridal Falls at Chilliwack, BC.
Last night we camped below Bridal Falls at Chilliwack, BC.

But at least if we are in the middle of nowhere, nowhere sure is beautiful!


The Days Are Getting Longer

Milepost 1160:   Ashland, OR, to Olympia, WA

We have been on the road for six days now and have covered just about a fourth of our distant from Fillmore, California, to Denali, Alaska.  We have slowed down a couple of times to visit with friends and family that we haven’t seen in decades.  Great reunions!

The days are getting longer as we head farther north each day and it’s still almost three weeks to summer solstice.  Tomorrow our goal is to cross the border into Canada near Vancouver, British Columbia.

We have been enjoying a variety of campsites, from crowded line-ups with little privacy to the big woods in the middle of nowhere like where we are tonight near Olympia, Washington.

Our campsite in the tall trees near Olympia, WA.
Our campsite in the tall trees near Olympia, WA.

While we have been charging through the west coasts great cities, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, we have also blown right past some of the lower 48’s signature mountains:  Mt. Shasta, Lassen Peak, Crater Lake, Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helen’s and Mt. Rainier.  I guess we are on a mission to get to the continent’s premier peak, Mt. McKinley (Denali).

I have hardly had the camera out yet, because I’ve got both hands on the wheel all day.  And when we finally stop to find a campsite each evening, we are usually near the freeway and don’t have time or energy to venture to the nearest attractions.

We may have to return at some future point and dedicate more of our attention to the bountiful world of beauty that blankets America’s west coast.  For this time, unfortunately, it’s mostly a means to an end.

We breezed right past California’s signature peak, Mt. Shasta, only stopping for a couple of photos.



Steinbeck Wrote the Book on RV-ing – (Kaye)

Milepost 613:   Salinas to Redding, California

His book is called Travels With Charley, and John Steinbeck did his research for it while on an extended circle tour of the lower 48 states in a Chevy pickup camper that he called Rocinante.

Steinbeck's pickup camper, Rocinante, at the Steinbeck Center in Salinas, CA
Steinbeck’s pickup camper, Rocinante, at the Steinbeck Center in Salinas, CA

We stayed two nights at Salinas, California, so we could spend some time at the birthplace and museum of John Steinbeck.  We feel a connection with the author as similar travelers a generation apart.  Kaye writes about it here.

The interior of Steinbeck's pickup camper.
The interior of Steinbeck’s pickup camper.

(Kaye writes)  Travels with Charley is John Steinbeck’s story of traveling the country in an early version of the pickup camper “in search of America” in the fall of 1960. I had read it several years ago, but it seemed only fitting to re-read it while on our epic journey. I carried it in the cab of our pickup truck to read while driving across the country in January, but discovered very little time to read – maybe because I was too busy observing America on my own journey.

Once we settled in at our new spot in southern California, I pulled out  the book and once again appreciated Steinbeck’s writing. I did a bit of research on his life and decided to read some more of his stuff. In that process I discovered that he had grown up not too far from where we were living. When we began to plan our journey northward, we decided to drive through that area that had shaped so much of his writing. So we did that two days ago, up along the Salinas River, past the town of Soledad which provided the setting for Of Mice and Men, and then to the town of Salinas where we became tourists for a day. We took pictures of the house where Steinbeck was born, we walked the streets he walked and we ate lunch where he had eaten. And yes, we toured the National Steinbeck Museum which by the way is the only museum in the U.S. dedicated to a single author – and learned much more about his life and his writings and about the area that provided the background for so many of his stories.

I enjoyed the exhibits which are arranged according to the geographical settings of his many titles, but the culmination of my quest was to see Rocinante, this vehicle that has inspired so many of us. It was a good day, a fun day, and an educational day.

But more than the area, more than the historic sites, more than the accolades (and there were many!) even more than Rocinante, what I like best about Steinbeck and what I can carry with me are his words.

“A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. … We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.”

“I saw in their eyes something I would see over and over in every part of the nation – a burning desire to go, to move, to get under way, anyplace, away from any Here. They spoke quietly of how they wanted to go someday, to move about, free and unanchored, not toward something but away from something. I saw this look and heard this yearning everywhere in every state I visited. Nearly every American hungers to move.”

“I pulled Rocinante into a small picnic area… and got out my book of maps. And suddenly the United States became huge beyond belief and impossible ever to cross. … It was like starting to write a novel. When I face the desolate impossibility of writing five hundred pages a sick sense of failure falls on me and I know I can never do it. This happens every time. Then gradually I write one page and then another. One day’s work is all I can permit myslf to contemplate… So it was now, as I looked at the bright-colored projection of monster America.”

The birthplace of John Steinbeck is now a restaurant.
The birthplace of John Steinbeck is now a restaurant.

(Bob writes)  Our epic trip to Alaska has to be advanced in small sections too, a day at a time, so that we aren’t overcome with that “sick sense of failure” that Steinbeck experienced.

Today we head north only 130 miles, to visit some of Kaye’s relatives in Ashland, Oregon, then on to Portland the next day, “gradually writing one page and then another,” like Steinbeck.

(This is our last post under the category, The California Quest, as we are leaving the state today after 5 months of west coast residency.)

On the Road Again!

Milepost 265:  Fillmore to Salinas, CA

Yay!  We have finally re-started our epic road trip to Alaska! We left Michigan last December to get away from the harsh winter, and for five months we work-camped at Kenney Grove Park,  a private campground at Fillmore, California.

The beach at Seacliff.

Finishing our duties there and leaving in the afternoon, we decided on a short jaunt to the sea coast where we found a campsite right by the ocean.  There are a few places in the world where RV camping is allowed virtually on the beach, and Seacliff, California, is one of them.  We set up in the middle of a 2-mile stretch of seashore lined with more than a hundred RV’s parked for the night in a sort of linear campground, if you will.  This is classic boon-docking, as there are no services, no hookups, so only self-contained rigs can do it.

We clambered down the rocks to the beach for a long walk before sunset, then went to bed early.

The sun sets over the RV on the shore at Seacliff, California.
The sun sets over the RV on the shore at Seacliff, California.

This morning we did a U-turn and headed north over the pass to spend much of the day crossing another dessert and through the vineyards at Solvang to end up at Salinas by mid-afternoon.  We moved into a site at the KOA campground at Prunedale just north of town.  Salinas was the home of John Steinbeck, who inspired us with his American road trip epic, Travels with Charley.  We are planning to see his home place tomorrow and visit the Steinbeck museum before we break camp and continue north toward San Francisco.

It looks as though our route will need to be kept rather fluid, since we keep discovering changes that need to be made.  One of the latest is the news that our route north of the Redwoods requires a white-knuckle climb through a dangerous mountain pass that has travelers leaving fingernail marks in the upholstery.  We might have to skip the Redwoods this time around.  Maybe we’ll come back some other time and do that one in the red convertible (we’ll rent one somewhere).

We are trying to keep the main thing the main thing here.  Getting to visit our kids in Alaska at Denali is the main thing, and having an enjoyable time doing it is the next main thing.  A route that delivers too much stress may result in a change of direction.

I’m not sure where we’ll be the next time I post.  Our mobile internet has been quite dependable so far, but we may be boon-docking some more, and that means no electricity to run the computer.  We can still post from the iPhone or the iPad like we did last night on the Facebook page (“Like” it in the right sidebar to join the Facebook group or click here) but I prefer the photo editing programs on my Mac, so my posts from the other devices are short and not very aesthetic.Bob's feet on the beach

Tomorrow we’ll take the next step and see where we end up by evening.

Thanks for reading!

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.

The Economy of the Wanderlife

Milepost 4-7-14   Fillmore, California

Some days I can’t believe where we are.  In fact, some days I don’t know where we are.  I wake up in the morning and open my eyes with a bit of surprise to see the inside of my fifth wheel bedroom loft and see the California sun peeking in through the mini-blinds – and I remember again.  We moved out of our big house after the kids all grew up and left.  We sold or gave away much of our furniture and tools and extra clothes.  And we hit the road.

It had been a dream of ours for a long time, but we’d been anchored to a large property by debt and a mortgage.  There was no money for traveling more than a few miles from home.  Having raised our three daughters – as well as 17 foster kids, 5 foreign exchange kids, and a few other extras –  all on a solitary public school teacher’s income, we reached retirement age still carrying a mortgage.  And we still had liabilities from my log home construction company that had closed when the housing market tanked in Michigan in 2006.

Here’s how we were finally able to realize the impossible dream:

Downsizing the property.  Many of our friends have had two-income households pretty much all of their lives.  They are able to keep the home place and still afford another place in Florida.  Or a brand new RV.  Not us.  We had to be willing to part with our homestead of 40 years.  There was just no way around it.  And it was pretty much empty with the kids gone anyway.  Every time the furnace kicked on in the wintertime I cringed at how much it was costing to heat a 10-room house with only two people in it.

Bunkhouse porchWhen we couldn’t sell after two years, we put renters in the big house and moved ourselves into a one-room log cabin on the same 30-acre property.  Finally, we split the property, sold 10 acres to a neighbor, paid off the last of our credit card debt,  sold the farm tractor, and then bought a strong 10-year old pickup and a used RV.

Downsizing  the possessions.  We sold the construction equipment on Craigslist along with the extra furniture and the SUV, and then we took many loads of extra clothing and housewares to the local thrift store.  We gave as many of the family heirlooms to our kids as they would take.  They finally told us we didn’t have anything left that they wanted.  We put the rest in storage.

Buying depreciated vehicles.  Did you know that a car loses about half its value in the first 5 years?  And the quality of American-made vehicles is so much improved over the last 30 years that a diesel pickup may well go a half-million miles before it’s done.  We were able to find an RV that had been given much TLC by the previous owner – he even waxed the outside – and even buying from a dealer, we paid $8,000 for a 12-year-old RV that had cost $27,000 new (That’s 70% depreciated).  It had been parked much of the time, had new tires, and no roof leaks ever.  It is probably the last RV we will ever buy, ’cause with standard maintenance it will last longer than we will.

Okay, that was all just to get started.  But how could we afford the gypsy life?  We looked at campground costs and freaked.  A one-night stay in a typical KOA was $45.  At this rate a month in the same park would cost $1,350!  Yow!   And then we discovered the monthly rate.

Stay long-term.    The same private campground almost certainly has a weekly, monthly, and seasonal rate that reduces long-term costs significantly.  Most private parks have monthly rates under $400, including all hook-ups, even cable TV and Wifi.  And if you want to stay for an entire season, you’ll do even better.  Of course, parks along the ocean and near popular attractions will not be so reasonable.  They don’t have to be, because people will pay the premium rate to be on the waterfront or next to Disneyland, etc.

Stay for Free.  When you are on the road, it is possible to save camping costs by not setting up for the night.  Most Walmarts (but not all) will allow overnight stays in their parking lots if you don’t unhitch.

Truck stop parking lots can be welcome places for overnight stays.
Truck stop parking lots can be welcome places for overnight stays, where restrooms – and breakfast – are close by.

 Of course, truck stops are available, but you need to be a sound sleeper who won’t be wakened by the rumble of truck engines all night.  Friends and relatives are a resource for backyard camping, but you need to be socially savvy enough that you don’t invite yourself where you are really not welcome.  And don’t over-stay your welcome.  State and National Forests allow camping just about anywhere, for free or for $10 a night, within certain guidelines.  This sort of off-the-grid camping is called boon-docking and there are various websites dedicated to the practice.  RV’s are designed for self-contained camping with storage tanks and batteries for several days of service – off the road and off the grid.

Work-Camp.   You’ll find a plethora of websites that will help you get started earning a free campsite by working half-time at a campground.  Our first experience here at Kenney Grove Park in Fillmore, California, has been working out fine for us.  I am doing tree trimming and handyman work for the park and enjoy a beautiful campsite surrounded by live oak trees, cacti, and Bird-of-Paradise.   In keeping with the higher costs in southern California, the campsite is valued at $1000 a month and includes full hookups, private patio, and storage shed.  Malibu and Hollywood are nearby (a film crew was parked onsite last week while filming just down the road).   Kaye and I are living here for free this winter and spring by helping out around the park.

When I first looked into work-camping I found many kinds of assignments available, from park hosting to nature trail guiding.  One spot in the desert was needing a host for a campground at an off-roading racetrack.  I passed that one up thinking that all-night security duty would be part of it and I didn’t want to play bouncer to a bunch of rough-and-tumble monster truckers.  Matching the worker to the job is definitely important.  Many work-camp arrangements run for 6 months but are negotiable.

These are some of the most significant endeavors you can undertake to achieve and then pursue the wandering life.  There are many more, from gas cards that offer discounts on fuel, to memberships in camping clubs, and yearly rates for state and national park access.  And a whole lot more.  I think we will be in the discovery stages of this for a long time.

There are many dreamers in the world.  But turning dreams into reality is a pro-active pursuit, and it doesn’t happen by wishing, and it doesn’t happen by accident.  It might start with wishing, but making it happen takes careful planning and determination.

Oh, one more thing.  Many of my readers are looking forward to a wandering lifestyle after retirement, but a few very lucky – or very determined people are making it happen sooner.  One couple I know sold their business in Seattle and left the rat race to live in the desert in a 40-foot motorhome.  They are total boon-dockers, living completely off-grid, operating on solar energy and batteries and running an internet-based business by satellite uplink.  Way out in the wilderness, legally living for free on government land, and totally connected.  Cool.

See?  There are ways to get where you want to be.  Start planning now and make the lifestyle changes that are necessary… and you’ll get there!  Maybe Kaye and I will bump into you somewhere along the way.

It's good to try things out before sinking a lot of money into it, so start small if you need to.
It’s wise  to try things out before investing a lot of money, so start small if you need to.

Work-Camper Needed: Here!

Milepost 4-6-14  Fillmore, California

 Just a quick note here to let our readers know that our current location, Kenney Grove Park, in Fillmore, California, is looking for it’s next work-camper.  The job starts June 1st, which is coming up soon.  See the listing on Workers On Wheels here.  This is the same ad that we answered last November when we were searching for a location on the west coast for the winter.  Our 5 months will be done on Memorial Day – just 7 weeks left.

Our work-camp site in California.

The campsite here includes a covered canopy,  a storage shed and small patio and personal parking spot.  It is a $1,000 per month value, provided free – including all hookups – in exchange for half-time work around the campus.

The climate has been beautiful here all winter with temps in the 40’s at night and the 70’s + during the day.  Great working weather.  Of course, it may be warmer here during the summer.  We have experienced 3 rainy days here in the last 3 months!

Golf carts shuttle tools and workers to and from the various work sites. Golf carts shuttle tools and workers around the park.

Kenney Grove Park is sheltered by massive old oak trees. Kenney Grove Park is sheltered by massive old oak trees.

We are 35 miles from Malibu Beach, 45 miles from the Old Mission at Santa Barbara, and only 19 miles from Six Flags Magic Mountain.  We are 2 miles from the entrance to the Los Padres National Forest and 20 miles to the shuttle boats to the Channel Islands National Park.

Come to California!  Answer the ad if you want to get into a great place to live and work for the rest of this year!  California groovin’ might be right for you!

I spent a day hiking on Santa Cruz Island with my daughter, son-in-law, and his folks. I spent a day hiking on Santa Cruz Island with my daughter, son-in-law, and his folks who were visiting from Texas.

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.