Double Digits Down: A 10-Month Report on the Ups & Downs of Camper Life

Howdy. It’s the 14th of the month and you know what that means…blog time!

As of today, it’s been 10 months of camper life. Lots of things are happening, and lots of other things are becoming clearer with more time on the road.

A while back, I went on a frenzy of following other full-time campers’ blogs and got obsessed with virtually relating to others living a similar lifestyle. But now it’s newsfeed overload to the point of making life on the road feel way too ordinary and uninteresting. Pretty much everyone says the same cliche things and comes to the same lame and nostalgic conclusions. My perspective feels different, and I can no longer relate. I haven’t exactly figured out why or how to put it in words. So for now, I’m another cog in the wheel. Let’s keep turning the wheel ’til I figure it out.

Places We Were: Month #9

Last month began by wrapping up our time in Santa Barbara, which has still been one of my very favorite places of the entire trip. I loved the size of the town…not overwhelming but still plenty of stuff to do. The weather rocked and the area offered so many of the things that I love to do on a regular basis: kayaking, hiking, biking, beach, museums, breweries, vineyards, etc. If it weren’t so damn expensive to live in a place like that, I could totally plop down in SB for a while. But maybe that’s not a deal breaker after all, so who knows.

Then we moved onto Lake Isabella, which started out as a total bust. We couldn’t access the Sequoia National Forest because of snowed in roads, which was basically the whole point of moving here. Kayaking was also a bust, and the tiny towns of a couple thousand people each offered little-to-nothing to do. But after wallowing in some self-pity, we made the most of it and embraced the dramatic scenery in full-force.

Finally, we moved to Oceano, California in the San Luis Obispo area. This stay is still in progress, and while the initial reaction was not so great, this area is really starting to grow on me. The campground itself is claustrophobic and overpriced. But we’re right next to the sand dunes with the ocean on the other side, there are fresh farm stands on non-trafficy roads, and lots of local theater stuff nearby.


Here’s a quick recap of this past month’s batch of “homes on the road”:

Santa Barbara, California: Home on the Road #37

  • Highlights: Santa Ynez breweries nearby, cute Danish town of Solvang, getting an Easter visit from our friend and her baby in Illinois, visiting an ostrich farm, self-guided mission tour, biking to the beach, chill breweries, quirky shops, uncrowded hikes, incredible flowers and succulents
  • Lowlights: Camping 30+ minutes away from town, weird lake regulations that prohibited SUPing, campground laundry facilities broken & useless, loud and annoying Easter campground crowds

And now…some photos to go with those words:


Lake Isabella, California: Home on the Road #38

  • Highlights: Amazing scenery in every form, fast and free campground WiFi, getting to use the snowshoes that we’ve been toting around in the RV, driving a BOAT, beating (barely) my husband in golf on our first game on an actual course, the surprisingly well-preserved Silver City ghost town in Bodfish
  • Lowlights: Didn’t get to see any sequoia trees, didn’t get to kayak, small towns didn’t have anything to do, realizing how badly out of biking shape I am on moderate hills, hikes that were ended abruptly due to impassable waters

Here are some of my favorite photos…


Oceana, California: Home on the Road #39 (in progress)

  • Highlights: Sand dunes right behind our campground to play on, SLEDDING IN SAND, lots of local theater stuff nearby, Bishop’s Peak hike, horseback riding on the beach (June was the most chill horse ever), wandering around San Luis Obsipo, our wedding anniversary is tomorrow!

  • Lowlights: Probably THE most claustrophobic campground we’ve ever stayed in + the most expensive one = worst combination EVER, 20+ mile winds every day


Realizations & Ramblings from Month #9

In no particular order, these are some random thoughts that came to me during the past month on the road.

  • I’m sick of other campers. I feel like puking every time I read another full-time RVers blog about how “fun” it is to meet other people on the road. This will likely be the thing that drives me away from this lifestyle. Or maybe my niche is how to travel/RV full-time with an introverted/anti-social personality. But who’d read that, right?! Everyone wants to romanticize this lifestyle, and that goes against the grain. Still, I stand firm on my belief that there are many other (and better) benefits to travel besides meeting people (how about. trying new things, learning about yourself, disconnecting from the bullshit, or figuring out the type of place you’d be happy in someday?) To me, these things are far more valuable than mindless and repetitive chit-chat with annoying strangers I’ll never see again. I’d welcome another scheduled meetup like we did in Yuma with Sara & Mike, but those positive encounters seem very few and far between. If it sounds like life on the road is making me jaded, that’s because it is. However, jaded is part of my natural state of mind wherever I’m at. Hmmm maybe I should buy a piece of jade jewelry. That’d be pretty.

  • On that note, we are semi-seriously talking about buying a piece of property “somewhere” that’s sorta kinda in the middle of nowhere to put the RV on it and get it all hooked up to water/electric/sewer. With a possible consideration of building our own house on it in the future. My husband is more gung-ho on this idea than I am because I get caught up in the logistics and commitment. But I’m still way interested in this idea over “giving up” and just getting a lame apartment in a suburb. The big question though is “where”?

  • I stumbled across a travel log that I wrote from a trip to Montana/Wyoming/South Dakota trip in April 2013. My writing was 100% better and more interesting. These days, I just rush through this blog to say I did it and to help myself remember things. It feels more like an obligation than a pleasure, which is sad and pathetic. I’m also so burnt out with writing 8-10 hours for work every day that I have nothing else interesting to say at the end of the day. Poor me, boo freaking hoo. Anyway, everything I read myself write these days is disappointing, and I should do better.
  • I’m learning about plants! I’m tired of going on hikes and not knowing what I’m looking at, so I bought a textbook. Plants are hard…but I’m trying.

  • Last month we killed a TON of bugs in the RV. It got to a point of keeping a personal tally to see who killed more at the end of the day. I remember getting up to 6 on one particularly crappy day.
  • It was really easy for me to get used to having less stuff in the beginning when we had a tiny pop-up camper. But these days, it’s been harder to resist buying more stuff since we have more room in the RV. Especially when Amazon delivers right to your RV park. RESIST THE STUFF…resist!
  • I don’t have popular goals like climbing Everest or hiking the PCT. Those are someone else’s goals, not mine. I should probably put more thought into what mine actually are though.
  • I made my first cupcakes in the tiny RV convection oven/microwave! After three batches and two semi-failed attempts, I found that the magic recipe was 350-degrees at 23 minutes.

  • Flavored whiskey is wonderful. Honey and apple…yum.
  • Longer days of sunlight are equally wonderful.
  • I have a hard time respecting full-time RVers with Amazon charity links and who regularly ask strangers for money to support their lifestyle. I built my own freelance writing business on my own from the ground up 4+ years ago. I didn’t get lucky. I figured it out and bust my ass every day. You should too.
  • I totally don’t understand the point of Instagram. I only care to comment on this because I’ve recently been hired to do “community management” for a client, which basically entails just liking and commenting on behalf of the brand on Instagram. I’ve used Facebook as my one and only social media outlet since the beginning of time because the format and features make sense to me. But I can’t wrap my head around why anyone would use Instagram. Can anyone shed some light on this for me? As a professional writer who values content and context, I can’t see any value in sterile and staged photos followed by generic comments with zero substance. I understand that the average person can’t manage to read more than a couple-word caption on a photo. But for me, a picture doesn’t equal 1,000 words. It equals a picture. And as someone who gets paid by the word, each and every one of them matters. Maybe I’m just outdated and one of those rare non-visual learners. Help a 33-year-old out?

Looking Ahead to Month #10

As month #10 continues, we’ll be in Oceano for a bit more and celebrating our two-year wedding anniversary here! We don’t put a whole lot of stock in that court-issued piece of paper, but we made a random pact to celebrate wedding anniversaries at the beach, so here we are. Certainly could we worse! Next, we’re headed up to Fresno and Gilroy to experience some of the lesser-famous parts of Cali.

Hopefully reading this month’s post wasn’t a total downer. There are still plenty of things that I enjoy about camper life, like the easy access to nature and having new places to explore. Yet other parts are wearing me down, and I’m sure that’s bleeding through in my monthly reports. I’m still searching for my voice in all of this to express how my RV experience differs from the “masses”. If it comes to me anytime soon, you’ll be the first to know.

How To Take An Easy Road Trip to Cross Country Ski in Michigan

For the past two years in a row, I’ve found myself perched on top of skis along the “coast” of Western Michigan. It’s not that I’m particularly partial to the area, but it does happen to be a great place to cross country ski.

Last Winter Skiing at Ludington State Park

The area around Ludington State Park also tends to have a fair bit of snow throughout the winter and locals post information about ski conditions online so you can plan ahead. Other considerations were northwestern Wisconsin, around Rhinelander, Wisconsin, Sturgeon Bay, and Manistee National Forest in Michigan. However, Ludington had snow and trail conditions yet once again.

The Gear Rental

Ludington isn’t a big town, so you don’t have a ton of gear rental options to choose from. The one that I’ve gone to twice now is Provisions Sport Shop. Their website leaves a lot to be desired and the staff is pretty clueless, but the equipment is quality and the prices are reasonable.

Gear up!

Gear up!

Regardless of what time you rent ski equipment, it’s considered a 24-hour rental and due back by the close of business the following day. The 24-hour rentals include skis, boots, and poles for $25 per person. The shop has lots of gear for sale too, in case you left any essentials behind. Hand warmers are key.

The State Park

Ludington State Park is the biggest state park along Lake Michigan, covering 5,300 acres in Mason County, 5.5 miles of Great Lake shoreline, and a 1,699 acre natural wilderness area. When they’re not covered in snow, you can see wind-blown sand dunes and gently-hilly pine tree forests.

Handy dandy park info board

Handy dandy park info board

This spot is clearly more popular in the summer than it is in the winter. There’s a large beach area and a couple campgrounds that only operate during the warmer months of the year. The park also has a 4-mile/3-hour canoe trail that with great signage to keep you on course, and there are a couple miles of bike trails that connect the campgrounds.

The Skiing Trails

The north ski trails include a 6-mile loop, and the south ski trails include four cross spurs that are all between 1.5 to 4 miles in length. The trail map is pretty straightforward, so first take a look:

StateParkTrailGuideMap

However, there are some serious differences between the trails on here. For beginners, the best place to start is the Logging Trail (green), a 6-mile loop located at the north end of the park. The hills are gentle, the trail is wide, and you don’t have to worry about flying over protruding tree roots the whole time.

The Logging Trail

The Logging Trail

I first made the mistake of attempting the Ridge Trail (purple), which sits just east of the Logging Trail. The Ridge Trail is narrow, winding, and has tree roots sticking out pretty much the whole way. I encountered some local hikers at a particularly frustrating moment, who told me about a guy who broke his hip last week trying to ski that very trail. They suggested back-tracking a bit to the logging trail for my own safety and sanity. It was a wonderful suggestion.

If you travel south in the park, you’ll find the designated cross country ski trails of Jackpine Loop, Cedar Loop and Juniper Loop. When I visited the park in mid-December 2013, the road that led to these trails was closed and chained off to vehicular traffic. But on my second consecutive day of skiing, my curiosity got the better of me and I ventured towards these trails on foot with skis under my arm.

Alyssa v. tree roots on skis

Alyssa v. trees on skis

Perhaps it was due to the new snow that had fallen the night before and that morning, but none of these trails were groomed and I never passed another single skier. I skied along the edge of the Jackpine Loop, fully around the Cedar Loop, and back out to the main road. These trails provided a completely different experience than the two I had skied the previous day.

Cedar Loop’s hills were more gentle, and this area of the park is much more wooded. It’s a really peaceful place. Tree roots weren’t a problem, and the trails were very well marked so I never took a wrong turn. I had to cut my own trail the whole way, which was a little tiring, but a great workout nonetheless.

The Trail Conditions

Unfortunately, this park doesn’t have it’s own fancy website that updates trail conditions on an obsessive-compulsive basis. However, if you’re not phone-shy, you can call up the Michigan DNR at (231) 843-2423 and ask how the trails are looking today and for the days ahead.

Another area that seems worth checking out is the Big M Cross Country Ski Trails. Big M’s website updates trail conditions every few days, which can give a general idea of how things are down in nearby Ludington. If anyone’s skied on these trails lately, I’d love to hear how they are!

Trail warming shelter

Re-gloving at the trail warming shelter

One of the best parts of cross country skiing at Ludington State Park is the warming shelters. There’s on by the the parking lot at the trail head and there’s a several scattered along the trails as well. Most of these have fire pits, although you’d have to figure out a way to tote firewood on you back while skiing to use them.

Finally getting the hang of this

Playing in snow is the only way to stay sane in the winter

Camping really isn’t an option in this area, as all the campgrounds shut down for the winter and honestly, it’s just too damn cold anyway. There are few things that feel better after a day in the snow than a warm, bubbly hot tub. Hot tub hotel options are somewhat limited in Ludington, so I’d suggest the Comfort Inn & Suites in nearby Pentwater, Michigan. The rooms are clean, the pool area isn’t very crowded, and you can crash for about $70 per night.

What are your favorite cities, states, and parks to cross country ski?

How to Escape the Crowds at Yellowstone

Emerald_pool_in_yellowstone_2As one of America’s most popular outdoor destinations, Yellowstone National Park attracts millions of visitors every year.  Despite the park’s beautiful setting, it can be hard to find solace and experience the peacefulness of nature. Here are just a few ways to get away from long lines, loud kids, and annoying tour busses:

Visit in the fall 

Summer vacations are over and the kids are back in school. Plan you trip around the first week in October to see the foliage explode with color. Lodging rates are lower at this time than during the summer months, wildlife is more prevalent, and trails are less crowded.

Take alternate driving routes 

Alternate routes, like the Grassy Lake Road, are often less congested with traffic. You should ensure that your vehicle is equipped to handle the terrain on these routes before starting your drive. You should also collect relevant maps or a GPS with good reception in case you lose your way off the beaten path.

Hike backcountry trails 

There’s no better way to experience the true spirit of Yellowstone than in the backcountry. Check out the Bechler River area and the Thorofare region for a truly wild outing.  The Bechler River runs along the southwest section of Yellowstone and is home to over half of the park’s waterfalls. You can hike for 30 miles in any direction without ever reaching a road in the Thorofare region.  Hikers should always check in with a nearby ranger station to obtain necessary permits, collect maps, and provide contact information in case of emergency.

Try Cross-country instead of downhill skiing

If you’re planning a trip during the winter months, you’ll probably want to try out some of the nearby skiing options. Jackson Hole and Grand Teton Resorts are consistently crowded and expensive at pretty much all times. For a more laid back skiing experience, give cross-country a try. Jackson Hole has become an increasingly popular center for cross-country skiing on a varied landscape. Nordic centers offer beginners with rental gear and trail recommendations. More advanced skiers won’t get bored with the incredible cross-country routes in the surrounding mountains.

 

Discovering “Plan B” At Yosemite National Park

The winding, mountainous roads made the drive from San Francisco to Yosemite National Park seem much longer than it actually was. My boyfriend and I were excited to trade in the daily grind of the city life for a few days of hiking, camping, and rock climbing in Yosemite Valley. We both thrive upon the peace and energy that only nature can provide.  We both are also very organized and planned our outdoor excursion down to the very last detail.  But as all travelers know, even the best itineraries rarely go as planned.

My boyfriend booked the campsite by contacting the National Park Service about a month in advance. The National Park Service’s website provides a link to review the different areas of Yosemite that have campsites and their availability. The price per campsite averaged a reasonable $20.00 per night. Additional information about nearby activities and amenities are also listed on this helpful site.

Although there was no park ranger on duty at the check-in booth, we easily found our Campsite #74 in the Upper Pines Region.  We were not familiar enough with the area to have a site preference, so we simply took the site that the park service assigned to us.  We later learned about the four campsite regions in Yosemite Valley: Upper Pines, Lower Pines, North Pines, and Camp 4. The first three regions are fairly similar and standard, but Camp 4 is a “first-come, first served” open space that requires no reservations. In addition to these options, there are also seven campsites north of Yosemite Valley and two campsites south of Yosemite valley.

The campsites in the Upper Pines were set reasonably far apart and the terrain was fairly smooth, although covered in patches of snow. We were able to park our car at the campsite next to where we pitched our tent. Each campsite had its own large lock box to store food inside so that encounters with bears would be less of a concern. All of our neighbors at the nearby campsites were quiet and one couple was kind enough to lend us their lighter fluid to get our struggling campfire started the first night.

Don’t be fooled by the movies…California is not warm and sunny year around. It was late March, and the temperatures dipped to nearly thirty degrees Fahrenheit each night. I gave myself a pat on the pack for splurging on that +10 degree down feather sleeping bag at REI for this trip. Since I had never camped in such chilly temperatures before, I had never considered using a sleeping mat before. I quickly learned that sleeping mats, such as this one from Alps Mountaineering, make a huge difference in staying comfortable and keeping warm.

Since my boyfriend and I have decent rock climbing skills, I contacted several climbing companies in advance to inquire about hiring a guide to summit some peaks in Yosemite. My search was quickly narrowed down, as I discovered that there was only one company that provided guide services inside the boundaries of the National Park and during the month of March.

This guide company, Yosemite Mountaineering School, was extremely accommodating and helpful throughout my contact with them while booking a ¾ day climbing excursion. I thought the price of $200.00 per person for a 6 hour guided climb was pretty steep. However, this was our only option and we really wanted to have the bragging rights of climbing Yosemite. Information about the options and pricing can be viewed on the YMS website.

The staff at Yosemite Mountaineering School advised us to meet their guide, Josh, in the Curry Village Mountain Shop at 9:00am and to bring our own lunch, water, climbing shoes, and harnesses. On the night before our scheduled climbing excursion, rain poured down on our tent and flooded the terrain around us. After a cold and uncomfortable night in the tent, my boyfriend and I awoke at dawn and wondered if the weather conditions would hinder our climbing plans.

Although cell phone reception in the park was sparse, I was finally able to reach Josh to discuss the weather conditions and our plan for the day.He told me that he had gone out earlier that morning to scope out the climbing areas and that pretty much everything was flooded and nearly every rock face was wet and slippery. He advised against taking us out to climb and asked if we had the flexibility to reschedule for another day. Unfortunately, this was our last day in Yosemite so we simply had to cancel our reservations.  I really appreciated Josh’s honesty about the hazardous weather conditions and consideration for our safety.

Yosemite Mountaineering School gave us a full refund, with no hassles. Although, he and I were disappointed about not being able to climb that day, we quickly agreed upon a “Plan B”. We spent the day hiking the trail to the upper waterfall. The trail boasted a challenging 7.2 miles had pretty much every type of terrain I could imagine: rock, dirt, sand, grass, mud, water, snow, ice, and concrete. A helpful guide about the various hiking trails at Yosemite can be found on the National Park Service website.

Although our initial plans of rock climbing didn’t work out, we were not disappointed at all. And although Yosemite has been photographed countless times, there is truly nothing like experiencing the beauty of Yosemite first hand. Periodically stopping to take a deep breath and view the vistas along the way brought us a sense of peace, acceptance, and appreciation for the opportunity to be where we were at that
very moment.

Snowboarding Towards Better Days

As I jolt awake, I slam my head against the cheap motel headboard and let out a scream.

Surely, there’s a nicer way to wake someone up. This is our first vacation together, after all. But oddly enough  I’m not all that surprised he had turned the alarm clock on full blast at 6AM.

My boyfriend is already dressed in his snow gear and looking up directions to the ski resort on his iPhone.  I beg for just nine more minutes of snooze time. After all, my flight to Denver had just arrived a mere six hours ago! My request is flatly denied, as the covers are thrown off of me and I crawl towards my overstuffed duffel bag.

I chug a Red Bull, gnaw on a Cliff Bar, and take my first glimpse of the Colorado Rockies as we pack up and pull out of the parking lot. As I drive up the winding roads to Copper Mountain, I open my eyes wider than they had been in months. Looking forward to this snowboarding trip with my boyfriend had been the only thing that had gotten me through the worst breakup I’d ever been through and a miserable nine-to-five job. I glance at my watch and see that it’s not even 9AM yet. I smile as I remember that today will not be spent in that godforsaken office..

I park the car and we take the shuttle to the slopes. I’m doing my best to hide how nervous I am, as I try to remember how to strap my boots on to the board. I just started snowboarding last year, and my ex-boyfriend was a painfully impatient and critical coach. I feel my boyfriend playfully knocking the edge of his board against mine. Remembering my deep yoga breaths, I flop onto the ski lift and grab his gloved hand.

I quickly discover that he is a professional on the slopes, and he quickly discovers that I spend more time on my ass than on the board.  I notice how patient he is with me after each of my wipe outs and breakdowns. But shortly thereafter, we decide to split up for the afternoon, promising to meet after the lifts make their last run.

I return to the same green trail for my second attempt, which is going only slightly better than the last one. I fall only three times, and despite my unsightly technique, I’m feeling more comfortable gaining speed. I decide that for my final trail, I will challenge myself on one of the dreadful blue routes. I stumble off of the lift and scurry towards the side to get out of everyone else’s way. I feel a wave of nausea, as I strap on my boots and stand up to see how far down the bottom is. With the  warmth of the sun on my face, I take a deep breath before attempting the most difficult trail of my life.

I fall once, twice, three times, and then more than I can count. I burst into tears from my frustration. My knees are bleeding and my tailbone feels broken. Other boarders whiz by me, and and occasionally ask if I’m alright. I take a seat in the snow and pull my camera out of my inside jacket pocket. I feel my heart rate slow down and snap a few pictures of the beautiful scenery around me.My heart rate slows down and I remember I’m luck to be here. I’ll never make it to the X Games, but I’m having an experience that I’ll never forget. I pop in my ear buds and crank up some Linkin Park, ready to conquer this mountain.

Everything feels simpler and I only fall once before reaching the bottom. I feel satisfaction accomplished for the first time today. I limp my exhausted self into the nearest pub, belly up to the bar, letting a whiskey and ginger ale request effortlessly roll off my tongue.

I knock back a couple whiskey drinks to ease my tender wounds and tensed nerves. By the time my second glass is empty, my boyfriend plops onto the bar stool next to me, telling grandiose tales of each mountain he conquered.  I listen and summon the waitress to order him a whiskey on the rocks to celebrate before we head out for some much-needed hot tub therapy.

It’s dark by the time we drive back to Frisco, but I still stare out the window to capture the rare glimpses of the mountains that shine through the headlights. We sit in peaceful silence, as my boyfriend flips on our favorite XM Radio bluegrass station.

Six months ago, I never would have imagined I would be right here right now.   I rub my bruised knees, lean back in the passenger seat, and bob my head to the banjo beats. It’s crazy to know you’re right where you’re meant to be. I wonder if this is what it feels like to be right where you’re supposed to be.