Month #3 on the Road: A Full-Time Camper Life Update!

Today marks three months of life on the road…and finishing month #3 strong in this tiny camper home with the spouse and pup!

Unlike lots of other solo travelers and couples doing the full-time travel thing that I keep up with, my blog here is just a hobby and a personal outlet. Although a monthly update is about all I can manage with my work my schedule, it’s still something I’m holding myself accountable to on the 14th of each month. And BTW, work is going great…never a dull moment!

Places We’ve Been: Month #3

Month #3 marked a huge transition for this camper journey and a big move from the east to the west. After spending time just along the East Coast so far, we made a quick stop back where it all began (Atlanta) to swap out gear from the storage unit and put in some social visits. Now we’ve moved on to the West/Southwest and will be here for the foreseeable future!

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

  • Charlotte, North Carolina: Home on the Road #14
    • Highlights: Last kayaking & SUPing of the season at Lake Wylie, discovering Lucky Dog Bark & Brew (off-leash dog park + craft beer bar!), campfire storytelling
    • Lowlights: Police shooting riots downtown

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  • Atlanta, Georgia: Home on the Road #15
    • Highlights: Taco dinner & great conversation with my BFF, hiking up & camping at Stone Mountain, stocking up on Indian sweets for Navratri
    • Lowlights: Navigating all the excess stuff in our storage unit and wondering why we kept it

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  • Morrilton, Arkansas & Amarillo, Texas: “Passing Through” Homes on the Road #16 & 17
    • Highlights: Hotel stays to treat ourselves after 8+ hours of driving per day, nice trail behind the Amarillo hotel, soup on the side of the road, free Wi-Fi and breakfast!
    • Lowlights: Getting nauseous trying to work on a laptop in the passenger seat

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  • Albuquerque, New Mexico: Home on the Road #18
    • Highlights: Finally checked out the International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta, new alpaca sweater and hats, scenic dog park, started biking again – feels great to be back on a bike!
    • Lowlights: Weather prevented the balloons from launching on the one and only morning we had in ABQ, no dogs allowed at the festival

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  • Cortez, Colorado: Home on the Road #19
    • Highlights: 2 weeks in one place, Mesa Verde, Canyons of the Ancients, Southwest hikes & landscapes, very comfortable town with pretty much everything I want, went to yoga and belly dancing (first ever!) classes, got a good haircut, fall festival in Dolores, boarded Monkey at doggie day care for the first time and that went ok
    • Lowlights: Low of 27-degrees at night with no good camper insulation, annoying locals, not many dog-friendly businesses

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Realizations & Ramblings: Month #3

In no particular order, these are some random thoughts that came to me over the course of month #3 on the road.

  • The East Coast was nice but isn’t long-term for me. I felt ready to leave it and head west.
  • Weather really affects my mood, motivation, and how I spend my days while living outdoors – Cortez has been full of sunshine 🙂
  • Clotheslines are incredibly useful in a campsite – especially if you’re by a beach or doing water sports and trying to avoid a mildew infestation.

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  • I love camping next to trails and have been trying to get into trail running, slowly but surely.
  • Despite all the new environments, I haven’t really gotten sick on this trip so far. Yay! But my immune system gets run down every once in a while with symptoms of a headache and a sore throat. Fortunately, it’s been going away within a day.
  • Bag salads with toppings and dressings are my favorite semi-healthy lunch.

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  • This lifestyle reinforces my lack of attachment to places.
  • The social interactions that every other travel blogger talks about being the “best part of travel” still mean very little to me. Random encounters bring me anxiety, annoyance, and disinterest. Perhaps it’s a phase. Or maybe just me getting older and working/living remotely for so long. Either way, I’m cool with it. And I feel like someone needs to share the perspective of how introverted long-term travel can be just as fulfilling, if not more.
  • Hotel stays are a fun occasional treat – especially after long driving days.

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  • We played a fun storytelling game one night that was really fun. It goes like this: Tear up pieces of paper and on each one, write (a) characters, (b) characters’ goals, and (c) an obstacle to characters’ goals. Randomly draw one piece from each category pile. Grab a small notebook and Person #1 writes one page to start the story. Person #2 only gets to read the very last sentence of what Person #1 wrote and then keeps the story going with one more page. Go back and forth 3 times and then read your story aloud at the campfire. Our story involved a park ranger who dreamed of making the best grilled cheese sandwich ever but had debilitating social anxiety.

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  • For the first time on this trip, we stayed somewhere more than a week: Cortez. We really need more than a week to get beyond the tourist highlights and get into a good work groove to discover local stuff. It’s nice to get to a point of comfort in a new place where I can do normal things like get a haircut, go to a yoga class, and try belly dancing for the first time (hip scarves are hot).
  • Small decorations for fall make the camper feel more festive for the season.

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  • I enjoy the hassle-free lifestyle of small towns but the anonymity of larger cities.
  • Playing disc golf with a dog is impossible – never again!
  • I have no idea how to dress for fall. Living most of my life in Illinois, hot summer basically turned into cold winter before I had a chance to think about fall clothes. I went shopping for some layered outdoor wear, but I still struggle with what to put on myself when it’s in the 60’s. I’m open to advice on this one!

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  • Desert landscapes make me feel peaceful.
  • Chief Surfs with Manatees, my Jeep, hit 88,888 miles (now over 91K) and is still going strong!

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Looking Ahead to Month #4

Month #4 will continue our exploration of the West in Colorado and Utah. We’re skipping the familiar parts of Colorado that we already know and sticking to the southwestern part of the state between Cortez and Grand Junction.

Other than an epic canyoneering trip in Zion a few years ago, Utah will be totally new to me. So I’m definitely looking forward to checking out Salt Lake City, Moab, Arches, and all the amazing landscapes here. I recently upgraded my iPhone to the 7+ so I’m also planning to snap some awesome photos to share!

A quick look at the calendar tells me that Halloween is also coming up, which is my favorite holiday of all time. So we’re planning to celebrate with a pumpkin patch visit, perhaps some cheap & easy costumes, and plenty of pumpkin-flavored desserts and beer!

Thanks for following our adventures and definitely looking forward to what month #4 brings!

 

Related:

Two Months on the Road! A Full-Time Camper Life Update

Two months down…??? to go!

Two months ago, we drove out of Atlanta with the Jeep and pop-up camper filled to capacity and have been touring the East Coast and Mid-Atlantic states ever since. On or around the 14th of each month, I’m aiming to write a quick update about where we’ve been, where we’re headed, and things I’m learning along the way.

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Related: 

Places We’ve Been: Month #2

We slowed down our pace a bit and have been spending a week in each place to better accommodate our work schedules and see more in each place.

  • New River Gorge, West Virginia: Home on the road #8
    • Favorite Parts: Hiking around the gorge and bridge with beautiful views, coal mine & ghost town hikes

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  • Red River Gorge, Kentucky: Home on the road #9
    • Favorite Parts: Turning 33, meeting up with my parents, rock climbing and lazy floating on my birthday

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  • Claytor Lake State Park, Dublin, Virginia: Home on the road #10
    • Favorite Parts: Easy access to kayaking & SUPing, playing horseshoes, decorating for fall

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  • Roanoke, Virginia: Home on the road #11
    • Favorite Parts: Staying in a hotel (Labor Day camping is for amateurs), solo museum outings, Black Dog Salvage

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  • Virginia Beach, Virginia: Home on the road #12
    • Favorite Parts: Camping right next to the beach, beach yoga/running/swimming, meeting up with my buddy Dwight

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  • Surf City, North Carolina: Home on the road #13:
    • Favorite Parts: Still here, but so far it’s been surviving a crazy storm with flooding (bit of a rough start)

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Biggest Challenges: Month #2

A lot of the challenges that were really getting to me in month #1 have mellowed out as I’ve settled into a better routine. Overall, the weather has been more pleasant in month #2 and our campgrounds have been pretty accommodating.

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The single biggest challenge I’ve felt this month is finding good internet for working. We’ve had to upgrade our data plans to make up for crappy service at campsites and have even had to move sites within campgrounds for better reception. These distractions cut into my productivity and make it more difficult to enjoy the other aspects of camping life.

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The other big challenge that comes to mind is mold/mildew. After some rainy days in West Virginia, it started growing on our camper canvas above the two beds. We didn’t discover it until we were in the Middle of Nowhere, Kentucky where cleaning supplies were very sparse. Vinegar ended up working pretty well until we got to a bigger store and picked up some mildew spray. Fortunately, no one got sick.

Realizations & Ramblings: Month #2

Over the course of the month, I jotted down random thoughts as they came to me. Here’s what my month #2 list looks like:

  • I’m getting better at doing yoga in weird places and feeling better physically and mentally because of it.
  • I’m getting more tolerant of bugs and getting better at ending their lives when necessary.
  • Monkey needs social time even when I don’t. We met her perfect playmate at Arrowhead Bike Farm in Fayetteville, WV – a hound named Hank.

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  • Keeping the inside of a camper clean is hard, especially when you’re camping in mud or sand. We are constantly sweeping the floor with a tiny broom and dust pan.
  • I really crave my end-of-the-day beer or mug of wine
  • I don’t necessary identify with West Virginia culture, but the uncrowded/outdoorsy vibe really resonated with me.

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  • Having our own downloaded TV shows to watch separately makes for easy and refreshing solo time. I’m currently watching Girls, Scandal, and Wentworth solo.
  • We did an “art in the park” day that involved drawing in sketchbooks and painting on watercolor postcards. I want more of these days.

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  • It’s possible to keep up many favorite hobbies even without an apartment.
  • When one person in your travel party isn’t coping well, the other needs to pick up the slack. Take turns with negativity.

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  • Inspired by scary campfire stories, I wrote a short fiction ghost story. Once I fix it up a bit, I’ll plan to share it here and perhaps write a few more too!
  • Once a month, it’s nice to treat ourselves to a hotel to switch up the routine. The Sleep in in Roanoke over Labor Day weekend to avoid crowds and the hurricane was really fun.
  • I love living by a beach.
  • Inspired by the beach I’m trying to start meditating again. I’m trying out guided meditations on this app, Meditation Studio by Gaiam.
  • I’m getting tired of wearing these same clothes and can’t wait to toss/donate them at the end of the season.
  • I have made more income so far this year than ever before in life!

Looking Ahead to Month #3

If you take a quick look at a map, you’ll see that we’ve made a big loop and seem to be circling back. But don’t be fooled because this trip is nowhere close to done!

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After stops in North Carolina and South Carolina, we are heading back to Atlanta for a few days. Here we’ll revisit that packed 10′ x 12′ storage unit and swap out water sports gear for biking gear, and summer clothes for fall and winter clothes. This will wrap up our tour of the Eastern U.S., and from here, we drive west!

For many years, we’ve wanted to go to the International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, and this is the year we’re finally going to do it! So we’ll be putting in long hours in the car to breeze through Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas to get to the festival in time. Month #3 will be incredibly different from months #1 and #2 because it begins our journey of the west. I can’t wait, and as always thanks for reading and staying in touch!

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One Month on the Road: A Full-Time Camper Life Update

As you can hear from the crickets chirping in my blog (*chirp chirp, chirp chirp*), I haven’t had much time for personal writing lately. But today marks one month of living the nomad life, so I thought it was high time for an update. This certainly isn’t the longest we’ve been on the road – the trips to Mondakoming (Montana-South Dakota-Wyoming), the Northeast, and New Mexico have all been longer.

Yet this one feels a bit different because it has no end date, there’s nowhere to go home to, and the journey is just getting started.

From July 14th: Final Days in Atlanta…Next Up: Full-Time Camper Life!

We’ve been a lot of places and done a lot of things so far, but I’ve often struggled to keep my head above water with the constant planning, excess of work projects, and little hassles along the way. Clearly, I haven’t been blogging, but I have been updating my friends and family weekly home-on-the-road posts via Facebook and using an app called Track My Tour to waypoint the places we’ve been with photos and quick captions.

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It’s hard to lump a month’s worth of happenings into one little page, but here’s an attempt of sorts. I’m not feeling particularly witty or insightful right now, but I just need to take a moment to reflect and get a few things out on the page.

So to simplify matters, in text and in my own head, I’ll kick this blog post off with a few lists.

Places We’ve Been So Far: Month #1

  • Asheville, NC: Home on the road #1
    • Favorite parts = hiking, scenery, breweries, catching up with old friends, kayaking
  • Richmond, VA: Home on the road #2
    • Favorite parts = Best campground fitness center and free breakfast EVER, historic stuff
  • Alexandria, VA: Home on the road #3
    • Favorite parts = Waterfront walks, switching it up with a hotel stay during a work conference
  • Washington, DC: Day trips
    • Favorite parts = Monuments at night tour, Natural History Museum, catching up with old friends
  • Annapolis, MD: Day trip
    • Favorite parts = Waterfront area, ice cream, dressing Monkey up in cooling gear
  • Milton, Delaware: Home on the road #4
    • Favorite parts = Secluded beach 10 minutes away, learning that Monkey can swim, every brewery except Dogfish Head, SUP in the ocean
  • Lancaster, PA: Home on the road #5
    • Favorite parts = Gnome-themed campground, Gnome Countryside tour with Rich Humphreys, Amish déjà vu
  • Hershey, PA: Day trip
    • Favorite parts = Free chocolate tour, milkshakes
  • Coopers Rock, WV: Home on the road #6
    • Favorite parts = Hiking every day, playing guitar outside at the campsite, Rattlesnake trail at Coopers Rock, Lakeside crab restaurant
  • Seneca Rocks, WV: Home on the road #7
    • Favorite parts = Totally unplugging due to no phone or internet, bouldering the peaks

Biggest Challenges So Far: Month #1

However, it’s not all been fun and games. If you’re my Facebook friends, those are the photos you’ve been seeing. But there’s a darker side to live on the road that doesn’t get shared.

  • Ant infestation in the camper
  • Nowhere close by/secluded to pee in the middle of the night after too many beers
  • Constantly bothered by annoying strangers wanting to meet Monkey (more on this to follow)
  • 100+ degree temperatures
  • Campgrounds next to landfills
  • Flying insects of all kinds
  • Dirty, public laundry facilities
  • Finding dog-friendly restaurants and attractions
  • Feeling overloaded with work
  • Listening to Christian music in campground bathrooms
  • Infection that landed me in urgent care
  • Too rainy, hot, rocky, etc. to start my days with yoga
  • General crankiness due to all of the above

Realizations Thus Far: Month #1

Admittedly, I haven’t taken much time until now to reflect on my situation and how it’s been impacting me personally. Now it’s all coming at once and hard to take in. Yet taking myself out of my comfort zone and adopting a nomadic life has definitely made me realize a few things about myself.

  • I can tolerate and enjoy high heat much more than most people
  • I can totally maintain a full-time freelance writing job on the road. Business is great!
  • Having people around makes me feel exhausted, annoyed, and drained.
  • The strangers obsessed with Monkey are really wearing me down
  • My feet smell awful, especially after wearing hiking sandals
  • Having my favorite jewelry and toiletries in campgrounds makes me feel normal
  • I will never have a good hair day with all this humidity
  • Figuring out how to play new guitar songs is really hard

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Ramblings: Month #1

One thing that is really getting to me one month in is my annoyance with strangers on the road so far. I was introverted as a kid, went through an extroverted phase in college and my 20s, and have more or less returned to my introverted roots. I’m okay with that. I can “turn it on” and be social pretty darn well when I need to. But I rarely want to, and after it’s over, I feel like I’ve figuratively checked a box for the day and am happy it’s all over.

Dog owners, serious question here: how do you walk down the street in peace?

We literally can’t walk down a street/trail for five minutes without someone exclaiming “PUPPPPYYYYYY!” (she’s about 2 ½, by the way) and rushing over to maul her. Sure, she’s cute, but there’s tons of cute dogs out and about.

I want to get her a t-shirt that says, “I’m social 24/7, but my parents aren’t. Please admire me from afar.” But a t-shirt would only attract more attention, and Monkey LOVES attention and petting from anyone and everyone.

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However, I can’t be social all the time, and these constant conversations are draining. So seriously, guys. Does anyone else have this problem? Do you enjoy and embrace the random interactions? If not, how do you cope with them? It’s basically impossible to avoid them while living in public places. I’m working on a separate blog post all about this rant, so stay tuned.

So many travelers go on and on about how meeting people on the road is the best part about traveling, but I disagree. Extroverted travel is just one way to travel, and not necessarily the best way for everyone. I loved catching up with my old friend and his wife and baby in Asheville and my old coworker and her husband in DC. Not to mention meeting Rich “The Gnomeman” Humphreys at Gnome Countryside was definitely a highlight of my trip so far. But beyond these low-key, pre-planned social get-togethers, I crave time to myself more than anything else.

For the past month, my days have been jam-packed with work projects, and it’s not showing any signs of slowing down. Sure, this is always a “good problem” to have as a freelancer, but sometimes it’s exhausting and just becomes too much.

Besides the workload, we are in a constant state of planning, which also becomes exhausting after a while – always looking for the next campground, the next dog-friendly brewery, and the next museum to take turns going into while the other one hikes around with Monkey. To solve this, we set aside some time to book our next several campgrounds so that piece of the puzzle is taken care of for a while.

Looking Ahead to Month #2

We’re spending a bit more time in West Virginia and then heading into Kentucky next. My birthday, the big 33, is coming right around the corner and we’re meeting up with my parents for a little on-the-road celebration. My birthday’s on a Wednesday, so I’m hoping to take the day off work and do some climbing at the Red River Gorge.

From there, the plan is to head to the coast of Virginia and start traveling south. I’m not entirely sure where we’ll land at the close of month #2, but despite my rare divulgence of frustrations and rants, I’m still definitely excited to see what the next 30 days bring.

Hiking around Albuquerque: Southwest Road Trip Series

So today marks day #29 of my Southwestern road trip and I’m just now getting around to my first blog post. Womp womp.

I’d almost forgotten how time-consuming it is to hold down a full-time job while exploring towns and natural sites in new places. But I must say that working in a pop-up camper is MUCH easier than seeking out pavilions, arcade rooms, and laundry rooms while tent camping.

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But to keep track of it all, we’ve been taking tons of photos and I’ve been keeping up with my trusty travel journal at least every couple days. Just this morning, my husband literally just sent me two dozen photo album links of our trip so far, so I thought it was high time to start writing about some of the awesome adventures we’ve been having so far!

This first road trip post is all about hiking around Albuquerque. After starting in Atlanta and briefly passing through Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas, Albuquerque was the first destination on our list. Hiking is a big part of our travel style, so I’m aiming to highlight the best hikes we did in each of our destinations.

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Why Albuquerque?

Well as the largest city in New Mexico, it seemed like a logical place to start a month-long exploration of the state. Besides, we’re big Breaking Bad fans and were excited to visit as many film sites as possible around town.

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Sandia Mountains

While staying in Albuquerque, one of the first hikes we did was in the Sandia Mountains. We set out on the South Crest Trail and looped around the Faulty Trail and Upper Faulty Trail. This hike kind of reminded me of hiking in Georgia with its dirt/rock terrain and lush greenery. However, this hike was definitely hillier than most Georgia State Park trails, but they didn’t have much in the way of wildflowers.

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We hiked about five miles on this route since we still weren’t exactly sure what Monkey’s hiking capacity is. At this time, she hadn’t even been with us for two months, but already I’d noticed that she does quite a bit better hiking on trails than walking around in cities. Her excitement level is more chill without all those distractions, which is totally understandable. By the way, I’m also working on a post about what to do when your dog is more social than you are, because that’s definitely the scenario here!

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Read more: 

Old Town Albuquerque

Of course, we also did a fair amount of “urban hiking” as well to check out Old Town Albuquerque and the downtown area. This is a cute artsy area with lots of shops and nice for an afternoon stroll.

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This is where I first got in my head that I wanted to buy myself a silver and turquoise cuff bracelet as a souvenir. Shortly after making this decision, I discovered that the ones I liked were in the $1,000 range and totally out of budget.

Throughout this trip, I proceeded to browse shops for my dream bracelet. But in the end, I decided to give up and settle for a $19.99 knock-off. Whatever, it’s still cute and I got some other awesome turquoise jewelry too that I’m planning to chat about exclusively in an upcoming post!

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But moving on from my jewelry woes, there was also a pretty interesting sculpture garden that we checked out near Old Town ABQ as well. It was outside the city’s art and history museum on the other side of a pretty large park.

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Petroglyph National Monument

But my favorite place to hike in the area was Petroglyph National Monument. I few years ago, I wrote a post about petroglyphs and pictographs after checking some out on hikes in Montana and Wyoming. And I’m still a bit fascinated about ancient rock carvings and all that.

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Related: Pictographs v. Petroglyphs v. Graffiti

The trails of choice were Rinconada Canyon and Piedras Marcadas, which were both dog-friendly. On the first of these routes, we hiked about a mile to reach the petroglyphs and then they slowly started to reveal themselves. The carvings were bit far away from the trail but still totally visible and easy to point out. Round trip, Rinconada Canyon involved about 2.2 miles of hiking.

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Then we drove about six miles up the road to Piedras Marcadas, which was oddly located right in the middle of an urban subdivision. These people’s backyards literally back right up to the petroglyph trail, which was kind of cool and kind of ridiculous at the same time.

Between the two trails though, this one was definitely the better one to scope out petroglyphs. There are lots more of them, and you can walk right up to the rocks with carvings.

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Surprisingly, there really wasn’t much graffiti out here either, which was refreshing. Piedras Marcadas was a little over two miles round-trip as well and offered lovely views of the town down below and nearby mountains.

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A Dirt Road Near Cochiti Lake

One pretty random hike that we ventured out in in the Albuquerque area was along a dirt road near Cochiti Lake. This was actually a backup hike after finding out the hard way that Tent Rocks National Monument doesn’t allow dogs.

This is in an area full of Native American pueblos. We tried to stop by one, Santa Domingo Pueblo, but it was early morning on a Sunday and nothing was open and we felt kind of awkward just lurking around.

Anyway, the national park dude at Tent Rocks recommended that we just drive down the road and pull over wherever to hike with our dog without hassle and for free. So that’s what we did.

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We parked and hiked down a paved road until we hit a barricaded dirt road and turned down on it. There was only one other couple around and quite a bit ahead of us down the trail, so we actually let Monkey off-leash for a bit. As a recovering stray, she doesn’t go too far away from us and is slowly earning our trust.

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We hiked this route until we got to a dried-up river, which seems to be a pretty common occurrence in New Mexico given the climate. The weather was absolutely perfect – sunny and 70s. From here, we moved on from Albuquerque and drove to our next destination: Santa Fe, which we quickly discovered had plenty of awesome hiking spots of its own!

The Antithesis of Spring Break: October at Panama City Beach

Panama City Beach is known as one of the classic spring break destinations in America. But I’m 32, married, and college is all just sort of a blur. So I planned a PCB trip for October. And it was wonderful.

Now I’m pretty low-key when it comes to accommodations and tend to pick the cheapest option that doesn’t have the words “bed bugs” highlighted in it’s online reviews. A location right next to the ocean was key to the goal of this trip: spending as much time at the beach as humanly possible.

For a mere $39 per night, I booked a room at the Catalina Court Motel in nearby Laguna Beach through one of those vacation rental sites. It’s got a total 1950s vibe and looks slightly suspicious from the outside, but there were renovation efforts going on. It certainly wasn’t anything fancy, but it was literally right across the street from the beach, which was perfect. The room (#9) also had a kitchen with a fridge, dishes, microwave, and stove. Bonus!

P1050169I’ve been writing for a living and working from “wherever” for nearly three years now, and I’ve developed a knack for snapping into “work mode” at a moment’s notice. Sure, I have my unfocused days just like anyone else. But most of the time, I can get into the zone and essentially nothing can distract me.

But although I make up my own schedule, I am still a creature of habit and routine. My beach week routine went something like this:

  • Wake up at 7-something
  • Walk to the beach to do yoga
  • Eat breakfast
  • Work in the hotel room all morning
  • Lunch
  • Take my laptop out to the beach and work there for the early-mid afternoon
  • Pack up and do something active, like SUP, biking, or running
  • Shower off my nastiness
  • Have dinner on the beach and play some guitar as the sun sets OR depending on the mood of the day, go out for dinner, adult beverages, and beach town exploration

P1050164It was a schedule that suited me just fine and really solidified my belief that a beach town would be an awesome place to live for awhile. Pier 77 was my gateway to beauty, relaxation, and peace and quiet because it was October – and no one visits here this time of year!
P1050170Stand-up paddleboarding was my favorite new outdoor activity for 2015 because we invested in an inflatable SUP that’s totally portable and considerably more affordable than the traditional type. I’d totally recommend the one that I’m carrying here, which is available on Amazon and called the “Blue Wave Sports Stingray Inflatable Stand Up Paddleboard with Paddle and Hand Pump, 10-Feet.”

P1050175The beach was literally this empty in the mornings and evenings. However, afternoons saw a few more crowds of sunbathers and families on vacation. Temperatures were in the 70s and 80s, and somehow we avoided rain almost every day.
P1050195For the very first time in life, I practiced my guitar in the wide open outdoors. I just started taking lessons for the first time in the summer, so I’m clearly not stage-ready. But there was just something incredibly peaceful and exhilarating about strumming along to the ocean waves. Still a little crowd shy, I prefer audiences of stuffed monkey.
IMG_2883I’ve been pretty good about doing daily yoga in the morning at home, but yoga on the beach in the morning is 100% superior to any type of indoor class for me. A few paddleboarders in the distance, perhaps, but no rowdy college kids or screaming babies in sight to throw off my balance.
IMG_0359But of course, my restless spirit can only sit on a beach for so long before I start going nuts. One worthwhile little evening trip was to the Grayton Beer Company, one of the few breweries in the area.

P1050157The warehouse-style brewery is only open for a few hours in the early evening on Thursdays, the day we drove over to South Walton. But the most interesting aspect of this experience was the oyster shucking operation in the parking lot. We ordered some cheese-topped oysters and gumbo from the little husband-wife team working the tent outside and played a game of bags to entertain ourselves over samplers. Appropriately, the memorable brew that stands out to me was their Franklin County Oyster Stout.

To take advantage of a perfect-weather Saturday, we biked to Destin to check out the boardwalk area. I find it amusing that all these tiny Florida towns along the way are named after California towns: Laguna Beach, Santa Monica, Seaside, Miramar Beach. The ride to Destin involved some bike lanes, trails, sidewalks, and shared traffic lanes, but it really wasn’t too bad.
IMG_0347The Destin Boardwalk is a festive and nostalgic little area full of shops, restaurants, bars, and some miniature carnival rides. There’s a marina here with lots of boats and some kayakers paddling away too.
IMG_0341On our very last day in the Florida Panhandle, we planned a final active adventure: hiking the Panama City Beach Conservation Park.
IMG_0376We initially set out on the yellow trail, which is marked as either “4 or 6 miles.” We must have missed the turn-off for the 4-mile loop, and that’s right about when the mosquitoes started attacking in full force.
IMG_2886It’s pretty rare that I don’t recommend a trail/park for hiking, but this would be one of them. The scenery was kind of nice at first, but became tedious and monotonous after awhile. The trail was straight, flat, never-ending, and packed with blood-thirsty bugs. Finally seeing the parking lot at the end of this trek was a sight for sore eyes.
IMG_2890October was an awesome time to visit the Panama City Beach area because it wasn’t packed with spring breakers, families, or snowbirds. I’m a big fan of traveling to places in the off-season to have destinations a little more to myself and not have to share. I’m an only child, so of course I’ve never been very good at sharing.

Crowds have less of an appeal to me the more I travel and the older I get. Some travel bloggers go on and on about the meaningful and inspirational interactions they have with other people when they travel. I very rarely have this experience, yet I don’t feel that I’m missing out. A little idle chit chat doesn’t make or break a trip for me, and I’ve come to enjoy the silence and reflection of finding my own way. Working for myself, without the clamor of a boss and coworkers, has made me even more introspective and self-entertained on work/travel trips, and I honestly wouldn’t want it any other way.11218894_10156323520200495_5317829905237282151_n

Oh, and this is still my favorite office set-up of all time! Hopefully, many more beach work days lie ahead in my not-so-distant future.

Alpacas in Auburn: A Delighful California Detour

A whole slew of images come to mind when you envision a California road trip…bikini-clad beaches, towering redwoods, vineyards across rolling hills.

But alpacas?

alpacas standingA good friend of mine (who just happens to be one of the biggest gnome collectors in the world) lives in the Northern California town of Auburn, so I made a point stop and pay her and her red-hatted ones a visit.

Little known fact: gnome collectors aren’t just weird over gnomes…they’re pretty freaking random overall. Not surprisingly, my Auburn friend asked if I’d like to spend the morning with some nearby alpacas. Obviously, there was not a moment of hesitation in my reply.

alpacas 1

Many homes on the outskirts of Auburn enjoy acres of open space, and what residents choose to do with all this space is entirely up to them. For Auburn residents Bonnie Potter & August Anema their answer was an alpaca farm.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen I arrived on the farm, I was surprised to be invited right into the alpacas’ personal space. Like me, most of them were a little nervous, but a few extroverts led the way to our Frisbees filled with alpaca pellets. I must admit the gentle beasts spooked me a bit at first, but they were incredibly playful and friendly once you got to know them a bit better.

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Bonnie and August own and operate Fair Winds Alpacas, specializing in alpaca sales, breeding, and support. Before starting to raise alpacas, Bonnie spent 30 years in the U.S. Navy. But she’s no stranger to the animal world, growing up with horses, dogs, and cats and graduating from UC Davis with a BS in Animal Science.

And before joining Bonnie in the obscure realm of alpaca farming, August spent nearly 40 years in the construction industry. Like Bonnie, he grew up knowing a thing or two about farming, but in Canada and following in his father’s footsteps with skilled trades.

The lovely couple dreamed of retiring and owning a ranch, and after considering a few different types of livestock, they settled on alpacas. You see, apacas are humanely raised for their fiber, not butchered or milked like cows, pigs, or goats. Today, over 50 happy and healthy alpacas live on Bonnie and August’s property!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd now…a few fun facts that I learned about alpacas! 

  • Full grown alpacas reach 5’6″ tall and between 140 and 200 pounds…so just a little shorter and heavier than me!
  • There are two types of alpacas: the huacaya and the suri (wait, isn’t that Tom & Katie’s kid’s name?)
  • Alpaca fleece is so much softer than wool and it totally suitable for spinning, knitting, crocheting, weaving and felting
  • Alpacas have  been bred for centuries in Peru, Chile and Bolivia to create fiber that is uniform and soft
  • Alpacas eat hay and pasture grasses, and owners typically give them a pellet vitamin/mineral supplement that’s available in feed stores
  • Alpaca fleece is sheared once a year and yields 5-10 pounds
  • Alpacas have pointed spear-shaped ears and llamas have curved banana-shaped ears – that’s how you can tell them apart!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhy would anyone want an alpaca hanging around? 

  • Because they’re soft, cuddly, and hilarious
  • Full-time for-profit business or fun part-time enterprise
  • They’re gentle, easy to take care of compared to other livestock, and easy to transport somewhere else
  • To ditch your hectic lifestyle and choose tranquil country living with wildlife all around you

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You can buy alpaca yarn directly from Bonnie and August in beige, brown, silver, rose gray, and black. It’s incredibly soft, and prices range from $12.50 to $20 per skein.

Or if my article has REALLY sold you on the idea of raising some of these creatures of your very own, you can even BUY one of their alpacas! Now I know you’re curious now, so I’ll tip you off that a good alpaca will cost you between $500 and $2,500.

But if you shop now and choose the mother-daughter special, you can be the proud owner of the Sumatra (mother) and Tiara (daughter) package for just $2,000!

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If you need to mull over this major investment for a day or two, consider planning a trip to visit Fair Winds Alpacas to visit these creatures for yourself! Bonnie and August give farm tours and are more than happy to share their extensive alpaca knowledge with you by phone, email, or in-person.

Fill out a little form and you’ll one step closer to the alpacas of your dreams! Honestly, I think this sounds like an awesome way to live. Maybe someday 🙂

What’s So Weird About Portland? (An Unofficial Investigative Report)

While it may seem like I’ve been on a bit of a blog hiatus lately, I’ve actually been gobbling up a ton of new travel and outdoor material to fill up my little page in cyberspace. I recently traveled to Portland for the first time and was stoked to check it out this place that friends always said would be perfect for me.

We’ve all seen the “Keep Portland Weird” bumper stickers, and I was bound and determined to seek out the weirdest of the weird. But as I drove around the neighborhoods in all four quadrants, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the Chicago I was desperately trying to get away from.

Keep Portland Weird

Photo credit: Gwyn Fisher

According to the Keep Portland Weird website, this is what “keeping it weird” is all about:

Keep Portland Weird is about supporting local business in the Portland Oregon area. We want to support local business because they make Portland stand out from other cities and make it a more unique place to live. They do this by providing consumers a wide range of products that represent the different cultures that make up Portland.

Perhaps I had unrealistic expectations or watched a few too many episodes of Portlandia, but for whatever reason, I assumed that “weird” would slap me in the face the moment I arrived in town. Although I had to scratch a bit beneath the surface, I’m pleased to report that I did find the “weird.” And although that “weird” wasn’t all that foreign to me, I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Without further ado, these are a few of my favorite encounters in Portland.

Breweries

With 56 breweries inside the Portland city limits and 76 in the metro area, Portland has more breweries than any city in the world. This particular flight was enjoyed at Lucky Labrador Brew Hall.

breweryDogs

Speaking of Labradors, Portland is crazy dog friendly. I rarely came across an outdoor patio at a brewery or restaurant that wasn’t inhabited by a few pooches. I definitely see a dog like Abner (who I fostered earlier this year) in my future so dog-friendly places catch my eye these days.

Abner

BrewCycles

With 56 breweries to tour and taste in town, some obvious safety concerns come to mind. Pedal off some of those empty calories while getting from Point A to Z a little safer. Current BrewCycle stops are the Lucky Labrador, Lompoc Brewing, Bridgeport, Pints, and Old Town Brewing Company.

brewery busWant to earn beer money for biking? Head over to Hopworks Urban Brewery to ride a stationary bike outside the front door to earn $1 for every 15 minutes you bike. Apparently you can burn off one 250-calorie beer with 30 minutes of easy biking. Who knew?!

bike for beerFood Trucks

After living in Chicago for nearly six years, food trucks aren’t much of an anomaly, but I was determined to scope out the Portland food truck scene for myself. Unlike the Chicago trucks that drive around downtown to feed disgruntled 9-5 workers, the Portland food trucks congregate in clusters in the trendy neighborhoods. I snapped this shot while devouring some dumplings along Alberta Street.

food trucksRose Garden

My favorite flower of the moment is the hydrangea, but roses are okay too. Unlike the nearby Japanese Garden, the Washington Park International Rose Test Garden is totally free to explore on a whim. And despite getting stung by a bee on the way into the garden (no allergies!), this was a totally relaxing stroll full of color and hushed voices.

rose gardenOutdoorsy Stuff

Speaking (i.e. writing) about beautiful places Portland’s location near amazing outdoor stuff is what really gives it a leg up on ole’ Chicago.

Multnomah FallsKeep an eye out for future posts about hiking the Columbia River Gorge (Multnomah Falls pictured below) and around Mt. Hood (Salmon River Trail pictured below).

Salmon River Trail

 Music & Art

It wasn’t difficult to find fun things to do after the virtual workday came to a close. One night, I checked out a free local bluegrass concert at a restaurant, East Burn.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnother night, I watched an outdoor showing of a 1960s Pink Panther film at a French pastry shop. And on another night, I joined a pub trivia game…and didn’t come in last place! PDX Pipeline was the best resource I found for random things going on around town.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne afternoon I joined a pottery painting session at Mimosa Studios, which was (believe it or not) running a traveling gnome promotion. Here’s how my little lady turned out:

Portland gnomeStreet-side Oddities

There were other weird things I encountered while roaming the streets all week, like the Lodekka Double Decker Dress Shop. Unfortunately, it was closed by the time I strolled by. Because honestly, what better response is there to “I love your dress!” than “Thanks, I got it in a bus!”

weird busAnd I passed by the occasional “oompah band” waiting for chiropractic care…

oompahBut as with any city, I suppose, Portland had its fair share of unpleasantries as well. Take for example, the impenetrable line at Voodoo Doughnuts…

Voodoo DoughnutsOr the surprising lack of designated bike lanes…

bike laneOr the scary wildfires on the outskirts…

wildfireTraffic was irritating, public transit had mind-numbing delays, and locals seem to be totally fine with waiting in line FOREVER for their food. Watch Portlandia’s “Brunch Village” to get a sense of what I’m talking about.

But despite those annoyances, Portland gets a gold star in my book. My friends may be right about it suiting me well because I sorta kinda miss it already…and I still have lots more in Portland to explore.

Working at Campgrounds: Tips and Occupational Hazards

After nearly a decade of showing up in an office and sitting at a desk, I became obsessed with the concept of “working from wherever.” When I began my freelance writing career, I finally felt the freedom to travel and write from the road. Although it presents its own set of challenges, campgrounds quickly became my new favorite place to work.

Campgrounds provide a sense of working outside, while still enjoying some comforts of the office. In my travels, I’ve found that each campground is incredibly different than the others, so it’s always best to call ahead to ask questions and gauge the situation. Some have WiFi, some have bug problems, some have outlets, and some have cranky hosts. Campgrounds are a bit of a gamble, and good working campgrounds are even harder to find.

Game room working

For most people, camping is a way to unplug from the hustle and bustle of daily life. However, I depend upon technology to make a living and nature to inspire me.

Today is November 1st, and sadly, I realize that my camping days are coming to an end for the year. So bear with me as I reminisce about some of my favorite places to camp-work and offer some advice based on what I’ve learned so far.

My Favorite Working Campgrounds 

SD pavilion working

Occupational Hazards

  • Sketchy Internet access
  • Being distracted by wildlife
  • Bird poop falling from trees
  • Mosquito bites and pesky flies
  • Campsite outlets that only charge RVs, not standard laptops
  • Laptop screen glare on sunny days
  • Laptops that have a less-than-ideal battery life
  • Extreme and annoying wind
  • Cranky campground hosts that don’t want you taking up space
  • Loud, annoying campers set up nearby
  • Every type of weather besides 75-degrees and mostly cloudy

MT Laundry working

Campground Working Tips

  • Ask about WiFi access in advance (in the front office, pavilion, and tent sites)
  • Buy a mobile 4G hot spot device, such as the Verizon MiFi, to use when WiFi isn’t available
  • Check if there are outlets in the laundry room or game room to work from on rainy/cold days
  • Camp next to water for the ambiance, unless the bugs are too bad
  • Bring “finger gloves” so you can type in cold weather
  • Invest in a laptop that has a battery life of at least 7 hours
  • Drive around the campground to check the WiFi signal before committing to a site
  • Stay in one location for at least 4-5 days so you can get into a work routine
  • Spring for a private campground (instead of a cheaper state/national one) if the conditions will help you work more efficiently
  • Pick up a bug zapper device if bug spray isn’t keeping distracting pests away
  • Bring a hat to keep long hair from blowing in your face and obstructing your view
  • Choose a RV campsite, even if you’re in a tent, if the outlet supports laptop charging
  • Sit in the shade to preserve your laptop’s battery and avoid unexpected sunburns
  • Bring headphones to drown out annoying neighbor campers
  • Be friendly with the campground staff so they don’t mind you taking up space
  • Make the most of your situation by taking daily breaks to explore and exercise in the outdoors
  • Scope out nearby coffee shops in case of bad weather or bad Internet

If you’ve ever worked from a campground, I’d love to hear about your experience! Every workplace has its challenges. Mine just moves around a little more than it used to, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.