Lucky #13: A Recap of Nomadic Life One Year & One Month In

Well, our one-year anniversary of life on the road has come and gone, and we’re still out here in California. We’ve actually been paying comparatively unfair attention to this state, considering that we’ve been lurking around here for over six months. With this slow pace, we’re only staying at two or three new places each month, but I’d honestly hate moving any faster with all the setup, take down, and research involved in each relocation.

We’ve started working on a printed photo book project with highlights from our first year to keep for ourselves and gift to our families. It’s in the tech planning stages now, which is my other half’s territory. But soon, it’ll be my turn to start adding poems, stories, and antidotes about each of our first year of homes on the road.

Speaking of that…

Here’s a quick recap of this past month’s batch:


Napa, California: Home on the Road #43, Continued

  • Highlights: Day trip to Santa Rosa to visit my gnome collector friend, biking to a wine cave tour, guided tour of the DiRosa Art Museum and home, trying to solve a 1915 murder mystery and treating ourselves to a fancy dinner on board the Napa Valley Wine Train, free model railroad exhibit next to our campground, observing the happenings of a Latino (human only) circus next to our campground
  • Lowlights: How expensive everything is in general, 105 degrees, very small laundry facilities, traffic everywhere


Mendocino, California: Home on the Road #44 

  • Highlights: Incredible and dramatic coastal views, seeing a dozen seals hanging out on rocks, coastal hikes in areas where dogs are allowed, the awesome trails and flowers at the dog-friendly Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, nice coffeehouse nearby for WiFi work and photo downloads (hence there being so many in this blog post!), free jazz shows and great beer at North Coast Brewery, catching a performance at the Mendocino Theatre Company, big arts community with galleries and classes, beating the inland heat of 100 degrees in favor of more like 60 degrees, creepy mystery novel-style fog pretty much every day, no traffic anywhere
  • Lowlights: Lack of sun and warm days, trailer park-style RV camping with 3am domestic fights and close neighbors with way too many kids, state parks that don’t allow dogs on hiking trails, crappy campground WiFi, learning that the iconic sea glass of Fort Bragg is really just litter and trash, no laundry facilities and running out of skivvies, very few bike lanes or sidewalks anywhere, lots of vagabonds/hitchhikers lurking about


Bodega Bay, California: Home on the Road #45

  • Highlights: Going sailing on the Pacific waves, front window view of boats in a marina, biking to Bodega Head, uncrowded beaches (Pinnacle Gulch, Point Reyes National Seashore), checking out the creepy film sites from Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds, minimal traffic
  • Lowlights: The ridiculously twisty-turny Highway 1 route to get here in a monstrosity on wheels, discovering 2 tears in the seam of our inflatable kayak and not knowing how to fix it, the awful campground plumbing system making mechanical noises next to our bedroom and causing sleepless nights, very little sunshine, nothing much going on in tiny towns, expensive campground


This Month’s Ramblings from the Road

In no particular order, these are some random thoughts that came to me and that I jotted down over the course of last month on the road.

  • We had a pantry moth infestation in Napa and had to throw out all of our food from the cupboards. To stay sane throughout the ordeal, we tried to keep track of how many moths each of us killed per day as a competition. And if we accidentally ate any of the moth larvae, well, we didn’t get sick. Bonus!

  • Speaking of moths, after attending a live show of the storytelling podcast, “The Moth,” we decided to give storytelling a try for ourselves. We chose the topic, “lost,” out of a hat and have both been working on 5-minute true stories to tell each other, the dog, and our stuffed creatures.

  • I started this trip with a Fitbit and now wear a Garmin GPS watch every day. It’s still helping me get more exercise on most days, and I also use Monkey as an excuse to stay in reasonably okay shape.

  • Most people don’t start planning for Christmas this early, but when you live in a camper and a long way from your family, you kind of have to. Surprisingly, planning for Christmas has somewhat dictated the rest of our camper life journey and probable end date. For me, the driving force to stop RVing is to travel internationally. For S, it is to buy a cool piece of property and build something on it. But we’re both on-board with each other’s driving forces.

  • We miss our tent. It’s sitting in a tiny 5’x5′ unit in Yuma, Arizona. But as part of the overall route plan, we will pick it up, along with the rest of the tenting gear so we can have more backcountry experiences. And for my upcoming birthday, we’re tent camping in a rental as part of a multi-day whitewater rafting trip. Never tried to sleep with Monkey in a tent before, so that should be interesting to say the least.
  • It smells like sewer a lot in our camper lately. We thought there was a leak in our black tank hose and bought a new one, but alas no leak. It’s the worst on really hot days and when it gets too full of poop before dumping it. Glamorous, right?

  • We have a cluster of Post-It notes on our bedroom wall in the RV next to some maps that list places that we’d consider plopping down in after camper life. The Mendocino area is the most recent addition to that list. It’s remote, but not too remote. It’s cool and foggy, but there is some warmth and sun just a few miles inland in the forests. The landscape is amazing. There’s no traffic. And it’s more reasonably priced than elsewhere along the coast. The people are pretty freaking weird though.

  • I really enjoy small town theaters more than big-name, big-city productions. It feels like your attendance matters and that you’re supporting something good in a place that needs support. I also appreciate small crowds, no parking drama, low costs, and $5 drinks. We went to a show called “The Open House” at the Mendocino Theatre Company recently, which made me think of this.

  • A person walking with a dog (regardless of how cute the dog may look at you) is not an open invitation to invade a stranger’s space. Walking a dog does not translate to “Hey, come over and bother me for a while!” Why is this hard to understand? Unwelcome, dog-caused social interactions are a constant pet-peeve of mine that no one else seems to have. (That and letting your dog off leash in leash law areas so that I have to deal with the scuffle while you irresponsibly lolly-gag behind without a care in the world.) Headphones and snippy comments rarely deter the perpetrators, and no one would ever believe this little nut bag is a service dog no matter how convincing a fake vest was. Small town folk are the worst. Curmudgeonly rant over.

  • I’m still into sending out postcards. If you haven’t gotten one from me and would like that to change, email me your physical mailing address! – [email protected]

  • My immune system gets run down every month or two and I come down with a very predictable, mild sickness of headache and sore throat that lasts about two days. I never had this sort of thing before camper life. But before that, I would get sick less frequently but for longer and with more severe symptoms. I’ve found that the best cure is to not drink booze or exercise for a couple days, drink a bunch of water, and get more sleep. Always seems to do the trick. I’m thankful for my good health because regularly seeing doctors with this lifestyle would be a nightmare.
  • I recently downloaded a book on Kindle that has audio narration. This has been a great way for me to get through books faster and stay engaged in them even when I don’t have the focus to sit down and read.

Looking Ahead to Next Month

We only spent a week in Bodega Bay because of no campground availability and the high daily rates around here. Just yesterday, we arrived in the hot and sunny capitol city of Sacramento. From here, we’ll head to the tiny mountain town of Clio, California and then Reno, Nevada.

Time passes in a weird way when you’re on the road, but the calendar reminds me that I’m turning 34 (gasp!) in 10 days. I can’t think of a better way to beat the Central Cali heat than setting out on a multi-day whitewater rafting/tent camping trip on the American River. I’ve been a couple times before in West Virginia and British Columbia, but it’s been a while and I think it’ll be a great adventure to welcome in a new year.

To reward you for reading THIS FAR DOWN in this month’s blog post, here’s a rare photo of my little Monkey actually looking at the camera for a seaside selfie 🙂

ONE YEAR LATER: Nomadic Life, California Style

It’s July 14th, which means that we’ve now been doing this full-time camper life thing for a whopping 365 days!

To quickly recap, we’ve settled in something like 15 different states and made 43 new “homes on the road” over the past year. In some ways, it seems like the time has flown by. But in other ways, it feels like I’ve been living this life for way longer. Starting with the east coast, moving across the south, and finally up the west coast, we’ve been moving slow and staying in each place a couple weeks. Seven of these 12 months were spent in our little pop-up with canvas walls, and then the last five months have been in Dragoon, our upgraded Class-A RV.

On the day we left Atlanta last July, we really didn’t plan on being on the road for this long. Originally, the grand plan was to spend a few months traveling around and then pick a place to plop down “somewhere out west.” Well, we haven’t picked out that magical western place, but we sure have seen a lot by carrying on with this whole nomad thing for longer than expected.

We’ve never set a time limit or a goal for how long this adventure would last. But at this point, it feels the new normal, and it looks like camper life is here to stay for a while. In fact, we’ve already thrown out ideas for where to possibly end next spring and summer.

Camper life isn’t that glamorous stuff you see on Instagram (I still don’t understand Instagram). For someone like me with a restless spirit, living in a new place every few weeks makes me feel alive and satisfies my relentless curiosity. It’s easy to keep up with my work on the road, and I’m fortunate enough to have a husband and dog who are on-board with all of this as well.

But the lifestyle can also feel draining, lonely, claustrophobic, and even dull after a while. I don’t see the purpose of sugar-coating it, but I’m also not unappreciative of my opportunity to try this out for a while. But even with the ups and downs, it sure as hell beats arbitrarily plopping down somewhere just because “that’s what people do.” Twelve months later, I would still choose this lifestyle over something more stationary. After all, there’s plenty of time to do that later if nothing more interesting comes along. But I suspect that something will 🙂


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

Gilroy, California: Home on the Road #41 (continued from last month)

  • Highlights: Winery in walking distance of our campground where we met the owners and were invited to stay for a home-cooked dinner and basketball game viewing party, hiking through caves with flashlights at Pinnacles National Park, adult swim hours at the campground pool, finally found some light jackets for unpredictable Bay Area weather, seeing a Bollywood movie (thankfully with subtitles) in a theater
  • Lowlights: Sucking at golf pretty badly, missing out on visiting a friend before leaving Santa Cruz, quickly killing a mini rose plant, failed attempts at airing up the RV tires (have since bought our own portable air compressor to be self-sufficient)


Oakland, California: Home on the Road #42

  • Highlights: Trying a Hawaiian poke bowl for the first time and discovering it lives up to the hype, putting in a record number of friend and family visits, amazingly spacious campsite with eucalyptus trees and wild turkeys, some rare chill-out/do-nothing time, checking out the SF Pride Festival, seeing the places where my husband grew up, seeing the utility pole gnomes of Oakland still up and in-tact, a fun 4th of July with friends
  • Lowlights: Awfully long and twisty/turny drive to get anywhere from our campground, super challenging to find decent WiFi, trying to bike the insane hills of San Francisco, a bad dog boarding experience at Wag Hotels, two weeks of rib pain/ab soreness from flying on a trapeze


Napa, California: Home on the Road #43 (in progress)

  • Highlights: Decent campground at the expo center in town and in walking distance of downtown, Day trip to Calistoga with hot springs/massage/petrified forest, geyser, bike paths/lanes to get around, good doggie day care experience at Camp Rawhide
  • Lowlights: Traffic – everywhere and all the time, way too many wineries – how does anyone choose which one to go to???, not much hiking close by


“TOP 5” LISTS OF THINGS AND STUFF

To celebrate our one-year anniversary of living on the road, I’m doing something a bit different this month. Instead of my usual section of ramblings, I’m making a few “Top 5” lists. Limiting each list to 5 will really make me narrow things down and not get too annoyingly wordy like I tend to do. Besides, everybody likes lists, right?

Things I Like About Camper Life

  1. Never being bored
  2. Exploring potential areas to move to one day
  3. Being about to do my job just like I would sitting in an apartment somewhere
  4. Choosing to be in places with nice weather
  5. Easy access to nature and adventure activities

Things I Dislike About Camper Life

  1. Paying for fuel in the gas-guzzling RV
  2. Close quarters and shantytown-like conditions next to campground neighborhoods
  3. High cost of campsites in ideal locations
  4. Lack of reliable internet, a deal-breaker for remote working
  5. The exhaustion of constantly doing travel research

Things I Miss About Stationary Life 

  1. Drinking drinks with good friends on the regular
  2. Consistent Wi-Fi access
  3. Easy travel for holidays with family
  4. All my gnomes (now tucked away in storage)
  5. Easily doing arts and crafts

Things That Set Us Apart from Other Full-Time Campers 

  1. We’re not old
  2. We work full-time jobs
  3. Half of us isn’t white
  4. Free camping isn’t a priority
  5. We’re not big fans of people

Common Research Topics in New Places (pardon me while I break the 5-limit rule)

  1. Hiking trails
  2. Biking trails
  3. Comedy shows
  4. Bar trivia
  5. Local theater
  6. Dog-friendly breweries
  7. Wineries/distilleries
  8. Community rec centers
  9. Concerts
  10. Dance classes
  11. Driving ranges/golf courses
  12. Disc golf courses
  13. Arcade bars
  14. Archery ranges
  15. Dog daycare facilities
  16. Cafes with Wi-Fi to work at
  17. Neighborhoods to check out
  18. Dog parks
  19. Festivals
  20. Climbing gyms

Most Frustrating Moments

  1. Not being able to get internet reception/Wi-Fi
  2. Unreasonable pit bull bans
  3. RV sewer leakages
  4. Ant, moth, and other insect infestations in the camper
  5. Learning to drive an RV towing a jeep on treacherous roads

Things that Have Surprised Me About Camper Life

  • How easily I’ve adjusted to the lifestyle and how normal it feels (i.e. daily routines, eating/drinking/exercising the same as I would in a stationary place, the same things stress me out/piss me off)
  • I have become more introverted
  • After seeing so many new things over the past year, I’m not as easily impressed
  • I have become exhausted with travel planning
  • Even with more “me time” than I’ve ever had before, I still struggle to find time to do hobbies, chill out, etc.

Plants I’ve Grown (decently) in a Camper

  1. Cactus
  2. Succulent
  3. Begonias
  4. Orchids
  5. Mint

Favorite Areas from the First Year 

  1. Moab, Utah
  2. Red River Gorge, Kentucky
  3. San Diego, California
  4. Asheville, North Carolina
  5. Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico

Regions I’d Consider Plopping Down at for a Bit

  1. Santa Barbara, California
  2. Albuquerque, New Mexico
  3. San Luis Obispo, California
  4. Tucson, Arizona
  5. Salt Lake City, Utah

Daily Routines 

  1. 4 Monkey walks per day, alternating 2 per person
  2. Morning yoga in the RV
  3. Texting with my best friend throughout the day about anything and everything
  4. 8+ hour work days
  5. Guitar practice (not exactly daily but working on it)

Biggest Life Changes Since the Camper Upgrade 

  1. Not having to walk across a campground to pee in the middle of the night after one too many beers
  2. Avoiding the nastiness and awkwardness of public bathrooms
  3. Driving shorter distances from one place to the next because driving an RV is exhausting
  4. An extra monthly payment to budget for
  5. Being able to withstand more extreme temperatures/storms

How Monkey Has Made Camper Life Interesting 

  1. We’re always looking for dog-friendly places and restricted as to where we can do with her
  2. Way too many unwanted social interactions because of her extreme friendliness
  3. Keeps us on a schedule of waking up early…ugh
  4. Gives us something to focus on besides each other, ideal for a 24/7 confined space
  5. A steady source of entertainment (twirling!) and frustration (pulling!)


Looking Ahead to Next Month

We’ll be in Napa for a little while more, and I’m excited to re-visit one of my gnome collector friends that lives in Santa Rosa. LOTS of gnome pics coming up soon, so gettttttttttt readyyyyyyyyyyyyy!

From here, we’re headed to the coast to check out Mendocino and Fort Bragg. It’s pretty hot out here in Cali, so we figured the coast is the place to be as long as the campgrounds aren’t insanely overpriced. Things are a little up in the air after that, but it’ll all be figured out in due time.

But for now, it’s time to go track down some wine and celebrate this random little anniversary of ours. Thanks for following along for the past year and keeping me accountable to continue putting together these monthly recaps!

 

Catch up with the journey:

It’s Been 11 Months on the Road…Will We Make it a Year?

Ummm….yeah. So that was a silly question, but perhaps I had you fooled.

In all seriousness, we have no intention of switching up our lifestyle anytime soon because frankly, no better-sounding lifestyle has presented itself. When it does, that’ll be the day we stop moving from place to place every couple weeks.

I left off last month right before our two-year “marriage anniversary” in Oceano, California. It was a pretty sweet anniversary actually. We took off after half a day of work, soaked in some hot springs, hiked to some beach caves, destroyed some sushi for dinner, and watched an in-jeep movie at an old-timey drive-in theater. Good stuff.

As you might have noticed, we’ve been zig-zagging across the state of California from the coast to inland and back again. This past month started right by the beach in Oceano, then went inland to Frenso and back out again towards the coast to Gilroy.


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

Oceano, California: Home on the Road #39, Continued

  • Highlights: An ultra-random and low-key beach anniversary, more time at the sand dunes, retro dinner inside a renovated train car, kayaking/SUPing Lake Lopez
  • Lowlights: A painfully hot and thorny hike around Lake Lopez, thorns that can penetrate hiking boots/socks/skin

Chief looks good at vineyards

Touring a luffa (AKA loofah) farm…who knew they grew in greenhouses and not in the sea?!

Private hot springs…ahhh. Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort in Avila Beach.

At the bottom of a very steep hike down by Avila Beach

Avila sea caves…crazy impressive and worth the ultra-steep hike

Rock ‘n’ Roll Diner in Oceano…in a train car!

Kayaking with the Monk on Lake Lopez

Ouch. No way I’m getting all those thorns out. Hiking socks = trash.


Fresno, California: Home on the Road #40 

  • Highlights: Finding fun indoor things to do because it was consistently 100+ degrees (bowling, billiards, arcade games, movies, climbing gym), good campground Wi-Fi, cheap campground, farm tour at Naylor Organic Farms and learning all about nectarines & apricots, lots of dog-friendly places, FINALLY hiked among the giant sequoia trees, washed the RV ourselves in the campsite and saved $100+
  • Lowlights: The fact that it was consistently 100+ degrees, homeless people pushing carts everywhere around our campground, hard to find farms open to the public and that give tours, the epic frustrations of trying to sew a dress

How is this even possible?

Indoor activity #1

Indoor activity #2

Indoor activity #3

Kind of obsessed with fancy, flavored, locally-grown olive oil right now

Blueberry farm, The Berry Lady – too busy to give us a tour but now I know what blueberries look like in a field

Farmer Naylor teaching us about nectarines

Feeling pretty pleased about this apricot

Kings River Winery

Farm things, continued…

The giant sequoia stumps left behind from the massive logging operations of the late-1800s/early-1900s. So sad for the fallen. So happy a few of them still remain.

Hiked out to the Boole Tree…makes me feel so small

Rub-a-dub-dub


Gilroy, California: Home on the Road #41, In Progress

  • Highlights: The smell of garlic in the air (because I actually like garlic), local farm stands everywhere to buy fresh produce, biking and scenic drive in Monterery, seeing my husband’s childhood home and schools in the Cupertino area, seeing seals, watching the Golden State Warriors win the finals at a walking-distance winery by our campground with the owners and their family cooking us dinner, comfortable weather
  • Lowlights: No garlic farms to visit even though this is the garlic capital of the world, super cramped campsites with no personal space

Visiting the one and only real garlic-themed attraction in town, a shop called Garlic World

Garlic ice cream…this exists and it’s not as terrible as you’d expect.

Scenes around Monterey #1

Scenes around Monterey #2

Scenes around Monterey #3


This Month’s Realizations & Ramblings from Month

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

  • We are making use of the breadmaker we resurrected out of storage! Don’t worry that isn’t mold…it’s olive bread and it was delicious.

  • I’ve also resurrected my shaker and love of bartending. Using some mint leaves from a plant I’ve been growing and some agave nectar here. Anyone have any recommended cocktail recipes to share? I’m always up for new booze challenges.

  • I can’t believe it’s mid-June, but that may be due to the fact that I never really felt the impact of the seasons for the first time in life. We were in Tucson in December, for example, where it was in the 70s. But unlike a lot of people (husband included), I don’t really miss the seasons because I love warm weather. But I’m just taking note that time passes by a bit differently when seasons aren’t a factor.
  • Some of the burnt sequoia trees look like artistic sculptures that belong in front of libraries and museums.

  • Claustrophobic campgrounds are really getting to me and feel like living in a shantytown. Full-time RVers who don’t work internet-heavy, full-time jobs can boondock in remote and beautiful places. But our situation usually plants us down in RV parks, and you never really known what you’re going to get until you show up. The close quarters are not fun at all and I spend a fair amount of time developing strategies to avoid neighbors. We are definitely overdue for a boondocking experience like we had in the Mojave Desert…hopefully soon.

Close quarters = no bueno

  • We bought a new board game called Ticket to Ride – it’s super fun and travel-themed!
  • Sewing is so freaking hard. I found a pattern idea in a blog titled “The Easiest DIY Maxi Dress Ever,” which was supposed to take one hour to make. It took me four. After much cursing and a couple of those cocktails referenced above, I did it. It sure isn’t perfect, but IT IS DONE. And I’m pretty happy with it.

  • Here’s the finished dress! Whew.

  • Work is still as busy as ever for us both, but we do our best to squeeze in one fun activity per day somewhere in every 8-10 hour workday.
  • The new RV (we’ve had it nearly 4 months…when will I stop calling it “new”?) makes me feel like I don’t always have to be on. I can be sick, lazy, or sad in here and that’s just fine.

Looking Ahead to Next Month

We’ll be in Gilroy for a little while longer and then moving on to Oakland. After that we’re headed to Napa Valley. From there it’s all unknown, so I guess we’d better figure that out sometime soon. If you made it this far, thanks for reading! Toot-a-loo!

Camper Life Month #8 in Dragoon-A-Saurus Rex de la Mantequilla

Well month #8 kicked off with a bang because this is when we traded in our old pop-up for a 33-foot RV. As I wrote in my “upgrade post,” this one decision turned our February upside down, for the better and worse.

Related: We Upgraded! How Our New RV is Making Life More Awesome…and Complicated

Before I get started with my monthly recap, I suppose I should explain the title a bit. We’ve been trying to come up with a name for our new RV, which is no easy task. You see, it has to be incredibly random, relevant, and packed with inside jokes…all at the same time. For instance, my Jeep’s name is Chief Surfs with Manatees.

Well, at least for now, we’ve settled on a name: Dragoon-A-Saurus Rex de la Mantequilla. It roughly translates to “a large mounted infantry that has been threatened and coerced into the mountains to be named the king of butter.” He/she will go by “Dragoon” for short.

Anyway…

Places We’ve Been: Month #8

Month #8 can largely be summed up by one phrase: “Stuck in Yuma.” It’s funny, because we never actually intended to go to Yuma, Arizona at all. We actually had a campground booked in the Palm Springs area of California back in mid-January but were scared away by excessive rain and flooding. Yuma was a backup plan, and we stayed there in one way or another for over a month and a half.

We stayed at two different campgrounds in Yuma, and then decided to take a trip to Mexico for a week of pure vacation. While in Mexico, we settled on the idea of upgrading our camper and bought a new one in Yuma. This decision sent us on a side trip all the way back to Atlanta, Georgia to take care of a slew of logistical nightmares. I couldn’t stand to go back to our old Yuma campground with the new RV, so we switched to another one. Then after a long-cross country drive back to Yuma, we finally got unstuck and made our way to San Diego.

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

Yuma, Arizona: Home on the Road #31

  • Highlights: Switched campgrounds for one with more space and fewer annoying people, first few days in our new RV!

For less than 24 hours, all of our worldly possessions were in one place at the same time: RV, Jeep, 5×8 U-Haul

  • Lowlights: We are STILL in Yuma?!, new campground is out in the middle of lemon fields – kinda nice but so far to get to anything

Yuma to Atlanta Side Trip

  • Highlights: Seeing my best friend and meeting her one-month-old baby girl, drinking bubble tea, an awesome AirBnB in Chamblee, GA, donating lots of lots of stuff to Goodwill, squeezing in a hike at Rockhound State Park in Deming, New Mexico on our last day of driving

Best AirBnB (studio apartment) I’ve ever stayed at

10+ donation loads later…

Nice to see mountains and cacti again after a trip back east…missed New Mexico.

  • Lowlights: Driving 30 or so hours each way, having to leave our new camper behind because it’s a gas-guzzler and doesn’t make financial sense for a quick cross-country trip, dozens of logistical nightmares, DMV license and registration issues for the RV and Jeep, cleaning out and totally eliminating a 10’x12′ storage unit, being exhausted all the time and never sleeping, getting bug bites from cheap motels

San Diego, California: Home on the Road #34

  • Highlights: Amazing campground (Sweetwater Summit Regional Park), successfully towing our Jeep here with no issues, incredible weather, trails for running, greenery and wildflowers everywhere you look outside, pedaling the Bayshore Bikeway, kayaking in the fog from the Chula Vista Marina, cute “island” town of Coronado, Gaslamp Quarter outing in downtown SD, surprisingly no traffic anywhere, sitting outside in the sunshine to work

Yep, Monkey’s in the trailer!

  • Lowlights: No Wi-Fi but not a big deal, lots of bunnies outside that drive Monkey (and therefore, us) crazy

Yep, Monkey’s in that kayak with me too. Nice to have the boats back with us again. She’s an old pro at boating.

Realizations & Ramblings: Month #8

In no particular order, these are some random thoughts that came to me over the course of month #8 on the road.

  • During month #8, I started to understand why people DON’T full-time travel and just plop down in a house instead with occasional trips here and there. The logistics of making this work really get to you and can make the whole thing feel totally not worth it at times. Society is not designed for people like us and seems to just wait for us to fail and fall in line. I felt like this a lot in month #8. However, I know that if I just gave up and plopped down somewhere, I’d have nothing but regrets.
  • We upgraded to the new RV at the absolute perfect time. We were both getting a bit burnt out on the lifestyle for various reasons, and this new home on wheels has totally recharged us and reminded us why we’re doing this.

Only in Texas.

  • My anxiety levels were at an all-time high in month #8 due to all the hassles of trying to beat the system for the sake of keeping the lifestyle going.
  • But in the last week, things have slowed down and we have more time to relax because of simple time-sucks that aren’t an issue anymore (walking across a campground to use the bathroom, do dishes, etc.). With the extra time, I’ve found myself starting to play guitar again, organizing drawers, and catching up on shows (recently added Big Love to my mix).
  • Exercise-wise, I’ve finally worked up to doing 100 push-ups, squats, and various ab crunches per day. We retrieved some resistance bands from storage, so I’m looking to add these to the mix in Month #9.
  • Dealing with the sewage system in the RV isn’t as bad as I expected it to be.

My go-to road trip fare: egg, avocado & veggies on flatbread.

  • Camping with a pit bull mix has been getting increasingly difficult. We have run into blanket dog breed bans the most in Grand Junction, CO and Palm Springs, CA. Some campground owners are idiots and flat-out tell you that your dog is unsafe and unwelcome there just because of who it was born to. Other owners are apologetic and make excuses about their insurance policies and safety clauses, but it doesn’t make it much easier to accept. And it’s not just pit bulls either…doberman pinschers, rottweilers, and others are being discriminated against as well. Everyone who meets Monkey loves her. She is obsessed with people, getting petted, and rolling over to get better petting angles. If these assholes would simply meet her and give her a chance, they could have had our business. Pit bulls and pit bull mixes have enough trouble getting adopted from shelters as it is. If people knew about these types of hassles caused by faulty perceptions, it might be even harder. It all just makes me really sad and angry.
  • Totally unrelated to all that, we’ve also been trying to train Monkey to not pull on the leash. It really makes walking and hiking miserable, and it’s gone on for too long. The current strategy is using cheese as a non-pulling bribe, AKA “cheese therapy.” We’ve tried other things in the past, but we’ll see how this goes.

On a positive note, Monkey is starting to take to our new RV and loves staring out her very own window 🙂

  • We are literally spending hours looking for campgrounds that meet our needs lately. And honestly, our needs aren’t that unreasonable: internet and phone service in one way or another, campers under 55 allowed, pit bull mixes allowed. So much time wasted by the inefficiency of this industry’s searching and booking systems. I’ve heard about some tech-savvy people trying to improve this process and bring it up to 2017, but an industry disruption needs to happen sooner than later.
  • We downsized our storage unit in Atlanta (10’x12′ for $200/month) to a much smaller unit in Yuma (5’x5′ for $41/month). Not only is this helping us become more minimalist and cut the waste, but it’ll also make RV loan payments easier, keep the adventure going for longer, and save our extra things on the side of the country we’ll likely plop down on someday!
  • The San Diego area seems pretty ideal as a potential plopping spot, but damn it’s pricey.

  • We are now “those people” you love to hate on the highway…RVers with a really long towing set-up cruising at 66 max. On our last full day in Yuma, we got a tow bar installed on the Jeep. Five hours and $1,300 later, we are totally “those people.”
  • We have a checklist of probably 50+ items that are part of our new RV take-down process. This includes everything from draining the sewage to locking the outside storage cabinets and raising the jacks. I’m learning a lot, and it’s actually not as intimidating as I thought it might be. It involves less manual labor than the old pop-up did, but perhaps more brain power. Of course, it’ll all get quicker and easier each time we do it.

Looking Ahead to Month #9

We finally made it to California, nearly two months late, so we’re planning to stay here for a while. We’ve only been here a bit so far, but we’re already VERY familiar with all the issues of camping in California:

  • Private campgrounds are freaking expensive
  • Limited internet and phone reception in state/regional parks – an issue for full-time work
  • Discriminatory bans against pit bulls and other dog breeds
  • Silly 55+ age restrictions

However, we’ve gotten our next couple places lined up in the Banning, Burbank, and Santa Barbara areas of California. In fact, I’ve arranged for my parents to come out to Burbank to meet us for a long weekend! They’ve never been to SoCal before, so we’re planning to do some Hollywood/L.A. touristy stuff, and I think they’ll get a kick out of seeing our new RV.

If anyone reading this that I know is in these areas and interested in possibly meeting up or sharing some must-see tips, comment here or email me please! We’ll make the best out of you yet, California. It took 8 months to get here, and there’s no turning back now.

Catch up with the journey:

Half a Year on the Road! A Six-Month Camper Life Update

It’s a new year in a new state, but the journey continues in 2017!

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Month #6 has been a weird month. It was holiday month, which means that everything was thrown off a bit – but in a good way. It’s also been the longest we’ve stayed put in one place so far.

Places We’ve Been: Month #6

Month #6 started finished up our stay in Tuscon and then we moved up to Phoenix. A while back, we had booked flights to travel from Phoenix to Champaign, Illinois to visit my family for Christmas. So everything leading up to this moment had to work around the flight schedule.

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Since Monkey’s too big to fly, we had to board her, but did so at the best pet resort we could find in Phoenix called Tailwinds. For Christmas, we spent a few days in my hometown or Arthur, seeing family and friends and doing little-to no work. We had a Monkey to get back to in Phoenix, but our flight was cancelled due to FOG of all things. We’d packed extra food for Monkey in case of emergency, but were still anxious to collect her. So my parents graciously drove us the complete opposite direction to Indianapolis to catch the next flight out in the morning.

The Indy flight went as planned and we made it back to Phoenix, then drove to Las Vegas the same day. So in a 24-hour period, we lived in four time zones: Central, Eastern, Mountain, and Pacific. Totally exhausting, but we got Monkey back and got rave reviews about her behavior (and even a report card!).

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

Phoenix, Arizona: Home on the Road #27

  • Highlights: Having dinner with my old co-worker, Maria, for her husband’s birthday bash, hot tub at the fanciest Motel 6 I’ve ever seen, short hikes around town

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  • Lowlights: Getting a traffic cone stuck under the Jeep and nearly starting a fire on the highway because of it, having to leave Monkey behind at a “pet resort” while we got on a plane

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Arthur, Illinois : Home on the Road #28

  • Highlights: Hanging out with my parents, grandma & extended family, seeing a couple of my favorite people from high school, meeting our mutual friends’ new baby, seeing “Moana” with my parents, eating at a really good Mexican restaurant that popped up in my hometown since I left, impromptu trip to Indianapolis

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  • Lowlights: Having our flight out of Champaign cancelled at the last minute, having to ask my parents to drive us to Indianapolis

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Las Vegas, Nevada: Home on the Road #29

  • Highlights: Fun pre-NYE day on The Strip, Cirque Du Soleil show that was impressive but made me feel fat and lazy, first NYE celebration with Monkey in the camper to ring in 2017, Valley of Fire State Park hiking

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  • Lowlights: Flat camper tire and cracked windshield on the drive to Vegas, Homeless people lurking around our campground and the staff doesn’t care, dental visit, crowded parking lot-style campground, no Wi-Fi

Random Ramblings: Month #6

In no particular order, these are some random thoughts that came to me over the course of month #6 on the road.

  • I’m obsessed with podcasts. I listen to them while walking the dog, doing dishes, washing up in the bathroom, etc. They really get me through the day. Ones I’ve been listening to lately: This American Life, Snap Judgement, Undone, Stranglers, The RV Entrepreneur with Heath Padgett, Lore, The Moth, Radio Lab, Hidden Brain. New podcast suggestions welcome…hit me up!
  • Motel stays make me feel really appreciative of the little things in life. Like not having to walk across a campground to pee in the middle of the night when I’ve had 3+ beers. They’re even better when they have a hot tub, especially after a long day of hiking. Campgrounds with hot tubs are awesome too.

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  • I really have no desire to live in a place with frigid winter temperatures ever again. These snowbirds have the right idea, but stealing the idea shouldn’t require Medicare eligibility.
  • I’m super appreciative of my parents. Understandably, they were skeptical about this whole camper life thing at first. But I’ve never really been a daughter to follow all the rules. Them driving us to Indy on Christmas day night was a lifesaver. I’m seriously lucky to have them. Too bad it too me so long to realize it.
  • I can’t stand being around other campers. The second I walk outside to use the bathroom in the morning, there are people all around me. I’m feeling claustrophobic by the close proximity of campers and drained by the constant sight of human beings. (1) Old retirees with nothing better to do than chat, (2) families with kids that have no regard for anyone but themselves, and (3) homeless riff-raff lurking around campgrounds when the staff doesn’t care are really getting to me. Friends always ask me about cool people I’ve met on the trip. The honest answer is none. Admittedly, I’m in an introverted phase of life and not putting myself out there. But honestly, that’s not what travel is about for me right now and I have no regrets.

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  • This month was a BIG time for repairs. The camper needed a new tire, the Jeep needed a sensor repair and a new windshield, the husband needed hardcore dental surgery, and the dog needed yearly shots at the vet, and I needed a routine dental cleaning. Somehow this all snuck up on us at once. But it just goes to show that you don’t need to be grounded in a place to get all the practical things in life taken care of.
  • Cities are making me feel claustrophobic. Most strangers seem like an entirely different species, I’m becoming a worse driver, and stupid things make me anxious. I’m hoping to find some quiet coastal towns in California.
  • Vegas is the longest we’ve stayed anywhere so far on this trip – 19 days! Not because we are in love with Vegas, but due to so many appointments and practical things piling up all at once. At least there were plenty of distractions to take our minds off them at the end of the day.

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  • I don’t like the format of these blog posts I’ve been doing, but I can’t think of a better way to structure them.
  • We looked into upgrading the camper and would seriously love to, but I don’t think it’s going to work right now. Mostly because a two-door jeep has embarrassingly low towing capacity, so a camper upgrade would mean a vehicle upgrade too. Looked at A-Liners, which were nice (especially ones with an in-camper toilet and solid walls!), but they’re not enough of an upgrade to justify the investment right now.
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  • This is my dream house.
  • It was nice to be able to take holiday time off like the rest of the traditional working world this year. This is always an awkward time as a freelancer, but things finally slowed down for me and I finally got some much-needed chill time.
  • Also as a freelancer, I have to keep track of every invoice and pay quarterly taxes, which is a huge pain in the ass. However, I made more this year than ever in life. So many full time travelers hate on freelance writing as a way to make money but clearly they aren’t doing it right. This is something I feel really proud of since 2017 is my 4th year of freelancing!
  • I am obsessed with self-serve frozen yogurt.

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  • The best reason that has come up so far for calling it quits on camper life is international travel. I feel like I’ve seen so much (but obviously not all) of this country, but so little of the rest of the world. Simply flying to Illinois for Christmas taught us how difficult the logistics are of finding a dog sitter, Jeep parking, camper parking, transportation, etc. After six months, I’m feeling the itch for international travel. This makes me amendable to finding a place to rent (somewhere) for a year so we can plop down and get slightly established so we can catch a flight to bust of America soon. This will likely be the one thing that makes me call it quits on camper life, at least for a while.
  • Valley of Fire State Park renewed my faith in Nevada hiking trails after several disappointments…what an incredible place with something different to see on every trail!img_3014
  • Everywhere I turn these days, I seem to come across a #vanlife post or some other young couple’s Instagram-perfect photos of full-time travel. I am mildly obsessed with creepily stalking other full-time campers to see what they’re up to and judging myself against my better judgment. It feels like this movement is gaining momentum, but perhaps I’m just seeking it out. But unlike so many of these other couples essentially doing what we’re doing, I’m not into going full publicity over it or trying to make money from it. That’s not my style, and I’m already stretched too thin. Also, my husband is a private person and I respect his wishes to not include his photo or name on my blog. I also have no desire to reinvent the wheel here or project an image that everything about this lifestyle is perfect. It’s not, and it pisses me off from time to time just like any lifestyle would. I’m being me, being real, and sharing my experiences as creative outlet rather than a means of self-promotion. Thanks for being along for the ride.

Looking Ahead to Month #7

TOMORROW, we’re celebrating our 6th month “full-time camper life anniversary” by crossing over the California state line and dry camping in Mojave National Preserve. This means no reservations, no electric, no internet, and only backup tank water…but hopefully some amazing scenery and hikes.

After that, we’re heading to the Palm Springs area of California, which will be totally new to me. But I will say though that California campgrounds are looking pretty expensive so far. I’m a newbie at pretty much all things Southern California, so I’m definitely excited to spend a good amount of time here. Please send any SoCal recommendations my way!

Cheers!

Catch Up on the Journey:

Gnome Man’s Land: A California Fantasy Land 40 Years in the Making

Imagine walking into the backyard of an unassuming single family home, only to find thousands of pairs of beady little eyes peering out at you beneath pointy red hats. 1 No, this isn’t the setup for some creepy B-horror film; it’s a dream-come-true for every hardcore gnome collector. This summer, I had the pleasure of visiting Gnome Man’s Land, an elaborate gnome home and garden in Santa Rosa, California. 2 Now this is no fly-by-night gnome collection tucked away in the bowels of obscurity. Oh, no no. This is a gnomish fantasy land nearly 40 years in the making, operated by my good friend and personal idol, Jean Fenstermaker. 4 Jean was inspired to create Gnome Man’s Land in the 1960s after a few key life events: her Disneyland storybook canal ride, her mother’s rock garden, and her friend who had two gnomes on an office desk. Jean’s first gnome garden was born on January 25, 1976 and spanned just 18 inches by 35 inches in size. From the very beginning, Jean loved to create mini-themes within her garden and stories about her gnomes. With some plant clippings from her mother and tiny bridges and accessories built by her woodworking father, her gnomes’ stories began coming to life. 3 Over the years, Jean has created eight additional and separate gnome gardens in her backyard. There’s The Forest Rock Garden with wildlife, The Frog Garden with gnomes and amphibians co-existing in harmony, and the Life-Size Garden…which is, you guessed it, full of LIFE-SIZED GNOMES. But keep your britches on…even in real life, gnomes are still pretty tiny. 3 You can find everyone from immigrant gnomes, partially-clothed gnomes using the bathroom, gnomes with gambling habits, gnomes fighting neighbor gnomes, and vegetable-growing gnomes lurking around every corner and begging for your attention. 4 The spring and summer seasons bring local visitors, out-of-state travelers, and gnome aficionados from around the globe to Jean’s gnome home. The typical crowd comes from church groups, “red hatters,” and senior living facilities. Gnomes are pretty fragile, and I know that if I ever have kids, I’ll be keeping my gnomes safely packed away ’til they’re old enough to understand how awesome they are. 4 I personally met Jean a few years ago through the International Gnome Club, where we are both tri-annual contributing newsletter writers. For over a decade now, I’ve gotten a kick out of being part of a subculture that baffles the other 99 percent of humanity. 5 I also just need to put this out there: Jean’s husband, Jim, deserves a ton of praise and recognition. Jim has helped build the gardens, weeds the plants, prunes the roses, AND he enthusiastically socializes with random gnome fanatics wandering through his backyard. If I ever have a husband, he damned well better be as supportive of my gnome obsession as that Mr. Fenstermaker. And I’ll just leave it at that. 6 Despite Jean and Jim’s attempts at keeping a low profile, they’ve been featured in lots of newspapers – most recently the San Francisco Chronicle, which led to two subsequent radio interviews. Jean’s garden was featured in the amazing book Gnomeland by Margaret Egleton (yes, I have a copy). And TV crews have been out to her Santa Rosa home from Home & Garden TV, The Travel Channel, and ABC’s Dream Home and Collectibles. 8 Jean is one of the kindest and most welcoming human beings I’ve ever met. So much so that she made a sign (held up by a gnome, of course) welcoming my boyfriend and me to Gnome Man’s Land as soon as we pulled into the driveway.  Gnome collectors truly are kindred spirits. 9 After an extensive VIP tour of her gnome garden, Jean whipped out the Gnome Bingo cards and we settled in for some good ole’ fashioned non-monetary gambling with refreshments. Not surprisingly, each Bingo square depicted a themed section of Jean’s quirky gnome garden. 7 Much to my grumbling stomach’s delight, she offered to cook a delicious dinner to share with us to further chat about all-things-gnome and all-things-non-gnome. All of the dishes were adorned with gnomes, and there were even gnome cookies for dessert. Can you say gnome overload? I was practically hyperventilating for hours. 10 Jean has a true and unwavering passion for gnomes, and it shows so beautifully every time her eyes light up with the reflection of a red hat in the distance. She takes such pride in her home, yard, collection, and loyal following that I can’t help but admire her to the point of stealing her ideas for my own home display one day.

As I mentioned earlier, Jean and Jim like to keep a low profile. Although they are the friendliest of friendly to fellow gnome fans, they don’t exactly just open up their backyard to just anyone either.

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You just can’t be too cautious with vandals lurking in the night. I keep up with daily gnome news, and nearly every day there’s a police report filed about gnomes being maliciously stolen, broken, and vandalized!

However, if you’re ever planning a trip to the Napa Valley region of California and would like to have the BEST DAY EVER, I’m might just be able to hook you up with a Gnome Man’s Land VIP Tour.

(Restrictions and fees may apply. Kidding. Sort of.) 11 “Are there any real live gnomes in existence? If there are, I’d sure like to see one!” ~ The cautiously optimistic Jean Fenstermaker.

Spelunking at California’s Lava Beds National Monument

As I recently discovered, one of the best ways to break up a West Coast road trip is by taking a slight detour to the Lava Beds National Monument. Located in that mysterious Northeastern corner of California, this park makes up the largest total area covered by a volcano in the Cascade Mountain Range.Lava6

Mammoth Crater erupted 32,000 years ago and sent massive lava flows 10 miles downhill, creating some really impressive tubes, caves, and boulder fields. Medicine Lake Volcano last erupted 950 years ago, and shifting tectonic plates in the Pacific Ocean could actually make it active again someday.

This area is also steeped in brutal American history, thanks to textbook clashes between the Modoc Native American Tribe and Euro-American settlers. But you don’t have to know much about the Modoc War of 1872-1873 to enjoy this bizarre scenery.

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Surrounded by a high desert wilderness, this national park has over 700 caves, Native American rock art sites, historic battlefields, and campsites. Designated as a national landmark in 1925, Lava Beds has numerous lava tube caves, a couple dozen of which have marked entrances and developed trails you can venture down and explore.
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The best part? You can explore these caves on your own without forking over cash for a guided tour or having to put up with annoying tourists huffing and puffing next to you.

Not surprisingly, the best place to start is the visitor center because you can rent flashlights out here for free. They are heavy, bulky, and painfully dim, but they will set you back zero dollars. Basically, if you don’t have one of your own, they’re better than nothing down there.

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However, if you plan to spend a few hours at the park exploring the caves beyond just a few safe steps inside, splurge on an $8 plastic helmet at the visitor’s center. The cave ceilings get lower the farther you hike in and the ceiling rocks are dreadfully sharp. I had a head wound a couple years ago (the kind that requires 11 staples), so I wasn’t exactly into the mood to go through that all over again.

But before you lose yourself in the netherworld of spelunking, keep in mind that there are plenty of nice hikes above ground as well. Soak in the views of the cooled lava beds with gentle mountain peaks in the distance as you give yourself a mini history/geography lesson to stimulate some sort of brain activity.

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You can wander around to your heart’s content around the lava rocks around Black Crater and Battlefield. This is an awesome place to hike if you don’t want some “trail expert” telling you where you can and cannot go. Vegetation is very minimal, so it’s pretty hard to get lost too. On the day I went, the crowds were unbelievably slim and the whole place had a super eerie vibe.

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Definitely don’t miss out on hiking the Schonchin Butte, a 0.7 mile trail that feels about triple that because of the steep elevation. At the top, there’s a ranger station and the dude hanging out all alone inside was quite friendly. However, I truly wonder what he does all day up there.

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As you get back in your car and drive along the park roads towards the main section of caves, there are lots of places to pull off and check out. The most accessible caves are surrounded by metal fences and a ladder that leads down to their cool and creepy depths.

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To get a small taste of caving without much intensity, you can check out the Mushpot, an accessible cave with a high ceiling, paved surface, installed lighting, and lots of informational plaques to read.

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If you’re craving some more caving at this point, you can either hike or drive along the main road to explore a few others. I hiked down and around Labyrinth, Lava Brook, Sunshine, and Sentinel during my time at the park.

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But by far, one of the most awesome caves to check out is Skull Cave. Not only because it has a hardcore name, but also because the floor is covered in ice…even on a sunny 90-degree California day.

The trail down to Skull Cave isn’t very challenging, but it’s really unique. It’s a remnant of three large lava tubes situated on top of each other, and the rock ceilings are high enough so you don’t have to duck down at all. This odd setup traps the cold winter air and creates a year-around ice floor down a metal stairway on the lower level.

But why “Skull Cave?” Because two human skeletons and the bones of some pronghorn and bighorn sheep were once discovered inside…that’s why.

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To pick out a few routes before you visit, check out this handy PDF of cave descriptions. All the caves are really chilly inside and regardless of the outside temperature, the caves range from about 30-55 degrees Fahrenheit.

Although visitors are free to roam around pretty much everywhere on their own, the caves are still fragile. So don’t touch stuff!

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There’s also been an issue with white-nose syndrome, a deadly fungal bat disease that’s been killing off bat populations down there. Check the National Parks Service site for current cave closures because of this.

After visiting other national parks on busy summer days, I really appreciated the low crowds and the freedom to wander around on my own at Lava Beds. Mammoth Caves in Kentucky, for example, doesn’t allow visitors to explore the caves unless they’re part of an organized tour group. Mammoth is still an awesome place though, especially if you sign up for the hardcore 6-hour “Wild Cave” tour.

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Lava Beds National Monument might seem a little out of the way for some travelers, but if you are in Northern California or are looking for a really unique road trip destination, I’d definitely recommend swinging by! Who knows, you might even find some of my gnome friends guarding the entrances…

Resort Ruins and an Auto Graveyard: Rediscovering My Love for Hiking in Mt. Shasta

When I first started writing this blog, I couldn’t wait to write a detailed account of every trail I hiked, every river I kayaked, and every brewery I sampled. But over time, my writing has struggled to keep up with my adventures.

Come to think of it, I guess that’s a good thing.

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No baby trees were harmed in the dramatic making of this photo shoot.

These days, it’s been more difficult to see each and every outdoor experience as “blog worthy.” What honestly makes this adventure stand out from all the others? Will this place really stick with me when other memories fade away?

Best of luck out there all alone, Hyundai

Best of luck out there all alone, Hyundai

I recently went on two back-to-back hikes around Mt. Shasta, a small Northern California town that’s flanked by a towering mountain of the same name. After cranking out a few articles at a pretty sweet coffee shop in called Yaks, I drove to a remote parking area and swapped out the generic rental for a dusty pair of hiking boots.

Hikers were here, but where are they now?

Hikers were here, but where are they now?

Even from the first few steps, this trail sparked my interest. Abandoned fire pits and mysterious stone circles lie around every corner.

Evidence of mysterious rituals

Evidence of mysterious rituals

The Ruins of Ney Springs Resort

Anonymous hikers on the Internet promised me a waterfall and some 19th century ruins along the Ney Springs Canyon, and that sounded pretty good to me.

In the late 1800s, several resorts were built in the Mt. Shasta area, one of which being the Ney Springs Resorts. It wasn’t as popular as the Shasta Springs Resort north of Dunsmuir, but it was still a nice getaway spot in the mountains for vacationers back in the day. A guy named Joh Ney discovered that there were springs here, and the resort was eventually able to pipe fresh spring water into the buildings and accommodate 50 guests.

The trail is poorly marked and not surprisingly, I took a wrong turn or five. I kept wondering how visible the ruins actually were, and if I would miss them without even noticing. Finally, I spotted a cistern next to the creek and figured this must be part of the dilapidated structures I was looking for.

First sight of ruins...a cistern!

First sight of ruins…a cistern!

After checking out the cistern for a moment, I turned back towards the trail and instantly saw the next bout of ruins in the distance…the fountain! This find was even better than the last. I was surprised that the cursive letters of “Ney Springs” and “1889” were still so easy to decipher.

There was a really eerie vibe here and a sense that more ghosts than hikers may exist within these ruins. It doesn’t seem like there’s been much effort to uncover more of the resort ruins, so who knows what lies beneath the overgrowth?

The Ney Springs Fountain, 1889

The Ney Springs Fountain, 1889

Still further inside the canyon lies Faery Falls, a 40-foot waterfall that seems to be the main draw for hikers today. The falls are about a quarter mile past the resort ruins, and there are several good spots up close to snap photos of the falls.

The Automobile and Appliance Graveyard

The Sacramento River flows to Box Canyon, where the Box Canyon Trail picks up and an automobile and appliance graveyard is tucked away in the woods. That’s right…this is the place where old cars and broken washing machines have gone to die.

Day hike #2

Day hike #2

The mild trail began on the north side of the Box Canyon Dam, passing through pine, oak, and cedar trees. I couldn’t help but notice an intrusive golf course as I set the pace, but I stayed hopeful that far more interesting things were ahead.

Fortunately, I was right.

What is that I see among the trees?

What is that I see among the trees?

A faded hunk of metal peered out at me from behind a tree. I blinked a couple times to make sure the summer sun wasn’t starting to make me loopy. But hen another, and another.

Apparently, Mt. Shasta residents used to simply push their unwanted cars and appliances down the hill to dispose of them. Everything is completely toppled over, rusted through, and in a total state of decay. So much for recycling!

The aftermath of someone's once-beautiful car

The aftermath of someone’s once-beautiful car

But instead of feeling like I was walking through an old dump, I felt like I had stepped back into another time in history. It’s not every day that rusted car parts lie next to hundred-year-old trees, but it seemed to somehow make sense along this trail.

Although venturing off-trail is generally frowned upon in the hiking world, I couldn’t resist getting a closer look at some of this partially-preserved antique collection.

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Check out my new ride!

Just when I thought I’d seen all the rubble along the trail, another piece of machinery appeared and beckoned me to come take a look. Who did this washing machine belong to and how long had it been buried down here?

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Okay, who needs to do a load of laundry?

It’s baffling to me why people dumped their enormous (clearly non-biodegradable) trash here and why no one has ever bothered to clean it up. But I must say, this graveyard made for one of the most interesting hikes I’ve ever been on.

Stay on the Box Canyon Trail to actually venture into the canyon, which is steep and more challenging than it looks. I’m talking iron ladders mounted to cliffs, rock scrambles, and unsettling drop-offs.

Other Ney Springs Opportunities

I didn’t know it at the time, nor did I bring my climbing gear with me, but Ney Springs is also a fairly established rock climbing spot. I spy some climbers perched on that crag!

climbersApparently, the canyon’s north wall is the best place to climb, and the crags here are a top pick for winter climbing. The crags get a full day’s worth of sun, and the snow doesn’t build up much on the access routes. Maybe next time! If you’re heading that way, bookmark this Alpine Addict page for route info and beta.

mt. shastaHiking in Mt. Shasta meant more to me than stumbling across dusty ruins and unwanted garbage. These two hikes make me remember why I love to hike in the first place – that is, to explore the outdoors at my own pace and encounter unexpected things along the way.

Each trail has it’s own personality, and that personality infiltrates my own when I set off into the woods. I understand that not every trail will have stunning features like Ney Springs and Box Canyon, but I’m going to keep a closer eye out for the subtleties and never underestimate the surprises nature has to offer.

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.

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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 🙂