Life as Oregonians: Month 21 on the Road

For the first time ever this month, I heard myself say aloud, “I think we need to come up with a camper life exit strategy.”

Uh oh. Is this adventure slowly coming to an end? Not quite yet, but the lifestyle has been wearing us down a lot lately. It’s not all Oregon’s fault, of course, but the constant rain certainly isn’t helping.

Here are some of the reasons why:

  • Trip research and planning for places to stay and things to do was fun for a good long while, but doing it every week for nearly two years has become exhausting and so time-consuming. And since the campground booking industry is so archaic, every new place involves an excruciating reservation phone call to some dimwit that involves spelling my “weird name” a dozen times.

  • Also exhausting is the social aspect of full-time RVing. It’s a very public lifestyle with close neighbors and no viable way to get away from strangers, especially with a dog in tow. Unfortunately, we can’t go off-the-grid like all those free-spirited #vanlifers because of our all-consuming jobs. Yet being a hermit in the middle of nowhere is sounding better and better every day.

  • Our RV is falling apart. You’d think buying brand-new would prevent this, but the truth is that most RVs aren’t designed for full-time living. We’ve been having issues with everything from plumbing to heating, leaks, and a nasty case of mold growing inside the windowsills from the never-ending rain.

  • Now that it’s spring and summer is just around the corner, everywhere we want to go is crowded, expensive, and all booked up.
  • So many campgrounds in pretty much every state out here have discriminatory pit bull bans, which continues to be infuriating. I’m so tired of conversations with ignorant baffoons judging my little Monkey when she’s done nothing wrong.

  • The excitement of seeing and living in new places is starting to wear off and we’ve become stuck in routine. I know, cry me a river, but routine feels stifling no matter what lifestyle you’re living.

With all that said, we aren’t pulling the plug on the lifestyle just yet because frankly, we have nowhere else to go and no current inspiration to plop down somewhere in particular. But as those musings continue to develop and fester, we’ve continued to check out Oregon stuff and even flew my parents out to visit and see some of the state for themselves.


Here’s a quick recap of this past month’s batch of homes on the road.

Salem, Oregon: Home on the Road #65 (continued from last month)

This was our second home on the road in Oregon, a rainy one, but also one with some fun things to do and an welcome social visit.

  • Highlights: Rock climbing gym with its own bar (too bad it was too early in the day for it to be open though), more lap swimming at a community pool, great campground Wi-Fi, a fun St. Paddy’s day with live music and lots of beer, visiting my friend Kelli and meeting her adorable little twins, seeing Sherlock Gnomes on opening day, shooting a gun at a gun range for the first time and not shooting my foot off
  • Lowlights: Crappy city traffic, rain pretty much every day, a 5K tulip farm race that turned into a mud pit with hardly any tulips in bloom


Welches/Mt. Hood, Oregon: Home on the Road #66

We stayed in the Mt. Hood area for just a week and for really just one purpose: a last round of snow sports. I left my snowboard behind and took up cross-country skiing and snowshoeing this time around, while the husband mastered the downhill slopes.

  • Highlights: Good ski conditions on the second day, giving cross-country skiing another try and loving the peacefulness and stress-free vibe of it, snowshoeing in the backcountry with Monkey while listening to podcasts, nice pool/hot tub/fitness center at our campground
  • Lowlights: Crappy ski conditions on the first day, lots of rain, cold, loud families everywhere for spring break, expensive to camp here

Portland, Oregon: Home on the Road #67

Five or six years ago, we came to Portland on vacation and loved it…so much that we actually shopped around for apartments and scoped out neighborhoods. This time around, Portland didn’t charm my socks off like that. Instead, I mostly felt bogged down by the rain, traffic, and not-so-awesome campground. But we were near the airport, which made it easy to drive around my parents and play tour guide for them on their first trip to the state.

  • Highlights: Bike/running trail nearby, checking out all of this with my parents on a fun 4-day weekend: Columbia Gorge, Multnomah Falls, fish hatcheries, hiking trails over the Washington border, Pfriem Brewery in Hood River, having my Portland-based cousin randomly visit our RV, International Test Rose Garden (with no roses though), Alberta Street, Vietnamese food, Oregon History Museum, Tillamook Cheese, Blue Heron Cheese, Seaside Aquarium, Hi Tide Oceanfront Inn in Seaside (a much-needed RV break with a fireplace and hot tub!), Fort Stevens State Park, Astoria boardwalk and column, and so on and so forth.
  • Lowlights: MORE RAIN EVERY DAY, crowded campground with nowhere for monkeys to pee


 

Looking Ahead to Next Month

Our time in Oregon hasn’t been all that pleasant, but we’re cutting out this weekend and heading up to Washington. Perhaps Washington is the land of endless warmth and sunshine? Ha!

We’re starting inland and hoping to dry out a bit. From there, it’s on to the Seattle area, all those weird little islands off the coast of Washington, and then up to Canada. We both got our renewed passports in the nick of time, so this journey is going international before we hit the 2-year mark.

Since this post was a bit of a downer, I’ll close with a happy photo of tulips and daffodils that I’ve managed to keep alive on the RV windowsill for the last couple weeks.

Oh, and maybe some alpacas…because who can’t resist smiling when there’s a fluffy and ridiculous alpaca next to you?

Over and out. Toot-a-loo.


Catch up with the journey:

Making Our Way Up California (yes, again): Month 19 on the Road

Last month, I left off with our nomad journey in Yuma, Arizona, a familiar place where we bought this RV we’ve been living in for the past year. Month #19 of this journey was spent in California and mostly in places that we already visited within the past year.

After having different scenery every two weeks, it’s weird being back in the same places. But the simple fact that everything isn’t new and needs to be figured out is kind of relaxing and helping us with our goals to slow down and not stressing out over constant trip planning.

Here’s a quick recap of this past month’s batch of homes on the road.


San Luis Obispo, California: Home on the Road #60

Unlike most places within the last year and a half, we visited SLO with a mission. We stayed in nearby Oceano, California last May and began to fall in love with the area. So, we make plans to spend another couple weeks here, this time in El Chorro Regional Park, which was about halfway between SLO and Morro Bay.

  • Highlights: Great downtown area with weekly farmers’ market festival, rock climbing gym and film documentary, breweries galore, super easy traffic, bike lanes everywhere, running along the beach at Morro Bay, free live performances, Oceano sand dunes nearby, finally touring the famous Hearst Castle
  • Lowlights: Disappointing news from a real estate agent about how hard it is to find land to plop a camper onto (without a house) around these parts

Napa, California: Home on the Road #61

Unlike SLO, I have zero desire to live long-term in Napa or in the Bay Area of California. We stayed in Napa at the Expo Fairgrounds in town last summer and found ourselves back here again….not only in the same campground but in the very same campsite too. The main reason for staying in Napa this time around wasn’t a wine vacation but rather to spend some time with my in-laws.

  • Highlights: Great bike lanes along vineyard roads, perfect weather, seeing Reefer Madness the Musical in Vallejo, visits with the in-laws that went well, making origami boats, old-school rock climbing gym, new breweries opened up in town, catching an Olympic curling match at a dive bar since our RV cable sucks, celebrating Monkey’s 4th birthday / 2-year adoption day
  • Lowlights: Awful traffic at all times, the insane price of wine tastings, expensive everything, still way too many wineries to choose from (that one’s for you, Lara, if you’re reading this)

Grass Valley, California: Home on the Road #62

We made a point to stay in Grass Valley for a few days for one reason and one reason only: snow sports. It’s been a couple years since I’ve dusted off my old snowboard, but I broke it out again to hit up the resorts nearby. Fortunately, this didn’t include breaking any bones and only being very mildly sore. We’re also celebrating Valentine’s Day here by going out to a Hawaiian poke & BBQ restaurant for dinner in nearby Nevada City. For the rest of the week, there are possibilities of more snowboarding or perhaps snowshoeing with Monkey instead for some variety and dog inclusion.

  • Highlights: Spacious and quiet campground among tall trees and few neighbors, a fun ski resort day, getting NBC on the RV antenna to watch the Olympics 
  • Lowlights: Cold nights close in the 30s, still being a pretty crappy snowboarder


This Month’s Ramblings from the Road

  • While staying in SLO and going for a run, we passed by a developing botanical garden and stopped by. The place was clearly in need of some volunteers, and volunteering is something we’ve been interested in doing but never seem to make time for. So, one morning, we ditched computer work and opted for manual labor instead, clearing away branches and debris and loading everything onto carts. There’s something very satisfying about working outside that typing eight hours per day just doesn’t provide. I’d love to find a way to work outdoors (and get paid for it somehow) for half my time and write for the other half.

  • Collecting souvenirs is a fun part of travel, but finding space for a bunch of crap in a tiny house is not. I’ve been collecting (space conscious) iron/sew-on patches for a few years from places I’ve enjoyed and shoving them in drawers, thinking someday I’d come up with a really cool craft project to display them. But for now, they’re new fridge decorations! I taped up as many as would fit for a little camper decor ‘til a better idea comes along.

  • Sometimes my work feels like a lost cause…like I’ll never catch up and get ahead. I’m working too much and feeling burnt out, but I’m often not sure how or where to scale back or whether that would be a totally regrettable decision. But today, I actually turned down some work and it felt oddly satisfying and like a weight lifted off my shoulders.

  • Last month, I introduced you to my lifelong Cabbage Patch companion, Isabelle. While in storage, she was wearing a dress way too short for any 33-year-old. So, I sewed her some pants! Now she matches our bedroom curtains because I made the pants with leftover curtain fabric.

  • We bought new dishes for the camper! Goodbye old scratched-up plastic crap. We fancy now.

  • Yes, our camper is nice and only a year old. But that doesn’t mean that things aren’t falling apart already. We’re slowly realizing why some campers are so much more expensive than other: craftsmanship and quality materials. It seems ours wasn’t really made for full-time living, so things keep breaking. Are any campers made for full-time living? The kitchen sink leaks, the floor squeaks, the propane alarm keeps going off, and I’m pretty sure that the shower floor is going to collapse any day now (which is going to be incredibly awkward).


Looking Ahead to Next Month

I’m really looking forward to Month #20 for a couple reasons. One, we’ll finally make it as far north as Eureka, California, an area we’ve never been to and failed to get to last year. Two, we’ll finally make it into Oregon! Goodbye Cali, it’s been fun, but it’s time to move on and take this camper journey to the Pacific Northwest.


Catch up with the journey:

7 Months in the Pop-Up, Now 7 months in the RV

It’s been a year and a couple months on the road, and something occurred to me during month #14. We’ve now spent just as much time living in the new RV as we spent in the old pop-up camper…7 months in each!

However, pretty much all of our RV life has been in California. We started in San Diego in early-March and have been here ever since! It’s not like we’re obsessed with the state or anything. It’s expensive, but it has the most diverse landscapes of anywhere I’ve ever seen. That’s a trade-off we’ve been willing to take, so it’s been a whole lot of zig-zagging from the coast to the mountains and back again.

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


Sacramento, California: Home on the Road #46

  • Highlights: Living right next to the American River bike trail, nice downtown area with parks and labeled trees, tons of breweries, best campground Wi-Fi ever, whitewater rafting birthday trip to Coloma (an awesome way to turn 34!), visited the president of the International Gnome Club in Auburn, dim sum is amazing, seeing 79 percent of a solar eclipse, climbing at one of our favorite gyms
  • Lowlights: Crazy hot all the time, campground was a glorified parking lot for RVs, disappointing dog boarding experience due to pit bull discrimination, yet another flat tire on the jeep – on the way to go bowling (not off-roading) of all things

Clio, California: Home on the Road #47

  • Highlights: Unlimited scenic and dog-friendly hiking trails, peace and quiet, spacious campsite, photography from mountain summits, mutually agreeable weather, the best outdoor space ever for a brewery (The Brewing Lair, Blairsden), nice laundry facilities, seeing snow, local fire station pancake breakfast, picking hops on a farm, meeting a soapmaker who gave me a free lesson
  • Lowlights: Not a ton to do in towns with populations of 66 and 737, overpriced groceries and hard to get supplies, almost toppling the jeep off a ridiculous cliff and dying, unreliable campground electricity made us too nervous to ever leave Monkey behind in the RV on hot days with no A/C

Reno, Nevada: Home on the Road #48

We’ve only been in Reno a couple days, and I’ll be honest…it’s been a rough couple days. The biggest issue is due to these crazy thunderstorms that we’re having every afternoon/evening. After checking out the Midtown neighborhood yesterday, I came back to find a leak in the camper. A single leak coming from a recessed LED light, but guess where the rainwater was directly dripping down onto? MY LAPTOP’S KEYBOARD.

And now, it’s fried. Several keys don’t work at all, which is tragic when you consider that typing letters is how I make a living. Right now, I’m using an old external keyboard for our media center, but it’s awkward and killing my work productivity. The only reason we’re actually in Reno at all is to catch a flight to Chicago in a week. I’ve been frantically trying to work ahead to take a week off for a wedding/friends/family visit trip, and the sheer volume of things to do in advance is killing me.

“But Alyssa, don’t you work for yourself? Can’t you take time off whenever you want.”

Um, no. I’m over-committed, over-extended, can’t say no, and losing my mind. But thanks for asking. I am also convinced that I’m developing arthritis/carpal tunnel/something-freaking-wrong with my spacebar-using thumb. Ouch.

Meanwhile, our campground here is reminiscent of a police state, but with more cramped conditions. There’s no reasonable place for dogs to pee, and I’m constantly getting the evil eye from an excessive number of staff members flying by in golf carts. There is a nice marina nearby for runs, and a pretty stellar clubhouse/pool area…if only there was more hours in the day to use them.

Sigh. Whine. Did I hear someone say wine? Or perhaps legal recreational weed?

Moving on…

Despite its desert reputation, Reno continues to be a land of rainbows. I’ve been here twice in life and seen rainbows both times. This one presented itself before a big storm in a Target parking lot, of all places.


More Random Ramblings from the Road

  • We really fell hard for the “Lost Sierras” area around Clio, CA. I love all the hiking, mountains, and peacefulness. But I’m not sure if I could be happy living in such tiny towns long-term.
  • I continue to be obsessed with boba tea. You can’t find it everywhere. But I get it every chance I get.

  • I’m pretty sick of getting flat tires in the jeep. It seems to happen all the freaking time. Here’s a shard of metal sticking out of one in Sacramento. At least it’s not happening with the RV yet…that’ll be a nightmare when it does.

  • My creativity is dead. I am not creating anything interesting these days due to a total lack of spare time and motivation. I have plenty of inspiration and ideas, but just can’t bring myself to actually do things like sewing, crocheting, learning new guitar songs, sketching crappy drawings, poetry, etc. Inspiration followed by guilt over not doing anything about it. I feel like that side of my brain is slowly dwindling away.

  • Monkey slept with us in a tent for the first time and did great! For my birthday trip to go whitewater rafting, we stayed in a rental tent at the campground affiliated with the rafting company. We wondered if she would eat our faces off being on the ground all together and at her level. A four-person tent was key to making this set-up comfortable, but it gives us hope now about doing multi-day backpacking trips with her once we pick up our tent from the storage unit in Yuma.


Looking Ahead to Next Month

After spending a little more time in Reno, things get interesting. We’re boarding Monkey, storing the camper, and flying to Chicago. This trip will include a very quick visit to meet up with friends, followed by a wedding in Lake Geneva, and then putting in a belated birthday visit with my family. The logistics of making this all work were rough, but they’re squared away now, so it’ll be nice to see some folks and switch things up for a change.

When we get back, the plan is to start heading south because as the characters of one of our favorite shows always say, “Winter is coming.”


Catch up with the journey:

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:

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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Learning about Lemurs (and loving it) in North Carolina

I think I first learned about a community of lemurs living in North Carolina a few years ago while googling “monkey things” as a work distraction. Lemurs are the most threatened group of mammals in the world, and the Duke Lemur Center is home to the largest and most diverse group of the little critters outside of Madagascar.

The center was founded on 80 wooded acres a couple miles from the Duke University campus, and today it houses nearly 250 primates across 21 species. This is all part of a non-invasive/no-harm research and conservation program that’s a pretty big deal in the lemur world.

1Unlike some primate sanctuaries, this one is open to the public if you take a guided tour. There are several tour options available, including the most basic “Lemurs Live!” tour, Behind the Scenes tour, Walking with Lemurs tour, Painting with Lemurs tour, and the Lemur Keeper for a Day experience (that one sounds awesome but costs $350 per person).

On a Saturday morning in late August, we checked in at the visitor’s center and browsed around the little gift shop for souvenirs. A lemur shot glass seemed like a necessary addition to the bar collection back home.

IMG_8290The Walking with Lemurs tour sounded pretty sweet, so that’s the we did. It’s offered between May 1 and October 26, starts at 10:30 am, and lasts 60 minutes. This one costs $95 per person, but tour fees do go towards the care of the lemurs.

To get started, we walked out with our guide and a small group to a wooded area to witness feeding time first-hand.

IMG_8294It didn’t take long for the lemurs to hear their dinner bell and come running!

IMG_8325There were two kinds of lemurs in the area that we walked in: coquerel’s sifakas and the ring-tailed Lemurs.

IMG_8398Their breakfast looks like a vegetarian’s delight (sign me up for this detox plan), and they neatly picked through the serving bowls to fill their bellies.

IMG_8386Well, some of the hungrier ones just put their faces in the bowls. Manners are overrated.

IMG_8509Unlike some of the tours that showcase lemurs that live inside cages, the Walking with Lemurs tour lets you get up-close and personal with the little guys. They’re incredibly used to humans, so as long as you don’t touch them, you’ll be just fine.

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It was fascinating just to hang out and observe the lemurs here…eating, climbing, drinking water, and just stretching out their legs.

IMG_8548However, there are several other kinds of lemurs that live at the center, including nocturnal ones that live inside a dark building in another part of the woods.

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Our guide ushered us inside, pulled open the blinds to their enclosures, and flipped on some dim red lights. They were a little hard to spot, but grey mouse lemurs, pygmy slow loris, and aye ayes were lurking about and lemur-ing around in here.

IMG_8637The tour was only an hour, and I wish I would have had a little more time to hang out with the lemurs, but I still had a blast on the tour. Having us around didn’t really seem to faze the lemurs, and I like to think they enjoyed the company.

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These lemurs were so playful and friendly, and it’s really impossible not to smile and laugh when they’re running and climbing around you. I’m not sure if or when I’ll ever make it Madagascar, but only seeing lemurs in the wild over there would top this experience. What an adventure that would be!

So next time you’re planning to pass through the Raleigh/Durham area, consider giving the Duke Lemur Center a call to see if you can join a tour and start your day off with a dose of lemur shenanigans.

And since this is the time of year we’re all racking our brains for gift ideas, there’s an “Adopt a Lemur” program at the center that makes for thoughtful eco-friendly gifts. I made a donation last Christmas and my gift recipient received a really nicely presented “I Care” package with a certificate, photo, animal fact sheet, and window cling. And in my book, helping feed a lemur sure beats getting another unnecessary pair of socks.

And in other primate travel news, don’t miss: 

How to Include Your Dog on Awesome Outdoor Adventures

Outdoorsy, adventurous dogs have been getting a ton of attention lately…not just from me, but from all of those crazy “Camping with Dogs” Instagramers too.

Roxy, the most chill dog EVER

Roxy, the most chill dog EVER

It makes a lot of sense though, given that approximately 70-80 million dogs are owned in the United States and about 37-47 percent of all households in the United States have a dog. And seriously, why even bother getting a dog if you’re going to leave him home alone or with a stranger every time you do something cool?

Sasha is super excited for Jeep rides...and at just a year old...everything else too.

Sasha is super excited for Jeep rides…and at just a year old…everything else too.

Check out my published blog written for a new startup called OutsideMyWay for tips on how to get your pup as ready and excited for the great outdoors as you are.

http://www.stories.outsidemyway.com/how-to-include-your-dog-on-awesome-outdoor-adventures

At 160-ish pounds, Zeiger couldn't more gentle.

At 160-ish pounds, Zeiger couldn’t more gentle.

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…

Road Trip Poetry: Haikus and Limericks from the Northeastern U.S.

In an effort to keep the creative side of my brain active during long stretches of road, I decided to write a poem every day (or so) during my last road trip. Short stories take too much time, blog posts become tiresome after awhile, and my Facebook friends don’t care to read every thought going through my head.

To keep things simple, I settled on the haiku and the limerick for poem structures. Let me take you back to junior high creative writing class for just a moment. A Haiku revolves around that odd 5-7-5 syllable structure, juxtaposes two ideas, and throws in a seasonal reference. Limericks have a five-line AABBA rhyme scheme and tend to be on the ridiculous side.

Without schooling you any further, here is my collection of road trip poetry…categorized by city and state. (Reader hint: each paragraph is its own poem!)

Michigan City, Indiana

Jeep in the service bay
On the way to Maine today
Engine light cleared

There once was a gnome driving a Jeep
“The engine light’s on!” he exclaimed with a squeak
Mechanic found a hose was bent

Jeep in the auto hospital

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Bare butts everywhere
Sketching by bikes in the sand
Monkeys on a beach

There once was a monkey from Toronto
I was traveling and he asked, “Hey, can I go?”
We biked through the sand
He said, “I’ll be damned!”
‘Cause that beach required no clothes!

Indian market
Beetle leaves and ice cream cup
Can’t find magic fruit

Toronto traffic
Reminds me too much of home
“Squeeze left,” a sign says

A girl was biking to Scarborough Bluffs
She rode a long way and had enough
Locked her bike to a tree
And scraped up her knee
Falling off the edge feels pretty tough

Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Campfire burning
Old guitar songs sung in French
Sun sets later now

Biking to Mount Royal
Quiet amidst the chaos
Brakes screech, tires swerve

Fine arts museum
Windy day in Montreal
Textured canvas paint

Grand Isle, Vermont

Citronella light
Illuminates ferry boats
Mosquito bites itch

Working along Lake Champlain

South Hero, Vermont

Roadside antique store
Crafts and creatures on the shelves
Windy twisty roads

There once was a man from South Hero
Where the population’s practically zero
He shopped for antiques
‘Til his bike started to squeak
And he skidded right off the pier. Oh no!

Vineyard concert night
Locals drink and dance along
Sun sets on the vines

There once was a band that played covers
The vineyard lawn full with blankets of lovers
The drummer drank too much wine
Ate some raw grapes off the vine
And was carried off stage by his brothers

Waterbury, Vermont

Vermont tasting day
Cider, cheese, chocolate, ice cream
Rain makes trees greener

Twin Mountain, New Hampshire

Tensions in the air
Tear drops fall like pouring rain
Let’s go get Thai food

Cold beans in a can
Styrofoam instant noodles
Sleeping bags are damp

Rainy campground day
Clothes swirl ’round the washer
Bad TV plays on

KOA pizza
Sketching by campfire light
Internet goes out

Toes dipped in the pool
Soothes itchy ankle bug bites
Dark clouds rolling in

Stir crazy working
Caught up and getting ahead
Rain motivation

Rainy day for monkeys

North Conway, New Hampshire 

There once was a climber from North Conway
He searched for good routes all day Monday
Finally set up some climbs
Mostly 5.8s and 5.9s
A bit scraped and sore, but he’s doing okay

Bar Harbor, Maine

Lobster between bread
Clam chowder and blueberry pie
Rainy day delight

There once was a moose from the state of Maine
He crossed where he wanted, which felt like a game
He ignored the road signs
Was ticketed for his crimes
‘Til he was put behind bars. What a shame!

Lighthouse on the cliff
Bell rings and red light flashes
“Click” goes the shutter

Calm breeze makes ripples
Water droplets splash my skin
Kayak on the lake

Firewood burning
Embers travel toward the sky
A hole in my shoe

Swollen drippy eye
Fishes take revenge on me
Shellfish allergy

Waves crash on the shore
Wind and flies test my balance
Yoga on the rocks

There once was a mosquito from the Harbor of Bar
I swatted him away, but he didn’t go very far
Felt him land on my skin
Sucking blood out again
Screw the tent – I’m sleeping in the car

Acadia National Park

There was an old hag at the campsite next door
Her dunkies would cry, and she’d scream some more
Tossed a burning log in the air
Bowed my head, said a prayer
Now all I hear are waves on the shore

Parade candy thrown
Lobster races to my gut
Fireworks so bright

Shift gears up the hill
Wipe the sweat, pedal faster
Cycling carriage trails

Gnomeless antique shop
Rusty junk out in the rain
Creepy man peers out

There once was a sand pail on Sand Beach
It used to make castles, now tangled in seaweed
Someone left it behind
Swept away by the tide
Rake and shovel too far out of reach

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Portsmouth, Rhode Island

Chicago to Maine
Many stops along the way
Camping from a Jeep

THE END

Climbing the Saco Crag – North Conway, New Hampshire

I’m certainly not the most experienced outdoor climber in the world, but I have made my way to a few crags over the year. There was West Virginia’s New River Gorge, Kentucky’s Red River Gorge, Wisconsin’s Devil’s Lake, and a failed attempt in South Dakota’s Palisades.

Rubbing a climbing gnome for good luck

Rubbing a climbing gnome for good luck

Well I’ve added one more outdoor location to the list, but it was considerably more empty and more difficult to find. Since I’m not all that confident on bolt anchor setting, my outdoor climbing ventures are restricted to wherever I can hike to the top and anchor down to trees and boulders.

Before traveling to New Hampshire, I stumbled upon Joe Lyon’s blog, The Pursuit of Life. He offered pleasantly relevant advice about good top rope routes in the area and suggested the north end of Cathedral Ledge, Humphrey’s Ledge area of the Saco Crag, and Pinkham Notch at Square Ledge.

One of my first stops in New Hampshire was the White Mountain National Forest Visitor Center, where I took iPhone photos of a few key pages from a climbing guide book. Unlike in some climbing destinations, the guidebook didn’t seem all the helpful, so I really didn’t feel like making an investment in one.

I first hiked the Square Ledge Trail in search of “Chimney Route” and “The Brain”(coordinates 44.256774 – 71.245654), which Joe’s blog promised me. After a moderate hike, I found the climbing area and saw a bolt on the side of the rock. However, there were no natural anchors to tie into and there were no other climbers around to ask for advice.

My next stop was Saco Crag (coordinates 44.095537 – 71.168833). Even with notes from various climbing websites and photos of the guidebook pages, I spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to figure out where the routes were. Plenty of tree anchors were around, but where were the routes on this slab of rock?

Thank goodness for occasional yoga

Thank goodness for occasional yoga

While driving along West Side Road in North Conway, you can totally zip past the climbing area and not even know it. The crag is tucked away in the woods and there’s a dirt pullout area on the side opposite the river. If you’re around during summertime, you’ll know the area when you see people putting kayaks and tubes in the Saco River on the other side.

You’ll look up and ask yourself, “is that really the way to the crag?” And the answer is yes. A two-minute, steep, and dirty hike takes you to the promised land.

After finally settling on what I believed the V-Groove route (a 5.8) to be, I set up to climb routes #2, 3, and 4. These were 5.8 and 5.9 rated climbs that looked fairly reasonable. V-Groove was a crack climb on the right side that was trickier than I expected. There’s supposedly 18 routes on this wall, but they’re situated pretty close together and it’s hard to tell what’s what.

Some of the routes were totally overgrown, so I spent my mid-climb rest time swatting away moss, branches, bees, spiders, and spider webs. I never encountered a single other groups of climbers at Saco Crag (or any of the others supposed climbing areas I’d previously checked out) during my entire visit.

Hey New Hampshire climbers: where are you?!

Although my experience of climbing in New Hampshire was more about searching for routes than actual climbing them, it did feel great to get back up on some rock. Even though I visited New Hampshire during the heat of late June, Saco Crag was cool and shady, with a nearby river to take a dip in as well.

From what I’ve read, climbing is a “thing” in New Hampshire, but I do wonder how many climbers are making good use of all that granite. If anyone has climbed in the area, I’d love to hear from you so I can plan my next northeastern climbing adventure a little more effectively.

Thanks New Hampshire, I enjoyed your rocks and hope to see them again soon.