On our journey, Thanksgiving has become one of our favorite holidays. There is zero chance of us attempting to cook a big meal in our tiny living space, and many restaurants have fabulous Thanksgiving offerings. This year Thanksgiving finds us in a remote part of California among the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
The Yuba Pass
In the past, I have driven significant portions of Highway 101 along the Pacific coast and assumed it was the windiest road in our country. I assumed wrong. California Highway 49 through these small mountains is constant curves for the better part of an hour. The drive is gorgeous, the roads in good shape, but with the danger of ice and snow almost no one takes this route in late November. Last weekend we only saw three cars in the hour through the pass as we went to the hot springs for a day of soaking. We found another route home that was a half-hour longer, but a lot less windy.
Thanksgiving day we decided that another soak before our big meal would be just the ticket. I was feeling spritely, so through the mountains we went again. We are badass travelers after all. In the darkest section of the pass, we slipped on some black ice, but good tires and all-wheel drive saw us safely through.
Sierra Hot Springs
If you have never walked through the snow to soak in hot water, you really should. Kendra describes the results as the most relaxed state she is capable of being in. I find it to be supremely peaceful. This walk was a bit longer than most but well worth it. The geodesic dome had a pool with water temps over 105F, a large swimming pool had 95F water, and the sauna was the best I have ever experienced.
After three hours of relaxing in hot water — and on soft couches by a real wood fire — we took the longer route to Grass Valley and stuffed ourselves in true holiday fashion. The selection of a restaurant is always a risk, but our choice was perfect this time. They had outdoor seating that was warmer than their indoor seating, soft music, great service, and delicious food.
We hope you had a wonderful holiday. May peace find you.
At times life will conspire to keep us in one location for a while. It doesn’t take much of that before the urge to wander consumes us. After two months of being in the same location with nights getting colder and the big dark descending, we took off like our tail was on fire.
Night One of Travel
After my work day, we wanted to hop a couple hours south as this was going to be a long journey in a single weekend. Kendra is a fantastic planner with a near-perfect record, but not absolutely perfect. She had selected an exit with three possible free overnight spots. Should have been a pretty safe bet.
The Walmart parking lot was full to overflowing, so we went to the Home Depot right next door where they told us they didn’t allow overnight parking any longer. Frustrated, we grabbed Taco Bell and went to the third location, an old KMart lot that UHaul was using. The manager at UHaul looked at me like I was something smelly she had stepped in, and informed me they didn’t allow RV parking.
Sitting in the cab as night descended we were cranky and of two minds. Kendra wanted to return to the Walmart and circle until we could find space. I didn’t like the feel of that Walmart and wanted to go a half hour south and use a rest area. Rest areas can be loud and hard to sleep in about two times out of three, but Kendra acquiesced and we hit the lucky one in three odds. The big trucks woke me a few times, but overall it was a pretty good night’s sleep.
Night Two of Travel
Saturday was a long driving day with us pushing so we could start the next morning close to the pass over Mt Shasta into California. Kendra had us booked at a Harvest Host winery, which was an absolute delight. The space we were in was fantastic, with a nice view and in a quiet area. The winery had four beer taps, good soup, and excellent bread. The pets enjoyed some outdoor time before sunset and we slept peacefully.
Sunday began with us driving separately over Mount Shasta, which was a gorgeous drive. It was a very foggy morning, and we drove up out of the fog as we climbed the mountain. It was surreal and beautiful. We stopped for breakfast in the town of Mt Shasta and hooked up to tow the rest of the day.
I wasn’t completely well from my cold and Kendra was a week behind me so still fairly miserable. However; it was terribly exciting for us as this was the first destination that allowed us to flex our new Starlink muscles. It is a remote lake in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains and has no cell signal.
I believe this is the quietest spot we have had the pleasure of staying for any length of time. It has no major roads, or towns, nearby. It has bears, mountain lions, and a crazy amount of deer. I have fallen in love with all the manzanita which are the most prolific plant in the area. The lake has been drained for dam repair, and the campground is showing its age, but I love it and suspect we will return.
Sitting idle at home base for two months leaves little to blog about, I felt the urge to write, so I decided to tell the origin story. This is the tale of my travels to purchase and return home with Tortuga, including the embarrassing bit.
Fall of 2018
Kendra and I completed five years of planning and selected the RV we wanted to try living in. A 24j Winnebago View at a small RV sales spot on the north side of Columbus. It was small, nimble to drive, and big enough that I could work at the dining table.
As part of our due diligence, we checked online for the same make and model. We found the exact same RV being sold by a private owner for ten thousand less. That felt like a significant price variance to us. We went back to the shop, showed them the price, and asked them to reduce the price to half the difference. We thought that was completely reasonable, but they disagreed.
Our future RV was being sold in Arkansas, eight hundred miles away. The expense to fly there, rent a car, overnight in an Air BNB, and drive it home was less than two thousand. And so the adventure began.
If you have read past entries, you likely know Kendra did the planning for the trip. She suggested I get an Air BNB right in Tulsa, the closest airport to the RV, but it was going to be fifteen whole minutes in the wrong direction so she found me a tiny house thirty minutes toward the destination instead. If you ever find yourself in a situation where my wife is helping you plan a trip, and she advises you to do something you think is wrong, you are probably wrong. Almost definitely wrong.
Flying to Oklahoma
Due to the paperwork necessary for the transaction, we arranged for me to arrive on Friday. So, Thursday after a workday — which likely didn’t get my full attention — my wife shuttles me to the Columbus airport. Two planes and several hours later I arrive in Tulsa with a kink in my neck and a case of yawns. Why did I think it was a good idea to drive further tonight?
The rental car company was having issues, and the first two cars they attempted to put me in had something wrong. Thirty minutes later they finally put me into a van instead of a compact car. It would cost me a little more in gas, but it was also going to be more comfortable to drive so I happily hopped in and headed out.
Ten minutes later I had the roads all to myself, not another car insight. Well… almost to myself. I’d been driving on country roads for about fifteen minutes when I noticed a weird twinkling reflection in my headlights. It wasn’t stationary and it was definitely in the middle of the road, so I slowed down.
When I got close enough for the headlights to show me the scene, I see it is three raccoons arguing over, or playing with, a beer can that has been crushed completely flat. The two without the can high-tailed it off the road, but the one with the can hanging out of his mouth turned directly toward me, raised his little paws like it was a stickup, and — at least in my memory — his eyes got very big. When I came to a complete stop he finally recovered from the shock and joined his buddies, with his beer. Party animals I guess.
Late at night with no other cars on the road, you would think that one adventure in thirty minutes of driving would be it. Nay nay. Soon after the raccoon incident I turned left and had to come to a complete halt as five deer were fast asleep on the road. Not on the edge of the road, not off to one side, completely covering the road edge to edge. My arrival did not startle them. In fact, I had to give a tiny honk to get them to move, and they managed to look put out as they slowly shifted to the shoulder and laid back down.
After a very long thirty-minute drive I arrived at the tiny home, well after midnight, and took my bag inside. It was perfectly clean, but the outside temperature was 89F — which may explain why so few people were around. A tiny window air conditioner was off upon arrival, didn’t blow much air when I turned it on and was on the ground floor while the bed was in the loft on the opposite side of the cabin. As a cherry on top, the ladder into the loft faced the wall and came up through a hole on the left so I needed to rotate 180 degrees and crawl onto the floor. As a teenager, I would likely have enjoyed the challenge, but as an aging programmer at the end of a very long day, I felt like a beached whale trying to make it offshore. I didn’t break anything, and no video of the event exists, so I’ll call it a win.
The temperature in the loft felt like it was in the triple digits, so I flipped on the fan to blow air across me and let my head hit the pillow. At just that moment a helicopter flew in and hovered above the cabin. Looking out the window I didn’t see any spotlights. Why would a helicopter be hovering in the middle of nowhere without a light at this time of night? It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize it was the vibrations of the fan causing the sound. Unamused I moved the fan hoping to reduce the volume with no success. I really should have taken the place in town my wife recommended.
Driving to Arkansas
Surprisingly, I awoke feeling pretty good. The temperature had broken through the night, the humidity was down, and I was going to pick up our adventure mobile. It was all country roads leading to Arkansas, and super quiet. I watched carefully for coffee and enjoyed the sunrise.
Turns out I was on a country toll road. That was a new experience. I see there is a gas station at the next turn-off. I pulled off to find there is a fifty-cent toll, cash only. I had a dollar bill with me, but this was quarters only. Oklahoma was beginning to feel like a foreign country. Who carries quarters around? I never paid that toll.
The gas station continued with the feeling of being a stranger in a strange land as I pulled into the Kum & Go. Not a porn shop, just fuel stop with a convenience store and a messed-up name.
I am still riding the excitement of the event when I pull up and find her sitting in the driveway. I snapped the above selfie before ringing the bell and sent it to Kendra. It took several hours to do a full walk-through of the RV and shuttle to the attorney to sign all the paperwork. By the time we were done with it all and I was pointing the nose homeward I was tired.
I was also pretty disappointed. The previous owners had never actually used it like an RV. They would go from home to a site with full hookups and use city water, then return home. They had never used the fresh water tank, so it needed a full cleanse before it could be used. That also meant the bathroom was not useable so my vision of a leisurely two-day journey to the house while enjoying having a home on wheels was a no-go. The temperature was back in the nineties, the humidity was awful, and I needed a fill-up. I was tired and getting grumpy.
The Embarrassing Bit
I pulled into a Walmart with diesel and filled up the tank. As I went to pull out I took too tight of a left turn and managed to scrape the driver’s side along the big yellow and blue pole. No structural damage, but my very expensive purchase was damaged in the first hour of ownership.
By this point, I am physically and emotionally a wreck. I cussed a lot, then took the below photo and called home. Kendra and I decided we will deal with insurance and repairs in Ohio. Thankfully, we were very careful to coordinate the pickup with State Farm and they didn’t hassle us at all about expensive repairs immediately after purchase. Probably the main reason we are still with State Farm.
I pointed the nose northward, set the AC as high as it would go, and pushed for St Louis. I was targeting a rest area on the far side of St Louis, and by the time I arrived at the edge of the city, it was dark. Today I would know I should probably take the outer belt instead of going through the city center, but this was my first time driving an RV so I let Google maps guide me right through the middle.
There was heavy construction, and heavy traffic, the vehicle was making loud scary noises, and one section had lanes that were the exact same width as the RV. It was less than a mile, but it felt like an eternity as I chanted “please don’t hit me” in my head like a mantra. I could see the lines passing under the edge of the house instead of the outside. The noise, traffic, and stress had me tremendously freaked out.
As I am exiting the super narrow section, the seam in the pavement gave me a particularly hard bump and the air stopped blowing. I could hear the fan, but nothing was coming out of the vents.
By the time I get to the rest area, I am ready to explode. It was in the ’80s out, the thermostat said it was 88, the side was damaged, the air was broken, I was sweating, and I wanted to beat on something. Instead, I fired up the generator, turned on the house air, and went into the rest area bathroom to brush my teeth.
It was much cooler when I returned. I got the bed set up, turned off the air and generator, and passed out. I was awoken through the night by trucks coming and going, the temperature getting hot enough that I needed the generator and air again, and my mood kept getting darker. What in the hell were we thinking that we could live in an RV? We were out of our fucking minds and had made a huge mistake. We should have just moved to Portland.
Final Leg of the Journey
I gave up trying to sleep at 6am, fired up the air again, and snagged a Starbucks double shot from the now-cold refrigerator as I searched the internet for information on the failed air. A working refrigerator and strong caffeine lifted my spirits significantly.
As I opened my second can, I fired up the engine and found that the air was working. Likely ice built up somewhere in the system and melted overnight. I pulled out behind a trucker who turned out to be perfect to follow. They slowed down just before rough sections and sped back up when roads were better. As I polished off the four-pack of double shots — and listened to music — I let the miles flow behind me having a much more relaxing day. I was sad when the call of nature required me to pull off and lose my guide.
I stopped for lunch and found that Torta fits neatly into a single parking spot if you can back up over the curb. From there the trip home was smoother sailing, but overall I would give the trip one star tops. Thankfully we have ironed out the kinks and usually have superior trips to this awful pick up.
Undeniably, the most common question I am asked as a full-time RVer is “What is your favorite spot?”. Our country is overflowing with landscapes that will take your breath away. Literally, you can stand in places where you forget to breathe. I’ve watched other people do it, it’s not just me.
The question brings a plethora of images to my mind which always includes a couple of the big postcard spots like Monument Valley or the Grand Canyon —which are both spectacular —, but those definitely wouldn’t be the favorite spot.
I will immediately attempt to waffle on the answer. Do they mean favorite for desert, mountains, waterfalls, trees, ocean views, culture, or … something else? If they hold to their guns and say “No no. just the one.” then my answer is going to be the Oregon Coast. You may feel that declaring 350 miles of coastline as a single favorite spot is cheating — and you would probably be right — but it is my blog so my rules.
On this visit, we set up base camp in Seaside but threw out a wide net for exploration. We made it as far south as Tillamook where we saw a lovely old lighthouse and devoured some amazing ice cream and cheese. We took a scenic railway ride, hiked my favorite easy hike on the coast, and ate so much excellent food. I had been craving spaghetti and meatballs and managed to talk the crew into eating at the same Italian restaurant twice. … So much excellent food.
Bathroom of Note
In the town of Garibaldi exists the bathroom with the most godawful smell you will ever encounter. It is this perfect union of moisture, male waste, and fish cleaning station that generates a particular bouquet that one cannot forget. I have tried.
Our home base is close enough to Canada that I occasionally listen to Canadian radio, and my phone will sometimes tell me I am on a Canadian tower. However; with the pandemic, we hadn’t actually gotten to visit Canada since our arrival.
Recently the border reopened and we connected with friends to rectify this. With an early start, we went to Port Angeles and took the ferry into Victoria on Vancouver Island. It was a lovely ninety-minute ride with a big deal made when we hit international waters and they sold duty-free liquor. Bottom shelf stuff with no taxes was a huge draw. People really hate taxes.
My only visits to Canada in the last three decades involved a canoe and remote woodlands. I arrived assuming it would be pretty much what I was accustomed to in the US, and on the surface that was true. It was very similar to a US city if you spent thousands of hours polishing it. Remove most of the litter and graffiti, make the buildings posher, and landscape the shit out of everything. If Victoria is indicative of Canada at large, it is a very nice country.
For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by the British obsession with tea and the ceremony around it. When Boris Johnson was being harassed by reporters and came out to offer them tea I had a coworker from England tell me it was the most British thing he had ever seen.
Kendra booked us at the Tea Room of the Empress in Victoria for a proper tea. As excited as I was, you would think I would have ended up disappointed — it is just tea and snacks after all. It was an absolute delight. Each of us had our own different pot of tea and shared it with the table. All four teas were good and two of them were downright delicious. The ambiance was great, the food was tasty, and the experience was very enjoyable. If you get the opportunity, I highly recommend taking tea at the Empress.
One unifying trait of travelers is a passion for variety. Kendra and I love being remote, far from society and people, but we also love being in a city. Being immersed in the culture of a city is fantastic. You get access to music and a plethora of delightful eating experiences. However, cities are large, and most restrict traveler parks to the edges. When we visit Portland, we have wonderful experiences, but often find ourselves spending hours on public transit or driving.
Point Hudson delivers the fully immersed city experience in a tight little package. You park almost on the water, right off of downtown. A five-minute walk took us to any of a dozen different restaurants, a movie theater, numerous bars, shops, and music venues. Staying here was mad fun, and something we will repeat.
I chose the title for this blog entry before we had any drama, but disappointment hit us hard two nights ago. We returned from the beach just after sunset, clicked the button to fire up the generator and instead of starting, the entire DC power system shut down.
That system is all of our lighting, our fans, the refrigerator, the water pump, and the starter on the generator. Out came the flashlights and the scramble began. Kendra checked forums for information and I flipped every breaker and pulled every fuse. After three hours of failures, we decided the food would be lost and we would need to move the next day to a plugin to prevent damaging our batteries.
The next morning we packed up, turned on the engine, pressed the button for the slide, and nothing happened. We cussed properly. We needed a plugin, or I had to pull power off the batteries completely. We decided we could limp to another spot within the campground with the slide open. Kendra went to talk to the ranger about a spot while I retracted our levelers. I cussed again because the levelers also would not retract. They are hydraulics that spring retract so no power is involved beyond opening a valve to allow the fluid back into the tray. I cussed a little more as I thought that through.
I hopped on the phone calling mobile repair places. Only one of them was still in business and it had a two to three-week waiting list. He listened to my issue and all the testing I had done, then asked if we had jumper cables. I said yes, wondering where he was going with this. He had me take both positive leads and bypass a solenoid under the passenger seat. This involved physically unbolting and removing that seat. Victory! While Kendra monitored the cable to make sure we didn’t start a fire, I brought in the slide and pulled up the levelers. We were road ready once again.
In my mind, it was pretty obvious the solenoid was bad, so after we landed in a spot where we could plug in to charge up the batteries we went to an auto parts store. The part was not available even for order. Thankfully, we are always watching for ways to upgrade Torta and knew there was an improved solenoid that would grant additional charging to the house batteries as we drove. I had the part number saved on my phone and that was available. We just had to drive to the next town over to get it.
It took me about an hour —in a position that only a Cirque Du Soleil dancer might find comfortable— to get the part swapped. I flipped the house battery switch and nothing happened. Some tremendously creative cussing ensued, and I may have stomped my foot like a child.
We canceled our upcoming reservations, found a spot locally for four more nights, and got onto the waitlist for repairs. The View forum on Facebook had recommended checking a fuse, which I did, but my results were the opposite of what was expected because of the upgraded battery and solar. Now that bypassing a part was in my mind I grabbed my jumper cables and bypassed that fuse. Bingo!
That fuse was a CNN-150 bar fuse. We started calling around for that part and after a couple hours had exhausted every open auto, RV, hardware, and marine store in a hundred-mile radius. It is an older style fuse and everyone carries the newer style called mega instead of CNN. The newer one is a half inch shorter because fuck backward compatibility.
We ordered the part online and I bought one of the mega fuses then hit a hardware store for the parts so I could rig up something until the part came. It took almost 48 hours, and we lost all our items in the refrigerator, but we are safe, with parts on the way, the power is restored, and I am sipping a little whiskey while I write. This will live on as the CNN-150 incident for us.
The cherry on top came at midnight Sunday. Kendra woke me because our shore power kept cycling on and off. With the recent issues, and sleep-fogged brain, I was checking for heat on my temporary patch, and probably looking insane as I ran around trying to figure out what I had done wrong. It turned out the power at the campground was laid in the ’70s and needs upgraded. A big fifth wheel pulled in and when they plugged in it dropped our voltage from 120 to around 100 causing our EMS to cut our power. So not us, and not a big deal, just a little extra middle finger from the world.
I now return you to the regularly scheduled blog entry.
Along the Washington coast, just north of the Columbia river is a twenty-eight-mile beach of the finest sand I have ever seen. Where that beach ends on the southern side is a beautiful bluff with massive trees and two lighthouses named Cape Disappointment. In 1788 a British trader named John Meares came looking for the Columbia River. He found it but somehow managed to think it was a bay and gave that beautiful cape its horrible name. I am guessing rich parents instead of merit landed him his job.
Our site was about two hundred yards from the waves. I spent many hours walking on that beach and listening to the waves hit land. It is a close second to Pismo as my favorite beach. The town of Astoria Oregon was a short drive across a really cool bridge and we enjoyed exploring it as well. I can see why they called it heaven on earth in Star Trek.
Early mariners must have hated the Washington coast. On the East side of the Salish sea is a gorgeous island with huge trees and magical sunsets. The color of the water during sunsets is beyond words. This area was named by Captain Vancouver and his navigator Joseph Whidbey. They found that what they had hoped was a peninsula with a bay, was actually an island with a deep channel and gave it this awful name. At least they weren’t incompetent.
We stayed on Whidbey Island and could see the sunsets from Torta, though we typically went to the beach for them. It was just perfect until excrement hit the wind generation device.
Of the cities I have visited, Portland is far and away my favorite. There are many nice cities in our country, but none call me the way Portland does. It has done an amazing job managing growth boundaries, so you can go from cityscape into farmland or forest with a short drive instead of being surrounded by miles of urban spawl. They didn’t just cut down any inconvenient trees but expended the effort, and money, to preserve them affording the feel of a city in a forest. Serious investment went into public transit making it the nicest I have ever used. It’s the city with pride.
I had watched nervously when the news sources reported massive destruction as the city became a battlefront for that creepy group of heavily armed simpletons who looked like their parents met at a family reunion. Thankfully the news was blown out of proportion and the city is still amazing with very few scars.
We picked July because I have wanted to go to the Blues Festival for a very long time and was thwarted in the past. In addition to the festival, we went to music at two clubs, took two nice hikes, saw a movie, hit enough brewpubs that I lost count, had a long soak at the Everett house, and ate so much good food I may have gone up a belt size. That last item isn’t great news, but everything else was superb.
July is risky because it can get hot. In our final week, the weather turned on us. Temperatures yesterday peaked at 102F, during which we huddled in the dark with part of the rig sectioned off to maximize cooling in the house. This trend was predicted for the rest of the week, and our home has wheels, so we said “F” this and scooted out to the coast. Sitting at Long Beach with the door open, the sun providing my power, and a cool breeze blowing off of the ocean.
At the most north-westerly point of the lower forty-eight states exists a rough road along a jagged coastline. This remote windy road leads to the ruggedly beautiful Cape Flattery touted as the beginning of the world, and home to the cape people. A short hike from the parking lot lies breathtaking views for which I will let the pictures below save me a thousand words.
On the Olympic Peninsula we have had the rainiest spring in over forty years. Memorial day weather was cloudy with a chance of sun, so we snagged a couple friends and did the long drive to the beginning of the world. Our chance of sun came through. We stood at the furthest viewpoint for the better part of an hour, and for most of that it was beautiful and sunny to our left, and cloudy to our right. We shot a little footage of a sea lion warming his belly in the sunlight as he exited the clouds. This is definitely one of my favorite places we have visited.
While I love the adventure of traveling, I also enjoy having a habitual and familiar territory. Many years ago my wife and I were learning who the other was existentially, and I remember saying that my perfect environment was in the big trees, with mountains, waterfalls, and ocean views. That statement could be the tag line below the label Pacific Northwest. At that time, I had never been.
This entry is about the territory I can stomp on, right outside my door, without hopping in a car. I don’t have a waterfall, but I have all the rest in spades with a disc golf course as a cherry on top. Nearly every day I put on my boots and walk several miles through the trees, even in the rain. The images below were gathered over the last two weeks on my stomping ground.