Traveling is mega fun, but when we pulled into the Snoqualmie pass for our first night back in Washington it was amazing. We were in a dirty little parking lot that took fifteen minutes of trash cleanup before I would let the pets out, but it was cool, had huge trees, and mountains in every direction. An area of the world that makes you feel this good should really be your home.
We have three days of work on the engine of Tortuga in a couple weeks, so we camped near that instead of racing all the way back to our home area of Port Townsend. This is a heavy logging area with a disturbing amount of poverty and high prices, but also absolutely gorgeous. We had two amazing hikes and a third scheduled for today which was postponed for weather affording me the opportunity to catch up on blogging.
One day after work Kendra hauled me out for a hike. Typically an after work hike is pretty easy, but this four and a half miles was steep and rocky. I should have prepared better. Was wearing standard walking shoes, had no pack, and brought no water. In the future I will happily turn up over prepared rather than under.
The forest service road to the parking lot was even tough. Our CRV doesn’t have a lot of clearance and we dragged a couple times. Had to stop as we left to let the brake system cool off too. Well worth it for the views though. If you are in the area I highly recommend the hike, and a Jeep to get to it.
Another evening after work we headed to the North Cascade National Park for a hike. This one I was well prepared for, but it was much easier than Sauk Mountain. The entire area is breathtaking. Every turn of the trail exposes a new and surprising view of the many surrounding mountains. Of the five National Parks/Monuments we visited on this trip, North Cascade is probably my favorite. Will need to return here to do more exploring!
While I have not seen two little people fighting over a gold ring, Ogden Utah has so much smoke the sun looks very wrong, and the temperatures are in triple digits. Much like Mordor, not a place I want to be.
We spent last week at Juniper Campground outside of Park City Utah and it was also hot. We don’t like it hot. Our house is too small to sit inside all day. We were supposed to be headed north and up out of this horrible heat wave, but coming down the mountain we blew a rear tire. Since we have four rear tires that wasn’t a big deal safety wise, but it is a big deal otherwise.
We have set up camp at an RV Park here in Ogden, found a delightful pub for lunch, and Kendra will get us into a Les Schwab this week for all new rubber. We had an appointment already scheduled for new tires this upcoming Friday, just a few hundred miles further than we can limp with a flat.
While it was hot it was also pretty. There was a great hiking trail right outside my front door and I took advantage of that three times. Twice I tried to wait until the heat of the day had passed and do an evening walk, as I much prefer my exercise at that time of day. The temperature didn’t get the memo that it was supposed to go down in the evening. From just under a hundred to just over ninety is an improvement, but not what I had hoped. I found myself darting from shade to shade. Well, the pace I used was more aptly described as plodding, but I did target the next shade aggressively.
On my first hike I took photo’s, as is my usual pattern. About a half mile in I see someone put up a lovely sheet metal buffalo statue up in the trees and snagged a photo. A few hundred yards further on I spot an elk in the trees. As I take some pictures I realize he is standing very still, I imagine he thinks I haven’t spotted him. I fire up the video and walk in slowly waiting for him to run away. As I get to within twenty yards I am thinking this guy really needs to downgrade his opinion of his hiding skills. As I get closer yet I finally realize this is just another statue.
Along the way I see many more statues including black bear, cougar, deer, and more elk. Finally I get to a sign that reads 3D Archery Range. Sure enough on the way back I get in even closer and I see the statues are targets. Super cool feature that I saw people enjoying on Saturday morning. I’d have loved such a course when I still shot bow.
Cali and Shanti conversations #2
Cali: This is bullshit! Shanti: What do you mean? Cali: This place is crowded, my leash is six feet long, and it is so hot even I don’t want to go outside! That’s what I mean. Shanti: It isn’t so bad. There is a lovely dog park with lots of grass to roll in and it was only an hour drive to get here. We didn’t even go airborne this time. Cali: You were cowering in front of the passenger seat on the way here. Shanti: I wasn’t cowering, I was choosing a safe location to travel. Cali: I saw you quivering like a leaf when I woke up and went to pee. Shanti: *GLARE* This is why nobody likes you. Cali: I’m going to ask to go out again. Maybe we moved. Shanti: We haven’t moved. Cali: “OUT! OUT! OUT! OUT!” Kendra: *Opens door* Cali: Shit….still the same location and still fucking hot. Not going out.
In our time rolling through the Rockies, we were lucky enough to have friends come to visit us. I took a couple of vacation days and, combined with the holiday, we managed to pack in a lot of adventure. I caught a cold that made me miserable for about a week, but the only adventure I missed was a drive to the top of Mount Evans. A significant part of our fun was enjoying three hot springs. That may sound odd considering the heat “bubble” most of the country was suffering under, but at nine thousand feet we had comfortable days and nights cold enough to need the heater. Plus, we love very little in life more than soaking in hot water.
Our first soak was Iron Mountain Hot Springs, an amazing place with many pools, a view of the Colorado River, and gorgeous red mountains. So strikingly red it is truly shocking I was too lazy to take a photo, yet here I am nailing it. We happened to be camping on the other side of Glenwood canyon from Iron Mountain and with the years of drought that canyon had severe wildfires last year. It is still incredibly gorgeous and an engineering marvel, but with recent rains, it is now getting frequent mudslides that can cause long closures of Interstate 70 through the canyon.
We slipped through shortly after they cleared a slide and enjoyed our day of soaking and a lovely Thai dinner. Home we go, only to find the cool rain we enjoyed while soaking caused a new mudslide. Google maps had us driving almost four hours to get home, but Apple had a route that was just over two hours. Off we headed onto roads that were narrow with crumbling edges, long drops, and heavy traffic of other Apple maps users. It was such a rugged route Google didn’t even think it was a road. Our friend Steve did a great job of navigating the dangerous route, but it was a real clench your buttocks ride. We got through that section just before dark and felt for the many people we passed just starting into it as darkness descended. There were trailers and RV’s that had no idea what lay ahead. If this happens to you, go the other way.
Our second soak was Strawberry Hot Springs. A bit of history on this; for months my calendar every morning said “Strawberry Hot Springs”. Apparently, they open up the reservation system at random intervals announced on Twitter so my wife checked every day like it was tickets to Comic-Con. Well worth the effort I think. It is nestled down into a valley with views to die for and a stream running through it. The hot water trickles down from one side of the valley traveling from pool to pool until it mixes with the stream in a large swimming area that is cool, but not mountain stream cool because of the hot water. This is definitely on my top three list for hot springs. You can rent an adorable tiny wagon and spend the night. If you are in the area celebrating, I think this would be absolutely divine. In fact, this is a possible twenty-year anniversary spot for us.
Our final soak was Sulfur Hot Springs and it was also very nice but, as the name may indicate, it was sulfurious. A huge number of pools with varying temperatures and mineral content including two pools with magnesium so potent the water was opaque. Those pools were the strongest of smells and Kendra and I spent time in both these covered gems. I kid you not, the next morning when I dropped the kids off at the pool it smelled exactly like those magnesium pools. The lack of photos is really chapping my ass, but I’ll blame it on my cold and hope I don’t do it again.
Rocky Mountain National Park
O…M…G! My favorite National Park to date. There was a lot of burn damage, including the ranger station at the entrance, but it was absolutely gorgeous. This is a must-visit location as no picture could possibly do it justice. I was still not recovered enough to hike, but the views from the car and pullouts were breathtaking. Within a mile of the entrance, I saw my very first moose in the wild. I have spent many weeks, miles from civilization looking for a wild moose with no joy, then I see two in a single drive through this treasure.
Vacation over and back to the same old grind of going from beautiful place to beautiful place. It is a tough life, but someone has to do it.
Monday was an abnormally long travel day. We started very early to slip through Glenwood canyon before the rains and spent over eight hours traveling. Vail pass had construction and twice had signs that read “Extreme Bump”. I slowed to thirty-five miles an hour and would have gone five if I didn’t think someone might rear-end me. They were not exaggerating on those bumps.
We are now settled into the shade of Junipers near a lake outside of Park City, Utah. I’ve only gone on two short walks with the dog, but I can already tell I like it. A bit dusty, and hotter, but a lot more oxygen than we had last week.
Cali and Shanti conversations #1
Shanti: That was bullshit. All those people came to visit me and I was tied far from them denying them the joy of me. Cali: Uh huh, sure. Shanti: You saw the looks they gave me! They obviously came to enjoy me, not the parental unit. Those two are more boring than watching paint dry. Cali: I’m pretty sure they mostly wanted to pet me. I thought I might need a restraining order against the ginger. Shanti: *glare* Cali: We have loose dry soil and trees! Shanti: What are you so happy about? We just spent the entire day in that death trap on wheels. I swear to Dog we caught air in Vail pass. We are lucky to be alive. Cali: Bitch, please. I took a nap in our air-conditioned home and we were here. The servants even let us out immediately. It is warm and dry and delightful. Shanti: I hate you just a little bit. Cali: Magpie! Shanti: Magpie?!
We pulled into Denver to visit old friends and be near an airport so I could return to Ohio for a visit. It had been far too long since I had seen my parents and Ohio friends. That isn’t a Tortalog story, but it was absolutely wonderful to hug them all again.
We were excited to be at a campground right in the city after so long in very remote locations. Kendra knew it might be hot and planned ahead to get us a plug-in so we could run the air. It should surprise no one that Kendra has epic planning skills. It was very hot and the air came on before noon every day even though we had a decent amount of shade.
All the visiting was great, and we had a couple of very nice meals, but overall Denver is not a city I would recommend. The traffic is horrible, the roads are bad, public transportation is practically non-existent, and the air quality is so poor the mountains looked like an abstract painting. Not sure what they did with all the pot money, but they did not use it to fill potholes. We spent an entire week in Denver and apparently, nothing inspired either of us to take a photo as we have none. Pictured below is the amazing whiskey tasting my most excellent Ohio friends had for my visit. I miss you guys already.
A short drive from Denver is the adorable college town of Golden. The town is centered around a small river that is used recreationally by tubers and kayakers. The only time I walked without seeing someone enjoying the water was the before sunrise dog walks. I tried out the tubing scene with some friends and it was an experience. Not sure how many rapids I went through, but I know I lost it on three of them getting thoroughly dunked in icy mountain water. It was fun, and I plan to do it again when we return.
I loved that the entire city was walkable. Great paths, great sidewalks, and really great beer. On a lark, I ordered a peanut butter stout. Belching Beaver is my new favorite beer. It was available on tap at multiple locations and if you see it I highly recommend trying it. My picture says it is from Canada, but I think that someone at the bar was confused by the CA of California. I will be watching for this everywhere I go now.
We headed back into the mountains to beat the heat. This was a weak of record temps over a large part of the nation. Northern cities, like Portland and Seattle, are getting temps of well over 100 F. At over 9.1k feet, we are enjoying comfortable 60-degree weather with nights cool enough to run the furnace. Having a house with wheels has many benefits.
We’ve had a lot of amazing views in our travels, but our current camp site is possibly the best. At least top three. As I sit typing I can see out our window to a lovely lake backset by snow capped mountains. I managed to catch a cold now that I am not as diligent about my mask, and am so sad as I desperately want to get out and hike. This is another must return to location. I may hit urgent care tomorrow as there is no way I am leaving here without a little hiking.
Many years ago, before working from the road was on my radar, I saw a picture from an airport that stuck with me. It was a picture of one of those overhead banners like you will see at a festival and it read, “No one in their right mind comes to Helsinki in the winter. Except you, you badass. Welcome!” For some reason it really stuck with me and I thought to myself, I want to be a badass traveler.
I think Kendra and I have accomplished that. We aren’t going into extreme environments, but we are moving freely around disconnected from “the grid”. Our last plug in was a month ago and the only reason we had it was to resolve an issue with the battery monitor system. We had a couple very stormy and cloudy days where we ran our generator exactly twenty five minutes, just long enough for Kendra to make a baked potato in the toaster oven. Other than that solar has covered all our work and cooking needs. On sunny days we generate far more power than we use. Eventually our black tank drives us back to society for a dump, but we have gone twelve days out and think we could make it fourteen if we played our cards right.
Heron Lake New Mexico
New Mexico has a reputation for being poor and rundown. We have certainly seen some of that, and you should avoid driving through the reservation land in an RV as the roads are in pretty bad shape. Even so, I have very much enjoyed the state. Heron Lake was just gorgeous with great hiking and the rangers and hosts were all very pleasant and seemed happy to be there. Also it was very cheap per night, which a Ranger pointed out when I mentioned we were headed toward Colorado to keep ahead of the summer heat.
We pulled in on Memorial Day weekend, and it was fairly crowded, but we got the best spot on the lake by luck of someone cancelling. By Tuesday it had cleared out and we had the entire campground to ourselves. I find it a bit crazy that no one but us used that amazing park for four nights. On Friday night just two other campers came in. This is my vote for most underutilized camp in the country. The lake water is lowering as it suffers years of drought, but there is far more here than just the lake.
It was over seven thousand feet up and we both felt that thinner oxygen a bit, but got in great workouts. Probably my favorite workout hikes I have done to date. We are definitely going to return another year.
Eleven Mile Lake Colorado
Insanely gorgeous is the best description I can give. At 8.7k feet we had views of snow covered mountains and hills that looked like the shire across the lake. The site itself had big stones, and our cat was in heaven. We couldn’t hardly get her to come in for meals.
On the downside, the services were raggedy as hell. The state invested in very nice signs that read “Road Damage”, and boy was there. We have gone into distributed camping that was in better condition. The showers didn’t always have hot water, and if you put in quarters for a cold shower that was tough luck, no refunds. All the rangers seemed lazy and like they didn’t want to be there. There was no actual hiking to be found, so my walks were mostly on roads. While it was some of the best views we have seen, it was an overall disappointment and I don’t think we will return. Additionally, my lungs got tired and I didn’t sleep well. I woke up feeling like I couldn’t breath. I am sure I would eventually adapt, but I didn’t in the week we stayed.
Next week we travel to Denver to visit with old friends. The forecast shows temperatures in the nineties, which is sad as we will be at a park with plugins and need to run our air. We’ve been spoiled by lovely weather and sleeping with the windows open.
We’ve been in some wind on our journey. A snowstorm in Indiana with 30+ mph gusts hitting us sideways as we tried to drive the hell out of Indiana. On the bluffs overlooking the ocean in Oregon and California with 30 mph gale force winds and gusts up to 50mph. On Chimacum ridge of the Olympic peninsula with 60mph gusts. None of that prepared us for a windstorm in the mountains of Arizona.
The windstorm lasted for three days. It was unrelenting waves of wind that would drop off to about 5mph and then slowly build up until the camper vibrated. About three or four times an hour a truly severe one would come through. It would hit what was the normal cap and then a much strong wind would strike like a hammer blow. I have no idea what the windspeed of those blows was, but definitely more than the sixty I had experienced in the past. We weren’t in danger of being flipped, but we had to have the slide in, everything locked down, and we were largely trapped inside. It was so loud sleep was difficult. The first day and a half it was so dusty it looked like scenes from The Mummy. We had windows slightly open on the opposite side from the wind and yet everything was coated in a layer of grit. Late evening of the second-day rain, Tess, rolled in and stayed steady for about eight hours. The terrain soaked it up like an overly dry sponge, but the dust level was much reduced after that. In the future, we will take wind more seriously and get out of dodge.
The Solar is Joe?
Our plans originally involved a great deal of getting off the grid. World events thwarted that but are still what we see in our future. However; the solar setup was having issues and to Arizona, we came for upgrades and fixes. We had a faulty color panel, picture below, a faulty breaker, and two external panels that were a royal pain to use. As of yesterday, we are fully set up. In the below picture the 719W is our solar coming in, which includes about 150W from a new suitcase with stand. That is enough power that we don’t have to monitor energy consumption during the day even on rainy and cloudy days. Also, we added WIFI capabilities, can check the system from the web, and getting firmware updates all happens on its own. Today makes seven days off-grid, our longest ever, and we are hoping to hit thirteen before we leave. Our limiting factor is now our black tank.
The fun stuff
This part of Arizona is amazing. I love that this area has been so impacted by music. Every little town that Route 66 went through has kept it up so you can drive on it all over the place, and I am pretty sure Winslow wouldn’t have survived without the Eagles. There is far more to do and see than we will get done in our couple of weeks, but we shall return. Image gallery, the real reason people come to my blog, is below.
This is our second visit to Flagstaff, and I find it to be an absolutely beautiful area. Windy nearly all the time, but beautiful. Probably not more windy than Chimacum ridge was, but they get very little rain here so you can get a lot of dust with the wind. Yesterday we had 20 to 30 mph gusts and at one point it looked like a scene from The Mummy as dust swirled around the vehicle and came plunging in through our screen door. No one died, but the cleaning we had done earlier in the day was more than undone. Both of us are suffering with some sinus issues from the dust.
The main reason we came was to get our solar system up and running properly again. We had a breaker that was tripping between the panels and the batteries, so we could generate power but it wasn’t getting to us most of the time. Obviously we decided to camp without power the first few nights. While deciding to rough it with no working solar panels wasn’t our finest planning, Fort Tuthill was very pleasant. It has great hiking, a gorgeous 18 hole disc golf course, and a pine scent you cannot get from a bottle. I wanted to do more hiking and golfing yet when it was time to leave.
With the top solar repaired I ran updates on some of the devices I could connect to with Bluetooth. Did you know you shouldn’t update the battery monitor unless the batteries are fully charged? Well, I did not, so my monitor started saying I was fully charged, which was a flat out lie, leaving us a little clueless on a very important piece of information.
To fix it we need to fully charge the batteries and neither of us wanted to run the generator for several hours to accomplish this. Off we went to a friendly drive way with a plugin. This was in the mountains West of Flagstaff which is rural farmland mixed among national forest. Was a lovely area and I did some scouting back in the woods. I found an incredibly remote site that we may try on another visit, though it has a 10 yard section of seriously rocky terrain that will be scary to bring Torta across.
We still have parts coming to improve the solar, but we are doing well enough that we decide it is time. Thirteen days in the mountains East of Flagstaff. We scouted heavily the day before, brought our routers with us and finally found a spot with sun, a view, and a route that we felt we could get Torta into. We didn’t realize it came with dust storms, but for free camping it is glorious. Should get three of the four parts we are waiting on today and should be generating around 700 watts tomorrow. That is more than enough for me to work all day and us to cook with electric and never need a generator. It is exciting to be this independent.
Our country called for our help and we did our civic duty. We halted our perpetual travels, accumulated a collection of masks, and got our vaccinations. That is all we can do for our fellow countryman. The current fluctuating closures looks to be the new normal for years to come, so off we go!
Night One: Snoqualmie Casino
We had originally intended to spend two weeks slowly travelling our way to Arizona for some solar repair and upgrades, but fate laughed at that. Four days of all day driving was called for instead. We are out of practice at all our traveling skills, but they will come back. We hopped a couple hours Wednesday night after I got off work and crashed in a casino parking lot. I didn’t get as many pictures in this area as I would have liked, because it was absolutely gorgeous.
Night Two: Grande Hot Springs
After our first long day of driving it was great to relax in some warm water. I don’t think this is a place we would come back to, but it was nice to have full plugins for one day on the trip so we were set for the next two days off the grid. We had become too accustomed to unlimited water and power. Working our way up to three weeks off grid soon.
Night Three: Remembering it is about the journey as much as the destination
For our third night Kendra had found this off grid boondocking spot at Sublett Reservoir in Idaho. This was very off grid. Seven miles of dirt road on which we passed a full size bulldozer pulling a columbine and saw no other traffic. As you can imagine, a dirt road that a full size bulldozer utilizes frequently has a vibration that will loosen fillings.
There was no cell reception, no power lines, no people, and amazing peace. This is where the joy of travelling returned to me and I remembered that we aren’t just going from point A to B, but getting the opportunity to really see this amazing land.
Night Four: Utah High Desert
As far as I know the place we stayed had no name. We just pulled off the road north of Kanab Utah and joined many other people doing the same. Looked like many of them had this as there destination and had setup for a long camp. Gorgeous views of the red cliffs and many dirt tracks that people used to ride bikes and four wheelers on. We might stay here a couple nights in the future as it had excellent cell reception too.
Landed: Flagstaff Arizona
So here we are four days and 1,500 miles later. Flagstaff is such a beautiful area. At 7,000 feet it is much cooler than most of the state, and it has a very interesting environment dominated by the local pines. It is sunny, not too hot, and smells like warm pine needles. Our spot has too much shade so we need to run generator some, but it has great hiking and a disc golf coarse I can walk to.
As we do repairs and get ready to travel full time again, we are also taking the time to do some hiking. There are so many amazing hikes in Washington it would take a lifetime to do them all. Recently we did six hours of driving to see the Hoh Rain Forest. Since our house has wheels, we typically don’t drive that far for a hike. It is far easier to move the house and stay closer to the hike for a week or two. That didn’t fit into our timeline and I have been dying to check out a rain forest since we arrived.
The rain forest did not disappoint. One of our best friends thinks it is funny that I am so into moss, but moss is gorgeous. If I ever own a home again I won’t have grass, and will have moss everywhere. So many types of moss in the Hoh, and so many big trees! Rather than write your ears off, I’ll let the pictures do the rest of the talking.
By far and away the most common question I have been asked is how I work while living on the road. To be honest, it is the only question I have gotten, but I have been asked twice. Considering the tremendously limited popularity of my blog, any question at all is astonishing.
If you are reading this as a how-to article you will likely want to look into Starlink. This is a satellite service that Elon Musk is rolling out which is touted as fast, cheap, and coming soon. Being a Musk service the fast is probable, but the cheap and coming soon are neither likely. Historically, satellite broadband has been good for downloading, but the ping rates are far too slow to allow conferencing making it unviable for work. The Starlink service is touted as breaking this barrier and early reviews agree that it does. Time will tell.
In the meantime, the only broadband option that is versatile enough is cellular. If you just walk into a cellular store looking for a broadband account, they are going to price gouge you so hard you will think you’re passing a kidney stone. I recommend following Technomadia. This couple is on top of every deal from every cell service and will also have the newest information available about the Starlink product. We subscribed to their full feed about a year before going on the road and managed to get deals that don’t charge a pound of flesh.
My connectivity equipment consists of a WeBoost, AT&T router with 100 gigs a month, Verizon jetpack with “unlimited” bandwidth, and two T-Mobile phones with “unlimited” bandwidth. There are quotes around the word unlimited as both companies will throttle you down to half the speed of smell if you use a lot of data. With Verizon, we can get approximately 100 gigs and both phones 50 gigs. This is more bandwidth than I require for work, but we also use it to stream entertainment many evenings. The WeBoost helps a lot if the signal strength is on the low side, giving you a bit better download and much better upload than you could get without it. That may not sound like much, but it has made the difference between being able to stay where we want, and having to move many times.
The office configurations
If you have a giant fifth wheel you might have room for an office with an office chair, but in a small RV you have the dining table or the cabin seats to use and that is all. I began our journey with my laptop as my primary monitor and an energy star rated 17″ side monitor as seen above. This was passable, but a lot less monitor than I was accustomed to, it dominates the dining area, and the comfort is less than ideal.
It’s bigger on the inside
I like to keep up with all the newest tech gadgets because I am a big old nerd. I stumbled across a video review of a VR product called Immersed done by Cas and Chary. The last time I had tried VR it was fairly primitive, but that was likely in the ’90s. It was certainly not good enough that I would consider working in it. Add to that my aging eyesight, and I was fairly skeptical, but with the Oculus Quest priced so low, I felt it behooved me to give it a try. So glad I did. I now have four huge monitors in a virtual coffee shop where I spend my workdays. Are there downsides, you ask? Twice I have attempted to set my very real cup of coffee on a completely virtual table. Sorry, no video of that. In the video below, on your monitor, it may look small, but in VR these monitors are huge. I would estimate I set mine at around 36″, but the upper limit is far bigger.