Friday, May 27, 2016

Up the West Coast

Highway 101, just North of the California/Oregon border
With the exception of San Diego to LA and a small section of the far northern, extra twisty end of California Highway 1, I have driven the entire coast of California, Oregon and Washington at one point or another prior to this trip. However, it's the stretch of US Highway 101 between Crescent City, California and Newport, Oregon that I haven't driven in well over 20 years. As we are currently, slowly making my way up that particular 230 mile stretch of Highway 101, I got to thinking a bit about my past history with this portion of our road trip.

Before I tell you about that trip 20 years ago, I need to go further back in time to my introduction to the road trips. As a child my parents would shuttle me and my brothers most every summer the 1,750 miles from Seattle to Canadian, Texas to visit my grandparents. However, my memories of those childhood trips are mostly of the places we stopped along the way such as any motel with a swimming pool and Hole N' The Rock. It wasn't until college where I truly fell in love with the driving portion of the road trip. Perhaps it started with reading Kerouac's "On the Road" and "The Dharma Bums", then later looking for any road trip I could be a part of, such as one weekend drive from Pullman, Washington to Oakland, California for a Grateful Dead concert that I didn't even have tickets for.
The southern Oregon coast is amazingly beautiful!
However, the trip that really cemented my love for the road trip was the one that was completed over 20 years ago on the last time I drove the stretch of Highway 101 between Crescent City, California and Newport, Oregon. It was after I had graduated from Washington State University and I received what I considered my graduation present from my mother: use of her Texaco gas card. I don't think that use of her gas card was really meant as a graduation present, rather it was a means to allow me to drive to Texas and help out on the family ranch. During that trip I drove all over the Southwest making my way to Texas. When my work finished up in Texas my friend Chris flew down to join me for the drive back home to Seattle. I didn't have a lot of money on that trip, and I remember at times we fed ourselves with burritos purchased at Texaco food marts with my mother's gas card. When we visited Carlsbad Caverns, the $5 admission for the cave tour was paid for with quarters, nickels, and dimes scrounged from the car.

As we reached the West Coast near  Los Angeles we headed North up the Pacific Coast Highway. The windy road did a number on my 1988 Pontiac Grand Prix's breaks. By the time we reached San Francisco I had to take the car in for some expensive break repairs (luckily funded by my parents). The trip had already taken longer than intended and it was time for Chris to return home to Seattle. I said goodbye to Chris as he flew home to Seattle. I was lucky to have my college buddy Kelly offer me a place to stay with him and his brother in Walnut Creek as my car was in the shop over the weekend. It was during that visit that I was provided with my first experience with sushi (I think I had told Kelly I wanted to have a typical California meal). With my car in the shop for the weekend, and nowhere to go or way to get there I was invited to join Kelly for a visit to his parents in Chico, California (home of one of my favorite beers Sierra Nevada).

When the Grand Prix made it out of the shop, I decided it was time to make my final push all the way to Seattle up Highway 101 from San Francisco. I drove most of the nearly 900 miles in a single push driving over the Golden Gate Bridge and on up Highway 101. I made at least one stop in Oregon along the coast to sleep in the car for a few hours before continuing up the coast eventually cutting over to I-5 north of Newport, Oregon, and heading home. This is pretty close to the path we will probably take, but we will take much longer to cover those 900 miles.

I don't think the idea of me and my family being on this 9 month trip was something my mother particularly liked. Maybe it wasn't the road trip so much as having her two of her grand daughters away for so long. However, I think in many ways, she is the one that cemented my love of the road trip by giving me use of that gas card 20 years ago. And thank you mom for never making me pay you back for those many hundreds of miles of gas you bought for me.  I truly love road trips, and with this trip I don't think I've fully become the "King of the Road Trip", but perhaps a Duke or something.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

10 Things... From the Girls

The girls’ recent writing assignment was to tell us 10 things they will miss (or have  enjoyed) on the trip and 10 things they are looking forward to when returning home. Here are their lists… 

Siena’s -- 10 Things I liked About the Trip: 
1. I liked all the cool mid-evil looking buildings in Quebec City.  
2. I liked staying with The Thompson’s so long it felt like we lived there. 
3. I liked visiting all our family in Disney World and on the Disney Cruise. 
4. I liked visiting the ranch in Texas and playing with Millie, Mars and Quigly.
5. I liked skiing in New Mexico with Bando & SaBebe.
6. I liked seeing Nonni & Nonno in Palm Springs and staying at their house with them. 
7. I liked going over the Golden Gate Bridge in San Fracisco.
8. I liked going to Alcatraz and learning about all its history and the people who lived there.
9. I liked staying at the awesome KOA in Petaluma and doing activities every day and meeting friends. 
10. I liked the cool Skunk Train and seeing the Redwoods from the train. 

                                From our tour of Alcatraz, although this may be how 
                                we all felt at a few points on this trip :-) 

Siena’s -- 10 Things I am Excited About For Getting Home (in order of how excited I am about it):
1. Seeing all of my friends and family and telling them about our trip. 
2. Playing with Legos (even though I won't have any new sets right away).
3. Celebrating holidays AT HOME!!
4. NOT driving get with our house on the back of our truck and people looking at us weird. 
5. Sewing clothes for my American Girl Dolls. 
6. Seeing and playing with all the toys we left behind. 
7. NOT waking up to Mommy’s yoga butt in my face every morning. 
8. Having ONE backyard – not like a million. 
9. Decorating my room how ever I want it. 
10. Sleeping in my nice comfortable REAL BED NOT COUCH!! 

Nadia’s 10 Things I Will Miss about the Trip: 
1. I will miss the adventures.
2. I will miss being with my family. 
3. I will miss going to different states.
4. I will miss going on cool hikes.
5. I will miss exploring campgrounds with Siena.
6. I will miss exploring new trees. 
7. I will miss staying at cool campgrounds.
8. I will miss watching cool movies and saying “I've been there”!
9. I will miss playing playmobile in the forest with Siena.
10. I will miss meeting new people.

                          One of our cool hikes at Yosemite 

Nadia’s 10 Things I am Looking forward To when I get home: 
1. I will like sleeping in my own room.
2. I will like seeing family that we missed on the trip.
3. I am excited (of course) to see friends. 
4. I am excited to go to real school.
5. I am excited to play at our park.
6. I will like to see our toys.
7. I will like playing in our backyard.
8. I am excited not to go out to eat so much.
9. I am super excited about having my own room.
10. And definitely not being in the truck. 


Saturday, May 21, 2016


After Kathy's post the other day I got to thinking about our life at RV parks and how we've come to really enjoy KOA's. Of course KOA's aren't perfect, it's just better than many of the alternatives. It was considering those "alternatives" that got me thinking and wanting to write another post about the challenges of life on the road. It's been seven months since I last complained about life in our tiny box, so I figure it's been long enough and I can now recycle the topic.

Obviously there are numerous challenges, but in most every way the challenges are smaller than they are back in our house in Seattle, just as our home on the road is smaller. For example, back in our house in Seattle, around the Christmas prior to our trip, our washing machine was found to be leaking. Six months later, numerous calls to our insurance company, our mortgage company, various contractors, and a few thousand dollars spent on our part, our floor finally fixed and we were without use of kitchen for only 4 of those 6 months. Compare this to while traveling, we found our camper toilet to be leaking, six hours later and a couple hundred dollars and the local RV repair guy in Gettysburg fixed us up. I know the example is kind of comparing apples and oranges, but no matter how big your problem is in an RV it is almost always resolved in a week or two (perhaps at the cost of a new RV, but that's still far cheaper than a new house). So now that I've admitted that all of my complaints and problems are small problems, here are the issues I've been thinking about lately.

Small Challenges - There are four of us living in a very small space. Before this trip I naively thought (thanks to misleading blogs on the internet) that if we were limited to such a small space we would limit our belongs to the bare necessary for happy survival and everything would be more simple. Well we did limit our belongs a lot, several times. We carefully limited our belongings before we left. Yet those items we we originally left Seattle with were way too much, and consequently have been left all over the country (Montana, Virginia, New Mexico, Oregon) with friends and family (thanks everyone!). There have been multiple LARGE shipments of stuff back home (big thanks to the moms for allowing us to ship our stuff to you). I am certain we could still downsize a lot more, but at this point why bother. So we continue on with all of the stuff supposedly needed by a family of four and everything is piled into every corner everywhere (as those who have been unfortunate enough to tour our camper will attest to). The problem is when you suddenly need one item that due to the passage of a few days has slowly migrated to the bottom of the pile. You can't find it. From time to time I will climb to the side of the bed where my belongs are stowed and try and organize it, and it will stay organized, but usually only for a few hours at best.
My pile of worldly belongings hasn't been organized in a while.
Internet - The largest bill we pay these days in our cell phone bill, and that's because we've bought so much data (20GB shared on AT&T and 10GB on a Verizon MiFi). This month for the first time we've gone over our AT&T data. On the road I've found pretty much all wifi (free or paid) sucks (this includes our beloved KOA)! Two of the very few exceptions are Starbucks (thank you Google) and Tim Horton's in Canada, but you can't spend all your time hunting down Starbucks (or Tim Horton's). Often when you do find your Starbucks or Tim Hortons and plan on getting some work done there, you find everyone else in the area had the same idea too. Also, pretty much every free or paid for wifi I've found blocks VPN connections, which is necessary for my work. Add to this that the places we most want to be, such as the National Parks, often have no cell signal and rarely have wifi.

Public Restrooms - This is an example where I really like KOA. Their restrooms are always clean and have soap in them (yes, many public restrooms, especially at camping areas lack soap). Call me crazy, but I like using soap when I wash my hands. However, KOA is the exception here.

Public Showers - Again, this is another example where I like (most) KOA's. You pay more at a KOA, but you (generally) get a clean shower with good water pressure and plenty of hot water. Many camp area showers lack hot and cold water control, but instead just have a single push button allowing a minute of tepid water, or worse require quarters or tokens for 5 minutes of tepid water. As much as I dislike public restrooms, taking a shower in an nasty shower stall where the water is cold and doesn't drain is just not pleasant.

Neighbors - When you're living in your RV in an RV park, your neighbor is often a few feet outside of your window. RV parks are rarely wide open places with tons of space for camping. You can find the wide open spaces in US Forrest Service land or BLM land (which we have used), but then you don't get power, water, or sewer, and it doesn't take long with four people living a tiny camper before these things become an issue. So we have stayed in a lot of RV parks, and we have met a lot of wonderful people, but we've also had a lot of weird interactions. Take the night in St Augustine, where we had recently turned off the lights to sleep. It was hot, so all the windows in the camper were wide open. We hear in the distance someone yelling for help. I grab a flash light, run out into the night, and find in near complete darkness, a one legged man trapped under a GIANT Harley (the one leg was trapped under the motorcycle). With a fair bit of work I free the guy, he thanks me, has me help him load his wheelchair in his pickup, he tells me he is in a hurry to get to his Christmas party so I have to go wake someone up and have them help me stand up his bike, he doesn't have time for this. Then he admits to drinking all day long and drives off. As I say, some people are really nice, some others are RV park people.

Barbers - I really miss my barber! As some of you might have noticed from our more recent pictures I've given up on haircuts and shaving. Around Thanksgiving, I let Kathy give me a haircut. With some clippers set to 5, I thought what could go wrong. Turns out, that as much as I love my wife, she is no hair stylist. After her haircut I looked like I was going through chemotherapy. Luckily my brother-in-law Mike was able to mostly fix it. I made another attempt at a haircut and a clean professional shave on our cruise. It cost a fortune and wasn't very good. So now I've given up on shaving and haircuts until I get home. The problem is that Kathy is starting to like my new Grizzly Adams look.
Me on Dec 26, 2015
Me today.
This is just a sample of a few of the challenges that have been bothering lately. Yet I would gladly put up with them until the end of time if I could to avoid the big challenges that are to come. One challenge in particular is the thought that soon I will have to go back to working a more regular work schedule. Although I really do very much enjoy my job at the University of Washington, it is going to be very difficult going back to a full time job away from my family after spending nearly every hour of every day of the past nine months with my wife and two daughters.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Change of Perspective - KOAs

We just left Yosemite National Park and as I have been saying to anyone that will listen, it really was one of my favorite spots. The lush greenery all around, the multiple waterfalls throughout the park and the majestic views from every spot made it an amazing park to visit. I knew from the beginning I wanted to visit Yosemite on this trip, but we did not have very clear plans for the second half of the trip so we waited to make reservations. I knew it would be hard to find spots in the park, but I was hoping we would get lucky. When we finally made some plans for the tail end of our trip, we were about 2-3 weeks out and Andrew started searching spots to stay, everything in the park was booked, but what we did find was a lovely KOA on the West side of the park in Mariposa. It was about 30 miles from the park entrance, but the drive into the park followed the Merced River, as a passenger it was a lovely drive. As the driver, the road was narrow and curvy making it a little stressful. Even though the KOA was far from the park it was as close as we could get, with services. We could have found some BLM land to camp on, but we were also in need of showering and doing laundry, so for us, it worked perfectly. Because we drove in the first day, we got to meander around the park at our own pace, stop and take photos and explore crazy roads, like the journey up to Glacier Point. The second day we utilized the public transportation system. The YARTS (Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System) picked us up right in front of the KOA and dropped us off at the Visitor Center, then we were able to take the Yosemite Shuttle to get to the trail head for our hike up to Vernal Fall. Then, after a long day of hiking we were able to get back on the YARTS for the drive home and rest, read or just stare out the window, making the ride home very relaxing for everyone, which is one of the beauties of public transportation. 

KOA Midpines/Mariposa outside of Yosemite National Park
When we started this trip, I did not know much about KOAs, I had my narrow minded judgements about them, assuming it wasn’t really camping and it was a little cheesy. But this trip has changed my mind completely. When I can stay so close to amazing parks like Yosemite, and get great services, including public transportation, I became a fan. We have stayed at some really great KOAs on the this trip, Yosemite was beautiful, Healdsburg/Cloverdale, was another one of my favorites, with its lake and gorgeous trees and covered forest.
Lake at Healdsburg KOA 

Our camper nestled among the trees at the KOA in San Diego

We also really enjoyed the KOA in San Diego, just a 10 minute drive from the San Diego Zoo, the KOA had a huge pool, climbing wall, giant bouncy pillows and fun bikes for the girls to rent. The great thing that we have found about the KOAs is that they are very comfortable and consistent. On this trip, they have been a great place for us to stay when we want to explore a city as well (like the KOA in Vegas, next to a casino and a short Uber trip to the strip!), the spots are cheaper than a hotel room and in most cases they are centrally located, making it easy to get where we want to go.

KOA Las Vegas
I will always prefer nature and forest over city and concrete, but in most cases the KOA will usually provide a little piece of nature, close to a fun city. We have done our share of boon docking, national and state park camping and after being away from a real home for almost 9 months, as silly as it sounds, KOAs have started to feel like home. We know we can get clean showers and bathrooms, most have pools and fun playgrounds and we are able to plug in and refill water, it always feels like a little reboot after being away for a bit. Plus, they have a really easy to use app for the iPhone which makes it super easy to find a KOA near by and has tons of info to determine if it will work. The girls now ask if we get to go to a KOA, when we are heading out to a new place. Now that we are KOA members (or VIPs) we will likely renew our membership and explore KOAs closer to home. I don’t want to sound too cheesy or like a KOA ad (probably too late), but the bottom line with so many things on this trip, our perspective has definitely shifted on this subject and it's important to share that. Everything might not be exactly what you think and trying out something new might be a very rewarding experience. 

Friday, May 13, 2016

Siena's Review of the California Science Center

Yesterday we went to the California Science Center. The first thing we did was an experiment with air presser and I learned why your ears pop, it is because when you go down or up the air pressure outside your head changes and the air pressure inside your head stays the same, so popping your ears makes the air pressures the same, then your ears don't hurt. 

I also learned how to shoot an air bazooka. It was really funny because when Nadia tried to shoot the cups she totally missed and shot the lady in the stomach, but when I did it I hit the cups on my first try.

Then we did some airplane experiments and Mommy put on some weird airplane wings on her arms and there was air blowing so maybe it felt like she was flying or something but I don't know because I didn't do it. 
Nadia with airplane wings in a wind tunnel
After that we went to see the Space Shuttle Endeavor and we saw a video of the Endeavor driving down the streets of L.A. that made driving the camper look easy as pie. 
The Endeavour

Then Nadia wanted to do a tightrope bike. It was really cool how the bike balanced so it was on a tightrope 3-stories above the ground. The bike had a stabilizer that was like a big metal torpedoe hanging below the bike. When you go backwards it is pretty scary, also I when the hands free but don't worry there was a net and I was strapped in so all good.

Then we went to see a cool movie about the National parks which I liked because a lot of the parks in the movie we had been to so that made it that much cooler. After we had done all the things we wanted to do we left but mostly because there were a bunch of school groups on a field trip so it was really crowded so we left but we did have a really fun time while we were there.

Thoughts About Finishing Up

Santa Monica Pier - finishing point of Route 66
I was thinking this morning about finishing things. You see I have a problem finishing things; for every blog post that’s been published out there for you to read, there are probably two others that never made it out there for the world to read. There are a number of reasons for this, sometimes I get distracted, sometimes the muse just leaves me, sometimes I decide that the 5 paragraphs I’ve written are just dumb, sometimes it’s just hard to finish things while being constantly on the road. I do save everyone of my unfinished blog posts, but rarely do I go back to complete them (I do hope this post eventually is finished).
Kennedy Space Center - final location for the space shuttle Atlantis
This problem goes beyond just my blogging, it is also sometimes a problem in my professional life. As I travel I do a small amount of work for my employer University of Washington. Just yesterday my coworker Christine was asking me if I was going to finish up a couple of tasks I had started. I believe the work is complete, but I haven't marked the tasks complete. I wanted to make sure everyone involved is happy (or at least content) with the work before I truly mark the task complete. The problem is that the tasks sit there, not getting finished up, another example of my difficulty finishing up things, especially while on the road.
California Science Center - final location for the space shuttle Endeavour
As for this trip, the final plans and reservations have now been made, and we are on the final stretch. As we head for home, and I wonder if I am going to really be able to finish up this trip and consider it marked complete. Sure I will be home, sure I will go back to working in an office, but will I truly go back to my “old” pre-trip life? Will there be some fundamental life change from this trip that will be noted? Is that what it means to finish this trip up? Maybe to truly be finished do I need to sell the truck and camper and perhaps buy a Harley so that the next trip will be completely different (don’t worry Mom, I’m not going to buy a motorcycle...well, I probably won’t). Or perhaps as we enter Washington State for the first time in 9 months we will decide as a family we don’t want this trip to be finished. As we drive up to Seattle, we just keep going north and do another loop (back again in February). I doubt that will happen. 
Key West Florida - Finishing point of Highway 1
I look forward to the change in our life style that will come from living in our house again, but like so much else I don’t think this trip will ever be finished. Perhaps as we pull the camper into our own driveway we will just be making another stop in this trip, but this time just for a while longer than usual stops we've made in the past 9 months. Eventually we will be heading off on another adventure. There is still so much to see, so many places to go.

UPDATE: For those unfinished work items from my job at the University of Washington, I finally got around to calling my coworker and confirming that everything is considered resolved. I say resolved, because I'm pretty sure the work will never be finished.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Nadia’s Blog – Seeing Family & Friends

A couple weeks ago we went to Las Vegas, it was SOOO cool! But, it was only one day. We drove down the strip in the camper when we got in town, I was like WOW – when I saw the Eiffel Tower! Then we went to our campground and we all took showers and then we headed back down the strip to  have some lunch and meet our friend Amber!!! After lunch we explored Amber’s hotel/mall – Caesars Palace. After we explored the hotel for awhile we went up to a restaurant and had sushi for dinner. It's was fun! Nice to see you Amber! 

Mommy & Amber at Caesars Palace
After we went to Las Vegas we went to Zion National Park and we got to see our friends The Goldsmith’s – yeah!!! We stayed in a nice hotel at the entrance of the park, with joining rooms with our friends. After we unloaded the camper we all went swimming and it was fun! 

Swimming with our friends! 
After swimming, we played football in the grass right outside of our rooms. The next day we went on a hike on the Riverwalk Trail. While we were hiking it started raining, then lightning and thunder and then it started hailing. AHHHHHH!!!!! I headed back early with Beth, William and Ella – while Sydney, Siena, James, Daddy and Mommy hiked to the end of the trail. The next day it was nice (and free to get in the park because it was the 100th Birthday of the National Parks). We hiked two super cool hikes, one to the watchtower (?) and the second to the emerald pools. Both were fun, and way better in the sunshine. It was so fun to see our friends!!! 

All the kids heading into Zion National Park 

Hiking in Zion 
After Zion, we headed to Palm Springs to see Nonni and Nonno!!!!! The first day we went shopping with Nonni, ate In and Out burger and hung out by the pool. The next day we went to Joshua Tree National Park, we didn’t see the actual Joshua Tree – we did see a lot of Joshua Trees but not the biggest one. We also took a tour of Keys Ranch, which is where people had built homes and lots of buildings and lived in the desert for a long time. After Joshua Tree, we went swimming when we got home. We loved Nonni & Nonno’s pool. The next day we went to The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens. We got to ride a camel and we went to the butterfly house and a butterfly landed on me, but mommy didn’t get a picture :-(, a butterfly landed on Nonni too. I loved being at Nonni & Nonno’s house in Palm Springs. 

Our camel ride at the Living Desert

Butterfly on Nonni's wrist 

The one photo Mommy got with the butterfly close to me. 

We loved playing in the pool at Nonni & Nonno's!

On Friday, 4/22/16 we got to Sanya and Phil’s house. It was so cool, I had so much fun. When we got there, Ava was home, then Peyton got home. They have two cute dogs named Bristol and Molly. They have two cats named Fred and Wilma. Peyton has two guinea pigs, named Zeus and Snickers. After we got to see all the pets Ava took us on a bike and scooter ride to the park. When we got home we played Wipeout and it was funny. Then we went in the pool. Then Sanya and Phil made us cheeseburgers and the adults had steak. The next morning we had to wake up at 5am to go on the Pat Tillman run, it was 4.2 miles, I stayed with Mommy, Ava and Siena, then I lost them and then I got to run with Sanya, Phil and Peyton. I finished the run with Phil and we beat the zebra!

Early morning, but lots of fun running with our friends!

After the race we went out for breakfast, at a place called Snooze, it was so good. Ava and I played ping pong – Ava was way better than me. After breakfast we went back to their house and had some chill out time. After that we went in the pool for a long time and then we had dinner. On our last day, :(we went to World of Beer and I had crab cakes then we went back to their house. When we got home we got to swim for awhile and we did a swimming race. After that we all played Minecraft, then we had a light dinner, which was very good. Then we went to bed…In the morning, I got ready with Ava and we went downstairs, we had Lucky Charms for breakfast. It was busy morning for their family, everyone was getting ready for school and work. We had to say goodbye. I think Sanya & Phil’s house was one of my favorite spots.  Thank you for letting us stay at your house!              

We get to come home in 4 week's yay!!!!: )