Our Favorite Places

During conversations with people who are curious about our lifestyle, we are often asked what places we have enjoyed most.  Below is a list of some of our current favorites in different categories.  Keep in mind we have not seen the entire country, only about 28 states, and still have plenty more to see. For the next few months we are going to travel to some new places including 7 National Parks, and we are certain this list will change.

Large Cities:

  • Austin, TX
  • Portland, OR
  • New Orleans, LA
  • Baltimore, MD (our hometown)
  • Washington, DC

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Lighthouse Hosting – Heceta Head, Oregon

After a less than enjoyable stint as camp hosts at a State Park in California, coming to Heceta Head Lighthouse in Oregon has renewed our joy for volunteering. Also, we now realize that we prefer interpretive volunteering over campground operations. It is said that there is no better way to learn about a subject than by teaching it. Last summer we learned a lot about birds and the history of the Outer Banks, NC, by volunteering at the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. In just a few short weeks at Heceta Head Lighthouse on the Central Oregon Coast, we have a heightened appreciation for historic lighthouses and a firm foundation of understanding about the history of the Oregon Coast and Pacific Northwest, in general.

Heceta Head Lighthouse is one of nine historic lighthouses on the Oregon Coast. It is said to be one of the most photographed lighthouses in the country, largely due to its scenic perch on a rugged headland. The lighthouse was rededicated last year after an extensive two-year renovation and is now in its full glory. The two ton 1st order Fresnel lens, the largest of its kind, is completely intact and is a masterpiece of 19th century design and engineering, with all the beauty and craftsmanship of high art. Built in the 1890s to provide a navigational aide for what was known as the “dark coast,” a 120 mile gap between lighthouses, it was and still is remote. The lighthouse keepers at the time had a lot of responsibility and work maintaining the light, but the real effort and toil was simply living on this wild and rugged frontier. Today, the lighthouse and keeper’s home are easily accessible and visible from the Pacific Coast Highway. It is open everyday for tours and staffed almost entirely by volunteers, which is us this month.

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The Pros and Cons of Full-time RVing

To the outside world it may appear that Full-time RVing is all rainbows and butterflies, a constant adventure and permanent vacation.  What may not be evident are its complications and challenges, yet these too can be opportunities for honing one’s skills and growth.  Now that we are no longer newbies and have some time and experience to reflect on our journey, here is our list of the pros and cons of this lifestyle.

Cons:

  • Campfires – For recreational campers, building a fire at the campsite is a part of the experience. For full-time RVers, campfire smoke is like dense pollution that quickly fills every square inch of the RV with little escape, minus a strong breeze in the other direction.  Sometimes the smell is only removed after a few days and a couple loads of laundry.
  • Mildew and mold are common.  In very small spaces, one begins to realize how much moisture we, as humans, put off.  In certain climates it is not uncommon to wake up with all the windows inside and much of the walls covered with a moist dew.  This turns into mildew or mold if preventative measures and diligence are not taken.
  • Smells seem amplified in such a small space.  The “off gassing” of two humans and two cats in a tiny space is a regular assortment of interesting and usually undesirable odors.
  • Things break a lot –  RVs are houses that are subjected to the abuse of highways and roadways at 60+ mph.  Many of the systems in RVs are of questionable quality to begin with, and after a decade and 50,000 miles things fail with some regularity.
  • Noisy weekend campers are out to party and get away.  This often conflicts with the full-timer wanting a normal quiet night at home.  This can be avoided by staying away from public parks by large population centers, especially on weekends.
  • Tiny shower – RV bathrooms are tiny with minuscule showers. They are so small that simply turning around is an exercise in balance, control, and spatial awareness.
  • Inside traffic jams –  If we are both moving around in the RV at the same time, we are with certainty going to be in each other’s way.
  • Gas costs when travelling.  We bought an RV to travel, but at 9 miles per gallon at $4/gallon, it not hard to visualize dollars flying out of the tail pipe.
  • Creepy Bathrooms – Sometimes using the facilities at campgrounds is not unlike walking into a horror movie.  Restrooms and showers at campgrounds are rarely well cared for and can be down right creepy.
  • In such a small space, clutter and mess are as easy as a few things being out of place.
  • With nature comes bugs, expect to have visitors and the occasional welt.
  • Maintaining a budget – With fluctuating costs it is very difficult to maintain a regular budget, though we do try.
  • Lack of regular community – We do miss being a part of a regular community.  Having lived in the city in a particularly social neighborhood, we miss the connections. 
  • Unfamiliarity with local service providers –  Finding a good mechanic, hair cut, notary public, medical and dental care and just about everything else can be a challenge.  Luckily with online reviews the troubles are lessened, somewhat.
  • Generational Gap – The traditional full-time RV’er is retired and for younger full-timers there can be a generational gap and sometimes a subtle hint of ageism. 

While the cons to full-time RVing are tangible, the pros, on the other hand, are less so, yet much more profound.

Pros:

  • The travel – Seeing and experiencing new places is exciting!
  • Meeting new people – part and parcel of the travel experience is meeting new people and learning from each one.
  • Personal growth – This might be the most important and significant and every man’s journey is his own.
  • Serendipity – realizing after the fact, all the things that led you to a place.
  • Volunteering/free camp – there is something joyful about volunteering, when there is no money exchanged, there is just appreciation.  Living rent free is a dynamite perk.
  • Easy clean up – It takes only 10-15 minutes to entirely clean the inside of the RV.
  • Simplicity – the lifestyle demands simplicity which leads to less stress and a lack of want.
  • Communication – increased communication with spouse or travel partner and with people from a wide variety of backgrounds.  This can easily be a con too, hopefully this is known before hitting the road.  We have seen relationships strengthened and fall apart. 
  • Nature – regularly being connected with nature develops an appreciation for the natural world and nourishes the spirit.
  • Lack of routine – we find that by breaking out of routine and the comfort of familiarity, it opens us up to growth and by regularly having new experiences, life tends to slow down.
  • Less stress – As result from a lack of want and reducing responsibilities, anxiety is at a minimum.
  • General over sense of well being – responsibly breaking from convention to really experience life and develop awareness results in a sense of peace.
  • Learning and education – The opportunity for experiential learning through travel is tremendous.  We learned more in a year of travel than we did the previous decade in our “normal” life.  

The Central Oregon Coast

The tag line for the Central Oregon Coast is “Where the Forest Meets the Sea.”  It is one of the few places in the country where one can hike in a mature forest of towering pines with rich undergrowth, while listening to and seeing glimpses of the ocean at the same time.  It is also where over-sized sand dunes stretch for forty-two miles south to north, resembling a mountain range of sand.   Where the dunes end, the rocky coastline made of volcanic rock, synonymous with this coast, begins.  Two hundred foot vertical cliffs tower over surf beaten rocks below.  Some are like small islands that provide refuge for birds and sea lions.  Others jut out from their headlands, providing the viewer with dramatic wave crashes and exploding sea spray.  While yet others, provide a protective sanctuary and nursery for burgeoning and delicate marine life in their tide pools.

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Carpe Diem!

Carpe Diem, Seize the Day, was a phrase made popular by a widely seen film of the 1980’s, “Dead Poets Society”.  Since then the phrase has been a staple in the American lexicon.  However, what is well known is not always regularly practiced.  Most people tend to live their lives as if something better waits for them in the future, almost guaranteed.  Intellectually, we all know we will meet the reaper in the end and sometimes sooner than expected.  In fact, there are no guarantees, in a sense all we have is today.  Every day is a gift for those who are grateful.

I feel, more and more, that we all have been subjected to a great ruse.  That society has programmed us to believe certain things are important, when in the end they are utterly meaningless.  Instead of bolstering individual growth and awareness, what I feel is the true meaning of life, we are misguided to believe that comfort and wealth is synonymous with happiness.  Instead of facing the difficult task growth, a craving develops for immediate gratification and pain avoidance through a myriad of distractions.

“Life moves pretty fast, if you blink you just might miss it.”  This saying too was made popular by a 1980’s movie, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, right before embarking on one heck of an epic day.  The routines of work, shopping and entertaining oneself are comfortable, but tend to speed up life into a succession of days barely distinguishable from the prior.   Weeks turn into months, months to years and before we know it, life has slipped away with little more to show for it than drudgery, interspersed with a few milestones, some recreation, and even less excitement.

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Learning to Listen

Maturing as full-time RV’ers and travelers has happened quickly for us.  In a little over a year we have crossed the country 3 times, seen fifteen National Parks, stayed in everything from parking lots to luxury resorts, and we’re starting our fourth volunteer workamping job.  Phew!  It has been a year full of adventures, but also learning.

Fifteen months ago we were naïve and knew almost nothing about RV’s, campgrounds, workamping, or even about this country a couple hundred miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean. Alayne and I felt compelled to shake up life a bit and explore.  There is something about throwing oneself into the unknown that creates a quick learning curve, and draws upon resources previously unknown.  Living life on the road is not all smooth sailing and kicking back at campgrounds.  It is waking up and not knowing where you are, or where the grocery store is.  It is flat tires and blow outs, broken refrigerators and roof repairs.  It is all the things life throws at us, with the extra element of disorientation and a lot less space.  It is about becoming comfortable outside the comfort zone, and most importantly learning to listen.
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A Walk Among the Redwoods

And this, our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.”  William Shakespeare

Yesterday we hiked through the Giant Costal Redwood Trees of Northern California and felt an overwhelming sense of serenity and connectedness with nature.  These trees, reaching so high into the heavens, that have been witness to a millennia hold a magical power that results in utter relaxation for the human psyche.  These are the oldest living things on Earth with a wisdom that speaks of slowing down, listening, and the interconnectedness of all things.  The process of growth and decay, but always one of regeneration, is beautiful to observe in all of its stages.  These magnificent trees, that are so tall and massive in scale, actually have shallow root systems and support themselves by intertwining with their neighbors.  They are a community. These forests have something to teach us about ourselves.

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Life on the Channel Coast

There is something special about a place where the mountains meet the sea.  When the hand of man then adds to it by cultivating its richness and sculpting it with care a further beauty is revealed.  The Channel Island coast of California is an hour north of LA, where the coastline curves to face south with four large islands off shore.   The Santa Ynez mountains jut up just a few miles inland providing a scenic backdrop, and spectacular views from the foothills and ridges.  With a temperate year round climate, beautiful landscape, and fertile valleys the towns along this coast are beloved by travelers and residents alike.  The Spanish and Mediterranean inspired town of Santa Barbara is jewel of this coastal region.

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RV Volunteering

Volunteering can be a learning experience, rewarding and a great way to save money for the fulltime RV’er.  Throughout the country and Canada there are public lands and campgrounds regularly looking for volunteers with RVs to help in exchange for a free campsite.  There are a variety of opportunities available, many of which provide the volunteer with a unique and usually fun experience.  The work is easy and the hours not too demanding.  Some parks require little as 20 hours per couple a week, while National Parks often require 32 hours per person.  In general expect 40+ hours per couple and a 3 month commitment.

Campground Hosting is the most common and available volunteer position.  Host duties vary between parks.  Most include campsite clean up, selling firewood, prompting campers to observe rules, and some mix of other maintenance or administrative duties.  Some campground hosts positions can feel like a 24/7 job, since you are often the first person campers come to with an issue. It is very important to discuss and be clear about the duties with the volunteer coordinator prior to accepting the position.  If something is not clear or sounds strange ask for clarification.

Interpretive Volunteering opportunities are available at historical sites, lighthouses, Fish and Wildlife and others.  After a brief training, volunteers will conduct tours and provide information about the site.  These usually include time at a visitor center and/or gift shop. RV accommodations are at either a nearby campground or somewhere on site.  Unlike campground hosts, when you are back at your site you are 100% off duty.  Interpretive Volunteering is a great way to do something tailored to your interests.

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Ugg Boots and Sweatpants? – Observations of Southern California

Southern California has been a conundrum and confounding for us.  If there is a place that spotlights our cultural failings, it is here.  Here among this beautiful landscape of rugged coastline, hills, mountains and fertile valleys something has gone terribly awry. It is tough to know what has more plastic in it, the ocean from the cavalier attitude towards the environment, or the peoples’ souls from all the garbage they cram into themselves.  Like the temple of Zeus on Mt. Olympus, mansions line the hills and mountain tops, while the Mexican labor toils in the heat of Hades in the fields below.   The latest new age spiritual fad is discussed at length on cell phones while swerving through traffic, or at the hot new cocktail bar.  Cigarettes are banned, but the smell of skunky weed fills the air.   College students riot in the streets, not for a political cause, but when simply asked to turn their music down (Deltopia).  It is a place where people look at you while passing on the street, only to look the other way if you smile.   All of the area woes are blamed on the people from The Valley and the illegal immigrants.  Enabling homelessness and drug addiction seems to make people feel better about themselves.  There is a law for just about everything, yet common decency and civility remain elusive.

This place is adrift, like the 17th century maps that depict California as island; it is sinking under the weight of mismanagement and self indulgence.   The State and municipal governments are massive bureaucracies that are corrupt and are no longer able to be effective due to poor leadership and a heavy burden of an overly generous pension system.  Slowly, the towns are going bankrupt while education, parks, and infrastructure take a back seat to retirement funds and the regular occurrence of waste and abuse.  A two year drought has done little to change water usage despite the pleas of local officials.  It is the land of perpetual adolescence, as can be observed by 65 year old men, and mothers’ of three dressed like teenagers.  People here do not actually develop along personal or spiritual lines; they adapt personas and wear them like gang colors.  Yes the cliché of Southern Californians being fake is true, they just don’t know it.   Long gone are the days of the laid back surfer dude, or counter culture hero; these are the times of self affirmations and revering celebrity.  Disney-fication and the corporate takeover of the mind are seen here more intensely than anywhere else in America.

“We are so fortunate to live in such a beautiful place,” drones off the lips of the residents like a mantra confirming that despite all the troubles it is worth it.  While real estate prices are astronomical, there are few jobs that pay high wages so many people work multiple just to get by.  Once their youth has worn off, people here look tired, frustrated, and a few short of a full deck.  There is a lot of crazy in Southern California.  Homeless, schizophrenics, and addicts who have just given up, are seen with regularity and accepted here. Sometimes I feel like they are the ones who have figured it out.  Southern California entices with beauty and glamour, but it leaves us a bit baffled and feeling a little weary.