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.
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.
The Full-time RV lifestyle can cost a lot less than traditional living if one is mindful and budgets accordingly. To be truly frugal, one would have to keep traveling at a minimum, as RV’s are not known for fuel efficiency. This is one of the reasons we volunteer and stay stationary for 1-3 months at a time. It allows us to be of service and trade time and labor for our campsite. Since we own our motor home, we essentially have no housing expenses during our volunteer stints. Given our set expenses, ideally our monthly total is less than $2000 per month, not including taxes.
Welcome to South Carolina! This is the home of the Palmetto and Spanish moss, Antebellum history, southern hospitality, and Charleston.
We have settled into our second workamping gig at James Island County Park, and we could not be happier. The park is only five miles from Charleston’s historic district, and is about the same distance to laid back Folly Beach. The park itself is the jewel of the local park system and is 600 acres of loveliness. The campground is luxury compared to our site in the Outer Banks. We especially enjoy the hot showers, nearby laundry, and the fast, free WIFI. The park has 6 miles of newly repaved trails that meandered through the semi-tropical foliage and marsh, two lakes, 50 ft. climbing wall, kayaks, fishing pier, play grounds, water park, and a lot of places to find solitude. This is a beautiful place to be.
Full-time RVing can be a great lifestyle, especially if you crave new experiences and a sense of adventure. While most full-timers are retired and have the luxury of pensions and Social Security, the lifestyle is still within reach for many “non-traditional” younger wannabe RVers.
The first step is realizing this lifestyle exists and is an option. For us, it seemed like we stumbled upon a secret, and in some ways, it is. It bucks convention in that it promotes living simply, and works a lot better with less debt and “stuff”. This lifestyle will not work for people who desire prestige and a gain in material wealth. Less is more seems to aptly apply.
Most people can quickly determine if they are in the position to set off on the road in short time. Debt is probably the largest obstacle. A modest amount may be acceptable for the frugal, but for those up to their eyes in student loans, credit card debt, and excessive car payments will have to eliminate these before pursuing the idea much further. Medical insurance can also be an issue, for the time being there are some affordable options for folks willing to ride with a high deductible. Houses can be sold or rented, and things can be stored or sold. We have modest car and student loan payments, and “catastrophic” type health insurance. We rented our properties and have a property manager, and sold just about everything that would not fit in our RV.
Life is always changing. Cling on to things as we may, inevitably change occurs. In Buddhism it is called Impermanence, and understanding it is a way to reduce suffering. Simply, we must accept that things change and be willing accept it. The more we try to hold on and capture relationships, glory, wealth, beauty etc., we find that when they are gone, change, or no longer ideal this creates pain and yearning. Instead, it is better to understand that things come and go, life is constantly in a state a flux, and it is better to savor each moment rather than trying to capture it. The Outer Banks of North Carolina is a place of constant visible change and demonstrates the temporary state of things.
The Outer Banks are a geological case study in impermanence. The forces of erosion do not take decades or years to observe. In the course of hours, on a windy day, sands can cover roads, dunes shift, and three feet of beach is swept away. During large storm events the islands will reshape dramatically. Land is constantly being taken away from one location and redistributed else where, as the islands steadily march south and westward.
Maybe it was turning 40 last year or a period of expanding awareness that encouraged me (us) to step off into the unknown. Looking over the past decade, while filled with events and changes, I felt as I had slept through several years on automatic pilot. Much of my life was filled with only semi-conscious hours and it was moving quickly. Life had developed a predictable rhythm; it was comfortable and easy to keep in synch. I had routines to fill the hours and the same thoughts filling passing days.
There is no escaping it, 40 is middle age. Though I still feel young, approximately half the time I have been given has been used up. Dreams have come and gone, success and failures too, none of it quite working out like I had thought it might. Even the moments of great ego satisfaction were so transient they did little to erase the feeling I was missing something, a subtle underlying discontentedness. I felt like a passive observer, instead of an active participant. The culmination of feelings resulted in my ability to listen and trust that we (I) get what we need, not always what we want. I took my fingers off the microphone and listened to the receiver.
Now in to our third week as temporary residents and volunteer workers at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Alayne and I are beginning to adjust to this new lifestyle. Unlike our recent three and half month cross country adventure, where we were seeing new sights and places almost everyday, we are now stationary for few months.