Monday, October 27, 2014

Trouble with Authority

I have a serious problem with authority. That's why, when it comes time for me to be the authority figure, I suck at it. I have always considered myself a decent leader or manager but being the guy who has to spoil the party, I'm really terrible at being that guy. 

So we had a group of campers come and occupy three sites last Sunday. They were in their early 20s and when they arrived they all sat around a picnic table and cracked beers. The beer cracking continued until 11pm. Quiet hours start at 10 and they were only getting louder as the night went on.

On a Sunday night there aren't a lot of park Rangers around. In fact, I hadn't seen one all day. If I do see one on a Sunday it's at around 8-9 when they stop in for the evening check before heading home.

I have a digital radio that is hooked up to a series of repeaters along the mountain ridge. It can basically summon a park ranger 24 hours a day from anywhere along the central coast. As far south as Monterey and as far north as San Francisco. I am supposed to use it for emergencies and I give the emergency a code between 1-3 based on severity. Code 1 being a serious threat requiring a Ranger to immediately respond with lights flashing. So, when I think about the consequences of summoning a ranger via radio, and then think about these noisy kids, it seems a little extreme. 

We are still new and learning all of the finer points of the job but the issue of noisy campers isn't a common one here. We've been told to leave the reprimands to the Rangers. Hosts are supposed to be welcoming and cheery. 

I knew something had to be done and after weighing the consequences, I decided I would rather bend the rules of engagement in lieu of ordering a Ranger to the scene. I rehearsed what I would say. "Hey dudes, hope everyone is enjoying themselves. Listen, I'm supposed to call a ranger when it gets noisy like this. I don't wanna do that to you so I just came to remind everyone that it's quiet hours." This felt honest and non-invasive. I could still be the cool guy when morning came around. 

As I approached with my flashlight I could hear the giggles become muted and people shushing one another. A weird feeling came over me that I wasn't expecting. I had been part of the group of noisy drunks on too many occasions to count. I had never ONCE been on this side of the flashlight. I continued my stride and announced myself.

"hey guys. Camp host." 

Immediately I was caught off guard by a talkative smartass who reminded me of my Canadian friend, Greg. 

"oh, hey, I forgot to pay the parking fee. How much is it? My bad." He said, in an overly friendly tone. 

I explained to Greg that he could self-register in the morning and tried to move on to my rehearsed speech. He came back and asked for specifics.

"So I fill out one of those envelopes? Can you show me? I can do it now." Making sure to patronize me with every word. I was being schmoozed. 

"No." I said, "We will just handle it in the morning." Wondering if I should have just taken his $10 instead of giving him the option to skip out in the morning. 

Greg had deliberately and successfully thrown me off my game. I tried to remember my planned speech as I addressed the other 4 campers at the fire. 

"Hey guys. It's kinda loud. Quiet hours..."

"Oh, is it getting late?" Interrupted Greg, "We will just try to keep it on the DL." 

I nodded and continued, "okay cool because I am not supposed to even come talk to you. I'm supposed to call a ranger and if I had called them to come at this hour they'd probably not be happy about it and wrote you a ticket." 

Just then, another smartass chimed in. He was a different kind of smartass than Greg. He reminded more of myself. 

"Oh yeah? How much is the ticket?" He asked, in a defiant tone. 

I don't know if he asked this to see if I was bullshitting or to determine if the fine was collectively afforded by their group. Either way, he was definitely the Mike Yum at the party. 

I responded, "I don't know. Probably at least a couple hundred bucks." 

Doing a math equation in my head to determine a believable yet intimidating figure. Greg came up to butter me up, offering his hand. 

"I'm sorry, what's your name?"

"Mike." I said

"Mike, we will quiet things down. My apologies. Nice to meet you." He said, while almost walking me away from the group with his body language. 

As he was taking, a guy and a girl sitting at the fire stood up and walked past me. I assumed they were going to the bathroom and finished shaking Greg's hand. 

"Have a good night guys. Thanks for understanding." 

I knew that my visit had not done much to slow the party down but at least they would be conscious of me. I remembered times when I was camping and how the group would self-regulate after being visited by a ranger. I was in their heads. 

When I got back to my camper the couple that had walked away from the fire were standing at my door. 

"Hi, we figured since you were awake we could buy some firewood?"

That was it. Fuck these kids.

"I didn't put pants on and walk up there with a flashlight to sell you firewood. I'm going to bed and I suggest you and your friends do the same. Good night!"

"Okay, fair enough." Said the guy, with a surprised look on his face. It was as-if they suddenly realized they were being inconsiderate assholes. 

They headed back to their group and shortly afterwards silence ensued. I don't know if it was my warning or their lack of firewood that caused this but I felt responsible either way.

I learned something about myself in dealing with these kids. I have always thought myself to be good at confrontation. I'm not afraid to argue or persuade someone. I won't bite my tongue when I feel an injustice has occurred. What I never realized is that I am only good at confrontation when I get to be the shithead. When the tables turn and I am the teacher, policeman, park ranger or camp host, I have trouble dealing with the Mike Yums of the world...

As I mentioned, we are the new camp hosts at Butano State Park, a beautiful park in the middle of a redwood stand on California’s central coast. When it comes to solitude and remote settings, you can't do any better than this in California. The campground we are in only has 39 sites and it is in the middle of the canyon so there is no cell phone signal, no TV signal, nothing. This state park is part of a series of central coast state parks that are all interconnected by trails and fire roads. Included in these parks are Big Basin Redwoods and Ano Nuevo State Preserve. 
Ano Nuevo State Preserve. If you like watching 3000 lb elephant seals crashing into each other, this is the place. 

Bean Hollow State Beach. 

Low tide in Santa Cruz. 
Our main responsibility at this park is to sell firewood to campers. The going price for a bag of firewood on California's Central Coast is a whopping $10. We are a popular spot for Silicon Valley executives with families so the price tag doesn't even make them flinch. They buy as many as 6 bundles and come back the next night for more. The wood is soft, burns fast and I don't know a single Michigander who would buy one of these. The one thing they have going for them is each bag comes with a small, red, fire-starting disc that we have dubbed 'The Hamburger'. I even joke with some campers, "Here ya go, It's $10 for the wood and I even threw in a free hamburger. haha." I know, cheesy, but it is impossible not to throw cheesy humor at people when you are trying to pull off the job of camp host. 

$10 for 1 cubic foot of local firewood. Enjoy!

We get two days off each week so we try to spend those days somewhere besides the park. This week we spent one day in Half Moon Bay and another in Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz is where the movie The Lost Boys was filmed. Right now is the part where I am supposed to explain what The Lost Boys is but, frankly, if you don't already know, you should stop reading and lose my number. Now, for those of you who ARE familiar with thrilling 80's movies about vampires, Santa Cruz should be on your list of places to visit in California. We went there to use the library, do laundry and get lunch. It wasn't the most eventful trip, really more business than pleasure, but we did eat Chinese food for lunch! 

The small town of Pescadero is about 5 miles from our campsite. It’s a two block stretch of road that attempts to offer travelers everything they need on a pit stop. The market, which is actually quite nice, is also a bar, pizzeria, ice cream shop and seasonal pumpkin dealer. The gas station doubles as a kick-ass Mexican restaurant that is an incredibly popular dinner spot. They also have a really expensive (but delicious and well conceived) restaurant, a post office, a really creepy cemetery and a few small businesses. That’s it. Blink and you might miss Pescadero.
Pescadero, CA
Pie Ranch. An organic farm that makes fresh pie. 
We ran into the old camp hosts at the Half Moon Bay Library. They were in the process of changing their address on their library account…the address I was about to use to open a library account. The odds of this happening the way it did are extremely slim but, like all of the other chance encounters we have had, it must have happened for a reason. They shared some personal details with us and left us with this parting advice: “Enjoy your time there. Trust no one.”
Checking out books at the Half Moon Bay Library. 

It was a little unsettling to hear this advice but I am a strong believer that no advice is bad advice. They seemed a little bitter about the way things ended for them and we were fully aware that they left under sudden and unusual circumstances. It was nice to hear them tell it their way. Now we have heard all sides and I have concluded that all of the people involved are really good people, they just had a classic misunderstanding. We are only here for another 37 days and we have two crazy kids to keep up with so I am confident we will have a drama free stay here...with the exception of a few run-ins with noisy, smartass campers. 
SAMurai and NOAHverine are ready for halloween.

I update this blog as often as I can. If you want up-to-the-minute updates of our trip, follow us on Instagram at @YumFam. 

Family and Friends - We have a landline and physical address here in California. If you want it, just message me on Facebook. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Yum Family Reporting for Duty

So we fell into a pretty sweet camp hosting deal at a State Park in California. For those of you who are not familiar with camp hosting it’s basically a person who sells firewood, collects camping fees and helps campers get settled in. We also help fill in gaps for the rangers who patrol these parks by being a set of ears and eyes at the park. We had applied to work at this park and a bunch of others before we hit the road and never really got anywhere. Then, a couple weeks ago we got a call saying their current hosts had resigned and they were in a pinch. We agreed on an arrival date and it was a done deal.  We were just making our way out of the Hoh rainforest when we got the call. We headed back to our campsite near Seattle and discussed a game plan. We had seen MOST of what we wanted to see in the area so we packed it in the next morning and headed to Portland to kill a few days.
Burnside Skate Park - Portland, OR
Nice park on the north side of Portland. 
Portland is a REALLY cool town. The show Portlandia is an exaggerated yet mostly accurate depiction of what the place is like. There is a really famous donut shop downtown that has a line around the building ALL DAY. No Oregonian has been able to explain to me WHY this place is so busy. The boys and I went there one afternoon and gave up waiting after 5 minutes. They also have a ton of food carts. I am not just talking about a guy with an umbrella selling hot dogs on the corner either. There are entire corner lots filled with carts selling everything from Korean and Indian food to trucks selling crepes and corn dogs. Portland is a foodie’s paradise.
We have been eating a LOT of pizza. 

I went out the the bar one night. I met up with Dominick, a quasi-cousin of mine that I have known my whole life. He met me at a craft beer bar with some co-workers of his and we proceeded to tie one on. The bar closed early and we retreated to a karaoke bar full of locals called ‘Chopsticks’. Luckily, I took a taxi downtown because eventually my companions left and I stayed behind and the night ended with me screaming Pearl Jam songs into a microphone. I kept saying random things to hype up the crowd “My friends left me. I’m from Detroit and this is my only night in this town. Let’s party Portland!” to which the equally inebriated crowd responded with howls and cheers. By the end of the song, there were about 10 other dudes with arms around me screaming along ”OOOOOOOOH IIIIIIIIIII BUUUUUUUUUUUT I’M STILL ALIVE YEAH YEAH YEAH YEAH.”
(L to R) Me, Alex, Dominick, Dave and dude whose name I forget but easily the most 'Portland' guy in our posse. 

While we were in Portland I spent a lot of time with just me and the kids. Jessica was in a really bad place because of her Ulcerative Colitis (UC). UC is an intestinal disease that is similar to Crohn’s Disease. The immune system attacks the cells in the intestinal track and causes bleeding, excruciating pain, fatigue and an overall miserable existence. These attacks can be controlled with immune blocking medication and a slightly modified diet. Unfortunately, it had been so long since Jessica had had a flare up, she had stopped taking the medication all together. This presented us with a HUGE problem because she would have to see a doctor to get a prescription. I called our insurance company and learned that our HMO doesn’t cover us anywhere except Michigan (with the exception of E.R. visits).  So, she was lying in bed in a horrible state and our options were few. I had honestly considered driving back to Michigan and calling it quits.

Fortunately, I am a resourceful and persuasive guy so I put my skills to the test. First, I called the GI in Michigan and said we needed a refill. I said her symptoms were really bad and that it was urgent. They had just started going into their speech about how she needed an appointment when I said that I was working in another state and we wouldn’t be home for a few months. After a little bit of arm twisting, I got them to call in a prescription to a local WalMart. Problem solved…or so we thought.

The total cost for a 30 day supply of these meds was $500 because it is an excluded medicine on our insurance. So, now we had an option to pay $500 and hopefully get the symptoms under control within a month but if she needed to continue these meds, we would not be able to sustain this on a monthly basis. So, I asked if there was a generic, the pharmacist said no. She said there were similar drugs but we would have to get another prescription from the doctor. Great, I just called them and sweet talked this deal and now I have to flip the script. This was going to be a test of my persuasive abilities. Before going through all the trouble of calling the GI again, I had the pharmacist make a list of all the drugs that my crappy insurance DOES cover.

I tried to call the doctor, on a Friday evening, temporarily forgetting about the 3 hour time difference and I got a recording. It gave an emergency number that I knew would be an answering service. So now, I had to sweet talk an answering service into paging a doctor who I could hopefully convince to call in a prescription for a patient he had never seen on the other side of the country on a weekend. You got all of that?

I won’t go into detail but I strung together one hell of a con to make it happen and after two phone calls and a lot of sad stories I was on the phone with a doctor. He had called me from his cell phone and he was NOT happy with me. He smelled right through all of my bullshit but, in the end, I somehow convinced him to write her for a 5 month prescription of a drug that our insurance covers. He had me text him her info and the pharmacy number and within a few hours, WE HAD MEDICINE! I am happy to report that she responded to them and is looking and feeling MUCH better.

FUN FACTS: 1. Oregon does not charge sales tax on anything. 2. All of the gas stations in Oregon are full service.  

We left Portland and headed to California, our new place of work. This state is so effing big that we had to stop and camp TWICE just to get to our state park which is still considered to be in Northern California. We drove through San Francisco and down the Pacific Coast Hwy to our new jobs at Butano State Park (pronounced byoot in oh).
San Francisco from the Bay Bridge (with random skeleton reflection)
FUN FACT: It costs $20 to cross the Oakland/Bay Bridge with a two axle trailer.

 We were told to just find the host site and setup camp. The main perk of being a host is you get to camp for free on a full hookup site while the campers around you are roughing it. So we hooked everything up carefully and got the trailer leveled real nice and just hung out. We went into town for pizza and when we returned we met Ranger Tiffany. She was super friendly and was grateful to us for coming on short notice. She met the kids and the dog and kept telling us to just relax and have a good time. We went back to our camper for the night and did just that.
Learning the ropes
The next morning Ranger Carrie, our immediate supervisor, came over and introduced herself. She was very pleasant as well. She said she would be back in an hour or so to do an orientation so we relaxed outside and drank coffee. The campers directly beside us had three kids. One was about 10 and he was extremely polite. I found out after talking to them that he was actually the uncle of the two other kids, a girl that was Noah’s age and a boy that was Sam’s age. The youngest boy was named Wyatt and he was adorable. He carried around a stuffed dog that he called ‘dog dog’ that his sister explained was his special friend. I brought out my dog and let the kids pet her and was having a great time entertaining these kids.

You may have noticed that I only remember the name of the smallest boy. Normally I am good with names but Wyatt stands out so much to me I can barely remember the faces of the other people. When Wyatt’s sister was telling me about ‘dog dog’ the mother came over and mentioned that his stuffed puppy had gotten him through some tough times recently. She then covered the little girl’s ears and whispered to me, “Wyatt has terminal cancer.”

She then went on to explain that they had just camped in this park a few months ago and the reason they came back was for Wyatt. My immediate reaction was one of true sadness. At that moment I had just lost a dear, sweet friend. I wanted to ask why and how and I wanted to hug them, all of them. Suddenly I could feel the sadness this family was harboring and I wanted to console them but I could also sense what they were trying to do. This was a camping trip and it was one of their last happy moments with their dying son. After processing all of these emotions for a moment, I said something like, “Oh no…” and gave a solemn look to the mother. After a brief pause I went on talking about dogs and Legos with the kids and tried to enjoy my last few moments with them…and Wyatt.

Eventually, Ranger Carrie came back and inundated me with information; books, papers, keys and things. Things like a walkie talkie, my cool new jacket, keys to all of the buildings, a chainsaw and a badass John Deere Gator. She showed me how to check in campers and explained the procedures and specifics of the job. Lots of info but easily the coolest job I have ever had. I relayed everything I had learned to my co-host, Jessica. We gave some small jobs to the junior hosts, Noah and Sam, and they are visibly excited about this new responsibility of ours.

Our Home!
When I returned our site, Wyatt and his family had left. Looking at their empty campsite left me with a feeling of hopelessness. I keep trying to tell myself that I misheard her and she was talking about someone else with terminal cancer, someone older, not this special adorable boy who runs around the woods with a stuffed puppy.  I wondered if maybe they call it terminal when the odds are really bad but there is still a chance. After realizing I was just going through stages of grief, I started wondering how much time he had left. Was it 1 year? 6 months? Had they just found out?

The forest gets dark around 4pm when you are in the middle of a redwood stand near the Pacific coast. As the last few beams of sunlight sprayed through the forest canopy I sat in front of the camper waiting for customers to sell wood to while cooking our dinner over the campfire. I could hear the boys giving their mother hell inside of the camper and instead of getting up and yelling at them, I just smiled and thought about how fortunate we are to be here, with them, in this place where people spend their final days together.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Every Day Is a New Adventure

At the end of each day, after we read stories together, we tell the kids, “Get into your beds and choose who you want to be tucked in by.”

It’s really just a trick that we use to get them into their beds without a struggle. It works like a charm though. They select their parent (they always pick a different parent from each other), we walk over and cover them up. Within five minutes both kids are asleep, and I am not talking about a light sleep. We turn on lights and the TV and talk at a normal volume while they are crashed out just feet away. They stay in dreamland all night and around 7 or 8 o’clock they wake up, batteries charged, and it’s time to start another day of exploring. Seeing and learning new things together, as a family.

Hoh Rain Forest - Olympic National Park
Let me catch you up:

A couple weeks ago we backpacked in the prairie lands of Yellowstone National Park. We learned that the wildlife owns the night in Yellowstone and I wrote a blog post about it that I am dubbing The Halloween Special.

After that, we spent 4 nights in the Idahoan panhandle at Farragut State Park. It’s a really cool park just north of Coeur D’Alene that used to be a huge Navy training camp during the second world war. A lot of trainees returned to the area after WW2 and still live in the small town of Bayview, which is basically surrounded by the state park. The town offers a breathtaking view of Lake Pend Oreille (pronounced PONDER AYE) where the Navy still does underwater acoustic research. This mountain lake is almost 1200 feet deep (deeper than all of the great lakes with the exception of Superior) and there are navy submarines creeping around down there. This was a special town, no doubt.
This is the Navy installment in town. It's blurry because I wasn't sure if I was supposed to be photographing it. 

The pinnacle of the town is a place called Ralph’s. It is a coffee shop that sells beer, offers a full menu and has a ton of historic photos and newspaper clippings plastered all over the walls. They are hung in decorative frames but you can tell these items are an accumulation that happened over time. Ralph looks after the Laundromat that is attached to his place and the two businesses seem to blend into one. A wifi offering, coffee/beer serving, Laundromat in the middle of a charming, mountain town…perfect.
They also have Ice Cream at Ralph's so the boys enjoyed it just as much as I did. 

On my first visit to Ralph’s I ordered a coffee, put on my headphones and proceeded to go to work on my computer. Within 20 minutes the small table I was sitting at became full of older townsfolk who were conversing around me as if I weren’t there. I took off my headphones and they immediately started including me in the conversation. It was that wholesome chatting that you hear old people doing at coffee shops but I got to be included in the chatter. As this conversation is happening, people are going in and out for smoke breaks while Ralph, the owner, sits at a nearby desk and chimes in occasionally. I came later that same day with the whole family and some laundry and they were all still there. They welcomed me back and we spent the evening doing laundry and getting to know a rotating cast of awesome locals.
Me working. Across from me are two ladies and behind me there is Ralph at his desk. 

The guy standing up is Ralph. He is a mountain of knowledge. 

After Idaho, we headed to Poulsbo, WA where we setup the RV in Kitsap Memorial State Park. It’s a kinda pricey, sorta conveniently located campground on the northern kitsap peninsula. You can drive 5 minutes and get amazing groceries from a fantastic grocer called Central Market. If you have ever been to Nino Salvaggio’s, imagine that and then add more of everything (they had 7 different kinds of kimchi). I think this place got our business 3 different times in 8 days.
Everyone that works here is like a food expert. They know where EVERYTHING is and they love chatting. 

One of the days we drove 30 minutes to the ferry dock on Bainbridge Island and took the boat to Seattle. Jessica made it a field trip for the boys and showed them the famous fish market and took them to the Children’s museum. I found a well-polished coworking space to do work from. I brought my bike and got to ride around town after work and eventually met up with the rest of my family for pizza.
Their field trip. You can see more photos on Instagram by following us at @YumFam
Messenger bag, pant leg rolled up, tight t shirt, trendy city and attempt at facial hair. I was a Seattle hipster for a day. Great bike town! 

As night fell we boarded the ferry back to our side of Puget Sound. The Seahawks were on Monday Night Football and the game was playing on the boat. I have mentioned before that I am fascinated with public transit and the Washington State Ferry system is no exception. These boats hold 200+ cars and have giant passenger cabins. They look like airports on the inside and you can’t even tell they’re moving.
The night skyline from inside the ferry. 

One afternoon we went and checked out Hurricane Ridge in Olympic Nat’l Park. We took a short hike around the ridge and got into some stuff at the visitor center. Noah started his third junior ranger program and we grabbed some postcards. We also grabbed a backcountry map and talked to the rangers about backpacking the rain forest. The park is so huge and has so few roads that it takes you 2 hours to drive from the visitor center in Port Angeles to the Rain forest, on the western edge of the park.

On the morning of our trip we got on the road early and headed off to do some trekking. The rain forest was cold and wet and the ground was littered with snakes and insects. You could hear baboons, mountain lions and the faint sound of tribal drums roaring somewhere off in the distance. We learned the hard way why they call it a rain forest too. Torrential downpours the whole time…

If you have read any of my previous entries about what happens when we go backpacking, you might be expecting a description such as the one I just gave. I am sorry to disappoint but VERY HAPPY to report that we had a super awesome and hassle-free camping trip in the rain forest. Aside from the flock of ravens that ate my sandwich off the hood of the truck while we were gearing up, we didn’t have any animal encounters. The weather was perfect, the forest was beautiful and we all had a great time connecting with each other and nature.
A video of us hiking to our campsite.
A video of the kids running around camp after dinner. 
A video of the forest in the early morning. 

 It’s easy to appreciate the comforts of our little camper after spending a night in nature. Not just because you are ‘rouging it’ in the extreme wilderness either. You get to connect with nature which has a way of helping you prioritize things in life. That connection is also one of the foundations of our family. We really dig the outdoors.

The night after our camping trip we read some chapters from James and the Giant Peach together and the boys went off to their beds to make their tuck-in selection. They only choose me because I do this bit where I talk with a Mexican accent and tell them how to wrap a burrito. They are the ingredients and the blanket is the tortilla. They choose Jessica because, well, she is the mom and everyone likes to get tucked in by mom sometimes.  Noah took the burrito and Sam opted for mommy. Within a few minutes they were asleep.