Monday, November 24, 2014

A Travelers Guide to Meeting New People

Just like that, our final week as camp hosts is here. Butano State Park has taken on all of the forms of a place called home. When it is sunny and warm the park reveals all of its many things to do. When it is rainy and cloudy it is easy to loathe the lack of cell phone signal and TV stations. Love it or hate it, it has been our home base for the last 50 days. Familiarity and stability are things that we don't often get on the road and they can bring lots of comfort. I don't want to just say we will 'miss' this place because it has really become a part of us. We will take this place with us for the rest of our lives and welcome opportunities to reminisce with others about it. Perhaps we will come back in 20 years and make note of all the changes and say things like, "Back when I lived here, we didn't even have cell phone signal and the Highway was only 2 lanes from Half Moon Bay to Santa Cruz."
The view from my camper door. A rainy day at Butano. 

One of my favorite parts about being a camp host is getting to meet new people. Every night we get a new set of neighbors and I head out with a cart full of firewood and greet them all. Some have everything they need and I give them a simple wave and a well wish. Others need help registering or reading the trail map and I am delighted when I actually know the answer to their question. Then, there are others who invite you for conversation. They offer you a beer or invite you to take a seat and chat with you. These are my favorite kind of campers. One of the rules I made for myself before this trip was that I would welcome any and all opportunities to meet new people and build relationships. Someone I barely know invites me for a beer and a chat? The rule says I accept. I meet someone that I feel a connection to? The rule says I pursue that connection. To people that know me, this probably sounds like something that I already do but, I have to admit, as I grow older, I often close the door when I meet new people. Anyone that has a family can understand what I mean. It's hard to give the effort needed to establish new relationships when you get older.

The other day I met a Korean fella named BJ. He has a brand new 27 foot Airstream that he pulls with his Hummer. He wasn't into talking about what he does for a living but he mentioned the terms 'biotech' and 'silicon valley' at one point and I added it all together...dude is rich. 

My first encounter with BJ was in the evening of his first night here. He came to buy wood and offered me a handshake and introduction. Jessica was off writing a warning for a campsite that had left garbage out. We have strict rules about leaving food and trash out because we are protecting an endangered bird called the Marbled Murrelet. Anyhow, I had a feeling BJ was the culprit so I was straight forward with him. 

"Are you the guy with the Airstream on site nine?" I asked. 

He nodded. 

"My wife is up there writing you a warning because you left some trash out." 

"Oh, it's just garbage bags, no garbage." He said, defending himself. 

"Yeah, pretty sure you had to have left some animal attractants out because she has been up there a while putting your stuff in the food locker." 

We went back and forth for a while, neither of us wanting to concede the argument we were pretending to not have. He finally assured me that he would take better caution with his food and I went to get him his firewood. We chatted for a bit and I learned that he was Korean so I figured the least I could do for my Asian brother was deliver his firewood for him. 

When I arrived at his site with the wood we got to some more chatting. He was drinking straight bourbon from an expensive, titanium camping mug, which I thought was an interesting choice of chalice. When not in the woods, rich people drink from crystal. When in the woods, they use $50 camping mugs. He was extra talkative, mostly because of the bourbon, but he was also alone. The rest of his family wasn't due in until the next morning. I really enjoyed the chat and I learned that he is actually a very experienced fisherman. His specialty is catching crab and he showed me his haul from earlier that day. A plastic cooler with 6 Dungeness crabs crawling around inside. He said he was gonna boil up a few later and I should stop by. I thanked him for the offer and gave him a maybe, then I headed back to my camper. 

Later that evening, the family and I were watching a movie on the camper when I heard a whisper through the window. 

"Hey Mike, you awake?" 

I opened the door and BJ was standing there. He had a headlamp on his head and in his right hand was his signature titanium mug-o-bourbon. In his other hand was a plate. On it was a fully cooked crab with my name on it. BJ was totally butt wasted at this point but he is the most pleasant drunk I have ever met. I bet this guy is the most amazing party host ever. 

"So, I brought this crab for you and your wife," he said, slurring a little, "Because she cleaned up my stuff and packed it away for me." 

He started cutting open the crab with scissors and handing me half-shells lined with crab to eat. I was totally into it and he had to suggest that I call inside and invite Jessica out. I sometimes forget to be courteous when I am being fed fresh crab from drunk Asians. Jessica came out to try some. 
"So, I was telling Mike," he said, "That since we are all from the Midwest I came to share some seafood with you. It's not walleye...people here say what? Walleye? Look at me like I'm craz...I like crab though. I got a place. Right on the coast. I been catching crabs there for years. So, that's why I bring you some crab."

He got to do most of the talking since I was fully engaged in eating the crab. He cooked it in some Creole seasoning and it didn't even need butter or anything. I was just nailing it right out of the shell and it was amazing.
"So, I just wanted to bring you guys some crab," he assured us, "Because I always eat what I catch on that day and my family isn't here yet." 

I finished eating all of the crab while giving courtesy nods to his anecdotes. He was enjoying the fact that I was enjoying the crab which, in turn, made me enjoy the whole situation that much more. As I searched among the discarded shells for traces of overlooked meat he gave a farewell wave and said we could stop by for drinks, crab and chicken. We thanked him and he headed off. As much as I wanted to head up there to get wasted with BJ and eat all of his gourmet food, I was actually pretty tired and decided to go to bed shortly after his visit. 

Me and BJ in front of his awesome Airstream. Photobomb Credit: BJ's Son

In addition to taking food from strangers, we have had a pretty eventful week here. We spent a couple days dealing with a virus the boys were passing around. The sick days coincided with a three day spell of storms and torrential downpours so the obvious play was to kick back and ride it out. On one of the rainy days we headed to San Jose. We had learned from the locals that if the weather is bad on the coast it will be good in the valley. As we popped out of the pass in the Santa Cruz mountains we were greeted with rainbows. No joke, the day went from gray and rainy to clear and sunny the minute we entered the valley. We left the coats in the car and went and checked out the Children's Discovery Museum.  

See? Sunshine and T shirts in the valley.
The park outside of the Museum features a giant Monopoly Board. I vow to come back to this park with my cousins and get a game going one day. 

We headed up to San Francisco to partake in the Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony on Sunday. It was on Pier 39 which sounds like an amazing setting for an event like this until you consider that Pier 39 is a pier. There is one way in and out, the entire thing is surrounded by ocean and the foot traffic bottlenecks the whole way. We bummed around the less crowded parts of the pier and checked out some of the shops while we waited for the show to start. 

a 60 foot tree

At showtime, we found a great spot on the second level that looked down on the stage. We threw the boys on our shoulders and watched the show which was presented by Disney. As you might have guessed, the show was like a big promo for Disneyland that encouraged kids to encourage their parents to take a trip there and experience the Magic of the holidays with DISNEY! This type of blatant marketing is something that you have to put up with if you want to see a Disney calibur show and, in the end, it's worth it. Nothing makes you feel young like a singalong with Mickey and friends. 
After the tree was lit we headed to Chinatown to have a late dinner. One of our ranger friends at the state park, Ziad, had suggested this place to us last time we went to San Francisco and we were excited to go back for a second time. The House of Nanking is BY FAR and WITHOUT A DOUBT the most delicious Chinese food I have ever eaten. I can't describe it but I am 100% confident that anyone who tries this place will agree with me. If you do try it, there will be a line and the people who are working to seat guests will be short with you. They might even come off as rude if you are one of those pain-in-the-ass people that need constant attention at restaurants, regardless of how busy they are. Wait in the line. Deal with the rudeness. IT. IS. WORTH. IT!
The seating at the restaurant is intimate. They pack people in there so tight that you may end up eating just a few inches from another party. As luck would have it, we ended up dining with a couple from Farmington, Michigan. They were on vacation and staying at the Drake Hotel right in the middle of town. The next day they were renting a car and heading to Monterey. We gave them pointers on places to stop along Highway 1 and told them about our trip to Monterey. They were both really great people to chat with and it was nice to be able to talk about home without having to define everything. We were just a table of Michiganders all sharing a meal in a far away place. They were really impressed with the way Noah and Sam behaved. We used the iPhone + Netflix trick to induce mealtime cooperation so they basically sat silently. It was all a clever trick but our dinner acquaintances didn't need to know that. 

We arrived home late on Sunday and I went straight to bed. Before falling asleep I thought about my rule. The one where I am supposed to accept invites from people and welcome opportunities to connect with others. Then I thought about BJ, the guy with the crab, and how he is a perfect example of why this is a good rule. Technically, it was BJs persistence that allowed me the opportunity to get to know him better but look at how our perception changed.  At first glance, BJ was an annoying weekend camper from Silicon Valley who leaves garbage out. As it turns out, he is a great guy with an interesting background. The world is full of kind and amazing people. You just have to put yourself out there a little and you will see them...and some of them might be holding fresh crab and some bourbon. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Move, B%#CH, Get Out the Way!

So, the other day I called my mom while standing on a bluff overlooking the ocean. She lived in Sacramento for a couple years and she loves it here. I thought she would get a kick out of hearing the ocean. I had just finished asking her if she could hear the waves when a guy behind me rudely shouted, "Hey, we are trying to take pictures here, can you move? You're on the phone."

The bluff I was standing on at Pescadero State Beach. 

I had been caught off guard so my initial reaction was to comply with his request. Maybe I was being inconsiderate by talking on my phone in a spot that gets a lot of attention from photographers. Then I started to let it roll around in my head. His tone was very offensive and I wasn't intentionally trying to piss him off. Just because you are annoyed with someones behavior doesn't mean you have the right to be an offensive jerk. He even ended his snotty request with an obvious remark about what I was doing. I know I am on the phone, bastard.

Suddenly my mouth started to open and so began another classic encounter.

"Yeah" I said, "I am aware that I am on the phone."

I gave him a glare of disapproval as I walked past and then continued to talk to my mom. He wasn't happy about my comment as you might have guessed. I mean, even without my intentional prodding he had become a confrontational shit head, now I was blatantly trying to upset him. I should take a moment to describe this person so you can get a good idea of the kind of person he is. He was in his late 40s and in good shape. He probably surfs or does yoga or some other California-esque activity that people engage in to achieve an even balance or a state of zen, clearly it's all an act for this dude. He has a blonde pony tail down to the middle of his back that he probably thinks is beautiful but to cautious onlookers it's a desperate attempt to hang onto any remaining traces of his youth. Tight jeans, a loose fitting t shirt, an expensive camera and a Mini Cooper complete the package. If I had to guess, based on his appearance and sense of entitlement, he is a true California narcissist.

He approached me in a way that, where I come from, says 'get ready for a fist fight'. Much like a charging animal, however, he was just bluffing to see if I would cower. Now, just inches from my face, the facade started to crack on this otherwise chilling surfer dude.

"Listen, you were blocking my shot now you don't have to be a fucking dick about it." He said, talking through his teeth.

"You're the one who is being the dick buddy. Get the fuck away from me and go take your stupid picture."

He stayed in my face for a minute pretending to contemplate whether or not he was going to physically assault me. I knew better and I wasn't going for it. I continued with my smartass glare and tuned back into my conversation with my mom, who was still on the phone listening.

"What an asshole." She said

I replied to her in a volume that was accessible to all of the people standing on the bluff, including macho photographer guy.

"That's how some people are out here. They see something they don't like and they open their stupid ass mouths. You should see this guy, mom. Typical asshole with a pony tail who thinks his photograph is going to win some kind of award or something. Newsflash: You can buy 10 postcards in town with that same photo on them and they're all better than his. Oh, he is leaving now..."

My voice got louder so he could hear me as he stormed off,

"Oh, get this, he drives a MINI COOPER. HA, Nice car if you are a woman. What a pansy."

He pulled onto the highway and was visibly upset by my personal attacks. I can't help it. When people take it upon themselves to shake-up the social barriers that keep everyone comfortable, I take it personal. I hope I have done an adequate job of describing this guy because I want all of my Midwestern friends to understand that people like this guy DO NOT exist in your neighborhood. This is one of the unpleasant differences I have experienced since we started travelling. There are other differences, subtle as they may be, that I have encountered and I think it is these differences that make travelling such a great experience.

For instance, wherever you live, you take for granted how the gas pumps work. You just take it off the hook and put the nozzle in your car and begin fueling. I am here to tell you that the gas pumps in EVERY SINGLE STATE have different rules and regulations so the experience is quite different depending on which state you are in. Oregon has a law that PROHIBITS you from pumping your own gas. Full service gas stations are alive and well there. In California the pumps have these large black vacuum hoses that suck up all of the fumes and recirculate them into the holding tanks. Also, that little metal piece that you use to lock the pump in the ON position so you don't have to hold it while you pump, I have seen 4-5 different designs for those. The ones in California require two hands. I am used to the Michigan design that allows me to flick it into position with my ring finger. Octane levels all vary too. Depending on where you are at, 87 octane can either be regular OR midgrade. I know, mind blowing.

Grocery shopping is also an experience that varies from place to place. The obvious difference is the produce section. Michigan offers apples, sweet corn and cabbage all for ridiculously low prices. These crops all require massive amounts of water and in Michigan we have plenty of that. Head west and water becomes harder to come by so, anything that uses lots of water is naturally more expensive. When you get to the checkout line in Minnesota they ask you if you want paper of plastic, meaning what kind of bags do you want. When you get to the Pacific Coast they ask you if you need a bag. Say yes and you get charged 10 cents for each one. This sort of makes me chuckle inside because things are SO EXPENSIVE out here yet the people who live here will do anything to save a dime.

The point I am trying to make is that when I left home 3.5 months ago I had visions of myself standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon with my arms outstretched and standing on a boat in Puget Sound with whales all around me. The reality is that those experiences NEVER turn out as advertised. For starters, you are NEVER alone when seeing these attractions. Foreigners in rented RVs, boy scout troops, kids who are being force-fed stimuli from their parents, and people who call their pets 'fur babies' are going to be crowding around you to get their glimpse of the american dream. The true experience of it all is in the details. Small differences that make you go "hmmm" and little nuances that pique your sense of wonder are what travelling is all about.

We took a day trip to San Francisco this week. Here are some pictures.

Go here. Eat Chinese food. You're welcome. 
We went comic shopping!
We hung out on the pier and watched the sea lions.

Riding the BART train into the city. We tried to use public transit the whole time but San Francisco is the birthplace of UBER and it's just TOO easy to use here.
I have spent their entire lives teaching them to be Tigers fans. After just ONE MONTH in the bay area, they are apparently Giants fans.  
On the corner of the historic Haight and Ashbury intersections you will find a Ben and Jerry's. The kids enjoyed it. Don't worry deadheads, you can still buy drugs from the homeless hippies located right across the street.
I took this photo at the entrance to the De Young Museum. A security guard scolded me and told me that if I happened to capture an image of the art work to please delete it or I could be fined. HA! Here you go internet.

One of the things I hope for, in sharing this journey with you, is that I can inspire you to not only travel, but to just get out and observe the things around you. Don't worry about saving up to go to a tourist destination, just go somewhere new and immerse yourself in the local culture...and when you get there don't yell at people who are unintentionally blocking your view. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Coasts and Valleys

Another glorious Sierra day in which one seems to be dissolved and absorbed and sent pulsing onward we know not where. Life seems neither long nor short, and we take no more heed to save time or make haste than do the trees and stars. This is true freedom, a good practical sort of immortality. 

- John Muir

El Capitan

We have been in California for a little over a month now. We have taken over camp host duties at Butano State Park on the Central Coast. The first time we drove into this area I was awe struck. We drove through San Francisco and down the Pacific Cost Highway, a route that takes you past beaches and along cliffs that reach out to the pacific shore. It looks exactly the way you'd expect it to yet, somehow, when you see it for the first time, the hairs on your neck stand up. 
Pigeon Point Lighthouse. Just down the road from us. 

Fast forward - thirty days later - and the Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1) is our main route. Mountains to the east. Ocean to the west. It's no longer a scenic Highway to us. I mean, it is still scenic but it is the road that we use to get stuff done. Costco, Safeway, the library, and the mall are just a few of the places we travel to via Highway 1. It's sort of a pain in the ass too because while we are rushing to handle our business, others on the road are taking in the scenery, letting the hairs on their neck stand up. This transition in the way we appreciate Highway 1 is a little bit of a wake-up call for me so, to commemorate our one month anniversary, I decided it was time to take an adventure. We needed to shake things up.
Doing Laundry in Santa Cruz. 

I have a grandma who walks two miles every day. She does this simply to keep her joints from rusting. She says she needs to keep moving because if she sits down, she might never get up again. We had been sitting for too long. Perhaps we were rusting.

Finding an adventure in Central California is easy, you just need to decide what you wanna do. You can go skiing, swimming, hiking, biking, surfing, climbing and sightseeing all within a few hundred miles. We pulled out the California map with the idea of going backpacking somewhere. It didn't take long before our eyes landed on a 1,200 square mile piece of land just across the central valley from us. A place where animals run free and nature tells an interesting story. A place called Yosemite.

If I can offer you any advice on travel at this point it would be this - If you are going to see America's national parks, leave the dog at home and don't bring a huge RV. None of the parks allow dogs on the trails and some don't allow them at all. Most of the roads going into the parks are narrow, steep and downright treacherous. Your best bet, for seeing national parks, is to load up the car with tents, sleeping bags and blankets. There are also really nice lodges at most of the parks if you can afford it. They are top notch. We left our dog with our California friend, Becky, and headed out with a car full of gear.

One of our first views of Yosemite Valley
We rolled up in Yosemite around 2pm and I noticed the thermometer in my car read 49 degrees. That couldn't be right. The weather report said daytime highs in the 70's and nighttime lows in the 50's, We were at an elevation of 6000 feet and descending so I figured it would be warmer in the valley. I was wrong. It was much colder than anticipated and suddenly, the idea of camping in Yosemite didn't sound like fun anymore. Shit kinda got real. The visitor center had the weather posted with nighttime lows in the 20's...gulp. Okay, new plan, rent a structure that is heated and do some day hiking.

We went and checked out Camp Curry, a campground with cabins and heated tents that is operated by a 3rd party vendor. They wanted $80 for a heated tent. So now, our three day trip was going to come with $240 in lodging fees. I also learned that they don't allow fires or any kind of cooking. Great, food costs were going to skyrocket too.

I care about my family and I don't welcome opportunities to sleep outside in below freezing temperatures with them but, I am also a bit of a cheapskate and I simply refuse to spend money on food and lodging when I have a car full of canned goods and camping gear. So, I made the executive decision to stay at the campground.
Mom and Sammy at the campground. 

The campground (and entire park for that matter) are on high alert for bears. When you check in, there is a ranger that gives you a serious talk about food storage. Everything scented must go in the food locker otherwise, the bears will break into your car. Then there is a sign that says the number of bear incidents and total cost of property damage for the year. As if this wasn't enough, the rangers come just before quiet hours and inspect every site and go over the rules again with all the campers. Even after ALL of this, you would be amazed at how many people still leave food out. We had some neighbors who got a warning from a ranger for leaving food out while the took their dog for a walk. The following morning, they did it again! We watched a large group of ravens have a party on their picnic table. We could have scared the birds away and saved their food but we agreed that a hard lesson was just what the doctor ordered for these asswipes.

After a couple of nights sleeping in the freezing cold I was confident that our gear was standing up to the elements well. I froze my ass off the first night while everyone else slept like rocks. I had been subscribed to the theory that you will be warmer if you sleep in your underwear and let the sleeping bag do the work of trapping your body heat, I learned this while on a backpacking trip in the Rockies when I was a teen. It seemed to work then but the more I thought about it, while freezing in Yosemite, the more I thought maybe I was a stupid teen. Jessica suggested I sleep with pants, socks and jacket on and, lo and behold, I was snug and warm for the rest of the trip.

We saw a good amount of wildlife in the park including a coyote that was just wandering through the campground in the middle of the day. We followed it for a while, trying to determine if it was a coyote or wolf (it looked like a coyote but it was HUGE). Later we learned that there are no wolves in the park so that mystery was solved. While hiking, we spotted two black bears up in a tree. It was a mother and her cub. They were licking sap off the tree branches and paying no attention to the group of amateur photographers that had assembled on the ground beneath them.
Noah gives names to the mountains and explains his reasoning. 

The Yosemie Valley is unlike any valley I have ever stepped foot in. The mountains around you shoot straight up into the sky. It's like a giant footprint in a massive piece of granite. Because the mountains rise so dramatically from the valley floor, most of the hikes are steep climbs along switchbacks and stairs. We climbed to the top of Vernal Falls, a 3 mile hike that climbs over 1000 feet. Most of the old people bail when they get to the 600 stone steps and nobody brings small children on the trail...except us. Noah and Sam are advanced hikers for their age group. Plus, if they sleep in sub freezing temps, they earn the right to hike with the other campers. They both walked the entire trail by themselves with a little bit of encouragement from other hikers along the way.
Hiking up to Vernal Falls
On top of Vernal Falls. A sheer 100 foot drop to the valley floor. 

After three days of sleeping on the ground and not showering you would think that we would be ready to leave but, on the contrary, leaving Yosemite was sorta sad. It just felt like there were so many things that we had yet to see. I could've spent another three days there without complaining but, alas, our camp hosting duties awaited us. We broke camp and said adios to this gorgeous national park.
Noah leads an interpretive hike to Mirror Lake. 

The weather was great on the drive back so we made a few stops at scenic turnouts and had lunch in the valley. We drove through the mountains and crossed over to the coast and there it was, good ole Highway 1. The deep blue ocean was crashing along the cliffs and the sea breeze was coming in through the tall grass. Around every turn was a new vista that reminded me of how fortunate we are to be staying in such a beautiful place. The hairs on the back of my neck were once again standing up as I appreciated the Central Coast the same way I did the first time I laid eyes on it.

Sometimes, when you feel like you need a change in your life, what you actually need is just a chance to refresh and change your perspective.

Sammy tells an AMAZING joke. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

We Took a Vacation from Our Vacation

It has been an eventful week here in the golden state. We spent our two days off in Monterey, where we rented a cottage in town and did some sightseeing. We checked out the Monterey Bay Aquarium, one of the largest aquariums in the world. It was impressive. In addition to the many large aquarium tanks, they had cool activities for the kids. They also had presentations every hour in their auditorium where an actual person stands and narrates a video and engages the crowd.
The 'Open Sea' Exhibit is pretty wild. 

The presentation we saw was about sea otters. When the presenter was talking about what sea otters like to eat he asked the kids in the audience what their favorite foods were. “Just shout it out. What do you love to eat?”

Then kids started shouting out typical foods. “Pizza!” “French Fries!” “Hot Dogs!”

He was walking up our aisle and Sammy shouted out, “Bang chicken!”

The presenter gave Sam a blank look and paused for a minute. “Pancakes, okay, great.”

No, dude, bang chicken. You know, the Bangladeshi curry dish that is served over basmati rice? Jeez, haven’t you ever seen a 3 year old Korean kid who loves Indian food before? I swear, kids say the darnedest things sometimes.
They loved the sea otters. 

We watched the World Series on TV. I know this sounds like a basic function of normal life but, for us, watching television and using our smartphones is like taking a refreshing bath in brain rotting information. To top it off, it was one of the most exciting World Series matchups I have ever seen. I suppose our ‘home team’ won in the end but I was really rooting for the Royals. Noah, my oldest son, knew this and was walking the streets of Monterey chanting “Let’s Go Giants!” To counter his smartass move, I taught Sammy to chant “Let’s Go Royals!”

So, there we were, walking the streets of Monterey with two small children chanting back and forth “Let’s Go Giants!” “Let’s Go Royals!” and for those of you who don’t have small, hyperactive children, let me fill you in. Once they start chanting or yelling something that results in a lot of attention from strangers, they don’t stop.

A TV with CABLE and a long hallway separating me from the kids. It's the small things. 

Monterey was great and it was a nice reset for us. We had a house with real furniture and a yard. While we were relaxing in our cottage, catching up on laundry and taking showers twice a day, I realized that it had been exactly 3 months since we moved into the RV. When I think back to our first nights camping in a county part in Michigan, It seems like so long ago but, when I think about our life, on the road, the whole things still feels so new to me.
Biking the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail
Our Quaint little cottage in Monterey. 

After Monterey we spent an afternoon checking out Big Sur. It’s a part of the California coast where Highway 1 winds along a mountain ridge, high above the deep blue waters of the Pacific. Or, to quote Rod Stewart, it’s where the ocean meets the sky. We had lunch at a really cool restaurant, checked out some of the state parks in that area, and then headed back to our jobs as camp hosts. Everyone really enjoyed our two day mini vacation.
Big Sur is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. 

Halloween came and went. We originally planned on just hitting a local neighborhood for trick-or-treating, maybe Santa Cruz or Half Moon Bay. Then, someone in the park told us about Montara, CA. It’s a neighborhood where they get pretty crazy about Halloween. We figured it was only about 30 minutes away so we went for it.

‘Pretty crazy about Halloween’ doesn’t accurately depict what happens in this town on Halloween. EVERYONE passes out candy. Sure, there are a FEW houses that don’t because they aren’t home or whatever but, if you are home (which, why wouldn’t you be with this awesome event happening in your neighborhood?) you are passing out candy.

 In fact, passing out candy seems to be the bare minimum in Montara. The majority of houses go above and beyond. There are homes that have been converted into haunted houses and one that has carnival games inside. There is a world famous witch house where two women carve a ton of amazing pumpkins and sing witch songs to people as they walk around their house and yard. Yes, they let people inside of their house, which isn’t at all uncommon here. Some neighbors have food spreads on the table that you can help yourself to and many serve adult beverages. Jessica went inside of one house that had a frozen margarita machine! My favorite stop was a Hawaiian themed yard where two guys were wearing scuba gear and grilling food. They had island music playing and they had a keg of Long Board on tap. 
I promise, there is a suburban home behind these games. 

By 7 o’clock the streets were overrun with people and cars could barely get through. People in the corner houses used garbage cans to block off the roads. I don’t think these are state or county approved barricades but there is no stopping this phenomenal Halloween event. Honestly, if you live in the bay area or you plan to visit around Halloween, do yourself a favor and go to Montara for Halloween. I have only scratched the surface here and no words can do it justice.
Montarans in their natural habitat. Great town, great people. 

On Sunday, California State Parks had a Volunteer Appreciation Lunch at the IDES Hall in Pescadero. Even though we have only been on the job for two weeks, and what we do hardly feels like work, we were invited to partake in the event. They fed us, gave us dessert, made some speeches, did a cheesy skit that the boys LOVED and then raffled off door prizes. They had a map on the wall where volunteers are supposed to put a pin on their hometown. We are officially the farthest from home...and our kids are the youngest volunteers in California! I was sitting there, in this hall full of people and just kind of taking it in. Here we are, thousands of miles from home, yet we have established ourselves enough to be invited to something like this. I felt wanted. Significant. Which bring me comfort after being a person who blows around with the wind for 3 months. 
That's ranger Terry, He is sort of the head honcho for the San Mateo Coastal State Parks.
That's Ranger Carrie, Noah's favorite person in California. She is sort of our mentor and she is our go-to when we need something. 

Back at camp things are starting to slow down. The cooler air has been hanging around for long periods of time and the rain is here. Rain is good news for California after a record drought season but it kinda adds to the gloominess of the redwood forest. The wood shed is dwindling down to the last stack or firewood and we are only about 1/3 full on the weekends. Meanwhile, we still have another month on the job so we plan to get out and do some backpacking, sightseeing and relaxing.