Tuesday, December 2, 2014

How We Became Full-Time RVers

There I was, standing on the sidewalk, next to a fire engine with a full staff of firefighters sitting on top of it. The phrase "Happy Birthday Jesus" passed before my eyes as I directed my attention to the spectacle that was happening in the road. The words were written on the side of a sleigh that was being pulled by a group of men dressed like reindeer. Inside of the sleigh was a brass band dressed in angel costumes that sounded like they were straight off the streets of New Orleans. A closer look at the band would reveal that they were just bobbing along to a recording but it was a well conceived theme anyhow. After they passed by I was overcome with a feeling of optimism and curiosity. The same feeling that one might have when they get off an airplane in a new city. The dreamy, surreal feeling of wanderlust was overflowing from me as I looked down the road and waited for the next portion of the Arroyo Grande Christmas Parade to pass me. Marching bands, dog clubs (coastal people are crazy about dogs), and baton twirlers marched down the road to welcome in the holiday season and I thought to myself, "How the hell did I end up here?"

It seems like it all happened so fast. It was just March of this year that we took our old pop-up to Chelsea, MI for a weekend of camping and started discussing the possibility of travelling the country for an entire year. I can still remember how frightened I felt when I actually thought about going through with it all. We decided that weekend that we were going to make a decision and stick to it. Shit, or get off the pot. We talked about it all weekend. We discussed the challenges and exit strategy. We went back and forth the whole time. At the end of the weekend I put the keys in the ignition, fired up the engine and looked over at Jessica and said one last time, "Are you sure you wanna do this?"

She paused and clutched her forehead with her thumb and index finger and said, "Yes."

That week we notified our friends and family and got down to business. I started writing this blog, we had a huge garage sale and we went back and forth with a picky buyer before finally selling our house to her. We traded in the pop-up and upgraded to our 32' travel trailer and started turning it into home. By the end of July we were ready to make the leap. That was all it took. A small conversation in March turned into a huge, life-changing step in July. We placed a sense of urgency on living our dream and everything fell into place. Here we are, 5 months later, and so much has already happened. It's no secret that the holidays make people sentimental and, for me, it has really started to make me think about all we have done in the days since we moved into our home on the open road. We have so much to be thankful for this year.

So, last week we feasted on some turkey. It was our final week as camp hosts at Butano State Park and we felt it was appropriate to do dinner right in the park, which is in the middle of the redwood forest. We invited our California friend Becky to join us and she accepted. She showed up with gifts for all of us, including a jacket that she made for our dog, Hannah. She has a special bond with Hannah because while we were running around trying to keep up with these crazy kids of ours, Becky would often show up and take Hannah for the day. Becky worked for the state park too and she would work the entrance kiosk with Hannah by her side.
Here is the jacket Becky made for Hannah. She is super crafty. My aunts would LOVE this lady. 
Thanksgiving Tip: Drink lots of wine before dinner and it won't matter what the food tastes like. 
We grabbed a brown-n-serve turkey dinner from an organic market called New Leaf Market. It made it easier for us to pull off the feast and, I gotta say, I was really happy with the way everything turned out. I had to drive to Half Moon Bay to pick up the food on the morning of Thanksgiving but I didn't drive alone. We had a pair of bicyclists, a guy and a girl, staying in the park, that had biked in from San Francisco the day before. When they arrived it was clear that they had bitten off more than they could chew. I always chatted with the cyclists that came to the park and these two were no exception. They wanted to know when the 17 bus left Pescadero. They had dinner plans back at home and realized they wouldn't make it if they biked. I explained that the bus only comes to Pescadero twice a day, 5am and 5pm. As I was leaving to go pick up our thanksgiving dinner the next morning I noticed they were still at their site, looking bummed.

"Did you guys miss the bus?" I asked

"Yeah." One of them responded in a sad tone

"C'mon" I said, "Get your things together quickly. I am going to Half Moon Bay and they have a bus stop right in front of the store. You'll be able to catch a bus easily there."


They started scurrying to pack their stuff up. As I watched them frantically stuffing tents and sleeping pads into pannier bags I thought maybe I shouldn't have told them to move quickly. I wasn't really in a hurry. It was thanksgiving and all I really had to do was sit around and eat food all day. I unconsciously rush myself and others when I am on task sometimes. It is a flaw of mine that stems from my controlling personality. I feel more relaxed when things are wrapped up tightly and go as planned. Not that I minded giving them a ride. Quite the contrary, it felt good to help these two out on thanksgiving. I put my bike rack on the back and strapped their rigs to the back and we headed to town.

Their names were Martin and Christina. They had both lived in San Francisco for about a decade. I don't know where they lived before that but Martin had an Australian accent and a great sense of humor. We drove past a farm and he asked me why they had llamas in their field. It was funny because whenever I rode past that field I wondered that myself. I mean what do people need llamas for?

"Unless you have a petting farm, I can't see the point in owning a llama." I said

"I know" he said, "What, do people drink llama milk or something?"

"I don't drink llama milk and I would be really offended if I was a guest of theirs and they fed it to me." I added

We laughed about the llama until we saw a field with mini horses in it, which got us talking even more about pointless farm animals.

"What the hell do people do with a mini horse?" he asked

"No idea" I replied, "You can't eat 'em or ride 'em and they can't sleep at the foot of your bed like a dog, they might be even more pointless than a llama."

He laughed, "What about kids, can't they ride a mini horse?"

"Sure" I said, "But then the kid grows up and the horse watches him with a depressed look on his face as he rides a real horse around the farm."

We burst out with laughter at the thought of this and we went back and forth doing our impressions of a sad mini horse that misses the days when his owner used to ride him. Meanwhile, Christina was fairly quiet in the back seat. I don't like to neglect people in conversation circles so I asked her questions about herself. She is a physical therapist in the bay area. I don't know specifically what she does and the field of physical therapy is so vast I can't even begin to speculate. She didn't elaborate and I didn't want to force a conversation to happen so I went back to joking around with Martin about random, silly topics. She enjoyed it just the same as we were entertaining her with our absurd banter.
Highway 1, on the way into Half Moon Bay
When we arrived in Half Moon Bay, I helped them unload their bikes and wished them a happy Thanksgiving. Martin and I shared a bro hug/handshake and a final laugh together. I started walking towards the store and Christina said, "Hey, I left you a little present on your arm rest."

"Thanks." I said

I grabbed all of our food from the store and then headed across the parking lot to a Walgreens to get some other household items and to get Jessica a newspaper. It's a tradition of hers to look through all of the sale papers after dinner and plan her attack for Black Friday. She doesn't get up all early and she doesn't fight over door busters or anything, she just likes being out among the shoppers listening to Christmas music.

When I returned to the car I remembered about the gift Christina said she had left on my arm rest. I looked over and there was a small box of chocolates with a note on top that said, "Thank you SO much. Happy Thanksgiving!"

On top of the note was also a little something for me. Something that, in California, is more acceptable than in most other states. Something that, when I was all done eating dinner and the kids were in bed, I sat on the steps of my camper and enjoyed. Thanks again, Christina.

The next day, while Jessica was doing her Black Friday thing, I got to work on prepping the camper for departure. I cleaned it real nice and put air in the tires. I checked the lug nuts and made sure the bearings had plenty of grease. One thing I learned from hanging out in my dad's auto shop my whole life is that things with wheels DO NOT like to sit still for long periods of time. I mentioned in an earlier blog post about people getting rusty and complacent when they sit still for too long. This philosophy applies even MORE so to automobiles.

I needed to get on the roof of the camper to clean it and spot check it for damage and leaks so I loaded the boys into the Gator and we drove down to the maintenance shed to see if there was a ladder lying around. When we got to the maintenance shed we ran into a guy named Rene. He has a normal american accent, not the French accent you might have been expecting. What is interesting about Rene is that he lives in Butano State Park too, in one of the employee cabins along the road to the campground. What's unusual about this is that the ENTIRE two months that we lived in the park we had only ever heard about Rene from others. We never once crossed paths. So there we were, on one of our last days in the park, face to face with the ever elusive Rene.

Rene likes to talk and I am always open to having a conversation with a stranger. When he learned I was from Michigan he was excited to inform me of his Minnesota roots. He then went on to talk about the seasons. He said that Californian's are egocentric because they live in a place that has two abbreviated seasons instead of the four seasons we were used to.

"Let them spend a couple years watching the seasons change every few months and they might realize that they are part of something bigger." He said.

He was really an interesting dude with just the right amount of cynicism that I can appreciate in a person but, I was also in a hurry to grab a ladder and finish prepping my camper. So, Rene will forever be the mysterious guy that lived in the same park as me and, I kinda like the thought of that. It's like when you go see your FAVORITE band in concert for the first time and they play a short, 45 minute set. Some things are better left to the imagination.
You gotta take advantage of things like tools and ladders when you have them. I gave the camper a full check-up and cleaning. 
We got pounded with rain that night which basically voided all of the time I spent washing the camper and, the next morning, we hooked up the camper and pulled out of Butano State Park for the last time.

We set a course for San Luis Obispo just because it looked like a nice place and a convenient half-way point between the Bay Area and Los Angeles. We settled into a nice RV park in Pismo Beach where we have modern conveniences like cable, internet, cell phone signal, convenience stores, and restaurants. These things ALWAYS feel good to have when you make extended sacrifices living in the woods. We spent an evening doing some holiday decorating on the camper and I saw a happiness in Jessica that I hadn't seen in a while. She was probably feeling a little bummed that we are spending the holidays on the road but, the Christmas tree and lights that we decorated the camper with, while small and inexpensive, were a huge boost to her and I think she feels a little more like she is home for the holidays.
This was a really great moment. 

After we set up our camper in Pismo, I decided that I wanted Lebanese food really bad. In Detroit, you can find Mediterranean food on every corner because we have a really huge middle eastern population (the largest in the country). When you head west, these places become harder to come by. So, I was ready to get some kebobs and fattoush. When we got into the town of Arroyo Grande the restaurant I wanted to eat at was closed but there were people sitting all along the street and police barricades everywhere. Within a few minutes, we were surrounded by crowds, marching bands and the holiday spirit. We had, quite literally, stumbled into an awesome holiday parade in a quaint, charming town. The sleigh float with a New Orleans brass band passed by me and made me question, "How the hell did I end up here?"

...and really, it's a long and unusual story.

Follow our journey on Instagram @yumfam

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