We had the great fortune to stop and visit one of my dearest friends from college, Mike Spieser and his family in Eugene. Mike is one of the hardest working, smartest, kindest, craftiest and most loyal people I know. He has two fantastic kids and his long term girlfriend/fiancé Tracy has 3. They are all people I would gladly spend a bunch of time lost in the woods with. A true testament to Mike and Tracy as people and parents.
They have a wonderful house in rural Eugene that they have busily been renovating. Except renovations to Mike mean a whole different thing than they do to most people. Sure, Mike knocked out a few walls, put in a support here and there, changed where rooms were…I don’t know, I couldn’t really keep up with everything he and Dan were talking about during the tour. Thing is, he also cleared like a half acre of heavily wooded, brought in topsoil to level it and put in a lawn (with volleyball net of course), then cleared down another level and built what Tracy lovingly calls the Agriplex. At this point that consists of 2 buildings far as I could tell. One very secure small building housed about 8 adorable chicks, soon to be the egg laying hens of the Agriplex. The large building consisted of a 2 story henhouse, heavily reinforced against foxes, bears, cougars and bobcats. I’m telling you they could rent that space out in San Diego for $2,000 plus a month! Next to that is a very secure (from birds and varmints) grow house that is the full 2 stories tall. It has mature fruit trees, a variety of berries growing like crazy and all the lettuces, vegetables etc. one could hope for safely protected from marauding deer and birds, and maybe neighbors. Here’s a picture of it from their beautiful deck, He’s not done. as the tour progressed he kept listing the things he planned to add, and I do not doubt that he will.
He does all this because he has absolutely nothing else to do except run his own software company, raise his children and perform a management role in the volunteer fire department and CERT. No sweat!
We had several amazing meals at their table thanks to Tracy and Mike and we took them out to dinner one night in Eugene, when we discovered that yes, it is still as kooky as ever. We had a great dinner on the patio of a nice place we had actually visited with them before (I had wanted to ask to go back there but didn’t know how to describe it and that is where they chose!). After dinner, while discussing how stuffed we all were, talk naturally turned to donuts as talk often does. Tracy mentioned Voodoo Donuts downtown which I know I have seen on Food Network or something. She pantomimed their signature voodoo donut which is a very sloppy voodoo donut doll with a pretzel stabbing it like a pin. Her pantomime was unfortunately not caught on video, it was spot on I realized once I saw the donut!
Of course we had to go downtown and find the shop. Or more accurately find parking near the shop. Eugene on a summer evening is a pretty busy place. A swirling mix of hipsters, students, stoners, homeless and a few old farts like us. Mike gallantly let us out in front of the shop and went to park the car after we made a few fruitless circles around the block. We were still standing stunned in front of the donut display when he came to join us. Just go to the website, I can’t even describe the donut dementia this shop has come up with. It is mad brilliance! We had to have just about every donut (because the teenagers at home would want them). And they were delicious, even though we were stuffed from dinner.
The shop itself is perfectly weird. Part Christmas village, part frat house, all wonderful. They even have a gorilla that probably serves as bouncer. They might need it during busy hours.
Their merchandise is clever too. “I got VD in Eugene”, “Worth the Weight” and “The Magic is in the Hole”. Dunking Donuts this is not…
Thank you Mike and Tracy for a wonderful visit, I think…
Big Sur in the summer is one long line of cars, all going to the same place, all gawking at the same things, all about to drive off a cliff into the ocean at any turn and it is still fantastic. Every high priced hotel room, yurt, cabin and camp site is full. You can barely park to go into any restaurant or gallery or hiking area. The overlooks have dangerous lines forming on the 2 lane highway waiting for a spot to pull over and practice suicide selfies. Driving in was still spectacular, especially as a passenger. We didn’t stop at the overlooks which we know from previous trips to be incredible, and we had a glamping spot reserved so we knew we were squeezed in somewhere once we got there.
We drove up from Santa Maria after an emotional visit with Dan’s mom, Shirley and brother, Richard. It was a good way to decompress.. We didn’t do much sightseeing along the way as we had done the trip a few times and really just wanted to spend some time in Big Sur. The only stop we made was north of San Simeon to check out the elephant seals. There was very little activity from those fellows when we dropped by, but the size and numbers were impressive.
Once we arrived at our reserved glamp site at Fernwood we were a little disappointed with how squished together we all were, but when we got the trailer backed in (good job team!) and settled down in front of our luxury tent we were quite pleased.
We had excellent neighbors, we were right on a creek,
and the amazing Sequoias towered over all of us.
Once we had unloaded what we needed, we lay down on the benches of our picnic table and these trees were what we looked up into. More than 100 feet above us these strong trunks were swaying independently in the breeze, inviting us to relax and let go of the packing, the road trip, the family drama, the hoards. It worked, we were sucked in, much like the swaying of those majestic trees was helping suck nutrients to the upper levels of the giants. We could hear and feel the breeze, hear the creek a few feet below our campsite and everything else just sort of melted away. After about 10 minutes Dan said the only thing that would make this better was a Negroni. Lucky Dan! There was a stairway to heaven not 100 yards from our campsite.
Somewhat unbelievably, this beautiful, somewhat long stairway, led to the Fernwood Bar and Grill at highway level, which delighted us with craft cocktails and lively conversation.
Dan enjoyed a Negroni, I had a delicious Mai Tai and we descended again to light a fire and cook up a gourmet dinner of hot dogs. A perfect evening in wooded paradise.
All too soon, a restful evening turned to a lovely morning and we were packing up to go. Less than 24 hours in Big Sur, but a whole new feeling of peace and well being.
Oh my goodness, if we ever meet you in our travels and tell you getting all this started was easy, laugh in our faces, tell us to get to a neurologist for a dementia exam and make sure we aren’t driving that day. The last 4 months have been crazy, but the last week before leaving was pure hell.
We decided we needed the time and space to pack up for our road trip, camping and our eventual overseas part. Surprisingly that was all very different versions of packing but with a lot of overlap. We told our realtor we were bringing home our dog and placing a moratorium on showing the house until we left so that we could make an unholy mess to clear the place out and pack, A week wasn’t nearly enough time! We made it work, but we didn’t sleep much, didn’t eat properly and had moments of not being too nice to each other or anyone else who entered our sphere.
We are proud of ourselves for some things though. First off we left only 24 hours later than planned! Kind of amazing considering what the place looked like up until we actually left. Another point of pride is that we recycled, upcycled, sold, donated or gifted approximately 90% of what we owned instead of having it go to the landfill. This felt great, as we watched our things go to good homes we had a feeling of great satisfaction, It was on our next to last day when we did have to take one carload to the dump that it really sank in what an earth friendly thing we had accomplished, Driving for what seemed like miles at the Miramar landfill in San Diego we were astonished at the scale of waste disposal required for just a part of the city. Rows of trucks were lined up throwing household goods off in piles as far as the eye could see and behind those piles were piles of green waste. A GINORMOUS earth mover rolled over the whole mess as we were there contributing to the death of our planet and we could actually feel the ground shake under our feet as it passed by. Being such a tree hugger it felt really strange to just toss stuff on the ground and leave it. We were so happy that 20 years of accumulated stuff had only resulted in one carload to the dump. Oh, and those 2 dumpsters we used out in front of the house, but that was a lot of teardown from the patio overhangs and some irreparably broken things. So, yeah, quite a lot, but still!
When we finally, creatively got everything packed into the trailer and the car, the dog had just enough room to curl up behind us in perfect position to be with us and look out the front window as well.
We were running late to get to our friends’ house in Woodland Hills so without much ado we drove out of our driveway of 20 plus years and eased the trailer on down the road.
One last trip to the safe deposit box to put the storage unit keys in there, drop off a last minute item for a friend and we were on the road! We were doing well, almost to our friends’ house when Dan heard something funny with the trailer. Mind you, we had already had someone give the trailer a full workover, whatever that means, paying special attention to the wheels, bearings and what not (author is not in charge of automotive function!) and we were assured it was in tip top shape. There was a loud clicking sound coming from one side, pace related to speed, so Dan wisely pulled off the freeway to investigate. We didn’t have a flat, nothing was obviously wrong, but in the short time we were trying to identify where the sound was coming from the other side started making it too. We decided we had to find a garage and get it looked at. So there we , were somewhere in North Los Angeles at 5:30 on a Wednesday with a scary sounding trailer trying to find a garage before it closes or the trailer falls apart. This was not how I envisioned the first day of our road trip going, although to be honest if I had really thought about it, this is exactly what I would have expected!
We found Rene’s Automotive Shop about 10 minutes before they were going to close and the owner was so nice to us! He looked it over, he drove it around, he stood on the hitch and bounced…he could find nothing wrong! Of course he could hear the scary clicking and knew something wasn’t right. Finally he tries a lug nut and realizes he can take it off easily with just a few turns with his fingers! All of them! That fancy going over our trailer had before we left stopped just short of tightening the darn lug nuts. We could have been the lead story on the LA news if Dan hadn’t heard that on time. So, an hour of troubleshooting, a minute of lug nut tightening and $40 later we were on the road. This was excruciatingly stressful because we had a very important reservation at 8 pm and it was about 6:45 and we still had to get to our friend’s house, get the dog situated, change into something elegant and get to the event. Frazzled doesn’t even cover how I was feeling! We did safely get to our destination and more on that visit in another post. What a classic way to start the journey of a lifetime!
One of the more surprising things we did to get ready for our journey was to go spend 3 nights in Sioux Falls, The really practical reason was that we needed to change our state residency and South Dakota made it insanely easy to do so,
The first surprising thing is just how easy it is to become a South Dakotan, The reason for doing it is if you are going to be traveling full time you probably don’t want to pay state income tax in a state you aren’t living in. South Dakota has no state tax and allows you to become a state resident by showing a one night hotel, motel or camping receipt with your name on it, show a contract for one year postal service with a South Dakota address, surrender your current drivers license, take the drivers eye exam and voila! You are a resident of South Dakota, you walk out holding your Drivers License. You also need various forms of ID. And your social security card or a w-2 from somewhere and any time. You can even register to vote right there at the Drivers License Office. The people at the licensing office spotted us coming from a mile away, asked if we were permanent travelers and walked us right through the process.
Equally easy is to register to vote. I don’t know what the reasoning was, but someone told us not to register at the Drivers License Office, although that would have been the easiest. But we did just go down to the county office, show our state drivers licenses and fill out a simple form. We changed the voting profile of the state a bit. And yes, it is Minnehaha County!
A convenient surprise was the ease of setting up mail service. Since we won’t have a permanent address we needed somewhere for our mail to go, There are these neat services that provide you with an actual street address. They receive your mail, scan the envelope and upload it to your account so you can choose whether you want them to shred it, open it and scan contents or just forward it to you at an address you provide to them, We were thrilled with the service at Your Best Address .
Perhaps the biggest surprise of all came when we got to the driveway of our hotel and were greeted at the street by this billboard.
I mean, what the heck? Being from California we aren’t used to seeing blatant ads for gun silencers. I admit, it was shocking in its novelty. I’m not in the market for one so I guess the sign really wasn’t meant for me. Strangely enough on the other side of this ad was this one:
Bahahahaha! What a contrast. The other billboards that stood out I didn’t get a picture of but they were doom and gloom biblical looking scenarios that one might expect from the Christian right. But they weren’t advertising for churches, Christ or God, they were sponsored by atheists and were pointing out that God isn’t going to save your delusional soul so give it up. WOW! We got all that information just on the ride to pick up our rental car!
Also surprising to our California sensibilities was the price of everything. $50 a night hotel, $30 a day car rental, $6 for a matinee movie. The first night we went out for a bite and sat at the bar at The Sandbar Bar and Grill it was Tuesday and all their tea drinks, like Long Island Iced Teas, were $3 all night. Dinner and many drinks came out to less than $60 and we sat at the bar chatting with locals and playing trivia for hours. Another night while exploring the vibrant downtown scene we found a happy hour at a very nice establishment where a double Ketel One vodka drink set us back a whopping $5.50. Very affordable.
A less pleasant surprise was the amount of salt that they seem to use on the food. We both like salt, I’m even encouraged by a cardiologist to eat salt, but this was on a scale of “oops, the lid was off the when I fixed your plate”. We actually couldn’t eat some of it. Must be keeping their doctors busy!
Casinos everywhere! In a convenience store, gas station, restaurant, strip mall…they were everywhere. We went into the one in The Sandbar Bar and Grill and it was like a game room for kids except the machines were all gambling, It wasn’t as loud and crazy like Las Vegas but it was dark and windowless. $20 on a Blackjack machine and we could almost see the algorithm encouraging you with a win and then slamming you with 2 to 3 losses, $20 went away pretty quickly, Several people we spoke with over the couple days seemed to really dislike having the casinos so accessible, They felt that it really contributed to addictive gambling which they saw as a real problem in the area,
Sioux Falls has a lovely downtown (speed limit mysteriously set at 15 mph) which is host to a sculptural walk, It’s the largest and most recognized annual exhibit of public art sculptures in the country. It meanders down their main street and has lovely descriptions of the art and artist by the sculpture.
The best part for me was seeing families strolling the walk and really young children engaging with it, questioning what it meant, admiring it, touching it. It is a community very engaged with the tradition and it made it really fun as a tourist to wander the route and discover the beauties.
Sioux Falls Park was a revelation as well. I had seen pictures and noticed they didn’t have a tall waterfall, rather a series of drops making a large part of the river there active. I didn’t think that was going to be too impressive. Boy was i wrong! The river meanders beautifully through the park, spilling down a lovely series of waterfalls. The park has been pleasingly designed with curving walkways and decks that allow you to be right next to the falls, curbing the feeling of needing to go off trail and actually get in the water, The grounds were immaculate and people were definitely out enjoying the breezy sunny day.
Finally, the extent to which everyone was friendly was astonishing. We were in a strip mall, so separated from street by sidewalk, some foliage and some parking lot, and a fellow on a Harley Davidson rolled by on the street. He had all the classic leathers, facial hair, posture and motorcycle beefiness that made him seem like a regular biker. Probably was. He catches Dan’s eye from that great distance, Dan is wearing his everyday 60 year old white guy on the street clothes, and gives him a nod and a nice wave. Wait, what? Not that bikers are rude or don’t acknowledge people, but this guy had to look around for someone to nod and wave at! Everyone was like that, it was delightful! We went through Denver on our flight back home. A, s soon as we got off the plane we knew we weren’t in South Dakota anymore, No one yielding to you in foot traffic, jostling, glaring. Our flight was delayed over and over due to the weather, which was clearly visible outside the big windows, and we had to keep switching gates for about 4 hours before we got going again. I’ve never seen such a bunch of cranky people! It was a stark contrast for sure.
We enjoyed our time in South Dakota, and will have to go back in 5 years to renew our licenses, so we can maybe check out another cool town,
Last I had a chance to update we were in the process of fixing our own broken down parts in order to be physically sound for the travels. That has all gone well and on schedule, it didn’t make us feel 30 again but we can both walk and carry things, so, winning,
The last 2 months have been all about getting the house ready for market. We interviewed half a dozen realtors, had the house painted and painted ourselves, had 2 rounds of extreme gardeners, changed plumbing fixtures, pressure washed the outside, steam cleaned the floors, replaced the carpet, cleaned 20 years of detritus from the attics and closets, took down the patio covers and filled 2 dumpsters.
At the beginning of this we made the awkward and difficult decision to not use people we knew personally as our realtor. Dan was insistent on that, and in retrospect, it is probably best. We talked to people who thought we should set the price of the house at a fixer upper level and just walk away from it. We could tell that they thought the house on a busy street was too difficult a listing and they didn’t really like it. We talked to people who told us that they were solo operators and so they could devote all their time to us, but they had no specifics on how they were going to market the home and couldn’t produce interesting stats. We interviewed one realtor who was obviously just blowing smoke up our you know where and said he would set the price so high we were shocked. He wasn’t talking about putting any work into it either. When we spoke with Raul Duarte from Berkshire Hathaway he was direct with us. He showed up early to look around the property and make notes by himself. He gave us an honest assessment of the pros and cons of the property. He came prepared with information about other homes on the market in the area and why or why not they compared to ours. We were able to realistically discuss how much work we were willing to do, he advised against any remodel and he had a calm, confident demeanor backed up with good answers for all our questions so we decided he was our guy. Step one complete.
Then came the whirlwind of repairs! We got so used to people coming in and out of our house with tools and equipment, not being able to use even one of our 2.5 bathrooms in private at times, changing clothes in the garage for privacy, and general chaos. What we were not used to was paying a lot of money and having some pretty extreme issues with some of the work.
The painter and powerwasher was a laidback fellow with the gift of gab. It is Southern California and we pretty much expect that, no problem, He gave us a quote to freshen up the walls throughout the house inside and out and repair a couple spots. It was quite a substantial amount of money, but we figured it would turn out great and really help us in the end. The trouble began almost as soon as the work did. He sprayed our hall and foyer, which is fine, but didn’t tape off light switches, hinges or door stoppers. There was a lot of mess on the stone floor and some spots which clearly didn’t get covered properly. We pointed all this out and his attitude became very defensive and slippery after that. It was 4 or 5 days of having someone do a sub par job for a lot of money and I didn’t even want to be in the same house with him. We were told he was the best we’d get for the price but I am still sorry we didn’t find our own. We had someone fabulous help us 15 years ago for a very reasonable price and we found out from several of our acquaintances that they all use him and he’s still in business. The end result was that we got as much as we could from him and then ended up cleaning it up. We also decided we would paint 3 additional rooms ourselves, after moving the furniture it really showed it needed it. We did a much better job, even though it wore us out.
We looked at carpet at the usual spots and found one we wanted at Lowes. The guy who helped us was so much better than the guys we tried to get us to help us elsewhere. He wrote up the order and we were on our way, writing a glowing review on their website as we left. It was after that we had a problem. The first time Dan tried to call and ask why we hadn’t heard from the scheduling department he couldn’t get anyone to answer in flooring and waited over 30 minutes trying. Multiple similar calls later, and trying to talk to managers, or anyone and we decided to look elsewhere. Of all things, Empire Carpet came out to show us their stuff, we chose one, scheduled it and were all set. Happy!
I tried my hand at replacing bathroom fixtures for the first time. To be honest, I had hoped to complete the job to give Dan a break since he still had his whole office to clear. Predictably, I did need some help. But I had figured out what we needed, found them at a good price online and ordered all the right stuff, so that was something. I could do quite a bit of the sink faucet replacements, and then I needed Dan to help out. He was actually pretty impressed at how far I got and that I didn’t screw anything up. With a few struggles caused by awkward positions,
missing tools (he sold a lot already!) and moving parts we did get the 2 sink faucets replaced. I feel very proud. Dan moved on to tackle the shower and bathtub, but once he got to the pipes back in the wall he found they were copper and sweated together, which he didn’t feel comfortable messing with. On to finding a plumber. We had a crazy quote for doing all four fixtures and were afraid of what we were going to find when we tried to get a little help with the last two. I posted a request for recommendations on NextDoor app and received a lot of feedback. We called the one with the most effusive praise and found he wasn’t available but he referred us to another fellow who could come out that day. We felt like that was a pretty safe bet. They came out and gave us a quote that seemed fair and we asked them to proceed. Of course during this time a day or two has passed and we have no hot water in the house, so we are pretty ready to hire someone. They came in and got right to work, finished up quickly and we gave them a check with a huge thank you and relief. Then we relaxed for a couple hours because we were utterly exhausted from the other stuff we were getting done. This was a Sunday night and Dan went in to put the wall back together behind the tub when SQUISH. Half the carpet in the guest room was soaked and it was creeping up into the baseboard and on its way to the walls. He frantically searched for the source of the water, but the pipes were sound. Apparently they had just drained the line into the room instead of into a bucket and didn’t want to tell us they soaked the room. Then we went to take a shower and the lines behind the shower were loose and leaking into that wall. Dan was able to fix that part before any damage was done. The flooding really wouldn’t have been a big deal except we were having the new carpet installed the next day and had to call and cancel that because the room was too wet. Empire was great about rescheduling but it did put us behind by a week in listing the house. The plumber refused to take responsibility, said it was flooded when he got there. Yeah, and he didn’t mention it to us…sure. Payment stopped.
During this time we also found a storage unit that would allow us to send items to ourselves from our travels and they would just tuck them in our unit for us. The place is brand new and reminds me of how they depict FBI evidence storage on TV.
We made multiple trips the 60 plus mile round trip to stick our treasures in storage, We made 4 times as many trips to the Goodwill to donate things. We made 1 trip to a consignment store with some of the last of the things that we wanted to sell but were having no luck with online. We had a large dumpster delivered and filled it. Twice.
Stuff, stuff, stuff…we swore multiple times that we would never accumulate again, and we are going to really have to refrain from doing so as we travel. It should be easier because we would have to package it and send it to storage so the costs go up a lot and it isn’t just easy. That’s good!
Update: It has been another month since I started writing this. The house has been on the market 3 weeks. All the furniture is staged, meaning it isn’t ours and it is put in here to make the house look marketable, not to be practical. We can’t really use it, we can’t dirty the place up because someone could want to see it at any time, we have to get out every weekend for Open Houses, we have to board Enzo because we couldn’t possibly keep the place clean enough with him here…this is EXTRA not fun! We leave no matter what in about two and a half weeks and I hope it’s sold, but mostly I just don’t want to live like this any more! But Raul made a really pretty brochure. Whose house is that anyway?
For a long time now this has been a plan, in the future, going to happen, but not really scheduled. First there came a retirement date for Dan. May 1st, 2019. We have known that for about a year now, and the countdown has been intense. But the rest of it, when we’ll list the house, when we will hit the road, when we will first go international, that has all been up in the air. It has been kind of stressful to not know the timetable, to have no real plans to activate the great adventure. Too many “I don’t knows” when people ask us questions, reminding us of how much we still had to figure out. Until yesterday.
Finally, we made some decisions. Figured out when we could reasonably load our trailer with our camp gear and drive off to explore a few national parks. Figured out how long we wanted to do that, figured out a route, and actually made some reservations. We are committed now to a timetable. We haven’t actually pulled the trigger on the international flight, but we should do that in the next couple of days. We did identify the one we wanted. First big stop? Porto, Portugal. Arriving mid October. Probably for a month so we can explore Portugal and parts of Spain from there, and get in the groove of this whole Nomad thing.
It took hours, scratching away in my trusty “trip idea” notebook, googling things like crazy, looking up park websites, campsite reviews, Airbnb options in some places, drive times and of course, getting frustrated with each other a couple times. It isn’t all sunshine and butterflies…just 98%!
It feels good. And terrifying. But mostly good to have made some firm plans. Now we know when to sell the stuff we use more often. When to really get the clean out going. When to list the house. I can start researching things to do at the times we are going to be in areas on our travel route. We can get real about international health plans because we know a start date. And international phone service. And getting state residency in South Dakota so we can travel without the burden of California state taxes when we aren’t actually living here. The list is seemingly endless, but at least it isn’t nebulous any longer. We have dates! It is happening! Buckle up, it’s getting real.
I have gotten very spoiled with excellent luck with animal sightings when I go on any kind of excursion, be it whale watching, bear photo safari, bird watching or whatever. It ends up I do not have the magic touch with scuba diving trips to see manta rays. Two years in a row we went on boat dives to swim with the majestic animals, confident that we will have a dozen or so swooping past us so close that it will be hard to film. Crickets. Or rather, snapping shrimp. The company we went with, Kona Honu Divers, rebounded admirably with a very nice reef dive where we were able to find some great night activity. But still, we really wanted to see those manta rays.
This year after our second fruitless dive we went snorkeling at Two Step. I had read that the dolphins come in to Honaunau Bay quite often so I wanted to go out deep into the bay and see what happened. Dan was game for that so we ignored the beautiful wildlife that was evident around the rocks in the clear water as we entered and struck out for the middle of the bay. We kept swimming, with no real destination in mind and eventually Dan looked up and started to say he hadn’t seen anything in a while. Just as I sensed his head come up next to me, I saw below us the majestic wings of a manta ray emerging from the amazing blue water. I started punching the water frantically trying to get him to look back down and then we were able to enjoy the magic of the ray together. Dan even got it all with the GoPro.
We learned that each ray has unique, identifiable markings on its back and that the couple hundred that cruise the coast of the big island are all documented and “named”. We noticed that this ray seemed to have some damage on the edge of its wing, maybe made by a shark. It was amazing to watch as it raised and lowered the cephalic fins on either side of its mouth depending on whether it was feeding or searching. At times it paused on the down current side of a cluster of rocks on the bottom and lowered the cephalic fins, appearing to hover there and feed for a bit off of the nutrients coming across the rock grouping. Those pauses were probably the reason we were able to follow it for a bit. The ray was able to flick a wing and smoothly “fly” off against the current at a seemingly effortless pace, far exceeding any speed we could maintain. After watching for a few blissful minutes we faded back and let the ray slip back into the deep blue water, leaving us wondering if that had really happened. We were absolutely euphoric and decided we were happier with that natural encounter than we would have been with the manta ray dive, where they are attracted by large lights that bring plankton in for them and divers sit in a large circle on the floor as they swim through the light over and over. It was great to see this ray, doing what rays do, which is cruising the coast finding plankton naturally occurring along the way. It came close to us of its own free will, we were able to watch it soar in its natural environment and it was just the two of us experiencing it together.
When we calmed down a bit from that amazing encounter we decided we would head over to the edge of the bay and work our way back to our exit point by snorkeling around the rocks and enjoying the usual rich life found there. At this point we were probably about 2 miles out and dead center of the bay. We put our heads down and swam, seeing nothing of consequence along the way. The bottom dropped away and all we could see was deep blue going on forever. Dan looked up again and said it was boring, maybe we should head in another direction. I looked up to see where we were, where else we might want to head and immediately noticed 4 or 5 fins about 50 feet in front of us. The snorkel had just turned from our best ever to off the charts! As soon as we put our heads back down we had pods of spinner dolphins swimming past us, around us, under us and practically through us. Check out how close this group came to Dan. He could have reached out and touched them. And be sure and look for the teeth that you can see on the closest one.
We ended up swimming with this pod of over 50 dolphins for close to an hour and a half as they split off and jumped and spun in the distance then came back to join the group, dove straight down and disappeared for a while returning suddenly from the other direction or suddenly all disappeared only to suddenly reappear underneath us a few minutes later. They were clearly comfortable with our presence and I had a chance to swim alongside a couple of them for a few seconds, maintaining eye contact and they slowed to check me out before they dove with the rest of the pod.
The whole time we spent with them we could see a bunch of people back at the snorkel entry point watching us. No one came out to swim with them. We were still quite a ways out, but nothing would have stopped me if I had been on the beach watching us out there with them. We finally headed for the beach, even though the dolphins were still there. We had been in the water for about two and a half hours, were completely blissed out and finally dragged ourselves away from our new friends.
At the entry and exit point at Two Step if you look down, stones and shells are arranged to spell out Aloha on the sea floor. It must be maintained daily by visitors and I found it completely enchanting.
No doubt we were feeling the aloha and offering a very heartfelt mahalo in return.
“Aren’t you worried that something will happen? I mean, it’s not safe everywhere and tourists are targets.” We hear this, a lot, as we discuss our plans with people we meet and people we know. It’s valid. We can’t be naïve. Wandering around with shiny bobbles, fancy electronics and wide open pockets stuffed with local currency would be unwise anywhere, even at house parties of some of the people who are asking us that question! Dan is a very cautious and safety minded individual. He is also a physically intimidating man, with a non-threatening disposition which helps. I tend to rely a little more on my gut than he would like, but between us it makes for a good balance.
When we have been traveling in the past, and in the most unlikely of places, it has been have proven to us that there are many good people out there that can make the journey not just pleasant, but remarkable. In places like New York City and Paris where the reputation of the residents is less than hospitable we have found the exact opposite to be mostly true. It is delightful to have your fears assuaged by a friendly, unsolicited safety tip from, of all things, a French waiter or a random offer of assistance from a New Yorker in the subway. It puts a spring in our step, a smile on our faces and gives us the intense desire to continue exploring.
In today’s political climate, Mexico has been painted as the bad guy, a country of criminals, rapists, drug dealers and general ne’er do wells that just want to cross the borders illegally and take American jobs or commit their crimes on the American side of the border. Baja California has always been considered a sketchy area for American tourists to visit. Police corruption is well known and we haven’t helped matters by treating it as our own little playground of lawlessness. Much of Mexico is legitimately dangerous in terms of drug cartels, human trafficking, murder and other crime. But not all, just like here in the US there are places you know you just don’t mess around in. But the rhetoric against the people in general has reached a fever pitch. I grew up here on the border in San Diego though, and my experience has always been that the Mexican immigrants are hard working, helpful, family centered people that are often a lot kinder than their American born counter parts. Last year, when people were really being whipped up about the evils of Mexican illegal immigrants I witnessed a white woman’s car break down on one of the busiest corners in our area. She was stuck, alone, blocking traffic and I saw 3 able bodied, young white men walk right by without helping her. I also saw a Mexican laborer, legal or not I don’t know…but perceptions at the time were leaning towards all Mexican laborers are bad…run across the street, against traffic, and respectfully ask if she needed help. He single handedly pushed her car around the corner and slightly up the hill to get her to a safe spot, then continued on his way before she could get out of the car to properly thank him. It struck me at the time that his kindness was sort of extraordinary given the amount of, shall we say disrespect, that was being shown by the country at large towards his people. I actually teared up a little. My opinion of the people that went by with a quick, shifty glance at the woman in distress was not so favorable.
During this time of tension we were enticed to visit La Ventana, Mexico down in the Southern tip of Baja on the Sea of Cortez. A wonderful friend of ours, Joel Hall, had been visiting there for a couple years and singing the praises of the beauty, isolation, people, food, affordability and activities of the area so we decided to meet up with him while he was down there. We met Joel because he is bartender extraordinaire at a popular restaurant in Carlsbad near our home.
We love to go in and “talk story” with him and there is always a friendly group of locals there doing the same. Joel is the casual ringleader, making interesting introductions so that no one leaves as a stranger. He says has invited a bunch of people to go down while he’s there and claims we are the only ones who have ever done it. Apparently, when push comes to shove, people are a little afraid to go to a remote town in Baja California. The reputation of the area is that it is unsafe. Again, a typical hesitancy for Americans towards Mexico. Joel’s familiarity with it, and assurances convinced us to give it a go and we are delighted that we did.
We flew from Tijuana into La Paz, an easy and inexpensive way to get down to the tip of Baja.
There we rented a wreck, stayed the night in La Paz, which was delightful, went snorkeling with whale sharks the next day and ended up across the street from the marina for tacos and margaritas afterwards. I had just wrapped a towel around my waist and thrown a sweatshirt on and walked across the street at El Cayuco, so focused was I on the 2 for 1 margarita sign and the transcendent experience of swimming with whale sharks. We had a lovely meal, a very sweet, charming waiter, Tony, some of the best margaritas I’ve ever had (remember…I grew up in San Diego and am not exactly a millennial!) took some pictures with our waiter (I said he was charming, right?) and were on our way for the hour or so scenic drive to La Ventana.
Joel’s description of La Ventana did not disappoint, and anyone looking to go “off the grid” should check it out. A wind surfing mecca, gateway to diving in the Sea of Cortez which is like Jacques Cousteau’s aquarium, plucked fresh from the water seafood for pennies, interesting people from all over the world hanging out in a town with one mostly dirt road in and out. The bars come complete with dogs and puppies to love on if you are missing yours and rumor has it the occasional cow wanders in, so you have to be ok with a very casual dress code. It felt friendly, relaxed and the locals were helpful and non -threatening.
The second morning I went looking for my purse. I realized that I hadn’t seen it since we arrived at La Ventana. We searched our casita and the car thoroughly. THOROUGHLY!
Dan did his detective questioning “where did you last see it?” “did you have it at blank?” and we determined that I must have left it at the restaurant across the street from the marina in La Paz. Aw Geez. I didn’t even know the name of the restau…oh wait! I took pictures and I had my phone! We were still in La Ventana for a couple days so I began trying to call the restaurant. First step, find the number. Not the easiest, but after about 90 minutes I did it. Next step, call the restaurant. Well, not so good. Every time the nice lady answered she listened to me try and Spanglish my way through what I needed for about 15 seconds and then hung up. I was calling mid-afternoon so she was probably a family member looking after the place between busy times or something like that and overwhelmed by the calls. It took me until the next day, but I finally got through to someone that I could communicate with enough and was told that Tony had my purse and was waiting for me to return. He wasn’t there, but his shift coincided with our return to La Paz to fly back home in a couple days so we could drop by and pick it up.
Dan was remarkably chill about all this. He’s pretty used to my misplacing things of importance and I guess he knows by now that fussing at me about it will only spoil an otherwise great day, so that is helpful. Even though my anti-anxiety medicine was IN MY PURSE, I managed to remain calm and Joel and his buddies were pretty impressed that a female could continue to function with her handbag out of her control in another town in Baja! I told them they knew the wrong females…
We planned ahead and left 2 hours earlier for La Paz on the last day so that we would have plenty of time to stop by the restaurant retrieve the infamous “bolso Azul” or blue purse and still get to the airport. When we arrived at the still enticing locale it was not yet open for business, but we strolled in and found a lovely lady sweeping. I believe it was the poor soul that I tormented a few days before on the phone, but we were able to communicate much better in person and she told us that Tony wasn’t there for the lunch shift yet, but that she thought he had stashed the purse in the restaurant and she began to look for it. She called but could not reach him so we presumed he was on his way in. She did a pretty thorough search of the rambling restaurant and told us we would have to wait for him to get there. Shortly thereafter, with us getting a tad nervous, he did arrive and recognized us right away. Relieved hugs were given and he explained that he had taken the purse home because he was afraid something might happen to it at the restaurant. Ummmmm. As grateful for his thoughtfulness that we were, we explained that we were flying out, that I needed my passport and could we go get it? It was a little difficult because his lunch shift was beginning, he lived about 30 minutes away and had been dropped off. After a short discussion, he talked to the other people at the restaurant and agreed to hop in our rental car and take us to his home to get the purse.
Imagine! I had made a silly mistake in a foreign country known for poverty, crime and corruption and here was this humble man rescuing me in such an over the top fashion. I have left my purse in a fast food place in San Diego, been gone 15 minutes and the purse was stolen, never to be seen again! We chatted casually as he directed us back to his home in La Paz, interesting to get back and see the neighborhoods off the beaten track. He ran into the house, was gone no more than 20 seconds and came back out with the purse wrapped in a white garbage bag and handed it to me. I took it out and casually flipped through it, laughing that I had to prove to nervous Dan that my passport was really there and that we could fly out. The contents were untouched. My cash, identification, passport, anti-anxiety meds were all there. The humble honesty and goodness of this man really knocked me over. When we got back to the restaurant he would only take a small tip and more hugs and then sent us on our way, feeling like we had been treated like family in Baja.
This is not the only extraordinary experience we have had with strangers while traveling. We are so lucky to encounter kindness and generosity frequently in the most unexpected places. It is one of the reasons that we are so looking forward to starting this journey as a full time endeavor. We really look forward to the opportunities to meet people, have experiences, hopefully pay it forward and let the world continue to surprise and delight us.
Do you have a secret reality show that you just can’t get enough of, even though you know it is silly, staged and completely un-real? Whether you will admit it or not, I will. My dirty little secret is Project Runway. I can’t get enough of Heidi Klum, Tim Gunn, sequins, pleats, crazy unwearable designs and unabashed snarkiness. All set in the glorious background of New York City and the promise of showing at NY Fashion Week for the finalists. Fab-u-lous!
One of the best parts of each episode is the designers’ visit to Mood, the amazing fabric store in the heart of New York’s garment district. I’ve always been fascinated watching these talented artists run around 3 stories of fabrics and notions with only 30 minutes to find the perfect materials for a design they have just barely begun to imagine. And the amazing textiles they found there! Nothing like I had ever seen at a fabric store near me, that’s for sure.
It just so happened that Dan’s favorite French onion soup is made by a lovely restaurant, the Houndstooth Pub in the garment district so we made several trips there during our last trip to New York. On one of those visits, I remembered that Mood must be nearby and Googled the address. Even with the address, it wasn’t easy to find. It was on a block of amazing shops, one just of beads and feathers,
the next all embroidered fabrics, little custom shops, other fabric stores…amazing. But I couldn’t see Mood. Ends up they didn’t have a big first floor display window. You had to go into a building in the middle of the block and go up an elevator which then opened into their store on the 2nd floor. I’m just not used to city buildings I guess…not like strip malls!
Once the door opens in Mood, there is a polite young person at a small desk near the entrance greeting and asking if you needed assistance. Her quick assessment of my open jawed expression must have told her I was a fan of the show and had come to bask in the textile glow so she smiled us on our way.
Yup, I think I clutched my coat and had that expression on my face the whole time we were in there. That’s my mom’s special Christmas sweater that she wore to all holiday events back in the day. I was proud to wear it. Dan had to admit the place was pretty incredible. 3 floors packed thoroughly, if not efficiently, from floor to ceiling with all things fashion.
I mean, look at the directory signs. That doesn’t begin to describe what is happening on each level. I was not the only one walking around in stunned wonder, even some of the employees seemed genuinely awestruck at some of the fabrics and were happy to point out some unusual ones as I wandered around. I saw fabrics ranging from $8 a yard to $230 a yard and I wasn’t even looking at the prices too much.
I didn’t see Heidi (to Dan’s extreme disappointment) or Tim. The shop dog, Swatch, was nowhere to be found and I didn’t ask, but his portrait presides over the shop with a fitting air of fashionable boredom.
And no, I didn’t buy anything, but yes, as I wandered out I did whisper “Thanks Mood!” under my breath.
We’ve surrendered to the process. The days of pretending to live like civilized people is over. The living room is intentionally filling with items for sale, it is spreading into the foyer and pieces are disappearing from other rooms. There is no hope of decorating for Christmas, having people over for dinner or feeling any kind of pride in our home from now on.
It’s kind of a relief. I was trying to figure out how to do all this and maintain the space in any kind of order. I was losing ground and then Dan started to really get in on the act. We have aggressively gone after the attic now and both of our offices are starting to clear out. We are really getting into the swing of letting go, coming to terms with getting rid of things that we like, but we don’t need while keeping the sentimental essentials. A storage unit is in our future.
Unfortunately we can clear faster than people buy stuff online. We are using the local apps LetGo and OfferUp for almost everything. We have sold a lot, but it has been an arduous process.
So many people set up meetings and don’t show up or negotiate down the prices so far then make it a complete nuisance to meet up with them. It gives me great appreciation for the people that make it easy, want it, come get it and pay for it! Garage sales are in our future for sure. We have a cookie jar style container hidden away stuffed with cash that we haven’t counted and are going to use it for “mad money” when we’re all done. I have no idea what form that will end up taking. I have become so miserly in the last two years as we have been formulating this plan. I don’t have to be, it just sort of happened, I want to save all the spending for the adventure! I have to really fight that, although it is good to not purchase things, because I’d just have to sell them. Maybe I’m getting in the spirit of life on the road. I’m sure Dan will help me loosen up and enjoy a little spending spree. In the meantime, do you need anything?
Summer has wrapped up in San Diego. The fall light, that only a native would really recognize, has moved in and that pleasant chill in the morning and late afternoon has arrived. I have the distinct feeling of nostalgia that I haven’t felt since senior year of college. A feeling born of knowing this is probably our last fall in San Diego.
That feeling is spawning other uncomfortable thoughts. This is my last gray whale season as a volunteer for the San Diego Natural History Museum Whalers. We may have already seen our yard in summer splendor for the last time. The house is filling up with piles of stuff for sale, donations, garage sales etc. and it is looking like we won’t be decorating for Christmas this year, so we have already decorated the last time. We have our last annual trip to Kauai scheduled for May. We probably won’t really be missing that on our adventure, but the nostalgic feeling I have thinking about it is still slightly discomfiting. We really will be leaving this place and these people within a year. Almost everything will change.
We are continuing to go through the house and try and get rid of over 30 years of what I will conservatively call collecting stuff. Today I read through some angst filled journal entries from college, found my 9th grade science fair project I did working with penguin chicks at Hubbs Sea World Research Institute, found my flute music books from 3rd grade, found the cards and wrapping paper from the baby shower my parents had when they brought me home as a baby and ruthlessly threw away almost all of it. Honestly, if I didn’t know I had it, I didn’t need to keep it. My mom used to say that if you have the space, you will fill it up. We filled up a 3 bedroom house with a 2 car garage we can’t park in and an attic. We are going to leave with just luggage and a small storage unit. I am feeling lighter already.
Still, it is an odd, not unpleasant but slightly sad feeling as we sense the last occurrence of things passing. It means we are closer to what seemed an impossible dream too far in the future to imagine. It’s vaguely frightening, definitely exhilarating and just interesting to observe in ourselves. We still don’t have a real timeline on actually leaving other than Dan’s retirement date of May 1, 2019. That uncertainty is a little disconcerting and we need to work on pinning it down some. That sounds like another post.
Cleaning out the house encompasses an unbelievable range of items. Inevitably that brings up memories of things you hadn’t thought of in years, and the idea of walking away from things that have been in your life “forever”.
Yesterday I attacked a filing cabinet in my office. Really I just wanted to clear it out so I could hide all my yarn in it until it’s time to donate that. We have always enjoyed theatre and for the last 20 years we have had a subscription to the La Jolla Playhouse which we have enjoyed immensely. It is definitely one of the hardest things to consider giving up for our retirement plans. Due to the longevity of our subscription, we have terrific seats and we always enjoy our date nights in La Jolla. I have collected every Playbill from the performances, and others that we have gone to, in town, in New York, for my friend Michael Butterworth’s doctoral studies in Missoula, Montana, in Los Angeles, wherever. They all went into this cabinet. So when I went to clear it out I had to be ruthless. So many of the performances I remembered clear as day, the conversations we had about them, the elation of the performers in premiere plays when the audience responded well, the train wrecks…so many memories. Here’s a signed one from Hedwig and the Angry Inch in New York and a photo of me with Michael C Hall, who played Hedwig.
This was the first tough clean out. Pulling off the band-aid so to speak. I hope it makes the subsequent clear outs easier because for a sentimental person with hoarding tendencies, this was tough!
Our friend Mark is a magician. Not just any magician, an official member at The Magic Castle in Los Angeles. That’s right, you’re impressed now, and you should be! That audition, membership process is downright brutal, making it a very exclusive club. You literally have to be a magician to get in…get it? Sorry. I tell you this to set the stage, so to speak, for the rush to get to his house in time to change clothes and get to dinner.
After we had our trailer incident at 5:30 pm 10 Los Angeles miles from their house we got back heading their way at about 6:38. The trailer was trailing smooth as butter, but tension was through the roof. We had reservations for 8 people at 8:00 at The Magic Castle for dinner. We were both sweaty and covered in dirt from inspecting the trailer on the road, our clothing was buried at the bottom of back of the car in two different bags, when we got to their house we would have to figure out where to leave Enzo while we went out, and we would still have to drive back to the Castle for dinner. All on our first day of travel where we had less than 2 hours sleep and had been working so hard since 5:30 am. We can do this!
We did do it, we were 15 minutes late and they had graciously held our table for us. Only 2 of the rest of the party could make it at all so we were a party of 6 and we had a sumptuous dinner, partly paid for by a gift certificate we had won for best group costume at their Halloween event. We were even able to catch 3 wonderful shows after dinner. One was in a large theatre and then two were in smaller, close-up rooms which was really cool. By 12:30 Dan was almost sleeping on his feet and the shows were over so we hopped in the car and back to Woodland Hills at a much more relaxed pace than we came over at.
Mark and his husband Don married 4 years ago in a pretty magical wedding at a house that Houdini had lived in. A glorious ceremony and reception. I have known and loved Mark since Senior year of college and we have stayed close over 30 years across country and all. When we were finally able to meet Don we loved him instantly too. They had a rad camper in the driveway that I shamelessly asked if we could stay in for our visit. It’s a perfect little Winnebago Rialta and we were so comfortable in there! Score! 2 nights in Los Angeles in summertime and we didn’t have to work a hotel into the budget. This budgeting is new for me, I’ve always been thrifty, but working with an actual budget is new.
Not surprisingly much of our time was spent driving from one place to another. Errands and eating had us hopping all over the area and kept us pleasantly busy. Both Mark and Don are involved in the arduous care of elder parents. This consumes a great deal of their time and keeps them from spending more time together. It’s a tough life that a lot of middle aged people are looking at right now. They are both devoted sons and it was impressive to witness first hand the last couple days.
I am not a huge fan of Los Angeles. It is too crowded, too self-obsessed, so rude, too smug! So I don’t have pictures and travel tips for you. The food is really excellent and really expensive (and that is from someone who lived the last 20 years in San Diego), but lots of fabulous options. But that’s my review… I guess you either love it or hate it. Mark loves it with every fiber of his being. I still love him, but he makes it difficult.
Our stay ended way too early and as we tried to figure out a better way to pack the trailer, we failed. We tried to say goodbye, we failed pretty miserably at that too. Mark had written a beautiful letter that he read at dinner at the Castle and I was still pretty broken up about that and now the best hugger ever is holding on to me like he won’t let go and I am just broken. I have found it so hard to say goodbye to those dearest to me, even if it really is a see ya later, and even more really of a talk to you later. So, stop it y’all! I’ll see ya later!
Some of the things we are doing to prepare for nomadic life are kind of like getting the car ready for a road trip. We wanted to get going on this lifestyle while we were still “young enough” to do it, but we both have some imperfections in our physical bodies that hold us back from doing as much activity as we would like to do. So, while we are stationary, have great doctors and the time we decided to do a little maintenance.
For me, my knees are always a weak point. I am getting arthritis in them now and about 18 months ago it was getting really hard just to get out of a chair. I tried knee injections, Synvisc, from my orthopedist. The first round was incredibly successful. Pain was eliminated almost immediately and lasted about 6 months, just like the best case scenario for the injections. When it wore off, I was approved for a second round of injections and for some reason they had no effect whatsoever. Ugh, to have tasted pain free only to be robbed of it again! In all honesty, I was about 80 pounds overweight and have tried for the last 25 years to lose weight, resulting in swings of about 25 to 40 pounds up and down, never able to keep the weight off or lose enough in the first place. It was becoming painfully (haha) clear that I was going to have to lose the weight if I wanted to keep my mobility so I made an appointment with a doctor specializing in metabolic issues. He prescribed Victoza for me and so far I have lost 40 pounds without suffering. My knees feel almost fine, my feet feel better, none of my clothes fit and I hope to lost another 40 over the next 8 months or so. That has been a big overhaul for me.
I also had a shoulder that was giving me all kinds of trouble. Cortisone injections and physical therapy were not working to decrease the inflammation so my orthopedist went in to see what was going on. Luckily all he had to do was clean up some rough bone and shredded muscle, but no repairs so the rehab isn’t too bad on it and I will be good as new soon. Another maintenance issue addressed before hitting the road!
Dan has had trouble with his foot for years. A broken toe in his teens resulted in a huge knuckle that no longer bent, he had one hammer toe, 2 toes ripe for hammer toe, a stretched tendon that was irritated in a golf game and was now causing his whole foot to give way so that he would fall. It was painful, dangerous and debilitating. He was afraid that it was going to keep him from exploring as we traveled the globe, and it was causing real trouble for him at work too. He saw a doctor who had reconstructed my ankle a couple years ago and was told that with 6 or 7 surgical procedures he could fix him right up. Yikes. It was scary, but good news. The tendon issue needed to be addressed to keep him from falling anyway, and the rest of the work would make it so much more comfortable for Dan to walk, which we were both afraid wasn’t possible, so he scheduled that surgery.
Dan is 2 weeks out from his surgery, and it was major. It was 7 procedures, took 2 hours and he hasn’t been able to put his foot on the ground yet. Physical therapy won’t even start for at least another 2 weeks, but he is assured that he will have a much better foot than he did before the surgery. I am about 6 weeks out from my shoulder surgery and feeling pretty good. Still need a little physical therapy, but going to be right as rain. Lose those extra pounds and we both should be good to go for the next 100,000 miles or so.