Saturday, November 1, 2014


Anyone that knows me knows I love Halloween.  After this year I can now add Halloween as one more reason to loving being a dad as well.  Last year we participated in Halloween while we visited Moab, but with Madeline not walking yet it was a pretty short evening of me carrying her around, and with her not eating candy yet we quit early after guilting ourselves about collecting candy that was obviously not meant for her consumption.
This year I wracked my brain for a good idea of a family theme for costumes.  I just couldn't come up with anything that felt right so I finally thought I would just give Madeline some options and let her choose.  Having recently moved to Maine I made one of the choices a lobster, and she decided that sounded pretty good.  It was easy enough for me to play along, I still have gear from when I commercial fished in Alaska so a lobsterman was a no-brainer.  Nicole isn't as much into Halloween so she decided to just be support crew and camera person.  I'm wondering if it had something to do with perusing the store-bought options for female adults and after rejecting sexy/slutty fisherman, sexy/slutty fish, sexy/slutty (insert any idea here) she just gave up.  If the choices I looked at are any indication of what females really want to dress like for Halloween, they could just change the name to Whoreoween and be done with it, but I digress.
I didn't really have the time or the facilities to make the costume for Madeline, but luckily enough we found one that turned out to fit great and look perfect.  I got a tip from co-workers that there is a section of Bar Harbor where they block off the streets and really do up the decorations for Halloween, so we had the makings of a plan.
We spent a bit of time at a farm stand down the road and picked out a pumpkin for each of us, and again I gave Madeline a couple of options for faces on hers.  She chose a traditional lack-o-lantern face, and I was a bit disappointed she passed on the Daniel Tiger idea, so I decided to challenge myself and use the idea for my pumpkin.  Nicole came up with a good scary face so we pretty much covered all the bases.
The day came, we spent part of the afternoon carving pumpkins, then made the drive over to Bar Harbor.  It turned out to be a good choice.  Lots of other kids, lots of decorations, and lots of friendly people really into socializing and having fun.  Madeline was a trooper and walked almost the whole time, finally pooping out at the end of the night and needing a carry just at the very end.  She started out shy when approaching each new house, but was very polite and said "tank you" to every person that gave her candy.  After a bit she got into it and starting saying "tic or teat" as she walked up to the house, and that quickly changed to the more pointed question "Candy?" each time we approached.  When you are two and shuffling up the front walk dressed as a lobster you can pretty much get away with anything.
On our way home we stopped by our library as they were giving away books for the kids, and then made a couple stops at houses in our neighborhood to meet the neighbors.  Overall it was a lot of fun and wrapped up with three tired people and a mountain of candy.  I hope everyone else had as good a day as we did.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Mainely Good News

Wow!  Two months since my last post.
I'lll start right off by ending all the suspense and let you know I did make it to Maine.
After leaving Washington it was a couple of long, hot days driving across the western US.  Who was the idiot that thought it would be a good idea to drive cross-country in August?  Call it lesson number one.  I didn't see any 100+ temperatures so I probably shouldn't complain, but there were an awful lot of high nineties.  With the trailer overloaded I was pushing my luck climbing the mountain passes with the AC on, but the truck handled it fine.  Less than three days later I was in Minnesota and reunited with Nicole and Madeline, and got to spend a couple nice days at my moms resting and visiting.  We ate well, visited the playground, and sorted through tons of toys to pick some new ones for Madeline.  My mom had saved a good portion of the toys from my brother and myself and had added a bunch of new ones for Madeline, so we had a lot to choose from, and very little room available in the trailer.
Nicole and Madeline got a welcome
 home sign in the airport, I got a
three hour traffic jam just trying
to get across the border
After a few days, Nicole and Madeline headed to the airport for their flight to Maine, and I was back on the road.  Three more long, uneventful days and I was in Maine and picking up Nicole and Madeline for the last leg of the trip.  The girls got to spend a couple days visiting with Nicole's family before I got there, and then it was just a quick few hours up the coast to our old stomping grounds and new home.
Lesson number two on this journey is don't move to a major tourist destination during peak tourist season without prearranging lodging.  We had our choice of cheap and sketchy or very expensive, nothing else.  We chose cheap for the first couple nights until we did some exploring.  Seems our long-term housing options were either cheap and sketchy, very expensive, or not available for several weeks or longer.  Most housing in the area is either motels by the night or houses by the week.  Monthly options don't open up until October unless you happen to find something in the off season that is year-round.
We looked at a bunch of places, ruled out the sketchy ones, dreamed of the expensive ones, and eventually found a couple options starting in September.  That left us several weeks to wait, with my new job starting the week after we arrived.  We found an exceptionally small, very expensive studio condo right downtown Bar Harbor and anxiously waited for the end of the month.  The good thing was it was a reasonable drive to work for me and an easy walk to playgrounds, parks and pools for Nicole and Madeline.  We reacquainted ourselves with the island and finally decided on a winter rental in Southwest Harbor.
Two tuckered out
two year olds
Madeline's cousin Colleen is just over a week older than Madeline so it turned out we were just in time for a birthday party too.  We headed back down the coast a couple hours to visit Nicole's brother for the party, and we all had fun eating, playing and trying to wear out a couple of two year olds.
Back in Bar Harbor I started work and didn't exactly ease into it.  Never being all that happy about working in the first place, I tried to go in with a positive attitude and an open mind.  The rush to get me working came from a 48' sailboat they were just finishing up and all the quirks that come from untested systems and new technology.  Trying to troubleshoot systems you didn't install is always challenging, and adding to that the fact that the installers had never worked with some of this equipment meant it was a busy and sometimes frantic first few weeks at work.  The woodwork and craftsmanship on these boats is second to none, so I struggled to make sure all the other systems were up to that same high standard.  My regular work week is four ten hour days so I have three day weekends to recover and it seems like the schedule will work out well for spending time with Madeline as well.
September came and we moved into our new place.  We are in a two bedroom house tucked in the woods just outside town, so it makes for a good environment for Madeline to play outside, and it's a reasonable commute for my job and for us to get groceries and such.
A little help blowing
out the candles
The beginning of September also means a birthday for a certain little someone.  We did a two-part birthday since her actual birthday on the second fell on a weekday.  Monday was a holiday and I was home for the day, so we went to the playground, played with toys a lot, opened some presents, and had cake and ice cream after dinner.  On Madeline's actual birthday I had to work, but when I got home there was time for more presents and more cake and ice cream before bed, and luckily family sent enough presents that we could spread them out over two days.
The start of fall foliage
Back to the house we are living in, being a two bedroom this means we have room for guests.  If you need some coerceion, within a fifteen minute drive from the house we have hiking, biking, rock climbing, sea kayaking, sailing, lobster eating….. just keep in mind we also have winter so the timing will have to work if you come for a specific activity, but the cross country skiing is pretty nice here too.
Speaking of the seasons, if you are looking for a last minute excuse for a little travel, fall colors here will be peaking in the next week or so, and these are world renown "doesn't get any better than here" fall colors.  Let us know if you want to visit, at any time, and we can give you some tips to get here, and it will give us time to clear all the stuff out of the spare room.

Friday, August 1, 2014

On The Road Again

Hopefully after reading the title of this post you have that song stuck in your head for the day, I'm pretty sure I will.
I've reached the point in preparing for a move where I no longer care about order.  More than twelve hours ago when I picked up our Uhaul trailer I had high hopes of neatly packing all of our worldly belongings into the trailer, looking at a still half empty but impeccably neat trailer with a sense of pride, and then relaxing for the rest of the day sipping a cocktail and watching a movie.
Instead, it is creeping up on midnight, the trailer is jammed full in a chaotic mess, there is still a pile of junk on the floor in our prep area, and I'm exhausted.
Regardless, tomorrow morning I will head out on the highway (see, now that song can be stuck in your head for a while) and make my way east.  I should be in MN on Monday if all goes well, and plan to spend a couple days there before continuing on to Maine.  I was going to say that Nicole is taking the easy way out and flying, but long flights with a two year old are potentially much worse than driving an overloaded trailer across the country.
Anybody that wanted to see us in WA before we left, you are out of luck.  If you want to see us in MN, we will be there for a couple days early next week and would be happy to visit if you contact us soon enough.  If you want to visit us in Maine, we will let folks know once we are there and settled.  In the mean time, I'm hoping I got the little "Where are we now" widget in the right hand column of this page working so it will show my location as I drive across the country.  About the same excitement level as watching paint dry, but it's the best I can do right now.

Friday, July 25, 2014


Morris M-52
After months of uncertainty, we finally have a plan.  I have accepted a new job and we will be moving back to Maine.  I will be working for Morris Yachts in charge of their mechanical and electrical divisions in new boat production.  This means I will continue working in the marine industry and we will be back in the Bar Harbor area where Nicole and I met.
It also means that after months of freeloading off our friends we will soon be leaving the Seattle area.  If you haven't had a chance to visit us here you will have to do it soon.  The information/interview/negotiation process for my new job has been very slow, but now that the decision is made it will all be fast forward to get us out there and settled.  That means our time in WA is very limited and the opportunity for visiting on the trip east will be unlikely, although we will be in MN for several days to gather our stored possessions.  I will be driving our vehicle out and Nicole and Madeline will fly to meet me to speed the trip up even further.  We haven't yet secured housing but hopefully once settled we will have room for guests (hint, hint).

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Risky Business

Two words: Live boldly

Every single time you are offered a choice that involves greater risk, take it. You will lose on many of them but when you add them up at the end of your life you’ll be glad you did.

This was posted by one of my Facebook friends recently, and it's been nagging at me ever since.  The past ten years of my life would make one think I lived by this creed, but I don't purposely try to live my life this way.  In 2005 when my comfortable, complaisant life was turned on its' ear, I was pretty much forced into a risky existence, at least in the short term.  I probably could have found a way to continue that lethargic lifestyle, but I had already taken steps to break free, and the timing worked out to speed that change along.  I'm smart enough, and still cautious enough, to avoid blind risk, but calculated risks seem to be working for me.  During these past ten years, I've been unlucky enough to have several harsh wake-up calls, and lucky enough to recognize them and make life changes for the better.
But my life isn't the carefree, reckless ride I was on in my twenties.  I'm now a father and take that responsibility very seriously, even though I probably see it differently than many others.  I am also a husband, and although Nicole is very capable I feel a responsibility to watch out for her best interests as well.

Fast forward to today.

I have a job offer in hand.  A good job, interesting work, substantial pay that would support my family comfortably, with benefits, at a location high on our top ten places to live.  And yet I hesitate.
Before this opportunity came along I had started to work through ways to make a living outside the "normal" ways.  Ways that would keep us together as a family, provide us interest and excitement, challenge us, and yet provide the income and means to live comfortably.  Maybe not right away, but in time.

And there's the rub:
Taking a risk that may take a long time to pay off, or may never pay off, when you are risking not just yourself but others as well.
I firmly believe I can find a different path that will mean a better life for myself and my family, but we never really know if our choices work out until we are looking back.

Societal norms exist for a reason, they outline a path that works for the majority of the population.  Go to school, get a job, buy a house, get married, raise a family.  The American Dream.  It isn't just a concept, it describes almost everyone we meet.  From a very early age and on into adulthood we are told that this is our goal.  And it isn't a bad thing by any means, it's just not MY thing.  My dreams take a different path from the American Dream.  My dreams push me in a certain direction, a risky direction, but right this minute there are opportunities for dream fulfillment staring me in the face, and it's hard to turn my back on that.

I can take the "responsible" path and those other opportunities, those dreams, may be waiting in the future, much more easily obtainable because of the position I will be in then.  It's possible there may be other opportunities in the future that far exceed the ones available today.  Or the opportunities may be gone, and that path closed for whatever reason.

This written rambling probably makes little sense to the people reading it.  You'd have to have paid a lot of attention to my previous posts, and/or know a lot about the ideas kicking around in my head to understand all this.  I guess I'm writing it more to organize my thoughts than to be read by others, but hopefully folks can take something away.  While writing, I have already started to change my way of thinking, seeing new options.

I've always said I'm in an enviable position when I'm making decisions between several great options, but I've never thought that made the decisions any easier.  Why not go one step further, and get rid of the decisions, and instead of this or that, choose both.  The safe road and the risky venture, at the same time.  Can't have your cake and eat it too?  We'll see.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Goodbye Friend

The hardest decisions I've had to make in my life have all involved pets.  Lately we've been struggling over what to do with our cat Hope, and it was time to make a decision so things could move forward with the other aspects of our life.  Hope was never going to win "cat of the year" in anyones eyes, she just wasn't cat-like enough.  As far as showing affection, snuggling, being playful or fun, what little she did supply was almost always reserved for me alone.
Regardless, she shared almost all of the past four years of our adventurous, tumultuous, and many times ridiculous life.
People that have pets and love them know how hard it would be to give them up, and people with kids and pets know how heartbreaking it is if the two can not easily coexist.
Unfortunately Hope continued to be borderline hostile towards Madeline and showed no signs of improving, and keeping the two of them separated meant Hope was not getting the attention she needed.  The best option we could find was to give her up for adoption and count on her next owners supplying her with a better environment and the attention she needs.
I am flooded with emotions and none of them are good.  My heart breaks once again and there is nothing that can help but time, and right now that moves far too slowly.
Goodbye my friend and I truly wish you the best.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Recent News

For Sale, For Sail, Fore Sail
As you can see from the lapse in posting, we have been a bit busy lately.  I started working on the boat in mid-March to clean things up, paint some things, and overall just make it look pretty for potential buyers.
Yes, we did make the decision to sell the boat.  It's been somewhat painful at times, giving up (or at least postponing) some of the dreams that went along with our go anywhere home.  We could probably figure out a way to make it work, cruising with the three of us in our current boat.  Many have gone before us, in boats that were smaller and less sturdy, with more kids and pets, to all corners of the oceans.  Financially we are not rich, we have no steady income, (no income at all for quite a while now) but seem to make it work with what we have and could continue to do so.  It just came down to the fact that we didn't really want to try, at least not now.  So, the boat is on the market and we can just hope it sells quickly before we change our minds, again.
So back to what we have been up to, because mid-March was almost two months ago.  I'm picky, and wanted things on the boat right, so I've been working away at a never-ending list of little things.  Add to that the fact that the boat is in Everett and we are staying with friends in Maple Valley, it means my commute each day is 2 hours on a good day, and up to four or more hours on the bad days.  I hate traffic, so you can imagine how well this has been going.  A lot of the outside work on the boat needed dry weather, so spring in the Pacific Northwest has been doing its part to slow things down as well.
Urgent Care=No Fun
The first week of April, on my birthday in fact, Madeline had an accident on the playground slide that after several visits to area clinics was confirmed as a broken leg.  Nothing makes you feel like "parent of the year" more than an experience like this.  Happily, and quite amazingly to us, she is doing fine.  Three weeks after the accident and I'm having a hard time keeping up with her as she runs around the toy section in the store giggling, yes, running and giggling.  I should probably know from the multitude of Emergency Room visits I shared with my mother as I dashed, smashed and crashed my way through childhood, but I can't believe how resilient kids are, and comparatively what total wusses we adults are.  Needless to say, the trips to urgent care, a trip to Children's Hospital in Seattle, and lots of days of close observation have also added to the slow progress of the boat projects.  All that said, things are wrapping up on the boat.  We are sorting through gear to choose what goes with the boat, what gets sold separately, and what gets saved for the next boat.
Oops, did I say next boat?  We really don't have a clue what we are doing next, but several options that we are kicking around would involve another boat.  If you look back earlier in this post where I mention finances, the fact that I am rapidly approaching my one year anniversary of unemployment means that some other issues need to be worked out before much of anything happens.  If anyone reading this has a bunch of spare cash laying around that they would like to loan out at the current lending rate of 5.5%  you could save us all the fun of dealing with banks and such, but I'm thinking that isn't the most likely scenario.
Our new 4Runner
Speaking of money and selling things, our Roadtrek camper van is also for sale, as was noted in the last blog post I wrote.  We ended up purchasing another Toyota 4Runner very similar to the one we had in Sitka, so we have alternate means of transportation and it's time to say goodbye to the van.  The van turned out to be one of the best investments we have made, giving us basically zero trouble through four months and almost 13,000 miles of travel.  Hopefully someone else will buy it and continue to enjoy all it has to offer.
That should get folks up to date on our news.  We have a very nice sailboat and a cool camper van for sale, (sailboat link here) we have a cat that we would probably pay to get rid of,  (Seriously, if anyone wants a quirky cat please let us know)  and a daughter that we wouldn't give up for anything.  A lot of unknowns for us in our near future, but overall life is pretty good right now.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Roadtrek 190 For Sale

Winchester State Park, Idaho
Now that we have ended our little road trip, I find that I am missing that easy subject material for blog posts.  As I wrack my brain for other interesting things to write about, I guess I can fall back on some "retrospective" posts to fill the time.
I was originally going to write a post about the different places we camped on our trip, but even I found that a bit dull and it was my idea.  Instead I'll turn this into a marketing post.  As soon as I get the ambition to finish removing all our personal belongings from the van we will be putting it up for sale.  With that in mind, I'll do a quick description of the van with a bunch of "you could be here" photos to see if any of our blog readers might be interested in buying it.  I normally wouldn't try to sell a vehicle to friends, but this one worked out so well for us with almost no issues that I feel OK about passing it along.
City of Rocks, Idaho
The van is a 1994 Dodge one ton stretch 19 foot van, also known as the B350 van.
It has the Dodge 5.2 liter Magnum engine (318 for you old school folks) and a four speed automatic transmission.
It has a big fuel tank, I think it's 35 gallon, with a brand new fuel pump.  On our trip we averaged over 14 MPG so the theoretical range is almost 500 miles.
Because the van was originally from Canada, the speedometer and odometer are in kilometers, so mileage has to be converted but comes out to about 150,000 miles on the van currently.
Nine Mile Canyon, Utah
It was converted to a camper by the Canadian company Home and Park under the brand name Roadtrek, who are well known in the camper world as doing very high quality conversions.  This one is the 190 Popular model.
The van has seating with seat belts for three, two captains chairs up front and a third seat behind the passenger.  This worked out well for us to have a belted seat for the car seat for Madeline.
Black Dragon Canyon, Utah
Camper accommodations include a two burner stove with overhead exhaust hood, a convection toaster oven, a three-way 120V/12V/propane fridge, cold water only pressure water to a single sink, electric flush toilet, propane furnace, air conditioner, a table that seats four adults and converts into a 6 foot square bed (almost king size), and lots of cabinets for storage.  There is also a smaller "cocktail" table that mounts up forward, used with the three forward seats when the two captains chairs are swiveled around to face aft.  The third seat can be converted into another single bed, but Madeline is small enough to sleep with us so we never tried it out.  There is 6 foot standing headroom in the center section of the van.
Indian Creek, Utah
There is a fresh water tank that feeds both the sink and toilet, with separate waste water tanks for each.
It has good ventilation, an overhead vent with an exhaust fan, as well as seven opening windows, all with screens to keep the bugs out.  All the windows, including the windshield, have curtains for total privacy while parked.
There is a separate battery to run the water pump and lights in the camper, and I converted most of the lights over to LED for our trip.
City of Rocks, New Mexico
There is an attached power cord to plug the van in to household power, with a standard campground 30amp plug and a 15amp conversion to use a standard house outlet.  The air conditioner and toaster oven require the van to be plugged in, everything else runs off the camper battery.  The battery is recharged by its own charger if the van is plugged in, or by an oversized alternator when the engine is running.
The tires still have good tread, but the sidewalls are dried out and weather-checked from sitting, so the tires should be replaced.  Otherwise I wouldn't hesitate to drive the van across the country again.  It starts right up in any weather and runs and drives fine.
If you are interested or know someone that is, let me know and don't hesitate to ask questions.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Our little Road Trip, by the numbers

Seems like a lot of folks like to see a post-trip wrap up along with some of the numbers and statistics associated with our travel.

Dates of travel: 10-15-2013 to 2-19-2014
Total number of days: 127
Miles traveled: 12,664
Average MPG: 14.3
States visited*: 37

Out of the 127 nights out:

Nights spent in motels: 19
Nights camping: 36, 26 of those in free sites
Nights in rest areas: 15
Nights in truck stops: 6
The remainder of nights were spent in the homes of family and friends.

A big thank you to everyone that hosted us along the way.

*List of states visited:
Alaska, Washington, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California, and Oregon.

Although we didn't officially start our road trip in Alaska, the trip did really start when we left Sitka on the boat.

Add to this the fact that we had been in Montana, North Dakota and Michigan the year before on our Christmas trip and it means Madeline has visited forty of the fifty states before she turned two.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Baby Fix

For those of you reading the blog just to see pictures of Madeline:

Madeline in Alaska

Madeline in Vermont

Madeline in Maine

Madeline in Arizona

Madeline in Washington

Does the theme seem familiar?

Sunday, February 23, 2014


By an overwhelming majority, the question we get from just about everyone is:  What's next?

We have no idea.

Nicole and I both really like Sitka, but it is very expensive to live there.  We have decided it may be time to think about transferring from the boat to a house, and real estate prices in Sitka are very high.  Add to that the fact that groceries and everything else (except seafood) include the added expense of coming to town on the barge, and it's just not a cheap place to live.  So while we were on our little road trip we decided we would look at some other options to compare before committing to a life in Alaska. We also have the almost insignificant issue of both being unemployed (and having thrown away our savings on the afore-mentioned road trip), so along with housing options we needed to look into employment possibilities at the various locations as well.  We had some ideas for the places we would look, and kept an open mind for other options along the way.
Before I go into our findings, I should explain a bit about our current thinking.  With the arrival of Madeline, we both agreed that it would be wonderful to find a way to make a comfortable living working as a family.  No being away from each other for eight to ten hours everyday and no stupidly expensive daycare.  Obviously this severely limits our options.  Fishing and farming come first to mind, although some sort of family business like a store could possibly work as well.  Alaska in general and Sitka specifically would be a wonderful option for fishing and dismal for farming due to the terrain.  The Yakima area in central Washington would be just the opposite, great for farming, not so much opportunity for fishing.  This means our decision on location could limit our options of employment, or our decision of employment would do the same for location options, but either way we are going to have to make a decision about something to start the process.  So we talk about commercial fishing, we talk about a goat farm for the dairy products, we talk about raising buffalo for the meat, we talk about harvesting maple sugar for syrup, or grapes for wine, and we apply all these ideas to the places we stop that feel "live-able".  That's really our only first-cut criteria for the places we consider is the positive or "live-able" feeling we get spending a short amount of time visiting.
That being said, we came up with our short list of places that made the cut and deserve additional consideration, and would love to hear from anyone reading this if they have additional insight or information that might help our decisions.  Information on these areas is appreciated, additional suggestions are welcome, smart-ass comments are expected.

Sitka, Alaska
Burlington, Vermont
Bar Harbor, Maine
Flagstaff, Arizona
Zillah, Washington

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Wine and Chocolate

We made it back to Washington, and luck would have it we were just in time for the wine and chocolate event in Yakima Valley.  Before we moved to Alaska, Nicole and I would wander over to central Washington for this event every February, and it was great to be able to spend a few days in the area to wrap up our trip.  South and east of Yakima is a wine growing area called Rattlesnake Hills, and depending on the year there are anywhere from a dozen to twenty wineries that share resources and put on the Valentines Day/Presidents Day weekend wine and chocolate event. We weren't quite sure how it would go with Madeline along, but thought we should at least give it a try.  Turns out Madeline was not the hindering factor in our weekend at all, but a quick death of the fuel pump in our van was.
We arrived in the area Friday afternoon, and had arranged to stay just outside Sunnyside, WA so we headed that direction.  Family of friends had recently inherited a homestead and vineyard and offered to let us stay there while we were in the area.  (Thanks Bill and Lynn)  We stopped off to do some laundry, and the van decided not to start, so we camped out in the parking lot of the laundromat and talked with AAA about our options.  The next morning, the van started and ran fine, so we went on our way with fingers crossed.  We made it to three of the area wineries for tastings before calling it a day.  We had been without showers for a few days so before continuing our wine tour we thought it would be good to get a motel room and freshen up a bit.  The next morning we were off again in search of more wine, had a fun tasting at our first stop, then returned to the van to find it would not start again.  It was Sunday and none of the repair shops in the area were open, so I caught a ride into town with the winery owner and picked up a rental car.  A while later I was back at the van driving a well worn Hyundai, loaded up Nicole and Madeline and a couple days worth of clothes and such, and we headed off to visit a couple more wineries before the end of the day.  Another motel room for the night, then I was off to meet the tow truck driver to get the van transported into Yakima to the Dodge dealership.  That done, it was back to the motel to pick up my passengers and we were off for more wine tasting.  The wine and chocolate event is held over Presidents Day weekend so visitors can take advantage of the three day holiday weekend, so most places were still open on Monday.  After another enjoyable day, we got word the van would be fixed and ready for pickup the following morning, so back to the motel we went.  After a relaxed morning we checked out of the motel and headed for Yakima to pick up the van and drop off our rental.  Once that was done, we found the mountain passes were again closed from heavy snow, and we were in no hurry to leave, so we stopped by a couple more wineries that happened to be open on a Tuesday.  That done, we finally headed out to our friends vineyard to spend the night.  After imposing on folks to set up our staying there, we hadn't actually had the chance to return and wanted to spend at least one night there.  The next morning the weather was gorgeous and we had run out of local wineries to visit, so it was time to head over the mountains and back to the Seattle area to wrap up our trip.
We are hoping AAA will cover some of the costs during our breakdown, but regardless the repair bill exceeded our wine buying expenses, making this an unexpectedly expensive stop for us.

Monday, February 17, 2014

West Coast

After leaving Vegas we headed west into California.  I really didn't want to go, as I didn't have a lot of good memories from my time living there, but Nicole had never been so I figured I could tough it out.  The first leg was across the Mojave which left us with a bunch of questions about what people do there and why they would choose to do whatever it is they do, there.  We found no answers and left it as one of those things to try and remember to research later on the inter web.
We were heading for Yosemite National Park, but this was obviously nothing like the park.  Luckily it only takes a day of driving through the desert and then you are into farm country, which then seems to go on for ever.  After a day of checking out farm country we headed into the Sierras.  Our first glimpse of the park lasted only minutes before the clouds rolled in, but it was a dramatic and stunning view.  Once we got down to the campground in the valley the rains started and lasted through the night.  The next morning the clouds went away and we were treated to gorgeous blue skies and warm weather, in the mountains, in February.  We only stayed in the park for one day, but both agreed we would return for a longer visit some day.
From Yosemite we continued north, eventually branching off the main interstate on to Highway 97 in northern CA.  Most of California is currently experiencing drought conditions, but we saw heavy rain from the time we got off the interstate all the way into Washington.  Oregon was wet but pretty, and I much preferred the route to staying on I-5.  We stayed one night in Klamath Falls, and I thought we may be able to add it to our list of possible future life options, but there was no spark for either of us so we moved on.  After another day of driving we made it into Washington, just in time for Valentines Day and in just the right place for Wine and Chocolate in Yakima Valley.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Vegas, Baby.

Nicole had never been to Vegas, and as long as we were so close……
Because Vegas has a way of sucking all the money out of your life we had to make it a quick stop.  We wanted it to be fun for Madeline if possible so we got a room at Circus, Circus.  The trapeze act and the clowns were good fun and Nicole won a stuffed dolphin for Madeline at the midway games, so I think we did the best we could.  Meanwhile I took some time and won a bit at the slot machines, and after Madeline went to bed Nicole went down to the casino and turned it into enough to pay for our stop.  It probably wasn't the experience most people have in Vegas, but it was fun for all three of us.
From Vegas we continued west into California, headed north to Yosemite and eventually back to the Pacific Northwest.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


There were a couple of things we wanted to do in Arizona, but first on our list was a stop at Chiricahua National Monument.  We didn't know what to expect, but I had found the place in our atlas and soon after it was recommended by folks we met in one of the state parks in New Mexico, so off we went.
The official brochure tells you what to look out for in the park.  Five minutes in we were stopped taking pictures of a coatimundi, and an hour later we were watching the acorn woodpeckers fly around our campsite, so it seems the folks putting together the pamphlet knew their stuff.  We stayed the night at the campground and then headed back up to the top of the road for some hiking the next morning.
With me being out of shape and having to carry Madeline I set my sights on a realistic half hour hike to an area they call "the grotto", which turned out to be a pretty easy hike and an interesting place to visit.  The rocks were eroded away to form a series of arches big enough to walk through.  The whole park is filled with spectacular examples of eroded rock, unfortunately it is all closed to rock climbing.  After our hike we spent a bit of time at the park visitors center and then headed off to Tucson.
Our friends Thayer and Cindy live on the outskirts of Tucson, and their house has slowly evolved over the years into one of the most peaceful, relaxing homes I've had the pleasure of visiting.  Even Madeline seemed to love the place, and warmed to Thayer and Cindy more than we have seen at many of the other stops on our trip.  We had a very nice visit, learning a lot about the business they run out of their home, sharing a lot of good meals, and generally just relaxing for a bit.  We got a taste of the wildlife that surrounds them, seeing javalina, quail, hummingbirds, hawks, a roadrunner, a coyote, and various other bird species, all either on or within about ten feet of the front porch.  After a week we had enough of the seventy and eighty degree weather and headed north for Flagstaff where we could hope to find snow again.
Flagstaff was another stop where we were checking out the possibility of settling.  I had always heard good things about the town but had never spent much time there.  We took a  bit of time exploring the desert area to the south, and then spent a day in town just getting a feel for the place.  The town is located at a high enough elevation that it doesn't share the overwhelming heat found in most other Arizona cities, it gets a fair amount of snow in the winter, and is surrounded by high peaks providing good wilderness recreation potential.  We both came away liking the area, the fact that it has both a Dunkin Donuts and Baskin Robbins doesn't hurt either.
After getting our fill of the natural beauty of the area, we thought it would be silly to be so close and not pay a visit to good old Las Vegas, so off we went in search of a whole different southwest experience.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Back in the Southwest

Just across the border from Texas is this little place called New Mexico.  Not really all that little as we found out, the fifth largest state in fact.  (As a somewhat unrelated side note but because it's fun to brag, in terms of square miles you can take #2 Texas and add #3 California and #4 Montana and #5 New Mexico and just barely surpass the square miles of Alaska.  That Texas is such a cute little place.)
Anyway, New Mexico had a bunch of places we were interested in visiting, but we had already been on the road for three and a half months and were starting to worry about our dwindling savings, so we thought we should pick one area to explore and then move along.  We divided the state into four parts and compared the highlights of each.
The northwest corner has Chaco Canyon, awe inspiring and creepy at the same time, the Hopi and Zuni reservations, and the Farmington and Shiprock area to draw in all the Tony Hillerman fans, making it a good solid choice.  The Southeast has Roswell for the UFO and alien crowds and Carlsbad Caverns for the spelunkers.  The northeast has Taos and Santa Fe, nice mountain scenery and good skiing, but probably not great in winter for folks traveling in a camper van.  We chose the Southwest part of the state, not for any one specific thing but mostly because it offered a bunch of interesting-sounding places to visit, and it was on the way to Tucson.
Our first stop in NM was the town of Tucumcari, which should be famous for its plethora of under $20 motel room options, but instead is not really very well known for one of many Route 66 museums.  We just wanted a laundromat, which we found, and a quick fix of fast food, which the local Sonic satisfied for us.  From there we moved on down Interstate 40 to Albuquerque where we turned south down I-25.  We visited the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, wintering grounds for sandhill cranes and numerous waterfowl and raptor species.  It turned out to be a fun stop to refresh our duck identification skills, as well as frustrate me as usual with raptor identification.  We saw lots of cranes and snow geese, got to do a bit of hiking, and took a bunch of pictures.
The next day we got off the interstate and headed up into the mountains on highway 152, which turned out to be a fun and exceptionally scenic road to drive.  Lots of twisty narrow 15MPH sections meant the drive took a lot longer than we expected, but we were in no hurry and thoroughly enjoyed the views.  We stopped briefly in Silver City and then headed north to Glenwood NM, intent on visiting The Catwalk Recreation Area.  We spent the night in a nice free campground on the outskirts of Glenwood before heading up to do some hiking the next morning.  Unfortunately, if we would have checked the website I linked above, we would have know that the whole area had been severely damaged by rain and flooding last fall, and was closed to visitors.  Instead we drove back to Silver City, stocked up on groceries, and headed south.
Our next stop was City of Rocks State Park.  This should not be confused with the City of Rocks we stopped at earlier in the trip in Idaho.  The New Mexico version is a snow-globe-sized park by comparison, and there are not many similarities between the two places.  That said, an inexpensive campground with free showers and interesting campsites is worth a stop.  After circling the park several times in the van to chose our favorite campsite, we walked around amongst the rock formations and then settled in for a pleasant night.
Next on our list was Rockhound State Park.  It was a quick hour drive south from City of Rocks and boasted being one of the few parks in the US that encourages visitors to take rocks with them.  Since Madeline has become quite the rock picker (mostly in parking lots) we figured it would be a fun stop for her as well.  The campground isn't as interesting as nearby City of Rocks but there certainly were more than enough rocks to look at.  With our expected arrival date in Tucson approaching, we hopped on I-10 and scooted across to Arizona.