First Ride On The Bizz Johnson Trail

Today was about doing something fun.  I don’t have an update on the truck (our adjuster has been out of town all week, so  hopefully we will get an answer on Monday) and after an emotional last week at my job (which I am not ready to talk about yet) we decided to ride the Bizz Johnson Trail. (Well, the best part of it, anyway. – Lee)  This past Saturday was the annual Fall Foliage ride and Lee volunteered to ride sweep. (The sweep rider is the person who brings up the back of the pack, and makes sure that if anyone has any mechanical trouble, or gets hurt, that they aren’t left to die all alone on the side of the trail. Since I have no bike fixing abilities, or medical training, I was really only able to guarantee that they wouldn’t die alone. – Lee) 16 people had signed up for the ride. Lee used a BLM truck and horse trailer to take all the bikes up to the far end of the trail, in a little town called Westwood, and the riders took a shuttle bus along with Stan, the BLM recreation director for this area. The Bizz Johnson trail is basically Stan’s life work, and he loves to ride the bus and give people a 30 minute talk on the history of the trail, and things to look for.  Once the riders were all suited up and ready to go, they took off from Westwood for a quick three mile ride to Mason Station, the trailhead where the Bizz leaves the road. Stan followed along in the truck and trailer to check in with Lee at various checkpoints along the trail where BLM and Forest Service roads cross the trail. Below is a map of the trail.

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The ride from Westwood to Hobo Camp (where we are work kamping) took most of the day, since he was going as slow as the slowest riders, but he came home raving about how much I would love it.  Since we have been talking about going, and reconnecting with nature is a great way to shake off other things that are going on in your life, I was in.  Lee did say that he wanted to start at the 18 mile mark, Westwood Junction, which I was happy to hear.  Apparently the first 8 miles has a 3% upgrade and Lee said it wasn’t hard so much as “relentless”.  The downhill section starts at Westwood Junction and knowing his audience Lee thought that would be more my speed. (The whole concept of “rails to trails” fascinates me. Back home in Keene, NH, there was a great rails to trails trail, and I just love the idea of abandoned railroads being re-purposed for something else, instead of just sitting there being of no use to anyone. The best part is, for those of us who are old (Tracy) and out of shape (Tracy, and to a lesser degree, me) and smokers (Tracy got me started smoking, I used to be a good kid, but she ruined me) railroad grades are never steep. The maximum for 19th century and early 20th century was 3%, which is in the neighborhood of only 150 feet of elevation change per mile. That’s a pretty easy grade, even for old out of shape smokers like Tracy. The downside to that is, when they have to make a lot of elevation, it can be a very, very, very long climb. So, it’s not hard, but it’s relentless. As you can see in the elevation profile below, it starts at about 5100 feet (the starting elevation is not accurate, Westwood is at 5100 feet) and over the course of 8 miles, it climbs to about 5600 feet. That’s not a lot of climb, but it’s steady. Basically, there’s no point in that first 8 miles that you can coast. Ever. It’s constant pedaling against gravity. Also, the first 4 miles is along the side of a county road, not a lot of room for bikes. And then once you get from Westwood to Mason Station, you’re on the trail, but it’s another 4 miles of 3% grade, and as if that wasn’t bad enough, it’s boring. So, I decided to start from Westwood Junction, one of the handful of places where a Forest Service road crosses the trail. From there, it’s about a mile of level ground, then it’s all downhill from there. – Lee) 

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Let me say here that this was hands down the best bike ride I have ever been on in my life. There were whole long sections you can coast down if you want to, the trail is in very good condition, and I was thrilled by all of the different landscapes we saw in that 18 mile ride.  It was so good I am not going to spend a ton of time talking about it though.  Just let the pictures speak for themselves.

Where we started

Where we started. (Stan was generous enough to let us use his BLM pickup to drive the bikes up to Westwood Junction, so we parked there and then headed out. Technically, as BLM camp hosts, we’re supposed to check the trails, so this was a legitimate official use of the vehicle. – Lee) 

Dry creek beds, they have water in the spring

Dry creek beds, they have water in the spring. (The Susan River goes along the trail, and the trail crosses it many times, on beautiful old railroad bridges. Unfortunately, this time of year, and with it being as dry as it is, there’s no water in the river until the last 8 miles or so of the trail. – Lee)

Beautiful rock croppings all along the trail

Beautiful rock outcroppings all along the trail

One of my favorite spot was a dry creek bed that according to Stan is white water in the spring

One of my favorite spot was a dry creek bed that according to Stan is raging white water in the spring.

The rocks were huge and even I with my love of rocks wouldn't walk out very far

The rocks were huge and even I with my love of rocks wouldn’t walk out very far.

Lee stood out a bit to give it some persepctive

Lee stood out a bit to give it some persepctive

More rockcroppings

Right next to the trail and so neat to look straight up

An old powder shed build by the railroad out of railroad ties

An old powder shed build by the railroad out of railroad ties. Imagine that this little shed was once full of explosives!

One of my favorite views

One of my favorite views

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(The section in the pictures above is the first “drop” in elevation. You not only don’t have to pedal once you get about a mile from Westwood Junction, you actually need to use your brakes. 3% isn’t much when you’re going up, but coming down gravity will grab ya! About 5 miles from Westwood Junction you come to Goumaz, which is a National Forest Service campground. It’s very small, with only 5 unimproved campsites, along the river. There’s a pit toilet, and a water spigot, and that’s it. Access to it is via a gravel road, and the sites are big enough for travel trailers, and at least one would easily hold our 40′ fifth wheel. No traffic noise, no air traffic, very quiet and peaceful, and best of all, totally free. – Lee)

There was a pit toilet available for use near a federal land campground we passed through

There was a pit toilet available for use near Goumaz campground we passed through

Dry camping, but free and we could have fit in a couple of these spots

Dry camping, but free and we could have fit in a couple of these spots

At a certain point there was water in the creek and we got to bicycle by it as we went

At a certain point there was water in the river and we got to bicycle by it as we went

So you see the face in the rock? Looks like a donkey to me

Do you see the face in the rock? Looks like a donkey to me

These trees were amazing hanging onto this hillside

These trees were amazing hanging onto this hillside

It was sandy in some places and rocky in others

It was sandy in some places and rocky in others

Beautiful white rocks in one section

Beautiful white rocks in one section

View of the mountain

View of the mountain

Lee had a beautiful place picked out for our lunch, but after two hours of riding and only seeing 4 other people, there were people at the spot.  He was pretty bummed but we kept on going and I thought we found a really nice place close by. (After Goumaz, there’s another nice long smooth drop, through totally different rock and vegetation, so you really get to see four distinct environments on the ride. It’s very interesting. Here and there along the trail, Boy Scout groups have cleared out a little area along the trail and built really nice benches. I had picked out a great spot near the bottom of the second drop section, where the trees were gone, and there is this huge flat valley floor with a massive ranch and the ranch house in the distance. It was a perfect spot for lunch, and we arrived there at just the right time, but there were people there. I should have made a reservation. – Lee) 

The bench we ate on

The bench we ate on

Our lunch view

Our lunch view

(After the second drop, the trail crosses a great trestle bridge, and then goes under the road. If you look at the elevation profile, it shows this in detail. It’s a very steep and very fast 100′ drop, under the road, and then on the other side you have to push your bike up, it’s way too steep and the gravel is too loose and deep to ride up. Instead, we rode down the older part of the trail, which is “closed” and just crossed the road. Way faster and no elevation change.I did the ride and push yesterday, and had no desire to do it again. If you’re following along on the map, this is the beginning of the final drop, at Devil’s Corral. This is another trail head, with parking and a pit toilet, and this is where the canyon part of the trail starts. This is by far the best part of the ride. – Lee) 

There are lots of these railroad bridges, but this was the longest

There are lots of these railroad bridges, but this was the longest, and definitely the highest.

Underneath is a second stone bridge

Underneath is a second stone bridge that’s no longer in use, from where the road used to cross the river. Now it’s just part of the trail.

Loved this little water cascade we saw

One of the coolest things were the two railroad bridges built in 1913 that you got to ride through

One of the coolest things were the two railroad tunnels built in 1913 that you got to ride through

These redwood support beams are the original and in fantastic condition

These redwood support beams are the original and in fantastic condition

(The two tunnels are a lot of fun. The second one, as you head downhill, is much longer than the first, and the temperature inside is at least 20 degrees cooler than the outside. Plus, when you leave the tunnels, about 50 feet in front of them you get hit by a blast of that cold air because as it comes out, the wind coming over the top of the mountain pushes it away from the entrance. So as soon as you exit the tunnel, you feel the normal outside temperature, then you ride through this brief section of air that’s as cold as the tunnel. Very neat. The Boy Scouts put a bench at that spot for that reason. It’s outside air conditioning! – Lee) 

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Loved these rocks along the trail

Loved these rocks along the trail

Beautiful outcroppings

Beautiful outcroppings

One of my favorite pictures

One of my favorite pictures

(This last section of the trail continues to wind through the canyon, along the river, crossing it at six different bridges, and the water is a nice wide shallow clear river. It’s really beautiful and peaceful. It’s a very gentle down slope. There are lots of long gentle curves, with the river on one side, and steep canyon walls beyond the river, and 100′ steep rock canyon walls on the other side. After about 4 miles you reach the short connector trail that takes you into the Hobo Camp day use area, where we are living. The trail continues for another mile to the historic Susanville Depot and museum. We didn’t go all the way to the end, of course. We had driven our rental car down from the camper to the day use parking area, so we wouldn’t have to walk our bikes up the steep drive from the day use area to our camper. We locked the bikes in the bathroom storage room, drove the rental car back up to Westwood Junction to get the truck, and then drove the truck back to get the bikes. Wouldn’t you know it, Stan was walking the trail with his dog Sandy to get pictures of the fall colors in the late afternoon light. We had a nice chat with him and he gave us high fives for riding the trail. Stan really, really loves his job, and the Bizz Johnson trail. – Lee) 

As you can see Lee is very passionate about the trail and I was totally serious when I said it was the best bike ride of my life.  That being said, my tush is a little sore and I am on the tired side, so I asked Lee to jump in and help make this post not totally suck.  I can see he took my request seriously 🙂  It really is a great ride and well worth a detour to try it.  I hope you get to ride it some day.

(We’re going to watch some TV now, and then I might massage her tush. Cuz, you know, it’s sore. – Lee)

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First Week in Susanville

Our first week in Susanville was a bit of a mixed bag.  The spot was great and we got to do some cool things, but both Lee and I got a stomach virus on Saturday which lingered into late Thursday.  It’s been so long since we’ve been sick we weren’t very prepared for it, but we muddled through and managed to end the week on a high note.  On Saturday, Jo and Ben, fellow Class of 2014 Dreamers, came to see us with their beautiful husky Peyton.  Jo and Ben are traveling nurses and took their very first contract job in Maine back when we were still trying to sell our house.  Then we got to see them again when we were both in Florida last winter.  It’s been 6 months though since we’ve been together and it was very nice that they made the trip from Reno to say hi.  A lot can happen in 6 months of this lifestyle, so we had things to talk about and it was good to get reconnected.  I was a little ambitious on the menu though, making three new menu items, and spent more time cooking than visiting which was kind of a bummer.  It was very nice seeing them though, but Lee and I both got more tired as the day went on.  After they left it was clear something was going on physically with both Lee and I.  I know you don’t need the details, but there are times when the small space and one bathroom can be a little difficult.

Despite not feeling well we still needed to get acquainted with the town and complete some grocery shopping.  Plus we made a firm commitment to ourselves that for the next several months we would commit to a new approach to the food budget.  After discussion we decided we would work on four major areas and hopefully would not only eat better, but would spend less money.

  1. Have food for travel days to ensure eating out is not necessary
    • There is a big difference between choosing to eat out on travel days and having to because you don’t have anything that can be made easily.  We have several meals that can be pre-made and are easily heated up so we have hot, filling food for travel day lunches and dinners.  The only challenging part is that you must plan ahead.  Some of our travel day meals that we prepare and freeze in advance are sloppy Joe’s, hamburgers, spaghetti, chili, leftover fried chicken, and pulled pork.  None of them are fancy, but they are definitely hot and filling, which is a good thing.  
  2. Create a weekly menu plan that includes enough meals and leftovers for most of the week.
    • Eating full meals is actually more expensive than eating “catch as catch can” throughout the week, BUT eating full meals with leftovers, if planned carefully, can actually be less expensive and certainly eliminates waste.
  3. Minimize food waste
    • First and foremost use what you have, especially any item that can expire.  Take notice of what you are throwing away and start meal planning accordingly.  For example: hamburger buns come in a pack of 8 and it’s difficult for two of us to eat 8 buns in a week.  So if I am going to buy buns I try to plan at least two meals that require them.  Better chance I can use them before they go bad.  It does lead to some restrictions on what we can eat and when, but since food waste makes Lee nuts, and the money waste makes me crazy, it is something we are willing to do.
  4. Create a shopping list that directly relates to the weekly menu plan.
    • Since we are trying to incorporate more fresh foods into our diet along with doing some bargain shopping, sometimes the ingredients come before the menu plan.  We discovered a Grocery Outlet Bargain Market here in Susanville and went to check it out prior to making our weekly meal plan.  They also have a fantastic farmer’s market here on Saturdays so again we bought fresh food first and then filled in the rest with items from the standard grocery store.

Just to be clear, we do buy name some brand items, and at this point I am unwilling to stop trying new recipes which often require more expensive ingredients.  We are just being more purposeful with our purchasing decisions and meal planning.  We are better organized, better fed, and hopefully will save on our budget. Either way since food is one of the highest variable costs we have it is important to us that we have a game plan on how we are dealing with it.

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The items they have are extremely well priced and the people who run the place were very nice

Great farmer's market for such a small town

Great farmer’s market for such a small town

We grow what we sell is what you want to see

We grow what we sell is what you want to see

So, shopping and menu planning was the primary focus of the early week along with Lee organizing the Day Camp and me getting caught up on work.  The illness just kept getting worse though until Wednesday when I actually took a sick day and slept about 10 hours.  I can’t remember the last time I took a sick day, but I felt majorly yucky.  Thankfully that seemed to mostly kick it for me, and Thursday afternoon, I decided I just needed to get out and explore a bit.  We decided to go and visit the Litchfield Wild Horse and Burro Corral .  The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is responsible for the Wild Horses and Burros that are on federal land.  Since the horses have few natural predators, they monitor the population levels and occasionally round-up the horses when they surpass the estimated 22,000 that the land can handle.  Those they bring in are treated for illness and malnutrition, gelded,  and eventually  put up for adoption.  According to the locals it is a controversial program, because many people feel the horses should just be left alone.  I was curious so Lee and I drove over to Litchfield to check it out.  I didn’t have many expectations , but was really impressed by what I saw.  The horses are divided into large roomy pens by sex, and in the case of males, age.  They were very well cared for and many of the animals were beautiful.  They were obviously wild though as few approached us and only once got close enough for a pat on the nose.  The employee at the office was happy to let us wander and see and then afterwards she spent some time answering out questions.  After seeing it for myself I am sold on the program.  These horses are adopted out for around $125 and they live on a trial basis with the family for 1 year prior to the adoption becoming permanent and the ownership papers being transferred. In those cases where the horses cannot be adopted and over crowding becomes an issue, they are released back into the wilderness area from which they are taken.  Speaking of which, BLM never takes all the horses in an area, they just reduce the populations. According to Program Assistant Viddel, “It is not our intention to eliminate the wild horses. Simply to control the population.”  I liked her, I liked the setup, and the horses were absolutely beautiful.  Well worth a visit if you happen to be near one of the facilities in the west.

BLM Horse Corral Office

BLM Horse Corral Office

Burros

Burros

 

Lee walking down the center between the corrals

Lee walking down the center between the corrals

Look at the muscles on this horse. Amazing

Look at the muscles on this horse. Amazing

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Map showing all the areas where wild horse live

Map showing all the areas where wild horse live.  Marked in black

The mares and babies were in a separate pen...the babies were more curious but the moms were having none of it. MAkes sense since they are the most vulnerable in a wilderness situation

The mares and babies were in a separate pen…the babies were more curious but the moms were having none of it. Makes sense since they are the most vulnerable in a wilderness situation

The visit was very interesting and totally free.  If you would be interested in adopting one of these horses please keep in mind you need to arrange transport and they require a rest period after every 24 hours of travel.  They also obviously need to be gentled, but wow, what beautiful animals.

Friday was a busy work day for both of us so we really focused on work throughout the day.  Lee spent the week looking at all of Howard’s  RV-Dreams pictures so he can use some of them in the videos he is creating.  Since Howard takes more pictures than I do and has been collecting them for 10 years this is a bit of a monumental task, but important for the creative process.  He made it through 2011 this week, so hopefully by the end of next week, he will have copied all the ones he needs. Subsequently we didn’t get to do our walk through until around 5:30pm and we saw that a huge tree had fallen and blocked the bike path.  This was weird.  I mean what are the odds since it obviously wasn’t tampered with in any way.  The situation was complicated by the fact that Stan was out of the office with minor surgery and it was after hours for the maintenance man.  Lee did call Stan because we were concerned it would be dangerous, but the chainsaw on site he pointed us to didn’t work.  Finally Lee got creative, love that about him, and used a hand saw to partially cut the limb and then an axe and a rock to get it all the way.  The path was cleared and we both felt quite a bit better about the safety aspect, plus it’s nice to provide a valuable service since this is such a great site.

We were concerned because someone riding a bike fast around that corner could have an accident

We were concerned because someone riding a bike fast around that corner could have an accident

The limbs are bigger than they look and heavy wood. I couldn't lift one. Lee could but there was no where to push it to

The limbs are bigger than they look and heavy wood. I couldn’t lift one. Lee could but there was nowhere to push it to

Lee split the wood with a rock and an axe

Lee split the wood with a rock and an axe

Then he trimmed up the edges

Then he trimmed up the edges

All clear and safe again :)

All clear and safe again 🙂

Saturday was the day we had been looking forward to.  Our youngest daughter Kay has been in the Air Force for just over a year and we have not seen her since last October when we went to San Antonio to see her at her basic training graduation.  She and her boyfriend, Jake, met us in Sacramento, which is roughly the half way point between Monterey, where they are stationed, and Susanville. I would love to say we saw Sacramento, but we mainly just hung out with Kay and Jake, catching up with her and getting to know him.  The only things we really did all day were eating lunch at Chipotle and buying some LUSH face scrub at a nearby mall.  On a side note, I have never been able to use any face scrub or moisturizer in my life until I discovered Lush in Las Vegas.  All products are all natural and hand-made, they even put a sticker with the bio of the person who prepared it, and my skin, which always breaks out, loves it.  I mention this because if you are going to hang out in more arid regions face cream is a must, and I HIGHLY recommend trying Angels on Bare Skin for the scrub and Celestial for the moisturizer.  Lush stores are only in upscale malls, but worth a trip as they will try numerous products on you for free, which is how I was convinced this stuff would work in the first place.  And yes, it’s expensive, but the product lasts me around 5 months and I can’t even express how well it works.  Anyway, I digress.  Lee, Kay, Jake, and I mostly  hung out in the mall food court and talked.  I would have loved to go outside somewhere but it was HOT.  It hit 99 degrees that day, which we were not prepared for having come from the high 70’s in Susanville, and air conditioning was a bit of a must.  It was really nice seeing her and nice seeing him, plus the drive each way was absolutely beautiful as we went to Sacramento through the Plumas National Forest and drove back through the Sierra Nevadas.  Lots of driving, but so worth it to see my girl. 

We stopped to see the other end of the Biz Johnson Trail in Westwood

We stopped to see the other end of the Biz Johnson Trail in Westwood

Love Paul Bunyon and Babe the Big Blue Ox . This wasn't to bad of a statue

Love Paul Bunyan and Babe the Big Blue Ox . This wasn’t to bad of a statue

Huge boulders in Plumas NAtional Forest

Huge boulders in Plumas NAtional Forest

Plumas NAtional Forewt had Feather River winding through it

Plumas National Forest had Feather River winding through it

The valley leading into Sacremtno

The valley leading into Sacramento

Jake and Kay walking to meet us

Jake and Kay walking to meet us

Loves her daddy

Loves her daddy

And he loves her back

And he loves her back

They are pretty cute together

They are pretty cute together

This was her are you going to keep taking pictures face :)

This was her are you going to keep taking pictures face 🙂

 Lessons Learned 

To reduce grocery costs try the following:

  • Have food for travel days to ensure eating out is not necessary
  • Create a weekly menu plan that includes enough meals and leftovers for most of the week.
  • Minimize food waste
  • Create a shopping list that directly relates to the weekly menu plan.

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Camper Chronicles is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.  Search Amazon.com here

 

First Time Work Kamping

One of the things Lee and I were the most curious about when we started full-timing was the concept of work kamping.  Essentially, work kamping is when you trade your time and labor for a free campsite.  There are many different variations of work kamping, but a common theme is it is a way for  many  full timers to reduce their campground costs.  Since most full timers in years past were retired people, many work kamper jobs are geared towards folks who are retired and want to stretch their retirement dollars a little farther.  But with the influx of younger full timers, there has been some change in work kamping and many positions now require more strenuous physical labor and/or more money per hour for work performed.  However, with so much variation and so many employers it was tough to really get a handle on what work kamping would look like for us.  This coupled with the fact that many of the assignments are long-term (4-6 months is common), although Lee and I were anxious to try a work kamping assignment we were cautious about what we applied for.  There are many websites that have work kamping opportunities and the most popular is Work Kamper News, which not only has job opportunities listed but also helps you build an online resume and allows work kampers to review the employers in a confidential environment.  Since we wanted to research what jobs were available, we purchased an annual membership. I highly recommend this if you are researching the full-time lifestyle because for a minimal cost of $27 a year you can see all of their job listings.  We now have the $47 Silver membership which includes the full listings, daily hotline emails for immediate opportunities, and the online resume builder which makes your resume available to employers on the website.

We have been watching the hot line emails for several months now and have even been contacted by a couple of employers.  Unfortunately none of the opportunities fit our existing itinerary.  Many people who have been doing this a while follow a route and know what areas of the country they will be in during certain time frames.  For those of us who are newer, there are so many things to see we tend to cover more territory and move faster.  Although I think we have done a nice job of not rushing all over the country and burning ourselves out (a common newbie problem), we also haven’t been really interested in staying in any one place more than a couple of months at a time.  Since most positions are longer than that, for us, work kamping hasn’t really been a good option.  I say that knowing full well that we have this luxury since we have income coming in and others may need to commit to a work kamping job right away.  If possible though I wouldn’t recommend it right out of the gate, since it is stressful enough settling into the lifestyle and I am not sure I would want to commit to a work situation immediately.  There always are exceptions of course.  Our fellow Class of 2014 graduates Linda and Scott Malchak found a work kamping job in Texas helping  create a new campground and they have been there over a year and absolutely love it.  She has some great info about the experience on her blog Conservative RV and I really recommend you check it out to get their perspective.

There really is no one true way when it comes to the when, where, and how of work kamping, but I do intend to share my experiences in this area because I do believe they will be a big part of our lives going forward.  Please keep a couple of things in mind.  This is our experience and depending on your personality and the employer  they absolutely will vary.  Also, I do not intend to bad mouth any employer in this forum.  If something particularly  egregious happened I would probably share that, but in general I am a professional person, these are jobs, and I don’t believe any kind of social media is the place for that. Within that context though I will tell my experience as accurately as possible.  It will be a balancing act, but I believe I can honestly relay our experience and still remain professional.  Also, it’s worth noting that I only say this now because it’s our first job.  Our experience so far here in Susanville has been great, just trying to set the stage for future experiences that may not be as good.  Anyway, on with the story.

A couple of months ago we had seen a position on the hotline to volunteer as camp hosts on BLM land and not only was the timing right but the location in northern California was perfect.  The commitment was only 2 months and after Lee spoke to Stan about the position we thought it would be perfect.  It is a volunteer position, which means there is no hourly pay for work performed, but we would get a free full hookup site.  Lee really liked the fact that it’s not actually a campground, but a day use location, that opens in the morning and closes in the evening, and is managed by the Bureau of Land Management or BLM.  Stan  has worked for BLM for over 24 years and is very enthusiastic about what he does.  He seemed like a great guy and the work for site tradeoff seemed very fair.  Essentially Lee would open the gate at 8am every day, check/clean the restrooms once a day, and walk one mile of the bike trail picking up litter, then shut the gate at sunset.  A couple of hours worth of work 5 days a week and we get to stay in a beautiful setting without other campers, for free. One of the good things about waiting until the last-minute to pick up a job is many of the shorter term positions become available.  People leave a position or have an emergency and need to be replaced.  The negative of course is the additional stress waiting until the last-minute may bring.  We decided to wait until the last-minute, although this really isn’t my normal preference, because we were adamant that we did not want to sign up for a 4+ month job right out of the gate as our first experience. Baby steps. Turns out we found something within a couple of weeks on Work Kamper and then found a second volunteer position in the California Redwoods for December by looking at the State of California website.   Another good resource for volunteer positions in particular are the Department of Natural Resource websites for each state you are interested in.  Although many of their positions may already be filled, and it requires many more emails and phone calls to nail something down, if you are looking for something in a particular area and love state/federal parks this may be something you want to try out.  Lee invested several hours with email/phone correspondence before finding and locking down the Redwood job, but hey, it’s the giant ancient redwoods and how cool is that?  One more thing I should mention: season really comes into play with these positions.  If you are willing to be in an area slightly out of season there is more opportunity.  Since we spent 15 years in New Hampshire a little bit of cold weather doesn’t bother us at all, we actually prefer it, and this allows us to be in areas where there are fewer people, hence more positions are available.

But, back to this experience.  We arrived in Susanville on Thursday in the late afternoon after a tiring day of driving. The last five miles into town were an 8% down grade. We were looking forward to getting set up in our new site.  What we weren’t counting on was the immediate need for orientation and paperwork.  Stan had asked us to contact him when we were close and we drove over to the BLM office.  Susanville is a very small town (pop 7000) and the BLM office is on the small side.  We didn’t think we could fit the rig in the parking lot so drove around to a parking lot nearby and then gave Stan a call.  He had us come into the office and gave us an orientation.  It was a really good one.  Stan introduced us to people, gave detailed explanations on how things would work, where to get our mail, etc, and introduced us to a ton of people.  He also told us all about what the Bureau of Land Management does, showed us maps of the area, and gave us some of the history.  He’s a very nice guy who is very passionate about the area, we just weren’t expecting all that information coming off several days on the road so we felt a bit overwhelmed by it all.  After filling out the paperwork, he led us to our site and as soon as we pulled the truck in proceeded to give us another two-hour orientation on the site itself.  He explained the job duties and told us where all the supplies were plus we walked some of the trail so he could show us the other set of restrooms, trash cans, etc.  We asked a lot of questions and he assured us that he was available either by phone or in person for any follow-up issues we had and then he left so we could finish setting up.  By this time it was getting kind of late and we were bushed, but thankfully we have our basic setup down to a science at this point and I had some easy travel day food that was ready to prepare. It was all worth it though when we had a moment to look at our new home.

Site at Hobo Day Camp Susanville, CA

This is the “off side” of our camper, which faces the road that comes into the day use site at Hobo Camp, Susanville, CA

The site is very nice. It sits at the top of a canyon, and is well removed from the upper parking area, and several hundred yards from the main day use area, although we can look down on the picnic area, restrooms and parking lot.  We have a nice new power pedestal, which includes two 50amp, a 30 amp and a 20 amp hookup. There’s a sewer hookup, and city water. Plenty of space for our car, a nice heavy picnic table, and a fire ring. Plus, there’s quite a bit of seasoned firewood cut and split and stacked, for our use. In the day use area there are several picnic tables and outdoor grills down the hill along with two pit toilets.  The main bathrooms and area was very clean when we arrived although the trail itself and second set of bathrooms needed a bit more work.  Overall, it just took Lee a few days to get everything ship-shape and organized and so far maintenance from that point on has been pretty easy.  We’ve also been visited by several BLM employees who are just checking in to make sure we are doing fine.  They had a bit of a problem with the last working couple and want to make sure everything is going well with us.  The last folks were a little overzealous with holding people to the rules, including locking someone in the park and refusing to open the gate to let them out, which is one of the reasons why they are no longer here. We just keep reassuring the BLM employees that we can keep an eye on things without going overboard.  Once the initial flurry of visits was done, things have been blissfully quiet.  The folks who use the park are very nice and have caused no issues at all so far.  Having the place all to ourselves every evening is absolutely wonderful.  There are a group of college kids who are volunteering as part of a college program starting next week and will be living on site in tents, but for right now it is just us and we are really enjoying the solitude.

View from our camper down the hill

View from our camper down the hill

Here's our camper from the bottom of the hill

Here’s our camper from the bottom of the hill

 

Picnic area

Picnic area

Picnic Area

Picnic Area

 

Very nice clean restrooms. Lee says they are barely used

Very nice clean restrooms. Lee says they are barely used

 

Cliffs across from the creek whete people like to rappel and climb

Cliffs across from the creek where people like to rappel and climb

 

In addition to the picnic area, the park has the Susan river running through it that some kids swim in, and part of a very nice rails-to-trails bike trail called The Bizz Johnson Trail  that goes for over 20 miles.  We are only responsible for the trail a quarter-mile in one direction and a half mile in the other, and the walk to look for litter is good exercise.   In October there will be some excitement on the trail as it is used as a qualifier for the Boston Marathon.  Generally though, aside from the occasional visit by local cross-country teams, the trail is used by people walking their dogs.  Out here in the west, dog walking and dog poop is handled differently than back east.  The local ordinance says dogs need to “be under control” and voice control counts.  Also, people don’t really pick up their dog poop.   The first time we walked the trail I was a bit horrified by all the poop on the sides of the trail, but after talking to the BLM maintenance guy about it realized that’s just the local culture.  At this point I just shrugged and let it go and I think that is a VERY important point to Work Kamping success.  I don’t live here, I am visiting and there is no point in trying to impose my cultural values on other people.  It just annoys folks and frankly what right do I have?  As long as I am not responsible for cleaning up the mess (which we are not) then let the dog’s poop wherever they want.  My job is to maintain the rules and regulations as they exist and in a reasonable way.  Period.  For example, medical marijuana is legal in California and occasionally people smoke pot in the day area.  We talked to the BLM employees about it and they simply ask folks to move farther along the trail and keep it out of the family picnic area.  I can see how someone could get a little crazy on this issue, checking cards etc, but really life is too short.  If someone complained or I saw an issue I might politely ask them to move down the road, then again I might not.  We have the number of Darren the local BLM law enforcement officer and would be more likely to call him or the police if we saw something suspicious.

But that’s all speculative as nothing weird has happened at all.  Just people coming in, walking their dogs, and leaving. The most excitement we have had is several new bird sightings, including a covey of California quail (say that three times fast) and watching a family of deer that likes to hang out near our site.  We did ask about local wildlife and were told mountain lions are at the top of the food chain here, but there hasn’t been a confirmed sighting in 12 years.  When I asked Stan what to do just in case, he said make yourself as large as possible and then said some people take their shirts off and wave them to make themselves even bigger.  He said this with all seriousness and I had to bite my lip to not crack up.  If I see a mountain lion I do not think I would start stripping under any circumstances, but I did really appreciate the pointer!!

Steller's Jay

Steller’s Jay

Western Bluebird

Western Bluebird

Covey of California Quail

Covey of California Quail

Y025 Y027

Baby

Super cute baby likes to hang out near our wood pile

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Overall it’s been a terrific start to our first Work Kamping job.  We really love the site, the people are very nice, and we are appreciating the solitude.  Will keep you updated as things happen, but I totally get why people do this now.

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First Time Hearing Coyotes

We left Glacier on Monday and started to head farther west, to Susanville, California. I was excited about hitting California at last since that put us one step closer to seeing our daughter Kasey and the prospect of getting to be in one place for two solid months, and on full hookups no less, was great.  It turned out to be a very emotional day though.  I’m not so great with goodbyes and even though we knew we would be seeing Deb and Steve again soon, it was sad for me.  And it wasn’t just leaving them.  It was leaving the place.  Glacier had a tremendous impact on me.  It was the kind of place I had only dreamed about when starting this lifestyle, and to leave it for the unknown was tough.  So I wasn’t in the best frame of mind when we pulled out, and then I decided that I really needed to drive.

Lee has being doing most of the driving since I have been working in the car and he’s terrific at it, but I want to do my fair share as much as possible.  Plus, I need to keep practicing in order to be as self-sufficient as possible.  That may be an odd choice of words since we are absolutely a couple when it comes to this lifestyle, but we have never in our life maintained traditional roles and it’s tough for me that this has been so different. Let me take a step back and explain.  Throughout our marriage we have often switched roles.  I was the primary care giver and Lee worked the travel job when the kids were very small and then we switched later in life and I was the primary wage earner and Lee had a job with flexibility that gave him the time to handle most of the kid things.  Lee’s always been a better cleaner than me, he’s always handled the laundry, and I have dealt with insurance, 401K, taxes, etc.  At various times in our marriage we have both handled the checking account and budgets and for the first time ever when starting this life we both are doing that together.  When you have three kids and two full-time jobs you do a lot of divide and conquer, and consequently we aren’t very good at doing things together despite 25 years of marriage.  Now we are trying to do things together and it has caused some conflict along the way.  Mainly because Lee seems capable of handling almost any of the aspects of the full-timing lifestyle and I, who consider myself  pretty competent person, often find myself floundering. Plus, to be completely honest there is a whole lot of “I don’t want to” going on in my head around dealing with dumping tanks, mechanical issues, and the driving.  This “I don’t want to” attitude is amplified by the fact that many people in this lifestyle fall into traditional roles, where the guy handles the outside and the girl handles the inside. Don’t get me wrong, there are advantages.  You physically stay out of each others way during the tear down and setup process and it’s certainly more efficient from a time standpoint, at least initially.  But it falls into that whole old divide and conquer mentality that we are trying to get away from.  And most importantly, I don’t ever want to be in a situation where I am stuck.  If something, God forbid, happens to Lee, I need to be able to function.  I suppose I could call Greg, Bill, or Steve and say “Hey, can you fly to where I am and drive me to somewhere with full hookups until I figure this all out?,” But seriously, I am a smart, capable woman and no matter how intimidated I am, I never want to be in that situation.

Sorry, went kind of afield on this one.  Anyway, driving is a part of that and although I am very comfortable with driving on flat roads, I haven’t done much on hills.  So we were coming down out of Glacier and I kept thinking “on the first break we will switch and I will drive”.  Well let me say the road was scary.  It’s twisty with some steep grades and I started to get more and more nervous.  All of this is happening in my head, I am not talking at all to Lee and then at the first break I just started crying.  Needless to say he is pretty caught off guard and we talked about it.  He didn’t think it was a great idea for me to practice driving on these particular hills either, but I absolutely hated the idea of not trying simply because I was scared.  I won’t bore you with the whole conversation but suffice it to say he was pretty great about it, and he got us through the worst of it and then stopped the truck and had me take over.  It still wasn’t easy, but less terrifying, and Lee sat and very calmly talked me through it.  As a side note  this is a huge advantage of only having one vehicle.  I drove for about 1-1/2 hours, and largely did OK as he taught me how to allow the engine to do most of the braking for me.  I’m not going to say I ever felt comfortable, but I certainly was no longer terrified at the end, and I feel somewhat confident that I could drive my way out of a hilly terrain situation.  Anything more extreme, I need more practice for, but it’s  a start.

The foothills and lake I drove around

The foothills and lake I drove around.  Very windy road in and out of several small towns.  I would love to say I enjoyed the view, but I was way too focused on what I was doing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lee has planned our trip to Susanville in 5-6 hour driving blocks (which always seems to come closer to 7 hours with the stops) and our first night we stopped at Thompson Falls State Park.   The campground was recommended by Deb and Steve, and I only say that because it is interesting how different experiences can vary.  The park was practically empty and since it was raining most of the time we were there we didn’t really get to see anything.  It is a small park and along the river, but I found it to be somewhat depressing.  There was a train track pretty close by, and the campground had no services of any kind.  Plus it was kind of pricey at $28 and for me had a gentle air of neglect.  I freely admit my experience was tinged by my overall state of mind, but I wouldn’t stay there again.  To be fair though, Deb and Steve spent several days there and really liked it.

Pretty view of the river at Thompson Falls

Pretty view of the river at Thompson Falls.  The campground itself though was not my favorite.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next day I was happy to leave, and we started out, soon hitting Idaho.  I have been to Boise and really liked it and Idaho is definitely on my list of places to spend some time, but driving through the panhandle of Idaho is very hairy.  There were several steep hills and one in particular that had a 6% grade and a 25 mph speed limit since it was so twisty turning.  Even Lee was sweating it a little and I thought no way would I drive that particular stretch of road again.  There are tons of campgrounds along the Snake river though and we saw lots of RV’s despite it being slightly out of season.  We think it must be a great place to fish plus there are gold mines still in operation in the hills.  It was interesting, mainly because we were roughly following the same trail Lewis and Clark took, but nothing I saw along the way made me want to stop and stay awhile.  It was good when we hit Washington finally, because the roads got much better and the landscape started to broaden out a bit.  We stopped at our very first Corps of Engineers park in Plymouth, Washington.  

People have been raving about Corps of Engineer parks since we started the lifestyle and we have been eager to stay in one.  They are reasonably priced, well laid out (sure engineers designed them), and overall considered the best for a place to stay if you run across one.  I hate to say that my first COE experience was a bit disappointing.   Yes, the park was easy to get in and out of, but again it had an air of neglect to it.  There was a ton of dog poop in the field behind where we were, and although it was along a river you couldn’t actually see it because it was so overgrown by shrubs.  There was also no access to the water that I could see so when I walked down to the edge the best I could see was the picture below.  I was thrilled to have some services though and we hooked up to water and electric for the first time in weeks.  We were also excited to see there was a sewer hook-up at the site, but when Lee inquired about it, turns out many of the sewer hookups are “broken” and our site was one of them.  If this would have been a regular campground, I am sure my standards wouldn’t have been so high, but after all the hype it was a bit of a let down.  The coolest part of the whole stay was the beautiful sunset we saw and for the first time I heard coyotes howling in the distance.  That is an eerie sound and more than anything made me realize we were in the West now.

View of the river from Plymouth Park

“View” of the river from Plymouth Park

 

 

Sunset

Sunset, colors not enhanced

The next day the terrain really started to change and it was definitely more arid.  I had heard that the eastern part of Washington, Oregon, and California was more arid and that was definitely the case.  My experiences with Oregon and California have all been coastal so it was hard to reconcile what I was seeing with my view of those states as lush and green.  In parts it was pretty though, but overall not my favorite terrain.  I am hoping to like the desert when we get there, but this is not what I consider true desert, but rather arid landscape with lots of dead plants in it. It’s obvious there has been a drought, and I understand why there have been so many fires because all the vegetation was painfully dry.  I did enjoy parts of Oregon though, particularly the Bend area.  We stayed right outside of Bend in LaPine State Campground.   LaPine was really nice.  They have over 125 sites in multiple loops, over 80 with full hookups.  Nice separation between sites and although it was wooded, it was not terribly overgrown.  Several hiking trails, close to Bend which is a cool little town, and by far the nicest place we stayed on this trip.  I thought the price was reasonable at $26 a night and although cell service for AT&T and Verizon was on the weak side we were able to get service with our booster.  The only negative part of the experience was when we switched sites to a pull through.  We checked with the hosts who were fine with it and moved to an available site that was a bit larger.  We were just hooked up when a Class A drove up and a woman got out and said we were in her site.  Apparently they had reserved the site for two days, missed yesterday’s date, but were here today.  She was adamant that we were going to need to move, and frankly I was not in the mood for this.  There were 40 other sites open in the place and the sign on the site we took had said it was available.  She and I were about to square off over it, when thankfully her husband walked up and said he would look for another site. Full on rudeness is not something I have to deal with much in this lifestyle, but obviously it does happen.  And I have zero patience for an entitlement attitude, which was coming off her in waves.  Thankfully cooler heads prevailed and they moved two spots down to an almost identical spot and we were able to relax for the evening.  

The next day we finally hit California.  For the first time we had to stop at a mandatory checkpoint for both RV’s and Trucks.  We were asked a cursory question about whether we were carrying fresh fruit, the answer was no as we had used the bananas up the other night, and were on our way.  This part of California is also extremely arid and I could see the results of them being in such a bad drought.  Now I know little about farming or the drought conditions, but I will say we saw numerous farms growing hay in August and they were using a serious amount of water to keep their fields green.  Again, I am sure there are two sides to this story, but the contrast between the near desert-like ground that was not being tended and the green fields was a little startling.  When we hit the Modoc Forest area though the landscape really changed. We were in rolling hills again and lots of evergreens.  It was still incredibly dry though and we we were a little concerned when we saw a helicopter flying overhead carrying a large bucket underneath.  We have never been exposed to forest fires like this, and when we saw the road was partially closed got concerned.  It would have been extremely difficult to turn around, but luckily the firemen were on the job and they were close to putting out a fire that was right next to the road.  There were at least 30 of them and I wanted to stop and thank them for their courageous service but of course we needed to keep driving as they were still working.  We all know what a courageous job they have done this summer but seeing them at work,  covered with soot was humbling.  We all enjoy our park system and the work they have done to keep areas safe and open has been extraordinary.

Thanks to them we safely made it through Modoc Forest and then finally to Susanville.  I will cover our arrival in my next post, but we are safe and sound and decompressing from our month of boondocking and traveling.  Overall, at this point I would say that although Glacier was the experience of a lifetime, getting there and leaving was on the stressful side.  Hopefully we will get better at moving around so much, but at this point I still prefer staying in a place for longer stints of time.  We will see how I feel though after having exhausted everything to do in the Susanville area, but for right now I am really glad to be in one place and with full hookups.

 

Campground Reviews

Thompson Falls State Park  Thompson Falls, MT   2 out of 5 pine cones

Very small state campground with 18 sites and  no services.  Some sites were very large and there was decent separation between sites.  There is a train track nearby and a road, and there was some road noise and train noise. Dense tree cover, which is not optimal for solar, and the toilets are pit toilets.   $28 a night when we stayed there. They have shelters and some group tent camping areas, but charge premium prices for them. It is on a beautiful river with a boat doc and there was a camp host who politely greeted us when we arrived, but the campground had a feeling of neglect.  Close to a small town with some stores, but ATT and Verizon coverage was very weak.

Plymouth Park COE Campground   Plymouth Park, WA  3 out of 5 pine cones

Multiple pull through sites with electric and water.  Great pads with nice picnic tables and fire pits.   There is a day use area with beach and boat launch, but no access to the river near the campground.  Close to a small town and near a road with some traffic.  Lots of dog poop throughout the grass area and the view of the river is totally obscured by overgrown shrubs and trees.  Very strong Verizon and AT&T signal.  $24 a night.   Two sets of camp hosts on site who were friendly and obviously keeping a good eye on the campground.  Fine for an overnight stay, but I wouldn’t choose to spend several days here.

LaPine State Campground  15800 State Rec RD, Bend OR  4 out of 5 pine cones

They have over 125 sites in multiple loops, over 80 with full hookups.  Nice separation between sites and although it was wooded, it was not terribly overgrown.  Several hiking trails, close to Bend which is a cool little town, and by far the nicest place we stayed on this trip.  I thought the price was reasonable at $26 a night and although cell service for AT&T and Verizon was on the weak side we were able to get service with our booster.  They would be a 5 but their reservation system is a little goofy and we had a problem with a site being double booked while we were there.  I really liked it though and would go back for a longer stay.

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