First Time Working In A Utility Co. Park – Long, Hot Summer Days

Disclaimer: The company we are working for this summer has a very specific media policy. I will not be mentioning them by name, or mentioning the specific names of anyone I am working with, except for Lee.  Also, because it’s not really that difficult to figure out which company it is, I want to be clear: I in no way speak for the company or my co-workers, and am only recounting my personal experiences.  Also, any details I get wrong in this or any other post are due to a misunderstanding on my part.  

I’ve been toying with writing this post for a while and because I wasn’t quite sure how to present my thoughts, I kept shoving them back in the corner and sticking with the easy stuff.  This happens on occasion.  It’s much easier to write about the pretty stuff, and the fun stuff, and even the not so pleasant events than to talk about personal shortcomings.  I’ve always been a person who prided myself on good customer service.  I have tons of experience, starting with my earliest jobs, and although the necessary patience doesn’t always come easily to me, overall I think I am above average in this area.

It’s relatively easy to be pleasant when you are in a good mood, fulfilled in your work, being paid well, and the people you are dealing with are being decent.  It’s not so easy of course when you are under stress.  My worst experience in this was a job in my 20’s when I worked a “retention” position.  It was with a company who gave you a “free” service for 90 days as part of a new credit card, and then after the 90 days if you didn’t cancel they charged your credit card. I started almost every phone conversation by being yelled at.  People were upset their credit card was charged, didn’t remember signing up in the first place, and wanted that charge reversed immediately.  My job was to talk the person into keeping the service (and the $39 charge) and a 40% recidivism rate was considered excellent.

It was brutal and I think I lasted about 9 months before I had to leave and I only lasted that long because I was pregnant with my second daughter at the time.  The job had good benefits (which I needed), I could sit in an air conditioned environment all day, and the supervisors did whatever they could to make a crappy job more pleasant.  Plus, with the retention bonuses, I was making decent money at the time and with a 1 year old at home and another on the way, we needed the money.  Still, it took it’s toll.  Minute after minute, hour after hour, getting yelled at every 5 minutes or so wore me down.  There were people who seemed to be able to completely turn off any emotions associated with the other people, but I was too young and too empathetic to just ignore it.

Nothing in my work experience has ever come close to how horrible that job was, and this is not even close, but as I am writing this I am reminded a bit of how there was a cumulative effect on my overall ability to provide good customer service.  In a perfect world we would treat every customer encounter as our first and use all of the positive energy we had to resolve it amicably.  But unless you are one of those rare people who seem to have a boundless store of energy, that simply isn’t the case.  I’ll give you a simple example.

For some reason whenever we pull up to clean a bathroom, people see the truck and immediately run over and get in line.  I get it, and have absolutely been guilty of it, and asking the cleaner to “wait just a minute” seems totally reasonable.  The problem is that the time we spend waiting for them delay other cleanings down the line and if there are enough of them we get behind schedule.  Initially I waited for everyone.  I was being a good guy, but then I found myself rushing through the jobs, or worse not getting to a location because of those delays, and now generally if someone isn’t already in line when I pull up I make them wait.  There are exceptions of course.  Little kids, pregnant women, folks in obvious “distress”, I will even stop mid cleaning and allow them to go, but I try to keep those to a minimum.

And if you think that is crazy I’ll give you an example from this week.  I pulled up to the restroom at Moore Creek, which is used by the white water rafting groups and because I was running a bit behind I was barely in front of three large groups of rafters.  I let a young girl go and by the time she was done there were 7 people in line.  25 minutes later (and no I am not kidding about that) the line finally diminished and I was able to clean the bathroom.  Yes, this was an extreme example, but it happens on a smaller scale almost every single day.

And not for nothing, it’s not fun cleaning a bathroom when someone “jumps in” and then is in there for awhile.  All the guys in the campground have had people come into nearby stalls while they were cleaning and I was cleaning the men’s toilet one day, was in a stall, and a guy walked in and used the urinal.  I waited until he was done to leave, but I had no idea how awkward something like that could be.  I never understood why people made such a production out of closing down the bathroom and always thought they should leave it open while they cleaned other toilets, well, now I totally get it.  I’m still trying to use good judgement and err on the side of the customer as much as I can, but when you are doing something unpleasant to begin with, and just want to get it over as quickly as possible, it’s pretty tough.

And that’s sort of my point overall.  There is a perfect way to handle almost every single customer interaction and I am certainly capable of it, but when it’s crazy hot, I’m physically tired, we are at the end of a very long day, or it is one challenging interaction after another I start to feel stretched.  Interestingly, Lee seems to have a much longer fuse when it comes to these interactions.   If you had to pick who was better with people overall, I think I would win that one, but he is steadier overall and seems less prone to allowing environmental pressure to get to him.  (I’ll take the credit, but I don’t really deserve it. Most of the time the useful part of my brain is occupied with my own bizarre thoughts and I am barely aware that there are even other people in the world. And every time I finish an interaction I reset back to whatever I was thinking about and people don’t exist any more. So each subsequent person pretty much feels like the first one, to me. – Lee) 

Even when it does get to him he is able to compartmentalize those feelings and stay remarkably even keeled when dealing with customers. In all fairness part of that is as a smaller guy dealing with somewhat drunk people, he is hyper aware of the fact that at anytime if an interaction escalates someone could take a swing at him.  (Something like this happened a week or so ago. We pulled up to our most remote spot, which rarely has anyone at it, and it had one car. Male and female sitting inside. We got out, and I locked the truck, and we went down the boat launch stairs to check the trash, keeping one eye on the couple in the car. When we came up the stairs, the guy got out of the car, because of course he did. I moved a little quicker up the stairs, to get to the top before he did, and I kept myself between him and Tracy while she unlocked the truck and we exchanged the standard pleasantries at the back of the truck. While we chatted he kept moving just a teeny bit closer to me, like a lean that turned into a step, and I would compensate by leaning/stepping back to maintain that ever important personal safety bubble. This happened enough times that we traveled this way, almost imperceptibly, from the passenger side at the tailgate, to the fuel tank door on the driver’s side. And the whole time talking about nothing of any consequence, but nonstop chit chat, which was very distracting. By this time, Trace had actually gotten into the truck and was just sitting there, so I decided I was done with the pointless chit chat and didn’t want to move forward of the driver’s door, so in the middle of his next pointless sentence and lean I gave him a great big smile and said “You have a great night, drive safe!”, opened the door and got in and we left. – Lee)  I was completely oblivious to all of this by the way.  I rarely worry about my physical safety, although I am more aware now than I ever was in my youth.

When I am tired, hot, and cranky I tend to get a little short with people.  (I can attest to this. – Lee) The “mom mentality” kicks in and it takes energy (which I have little of at the end of these long weekend days) to keep my voice on an even tone. Usually I am able to keep my cool, but I’ll be hones,t occasionally some “tone” leaks out.  I am not rude or abusive, but I definitely step on the customer service line in these instances and it bums me out.  Closing the gate at night is a particularly difficult time for me because we are at the end of a very long day.  Lee starts at 4:45 am, and the day ends at 9:30 pm. And we do that every Saturday and Sunday. Even though we aren’t working that entire time, it’s still a long day.

We aren’t eating well (dinner is a quick sandwich grabbed on a 15 minute break or eating at 9:30pm) and I am not sleeping well at all.  You would think we would fall into bed exhausted at the end of the day, but I’m still “keyed up” and usually can’t fall asleep until after 11pm.  Fridays and Sundays are generally OK because it’s mostly locals who know the end of day drill, but Saturdays are always tough.  We have lots of out-of-towners who don’t really understand we close the gate promptly at 9pm and despite giving numerous warnings starting at 8:15pm they often wait to start packing up until the last minute.  I get that they don’t know we have been going since early morning, don’t understand we have to get up first thing the next day, and probably wouldn’t care if they did.  But we aren’t done when we close the gate and still need to do a security sweep of the campground, empty any trash we have, and eat something before going to bed.  It’s a long day.

This Saturday was the worst we have had so far from that perspective.  It started off busy because a local combination AA /Veteran’s group was having an all day BBQ down on the lower launch beach.  They started arriving to set up their pop-up canopies and food stations at 6am. We had no idea this was happening, but swung into action to help handle the additional traffic.  Lee and I both spent all of our morning shifts down there and worked with the group to make the most out of the existing parking space.  The group organizers were great to work with and by 11:15am every car and boat space was full, I had cleaned the bathrooms twice, and we had emptied many bags of trash and given them extra bags for later.  I even asked one of the guys at Timber Park  to do a mid-day sweep while we were on our long mid-day break and I actually felt great about the level of customer service we provided.

Fast forward to 5pm when we came back on and the first thing we did was go back to lower launch to scope out what state it was in.  The bathrooms had held up pretty well, but we cleaned them again and we removed 4 huge bags of trash from down by the beach.  The group had completely turned over at this point and now we had several small groups at the beach area.  Because we hadn’t touched any of the other sites we ran up and dropped off the full bags of trash we had in the bed of the truck and then we hustled to make our rounds.  The culvert area was completely packed and that trash was overflowing.  Someone had added a third bag which really helped, but it took a while to pick up the overflow and now we were really running behind. We didn’t even have time to recycle, plus it was crazy hot in the full sun and we dealt with the bags and got back in the air conditioned truck as quickly as possible.   Thankfully the river sites were in better shape so we got back on schedule and headed down for another quick sweep of Lower Launch.  More trash removal, and then a quick bathroom clean and sweep of Faraday.

We made it back to the culvert by 7:30 and there was music blasting from two cars and at least 12 vehicles in the lot.  Lee started to make closing announcements on the bullhorn and I started trash pickup and asked the folks with the music blaring to turn it off.  Everything was going fine, with most people leaving, but there was one truck that simply wouldn’t leave.  We waited and waited and finally I gave last warning and we headed up to the gate.  At this point the people in the truck trotted over and making crappy comments about being rushed out they finally departed.  Lee saw a campground parking sticker on their window though as they left, and later I made it a point to ask the hosts about this particular vehicle because they were obviously pretty drunk.

We made it down to the Lower Launch by 8:10pm and it was still very busy.  5 boat trailers in the lot and at least 15 cars, which is a lot for that time of night, even on a Satruday.  Several groups still had pop-up shelters up and two groups were BBQing.  We started making announcements at 8:15 and then headed up through the gated area and made announcements to folks fishing and the boats up there.  By the time we got back down to the beach at 8:30pm I was pretty annoyed that the largest group on the beach was still grilling.  I walked over with my bucket and trash pickers and politely mentioned they really needed to start packing up now because they had a ton of stuff and they made some drunken comments to the affirmative and I started picking up litter.

By the time I made it to the end of the beach the trash cans were once again full and there were several boxes of trash on the ground.  I went and called Lee over and we drove the truck down into a parking spot and started picking the trash up.  While we were doing that someone pulled a small car up and completely blocked us in while they were “packing up.”  I say that because what they were really doing was standing around talking to each other and now it was 8:45pm and we still had to clean the bathrooms.  Lee tried to get the truck out, but couldn’t get past them and they just sat there talking and looking at us.  At this point I had had enough and jumped out of the truck and told them to move their vehicle because we had work we needed to do.  One of the guys looked at me and said, “Relax Lady,” and I swear I saw red.  I said, “We have been working all day and we still have work to do before we leave” and then I shut my mouth… with effort,  and jumped into the truck.  They finally moved and I was fuming as we went up to clean the restroom.

Something about his tone and demeanor really pushed my buttons, but I knew I had said too much and nothing I would say would make it any better.  So we cleaned the bathroom, saw all of the boat trailers were out of the water, and headed up to the top of the gate.  At this point, most people get a clue and the locals at least (including the “Relax Lady” guy got out of there, but the big group down on the beach was still taking their sweet time.  Finally we were able to shut the gate and then we headed back to the campground.  Turns out they had a rough day too, and the guys from the lower launch were in one of their “problem sites” but they had already addressed their concerns with them.  We made our security sweep, threw away 8 bags of trash in the dumpster, dropped off some items in the lost and found and went back to the rig.

I know in the grand scheme of things losing my temper is not such a big deal and it happened under extreme duress but it bothers me.  (Personally I wouldn’t describe it was losing her temper, I would describe it as being another two lines of conversation away from losing her temper. – Lee) It’s not like I was unbearably rude or cussed the guy out, but I hate feeling that upset and certainly hate showing it. More concerning is as the season progresses the fuse is getting shorter and shorter and I know I really need to get a handle on this now. Deep breaths are definitely called for, and remembering that although it is my 100th such conversation, for most of the visitors it is their first. And I really need to figure out how to get better sleep on the weekends.

Oh, one last thing, and for those of you with sensitive stomachs, stop right here.   We made it through the whole week with no major messes and then our second to last bathroom on Sunday night Lee opened the door and immediately put up a hand to stop me from entering behind him.  That’s part of the problem.  Despite our best efforts, when we open the door we never really know what we will find and this was something new.  There was tons of bright red…material spattered all over the toilet, seat and lid, with spatters on the wall at the men’s room at Faraday.  Lee walked in to get a better look and at first glance it appeared to be blood.  I then took a look and it was not good.  We have a special blood cleanup kit for instances involving blood, but the quantity was way too much for the materials we had on hand.  It looked to me as if someone might have had a miscarriage (which does happen in public restrooms on occasion) and although the color was still bright red neither one of us felt comfortable getting right on top of it and examining it.  Plus it was getting late and we needed to close some gates so we took pictures, locked the bathroom, and awaited further instructions from our supervisor.  Both of us felt this was the best solution, because there is another bathroom at this location and it was getting close to closing time.

The next day our supervisor took a look at the pictures Lee sent him. If I haven’t made it clear I really, really like this guy.  He is by far the best person I have worked for on the road and has gone out of his way to make this experience as pleasant as possible for us.  He told Lee he thought it was not blood, mainly because the mess had not changed color, that it was more likely thrown up berries.  There are tons of berries in the area and not all of them are safe for people to eat, and unfortunately someone appears to have eaten some bad ones.  That was much better than the alternative, but still not great, and on Monday Lee took the water trailer, lots of disinfectant, and a mop bucket to clean it up.  It wasn’t fun for him and I was really grateful it was my campground day, but he got it done and we were both glad we received clear instructions on how to handle it.  (I didn’t mind so much. It couldn’t have been blood, blood would have been much darker by the next morning. And there was no odor, so I just told myself I was cleaning up spilled food. I hosed everything out with pressurized water using a plant food dispenser on the hose to add lots of disinfectant and than used a mop and squeegee to take out the water. By that point it was so diluted there was no color at all. No big deal. I’ve cleaned up worse from my own kids. – Lee) So if you are keeping count, that is at least three weeks in a row with a major bathroom mess and if the universe is trying to tell me something I’d like to say back: I get it!!

On the plus side, we have lobbying pretty hard for a 100 gallon tank  to carry in the truck so we can add the gas powered pump and always have a pressurized water source, and after this incident our boss ordered one.  Plus I made $20.70 in recycling (not so bad considering how crazy it was) and we have some fun stuff scheduled for our days off, including a visit from a friend of Lee’s that he hasn’t seen since our wedding.


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Or you can check out our recipe book filled with 80 real recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. The cookbook specializes in recipes that have a limited number of ingredients, without sacrificing flavor and is organized into categories that matter to full time RVers such as Happy Hours, Travel Days, and Pot Lucks   You can preview the kindle version on  Amazon or the Apple version on Itunes.    It is also available in paperback.

 

What Does Freedom Look Like?

We are currently in the middle of a political cycle and just to be clear, this is not a political post.  I think we all care deeply about the freedoms that we consider our inalienable rights, the right to vote, the right to bear arms, free speech, the right to assembly etc, and as a woman, I am keenly aware that if I had been born in a different time or place my concept of freedom would be quite different.  Instead I am talking about the more personal concept of freedom as expressed by many full time Rvers.

The idea of freedom looms large in our lifestyle and is one of the major motivating factors of this lifestyle.  We talk about it, have songs about it (Zac Brown’s “Free is almost an anthem to many of us), and many of us pursue it with a fierce passion.  For me though the concept of freedom has always been a difficult one.  Cori and I have discussed this many times and I always say to her, “Yes, but what does that look like.”  To her credit, in those moments she gets less frustrated with me than she has a right to be, because freedom is obviously a very subjective concept and very very much rooted in personal experience.   Fair enough,  so in order to try to talk about this in a shared context I am going to go back to the dictionary definition of the word.  The Webster dictionary definition for freedom is “…the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action; liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another; independence the quality or state of being exempt or released usually from something onerous<freedom from care>.

Based on that definition the only time in my life (aside from heady moments of teenage rebellion) that I can ever remember experiencing freedom was when I went to college right out of high school.  As I watched many of my peers go a little crazy with all the freedom, I ended up imposing rules and restrictions on myself because I was so uncomfortable.  I wasn’t exactly a goody two-shoes, but I mostly stayed on that side of the line and ultimately gave up that freedom (and college) for the more comfortable rules of work and a relationship.  Looking back on that choice I don’t regret it, because it led me to where I am today, but I have wondered what my life would look like if I would have grabbed that freedom and experience with both hands.

Then it was marriage, and kids, and buying a house, all of my choices the exact opposite of “freedom from care.”  And I was mostly satisfied.  Certainly in rough moments I thought longingly of the freedom of retirement, or the relative freedom of grown children, but I was following what I felt was the proper path.  Freedom as a concept never loomed large in my childhood.  I don’t remember my parents really ever talking about it, and it was definitely not a value that my family espoused.  Commitment, hard work, truthfulness, and family were the guiding ethics of my childhood and have strongly formed my character.  So when I met people in my life who were risk takers and gypsies, I was wistful, but always thought I could never do that.

Lee, on the other hand, from a very early age wanted to be free.  His desire to be with me transcended those feelings enough that he married me and had children, but he has always been a person who needed a lot of space.  Even from a relatively young age I understood that “standard” relationship rules would not work with Lee.  While many other young wives I knew struggled to exert control over their husbands movements and actions, I tried as much as possible to let him do his own thing.  I wasn’t always successful, of course, and it was the source of much conflict in our early marriage.  But I always understood that the only way I would ever lose him was to try and coerce or constrain him, and somehow we managed to create an environment where he had freedom and I had structure.  Not an easy balance.

The older we got, the more things began to tip in his direction.  Kids moved away, jobs got easier to some extent, and we had more time and disposable income for ourselves.  For me the concept of freedom became specifically about freedom from debt and ultimately from a mortgage.  To me freedom began to equal money, and since I was unwilling to go any farther up the corporate ladder, that meant we needed to eliminate debt.  This wasn’t easy for either of us, and it wasn’t really until Lee discovered the full time lifestyle that we got serious about it.  The moments of eliminating debt were amazing ones, and I absolutely felt freedom from care in them.  Within a short period of time we became both empty nesters and full time RVers, and by relative standards we were free!  Except we weren’t really, at least by Lee’s standards.  For the first 9 months or so he kept saying “we haven’t really started yet,” but what he actually meant was that we aren’t really free yet. I carried my corporate job with me and all of it’s requirements, not to mention all my angst about the lifestyle in general, and it wasn’t until I took the corporate buy-out that I started to feel freedom from care. It wasn’t a “flip the light switch” transition of course, although I should say that for many, many people I have met, it truly seems to be just that, but I took my first trembling steps on the path to freedom.

The odd thing though is despite all we have seen and experienced, freedom still isn’t one of my main goals.  For me it’s more of a byproduct of the lifestyle than a guiding tenet.  Not so for Lee.  He has remained unwavering in his desire to achieve as much freedom as possible, and once again in our lives it has been the source of some conflict.  I should say here that sometimes as a friend I really feel bad for him.  He didn’t consciously choose to have a wife who was so different from him when it came to these concepts, and since he fell in love with me at 14 I think it is fair to say he couldn’t possibly have conceptualized our lives turning out this way back then.  And largely I think he’s been pretty patient.  When we lived in the “regular world” he was always the one that was a little out of step, but in this lifestyle that situation is reversed.  His instincts are solid, he usually knows what needs to be done, and I am the one who is often floundering.  He understands the rules and the possibilities and often these are concepts I barely grasp.

So how does this all translate into our day-to-day life?  Mostly it comes up around our travel/work schedule.  Do we take a job or leave a job?  Do we travel frequently or less often?  Do we make reservations or fly by the seat our pants?  These are huge decisions for full time RVers and more than anything else (at least for us) dictate what our lives look like day-to-day. Our level of freedom  is impacted by family obligations, finances, weather, campground availability, internet availability, and mechanical issues. Just like in our old lives if we were not careful those considerations could completely dictate our choices. As you can probably guess, Lee is totally not OK with that. Not that he doesn’t understand the necessity, but he strains against any constraints that make him feel as if he is back in his old life.  He is not alone in these feelings at all by the way, but rather more the norm for full timers.  I on the other hand sometimes find myself embracing those restrictions.  They bring with them structure and a sense of “normalcy” and I know that to some of you reading this that sounds nuts, but it’s true. To be completely honest there are times I would rather endure the unpalatable or even downright unpleasant than be faced with more freedom.

I believe that regardless of where we live, or what we do for a living, we all have the capacity for more freedom in our lives.  What stops us from experiencing that is ourselves.  We build walls around ourselves, impose rules, and create excuses.  Fear is a huge factor of course, but so is perceived obligation.  We are big on freedom of choice in this country, but then we rarely exercise those choices.  And if anything can prove that point it is the fact that we have no house, or young children, or debt, or career jobs, and I am still struggling.  I am living in an RV  in the middle of Alaska and working at a campground making $12 an hour.  I mean seriously, how different could my life be from what it was before? Do I feel “independence, the quality or state of being exempt or released, usually from something onerous”? Relatively, yes!  Do I feel free? Not really.  Do I feel as the Zac Brown lyrics say “Free as I’ll ever be”? Definitely not, but I am finally starting to visualize what freedom might look like for me.  That is no small thing.

 

 


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Should We Lock In the Summer?

First of all, I’m sorry for the premature post from yesterday.  I hit the wrong button and unfortunately there is no take back on emailing the follower list.  I’ll be more careful in the future and thanks for those that emailed me to let me know.  I couldn’t email you back immediately because of the post status…sorry again.  Anyway, it continued raining for 11 straight days and finally on the 12th morning, the sun came out.  I personally have never experienced that many days of straight rain and I can’t tell you how glad I am for the sun.  One positive thing that came out of the experience is that we seem to have found a partial solution to the rain noise on the slide-out.  We went to the hardware store looking for rubber mats used to line tool chest drawers, and instead I found a Wenzel Portable Folding Mat that is commonly used at the beach or on the floor of a tent.  They cost $12, are 60 x 78 (fits perfectly on our slide-out, folded in half) and is made out of a woven mildew resistant material.  They’re very similar to what most people use as an outdoor mat under their awning, but the material is thicker. Since it was much cheaper than the rubber lining  we thought we would give it a try.  It does significantly dampen the sound during the rain.  Lee has a decibel meter on his phone, and the slide-out with the mat on top was more than 10 decibels lower than the slide-out without.  Plus, the mats do more than one thing!  We can also use them for picnics or days at the beach, etc.  They fold up into a pretty small package and even have a carrying handle.  I don’t know how long it will hold up, or how often we will actually use them but for right now I am a fan.

The rain also gave us lots of time to talk and work on some things.  We have been having  a problem with our sink. It’s an under-mounted sink, and the clips that hold it to the counter top are screwed into the cabinet wood around it. However, the two strips of wood that go across the back side of the sink is not part of the cabinetry, it’s just glued to the bottom of the countertop. The glue holding one of the wood pieces under the counter is failing, so the sink dropped just enough to break the silicon seal that goes around the edge between the sink and the counter. So water seeped in and caused more of the silicon to come loose, and the sink to drop even further down. Lee’s original idea was to just take it out and mount it from above so it rested on the counter instead of hanging underneath, but no surprise, the hole in the counter top doesn’t allow for that. RV fixes are always  more complicated than you originally think so when you decide to work on a big project, you really need to think it through.  Will you be in one place for several days?  Can parts can be mailed to you since rarely are the parts available at local hardware stores? Can you easily run to a hardware store and grab other parts and materials?  Since we have a solid mail solution and are familiar with the area here we decided it would be better to take care of it here than in Monterrey, where we want to spend time with our daughter. Or Pasadena during the Rose Parade events. Or wait until mid-January and risk it getting worse.

While Lee was figuring that out, I was looking for a summer job for us.  The posting for many summer 2016 jobs actually come out in December and many of the more desirable positions get filled early.  Originally we were fully committed to Alaska, but after looking at all the options available now nothing seems quite right.  We need to make enough to cover our monthly expenses or we will have to eat into savings.  The jobs with flexibility in schedule don’t pay very well and the jobs that do pay well require 40 plus hours worth of work leaving little time to explore.  When I expanded the search nationally it seemed that most of the jobs seem to fall into these two categories.  More importantly almost all of them require an entire season commitment.  It’s one thing to sign up for a job that’s less than optimal for a short period of time, but making a bad decision for an entire summer is much more serious.  If you are a person who can easily walk away from a commitment, that’s less of an issue.  Sign up, check it out, and if it’s not working, leave.  But as I discussed in my previous post I am not 100% comfortable with that.  Plus it’s not just my requirements.  Lee and I bring two different sets of desires to any job situation so it needs to at least be a partial fit for both of us.  And it’s further complicated by the fact that since we are still new to work kamping we think we know what matters but there is no way we can be totally sure.

With all this stuff swirling around in my head I got a little overwhelmed.  So many choices, so many unknowns, I got nervous about making a decision of any kind.  And maybe we shouldn’t.  My possible consulting jobs aren’t available this early nor are Lee’s possible onsite video jobs.  Maybe we shouldn’t commit to anything until we are closer to the dates.  But if we wait could we lose out on a terrific summer opportunity.  Not to mention without a commitment things would be very ambiguous for the next several months and I although I am getting better dealing with ambiguity it has never been a strong suit of mine.  These situations are where having a “take what comes” personality are a huge advantage, and I am so jealous of those people in moments like these.  But if nothing else I have to be honest with myself about who I am at this moment and those feelings have to be factored in.  So Lee and I sat outside in the sun, by a nice fire, this morning and I talked it through with him.  As a side note, we have gotten so good at talking about things objectively and being there for each other without letting the situation make us feel like we have failed. We couldn’t manage that in 25 years in a sticks and bricks but one year on the road has accomplished it ….yay us!!  After talking it through we put together a rough priority list that we could both live with.  It’s not perfect and certainly doesn’t encompass everything, but it should give us basic framework to make the decision.

  •  How much we make.  Making a ton of money is not the most important consideration.  If it was we might as well go back to our regular jobs.  It’s all about maintaining enough money in the account to sustain the lifestyle.  Sometimes we will make a little less, sometimes a little more, and sometimes we may need to take less than optimal jobs to put money back in the kitty.  That being said, for us, it has to be front and center to the conversation because we can’t sustain this lifestyle if we don’t make enough to pay our way.
  • Where is the job. A beautiful place is not enough.  I always thought it was.  “Give me a shack with a view” was one of my favorite sayings.  But weather, cost, crowds, the nature of the work, access to cell/internet etc can all make a beautiful place not so beautiful.  The Redwoods for example are amazing, but not so much after 11 days of rain.  Where the job is ranks second because beautiful scenery and  places to explore are one of the major benefits of being full timers.  And it doesn’t have to be knock your socks off beautiful either.  We have found wonderful things to do in almost every place we have been.  But we have to think about what a place would look like for a long-term gig.
  • Who are we working for We are absolutely unwilling to be treated poorly.  We have experienced plenty of that already in our lives and although we have no expectation of being catered to in any way we are also not willing to tolerate nastiness.  Some people couldn’t care less about this.  It truly rolls off their backs,  and more power to you, but neither of us is interested.  This is a tough one, because you can’t really know until you get into the position.  A phone interview helps and if you are lucky you can talk to someone who has worked there, but this could definitely change everything.
  • What we will be doing  I thought I could do anything for the perfect place to stay and to some extent that is true, but for longer stints what I will be doing matters more.  This may change with experience and age, but for right now and especially for a 5-6 month commitment, I want to work in a place where some of my skills will be utilized.  I understand that some places are just looking for bodies to fill slots and I respect that, but the perfect position would be one that would be fun and challenging. This is where I think the fact that we aren’t retired hurts us.  Some folks had plenty of stress and challenge in their working life and are more than content to just do what they are asked and no more, but that’s really not in my nature.  At least not yet.  However, if the before mentioned three items are all really good, I think I could handle it.
  • How long will we be doing it We like doing short term contracts and when we envisioned this lifestyle it was with the thought that we would work short stints and then move on.  All of the items above are much easier to handle if its for a short period of time.  Anything is, really, but there are a lot less short term jobs than we thought and most of those have either been 100% volunteer or filling in last minute for another employee.  The downside to volunteering of course is no money and the downside to filling in is the stress (for me) that comes with not having a position and the related travel plans locked in.  Plus, many of the really cool jobs require longer stints and they can because they are in high demand.  I totally understand employers wanting to fill blocks of time.  On-boarding and training people is costly and time consuming and minimizing those events is just good business.  It does put the work kamper in a tougher decision making position though.

So that’s our framework and priority.  It’s amazing how long it took me to verbalize all of that, but that’s what happens when things are rattling around in your head. Now using this we need to gather more information about the jobs.  That will involve internet research, phone interviews, and lots of communication with each other.  I am surprised by how hesitant I am about the phone interviews.  One of the downsides of having the same job for 15 years is you’re not very good at calling potential employers.  I give my friend Kelly huge credit for just picking up the phone and talking to people.  I wish I was more like that, and I definitely need to get out of my comfort zone and start making some of these calls.  I’m hoping that with the framework in mind it will be easier to get the information I need and if not, well, we don’t have to do anything.  Luckily we have some time to figure things out and I would rather deal with the ambiguity than be pressured into making a bad decision.

I will let you know how it turns out and since it is once again raining I should have plenty of time to work on it.

 

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First Time Volunteering in a State Park

There are some differences between volunteering on BLM land and in a state park, but although I know my sample size is small with only 2 work kamping jobs, there are definitely patterns emerging.  I know folks are curious about what an average day looks like (I certainly was) and now that we are settled I will walk you through our day, but please keep in mind that every one of these jobs is different and to some extent what you make of it.  Because you are volunteering for the site, most people are hesitant about asking a lot of you.  Plus I don’t know what type of people they have been getting, but more than once Lee and I had been described as “mellow people”, which if you have met us will crack you up.  It’s not so much that we are mellow as professional and I have to wonder who they are comparing us to.  We are polite and friendly to customers and full time staff alike, always keeping in mind that we are visitors, but they have to live here.  It’s a pretty simple formula really.

So, details about this job.  We found it on the State of California volunteers webpage.  There were tons of opportunities out there, although the website can be outdated a bit so it took some legwork on Lee’s part.  First, he emailed all the ones we were interested then and it took weeks in some cases to hear back.  Then we had to get a background check (cost to us: $10 each) and fingerprinted, and send 20+ pages of application to the state.  California may be worse than others on the paperwork, but again this all took some time so some pre-planning is called for. Also, the back and forth communication was a bit vague.  Despite all of the pages of paperwork, we walked into this not knowing exactly what we were going to be doing.  That was partly our fault because we didn’t ask the right questions, but the communication was not great.  Once we go here, the people have been very friendly.  Keep in mind they don’t know what they are getting into either and there is a bit of a period where everyone is checking each other out.  Once they figure out that you’re going to help, and not make their lives more difficult,  things go much smoother.

We have been told at both jobs that “we want you to have a good time and explore the area” and the schedules allow for this.  This camp host job has us checking the overnight box in the morning for people who came in late and paid.  I then take the information and write it on a clipboard.  While I am doing this Lee puts the flags up (weather permitting) which he really likes to do.  Brings back his ROTC days.   Once he’s done,  we walk the campground loop making sure no one slipped in without paying, and everyone is in the site they stated on the paperwork.  It’s dark at night and sometimes people move around, which is fine, we just need to change the sheet.  If there are any reservations for the upcoming day, we put a little sign out so people know those sites are not available.  The “worst” of it is that if anyone did not pay, we am supposed to wake them up and have them pay.  Apparently this is pot harvesting season (yeah, who knew?) and lots of folks with tons of cash are traveling through.  But according to the staff they don’t want to pay.  Now, this is where it gets interesting.  We can’t make anyone do anything and the amount of pressure we apply is totally up to me.   So I feel about this the way I felt about people smoking pot in the BLM day use area in Susanville.  I am just not getting into all that.  Ask people politely once to do the right thing and if they refuse, document it and move on.  First of all, I think the state of California can afford the $35 if someone refuses to pay, and secondly we don’t escalate with people.  Lee taught me that.  It never leads anywhere good and that’s where being a volunteer comes in handy.  Since I am not getting paid, it’s ultimately not my responsibility.  When I explain my philosophy the full time employees and rangers seem relieved.  We are not trained to deal with these situations and they would much rather we left it to them.

Oh, one more thing.  There always seem to be some locals that you need to be a little wary of.  Either they are big shots in the community or activists who like to push the envelope.  In both places we have been we have been given detailed descriptions of folks we needed to “be careful with.”  I get it.  We lived in a small town and some people like to throw their weight around, but thus far our professional and courteous stance works just fine for those folks too.  Actually Lee is awesome at dealing with those people.  All those years of running the local public access station in the small town of Keene have made him eminently qualified for dealing with these situations.  I, coming from a corporate environment, had more trouble with it at first, but there are always people in every corporation who have power beyond their title and require special handling.  I just put these folks in the same category.  And thankfully I have had minimal dealings with the “crazies.”  My general stance in life with folks living on the fringe is to speak softly and respectfully and give them as wide a berth as possible. The first morning we didn’t have any walk-ins who didn’t pay, but the second morning we had three cars on two sites that hadn’t filled out the little envelope and put money in it and dropped it in the iron ranger. It is a little unsettling to knock on a car window at 7am, but my experience as a mother getting children out of bed to go to school definitely comes in handy here!  It’s all about unrelenting cheerfulness, which is particularly obnoxious at 7am. Hey, if they don’t pay the fee, fine, they are going to be inconvenienced.  I was definitely glad Lee was with me on these wake ups as he just stood there and looked official and I gently got people to pay.  The first car was full of 20 somethings from France and I told them how sorry I was about what happened in their country.  They paid, but needed some help with the paperwork which I gladly did.  The second car only had 30 dollars and I am pretty sure the name “Jones” was a fake one, but I took their money cheerfully and said “OK” when they said they would return with the other five.  I resisted the urge to tell them to make sure they left their campsite clean, again, years of experience with kids and mornings, and we went on our way.  It was kind of fun actually, except for that initial contact, and definitely woke me up for the morning.

Regular staff is here every day from 10-6 so we have the day to ourselves to work from the rig or explore.  We try to be back by 4pm  to help with the walk ins and we are then “On Duty” until we go to bed.  They have an Iron Ranger station (drop box with envelopes where people register) so we are available to answer questions and sell firewood or make change for people.  Two days in we have had no one see us at night, but we will see how the weekend goes.  We do have two days off, not sure when those are yet, but the expectation is 20-25 hours per couple.  Mainly though we are here as a presence.  As Ranger Thomas stated, folks might rethink mischief if they know there is a Camp Host on duty.  And again, since this is off season, so far we are only getting 5-6 campers per night. Oh and no restroom cleaning here.  They have a maintenance staff that cleans the restrooms and showers and empties trash, so that’s cool.

So after hearing all that you might be thinking, “Well, why bother?”.  You might have income coming in, and you don’t need to supplement your income.  Well, it turns out there are numerous perks that might make it worth your while, the financial benefit aside.  Some of these we have experienced, and please don’t expect these because I am sure they won’t be everywhere, are:

  1.  An “All Access Pass” – We get keys,  and so far, in both of the places we’ve been, the keys have allowed us access to areas where the general public can’t go.  This allows us to drive our truck on roads less traveled and really absorb an area.
  2. Having the place all to yourself – We love the shoulder season.  Yes, the weather isn’t optimal, but the places are largely deserted which lessens the work load and gives you tons of opportunities to be the only people experiencing a place.  Totally worth the trade off in our mind.
  3. Getting a full hookup site in a place you couldn’t normally stay – This is a big one.  This campground for example has only one site we could squeeze into and at $35 a night for no services at all  it is unlikely we would have ever stayed here. Thus far our two sites have been big with great views and the water, electric, etc have all worked great.
  4. Getting to really know people in the area – Folks have gone out of their way to get to know us and spent time educating us about the area.  They want you to like it, because they want you to come back. The free education has been wonderful, plus when people are super passionate about where they work, it’s infectious.   Really enhances the experience.
  5. Access to extra services – Here they have a full kitchen, small library full of books about the area, free wi-fi, a giant maintenance area with tons of tools that we can borrow, a woodworking shop, and one of our favorites: free firewood.  Since these jobs don’t pay they often offer extra little perks to sweeten the deal, because again, they would like for you to come back.  And why not?  Repeat volunteers make their life easier, plus give them some continuity of volunteer staff.
  6. Being part of a community – Part of how we travel is to go to an area and learn how the people live.  This is much easier when volunteering because people go to a lot of trouble to introduce you to the locals, give insights on the best businesses in the area, and basically make you feel more like part of the community.  You can pass through an area and see it, but our goal is to experience it which is different.  Experiencing an area involves getting to know the people a little bit as well. So volunteering is a short cut to meeting people.
  7. Giving a little back – Even though we are getting something for volunteering, we are giving something back to our wonderful parks system.  Volunteering was something I rarely had time for when I was working, going to school, and raising kids and it’s a nice feeling to contribute, even in a small way.  Being thanked by people for picking up trash or giving information goes a long way towards making it feel less like a chore and more like something of value.

So that’s my summary thus far.  Again, it’s a small sample size but I feel pretty confident about what I am seeing.  I’ve shared some pictures from our tour below.

forgot to share a picture of this delicious chinese buffet we ate at. first decent Chinese food in a year and the sushi boats were awesome

Forgot to share a picture of this delicious Chinese buffet we ate at our first night in.  First decent Chinese food in a year and the sushi boats were awesome and only $12.99 for dinner

Me and Ranger Tom in front of a Burl that was stolen and recovered. These are used to make clocks and the street value is $1K the retail is $5K. The rangers protect the forests from people poaching them

Me and Ranger Tom in front of a Burl that was stolen and recovered. These are used to make clocks and the street value is $1K the retail is $5K. The rangers protect the forests from people poaching them

Lee admiring the crazy big chain saws

Lee admiring the crazy big chain saws

There are lots of these little houses that summer workers stay in

There are lots of these little houses that summer workers stay in

This tree was at the visitors center with tags on what was happening at the different rings

This tree was at the visitors center with tags on what was happening at the different rings

The center was 912 AD so I had to touch it. Crazy old

The center was 912 AD so I had to touch it. Crazy old

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Here's our site

Here’s our site

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Working on my Things To Do Under $10 Page

I spent most of the weekend recuperating from my long travel day, tracking down my luggage, and staying close to the phone so I decided to spend the time on finishing up a project near and dear to my heart.  Several weeks ago I started a page on the website called Things to do under $10.  I love a bargain and seeing little known treasures in an area, but have found that even with significant research I am not always finding enough things to do.  Also the best moments often seem to be when folks stumble across something and that is largely luck and timing.  So I started this new page to list what we had done, but soon realized it just wasn’t enough information.  So I asked permission of some of my friends whose blogs I love if I could look for things to do on their sites and then link back to their posts.  That way if someone truly wanted to know if it would be fun they could read about it and see the pictures first.  Well I was thrilled when my first 4 guinea pigs…ummm I mean friends said yes. I love all these blogs and they are all very different and  I am sure I will add more as time goes on

Now that I had permission my next step was to go back to the beginning and reread their posts to pull out items.  This took longer than I thought because I would find myself getting interested and reading every word.  Then I would have to stop, because it would take forever that way, and go back to skimming.  I have also linked the website for the thing to do and the related post for every item, which took awhile.  Finally in some case I had to look up prices.  Not everyone lists the prices every time so it was digging into websites and finding out what the prices were and did they make the cut. So far I am into about 20 hours worth of work for just this one page.

So why do it?  Well I would love to read more blogs, I truly would, but time is always a huge factor for me, and more importantly,  even when I read them I don’t always remember the details.  I definitely discovered that fact when re-reading Deb’s blog  and I had forgotten many of the things she has done.  So although it’s a lot of work it may be a time saver for me overall and more importantly I won’t miss those cools places that my friends talk about.  Basically it’s a cheat sheet for those of us who just don’t have the time to read as many blogs as we would like.   Cori and Deb are always finding the coolest places and every time I ask how she found it she says matter-of-factly “Read it in a blog.”  Well you guys know by now that I am all about the cliff notes version and although these lists of places are on the web what’s missing for me is a credible real life account of the experience.

So these are the things we and my friends have done and I absolutely love how varied they are because our interests are so varied.  See below to read about what everyone brings to the party

The Restless Youngs –   Cori writes the blog and does most of the activity planning, but Greg is up for almost anything.  So far they have visited tons of little towns and really try to get the local experience by eating and/or drinking in the local restaurants.  They also like visiting wineries, breweries, distilleries…really anywhere alcohol can be found 🙂   Along the way they also see lots of local parks and gardens and try to get involved in whatever the local activity is. Cori’s blog really makes me laugh.  She has a great sense of humor and is perfectly fine with poking fun at herself and Greg which is awesome.   My favorite activity of theirs to date was when they went to see the Old Tunnel State Park and saw a million bats.  I would have bet money Cori wouldn’t have done something like that (I don’t think I would have before she tried it) but she thought it was really cool and it was only $5.

Down the Road–  Deb writes the blog and as I was re-reading all the posts I was amazed by how many cool things she and Steve have done in a year.  She loves to hike and kayak so her blogs are full of those experiences, but they also contain many other types of activities as well.  They try to see old churches wherever they go and Deb also is a member of the Find-A-Grave organization and visits cemeteries when she can to help locate information for genealogists. Steve, a veteran, loves all military museums and eating local cuisine. When Deb says she likes a place I take that seriously,  because Deb is a great cook. They also love farmer’s markets (because of them I found a great one in St. Augustine) and they share my love of the goofy and unusual things you can see along the way.   My favorite activity to date was when they visited Winslow, AZ.  They’ve done so many amazing things outdoor things but I loved that they also can stop and take a picture in a goofy place.  That post made me smile and the way she wrote about it put visiting it on my bucket list.

  • Winslow, Arizona  FREE Take a picture “standing on a corner in Winslow, AZ”. The town takes advantage of the song and it’s location on Route 66 Related Post

BK American Odyssey –  Kelly writes the blog and Bill is actively involved in their activity planning.  Bill used to work for a bottling company and loves all brewery and distillery tours.  For Bill it’s mainly about the science of making alcohol, which was his business before he retired, and his viewpoint is very interesting. Bill is also a history buff and is the type of person who will read every single plaque in a museum.  This cracks Kellie and I up because Lee tends to be the same way and we know when we go to something history related with the guys it will not be a quick trip.   Kelly loves the ocean especially but really all things nature.  She is also completely into pushing herself to do things she was afraid to do before becoming a full timer.  I love how honest she is about the lifestyle (both good and bad) and appreciates how she writes about her life along with the places they visit.  Plus Bill has done several cool upgrades on the rig and she does a nice job of detailing how he made those changes.  My favorite day of activity to date was when they were Elkhart getting their rig worked on.  They found lots of fun stuff to do during the time.

Our “Rovin” Journey Sue writes the blog but Guy is involved in the activity planning as well and he really seems to be getting a lot of joy out of doing new things.  Of all of us, Guy worked the longest hours and traveled the most and this new freedom really seems to suit him.  Sue and Guy like to take drives when they go to an area and often go into the residential sections to look at the homes there.  She also finds really cool local shops and activities, many of which include music.  One of my favorite things about Sue is she is a quilter and she and Guy love to find exterior Quilt Blocks which are on the outside of buildings.  I knew very little (if anything) about Quilt blocks until reading Sue’s post and now I am on the lookout for them everywhere we go.  She also goes into terrific detail about the history of a place they are visiting which I adore.  Their interests are very eclectic and the fact that they are enjoying themselves on the road so much really comes through.  My favorite post to date was about the McDowell County Quilt Trail.  I love finding pleasure in the simple things and Sue and Guy definitely do that.

So if you want to check out the complete page click on Things to do under $10.  I’ll be updating it as we do new stuff (and as my friends do new stuff also 🙂

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First Time at a Bear Sanctuary

When I researched the area last weekend I was particularly intrigued by the bear sanctuary.  Lee, as everyone knows, absolutely loves bears.  OK, I can’t even type that with a straight face because several months ago Lee decided to watch some bear attack videos and he’s been nervous about meeting bears every since.  (I do not love bears. Bears love me. Because I am crunchy, and good with ketchup. Only a fool would NOT be nervous about meeting bears. If you are a fool, feel free to go to YouTube and watch some videos. Or do a Google image search for bear injuries. Then come tell me how cuddly they are. – Lee)  Since he also really wants to get me out west into the wide open space where apparently bears abound, there is a bit of a contradiction here that we have not worked out yet. So I thought we would take advantage of the closeness of the sanctuary and check it out.  We had no idea what we were getting into, but at $8 per person the price was right and I expected to see a few bears.  Wow, were we underestimating the experience.

The Vince Schute Wildlife Sanctuary  had an interesting start.  During the depression Vince sold the family farm to start a logging company.  It became very successful, but they had a serious problem with local bears breaking into the cabins the loggers stayed in and stealing the food.  So, for many years Vince and his loggers hunted and trapped the bears.  In the early 70’s, tired of the killing, he started voluntarily feeding the bears in an area away from the cabin and although this drew bears to the area it kept them away from his men and their cabins. In 1993, at the age of 80, he became concerned about what would happen to these bears when he became too sick to feed them (you should never feed bears because when you stop they often become a “nuisance bear” and then must be killed) so he started a wildlife refuge.  There are no cages or fences here.  The bears come because they are fed every night and the population of bears varies depending upon the time of year and season.  Because of this they are only open between 5-8pm Tuesday – Sunday and don’t absolutely guarantee a bear sighting.  

As I said, our expectations were low, but it was something we could do on a Friday evening, so after work we headed over.  The reserve is 13 miles outside of the small town of Orr, Minnesota, so it’s really in the middle of nowhere.  When you pull into the gravel drive there are numerous signs telling you if you see a bear on the road please honk your horn loudly at them.  The sanctuary uses negative conditioning to keep the bears off the road until you get into the sanctuary area itself.  It’s not much to look at, a small stand to buy tickets and a gravel parking lot, then you take an old school bus into the sanctuary itself, and the observation deck.

All of the staff were college kids doing summer internships. Many of them live on the property

All of the staff were college kids doing summer internships. Many of them live on the property

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The platform area itself is very nice, 12 feet off the ground, pretty large, with a nice gift shop in the middle. Lee decided to take his nice professional video camera just in case, along with a tripod, and that’s where we ran into a problem.  First, no tripods are allowed (only monopods) which makes sense because there were many children there, and it’s a tripping hazard.  Second, when Lee pulled out the professional grade camera things got weird. We were barely into the experience when the assistant manager came up and talked to Lee.  We were told that videotaping was not allowed. Once Lee assured him the camera was for personal and not commercial use, he finally allowed him to start shooting, asking only that we not shoot footage of the bears being fed, or how close volunteers got to the bears.  Just a minute or two later, the manager came out.  This young lady looked to be all of 21, and announced herself as the director of the non-profit, and she asked him to stop shooting, and explained that videotaping was not allowed. At this point I was getting annoyed, I wanted to see the bears.  I let her say her piece and Lee again reiterated we were not professionals, and finally I turned to her and said, “You do realize I can take excellent high definition video with my SLR camera?”  She paused and admitted she did indeed know that, and that she was fully aware that everyone around us was shooting video with their phones and SLR cameras, and even a few consumer level video cameras. Then she said somewhat sheepishly they had had some problems with naturalists coming into the sanctuary and taking videos and causing problems. Then she said she would allow it. As a side note, for $200 per person you can pay to go down on the grounds with the bears and have a private tour. Not sure I would pay for that, seems like it’s a bad idea all around, but the option is available.

I know many people are purists when it comes to wildlife and I respect that, but I will take a moment to tell you where I come down on the issue.  Anything that inspires people, children in particular, to respect wildlife and that does not hurt the animals in any way is a good thing.  I listened to more than one kid start the experience by asking grandma if they could play a game on their phone and then actually stopping and watching as the bears started to get more active and feed.  This is the next generation, and unless we want our wildlife to be reduced to pixels on a screen we need to find a way to capture their imagination.  I think the sanctuary did a nice job of that.  Just my opinion, your mileage may certainly vary.  Plus, selfishly, what a tremendous picture opportunity!  We both had a blast taking pictures and shooting videos.  I took over 300 shots and I am going to share some of my favorites with you.   It was really fun, the price was right, and as you’ll see, the bears didn’t have a problem with the deal.  I highly recommend it if you’re ever in the area.

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The cubs were so so cute about 7 months old

The cubs were so so cute about 7 months old

Big bear sleeping on a rick

Big bear sleeping on a rock

Bear staked out his feeding station

Bear staked out his feeding station

 

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This little guy was my favorite

This little guy was my favorite

Just in case you think they were all cute and cuddly

Just in case you think they were all cute and cuddly

Wouldn't want to meet up with this guy in the wild

Wouldn’t want to meet up with this guy in the wild

 

The nursing mom's (bottom right) were so slim in comparison to the males

The nursing mom’s (bottom right) were so slim in comparison to the males

The first thing the mom's teach the babies is how to climb a tree and when they growl the babies go up fast

The first thing the mom’s teach the babies is how to climb a tree and when they growl the babies go up fast

 

They even had a three legged bear (missing the front left leg)

They even had a three legged bear (missing the front left leg)

Mom and her cub

Mom and her cub

The little guys were good sharers

The little guys were good sharers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We stayed for a couple of hours and the bears were active so we got tons of great pictures.  With that much time and closeness you could really play with the shots and get a little creative, which I appreciated. Plus, did you know more people die from potato salad each year than black bear attacks? That was an interesting fact and one I can believe since I’ve had some pretty yucky potato salad in my day. Seriously though, don’t feed bears.  Use noise for negative reinforcement.  They used air horns in the parking area and I think I may get one for Glacier.  And here’s a link to their website with lots of great how to live in bear country information.

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So from a photography standpoint I was feeling pretty good about myself, but then we got home, and Lee took this amazing picture (with my SLR) of the Blue moon.  You can even see the craters on the right hand side for heavens sakes…ahh well, I guess I need to keep practicing, but as Lee said, “It was a perfectly lovely day.”

Lee's Blue Moon pic

Lee’s Blue Moon pic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Lee Hates Rainy Days

In case you think every day is eagles and waterfalls I probably should write a bit about early this week.  Monday I was back to work and it was a busy work week for me, with lots going on and unfortunately this coincided with some not so great weather.  Lee is a putterer.  He always likes to be doing something and since the something he is working on usually makes my life easier, I like that about him.  Not so much on rainy days though, because he’s limited to puttering inside and I am trying to work inside and its a pretty small space for all that.  I know he’s getting particularly antsy when he starts to pace and even though we have levels in the camper (a huge benefit in my opinion) it’s still pretty distracting. I’ll be on a conference call, pretty tuned into what we are talking about and I keep catching him out of the corner of my eye.  Distracting.  I try to tell myself to be reasonable, he has to go somewhere, but I am trying to focus.  So as a general rule rainy days and forced inactivity are a recipe for us to start sniping at each other.  We have gotten MUCH better about this as time has gone on, but it’s still a little jarring and to be honest on those days I miss the space our house provided.  Not the house itself mind, but our ability to go to our separate areas and stay away from each other for hours at a time. Lee also likes to sit outside in the morning and drink his coffee and wake up.  This process takes some time most days, but on rainy/windy days he is forced to do it inside, not optimal.

In some respects I hate even writing about this because God knows I am not a joy to be with all the time, but it’s a major part of the experience and if I don’t write about the not so great days along with the great days, it will give an unbalanced view of what this lifestyle is like.  Tuesday the weather started out ok, windy but sunny  and Lee took advantage to fix some things outside.  Our experience with the camper has been sort of a steady stream of minor issues.  For us this has largely been fine since Lee is handy plus it gives him something to work on.  Occasionally these have turned into larger issues, but mainly they are relatively minor things that Lee can fix.  He likes doing it and I feel better knowing he is keeping such a close eye on things. So he spent the morning working on a couple of issues that were minor but could have become major.

The first was the fact that our drainspouts (that drip when the AC is on) are designed terribly and were leaking on one of our slideouts.  We know some folks who had a rotted out slideout (its plywood board in there and a tiny leak can cause an issue), so Lee bought a tube to move the water out farther and then gently peeled back the protective coating and saw that indeed some water had gotten into the wood.  Since it’s plywood it soaks water up like crazy so he clamped the area open and let it sit in the sun to dry out.

The temporary fix Lee put on for the drainspotus to make sure water went away from the slide

The temporary fix Lee put on for the drainspouts to make sure water went away from the slide

Particle board damage is the the right in the picture

Particle board damage is to the right in the picture

 

I also should mention here that our water pressure has been very low (mostly under 20 PSI)  and I spoke to Hekrem (who runs maintenance here)  and asked him to  replace the pre-regulated water-spout with a standard one.  We have an adjustable water pressure regulator in the rig so we’re protected, and once we removed their “special” regulating spigot we immediately shot up to 40 PSI which is where we like to run.  I don’t blame the campground for having regulated water, though.  Many weekenders don’t understand how much damage excess water pressure can do and this protects them and their rigs, but as full timers we have a really good handle on that and would rather regulate ourselves.  I mention this because it was an eye opener for us.  If you are getting low water pressure it may be at the spigot and not the water pressure itself.

The new water spigot

The new water spigot

Beautiful 40PSI pressure

Beautiful 40 PSI pressure

 

Lee also wanted to fix our electric grey water valve.  We love the electric valves, but again, poor design. (Not so much a design flaw as an installation flaw. It’s basically a normal valve, with the addition of a small 12v electric motor with a shaft that runs parallel to the “T” handle. The shaft has a ring at the top that slips over one side of the “T” handle, and when the motor pushes the shaft up or down, the ring pushes the “T” handle up or down to open and close the valve. Pretty simple and effective, but since it’s designed to allow you to slip the ring off to manually open or close the valve, the ring snaps into a clip. When it was installed, apparently it wasn’t snapped in properly, so it slipped off. I didn’t understand this because when I “fixed” it the first time, I was on the wrong side of the valve, and didn’t see the clip. I just thought it was due to the angle at which the valve was installed. So I “rigged” it to stay in place, which it did, for a while. This time, I was on the opposite side, and saw the clip. Now that it’s firmly attached, it should work until the end of time. Or thereabouts. – Lee)   Since the gravel is pretty sharp here he laid down a tarp under the camper and cut a small hole in the belly pan underneath the rig.  The whole time I was talking to some finance people at work about a problem I was having and suddenly my phone rings, and it’s Lee. I did something here I am not proud of, I sent him to voice mail.  As soon as I did it I regretted it, but it was an important call and I am very careful about work always coming first during work days.  Suddenly part of my brain starts thinking about him lying under the rig and what if he’s hurt but about the time I was going to go check, thankfully he walked in the door.  I pointed to the phone, he nodded and that was the end of that, or so I thought.  Later that night he told me he had cut the hole a little small and when he got his head up to look, he realized the edges were super sharp and he was worried about cutting his neck on the way back down and wanted me to spot for him.  That’s why he called.  (That corrugated plastic that our belly pan is made of is razor-sharp on the edges. Once I got my head up in there, I could feel it against my neck, and it really freaked me out. I’ve cut my hands and wrists pretty badly on that stuff in the past, so make sure you make a big enough hole to work in. I usually cut three sides and then just fold it down, to make a little access door. When you’re finished, you can seal up the access door using underbelly tape. It’s great stuff. – Lee) OK, so I am the worst wife ever and note to self when your husband is under the rig and calls you, you should probably see what he wants.  So the morning was good, productive, and we even had a couple of animal sightings.  Lee got some nice pics from the hummingbird feeder and we saw a doe and two fawn wandering about the treeline near the campground. 

Drangonfly

Drangonfly

Hummingbord

Hummingbird

Doe and two adorable fawn

Doe and two adorable fawn

Then things changed.  The rain came and went and in combination with the increasingly blustery winds he had to come inside.  Since he’s working on video I thought this would be a perfect time for him to sit down and dig in but this is where his pacing comes into play.  When Lee is working on a video it is a very creative process and takes place initially largely in his brain.  The way I understand it is he builds the image in his brain of what the video should look like before he ever starts to edit.  So most of the creative process happens while he is “puttering” and once he gets to a place where he knows what he wants to do he starts editing.  I get this more than ever, as I partially write many of my  blogs in my head as I am going through my day, but since my work consists of more concrete activities involving spreadsheets and project plans and whatnot, it can be frustrating.  He’s wandering and thinking and I am sitting and focusing and while that works when both the inside and outside spaces are available not so much on rainy days.  Inevitably I will start making suggestions on things he should do which goes about as well as you would expect that it would.  Then the sniping starts and it all kind of devolves from there.  I will say we are both doing much better about not letting these moments escalate into a full on argument though. We both take a breath now and stop ourselves from going too far, but it can get tense, and again, small spaces don’t help.

As the day wore on though we both settled in and the weather cleared up during dinner.  Lee was doing the dishes (I had cooked a chicken and wild rice dish which was OK but not recipe page worthy) and there came a knock on the door.  We have been up on this cliff side plateau by ourselves for a whole week.  We’re not sure why no one else is staying here, but that’s OK with us because we have this huge space all to ourselves, so I was a bit surprised when I looked out the window and Linda asked if we were up for company. She had a loaf of zucchini bread in her hand and a huge smile on her face and my initial thought was “What a pleasant surprise!” and my second thought was “Oh shit, I am a mess!”.  They had just come from having dinner with an RVing couple that read Howard’s blog and Linda looked awesome.  I, on the other hand, although showered, was wearing orange shorts, a wrinkled green T-Shirt, and messy hair.  I looked  vaguely like a rumpled pumpkin.   As a general rule I don’t care much about stuff like that, but the rig was on the cluttered side as well.  I have never been a great house cleaner and although it is much easier to clean in the small rig it’s also easier to make a mess and those who know me understand I am a messy cook. (Commentary redacted. – Lee)   I suppose I could have asked them to stay outside, many people would have, but inviting people into my home who visit is deeply ingrained in my midwestern character so invite them in I did.  I did straighten up for a few seconds until Linda kindly said “Let’s just sit down.” and finally I mentally shrugged and thought; the hell with it.  We are friends now and it’s probably no secret that I lean towards the messy and just because you could literally eat off Linda’s floor doesn’t mean my floor has to be spotless.  By the way, this little melodrama was playing largely in my head, I am sure they didn’t even notice, and certainly didn’t care.  All I can say is sometimes my Grandmother’s voice is strong in my head.  Lovely woman and a major role model in my life, but her house was always spotless and mine is definitely not. (Additional commentary also redacted. – Lee)

Howard and Lee split our last piece of pie (very unusual for Lee to share pie; he must really like Howard) and Linda and I had a glass of wine which chilled me out quite a bit.  Then Lee went outside and built a great fire away from the rig and we sat outside talking for hours.  They are really interesting people, great listeners, and provide wonderful insight.  Plus, since they have been through many of the things we are now going through, it’s wonderful to hear on occasion, “Yes, we survived that, and came out better as a couple on the other side.”.  We also had a beautiful near full moon, and I had bought this small package of campfire color minerals which added some really neat blues and greens to the fire.   It was a great night and when I went inside to grab Linda’s purse for her saw it was 11:45pm.  We were all surprised it was that late and we got to wish Howard a “happy birthday in 15 minutes” before they left.  We are having a joint Lee/Howard birthday dinner on Thursday, which I am really looking forward to since it turns out Howard and Lee’s birthday’s are one day apart.  Wednesday however is another rain day so we will see how we get through that first!

Lee making the fire

Lee making the fire

Everyone talking around the fire

Everyone talking around the fire

Look to the right for the blue flames

Look to the right for the blue flames

Really beautiful moon

Really beautiful moon

 

Lessons Learned

  • If you are having low water pressure it might be a regulated spigot and not the water pressure itself
  • If your drain spot is dripping water on the slide out you should find a way to route it away from the rig.  
  • Water in the slide out can warp/rot the particle board.  It’s very important to keep an eye on this. 
  • If you are going to cut a hole in the corrugated plastic make sure it’s large enough to freely move your head.  Also use underbelly tape. 
  • If your husband if working under the rig and calls you, take the call!!

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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