Saturday, October 29, 2016

Utah, and we're not done yet.

After we left California we spent a few days at an "RV park", i.e., parking lot, behind Circus Circus in Las Vegas.   Las Vegas was, well, Las Vegas.   Dumpy, noisy, cheesy, obnoxious.   Then we moved on to Utah.

Our first stop there was St. George.   It's a cute little town next to some spectacular mountains.   It's a reasonable drive to Zion National Park.   What a beautiful place.  There's a reason it's one of the top destinations.   The pictures can't do justice, but I'll try anyway:

Zion National Park
Zion National Park

The other thing that is near (very near) St. George is some sand dunes.  So we rented a dune buggy and drove about 15 minutes out to the dune.  I've seen people riding sand dunes on TV and it looked really fun, but it's one of those things that is so much more fun in person than you can imagine it will be.   We drove through amazing scenery, and the dunes were huge.   If you didn't get a good run, you'd get stuck, bury it, and have to back down and try again.   And going down is exciting, too.  You can't see where you are going, it's a bit of a leap of faith to go over the edge.   We also got to drive up a rock formation where we could see forever.   We try to be careful with our spending, and this was on the spendy side, but I would do this again in a second!

The dune buggy we rented

The kids by our dune buggy
Erin climbs a rock formation

From St. George, we headed up to central Utah to a little town called Fillmore.   It's a town whose primary claim to fame is "we're close to stuff".    We had several good adventures here.   Just outside of town, after a short hike, there are some hieroglyphs carved into the rock.  They were discovered in the 1930s, but nobody knows how long they've been there, who wrote them, or what they mean.  A couple of leading theories is that they are from Incans or Mayans who wandered far from home.   One "expert" decided they told of some gold tablets buried nearby, and after several people died looking for them, the search was ended.

Fillmore also has a territorial capital museum.  Fillmore was once the capital of Utah Territory.  They built a big statehouse.  But the federal government was suspicious of Utah territory (too independent) and broke it up into Utah, Nevada and parts of some other states.   And Fillmore was no longer central to the state, and was a long trip from Salt Lake City, so after just one legislative session they moved the capital to the bigger city.

As if that's not enough...

I have a nephew who lives in Salt Lake City.   We met up with him in Provo, and did a hike up a mountain to some hot springs.  They were amazing.  The trail was along a windy creek with lots of minor waterfalls along the way.   As you get close to the hot springs, the smell of sulfur gets stronger and stronger, and the water temperature in the creek keeps going up.   There are a series of pool by at the hot springs.   There is strange algae, and lots of weird colors in the water from the minerals.   The temperature of the pools range from 'comfy bath' to 'uncomfortably hot hot tub'.   A short hike further there is a falls, and just above that, there were some undergarments hanging in the bushes, marking another hot spring that was probably occupied by people who didn't want to be interrupted.  (Oh, the choices: respect their privacy, or make them internet famous....)

Daughter Erin crossing the stream on a fallen tree

Son Ethan on a cliff at the top of the waterfall

All of us hanging out by the hot spring pools

The hot spring pools

A cool waterfall just above the hot springs

As if that wasn't enough for one stop... there is a lava bed near Fillmore.   You go out into this barren, flat landscape, and the rocks keep getting weirder and darker as you go.   The road gets rougher and rougher.   Finally, there is this huge field of lava.  As you explore it, it gets more bizarre. There is one sort of gorge feature with lava walls that is about 30-40 feet deep.  Me and my daughter Erin went down into it, and there is a cave at the bottom that comes out the other side into a circular hole.   So you end up 30 feet below the ground in this hole with sheer rock walls.   It's a really an amazing place.   It should be a well-known destination, but instead it is just a barren road in an unknown town.

This trench is 30-40 feet deep with lava sides

Go through the cave, and come out on the other side in a giant hole

So, is that enough for one state?   We are leaving Fillmore tomorrow, and heading south again.  From our next stop, we plan to see Bryce National Park, Grand Staircase, and maybe more.   Ahh, Utah.

Thursday, October 13, 2016


From the moment we entered California, we knew it wasn't like the other states.   I think every other state has a "Welcome to (wherever)" sign.   California?   At their border, they've got about 10 signs, packed with walls of text telling you all the rules you have to follow.   The residents say "In California, if it works, it's illegal".    After a few weeks here, we found it to be true.

Of course, California isn't all bad.   It's just that everything is an uncomfortable mix of nice and pain-in-the-ass.

So, there's the roads.   California has some of the highest taxes in the country, and one of the worst road systems.   You can't get anywhere in a short time, because there is too much traffic on bad roads.   The signs are inadequate unless you know where you are going (fortunately, Google knows), and lanes come and go randomly without warning -- which, if you've ever driven an RV, is a major problem.  Despite no freeze-thaw cycle to eat the roads up, a greater percentage of roads are under construction than in Minnesota.

The highlights of our visit are Napa Valley (beautiful but too expensive to live there), San Francisco (too expensive AND too crowded, but a fun crazy place), Muir Woods (beautiful, but parking is a disaster), Monterey (yep, expensive), and Yosemite (under construction, no parking).   We also had a blast visiting relatives, but even that was marred by bureaucracy about where we could park our RV, how to get a prescription filled, and trying to use a bank.

California also has great wine everywhere, I guess that's so people can forget what state they are in.

Tonight is our last night in California, and I don't think I will miss it.   Yeah, you've got some touristy stuff, but so do most other states, without all the bureaucracy and bad drivers.   (Yes, did I mention the drivers are terrible, too?)

So while we love the weather and wine, unless we were multi-millionaires, I don't see how living in CA is an option.

Sunday, September 11, 2016


As we travel through these states, we like to talk about whether the state is livable or not.   For example, North Dakota gets a -1000 out of 10 on the livability scale.  Montana has some really spectacular scenery, but it didn't really feel like home, and the weather is as bad as Minnesota.

Our first surprise was Idaho, which not only has beautiful scenery, but feels very livable.   Washington is extremely scenic, but seemed really dumpy and unpleasant when you weren't immersed in that scenery.

Oregon is a state we hadn't thought much about, but like Idaho, it turned out to be a pleasant surprise. It feels very livable, and the scenery is amazing.

Our first stop was Ainsworth State Park in the northern part of the state.  Near there, we went on a hike to Punchbowl Falls.   A spectacular hike through a thick forest to a beautiful falls.

A few days later we went moved to the central part of the state, by the McKenzie River.   We went whitewater rafting, and decided we could live there and be a river raft guide next summer.  

Then we moved on to Rosenburg, OR.   This is a medium small town that also felt very homey.   There were lots of wineries nearby (we didn't have time to visit), a wild animal park, and it is a day trip to Crater Lake.

Crater Lake

I think Oregon and Idaho like being ignored, it keeps out the kind of people who are unlikely to take advantage of the beauty.

So, next summer, ready to come rafting with us?

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Goodbye to Washington

Tonight is our last night in Washington state for this part of our trip.   We've been here for a month, much longer than I would've thought it would be interesting.   I think I have mixed feelings about Washington.   It can probably be summed up as the most beautiful place I'd never want to live.

The view from Echo Bay on Sucia Island

Nature dominates, and this state has it all -- beautiful mountains, rain forests, great sandy beaches, interesting tide pools, hiking, biking.   The national parks here are amazing, each worth its own vacation.   Still, as beautiful as it is, I don't think I could live here, for two main reasons.   First, the weather is dreary.   We've been relatively lucky, and even with that we spent much of August in long pants and sweatshirts.   It's the coldest summer I've ever had.   Second, the parts of Washington affected by humans are... not great.   The roads are not good, Seattle is a mess and should probably just be bulldozed, and the small towns in the center of the state tend to be very run down and dreary.

Mount Rainier

There are two towns we liked: Port Angeles and Long Beach.   The towns themselves are nice enough, very livable, with access to the perks of modern life, yet a quick escape to remote locations that make you feel like the only person on earth.  But that weather....

Dungeness Lighthouse dwarfed by a distant Mount Baker

Anyone who wants a cheap RV should come to Washington.   We've seen more seemingly abandoned RVs here than I thought existed in the whole country.   They are everywhere.   You could probably just knock on the owner's door and take it for free.   Of course, it may be cheaper just to buy a new one by the time you fix it up, but with that many dead ones, I bet there are a few bargains in there, too.

The Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, looking south toward distant Oregon

Overall, Washington has been great.   Crescent Bay is an amazing place for an RV traveller, and the San Juan Island National Park is a bucket list item for sailors.   Mount Rainier, Mount Saint Helens, Olympic National Park -- breathtaking.   I feel like we've missed so much, even after a month.   Just sailing in the San Juan Islands could be a summer project by itself.  I have a feeling we will be back to Washington.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

A couple of dramatic weeks

After all that has happened to us on this trip since we left Minnesota, and all we've seen, we thought we were getting used to scenery and traveling and change.   But these last couple of weeks have been crazy.

My mother-in-law and my older son Reese joined us in Seattle for two weeks.   The first week was spent on an Alaskan cruise, the second week sailing on a 45' Jenneau sailboat.

There were so many cool things that I could write many pages about these two weeks.   I'll try to resist and just do a few of the highlights.

On the cruise, our first stop was Ketchikan.   I suggested to their Chamber of Commerce they should use the slogan "Ketchikan: Catch it if you can".   They said they'd be sure to send the royalty checks to me right away.    In Ketchikan, Reese and I did a rain forest zipline tour.    We soared about 150 feet in the air, above the trees, plus we got to cross a rickety foot bridge.   The longest line was over 700 feet.
A rickety bridge, 150 feet in the air

The next stop was Juneau, another beautiful small town.  On the way to Juneau, we went up a fjord to see a glacier.  The captain spun the cruise ship 540 degrees to give everyone a view of the glacier.   The whole fjord was spectacular in a way that can't be captured in words or photos.   Here's a try anyway:

Around a half mile from a glacier

The glacier would calve giant chunks of ice, and we'd hear the booming sound a few seconds later.   The sides of the fjord have waterfalls everywhere, and the mountains were thousands of feet almost straight up.    After a month of seeing mountains, I didn't think I could be impressed anymore, but this took it to a new level.

This doesn't begin to capture the real beauty

Once we made it to Juneau, we did a whale watching excursion, and this may have been the highlight of the cruise.   They took us to a pod of humpback whales that does bubble feeding, a complex group behavior to round up the fish.  There are apparently only about 70 or 80 humpbacks in the world that can do it.  They disappear for a while, then suddenly they all came up at once.   It's hard to capture on video because they give no indication where they are coming up.   Once again, there aren't enough words to explain how cool this is to see up close.   Here's a video, I missed the first rise up, but still, you can see how close we were:

Video of whales feeding next to our boat.

The next day was Skagway -- an unimpressive town.   After a day at sea we landed in Victoria, B.C., and took a tour of Butchart Gardens.   Once again, the words can't capture this.   I never thought a man-made garden could match the splendor of what we had just seen, but this place is amazing, almost worth a trip just by itself.   It's built in a limestone quarry that exhausted its limestone.

Butchart Garden at dusk
A tiny piece of Butchart Gardens in Victoria

So, that's enough for a while, right?   Apparently not.  From the cruise, we went to a sailboat, and sailed the San Juan Islands for a week.  Once again, the scenery is amazing.    We sailed among the tops of underwater mountains, each one with it's own personality.

The view from Sucia.  Notice snow-capped Mount Baker in the background.

The rough shores on Sucia Island

We saw orcas up close, had a great hike on Sucia Island, and stopped at a couple of beautiful marinas.  

By the end of the two weeks, it all seemed like a dream.   There is too much big, too much to overwhelm us.   I think our little brains are not big enough to absorb such a big adventure.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Idaho? Oh, wow, Idaho!

To most of the country, Idaho is associated with one thing: potatoes.   So my expectations were low when we planned a few days here.   What a pleasant surprise!   The scenery has the soothing beauty of northern Wisconsin, combined with the drama and majesty of the best of the Rockies.   Every turn is a new surprise.    Idaho is one of those places that I probably would've never made it to without this  RV adventure.   I'm glad I got a chance to see it.

Canoeing on the highest navigable river in the US

Bike path across the river

Beautiful campground, Heyburn State Park

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Under way again.... oops, delays again... and we're off....

So we finally got out of Hoffman, MN.   From there we drove to a crappy little RV park just outside Bismarck.   The spots were so close together, our slide out went over our neighbors water connection.    The guy there lived there, and had piles of junk, a lawnmower, a tiller, and a couple of old Halloween masks in the pile of junk.   He liked to talk to us through the window of the RV.   I called him "Mr. Level 3".

From Bismarck, it was on to Little Big Horn, where we learned a lot about the famous battle.   This was just one of those tragic marks on our country's history.

Then, we found a place in Billings, MT that could look at our RV and replace the shocks - we thought that would be the end of it.   It turns out, there was a serious problem with one of the wheels, which explained why one of them got so hot and we had a shimmy.   Basically, several of the pieces were out of true, and the wheel couldn't rotate freely.   They had to replace the rotors, but also do several other things to get it back to rolling.   There were a couple other things, but that was most of it.

The good news is, the place we took it was very friendly.  They let us stay in the RV in their yard, to save us from hotel bills.   It wasn't the best view of the trip, but it was still convenient.  There was a Target, a movie theater, a mall, and several restaurants within walking distance.   For day two, they lent us a car and we got a bonus side trip to Beartooth Pass (just north of Yellowstone), which was spectacularly beautiful.

Finally we got back on our way and made it to somewhere near Butte, MT.  It was a cute place with some pretty mountains nearby.   But we mostly just drove in and got on the road the next day.

Then, it finally started to feel like our RV adventure was beginning.   We made it to West Glacier, taking back roads most of the way.   The RV site was buried deep in the trees.   The next day we went to Glacier National Park and took the shuttle for Going-to-the-Sun Road.   It was an overcast day, and we drove up into the clouds.   Heavy clouds.   It was about 40 degrees, windy, and near zero visibility at the top.   So that didn't last long.

Then we moved to a new campsite, more spectacular than anything we'd had so far.   It looked something like this:

Glacier National Park and the surrounding area may be the most beautiful place in the US.   It will be hard to beat, because it has everything: dramatic mountains, thick forests, waterfalls, lazy rivers, beautiful lakes, giant rock formations, and of course glaciers.   How can anyone else compete?

Monday, June 27, 2016

Day 1: Delayed

After our tour of Wisconsin, we took the RV in for a tuneup and general safety check.   We figured a day or two.   Nope, they had it all week, and ended up staying in a hotel all week.  Finally, on Friday, we got it back and we we left our house for the last time, and were supposed to be on our way.   We made it about 60 miles before the RV started shaking so much we thought it would fall apart.   Fortunately, we had signed up for roadside assistance.   Unfortunately, it was late on a Friday, so everything is closed until Monday.   The place it was towed to called about 9PM, which was a nice surprise, but they didn't really have good news.  They are busy until July, but will try to sneak us in before then.   Until then we are stranded with relatives.    It's not the worst place to be -- on a lake, nice weather, etc.   But I am getting impatient to get going.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The first test complete

We completed our 12 day visit to Wisconsin, living in the RV.   The RV living was easy, and my family was amazing, keeping us entertained and getting us around to do things.    We saw a Madison Mallards game, toured the capitol in Madison, toured a 3000 head dairy farm and a greenhouse.   We spent lots of time visiting and chatting.

The RV survived, but we found a few things that bugged us.   Before we left we had made an appointment to take it in this week, and the Wisconsin trip showed up what needed to be done.   The good news is, they have fixes for the things that bothered us.   The bad news is it is going to take 3 days to get it all fixed.   We have no furniture at our house, so we are living in a hotel.   To complicate things, Erin apparently has Lyme disease and the flu, so she is on antibiotics but having trouble keeping them down.

All this means a lot of the things we were hoping to get done will be on hold for a day or two, and the RV is going to have a big expense.    I'm trying to take this all in stride, but at some point I'd like to hear the phrase "that is going to be cheaper and easier than you thought...."

Monday, June 6, 2016

Hitting the road

So far, our "adventure" has been cleaning houses and living in an RV in our yard and getting rid of stuff that doesn't fit.   I guess that is probably a reasonable literal match to the title of this blog, but it's not really what we had in mind.

But now, we've actually taken our first tiny steps toward the lifestyle we signed up for.   Yesterday, we packed everything up and hit the road and drove to Rice Lake, WI to visit my brother John for a couple days.

We are also starting our home schooling.   We made our first dot on the giant map we bought to track our trip.   And today, we toured a massive dairy farm.   The kids loved it.  Based on that first experience, I think the home schooling thing will work.

Anyway, it's starting to feel like the adventure we signed up for.   I think it will really begin once our house is sold and we are going places where we don't know anyone, but this should be a lovely transition.

Monday, May 16, 2016


We knew that part of moving from a fixed address to a vagabond lifestyle was to get rid of our stuff.   We knew there would be things that were hard to get rid of.   But I don't think there is a way to prepare mentally for this process.   First, there is the problem of attaching meaning to stuff.   "Oh, I bought that when I was doing that fun thing that one time!"   And then I had to remind myself that I could remember those events without that thing that has been sitting in the closet for the last 10 years.

So that's the first hurdle.    I thought that would be the hard one, but it turns out, that is the easy one.   The hard one for me was when the estate people went through the house and moved things into stacks and put a price on it.    Sure, "it's just things", but certainly it has to be worth more than a couple bucks?   That thing from the art fair?   That's only $4?   

And where is my stuff?  Everything is moved.

So this process has been equal parts enlightening and demoralizing.    I've been working to keep a big house to keep all this stuff and to maintain all this stuff, because someday it will be worth something, and it is adding to my life.   But in the end, it's not worth much at all and never will be, and it turns out, it didn't really add much to my life.    Not 40 hours of work per week worth, anyway.

OK.   Well, that part is done.   We are moved into our RV now, and I'm really not missing all that stuff that went away.   We don't have a place for everything yet, so we start a lot of sentences with "what happened to..."    But that's temporary.    All the things we need to live and enjoy are right there, just steps away.   I thought living in a small space would be hard, but that's been the easiest thing.   And I have my days free, instead of working to pay for stuff I only thought I cared about.

Saturday, April 16, 2016


And just like that, it's done.

I first discovered computer programming in 1977-1978, when a friend and I discovered a computer terminal in the guidance office of our high school.   It didn't have a screen.  Everything you typed was printed on folded tractor-feed computer paper.    To write a program, you typed it in one line at a time, and it printed that line on the paper.   As the program grew and you had to insert lines and move things around, it would get too hard to know what the program was doing -- so you'd just list the whole thing again.   In college, the first time I used a full-screen editor, I felt like I was magic.

I think from the first time, in that little closet, that I wrote a program that worked, it was inevitable that programming would be my career.  It wasn't even much of a thing then; nobody told their kids to go into computers, because the job barely existed.   My actual degree was in math, because my college didn't have a computer science department yet, but most of my classes were computer classes, so it was a CS degree in spirit if not on the diploma.

I worked in defense for the first 16 years of my career, and learned the value of bureaucracy and paperwork.   When I finally got a job that wasn't funded by government dollars, I was shocked to learn that some programmers actually got to spend most of their time writing code.

And now, after 33 years of defining myself as "computer programmer", it's over.    The new definition isn't written yet, but hopefully I can make up a new word and call myself an "experiencer".   I'll be a husband, a dad, a teacher, a driver, a sailor, a hiker; but mostly, I want to leave behind the schedules and the obligations, and just experience life.   I want to have things go hilariously wrong and spectacularly well, to be in the moment, because in the end, there is nowhere else to be.

So, we'll have daily stand-ups to develop action plans for our next experience and how we should feel about it to make sure the synergy of the team... hmm, I may need a few weeks to get used to this retirement thing.

I've worked with so many great people through the years.   Programming has been the perfect job for me, and I suspect I will still do my fair share of it in the future -- I just won't be doing it for corporations pursuing goals that I either don't believe in or, at best, don't care about.   I have a dozen programming projects I could start tomorrow.   Forgive me if I wait a month or two before I start to dip my toe back into those waters, though.

Thanks to everyone who has given me such a wonderful career, filled with highs, lows, challenges and boredom.

Now, on to the next phase...

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Winding down

I had always thought I would have a nice long countdown to my last day of work.   I've been at it a very long time, and figured there would be lots of warning for the end.   That didn't work so well.   A few weeks ago, we finally decided that it was time to go, and when I looked at how all the pieces fit together, decided I needed to be done in mid May.   I gave my client seven weeks notice.   After a little back and forth, they said it made more sense to just go now -- a week from Friday.   That was last week.   So basically, I got 7 work days of warning that my official career is ending.    As I write this, it is three days.    That's not much warning after decades of doing the same thing.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

A week on a cat

Over the Christmas/New Year week (end of 2015), we chartered a 41 foot Lipari Evolution catamaran for a week, with a captain.   This had several purposes.  The obvious one: a much needed vacation from the Minnesota cold.   Two: a chance to see how we'd do as a family on a catamaran.   Three: a chance to take some more sailing lessons.   This time, it was the ASA catamaran class.

The captain/instructor was, surprisingly, not a fan of catamarans.   He spent much of the time telling us why catamarans were inferior to monohulls.   In the end, that worked out well, I think.  I didn't want a week of someone telling me how wonderful everything will be if we get boat X; I want to know what to watch out for.

The boat was about a year old, and just beautifully designed.   It was very nice, everything was in good shape and well laid out.

We left out of St. Petersburg, FL.   The first day was classroom stuff for the ASA class, and then motoring around the marina, seeing how tight of conditions we could maneuver through.  

Day two was sailing south out of Tampa Bay, down the gulf to Longboat Key, where we anchored just inside the inlet.  

Day three: motoring down the ICW to Venice, where we stayed at Crow's Nest marina.   I hadn't expected any time on the ICW, but it turned out to be a valuable experience, with the traffic, the narrow channels, and the bridges.   We had learned about how to sail in tight quarters in the various classes, but it really only makes sense when you do it.

Day four: motoring in the gulf down to Charlotte Harbor, where we anchored off Cayo Costa State Park, an amazingly beautiful, peaceful place, with dolphins playing nearby.  

Day five: doing some sailing drills for man overboard, then we went back and anchored near the state park again. Then we spent the afternoon at the park, and at the beach, collecting shells and stretching our legs..

Day 6: Motor sailing back to Crow's Nest where we restocked a few supplies and had a nice meal out.

Day 7: Motor to the Manatee River, where we anchored out.   It was a busy place, made busier by some speedboat races that were going by for what seemed like an hour.  

Day 8: Heavy rain for the first half of the day, making a cold, miserable trip back up to St Petersburg. We heard on the radio that a sailboat had sunk in the area and 4 people were in the water.   By the time we could get the exact coordinates, it was clear we were far away, and the people were all rescued safely.

Overall, it was a wonderful time.   The boat did not feel small at all, and we learned a lot about how to sail.