Monday, January 28, 2013

Now what do we do with all of this stuff?

One of the biggest hurdles we will have to face in prepping for our extended road trip is paring our personal items that we intend to leave behind down to a manageable (can you fit it in a storage unit?) load. We had already been thinking that we didn't ever want to be the people you see on those hoarding shows, shuffling about between piles of forgotten collections, and although most people we know would think of us as somewhat minimalist, we still have our share of belongings to have to deal with. So although we had started to make small inroads into simplifying our belongings, we are well aware of just how far we have to go to reduce our lifetime of nesting.

A big problem is going to be that we don't tend to hang on to anything that isn't of value. Yeah I know, everyone thinks that everything they own is valuable, but after collecting and dealing in antiques for twenty five years, we have acquired a vast array of treasures that will be very hard to part with. We have already sold or given away the first wave of keep sakes, we'll call these the "We don't really care about these items", but now we move on to a whole other category as we face antiques and art in which we have a very strong emotional investment. Now truth be told, we could and will hang on to some of the things that we deem off-limits. These are things that truly have a place in our hearts and that we know we will never be able to find again or replace. But if we are really serious about living a life that isn't dictated by the baggage that you surround yourself with, then some things just have to go. I find myself having a harder time than Jerani when faced with these decisions, and will say very hoarder like statements when pressed such as "Hey that (fill in blank) is valuable, we don't want to just give it away...", or "Oh no, I don't want tell sell that, we might need it when we settle back down." I find myself wanting to hang onto more things than I want to relinquish, thus kinda defeating the whole purpose of scaling back. But I'm getting better. Baby steps.

We now are starting to list more and more items on ebay and Craigslist, and I'm starting to see little glimpses of the freedom that these decisions could afford us. I tend to be someone who needs a carrot in order to make a change, and if that carrot is more personal freedom to get out there and live life on our own terms, then I think that may work to motivate to get on board with moving past some of these trappings. As our "Road Trip" bank account swells it's getting easier and easier to pull the trigger.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Person, place, or thing...

It seems like we think about travel a lot. Obviously when you are cutting your thirty second cross rib roast of the day anyplace seems better than the place you're at right that second, but it's more than that. Travel has helped to make our world smaller, and therefore more interesting. When there is a picture of tourists on a gondola in Venice, we think, we've been there. Or when a small coup is thwarted in Fiji, we think, glad we're not there right now. Suddenly unrelated occurrences in different parts of the world take on new meaning. Little by little travel allows you to become a member of a larger society. Also, let's face it, travel is a form of escape. If work in the middle of winter seems unbearable, then a beautiful tropical beach seems that much more alluring. When you seem to do the same thing day in and day out, then a complete disruption of that routine is very tempting.

So it's easy to get caught up with the romantic notion of travel, when the reality is that travel can be a real bitch sometimes. The effort to get from point A to point B, can sometimes be measured in tears. One has to be realistic when contemplating a "vacation". It will never be all umbrella drinks and hammocks. There will also be a smidgen of lost luggage and diarrhea thrown in. But that's kind of the point, isn't it? Someone once said that vacations are boring, it's the adventures that make travel interesting. So as we start to plan our upcoming road trip, we have to realize that there will be good days and bad. It helps to think back on some of the travels we've already taken, and recall some of the high points, but also contemplate the lows.

Jerani in front of our rental cottage perched on the edge of a cliff in St Cirq LaPopie

It's easy to forget how we had to barricade ourselves in the bedroom attic of the 18th century cottage we rented in St. Cirq LaPopie, France because it was so damn cold. We were graced with temperatures in the low thirties, and the stone cottage suddenly became more akin to a root cellar. On top of the freezing weather, Jerani was running a fever and coming down with the flu; this had all the makings of a great "adventure". We brought all the comforters in the house up to the attic, and sealed the stairwell off with a blanket and ran a space heater 24/7. This brought the temperature in the attic up to a balmy 60 or so degrees. On the flip side, we sat in the attic and spent two days straight watching the cottage's collection of some of the worst B-Rated dvds ever to grace the screen, and actually had a great time. We nibbled on snacks, watched bad sub-titled movies, laid under heaps of blankets, and kinda vegged-out. It turned out to be a vacation from our vacation. After about a month exploring France it turned out that we needed some down time to just unwind. Funny thing is, that was one of the strange little highlights of our trip to Europe.
Beach in front of Siga Siga Fiji

Another grand adventure we took was our seventeen day trip to Vanua Levu, in the Fijian Islands. We rented an old copra plantation named "Siga Siga"; ten private acres of coconut trees surrounding an old plantation style bungalow, with a mile of completely secluded pristine white sand beaches directly out front. This wasn't what you would think of as a touristy type of resort, this was definitely off the beaten path. First off the bungalow's only electricity was powered by a sometimes touchy generator, the fresh water came from a large gravity feed collection reservoir, and the only way into Savusavu, the only commercial hub on the island, was by hailing one of the notoriously unreliable island buses.
In some ways it was heaven on earth. All alone on a little traveled side of a tropical island with a breathtaking beach and an aquamarine lagoon all to ourselves. It was what Hawaii must have been like seventy years ago. We settled in for our first night of roughing it in this tropical paradise. It was about 80 degrees with a cooling trade wind, we were dressed in beach clothes and flip flops, and we sat on our lanai sipping gin and tonics. Around ten that first evening we shut the generator down to save gasoline, and finished our drinks listening to the ocean break out on the reef. The sky was ablaze with a million stars, and there wasn't a man made light in sight. It seemed like an idyllic setting. Retiring to the bedroom we draped our bed in mosquito nets and being exhausted in that way that only travel can make you, we crawled into bed and fell fast to sleep. The next thing we knew we were woken from a sound sleep by the sounds of voices coming from somewhere outside the cottage. We groggily searched for our flashlight in the pitch black bedroom. Shining the light on my wristwatch it read two in the morning. The murmuring of male voices seemed to surround the little plantation cottage. What on earth was going on. I must admit I was scared spitless. Alone with my wife on our first night on a remote south seas island, miles from nearest home down a desolate crushed coral road, and suddenly surrounded by what sounded like a half a dozen men. I quickly switched off the flashlight and crept out of bed and peeked through the bamboo blinds. What I saw turned my blood to ice. About seven or eight lanterns bobbed in and out of the coconut trees which crowded near the cottage. In the weak sickly yellowed light given off by the swinging lanterns you could just discern the shapes of men, large men, heavily muscled men, wearing tank tops or bare chested and each carrying what couldn't be mistaken for anything but a machete. The men spoke to each other in whispers as they neared the house. I mumbled something unintelligible to Jerani who sat bolt upright under the netting on her bed. "Ohhh myyy goddd, ohhh myyy goddd..." Or something very close to that. I snuck into the kitchen and found an old kitchen knife and returned to the bedroom where I huddled with Jerani, contemplating our defense from these seven or eight large Fijian men brandishing machetes with the seven inch bread knife. We waited for the door to be kicked in. How unfair was this, we were finally living our south seas dream, and we were about to be savagely chopped to pieces.
Well the lanterns continued to bob in and out of the palm trees surrounding the cottage, and the men continued to speak in hushed tones, but five minutes passed and we still hadn't been eviscerated. We both went to the window and watched the men as they poked here and there with the wicked tips of their machetes at the base of the trees. What on earth was going on here. Every once in awhile we'd hear a loud "WHACK" as one of the men swung their machete in a wild arc chopping into something on the ground. Puzzled and perplexed we watch the men fade in and out of the trees for the next twenty minutes. We had no idea what was going on, but we seemed to be the last thing on these guys mind, so after another ten minutes or so we finally collapsed back into bed and more or less gave ourselves up to what ever might happen. We awoke to a brilliant tropical morning, and made our way into the little town of Suvasuva, where we visited the Hot Bread Kitchen and asked the girl behind the counter "What on earth had been happening around our cottage in the dead of night". She laughed and told us they were hunting giant coconut crabs that live in burrows at the base of the coconut palms and come out to forage at night. Oh...well that makes sense. We should have thought of that rather than been scared for our lives, silly us. So you see, some of the most memorable moments during travel come about during periods of extreme duress and ill perceived danger, and not while you are sitting by the pool checking your email.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A little bit about us...

Here we are at the top of the funicular in Interlaken Switzerland.
We are the kind of people who tend to get a little antsy when we stay in one spot for any extended amount of time. In the past our occupation as Estate Caretakers called for us to move from place to place as we took on new estates in different locales. We had gotten into Caretaking thirty years ago, long before it became the rage.
San Juan Park look out towards Vancouver Island
We were living in a vintage log cabin running a park in the San Juan Islands when we answered an ad for a domestic couple for a private Seattle estate. When we arrived for the interview we were awestruck by the settings of the huge mansion right on Lake Washington. This was a true old world style estate complete with maid's quarters, secret hallways, and hidden doors in paneled walls. There were caretaker's quarters above the five car garage where we lived, and we were responsible for everything from cooking and serving formal meals, to care for the house and grounds. We worked six days a week, from five a.m. until we ended the day turning down the couple's bed at nine p.m. We worked for a very powerful seventy two year old man who at the times was one of the wealthiest people in the Pacific Northwest.

He owned the largest sea going yacht and was best friends with John Wayne and Baron Hilton (The original Hilton). He had pictures all over the house of himself gallivanting in Monte Carlo and New York with the Rat Pack; Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, etc.
This was old money. He was married to his second wife, a thirty nine year old who was as far over her head in these surroundings as we were. The more pressure he put on her, the more she put on us. We were given lessons in fine service by some of the top tutors on the west coast. We learned everything from creating a bouquet garne, to the proper way to take someone's coat and umbrella. We cooked and served dinner parties for some very heavy hitters, and the pressures that the position entailed were immense. Since that initial foray into caretaking we have worked in both very casual settings, and in extremely demanding high end homes. For twenty years we worked as a couple, and then for the past ten years Jerani has worked as a personal assistant and I've worked as a butcher, and then lately as a manager of a large Meat and Seafood department in a very nice grocery store.
From time to time we have gotten wanderlust (such as now), and have figured out a way to break away and explore a little bit. It seems like every time we have done so, the rewards have a tendency to far outweigh the handicaps. We are both firm believers in the idea that the money and sweat and tears invested in travel and adventure are buying memories and life experience and are well worth it. After all, what is life if not a period in which to enrich yourself with experiences. When you stay rooted, doing the same thing day in and day out, it's hard to broaden your horizons. I'm not saying it's wrong to get comfortable in your day to day life, I'm just saying there's a lot going on out there that you may be missing out on.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

So are we really going to do this?

We perused numerous B and B+ class RV's, and although there were many larger models to choose from, I think we both knew pretty early on in the search that we had kind of fallen in love with the Pleasure Way Excel TS.
Not only is it compact, but it had everything we were looking for as far as amenities. It also had what for us was by far the best layout, coupled with a very stylish design. It obviously isn't the largest RV out there, but there's something really cozy about it. It reminds you of the interior of a very nice yacht or leer jet. It seemed like a lot of the larger B's and C class RV's, although wider and taller, really didn't give you many more features. We are a couple who have shared a two man tent every evening for three months, living out of backpacks, so it's not like our eyes aren't wide open about space restrictions. There are always trade offs in situations such as these, and I think we are in agreement that we are willing to trade some personal space for the added freedom that a smaller RV provides.
The layout just worked for us. It would give us all the accoutrements of a large RV, without sacrificing road handling capability and livability. We felt at home the minute we lounged around on the automatically reclining king size bed. We opened the cupboards, sat on (but did not use) the toilet. Checked the rear view mirrors. I have to tell you, we were smitten.
Then of course we made the stupid mistake of checking out the sticker price, and let's just say, we right there and then started our mental search for the best USED Pleasure Way we could find.

We are enjoying all the information you can find online about the Recreational Vehicle lifestyle. If you had asked us a couple of weeks ago if we thought we fit the stereotype of the average couple who would travel the country in an RV we would have said no. Lots of people have the misconception that every person that vacations in a RV fits a certain mold, and we're finding that not to be the case. When you start looking at different blogs, web pages, and forums you start to see that there is no set description to match people who spend time in Recreational Vehicles. There are the young and the old, the rich and the poor, the engine savvy and the mechanically challenged, all out there sharing the same roads and RV parks. We are learning there are no stereotypical RV people, just people. A cross section of society to be sure. To pigeon hole them would be naive at best and edging on prejudicial at worst.  

Now that we've planted the seed...

So without the security of a sit back and smell the roses retirement we are asking ourselves, "Why not get out and enjoy some free time while we're still comparatively young?" It's not like we won't be capable of returning to the work force at a later date; or we may be able to parlay this adventure into a self sustainable lifestyle, by finding job opportunities along the way or finding a niche that helps to pay the bills. It's not that we NEVER want to work again, that is unrealistic. Neither of us are scared of hard work. It's more about taking a different approach, not sitting in one place, working fifty hour weeks, five days a week, with no end in sight. "World without end" I have deemed it, and all the time we grow a little older, and the time we have left to explore and discover shortens. After all, we only have one life to live. This isn't a dress rehearsal, there aren't any do overs. The last thing we want to do is discover we've run out of time.
Isle of Palms, Gulf Coast Florida
So we are plotting. Plotting an escape. Biding our time while we get this breaking away thing ironed out. What to do, what to do?
Western Idaho
We thought about revisiting Europe, an itch that will never be fully scratched, but Europe is expensive, and although we will at some point return, now is not the time. So we set our sights on exploring North America. We are by no means babes in the woods as far as driving around in this fair nation. We have already taken one round trip from Portland, Oregon to Connecticut, and have flown to the southeast three times and rented vehicles and explored a great deal of the south. Several other road trips have taken us through different parts of the Midwest and the Southwest. So driving together, on extended journeys is not completely foreign to us. It's something we enjoy, and traveling through the U.S. and Canada by RV has always intrigued us.
So that is the tip of the iceberg. The seed. The idea that is starting to take shape. I can tell we are ready for something new. We tend to get antsy after about six or seven years in any local, and we've already spent almost ten years in the Portland area which is a lifetime for us. But there is a lot of planning to do to take on something like this. We may be impulsive from time to time, but we are also planners. That's an oxymoron for you. Impulsive planners. If we are going to do this, we are going to research all the things that we need to learn about that are going to give ourselves the best chance for success. So once we started thinking about tooling about in a Recreation Vehicle, the first question we needed to answer was, what type of RV was right for us? Well first off let me tell you there's NO WAY I'm going to drive a 35' RV across America. Driving gigantic vehicles has never even remotely appealed to me. Maybe that makes me a wussy, but at least I'm a very realistic wussy. Add to that the difficulty in exploring the nooks and crannys of this fair nation in such a behemoth, and the cost of fuel, and it was a simple decision for us to start looking at class B RVs. So we started researching them. We have always driven Fords, so choosing the chassis was simple for us. But you just can't get a feel for layouts online, so we planned a trip to a huge RV dealership near us and took a look at the myriad of options available to us in the class B and B+ styles.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Is There Any Chance of Escape?

Our Little Cottage

Is there any chance of escape?

We are at a crossroads. We are living a comfortable life in a very nice suburban neighborhood near Portland, Oregon. We live in a cute little 1925 bungalow with a large yard, a house that we have put a lot of sweat equity into. We have both worked very hard at our jobs, putting in long hours with little time off to hang on to this little corner of the world. We aren't old enough (56 and 48) to officially retire, but we are rapidly nearing the point of diminishing returns when it comes to being able to truly enjoy what little off time comes our way. So we are asking ourselves “Can we break away from our comfortable lifestyle, take a leap of faith in order to escape, and set off on a mid-life adventure before mid-life turns into old age?”

Change can be both scary and exhilarating, especially a change that can effect just about every nuance of your life. In this case we are mulling a decision to sell or rent our home, walk away from a well paying (albeit long suffering) job, and take to the road in a recreation vehicle. Sounds like a screen play for low budget comedy doesn't it? Now throw in the fact that we have never traveled in an RV, and that we are planning on bringing our dog, a three year old Papillon named Max, and our Exotic Short hair cat Erley, and you have the foundation for an epic road trip.


To put things into perspective we have been known to take on a challenge or two when it comes to grand adventures. We took a three month hiatus about 23 years ago and walked from the San Juan Islands in northwest Washington down to California, wearing backpacks and accompanied by our two dogs. Then we took three and a half months off seven years ago and traveled through Europe, at one point renting a tiny Renault and driving it over a thousand kilometers through France. We are not strangers to adventures, but it doesn't get any easier breaking away. In fact, the older you get, the more you surround yourself with all the trappings of security, the more you settle into the day to day grind of perpetrating what passes as a “normal” lifestyle, the harder and harder it gets to break free. Societal expectations help to play a big part in encouraging conformity, and discouraging non-conformist attitudes. We are hardwired to equate our fifty hour work week with responsibility, and to view extended time off away from a traditional workplace as laziness and irresponsibility. One or two weeks are all we can hope for each year, and even those well deserved vacations are met with thinly veiled disappointment when you put in a request. There never seems to be a good time to take time off. There is always something that needs your attention.

Somewhere in central France
So what exactly are we working so hard for? The promise of retirement? The ability to finally be in charge of your own day to day schedule and choose how you would like to spend your time. The ability to be able to kick back and read or write a novel, to travel, to finally relax. But here's the rub, times have changed, the classic idea of retirement no longer applies to more and more people. The days of pensions and guaranteed health benefits after retirements are a thing of the past for the majority of workers. Most people look at that sixty five year carrot and realize that they will never be able to just stop working and retire. The same rules don't apply. People are faced with less and less security. Businesses no longer reward employees with golden parachutes. The handful of positions in which your retirement is set is dwindling.