Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Ready Or Not, Here IT Comes

Current location: Chester, CA

What is IT you might wonder? The dreaded 4th of July holiday weekend! Yes, what a difference a year makes. Last year, we couldn't wait for the long holiday weekends. And now we can't wait for them to be over with!

It's going to be a crazy weekend. When many of the monthly and seasonal clients specifically leave the campground during this time, you know it must be bad. Many campers already started rolling in this week, but the big rush will come on Thursday and Friday.

Chester has a 4th of July parade and fireworks that are pretty well known in the area so that attracts a lot of people. One of our biggest challenges of the weekend will be unauthorized guests. This campground has a pretty strict visitor policy. Every visitor must be pre-registered and paid for in advance. And the number of visitors must still fall within the maximum number of people allowed on a site, even if the visitors are not staying overnight. I'm sure you can imagine how confusing this is for us to track when we get busy. Well, because of the fireworks show, we are expecting a lot of visitors...and probably a lot of disgruntled campers who didn't understand the policy in the first place. Yeah, I'm dreading the weekend.

But on the flip side, we'll be so busy that the weekend will fly by and be over before we realize it!

So happy early 4th to all of you. For those of you still working 9-5, I hope that it is a nice, long relaxing weekend. For those of you who are living the RV dream, I hope that it is a quick and peaceful weekend. And for those of you who are working this weekend, my sympathies are with you, but I'll be right along with you!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Winter Wonderland...And More Eagles

Current Location: Chester, CA

Another week has flown by and we can't figure out where the time is going! We had a short 'weekend' this past week. One of our coworkers was off for a couple of days on a pre-scheduled vacation so we helped fill her shift on Monday. Even though we each only worked 3 1/2 hours, the day was pretty much shot. That left only one free day to play.

We had a slow start to the morning but finally got out the door about the crack of 11:00 for a hike. We had chosen a trail just outside of Lassen Volcanic National Park. The trail guide was written from the perspective of a snow-shoe/ x-country ski trail, but it did mention that it could also be hiked. It was supposed to go to a lake and have a nice view of both the Sierras and the Cascade mountain ranges. Well, we found neither. The trail followed a forest road and it kept going down hill. Hmm, whatever we go down, we must come back up eventually. We walked for about 2 1/2 miles and never did find a lake. There were several offshooting paths, but none looked especially suitable for hiking. We eventually turned around and started our long trek uphill. Although the trail was nothing special, it was a nice walk and very peaceful. We had it to ourselves.

Upon returning to the car, we decided to take a drive into Lassen Park. The road through the park is still not completely opened (the latest target date is early July), but we thought we'd drive in to see how much progress they made.

Boy, what a difference a few miles can make! This is the road through the park. Notice the car on the road and how much taller the snow is!

This is close to the end of the road, about 6 miles in from the entrance station. It may be hard to tell but there are several feet of snow, probably at least 4 feet.
In the background is Mt Lassen. One of our goals this summer is to climb it, but it looks like it won't be happening anytime soon! We didn't bring our snowshoes with us. :) I guess we'll have plenty of time to get into shape for it.

It's pretty apparent that we won't be doing any hiking within the park for awhile, which Hunter is not too upset about. Unfortunately, dogs are not allowed on the trails within the Park and he can't understand why we would ever go hiking without him! So for now, we'll focus on the numerous National Forest trails, on which dogs are allowed!
In my last post, I had mentioned that one of my dislikes was the late shifts. Well, most bads also have a good side and one of the blessings of a late shift is a late start. Often, I don't start my shift until 1 or 2, which frees up all morning. I frequently take Hunter on a long walk along a neighboring forest road, where he can be off leash to run and sniff to his heart's delight. But it's not all for him. This is an area where we've frequently seen eagles. The further we get into summer the more we're seeing of them. First it was just one on occassion. Then there were a couple flying overhead from time to time. Now we see them almost everyday and there are often 3 or 4.
I hadn't been lucky enough to see them stationery very often...until yesterday. To get to the forest road, we have to stumble across the rocks on the shoreline for a short ways. As soon as I reached the point and looked towards our destination, I immediately saw 2 white heads:

We were still pretty far away (all pictures are cropped to provide better views), but I kept my eye on the tree, hoping that they would stay put.

As we drew nearer, the top one flew off. I couldn't spot the other one but hadn't seen him fly off either. So we kept walking and I turned around to look behind me, and there he was! How beautiful!
I stood there quite awhile admiring and taking lots of pictures. After awhile I guess he figured I'd been there long enough and he gave me the stare!
Shortly thereafter, he flew off. If you haven't figured it out yet, I have quite a fascination with eagles, especially bald eagles. And it is always a thrill for me to see them in the wild. So I'm sure you can imagine how excited I am to have them living in my 'backyard'.
We're now back in the thick of our workweek. The summer season is finally upon us. Warm weather and a busy campground. We have close to a full house again this weekend. Between the 2 of us, Tracy and I are doing security rounds 3 nights a week. Those 10:00 drives make for some long days, but we're learning how to sleep in...we're still working on Jasper however!
And speaking of Jasper, I am proud to report that he is continuing to earn his keep. The other day when Tracy returned from walking Hunter, Jasper had left a present just inside the front door. A dead mouse (uh oh, do we have mice in the house now??). It was not mutilated, just dead in a nice obvious place where it would be seen and easily taken to the trash. He earned a special treat for that! :)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Reflections on our first month of workamping

Current location: Chester, CA

Wow, it's hard to believe we've already been here over a month. Our first day of training was on May 15 and here we are at June 15. And yet, it feels like we've just begun.

Before I go much further, some of you may not be familiar with the term 'workamping'. It's not an official word according to Webster, but it is a trademarked and copywrited term. The basic definition is anyone who combines employment and RVing is considered a workamper. The work may or may not include monetary compensation. A workamper may work solely in exchange for their site. Or, like our current gig, a workamper may receive a wage in addition to their site. It's a common misconception that workamping only includes work at campgrounds. There are many employment opportunities outside of campgrounds too. While the majority are seasonal, there are year-round and career opportunities too. We hope to experience a variety of jobs and look forward to sharing each one.

So back to our current gig. Being that this is our first time working outside the traditional workforce, we expected to learn a lot, both about ourselves and campground management. And we have not been disappointed. It's certainly been an eye-opener to be on the side of the campground ownership/management as opposed to being a guest. Like any job, there are parts we really enjoy and a few things we don't really care for. But that is life, right? You have to experience the bad to truly enjoy the good.

Should I start with the good or the bad? I'd rather focus on the positives, so I'll begin there.

Things we like (in no particular order):

1. The diversity of work. We both split our time between the office/store and groundswork. This is what we wanted. We were hoping to experience as many different aspects of the campground as possible. I like the balance between grounds and store. After an 8-hour day of groundswork, it's kind of nice to have a less active day in the store. Likewise, after a hectic day in the store, which occassionally includes grouchy customers, it's nice to be in your own little world on grounds where you can allow your mind to wander. Tracy, on the other hand, prefers the groundswork. Not that she doesn't like the store, but she's always been more of a tinkerer and prefers to stay busy. But, regardless of where we are working, we are both enjoying our work days.

2. Being physically tired instead of mentally tired. As I mentioned above, our grounds days are typically 8 hours long. After working so many years in a sedentary job, it's no secret that we're out of shape. 8 hours of physical work is a lot when you're not used to it. Luckily, there are a lot of different things to do, so we try to spread the work across the different muscle groups. A typical day might include weed whacking for a couple of hours, camp or beach cleanup, painting, bush trimming, and weeding. That may not sound like a lot, but usually by the 8th hour, I'm looking forward to the recliner. We used to come home from our office jobs equally exhausted, but it was all mental. Our muscles may have been sore or tired, but it was all due to tension. I much prefer the physical exhaustion. And being able to work outside, weather it's sunny and hot or cold and rainy is a nice change. It's good to be out in the fresh air. And, of course, an added bonus is slimming down. Although we don't weigh ourselves regularly, we both notice the clothes fitting a little looser and the belts needing to be buckled a little tighter. Hopefully this trend will continue!

3. Lack of sleep aids. Neither of us like to take drugs, but we frequently used melatonin (natural hormone which induces relaxation), or sometimes a nightcap, to help encourage sleep. I'm sure you've all been there (or still are) lay in bed thinking about the day's work, looming deadlines, and all of the things yet to be done, wondering how everything is going to be accomplished. And before you know it, the alarm clock is going off. I think there has only been one time since leaving our jobs 3 months ago, that either of us have used melatonin. and that has been more due to aching and spasming muscles than restless minds.

4. No alarm clock necessary. Of course, we still have a feline alarm clock, but he is slowly getting adjusted too. I can't think of one time that we have set the alarm in the past 3 months. We do have some 8am shift starts, but thanks to Jasper, we've never overslept.

5. The commute. I LOVE the commute! 5 minutes from door to door, on foot no less! No rush hour traffic to contend with. Living in the suburbs, we always had a commute. I don't think I ever lived in the same town where I worked. Although our most recent commutes weren't that bad, we both used to drive 30 miles each way (in opposite directions) to work. It was always at least an hour drive, if not more. My latest commute was to downtown Denver and I was able to take public transportation, which I really enjoyed. Even though I didn't have to drive, it still took me about 45 minutes from the time I left the house, waited for the bus, and then walked from the bus stop to the office. It's really nice to have those 2 hours a day back under my control!

6. Living in the mountains. As I think I've mentioned previously, living in the mountains has been a long-time dream of mine and I absolutely love waking up to chirping birds, the smell of pine, and the beautiful views. Although I'm sure all of our locations won't be this serene, one of the beauties of this lifestyle is that we can choose jobs that are in environments that we prefer.

7. Our site. I've said it before, but we are loving our site. It's really nice to be separated from the campground. We actually feel that we can leave the "office" behind when we're off duty, which I think is important when you're living at your workplace. Our co-workers make it a habit to leave the campground for their days-off. We don't feel the necessity to do that. And actually, we find ourselves without motiviation to leave, even though there is so much to do and see. It feels a bit like our own personal oasis. Although I'm sure that will change somewhat when the next-door cabin is rented through most of July and August. But we'll enjoy it while we can.

8. Mondays. OK, I just had to throw this one in for all of you working stiffs. :) Mondays and Tuesdays are now our days off. I no longer have the Sunday night blues. Although our "weekends" still fly by, I don't dread starting the work week.

9. Eagles and Ospreys. I've had a long-time fascination with birds of preys and I get thrilled everytime I see an eagle or osprey fly by. We've seen a lot of ospreys around (presumably, that is why the cabin next to us is named the Osprey cabin). It's been fun watching them fish for dinner. We've seen a couple of eagles too, but they have not been as prevelant...yet. In past years, they have nested around the cabin, but this year it seems like they might have set up home a little ways down the shore (away from the campground). This morning I took Hunter for a walk down that way and saw 2 in the trees. What an awesome sight. I hope as the summer progresses there will be more.

OK, I could probably go on with our 'likes', but this post is already getting long, so I better move on to the dislikes, if you could even call them that.

Things we dislike (again, in no particular order):

1. The late shift. The store is open until 8pm and usually out of the 5 days we work, one of us is on the closing shift 4 of those days. From so many years of 9-5 work, we are used to getting up early and going to bed early. Typically, we're in bed by 10. We like to eat dinner together, so on these late nights, we don't even have dinner until 8:30. Our eating and sleeping patterns have had to be adjusted. We now tend to eat a bigger lunch and just have a light dinner. This is better for you anyway, so I hear. The person who worked grounds that day still typically falls into bed around 10, but we are now tending to sleep in later and stay up later. To throw our schedule off even more, we also have to do a 10:00pm security run 3 nights a week. We don't necessarily have to do these together, and we may not always, but for now we're both doing all 3 nights. Those nights are really long, especially when your next shift starts at 7:45 am!

2. Security rounds. I have mentioned before that this is not a favorite task of mine. I'm not confrontational and I don't like telling people what to do. But we knew coming into this that this would be on our list of duties, so I just suck it up and hope that everyone behaves themselves!

3. Being the newbie. This was one of the things we discussed in depth when contemplating this lifestyle. Neither of us were frequent job changers because we both dislike being the "new kid on the block". We like learning new things and experiencing new adventures, but it's always hard feeling like you know so little. And there is a lot to learn here. Not only are there a lot of rules and policies to learn, but also learning the layout of the campground and trying to learn a little about the area, the fishing conditions, the weather, and anything else that people may ask. I think we've come a long way in a month, but it's a little disappointing to think that just when we'll probably feel like we have the hang of it, our time will be up. And then it will be time to start all over at a new place.

4. Having to look for a new job every 4-6 months. This was another big issue that we pondered when making our decision. Not only did we not switch jobs because we prefered a known routine, but we also don't like job searching. The job search process really tests your self esteem. Generally, there will be a number of rejections before an offer comes along. And so often, it feels like a lot of effort for nothing. But once again, we knew that this is what we signed up for. Right now, we are working on solifying our winter plans. We've done some research and have some ideas, but haven't nailed anything down. The reason being is that we've decided to try and find traditional jobs for the winter (I'll go into why later). It's a bit daunting because we know that we need to reserve our campsite soon, especially if we're going to a snowbird locale, but yet it's too early to apply for jobs, since we won't be available until late September at the earliest. That's one of the advantages of workamping. The site usually comes with the job and the job can be planned several months in advance. There's a certain comfort to knowing where you will go next.

5. Snakes! I'm sure it will come as no surprise that we have snakes here. Well, I wasn't really surprised either, but I was hoping they would remain hidden. I don't like snakes. I never have. I know it's an irrational fear. They're harmless, for the most part, and they serve their purpose in the food chain. But that doesn't change the way I feel. As long as we don't cross paths, I'm fine...they can live their life, I'll live mine. Unforturnately, I've already seen a few too many for my liking. The first day I did beach cleanup I saw 3. I've seen a couple of others throughout the campground. And when we went hiking last week, there was one that was laying on the trail. I know that's one of the hazards of being a nature-lover, but I still don't like them and would prefer not to have to deal with them.

6. The pay. I almost hate to put this one down, but it's true. Once again, we did not go into this adventure blindly. We knew the general pay of workamping positions and we knew what this particular one paid. And let me state that for workamping positions, this one pays pretty well. All of our hours are paid plus we get a free site, a $50 monthly electric allowance, propane at cost and a 30% store discount. But it's still hard to make a living at these wages, which is one of the reasons we feel the necessity to supplement with traditional jobs from time to time. Maybe once we're a little more comfortable with our budget, we'll find the need for traditional jobs unnecessary, but coming from a financial state where we were living below our means to one where we're living paycheck to paycheck takes some getting used to. That's not to say that we don't have a safety net. We do, but it's not something that we want to touch if at all possible. Instead, we hope that our traditional jobs will continue to add to that safety net so that we can enjoy the workamping positions without having to focus on the money side of things.

7. Monday and Tuesday 'weekends'. OK, so I know that I mentioned Mondays as one of my 'likes' because it was my day off, but if I had the option, I wouldn't choose Mondays and Tuesdays for our days off. We find that there are a lot of restaurants and such closed on Mondays. Also, we miss out on a lot of the special events such as fairs, festivals, concerts, etc. Mostly these things happen are on weekends, but occassionally, they start on Wednesday or Thursday. Coming into this we knew that we'd have 2 days off and assumed they would be weekdays. I didn't think it really mattered, as long as they were consecutive and we both had the same days off. The way the schedule works out, it makes the most sense that we're off on Monday and Tuesday. I recognize that and I'm not complaining about it. But this is an observation that in the future, if we have any say at all, I would prefer to work on Mondays and have some other days off.

I see that my list is getting long again. This turned out to be another long post (that's why I can't blog everyday!) I didn't think my dislikes would be as long as my likes, and if I were to list everything, I'm sure the likes would well outnumber the dislikes. Overall, this has been a great experience so far and we're thoroughly enjoying it. We have no regrets with our lifestyle change. We will enjoy this particular experience for as long as we're here and then we'll look forward to the next. There's no looking back!

p.s. just as I was finishing this (sitting outside on the deck), a bald eagle flew overhead with a fish and settled in a nearby tree. Unfortunately, he's a little too far away for a good picture. Yep, I'm loving this life!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Rising Waters

Current location: Chester, CA

Well, once again I'm running behind. I meant to post this a few days ago. This full-time work schedule keeps getting in my way!

But as promised in my last post, I wanted to share a few pictures of how much the lake has risen since we arrived. I wish I had taken more pictures which included specific landmarks a month ago so that I could have taken the same shot this time around. It would have been much easier to compare that way. But I didn't, so we'll just have to work with what I have.

This shot was taken on 5/12. Make note of the sandbar with the bush in the middle. There was a thin piece of land that connected to shore and you could walk all the way out there. Also note the small log in the middle of the beach.
This is from the same area (although slightly different angle), taken on 6/12. Notice that there is no more sandbar and the bush is barely above water. Also notice the log. It is now covered with water.
This picture, taken on 6/11, shows just how close the water is to one of the roads in the campground. Pretty soon that boat will be able to be launched directly from it's campsite. Now that's waterfront property!
Our first week on the job, we each spent several hours cleaning up the shoreline of debris. My section started just to the left of the boom - I remember stepping over it - and I walked the beach up from the tree line all the way out to the weeds. This picture was taken yesterday, 6/12, when I was once again cleaning up the beach. The difference this time is that there was a lot less beach to cover! There were several areas where I couldn't continuously walk the shoreline. I had to go up to the road and back down to get to the other side.

I don't know how much more the lake will rise. The lake is manmade and contained by a dam, so the level can be controlled. I imagine if it gets too much higher, they'll start to release some of the water. But then again, I don't know what impact that would have downstream. If it rises too much more, we'll have several campsites which will be under water. With 4th of July just around the corner, we could have some unhappy campers on our hands!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Visitors...and a day hike

Current location: Chester, CA

I'm a little behind in writing. I've thought about it many times, but having enough time and enough energy never seemed to coincide. So I'll try to be somewhat brief in summarizing the past week.

Last Tuesday, our first visitors of the season rolled in to see us. Tracy's Uncle Jack and Aunt PJ came down from Happy Camp, CA...which is about 250-300 miles northwest of Chester. They spend a couple of months each year there panning (PJ, I'm not sure if this is the correct term?) for gold. Tracy had not seen her uncle in over 30 years and never officially met her aunt (although rumor has it that PJ babysat her when she was a small child). We had exchanged emails over the last couple of months and were excited to meet.

PJ, Jack & Tracy:

They arrived late Tuesday evening...a little later than expected due to a tire blowout. Luckily, no one was hurt and no damage was incurred. We had a quick greeting, got them to their site and then left them alone to get settled. We both had to be at work early the next day. Unfortunately, we had to work during much of their time here, so we couldn't explore with them, but did manage to visit with them almost every night after we got off work. Unfortunately for us, some of those nights were rather late, with too much wine consumed, and the next work day came much too quickly!

Monday arrived before we knew it and although we were glad to for a day off, it also came with some sadness as it was time for them to depart and head home to Washington. They stayed here for 6 nights and we thoroughly enjoyed their company. We are so glad that they made the effort to come down and I know Tracy is very happy to have reunited with her family.
Our farewell moment:
The remainder of Monday was spent catching up. We desparately needed to do laundry and replenish groceries, so we took a trip to Susanville and did chores.
Today, Tuesday, we decided to take Hunter for a hike. The weather has been great lately - 70s and sunny - so we thought we better take advantage of our last day off before returning to work. We hiked the Deer Creek trail in the Lassen National Forest. It was about 4 miles round trip and not terribly steep, although we were all tired by the end. The trail follows the creek, which is running quite fast right now. We like to hike trails that include some type of water. Usually, water means trees, which means at least some shade. And having natural water sources means that we don't have to lug extra water for Hunter.
Deer Creek:
About a mile and a half down the trail, lower Deer Creek Falls can be seen:
Tracy decided to soak her toes. Wow, is that water cold!
Or maybe she's just a wimp. Hunter didn't seem to have a problem with the cold:
OK, that was really an accidental swim. Hunter does not swim. He will usually wade, but does not like to get his belly wet. He did not realize that there was a sharp dropoff.
After we finished hiking, we decided to drive up to Lassen Volcanic National Park. We knew the road through the park was closed due to snow and we had heard several people comment about how much snow there was up there, but we hadn't been up to see it ourselves yet. I was surprised at how much there really was!
OK, it's not really that deep, but there were still several feet in some places.And the ground is still basically covered.
I spotted this marker by the roadside. Apparently, they anticipate accumulating up to 19' of snow some years! I don't know how much they got this year, but I do know they got a lot.
However, I am surprised that there is still this much snow left. I guess it will be awhile until we are able to hike around the park! This part of the road is at about 6000', which is only about 1500' higher than our campground. The snow is long gone from down here. I'm not sure when the road through the park is supposed to open - I did hear mid-June, but I don't know if that's accurate. I find the late opening a surprise too. I know Rocky Mt National Park in Colorado works hard to get Trail Ridge Road open by Memorial Day and I would have thought this park would have had the same goal. Either they don't have the manpower and equipment or they just let mother nature decide.
The snow is melting rapidly which is causing Lake Almanor to rise quickly. We have seen a drastic change in the lake level in the short time that we've been here. If there's all of this snow left to melt, I can't imagine how much more the lake is going to rise. I'll write more about that and include some pictures next time.