Thursday, September 30, 2010

Reverse Migration

Current Location: on the road, central coast of Oregon

On the road again
Just can't wait to get on the road again
Goin places I've never been
Seein things I may never see again
~Willie Nelson

Yes, we are on the road again! I was so excited to finally have the opportunity to change my 'current location' tagline! It was getting to feel a little silly having it at the top of all of my posts when we never moved!

On Wednesday morning we finally hitched up and pulled out of North Shore Campground. And where are we going? Why North, of course! WHAT?? North? Aren't we supposed to be going South this time of year?

We decided to follow a little known practice called Reverse Migration! When others go south, we go north. And today we find ourselves on the beautiful Oregon coast.

Around early June we started trying to figure out where we would spend the winter. The only thing we knew for certain was that we decided against workamping for the winter and instead wanted to find jobs using our professional skills. We didn't have a lot of criteria other than that (1) we didn't want to go to a typical snowbird locale, (2) we wanted to target a somewhat populous area where there would be good employment potential and (3) we wanted to stay out West (we thought we were going to Alaska next summer until we decided to return to North Shore).

It was around this same time that we had our first visitors of the summer, Tracy's uncle Jack and aunt PJ. She had not seen her uncle in over 30 years and didn't remember her aunt at all (although they had met when she was a baby). We all hit it off great. Shortly afterwards, they extended an offer that we ultimately couldn't refuse.

Jack and PJ live in the Seattle-Tacoma area and have an RV pad on their lot with full hookups. They invited us to spend the winter. We didn't immediately accept, although it was always in the back of our minds. It certainly met all 3 of our criteria, but we were concerned about feeling like intruders and wanted to make sure we wouldn't be taking advantage of what was already a generous offer. After several more discussions, we came to the realization that it was just too good to pass up. So we're headed Washington!

For someone who has lived in sunny Colorado for most of the past 25 years and spent the summer in sunny California, going to the northwest during the wet season is a little concerning. As a matter of fact, that is probably my biggest concern about the entire decision. Will I be able to make it through the winter? I've been in dry climates for so long I don't even own a raincoat! What will it be like not to see the sun for days on end? Will I become depressed?

I'm hoping the climate won't be as bad as I think. And we're pretty resilient, so I think (hope) we can deal with most anything. But if it turns out to be unbearable, we always have the option of moving elsewhere. After all, that is the beauty of this lifestyle.

I am excited to explore this area of the country. As Willie says, "goin places I've never been" and I've never been to the Northwest. We will spend a few days on the Oregon coast before continuing north and from what I've seen so far, I'm going to like it. We are staying in an Oregon State Park, right along the ocean. The drive along Highway 101 was beautiful, although it's hard to stop too many places when you're so big. So we're planning to do some day trips to the surrounding area as well as fit in some beach time. I think we're ready for some downtime!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Our Last Workday...Top Memories Of The Summer

Current location: Chester, CA

We've officially reached the end of our season. Today is our last day of work. It's bittersweet. Even though we'll be returning next year, we're sad to be leaving. It seemed like just yesterday we were pulling in in a blizzard. We were excited to get here, anxious to get working, and maybe a little nervous about what lay ahead. Now, here we are four and a half months later, anxious to move on to our next adventure, excited to reunite with friends and family, but also a little blue to be leaving the comfort of the place which has come to feel like home.

As we've started to pack up, we've done a lot of reminiscing about our experiences this summer. Here are a few of the top memories, ...the good, the bad and the ugly!
  • 10pm security rounds - quiet hours, which begin at 10pm, are strictly enforced. We receive many compliments on this policy, but there are the select few who think we're just trying to ruin their fun. We try to be pleasant when asking people to quiet down and for the most part, people are understanding and apologetic. But we have also been called some nasty names and had a few profanities spouted at us, mostly by those who have had one (or more) too many. Thankfully, other members of their party usually reign them in and we've never had to get the Sheriff involved. We don't take that kind of stuff personally, but it sure does make a bad end to the day.

  • The stars and the moon - one of the perks to the 10pm rounds is that we get to enjoy the beautiful nighttime sky unaltered by city lights. I realize that all we need to do is step outside on any night, but we're usually in bed or too tired to make the effort. I think I have seen more shooting stars this summer than I have in my entire life. And to see the lake lit up by the full moon is a sight to be seen. We have just a short walk from the shop where we put the golf cart away at the end of the night, but I don't think we've ever walked that stretch without having our necks craned looking at the millions of stars.

  • Visitor policy - this is another one of those strictly enforced policies and one that has caused its share of grief, both amongst the staff and the guests. In one of my first posts after starting work, I mentioned the number of rules to be learned. There are a lot and it's a bit overwhelming. It takes awhile to figure out what information to ask for and what reminders to offer guests. It wasn't until just before the 4th of July rush that it was suggested that we ask arrivals if they are expecting visitors and remind them of the policy (# of visitors are limited and must be pre-registered and pre-paid). It all seems perfectly logical now, but at the time, it was yet another thing to remember at a very hectic time. By that time in the season, we had already gotten our routines down and for me, it was just one of those things that I had a mental block on. Not to make excuses, but it sure would have helped me if we had started doing that from the beginning. As a result, I was strongly reminded multiple times to ask about visitors and even questioned as to whether I had issue with the policy. I suspect that if Dez and Katrina were asked to reflect on our individual experiences, this would be close to the top of my list. :)

  • MB - speaking of the visitor policy, we had one guest in particular which we had extreme problems with in regards to visitors. I don't think it is ethical to share her name, so I'll just refer to her by her initials. MB was reminded of our policy prior to her arrival and even purchased an extra site so that she could have additional visitors. When she arrived at check-in, she provided us with a list of names of who would be visiting on which days and which ones were overnight versus day visitors. We all thought everything was in order until the first visitor arrived. He was on the list as a day visitor but stated he was staying overnight. That was the beginning of a mess. Visitors on the list didn't show, but other visitors were showing up who weren't on the list. As a result, we were turning people away. Later that day, it was discovered she had a number of unregistered visitors who walked in over the causeway. When questioned about it, she admitted to it claiming that there wasn't enough parking space so they walked in. Exactly what did she not understand about the policy?? Things got a bit nastier from there and she was ultimately asked to leave. It is the only eviction that happened this year. And as a result of this incident, a fence was erected near the path to the causeway.

  • Accidents and injuries - a season really couldn't go by with no injuries, could it? And for those of you who have followed this blog for awhile, you are familiar with Tracy's reputation (remember the black eye and the multiple bangs of her head?). The most memorable accident happened on a rare rainy afternoon. An storm blew in with high winds, thunder and lightening and driving rain. I was working in the store at the time and there was all this commotion going on outside. Katrina on the radio looking for Randy; Tracy zooming by on the quad. I had no idea what was going on until it was over and Tracy was sitting on the porch, covered in mud and in a state of shock. The wind and waves had broken a cable on one of the boat docks and it was seemingly floating away with boats still tied in its slips. Long story short, Randy was in the water trying to control the dock and Tracy was helping from shore. The side of the road is aligned with logs, preventing people from driving on the beach. Tracy was running this way and that to get Randy the necessary supplies and you guessed it, she tripped over the log. Well, I guess she didn't really trip, but she stepped on it and it was slippery and she fell. She landed on her hands, which bent both her wrists back. But her adrenaline was pumping and she didn't realize she was hurt until she was sitting on the porch. Then the shock wore off, and the pain began. She was sore for awhile and had some good bruises, but nothing was broken and she was back to normal within a few days. But Tracy had yet again enforced her reputation! :)

  • Hunter's accident - speaking of injuries and reputations...there's no doubt that Hunter and Tracy are related! I knew we couldn't get through a summer without Hunter injuring himself too. I had just gotten to work and I got a call over the radio - "Connie, are you busy?". "Not yet, why?" "Hunter fell down the RV stairs and cut his leg. I think I have to take him to the vet." Luckily, Katrina was in the store and I was able to run home to get a better assessment. By the time I got there, Tracy had gotten the bleeding to mostly stop, so we bandaged up his leg and decided that we'd wait until the next day to determine if we needed to find a vet. Let it be known, that Hunter's first aid kit is a large as ours. We have accumulated a lot of supplies over the years and are used to wrapping his leg. The injury happened on the same leg that he's had surgery and numerous other injuries so there is very little skin left. It's mostly scar tissue, but we did get it to eventually heal and he's back to normal too.

  • Chipmunks and mice - one of the problems with staying put for so long is that critters tend to find their way in, especially when you live in the woods. Early on, I wrote about invasion of the chipmunk. Jazzy alerted us to it, but luckily he never caught it. We were able to shoo that one back outside. But we never knew he was such a fierce hunter, nor that he could move so quickly. We let him outside from time to time (on a leash) and he has a great deal of fun chasing all of the chipmunks. They're not very afraid of him and he's been able to catch a few, but usually drops them before he kills them. Not too long after the chipmunk incident, we started hearing and seeing evidence of mice. And then Tracy came home to one, dead on the doormat, inside. We quickly realized that we needed to fill all entry points that we could find. They were still finding ways in, but I think - hope - we finally got rid of them. Just another tribulation of RV living!

  • Eagles - I have written about them and posted pictures, so theres not much more that I can say, other than that I am still awed by them and I will miss them.

  • Making life-long friends - again, I have already written on this subject. We have gotten to know so many people this summer and there are a few special ones who we believe will be friends for life. If you're reading this now, you know who you are! :)

This summer has been a great one and it's hard to see it come to an end. But the next one will be here before you know it and I'll have a whole slew of new memories to share!

For those of you who are wondering where we're headed next, I'll share that in my next post. This one's grown kind of long. :)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Working For A Living

Current Location: Chester, CA

As has happened so many times in the past year, we have had another amazing opportunity drop in our laps. But before I go there, I want to talk a little about that nasty four-letter word: w-o-r-k!

Most of us have been there, and many of us still are. When we decided to set out on this magical journey, we knew we would have to continue working. As we were ending our 9-5 jobs, we frequently heard the comment "I sure wish I could retire so early". We were always quick to make the correction - we aren't retired, we're simply adjusting our lifestyle. We expect to be active in the workforce for many years to come; it's just not the same workforce that we used to be a part of.

Because of the need to support ourselves, we know that our full-timing experience will look a lot different from that of many other full-timers. Our destinations, to a large part, will be determined by job prospects. Of course, we'll also seek opportunities in locations that we want to visit. And these jobs will most likely require us to be sedentary for longer periods of time, which equates to less traveling.

But that's ok - we recognize that those are the "sacrafices" we have to make. And it's hard to even call it a sacrafice, as I sit here in one of the most beautiful locations I could imagine. After all, what is the alternative? Returning back to a 9-5 job, with a measly 4 weeks of vacation a year, if we're lucky? No thanks! I'll make the sacrafices.

So back to our most recent opportunity. We've been asked to return to North Shore Campground next assistant managers! Before the offer was even made, we had pondered the idea of returning for a second year. But like most RVers, we have a long list of places we want to go and we weren't sure if we wanted to spend another summer in the same location, no matter how beautiful it is.

So when the offer was presented to us, we had to make our usual pros and cons list. And when the pros outweighed the cons, we expressed our interest and began more serious discussions on what the position would entail.

Like most of our decisions, this was not one that was made lightly. Admittedly, there were several times this summer when I thought to myself (or even expressed out loud) how glad I was that we were just the worker-bees and could walk away from it all at the end of our shift. Although we helped as we could, the bigger issues were escalated to someone other than us and I was more than happy to hand them off. Well, that will certainly change next year. Now we'll be the ones to whom the issues are escalated. And our days won't be done until we reach our official days off because we'll be on call 24 hours a day during our workdays. Are we sure we really want to take on those headaches? After all, weren't we striving for a low stress life??

And coming back here means putting some of our travel plans on hold. Although we plan to full-time for many years to come, we also made the leap into it now because we know there are no guarantees in life. What if something should happen in the next few years which causes us to end our travels? Will we regret "wasting" multiple years in the same location?

So by now, you're probably wondering why we accepted. As with most situations, there are trade-offs. We ultimately came to the determination that we would be gaining far more than we would be giving up.

First, there are the financial gains. We will be making significantly more next year than we did this year, which will put us in a much better financial position. And knowing that we have a job lined up for next year relieves a lot of the pressure for this winter. Although I would never make a decision solely based on money, it is a necessary evil and it, unfortunately, it is a major factor in our decisions.

Second, we still have a lot to learn and this is a great opportunity for more education. For years, we had talked about owning a B&B, a set of cabins, or a campground. I'm not sure that we'll ever want to be that tied down again, but you never know what the future holds. Taking on managerial duties will give us a little more taste of what it would be like, if we ever do go down that road. And even if we don't, having the experience on our resume can only help us in future jobs.

Third, we believe we can make a difference. Not only will we help the owners and current staff by providing stability, but we have many ideas for improvements of the operations too. If only one or two of those ideas is successful, then we'll have made a difference.

Fourth, although this is not the perfect place (is anyplace?), we're already aware of a lot of the challenges that we'll be faced with. That's not to say that we won't be surprised or that some things may not work out like we expected, but we have a pretty good idea of what we're signing on for.

Lastly, and possibly most important, we like it here. As we're preparing for our departure in a couple of weeks, we find ourselves sad about the prospect of leaving. As I mentioned in a previous post, we really like the people - from the campground owners, to our co-workers, to many of the regular campers whom we've come to know. They have embraced us and they are all happy that we are returning. And of course, there's our site which I've gushed about numerous times. I'm sure we could probably buy one just as nice for $50 or more a night, but I couldn't imagine a nicer one as a workamper. And on top of all of that, we didn't accomplish nearly everything we wanted to this summer. We still have many mountains to climb and endless places to explore. We also have friends and family who didn't have a chance to visit this year, so we're hoping they'll have a chance next year.

I could probably go on with the pros and cons, but suffice it to say, life is full of difficult decisions. But when we really sat down and weighed all of our options, this one wasn't really all that difficult to make. It just made sense on so many levels. And ever since we accepted the offer, we've been really excited about the prospects for next year. And that's why we know we made the right decision.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Funny thing about these laundromats out here

Current location: Chester, CA

I discovered something that I didn't think was possible, or at least not prevelant. The laundromats in this part of the country actually expand clothes instead of shrinking them!

Before we left our stix n brix, our clothes continually shrank. C'mon, I know you all know what I'm talking about. You buy a new pair of pants and they fit first. But before you know it they're a little snug and eventually you reach a point where they're either no longer comfortable or they look terrible on you. Then you have to go buy a new pair, but you go up in size thinking that that will account for the magical shrinking problem. But sooner or later, the same thing begins happening. The only conclusion that I could reach was that it was all due to the washers and dryers. It certainly couldn't be me gaining weight!

This summer we've experienced an amazing phenomenon. ALL of our pants and shorts have become loose and some are downright uncomfortable to wear because they are too big! Isn't that ironic??

About mid-summer I had another suprise. I can now fit into a pair of shorts which were once my favorites. I haven't been able to wear them for probably 3 or 4 years. Tracy is about a size smaller than me so when I outgrew a pair of shorts (my pants were too long for her), I would hand them down to her. Her wardrobe grew quickly as mine shrunk. Now, much to her dismay, I am starting to steal them back!

We haven't weighed ourselves - I try not to get too hung up on numbers. I prefer to go by feel - so we don't know how much we've lost, but it feels good. The downside is that we don't have a very large budget for clothes, but we're going to have to replenish a few pair of jeans. At least we don't need much.

Success in such a short amount of time is astonishing, especially since we didn't even try. We didn't go on any diets, nor did we really watch what we ate. But I think we can attribute the difference to 2 things: a more active lifestyle. and a lack of convenience foods.

On the first point, we are most definitely more active. Although we haven't worked as much grounds work as we thought we would, we're also not sitting behind a desk all day. Throughout the summer we averaged about 10 hours a week on grounds; the rest of our shifts were in the store. But even when we're in the store, we're on our feet all day and moving about. I don't know of any formal statistics, but I'm sure you burn a lot more calories simply by standing instead of sitting. Add to this that Hunter no longer has a fenced yard where we can just let him out. So he requires walks, at least 2 a day if he has his way. Each of those walks is generally at least a mile, sometimes upwards of 3 or 4 miles.

Although the exercise is great and we feel better because of it, I really believe that our weight loss is as much due to my second point, lack of convenience foods. In our prior life, we ate out a lot. And I mean a lot. I would go out for lunch at least 2 or 3 times a week. I used the excuse that I needed an escape from the office, but I also know that I am an emotional eater. I was unhappy at work, so I would sell myself that a delicous lunch prepared by someone else would make me feel better. It rarely did, but I continued the trend anyway. After working all day and coming home emotionally drained, neither of us felt like cooking. Living in the suburbs of a large city, there were a lot of (too many) restaurants nearby, many of which we passed on the way home. The sight of a sign, or a billboard, implanted the idea of eating out into your brain. You're hungry and you're tired and what better idea than eating out. So we did, at least a few nights a week. The problem with eating out, as I'm sure you all know, is portion control. One restaurant serving is frequently 2, 3 or more times the recommended portion size. But we've been accustomed to big servings and we have a habit of eating what's in front of us. Although we frequently shared meals or took leftovers home, I have no doubt that I was ingesting more calories than I could burn.

Nowadays, we rarely leave the campground on our working days. We do venture out on our days off, which usually includes one meal out. The restaurants in and around Chester are not all that tempting, and a bit on the expensive side, but we have found a few favorites. Where we used to average 3 or 4 days out a week, we now average 1, and that is either for lunch OR dinner, not both. Needless to say, this helps our budget as much as it does our waistlines. And you know, I really don't miss eating out. More often than not, we appreciate our own cooking much more than someone else's.

One of my original goals of this new lifestyle was to be more fit. I still couldn't run a marathon (nor do I want to) or bike a mountain pass (not sure I really want to do that either), but we're definitely headed in the right direction. Now if we can just manage not to backtrack during the winter!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Winding Down

Current Location: Chester, CA

We survived the last crazy weekend of the season. It really wasn't all that bad; maybe we've just become accustomed to it. The arrivals on Friday night straggled in, starting around 2pm and lasting until sometime after 10pm. We were in the store until about 9:30pm, at which time we left Dez to handle the rest. When we drove by for security rounds at 10:00, she was still there, but thankfully was gone by 11:00 when we returned.

Today, most everyone departed and we are now back to the peace and solitude. I know it's not good for business, but I sure do prefer the campground like this. However, I also realize that if it was always like this, we wouldn't be here since they wouldn't be able to afford us. So I guess we should be thankful that it was a busy summer.

We still have 3 weeks of work left. Holy cow, only 3 more weeks?? Could that really be true? There's a lot of work still to be done to prepare the campground for closure (it closes Oct 10). In addition, the other workamper couple with whom we worked this summer departed this afternoon. So we will also be picking up some of their slack. The store will become very quiet and the shifts will probably drag by; but the grounds will be busy and those days will no doubt fly by. As we have done throughout the summer, we will split our time between the two. And I'm sure before we realize, our 3 weeks will be up and it will be time to hitch up and hit the road.

I find myself with very mixed feelings about that. I'll be sad to leave, but excited for the next adventure. Once again, I find myself feeling anxious about the unknown. Excited, but also a little scared. We've come to know this as home and soon we will have to say good-bye. A lot of the same feelings we had in April are resurfacing. I wonder, will it always be like this after an extended stay?

All in all, it's been a great first summer. We worked hard, but also found a lot of time for playing. There were moments of frustration and we hit a period in mid-summer when we were feeling weary. But I think that is normal. We managed to find a second wind and it felt like our attitudes were adjusted overnight. I don't know exactly what caused our perspective to change; perhaps we just realized how lucky we are to live our dream! How many people in this world can really say that?

From our perspective, this season was a huge success. Not only did we get along well with the owners and our coworkers, but we bonded with quite a few of the campers as well. There are many regulars who come here every year. Some rent a site for the season, others just make it up for a few weekends a year. But we made friends with many of them and will depart with a handful of email addresses and phone numbers so that we can stay in touch over the winter. It really warmed our hearts to be embraced so quickly and strongly.

Before our arrival, I frequently said that what will make or break this experience will be the people. We had a good idea of what type of work we would be doing and were pretty certain we could handle that aspect of it. But as with most situations, if you surround yourself with good people, then even the worst situations are bearable. We get along pretty well with most people and can tolerate almost anyone, so we were pretty certain that we would be able to last the 4 months we committed to. But we didn't want to just get through it. We didn't want an experience where we were counting down the days and longed for the end. Been there, done that. We wanted a happy and memorable experience. We got all that we wished for and much, much more. And it's mostly because of the people (ok, the location and the bald eagles weren't so bad either!). It's hard for me to believe that future workamping gigs will be as special.

As our season winds down, I find myself reflecting frequently on the last 4 months. We have learned so much, both about running a campground and about ourselves. We are starting to get a better sense about what our full-timing life might look like, at least for the next couple of years. I will be sharing a lot of this over the next few weeks. I haven't blogged as much as I had hoped to this summer, but I have a feeling that I might make up for some of that in the near future. So stay tuned!

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Last Hurrah

Current Location: Chester, CA

Today, we embark on the last busy weekend of the season...and a busy one it will be! We are expecting almost 80 arrivals today, which is more than we've had on any other day of the season. For comparison, on the Friday before Fourth of July we had about 50 arrivals.

Throughout the summer, people were more likely to straggle in earlier in the week, with many arriving on Wednesday and Thursday. Thus, keeping Fridays busy but not hectic. But now that school is back in session, almost everyone is coming in today. And I have no doubt that it will be crazy, possibly with cars and trailers backed up to the road (which is probably a quarter of a mile from the store).

To make the day even longer, we have our last security rounds tonight (hooray!). We will stay open in the store until 9:00, an hour later than usual and then we have to be out on rounds at 10:00. We're expecting a busy night with security too knowing that people will be excited to start their long weekend. Many won't even be arriving until 9 or 10, which will keep the activity and noise level a little higher than desired.

But we know that we just need to get through the next 3 days and then the great calm will arrive. That seems like a long way off right now, but we've made it this far, we can manage a few more.

Oh boy, wish us luck!