Thursday, March 31, 2011

Moving Day...And Our New Plan

Current Location: Fairview, OR

The last couple of weeks have felt like a little bit of a ticking time bomb. Once the bottom fell out of our summer plans, we felt under pressure to come up with a new plan and quick. The end of our reservations at our current park was coming up quickly and we had already extended twice, once when we thought our California start date was being delayed and once after we found out that we didn't have a California start date. We basically had two options - to extend a third time or move on.

At the same time our California gig was disintegrating, there was an ad in Workamper News for a seasonal position at another RV park in Portland. We half heartedly joked that we should apply, but really didn't think about it too seriously. Over the next several days, we did a lot of soul searching amidst all the pain and disappointment we were feeling. We partly just wanted to hit the road and run away, but we knew that really wouldn't solve anything. So we conjured up our rational sides.

About this same time, Tracy mentioned the Portland workamping job again and asked what I thought about staying in Portland. She had left her contract position on very good terms and thought there might be an opportunity to return. And even if that didn't work out, her recruiter had told her to contact him anytime she returned to Portland because she would be easy to place.

Hmmm, that was an interesting thought. We have fallen in love with Portland and had mentioned multiple times that if we were ever ready to settle down, this would be high on our list, rain and all. And we had been told by multiple people that we were leaving just as the weather was getting good. We survived the worst, why would we want to miss the best? But on the flip side, we had spent the last 6 months in the Northwest. Would we really want to spend another 6? Wasn't this life all about travel and experiencing new places? Were we just taking the easy way out or is this something we really wanted?

Even though we were still torn, I decided to contact the park to get more information about their opening. I mentioned that I was in Portland and would be willing to come in and talk in person. I received an immediate response and we set up an appointment a couple of days later. It's rare in workamping positions that the employer and employee get to meet before hand or that the employee gets a chance to check out the park. In the meantime, Tracy contacted her recruiter to explore her options.

I walked out of my appointment with a job offer, pending a successful background check, which I knew wouldn't be an issue. Tracy had gotten a positive response from her recruiter and a potential plan was starting to take shape. Now we just had to decide if we really wanted it.

Financially, it made sense. Tracy was earning pretty good money and my position would include our site plus a wage for all hours worked. In addition, we wouldn't have any travel expense to speak of and with current gas prices, this was certainly a factor. But it isn't all about the money. If money was our primary motivating factor, then we wouldn't be living this lifestyle. There had to be more reasons to stay.

The winter weather had prevented us from seeing and doing a lot of things. Even on the reasonably nice days, we were pretty limited. Staying the summer would provide the opportunity to accomplish a lot of those things. And if we were really serious about settling down someday, it would be beneficial to get a feel for all 4 seasons.

If I sound like I'm trying to talk us into it, that's probably because it's true. I wouldn't be truthful if I said that we knew without a doubt that this was the best thing for us. We have a few doubts and we've gone back and forth many times. But in the end, the yes's outweighted the no's. And what's the worst that could happen? We come to the conclusion that we made a mistake? It certainly wouldn't be the first time. And it's only for 6 months. I'm sure the time will fly by.

So here we are...still in Portland to stay for a bit longer. It's not exactly how we envisioned this summer to be. I wish I could say that I am as excited about this job as I was about our management position. It will be different and it will provide a view into a different type of park operations. It will certainly be a lot less stress. Unfortunately, our site doesn't even come close to comparing to our site last year. This is definitely city living in a typical RV park. But as much as we wanted to return to California this summer, we just have to face facts that it isn't a possibility. So we will try to focus on the good...and there is a lot of good.

Today was moving day and it was our shortest move yet. A whopping 30 miles! OK, 29.6 to be exact. Once we were hitched up and started rolling, we so wanted to keep going. It felt good to be on the move again. But we will have lots of opportuntities in the future and for now we are meant to be here. We still don't understand it all, but we will trust that we are being guided in the right direction.

Monday, March 28, 2011

525,600 Minutes - take 2

Note: This post was supposed to be published on March 26, on which we celebrated our one-year fulliming anniversary, but due to technical difficulties I was unable. I'm still having problems with formatting, but hopefully I can get it to a state that it's at least readable. Otherwise, this may be my last post ever!!

Current Location: Tualatin, OR

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred moments so dear

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes

How do you measure, measure a year?

In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights and cups of coffee

In inches, in miles, in laughter and strife

In five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes

How do you measure a year in the life?

- "Seasons of Love" from the musical Rent

It's hard to believe we've been official fulltimers for a full year. How could that be possible? It seems like it was just yesterday that we were fantasizing, but not really believing, that we could really do this. And now we've been at it for a full year.

And what a year it has been! We've had many highs...and a few lows. We anticipated that this would be a year of learning and we were not disappointed. Embarking on this journey, we knew we really didn't have a clue as to what to expect. We had RVed for years, so we weren't overly concerned with that aspect, although driving a big truck with an even bigger rig behind has taken some getting used to and is still a bit intimidating. We had done lots of reading about others' experiences, but we knew ours would have its own unique twists, so we couldn't count on following in any one set of tire tracks. At some point, you realize that there's only so much preparation you can do and if you really want to know whether you're going to sink or swim, you just have to jump in with both feet and say a little prayer.

As March 26 was approaching, we found ourselves reflecting often about the past year. Was it everything we thought it would be? What did we really expect anyway? Was it a successful year? What, if anything, would we have done differently? Do we feel any better prepared now than we did then?

We had a lot of dreams, but few goals, when we began last spring. We knew we wanted to experience some places we had never been before. And not just visit as we used to do on vacation, but spend ample amount of time in an area to get to know the community. In order to do this, we knew we had to find a way to support ourselves. Otherwise, it would be a very short trip. We wanted to gain some workamping experience to determine if this was something we would be interested in doing in the future and whether it would be a viable source of income. Beyond those thoughts, we had no plans.

A year later, I would rate us as reasonably successful. We visited several new areas. We started off in southeastern Texas, while setting up our residency. From there we worked our way slowly west to northern California. We spent 4 1/2 months there while working our first workamping gig. In September, we continued north through Oregon to Washington and then back to Oregon where we are today. All of these places were new to us, so even though it sometimes feel like we didn't travel extensively, we did accomplish what we said we wanted to.

We were also able to earn some money throughout the year. Although we had prepared a budget based on our previous expenses and several other fulltimer's budgets, we really didn't know how accurate this was and just hoped we were somewhere in the ballpark. Workamping proved to work out well. Not only were we earning money, but we were also lessening our expenses by staying put. It's certainly not a high paying gig and I'm still not convinced we could support ourselves solely on those wages, but we enjoyed it and reassured ourselves that it is something worth seeking out in the future.

But I think we also reinforced what we already suspected in that it is prudent to balance workamping with more lucrative employment in the form of professional contracts. That is what we sought out this winter and it was somewhat of a hit and miss. Admittedly, we didn't try as hard as we should have because we thought we had a guaranteed source of income this summer. We learned a hard lesson in that there are no guarantees in life. Not a lesson that anyone wants to be reminded of, but apparently it's necessary from time to time. So we were a little complacent and our results showed. Tracy was successful; I was not. But we took some other lessons away from our experience and will apply those in the next round.

Looking back, I do think we learned a lot, but are nowhere near done. If we could replay the past year over, would we do anything differently? In hindsight, yes; but given the information we had at the time, I think we would have made many of the same decisions. We certainly don't have any regrets, but there are some areas where we feel we could improve.

Number one, I need to work on relaxing a bit more. That may sound ironic since I haven't worked for several months, but that's not the kind of relaxing I'm referring to. One of the allures of this lifestyle is the adventure. LiveWorkDream recently commented on one of my posts and included the following quote: "At its core, adventure is the willingness to commit to an uncertain outcome with an open heart and an open mind" (author unknown). This quote resonated with me on several levels. I have come to realize that I am more structured than I care to admit and the idea of an uncertain outcome is very difficult for me. I do take risks, but they are usually very calculated through lots of research and analysis. I do like to have a plan and prefer to have at least a glimpse around the next corner. Does that make me unadventurous? I don't think so, but it does cause a little extra worry since this lifestyle comes with a fair number of uncertainties. I know that I need to ease up and I'm working on some of those barriers, but it takes time. I do know that things have a way of working out as they are meant to, regardless of how much worry is mixed into the pot, so I will keep reminding myself of that as I progress.

Ideally, we would like to travel more. It's difficult sometimes to follow other bloggers who are crisscrossing the country as we sit. But we realize that we are in a different position that most fulltimers. We made the choice to begin our journey before retirement. We recognize that our path will be largely dictated by work opportunities. We could seek out shorter and more frequent jobs which would allow us to be on the move more often and that might be something we investigate in the future. But for now, we are comfortable with 4-6 month gigs. In the grand scheme of life, 6 months is a very short period of time. We hope to be doing this for many years so we don't need to be in a hurry. If we can continue on the pace of 3-4 new places each year, that's a huge improvement from where we started. It's sometimes hard not to measure our adventure against others, but ultimately, we know we need to define what's right for us.

So overall, do we think we made the right decision? Absolutely! It's not always perfect and it may not always be easy, but I feel that we are finally in control of our destiny. Even though we may not change our scenery as often as we'd like, I love having the freedom to know that we can. We may have to make certain sacrafices to adhere to our frugal budget, but I do believe that we gain so much more than we've had to give up. It's difficult to put ourselves back in the mindset we had when pondering this lifestyle, but I know without a doubt that we desperately needed a change. It's possible that we could have achieved what we needed to through less drastic measures, but I think we were at a point where we needed a huge shake up. Part of me was seeking the challenge and part of me just wanted something new and different. Regardless of the motivation, we both agree that this lifestyle suits us. Someday, we may find the desire or the necessity to settle down again, but until then, we will continue to cruise along at our own pace.
Bring on year #2!!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

525,600 Minutes

For those of you looking for my latest post, I'm experiencing problems. I've been trying to publish a post for the last 24 hours but to no avail. I'm so frustrated at this point, that I'm walking away and will try again in a day or two. Stay tuned...

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Silver Falls State Park

Current Location: Tualatin, OR

Yesterday's forecast was for sun and mostly dry. What did we wake up to? SUN! And believe me, we haven't seen much of that this month. As a matter of fact, Portland is on track to break a record which has been standing since the 50's - the most days of measurable rain (at least .01 inch a day) in the month of March. The record is 27 days and the forecasters are pretty certain it will be broken. We knew it was wet here, but it's even the locals are saying so!

North Falls, 136 feet

So when we saw blue sky we knew we needed to take advantage of it. A visit to Silver Falls State Park has been on our list since we arrived. We've been waiting for the perfect day, but finally came to the conclusion that this might be as good as we get.

Lower North Falls, 30 feet

This state park is known for it's waterfalls, and they weren't overselling themselves! The Trail of Ten Falls winds through the park in an 8 mile loop, but there are several cutoffs available to allow for shorter hikes. We weren't convinced the rain would hold off long enough, nor were we sure our fitness level was up to par, but we were able do a pleasant 5 1/2 mile loop which took us by 7 of the 10 falls. I guess we'll have to make it a point to go back and see the rest.

Middle North Falls, 106 feet

The trail winds through the forests and canyons, right along the river. Most of the time, the trail takes you right to the base of the falls and on a couple of occassions, it takes you behind the falls. I imagine this is a very popular place in the heat of the summer. The first two falls were fairly close to the main parking lot and there were more people than we expected on a weekday (spring break), but once we got about 1/2 mile down the trail, it was very peaceful. I don't think we probably passed more than a total of 10 people the rest of the day.

Winter Falls, 134 feet

Unfortunately, dogs are not allowed on the main trail, so Hunter had to stay home for this one. He never likes being left behind, but it's even harder when he sees the pack come out and the water bottles being filled. He's a really good pouter, but he's getting old enough now where we think he's just as happy to stay home and nap. But he still does his best to make us feel guilty!

Double Falls, 178 feet
As you've probably figured out by now, I'm kind of partial to waterfalls. I love being around water anyway, but there's just something in the way a droplet of water becomes so powerful as it succumbs to gravity. And with all the rain we've been getting, you can believe there was a lot force this time of year.
Lower South Falls, 93 feet (noticed the sunny hillside above the falls!)
This is a spectacular park and one that I would highly recommend to anyone visiting the area. Even if you are not a hiker, there are a couple of falls you can reach with very short walks and some nice overlooks. The drive to the park is through a beautiful countryside full of Christmas tree farms and vineyards. Even without the park as a destination, it would make a nice day's drive.

South Falls, 177 feet

This day was just what we needed. It was great to be able to get out and enjoy some fresh air and warm sun while doing a little physical exercise. And it was nice to give our minds a break from the craziness of the last few weeks, if even just for a few hours. The rain drops started just as we could see glimpses of the parking lot and by the time we reached the truck, it was coming down pretty hard, but all in all, it was a perfect day!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Life Is A Rollercoaster

Current Location: Tualatin, OR

Remember when I asked how boring life would be if it always went as expected? Well, we could use a little boring about now!

We should have recognized that the high we were on was simply the ride up to the top of the rollercoaster; little did we know that the top was so near and the only way left to go was down.

Last week was a bit of a tough week for us. In a nutshell, the owners of the campground in California did a 180 degree turn and decided to manage the campground themselves, essentially putting us out of a job. Unfortunately, in order to reach that decision, it took several days of discussions with frequent changes. In the end, they did offer us the opportunity to return in a much reduced role, but we ultimately made the decision that it was no longer a good fit for us and we walked away.

I think we experienced just about every emotion in the book over the course of only a few days, but what felt like eons. Shock, disbelief, hurt, anger, insulted, confused, sadness, dejected, betrayed, overwhelmed, grief and finally some level of relief that we could start to put it all behind us. We still don't entirely understand what happened, nor how it could have deteriorated so quickly, but we walk away with our heads held high knowing that we did everything in our power to try and make it work.

It's just another reminder that we can't control other people's actions; we only have control over our own reactions. We know that this whole ordeal will only make us stronger. We will learn from it. We still whole heartedly believe that everything happens for a reason and that this just wasn't meant to be. None of these rationalizations make it any less painful, but with each minute that passes, we are feeling better and have begun to find some positives in the situation.

We don't know where we are going from here, but we recognize that there are oodles of options. We remind ourselves frequently that that is yet another beauty of this lifestyle - we are not limited geographically or weighted down by possessions. We already have some strong prospects and will hopefully have some good news to report soon. In the meantime, we have extended our stay in Portland for a little while until we can figure things out. With the current price of gas, it didn't seem to make sense to aimlessly drive around. We need to focus on finding a job and that's much easier to do while stationary, even though it pains us not to take advantage of our free time. We have our whole lives; we don't need to be in a hurry.

For those of you who thought about visiting the campground this summer, we would still encourage you to do so as it is a beautiful place; unfortunately, we just won't be there to greet you.

The road of life is full of curves and speedbumps. Some may slow us down, but none will ever stop us from moving forward!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


Current Location: Tualatin, OR

How boring would life be if things went always as expected?

Tracy found out yesterday that her job would be coming to an end on Friday. This was not totally unexpected. Over the last few weeks, her workload had diminished to the point that she was struggling to keep busy. But we were still disappointed. We were hoping to have an income for a couple of more weeks, but once we got past our initial reaction, we realize that it's actually working out just the way we need it to.

The bigger piece of news we received came late last week from the owners of the campground that we will be returning to this summer. We were informed that the year-round caretaker/maintenance manager would be leaving before the beginning of the season. Uh oh, what does this mean??

Just a quick recap on how things left off last Fall. We had agreed to return this summer as assistant managers, primarily in charge of running the store/office, managing the seasonal workampers, and handling guest relation issues. It was not expected that we'd be too involved in the maintenance side of the operations except to help out when needed. This position was well within our comfort zone because while we would be taking on additonal responsibilities, we felt it would allow us to learn the aspects of campground management at a more relaxed pace.

Well, Randy's sudden and unexpected departure put a huge gap in the staffing structure. I think it was quickly apparent to the owners, as well as us, that having assistant managers wasn't going to be enough to fill that gap. We were asked whether we were interested in taking on a more elevated role as full-fledged managers over the entire campground.

My initial reaction was there's no way. We weren't that involved with the maintenance work last year and we certainly don't have the technical expertise. Randy's departure doesn't just mean that we're losing a body, but the multiple years of knowledge he has is going with him. The thought of taking all of this on was very daunting. And I questioned whether we were really the right people for this role. We've never managed a campground before.

So we did what we do best. We analyzed. We listed the pros and cons. We did a little soul searching on what it was we were really looking for, both in the short and long term. And we discussed whether we thought we were really qualified. If we didn't truly believe we could be successful, then it wouldn't be the right position for us, no matter how much we wanted it.

I think in the back of our minds, we both knew what our answer would be. One of the reasons that we originally decided to return this summer is because we believed that our skills and experiences could help make a difference in the campground experience for the owners, our fellow workers, and the guests alike. That motivation and passion still exists. Throughout the winter, we've frequently talked about the campground and our excitement about what lies ahead.

So although it is a lot more responsibility than we had originally planned to take on, we also realize what an amazing opportunity this is. And it's not like we haven't jumped in with both feet without really knowing what we were doing before. After all, look at our lifestyle change. Quitting our jobs, selling our house and hitting the road with no idea what was ahead of us or how we were going to make a living. If that doesn't qualify as daunting, I don't know what does!

Although the initial feeling about Randy's departure was "oh no, what are we going to do?", as time has passed we've started to see the silver lining. We realize this is a chance to start with a clean slate. Although we liked and worked well with Randy, he was challenging at times and definitely worked at his own pace. We had some minor concerns about how well he would accept us as managers, especially when our responsibilities overlapped. We now feel like we can move forward without worrying about bruising someone's ego.

The other factor that really helped make our decision was the faith of the owners. If they didn't feel that we were qualified, they wouldn't have asked. They have addressed our concerns about lack of technical knowledge by ensuring us that they plan on hiring people with those skills. They have told us that they want us to have the freedom to do things our way. That type of empowerment is huge and knowing that they have that level of trust in us gives us the confidence to believe in ourselves.

That's not to say that we aren't scared sh#*less. We are. We know that we have a lot of work ahead of us, tons to learn and no doubt, we will make some mistakes. But we also know that you have to take risks to grow and if you don't allow yourself to fall down occassionally, then you're not trying hard enough. From the start of our journey, I've had a feeling that there's something wonderful out there waiting for us but that the only way to reach it was to trust our hearts. I don't know that this is it, but perhaps this is the next leg which will ultimately lead us to where we're supposed to be. I am a believer in fate and destiny and I do think everything happens for a reason.

This new role means that we will need to be at the campground sooner than expected. Originally, we were due to arrive at the end of April, but now we will be reporting at the beginning of April, possibly sooner. So Tracy would have been wrapping up her contract within a week or so anyway. And with the extra free time, hopefully we'll be able to do a little traveling before settling down for the summer. Now the only question is, where to?

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Columbia River Gorge

Current Location: Tualatin, OR

Just before Tracy landed her job (the day before to be exact!), we took a drive through the Columbia River Gorge. We woke up to a relatively clear and sunny day which we thought would make for a beautiful backdrop. We've learned that you need to take advantage when you see the sun because you never know when you'll see it again! The forecast was for cooler temperaturates and a little wind, but we figured the sun would counter balance that.

The gorge from the historic highway

So off we went. Little did we know that when the weatherman predicts wind, the gorge is not the place to go! Apparently, there are atamostopheric wind differentials on the east and west sides of the Cascades, which effectively make the gorge a wind tunnel. It's a very popular place for windsurfing and we now understand why. In other words, if you go to the gorge, expect wind!

Latourell Falls, 249 ft drop

The Columbia River separates Oregon from Washington so we decided we'd drive the Oregon side on the way out and the Washington side on the way back. There are only a few places where you can cross the river, so we had to keep that in mind as we meandered along.

Wahkeena Falls, 242 ft drop

We drove along the historic Columbia River Highway (historic route 30). It's the oldest scenic highway in the U.S. The highway was completed in 1922 and was an engineering achievement in its time. It was a main thoroughfare back then, but was eventually replaced with I-84. The highway has been restored to resemble what it looked like back in the 20's and 30's.

Bridal Veil Falls, upper falls 100 ft drop, lower falls 60 foot drop

It's a beautiful drive through the forests and along the cliff sides, with several overlooks and numerous waterfalls along the way. We stopped at most of the pull offs and walked a few short trails. Unfortunately, the wind was brutal, even among the trees, so we found ourselves staying outside just long enough to snap a few pictures. Like many of our adventures this winter, we'd like to return in the warmer weather to do some more serious hiking.

Multnomah Falls, upper falls 542 ft drop, lower falls 69 foot drop
This is the tallest falls in Oregon and the 3rd tallest year-round falls in the U.S.

After taking in so many awesome waterfalls, we headed out of the forest and to the gorge to visit the Bonneville Dam. The Dam was built in the early 1930's as part of the New Deal program. It's main functions are river navigation and generating hydroelectric power.

Bonneville Dam

By the time we reached the town of Cascade Locks, about 30 miles down the highway, we pretty much felt beaten down by the wind. The next river crossing was another 15 or 20 miles further east and it was getting late enough that we decided to start heading back towards home. The drive on the Washington side wasn't nearly as scenic and was a bit of a disappointment compared to the historic route. There weren't many stopping points and it quickly veered away from the gorge so there wasn't much to see. But our alternative would have been to return via I-84 which we didn't want to do, so we still enjoyed our drive.

Bonneville Dam from the Washington shore

The Columbia Gorge was high on our list of places to visit while we were here and even though it was a chilly day, we had a great time. Another check on our list!