Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Grapevine Canyon Hike, Laughlin, NV

Over Thanksgiving weekend we took a trip to Bullhead City, AZ to see some more Nu Wa 5th wheel trailers. I'm loving the Nu Wa Hitchhiker Discover America 345 LKWTB. This could be our next home!

Next day we went for a hike in Grapevine Canyon. About 6 miles West of Laughlin, NV off Hwy 163; take the Christmas Tree Pass dirt road a couple of miles North to the signed parking area for Grapevine Canyon.
Click on photo to enlarge and see lots of Petroglyphs!
Everything I had read about this canyon focused on the petroglyphs. And boy, there were a LOT of petroglyphs! Hundreds were clearly visible at the mouth of the canyon. Surprisingly, I had read very little about the canyon beyond the petroglyphs…because it was spectacular! The canyon was populated with boulders as big as houses, sandstone spires and lava ridges all around. This canyon would probably be difficult when the water was running and you wouldn't want to be in it if there was a threat of flash flooding. But at the end of November on a clear, cool, sunny day when the stream bed was virtually dry, the conditions were perfect.

We headed up canyon probably about two miles before we decided we could go no further. There was a fairly well used trail to follow which sometimes had to skirt the stream bed due to masses of dead grapevines. Sometimes we scrambled over large boulders. Always we had fabulous views of amazing rock formations and occasionally we were in a position to see for miles out to the Laughlin/Bullhead City valley. Being in remote desert canyons we were on the lookout for big horn sheep but only saw birds, rabbits and other small rodents. There were many trees scattered throughout the hike in the canyon bed and clusters of barrel cactus growing in the lava ridges.

The best part of the hike was the snaking, grapevine-like slot canyon about a mile into the trail. This slot canyon went a good quarter mile with smooth, curving walls, getting narrower with each turn. You could easily imagine the water rushing, banking and churning through those curves in a flash flood. At the narrowest point in order to get out of the slot we had to crab-walk up the sides, thankful for our super-grippy hiking shoes.

We decided to turn around when the canyon ended at some near vertical rock walls that rose at least 50 feet above us. We could have scaled the rock walls with our hiking shoes, but getting back down would have been very scary if we were unable to find another route down.
This was a fantastic hike that we highly recommend when conditions are dry but cold. You could easily add on more miles of interesting terrain.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Pomona RV Show and Hiking Mt San Jacinto

Gotta love a long weekend that includes lots of RV’s and a big hike!

Last Friday we attended the Pomona RV show, the biggest RV show in SoCal. After touring 5th wheels for 6 hours (!) I’d say our top 3 are now: Nu-Wa Hitchhiker (Discover America or possibly Champagne Edition), Heartland BigHorn, and Carriage Cameo. Here’s the floor plan for the Discover America 345 LK WTB that we liked:

Really, when it comes down to the final choice, all 3 of these manufacturers make a good, solid product that is well regarded for fulltime living. Ultimately it will come down to price and availability of the floor plan and amenities we want.

After the RV show, we headed to Palm Springs for the weekend. As we entered downtown we were surprised to see hundreds of bikers in town for a motorcycle rally weekend. It all looked like fun...really crowded and noisy with the hundreds of bikes noisily zipping around and the bars and restaurants full to bursting. Luckily we were staying at a small hotel on the South end of town, away from most of the noise.

Saturday morning we picked up a sandwich and headed for the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. It’s a fun ride on a rotating tram car from the desert floor up to about 8,500 feet in the mountains. From the tram station we hiked to the top of Mt. San Jacinto, at 10,834 feet, one of the highest peaks in the continental US. At 11 miles round trip, this peak is very accessible for being over 10,000 feet. The trail has a couple of steep sections but if you take it slow and steady it is an excellent day hike.

By the time we got back to our hotel we were tired and hungry and not in the mood to be around the crazy crowds in downtown Palm Springs. We ended up going to the best rated restaurant (on Yelp) in PS: Palm Greens. What a joy it was to find this place, thank you Yelpers! Located in a strip mall on the South end of town, this small, casual restaurant has a serene atmosphere, with delicious, healthy, mindful food…it really was an oasis at the end of the day. We liked it so much we went back for breakfast Sunday morning!

It was great to get an RV fix this weekend. We can’t wait to be in the position to actually buy one!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

August means visitors in San Diego

August is usually a busy month at our house; friends and relatives stay with us for the beach and for music events. This past week we had Hans’ cousins, the Mohr family, in from Seattle. Luckily the weather finally cooperated and they were able to enjoy the beach, plus we enjoyed a terrific family get together in Poway, as well as a nice dinner out at Proper Gastropub.

The Mohr’s left on Friday and Frankie and the Pool Boys arrived Friday afternoon. (BIG Thanks to the Mohr’s for readying the house for the next guests--you rock!!) Frankie and the Pool Boys is a five member surf band on a California tour. They played Friday night at the Soda Bar, along with Secret Samurai and the Space Cossacks. Great show! Loud venue! Late night for this early bird! :p

Before they headed off to the Surf Guitar 101 convention in Los Angeles on Saturday we filled them up with some healthy muffins and fruit. I’d like to share the recipe for these muffins because they were exactly what I was hoping for: reasonably healthy, fruity and not too sweet.

Blueberries have been fat and juicy this summer and I was imagining them as hot, gooey pockets of moistness in carrot muffins. I found inspiration on 101 Cookbooks, an excellent vegetarian blog; Heidi’s carrot cake recipe was the perfect starting point and didn’t take much adapting to come up with what I had in mind.

Here is my take on Carrot Blueberry Muffins. This recipe probably would have made about 15 muffins but I only had one 12 slot muffin tin and I poured the remainder of the batter into a mini loaf pan. Also, I replaced the chopped pecans with some ground pecans I had on hand. These were wonderful served warm.

Carrot Blueberry Muffins

2 cups whole wheat flour
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
¾ teaspoon salt
¾ cup finely chopped pecans
4 ounces unsalted butter, heated until just melted
½ cup dried cranberries, finely chopped
3 ripe bananas (about 1 ¼ cups) mashed well
1 ½ cups grated carrots (about 3 medium)
½ cup plain Greek yogurt
2 eggs, lightly whisked
¾ cup fresh blueberries

Preheat oven to 350F. Spray a regular size muffin pan and a mini loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray.

Mix together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Stir in the pecans and set aside.

Stir the cranberries into the melted butter.

In a separate bowl combine the bananas and carrots. Stir in the cranberry butter mixture. Whisk in the yogurt and eggs. Add the flour mixture and stir just until everything comes together. Gently stir in blueberries. Spoon into prepared muffin tin. Any leftover batter can be poured into the mini loaf pan. Bake muffins for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick tests clean. Bake the mini loaf for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick tests clean.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Not the Status Quo

The reactions you get when telling people you are considering doing something outside the norm are interesting. This lifestyle change we are working towards includes both early retirement and fulltime RVing…two things that just don’t make sense to many people.

Early retirement entails taking a leap of faith. Faith that you have saved enough money to get you through the rest of your life…quite possibly another 40 or more years. Faith that you will get beyond the butterflies in your stomach and go for it…knowing that the freedom that lies ahead is exactly what your soul craves.

When you go to work every day and find yourself all tensed up, frustrated and stressed out fulfilling someone else’s needs you begin to wonder, what’s the point? If I can afford to remove the greatest source of stress from my life, what’s stopping me? I know that life will always have stressors, some quite challenging, but I’d prefer they relate directly to my life, instead of in support of some anonymous company. Selfish? Perhaps. But like I said before, if I can afford to change my circumstances, why the heck not?!?! Hans’ view may be a bit different than mine, but it is similar.

Hans and I have scrutinized our financial situation to death. Hans is eligible for a pension at age 55 that we could live on, simply, for the rest of our lives. Our house is paid off and is worth a nice bundle and we don’t want to be landlords. So we sell the house…big influx of cash right there…and gain the catalyst for this next phase of our lives. We’ve worked hard to save a sizeable amount of cash, plus we have several 401k-type plans, and eventually, Social Security.

Ultimately, good financial habits and being lucky in San Diego real estate will allow us to make this leap of faith into early retirement.

As for fulltime RVing, you’d have to have a bit of wanderlust in you to understand that desire. Many people we’ve talked to think we’re crazy to give up a nice house in a great neighborhood in San Diego. San Diego is, after all, known to have possibly the best climate in the US. But when you’ve got a bit of wanderlust in your blood and you feel like you’ve explored every corner within a hundred miles of this city, you begin to wonder what the heck you’re going to do with your time when you’ve retired.

Then you realize that this house is not a house you want to grow old in. And that you really are more comfortable in cooler climates. But most of all you think of all the places you want to explore in depth…the green, wet rainforests of the Olympic Peninsula, the surreal landscapes of Utah, the North West coast, the wide open spaces and gorgeous mountains of Montana and Wyoming, the regional food experiences…the list goes on and on and you know there are places you haven’t even thought of left to discover.

But who wants to explore these places from nondescript hotel rooms, paying for meals out all the time, with your kitty shacking up with your friends? Not us! As fulltime RVers, we’ll have our home with us everywhere we go, our beloved cat right by our side. I’ll still be able to cook, something that’s important to me, and that will save us a lot of money and be a lot healthier. We’ll be able to change our location on a whim, following our little wanderlust-filled heart’s desire.

I am sure life on the road won’t be without its challenges. But what in life is not?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Yet another view of retirement

Even though Hans and I research RV’s and the RV lifestyle endlessly, we still are completely undecided on what direction retirement will really take. We acknowledge that we enjoy relaxing and puttering around our home. We wonder if it really would feel like a tether to have a sticks and bricks home in our next phase, or would it be a source of nourishment in our life. We wonder if we will feel overwhelmed by the complete unknowns and transitory nature of the RV lifestyle.

I wonder how much I will miss gardening and that deep connection to nature that can be achieved by working ones hands directly into the soil and producing your own food and a tranquil outdoor environment. I know I will be able to get a nature fix by hiking while RVing, but it will be enough to satisfy my strong desire to connect with the earth? I'll need to get my gardening fix by helping friends and family with their gardens when I visit them!

Thankfully, Hans and I agree that we are completely undecided. We look at each alternative with an open mind and are waiting to see what path feels absolutely right and natural. We know that we want to live a simpler, more environmentally friendly lifestyle. Regardless of the direction we go, we are purging our closets of all unnecessary or unsatisfying belongings.

Happily, the first steps into retirement are clear: sell the house in San Diego, move to the Pacific Northwest, probably Oregon, rent a place to live. Those steps are clear to both of us. And the beauty of it all is that nothing beyond those first steps needs to be planned out!

Once we leave San Diego we can choose to rent indefinitely. Trying on different towns for the perfect fit. Trolling RV dealers for the RV that fits our lifestyle, be it a 5th wheel for life on the road, or a smaller, cozier trailer for shorter getaways.

The anticipation of putting these plans in motion is intoxicating!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

What does retirement look like?

Hans and I have been discussing early retirement since the night we met in 2006. Over the past couple of years as we've honed in on the timeframe we want to make this happen (spring 2011...hopefully!) we've also been honing in on what retirement looks like to us.

First it was moving to the Pacific Northwest and buying a house. Would that house have any land? Would it be in an established community? Newer construction? Big city or small town? We really like to see music and attend cultural events...but how often, really? Proximity to hiking is important as is reasonable proximity to an airport that can get us back to family, quickly if necessary. Proximity to my daughter, Chantal, would be especially nice.

Then discussions turned to the ability to travel. We're retiring early after all...we're young enough to have years to do the hiking we love and to explore countryside and cities and towns of all sizes. We have a cat we love and don't want to have to find a sitter for her all the time. While we'd love to travel the world, one of the trade-offs of retiring early means we have to make our funds last longer, so any international trips would have to be super low-budget. Clearly, the best way to see and do as much as we want would be in an RV with our Rosie cat.

Next we mulled over the idea of buying a house and a smallish RV so we could have the best of both worlds. We considered the amount of money and time we'd be investing right at the beginning of retirement. We'd have to spend significant time in various towns to get a feel for the place, to understand if it would be the right fit for us long-term. Did we really want to be tied down to one location right after we'd just rid ourselves of a house and now were free to call our time our own? Once we bought a house, how much time would we really spend in it if we also had an RV and wanted to go camping a lot...after all, our time would now be our own to fill as we pleased, no bosses to answer to or paychecks to collect. Would it bother us to maintain a house just to leave it sitting there looking pretty while we go galivanting around the country (and possibly have to pay someone to keep it looking good while we were gone)?

The next logical step was to consider RVing fulltime. After all we'd seen my parents spend 11 months straight on the road in their 5th wheel and decide to continue on for another 6 months; and this was not the first time they've done it, either. We'd read numerous blogs of other fulltimers and they seemed to be having the time of their lives. But that brought a whole other set of things to consider: Motorhome or Trailer?; gas or diesel pusher?; travel trailer or 5th wheel?; how big of a truck is needed?...the choices are numerous and daunting!

So began many months of internet research and going to RV shows and RV dealers. First we favored motorhomes, diesel pusher flavored. But, boy, those cost a bundle! And we'd still have to buy a vehicle to tow behind us. Then we gravitated towards travel trailers. They are inexpensive, have everything we thought we'd really need and would be small enough that we wouldn't have too much trouble finding awesome campsites; maybe we'd even be able to keep our Toyota truck!

But the more you look at RV's and really think about the reality of life on the road and the beating an RV takes when you're living in it every day for an indefinite period of time, the more you realize it really needs to be comfortable and sturdy and well made, and you'll need to carry an awful lot of stuff to handle various climates and conditions. It would, after all, be our home. So that brought us to the point of looking at 5th wheel trailers and a truck big enough to handle a home on wheels.

On our recent trip to Oregon we visited some RV dealers who carried brands we couldn't find in Southern California. These RV's are known for their four-season capability and durability for fulltime use. For the first time we walked into a rig that we both felt we could actually live in! Talk about a milestone! Right now that rig is a Heartland Bighorn 3185RL.

Of course, that's not to say we won't change our minds again before we actually get retired and the house sold and we're in the Pacific Northwest and ready to buy...anything! But it sure is nice to have reached a point where we both felt comfortable with one of our options. As they say...the journey is half the fun!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Hiking the Santa Rosa Plateau

Last summer we hiked the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Preserve and knew we had to see it again in the spring. This past weekend we were able to hike the Plateau again and were not disappointed. Especially after a rainy winter, this Preserve is a special place.

Rolling green hills, stands of huge old oak trees, cool, shady glens, masses of flowers, and the biggest vernal pool I've ever seen are just a few of the delights to see here.

Here is the map we picked up at the trailhead with our hike highlighted in yellow. We hiked about 7 miles and there are many other trails to choose from so you can make this hike as long or short as you want.

Located a few miles West of Murietta, CA on Clinton Keith Road, Santa Rosa Plateau is just one hour North of San Diego.