Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Chapter 23 - Springtime in California 2019 - Part 1

To say we love California is an understatement. We LOVE California! There, better.

Seriously, with the exception of the ridiculous traffic, we pretty much love everything about it. Ok, not the LA smog or the gas prices either. But other than that... we love the ocean, are huge fans of sunshine, the hiking is amazing and the scenery is to die for. Oh, and bonus... our son Austin lives there! So because we had an open calendar for 2019 we loaded up the spring with sweet California house sits. And what a spring it's been. Allow me to recap.

First up, Irvine, CA where we took care of these 2 sweethearts, Sullivan and Rambo.

Sullivan is a super fun dog who would literally play fetch with you all day if you'd let him. He loves to go for car rides and hikes and goes happy-bonkers when you take him to the beach. Rambo is a giant snuggle monster and a giant cat as well. Both were a joy to take care of.

Irvine is nicely located just below Anaheim and only a few miles inland from 3 awesome beaches - Huntington, Newport and Laguna. We spent nearly every evening on one of these 3 beaches sitting in our camping chairs and watching the sunset while we ate dinner. That's like our favorite thing to do.

Here's a typical evening at Newport Beach

Huntington Beach is extra special because they've designated a full mile of it as an off-leash dog beach, which meant Sullivan was free to run around like a madman and play with the other hundreds of dogs you encounter along the way. It was pure delight for everyone.

Things we did in Irvine:

Hiked up to Black Star Canyon Falls. Here we had to work our way up a normally dry riverbed for a couple of miles, but CA had a rainy spring so the river was flowing free. Overall we probably had to cross about 10 times each way. I kept taking pictures of Charli on the slippery rocks in hopes I would get a hysterical shot of her falling in, but sadly she let me down.

Eventually we clamored our way to the top and were greeted by this lovely site, which I understand is a rare event there. Meaning water... flowing and falling... in southern California.

Black Star Canyon Falls
Witnessed the super bloom. Speaking of rare events, another product of the rainy spring was the once-every-ten-years super bloom, and we happened to arrive right at its peak. This is when an area of nearby Lake Elsinore erupts into a sea of orange poppies surrounded by yellow, purple and white wildflowers. This event is so prolific in fact, it is visible from space. Did you hear that? SPACE! You shouldn't be able to see poppies in space, but lucky for us we didn't have to. We could seriously publish an entire coffee table book with the pictures we took but here's a few to show just how spectacular these flowers were.

Houston, we have poppies. Over.

Next up was Encintas, CA, where we sat for these two adorable monsters.

Riley (what, I didn't do it)
They look so innocent don't they? I say that because when they play, they chase each other through the house like cartoon characters, smashing into the walls when they can't stop on the slippery hardwood floors. And when they wrestle they look like two wolves ready to tear each other apart, with the growling and the teeth. A few times we joked we could lose a leg if we got too close. But in the end it was just two siblings doing what brothers and sisters do... playing without hurting, because they truly do love each other. Seriously though, these big, lovable goofballs were super sweet.

Encinitas is a beach town with miles of waterfront to play in. AND, it's the home of Peace Pies, the uber-delicious restaurant Austin works at. So for us it was a yum-yum win-win!

Here are some of the things we did in Encinitas:

Hiked through the Elfin Forest of Olivenhain.

Twas a beautiful place but alas, Legolas was nowhere to be found.

Hiked up Mt. Woodson to Potato Chip Rock

This is a natural rock outcrop in the shape of a dangerously delicious potato chip. It doesn't look too risky in these pictures but the tip of it hangs out over a drop-off taller than the trees. So if you fell off you'd pretty much be toast. A lot of people take the overused approach of simply walking out to the edge. Charli and I, on the other hand, chose the more traditional approach of crawling on our hands and knees, you know, like the first explorers probably did.

Then, instead of standing up, I chose the role of "protector" to keep my wife safe, because I'm a chicken good husband that way.

Met our grand chickens

Yes, you heard that right. We might not have any grandchildren at this time but we have plenty of grand pets, including Austin's adorable family of 1 dog and 3 chickens. Here's Alvi, seen here standing on his hind legs because he wanted me to pick him up so he could go for a ride in the car.

And here are 2 of his 3 chickens, Darkness and Ghost. I told Austin to name them Amelia Egghart and Attila the Hen but he said that would be silly.

What the cluck you lookin at?

Spent a day at Mission Beach in San Diego

Mission Beach is the ocean's side of the gigantic Mission Bay area of San Diego, which is the largest man-made aquatic park in the country. This is a great place to relax on the sand, walk the paved path along beach-side shops and homes, eat at any of the dozens of restaurants or even ride an old wooden roller coaster. It's a beautiful and bustling area with no shortage of things to do.

When we first arrived we were greeted with a flyover by the Pelican Squadron.

A view of the boardwalk

Doesn't really have boards

A view of the beach, amusement park and Mission Bay from above. No I didn't bring a drone and yes it is an internet image.

And finally, a view of the the Mission Bay side of the beach

As you can see, Charli and I have been enjoying our California springtime very much. And these are only the first 2 of the 4 towns we've lived in. So stay tuned for the thrilling conclusion of... "Springtime in California 2019 - Part 2."

Monday, December 24, 2018

Chapter 22 - On The Road Again

At the end of Chapter 20 I noted that we would be taking a break from house sitting in order to take care of my mom, "... what we will do is push the 'pause button' on future house sits indefinitely until it no longer makes sense for mom to live here, at which time we will reevaluate our options and forge ahead again. This, as the section heading reads, is one of the curveballs of house sitting."

Curveballs indeed. The last year and a half has been both challenging and rewarding. Challenging in that providing live-in home care for an elderly parent is no easy task. Rewarding in that we were able to give my mom an extended period of time in which she could stay in the home of her dreams. But eventually it was just not possible for two non-clinical people to provide the geriatric care needed for an 88 year old woman in a house not designed for a person with limited mobility. Fortunately last June we were able to find her an excellent apartment in an assisted living facility where she is getting the care she requires and thriving as a result.

Since then, our family has been busy going through all the extremely bonding steps of fixing up her house (the one we all grew up in) and preparing it for sale (note to self... approach TLC with premise for new reality show - Extreme Bonding). 

SO... as of December 14, Charli and I are officially houseless, because if you recall, we sold our last house back in 2014. But we are not addressless, because thank you South Dakota! I know, South huh? Yes, we now have a mailing address in Sioux Falls, and for a few good reasons:
1. SD caters to vagabonds like us who don't have a permanent home and travel in RVs... or Priuses packed to the ceiling. They actually have a mailbox company that will issue you a regular street address, which is important because many institutions won't allow you to use a PO box.
2. SD will take you as a resident for the mere act of staying ONE night in a South Dakota hotel or campground. And, their DMV and vehicle registration offices welcome you. In fact, we were able to obtain a SD drivers license and get new license plates in just a couple of hours, not to mention registering to vote at the same time. Charli and I are now two of the newest "great faces" you can find there.
3. SD has no income tax. It's not a huge reason to emigrate to the plains, but hey, we'll take it!

All of this leads to now, December 24, as we sit at our first house in 18 months in downtown Los Angeles. These next few weeks will be a bit of a scramble but for now we have plans in place for the rest of the holidays until early January, when we head up to Lincoln, NE for a month. This will be our "base camp" where we can settle back into our routine and get our future gigs locked down. It will also be a good location for me to head back up to MN for a few days at the end of the month to take care of some personal business, see some friends and play some music! All good things.

So here we are, back on the road again. We are super excited to see what lies ahead on our house sitting adventure. It has been exactly 4 years since we pulled out of St. Cloud in our little road warrior, who by the way has just surpassed 200,000 miles! People keep asking us, "how long will you do this?" and our response has always been, "until it's not fun anymore." Well guess what... it's still fun! So I guess that means we forge ahead and go where the road leads us. And at the risk of sounding redundant, I will once again leave you with our motto de la vie -

Not all those who wander are lost - Tolkien

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Chapter 21 - Pets of 2017

2017 didn't provide a lot of pet care for us, as we spent a large portion of it visiting national parks (as noted in our National Parks series) followed by an extended stay with my mom so we could take care of her in her home. But that doesn't mean we had no pets, just fewer. Here were our sweet furry friends from 2017.

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Great National Park Tour - Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef National Parks

To recap... In 2017 Charli and I needed to drive from Vancouver, Canada to Duluth, MN. However instead of driving the 1800 miles straight across the country the way a crow would, if crows could drive, we decided to take a little 1900 mile detour and stop at a few national parks along the way, because that's how we roll. And roll. And roll.

The first two legs of this amazing trek can be found here and here. After Zion we continued on to Bryce Canyon National Park.

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon feels like you've stepped into a fairy tale. Everywhere you look enormous spires are bursting out of the ground to form natural castles. It is truly in-spiring.

Like most breathtaking landscapes, pictures don't do it justice. This is one of those places you have to experience in person. Bryce Canyon has many trail loops you can take that will lead you down to the valley below. You can hike 2, 5, 10 or 20 miles if you have the time and desire. This park is truly magical in every sense of the word and is worth every minute you can spend there.

Here's a few more shots, and if you're interested I can easily send like 1000 more. Just let me know.

Capitol Reef National Park

Just around the corner from Bryce Canyon is Capitol Reef National Park, which is named for a line of rock domes (the reef) that someone back in the national park naming days decided looked like a capitol building dome. This is the main dome you will see when you first enter the park.

Capitol Dome
And here's another one I grabbed from the Capitol Reef web site.

"There is nothing like a dome. Nothing, in this world."

But this place ain't just about domes. Capitol Reef is like a geological smorgasbord of landscapes.

At one point Charli and I hiked to the top of Chimney Rock to see the view. This place had a great Lion King vibe so I thought I would try to recreate that famous scene with Simba, but sadly he was all, "why does everybody always want to hold me up over dangerous cliffs?!!!" and wouldn't have anything to do with it.

A bonus feature of Capitol Reef are the old orchards that were planted by Mormon pioneers, which are now maintained by the National Park Service. Visitors can pick apples, peaches or pears for $2/lb. There is a scale in the field with a lock box to drop your money in, using the honor system of course.

One side note regarding our accommodations on this journey. Charli and I love to camp, and one of the things we discovered in the past was a little thing called "disbursed camping," which is how we camped for most of our trip. This is where you are allowed to camp for free outside of a national park boundary in areas owned by the Bureau of Land Management, otherwise known as BLM camping. This is a great way to find a really remote area adjacent to a popular park as opposed to trying to squeeze into the usually crowded camp sites within the park. For example, here was our home while we stayed at Capitol Reef.

In summary, we only scratched the surface of this stunning place. The park itself is over 100 sq/miles and has dozens of trails that would take days to hike. The main road through Capitol Reef offers only a glimpse of what the larger park has to offer, and we definitely intend to return again to spend a lot more time exploring it!

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Great National Park Tour - Zion National Park

September 2017

When we decided to go to Zion National Park, everyone said the same things... "OMG, Zion is amazing!" "Zion is our favorite national park!" "You're gonna love Zion!"

So we rolled out of Crater Lake and set our GPS for Zion. We didn't know much about it so we did some research along the way. First we learned that Zion has a free shuttle bus service that takes you to eight stops along Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. This eliminates the need for cars and makes getting around the park super easy. These shuttles will drop you at a museum, lodge, scenic rock formation or a trail head. The next thing we learned is that there are a couple of "must see" attractions at Zion... Angels Landing, The Narrows and the Emerald Pools. Ok, these things sounded pretty cool and we were intrigued. And when we arrived at this camp site 14 hours later we knew we were in for a treat.

Camp site nestled in The Valley of Amazeballs
Angels Landing

The first thing we wanted to know was, what is Angels Landing? It sounded so peaceful and nice... like a puffy little place where cute little cherubs stop for a break whilst they strum on their golden harps. And then we saw these.


This was no angelic respite. This was one misplaced footstep away from certain death! You KNOW when the opening sentence on their main poster says, Since 2004, seven people have died falling from the cliffs on this route that this is not for the faint of heart, anyone with a fear of height, or anyone who is slightly clumsy. In other words... me.

So now we had a decision to make. Do we face our fears head on and accept the challenge, or run away like frightened little kittens. And then we thought, "well, what is the worst thing that can happen?" And then we said, "death." And then we started crying. But eventually we decided that if we just took our time and didn't do anything dumb, like try to navigate it in a slippery rainstorm for example, we would be fine. And we promised ourselves that if it got too scary or dangerous we would simply turn around and leave our dignity on the trail behind us maybe try it again some other time.

And so we forged ahead. And holy crap what an adventure it was. Pictures don't do this hike justice, but they're better than nothing, so here is just a tiny sample of the majestic beauty of this heavenly place.

As you climb the main trail, this is what surrounds you.

Eventually you will get to a natural "bridge" that is only a few feet wide and drops off hundreds of feet below on either side if you slip. As I crossed it I wanted to just close my eyes and hope for the best but quickly decided it was in my best interest to pay attention and take it slow.

Here's Charli starting her traverse across the bridge. I went first and turned around to take this pic. It's important to note that if not for the guide chain this would have been a non-starter for both of us.

After crossing the bridge, you are faced with the climb to the top of Angels Landing. Here is what it looks like as you approach. Pish-posh, that doesn't look so bad.

AND... here's what it looks like while you're ascending. Note that the lower side of this slope drops about 1200 feet. Also note that at this precise moment both of our hearts were pounding like jackhammers.

No chain, No gain
But eventually we made it to the top. Alive. And it was good.

SO... after spending about 15 minutes at the summit, we started to notice that those clouds behind us were getting darker, and moving towards us! This meant one thing. GET THE HELL OUT OF THERE!

And because the only way down was the way we came up, we literally had to make the same heart-stopping journey in reverse. But then the unthinkable happened. First the lightning in the distance.

"Honey I love you. We're going to die. Do the kids know where our insurance papers are?"

And no sooner did we put our first step onto the slanty ledge from hell when sure enough... rain!

And not just a sprinkle, but "the heavens opened up" kind of downpour. SO much rain in fact came down that the canyon walls erupted into waterfalls. And no, I'm not exaggerating.

Fortunately we didn't slip to an untimely death and become another statistic on the Angels Landing welcome poster. Sure it was scary, but it was also the single most exhilarating thing either of us have ever done in our lives. And because of that, I would do it again in a chest-pounding heartbeat.

On a nice dry day.

The Narrows

The Narrows is one of those things that on the surface doesn't seem to make a lot of sense. "So here's the deal see... you put on 'water shoes' and walk up a muddy river against a strong current with a bottom full of large rocks for about 5 miles. Oh and you have to find a big stick somewhere to keep your balance otherwise you'll fall on your face. Either that or buy one in our gift shop for 10 bucks. Then, after about 3 hours you'll get to a place that's really pretty so you can tell everyone you did it later on." 

However... sensible or not, we were NOT going to be denied.

And there was a touch of irony to the fact that the very day after a huge rainfall we would decide to take a hike up a river that had multiple warnings to NOT hike up the river after a rainfall because of potential flash flooding. Ok, irony might not be the right word. What's the word I'm looking for... oh yeah, stupidity.

But the day was beautiful and the river looked fine. And besides, gobs of other people were making the pilgrimage so we made a similar decision to the one from Angels Landing. If it got too hard or dangerous we would simply turn around. Or, if a flash flood hits we would get a free fast ride back down. Bonus!

So hike up the river we did. And it was tough, and it was wet and it was beautiful! But most of all, it was really, really fun. We hooked up with some other people and chatted our way upstream, had a nice lunch at "Wall Street" (the unofficial destination of the hike) and soaked up the sun. And our shoes.

Here's a few pics of this adventure.

Getting started

The river

Heading into "Wall Street"


A slight obstacle

My trusty staff... ready for the next guy


The next day we hiked the Emerald Pools loop and it too was amazing, but I don't seem to have any pictures for some reason. I guess I ran out of film. But here's one I stole from the internet so you can see what a magical place this is as well.

The fact is, pretty much everything about Zion is magical and ridiculously beautiful, and now I am officially that guy. You know, the one who will tell you "OMG, Zion is amazing!" "Zion is our favorite national park!" "You're gonna love Zion!"

Because it's true.