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Follow Your What?

Follow your Fernweh. Ok, but what exactly is fernweh?

Fernweh is a German word that translates into “wanderlust.” My favorite definition of the word is, “a crave for travel; being homesick for a place you’ve never been.”

Confession time: I have a serious case of wanderlust. I know it’s cliché to blame my parents for how I turned out, but this one is definitely on them. Growing up, my family moved every year or two for Dad’s (non-military) job, and by the time I was graduating from high school, I was living in my tenth city. Fast forward a little bit, and by age 31 I had lived in seven MORE cities. Not to mention different addresses in several of these cities! I cringe when people ask me where I’m from, and even worse when I have to fill out a form asking for my addresses from the past five years.

Fortunately, my family also had a strong desire to travel. My passport has stamps from wonderful places like Italy, Sweden, Tahiti, and Dubai. Each new location brings unique experiences and perspectives, and leaves me hungry for more. The world is a really big place, and I have not yet found a reason to sit still in one place.

So I intend to follow my fernweh. Allow it to lead me to new places, meet interesting people, eat unique foods, hike unmapped trails, and take it all in. Travel, at its worst, can be a stressful disaster full of mishaps and mounting expenses. However, at its best, travel can provide education and fulfillment that is difficult to obtain. No matter what, I’m excited to be adventuring with my two cats, two dogs, and Laverne and Shirley (truck and RV).

 

House Hunters: Freedom to Travel

On Monday, Feb. 25 HGTV aired an episode of House Hunters called “Freedom to Travel” that I filmed 15 months ago. I’m about to pull back the curtain on that process and answer a few questions that I keep getting asked. If you love watching the show and don’t want any of it ruined, stop reading this post!!

Ok, so let’s go way back to how this all started. Back in 2015, my husband suddenly and out-out-the-blue left our marriage, for apparently no reason. Without rehashing that magnificent cluster-fuck of a shock that turned my entire life up-side-down, I will say this: within the first week of him leaving, I told my sisters, “I don’t know why he left. But I know that in five years I want to look back and say, ‘Wow! If he hadn’t left, I wouldn’t have BLANK!’” I had no clue what BLANK would be or what it would look like. But traveling felt like a great place to start.

In 2016 I did some contract work for a tiny house builder based in southeast Wisconsin. I did their social media and marketing, and they were part of the Tiny House Jamboree in Colorado Springs, CO that year. I fell head-over-heels in love with their Denali model. It’s a park model, 400 sq. ft., with a full-size kitchen, full-size bath, living room, bedroom, loft, two porches, AND a rooftop deck! I mean, it has everything!!!! It also starts at about $100,000 and upgrades can add up fast. The problem with that price is that financing a park model is nearly impossible. So only rich people with cash on hand can buy them. They’re also not made to travel or be on the road, so finding a piece of land to park it on would have been crucial, but expensive.

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For more information about this customizable beauty, check out UtopianVillas.com

At the time, I was working two jobs just to make ends meet. I was not saving enough and had no time off to take vacations or travel. Travel has always been a passion of mine, probably brought on by living and traveling in Europe as a kid. I was tired of sitting around and waiting for my life to start, so I decided to jump start it with a big, bold move. I was going to buy an RV and travel the country.

2017… Yes, there was definitely a boyfriend in that episode. Matt and I met while bartending, a second job for both of us. He broke up with his girlfriend (I’m sparing you so many juicy details, because they’re not my details to share) and he started to crash at my place, since I lived across the street from the bar we worked at. We had so much fun living together that eventually we started dating (everyone saw that coming, right?) When I shared the RV idea with him, he was immediately on board. He had not traveled much in his life and was open to new possibilities.

While I was at the Tiny House Jamboree in 2016, I met some of the HGTV people that cast and produce Tiny House Hunters, and learned about the process of applying to and filming episodes. My motivation to film an episode came from my own personal experience of wanting a tiny house, not being able to find financing for it, and running into issues with zoning laws restricting where you can park it. An RV became a great solution and I hope other people that are curious about living tiny consider it.

***Spoiler Alert*** HGTV won’t even accept an application or do the initial skype interview unless you’re on the path to owning a house. So in every single episode, the buyer already owns one of the properties, and two other options are staged. They work with you to create a wish list that pits the two people against each other, and during filming they prompt you to disagree on everything. Obviously the conflict is entirely manufactured for television drama, which seems to keep people hooked!

 

Matt and I were already living and working in California by the time they wanted to film, so they flew us back to Wisconsin to tour the three properties. My friend’s husband, Gary Dhaliwal, is a fantastic realtor and was kind enough to take a few days off to film with us. The crew was a blast to work with, and thank goodness, because filming takes 5 loooooong days.

I have so much respect for the two builders we met. They had both crafted beautiful tiny houses as side projects, and the creative details they put into the homes were incredible to see in person. They both opened their homes to me, Matt, and the crew for the day of filming, and we felt terrible coming up with negatives about each house. They knew we would not be choosing or buying their tiny house, so hopefully the exposure of the show helps them sell, if they have not already done so.

 

In the end, with a desire to travel frequently, an RV made the most sense. A fifth wheel gave us so much space and storage, and I bought a truck that has no trouble towing it. They are decorated with the worst fabrics on earth, but a quick search of “RV renovations” will show that many RV owners are transforming them into incredible homey spaces. Matt has an amazing daughter that he sees a few times a year, and he was hopefully she could visit us in each new location, allowing her to travel and see new parts of the country. We were excited for the extra bedroom in this floor plan so she could have her own space during visits.

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I’m so glad we started out with a workamping job and were able to adjust to RV life while enjoying southern California for a few months. We drove out west at the end of October 2017, filmed the episode in early December, and by the end of December, Matt and I had split up. It was 100% for the best, and once again, I’m choosing not to share details. He’s a really fun guy that is enjoying life back in Wisconsin these days.

Meanwhile, this twist of events really got me to where I am today. Without his second income, I needed to find a better paying job than workamping. Now I have an amazing remote job that allows me to travel full-time and work flexible days and hours. It also helps having a steady paycheck and benefits. I have adjusted to being a solo traveler, learning how to empty tanks, hook up the truck and RV, and drive it all around the country on my own. Once I was alone I realized I didn’t need as much room and downsized to a smaller 5th wheel in August 2018. I meet new people along the way, and get to visit my friends and family scattered all over the country. I’m now 18 months into this journey and have learned to roll with the ups and downs of RV life.

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I have let go of the idea of planning my life out, which I used to be pretty darn obsessed with. My life entirely fell apart in 2015, and I’m pretty darn happy with how far I’ve come since then. I know I’ll be spending a few months near Denver, CO this summer, but beyond that I have no plans. I don’t know if or when or where I’ll settle down someday, but if I do, I hope it’s on a piece of land with a small house. Then I can finally get back to traveling internationally!

Final Note: Don’t go on television unless you have thick skin. I knew HGTV would edit the 40 hours of filming into a 22-minute episode that more or less makes me look like a delusional idiot with no clue about tiny living. I knew this because that’s what they do with just about every episode. I did not realize humans were awful trolls and would post horrible comments on YouTube. Thankful for my meditation practice to keep negative feelings at bay and supportive friends and family that know I’m not a complete idiot.

 

 

13 States in 6 Months!

Almost 6 months have gone by since I started my second trip of living and traveling full-time in an RV. I have not posted much on the blog this trip, for a multitude of reasons. The main reason is cutting down my screen time. After working all day on a computer, keeping up with social media, and a little Netflix or Hulu in the evenings, I have very little desire to sit and write on my laptop. I have been keeping a personal journal (yay for pen and paper!) to preserve memories and stories, but I figured an update was overdue.

Since I last wrote, I’ve covered a lot of ground. I plan my route based on three main things: visiting friends and family, exploring and hiking in amazing new places, and weather. After recovering from the flash flood in Nashville I ventured south to several parts of Kentucky, visited one of my favorite places in the country- Asheville, NC, and met up with friends in Birmingham, Alabama. Next, I was off to coastal Georgia to reunite with the ocean before bouncing around Florida for 6 weeks.

Florida had some great highlights for this trip. I saw a few friends I had not seen in years, and when we were together it was like no time had passed at all. I visited Captiva Island where my family has history going back four generations, and saw where my grandparents are memorialized in the island cemetery. I spent New Year’s Eve with my friend Daniel and his in-laws, making new friendships I hope will last for a lifetime. It takes a special family to let a stranger park on their land, use their hookups and laundry machines, and invite you for meals and fun outings. They are a fun bunch and it never fails to amaze me how welcoming people have been to me while I travel.

Next, I crossed the Gulf Shores and explored New Orleans, LA for the first time. The food, architecture, and culture are worth the hype that city carries. Then came Texas- the place where I was born! I had not been back since I was 2 or 3, and have no memories of it. In Galveston, I met up with RV friends that I met in Nashville AND met new RV friends passing through! This trip has been far more social than I ever expected. It’s exciting when I meet another person that fully understands the ups and downs of full-time RV life.

Austin and San Antonio were the only cities I ventured into, but they were well worth it for the food and local breweries. Then, FINALLY it was time to head west to wide open spaces! When planning my route last summer, I panicked when I realized how long I would be in congested, heavily-populated areas, and almost reversed the route so I could be out west first. I’m glad I stuck with this route, but was more than ready for big skies and mountains.

Up first: Big Bend National Park! This place is seriously out of the way, but 100% worth it. I loved the Windows trail, but hated the limited cell service and internet connections. I’m thankful my remote job allows me to work flexible days and hours, but it’s still nice to keep up with the workload and emails. After realizing I was staying in the same park as another full-time RV couple, we randomly parked next to each other at a trailhead. We hiked together that day, and had so much fun that we’re still traveling together now!

Guadalupe Mountains on the northern border of Texas wrapped up my month there, but the weather was not nice enough to enjoy all of the park. I never have regrets about leaving something unseen or undone, as it creates a fun feeling of, “I’ll get to that next time I’m there.”

Carlsbad Caverns in southern New Mexico was easier to enjoy during cold weather, as it stays a constant 57* in the caves. Since I had taken the basic tours of Mammoth Cave in Kentucky and Caverns of Sonora in Texas, I challenged myself to the Lower Caves Tour. This included using ropes and ladders to descend further into the cave (a whopping 840 feet), while wearing a helmet and headlamp to explore the incredible formations many visitors do not get to see. Seeing the main parts of the cave with friends the following day was well worth it, and the hike down gives visitors a good feel for the depth (750 feet) that is not captured by taking the elevator. Although, we did take the elevator back UP, because, well, we’re not crazy. Final stops in New Mexico included quick visits to White Sands National Monument and City of Rocks State Park. I say quick because it has been cold and windy all week. It has gotten down into the 20’s many nights, and wind can make any hike pretty miserable.

Next up: Arizona!

Despite that lengthy overview, those are just the highlights. Day to day life keeps moving along nicely. The pets (Sierra, Maddie, Sage and Juniper) are all healthy and loving life on the road. The RV and truck have not given me any issues (quick! Somebody knock on wood!) and my job continues to challenge me, while funding this amazing adventure. I’m currently sitting in my cozy home after a day of work, laundry, and finishing my taxes, enjoying a sleepy cat on my lap and warm fireplace nearby.

Life on the road is pretty spectacular. My closest girlfriends have heard my complaints about how dating on the road is damn near impossible. As much as that is to be expected and I embrace my solo life, there are still times when it would be great to share this adventure with someone. Instead, I get to share it with many someones- friends, friends, fellow travelers, and readers of this blog. And let’s be honest, all four pets sleep in my bed at night- there is no room for anyone else! I’m sure the universe has a special person lined up for me, and he’ll come along when the time is right.

I’m excited for what the next 7 weeks have in store for me- a new state, incredible hikes, and so much more. Then, beginning April 15th I’ll start five months of volunteering in a Colorado State Park. Being on the move every few days gets exhausting after a while. I’m looking forward to having a steady location for a bit, and the community that comes along with that. Plus, educating the public and helping them enjoy a state park?? Yes, please!

 

 

Holy Cow! 100 Days!

I’m well into Trip 2 and decided this was a good time to update the blog.

This trip feels incredibly different from Trip 1 (Oct 2017- July 2018) for so many reasons. Trip 1 started out with a partner along, but that only lasted 2 months. After crossing from Wisconsin to California, I was stationed at the front desk of an RV resort for five months. I really enjoyed getting to live in the RV and making it a home while parked in one place, but five months is too long in one location.

Trip 2 is clearly solo- well, except for the two cats and two dogs! Juniper (June) came on board in Cincinnati, and filled the Iris-shaped hole that was in my heart, after having to put her to sleep just days before leaving on Trip 2. All of the pets adjusted to her presence quickly and she is now a pro at RV life. Thus far, I’ve been in 9 states in 100 days, with my longest stay in one spot lasting only nine days. Oh, and it’s in a new rig! Losing 3,000 pounds and 8 feet of length has improved gas mileage a bit, but I still can’t back the thing up to save my life. Regardless, it has become a comfortable new home that we’ve settled into nicely.

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Juniper is playful and mischievous, but snuggles up on my pillow every night.

Two weeks before I left on Trip 2, I went into a slight panic. I’m really big on planning, but have learned to roll with the punches and adjust my plans accordingly. I started to think that instead of heading east and then south, I should head west and then south. I missed the open landscapes of the west, the endless hiking, the free campsites! In the end I stuck to my original plan (or some version of it) and made my way from Wisconsin -> Michigan -> Ohio -> Kentucky -> Tennessee -> North Carolina -> Tennessee (again) -> Alabama -> Georgia -> Florida. I’m happy with the route because it has allowed me to reconnect with many friends and family along the way, explore new cities, and enjoy the warm Florida temperatures in December.

While my location often changes, day to day life is usually pleasant and low-key. I’ve learned so much in my new position that allows me to work full-time from the road. I’m looking into buying and installing solar panels so I can easily boondock with less use of my generator. I enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner on the tailgate of my truck in Alabama, and will spend Christmas on a quiet farm in Florida. I continue to plan up-coming locations, only to change those plans a half-dozen times, all in an effort to keep things affordable and exciting.

The RV life is ever evolving. I see people on social media who recently started RV/bus/van life, and others who are ready to sell their rigs and settle back into a normal home. I spend a decent amount of time thinking about what it will look like when I’m ready to wrap up RV life, but the “where” and “why” have been elusive thus far. There are plenty of places I still want to see, but the rushed pace of Trip 2 has been exhausting. I have started to considered a part-time workamping job again, if the right one comes along, for the financial savings and sense of community it brings. Or perhaps finding an RV park I really enjoy, and grabbing a part-time job in the area. So many options to consider, and the decisions can feel overwhelming. That’s when it’s time to take a deep breath, look out at the beautiful land I’m parked on, and just enjoy the moment.

Hope everyone has a happy holiday season!

It’s All Fun and Games Until…

…until the RV park you’re happily staying at for a week is under a tornado watch, and then a tornado warning, and then a flash flood warning.

So far my second trip has been easy going and fun. Made my way into a few new states, hiked some great paths, and met up with friends- both old and new. Yesterday (November 4th) was a bit emotional around my home- Sierra, my oldest pooch, turned 11! Extra treats, walks, and snuggles were helpful to distract me from my 3rd Divorceversary. Topped the night off by meeting another couple that full-time RV, and being that we’re all from the great state of Wisconsin, we met at a bar to cheer on the Packers. Lots of fun, despite the loss.

Then today the camp host came to my RV and let me know that the front office building is the storm shelter, in case weather got too bad in the evening. I had no idea bad weather was approaching, so I thanked him, and promptly turned my attention to weather apps on my phone. Sure enough, a cold front was bringing heavy storms from 10pm-1am.

Typically, a weather report isn’t enough to rattle me. Heck, my first week of college at Florida State University (yes, I did attend there for three semesters) bands of Hurricane Katrina were lashing the campus with wind and rain, and I quickly learned that when class is canceled due to a hurricane, giant slip-and-slides are set up by students on the lawn and drunken debauchery commences. But thinking back on every place I’ve ever lived- they all had a basement. Something that I took for granted until today.

Basements are just creepy places where spiders, water heaters, and the furnace from that scene in Home Alone live. Sometimes they have the unfinished steps where someone standing under them can grab your ankles as you walk down the stairs. You know, the stuff nightmares are made of.

But in inclement weather a basement means safety.

Living in an RV is a different thing all together when it comes to bad weather. Literally yesterday I ignorantly asked someone why so many RVs got flooded in Texas. “Your home is on wheels. Just move it.” Seemed logical enough, right?

Tonight I came face-to-face with that reality. Thanks Karma.

When the local sirens went off to signal a Tornado Warning was in effect, I grabbed the dogs and both cat carriers and headed for the shelter. After an hour or so of massive down pours and wind, the warning was lifted and people started to return to their sites. From the people that stayed hunkered down (myself included) a rumor started to circulate that the creek running along the back side of the park would likely flood. I started to notice people racing around in that area of the park, hurrying to get their RVs and vehicles out of harm’s way.

“So, when do I start to pack up? Like, what’s the “go” signal so I know it’s time to move?” I politely asked the ladies at the front office.

“Site 29? I’d start packing up now, just to be safe.”

So I grabbed the cat carriers and both dogs tugging on their leashes (it’s a comical thing to witness, I promise) and we headed for my site.

Well, wouldn’t you know it? The water is already coming up over my super-cute rain boots! Up to my knees, and several inches up on my tires and jacks already.

Ok. Stay calm, Mandi. Pets and go-bag in the truck. Slides in. Stuff off counters. Unhook electric. Unhook wa- ummmm, the water hose is connected to a tap under 18 inches of water- so unhook the hose from the rig while water is spraying everywhere (it’s a flood, so who cares) and leave the hose behind. Back jacks up. Stairs up. Back the truck up to connect the RV to the hitch. Front jacks up. Connect 7 switch and break away cord.

By this point the water is higher than my knees and my boots are full. But we’re safe, and we’re getting out. After we sit in line with everyone else from the park for 25 minutes.

Alas, thanks to the help of volunteers, park staff, local fire and police, I was able to get to higher ground in the industrial park across the street. Which is where I’m parked right now, at 1:15 a.m.

The pets are great travelers, but needless to say tonight was more stressful than usual. They’re all snoring away, and I’m about to hike up to the Front Office to see if they have a plan. I will likely crawl into the RV and sleep a few hours, and decide where to stay tomorrow once the sun is up and I can collect my hose.

Lessons learned: always have a go-bag packed and ready, don’t underestimate weather warnings, and don’t wait until it’s too late to get out! I was really lucky to have taken action when I did, or else I’d be flooded right now. It’s late and I’m pretty shaken up, so I won’t even consider what that scenario looks like. I’m just glad to be safe, and my friends staying in the Nashville area are safe too.

The sun will rise soon, thanks to day light savings, and then I can spend tomorrow stressing over election results. But the light at the end of the tunnel: seeing Amy Schumer Wednesday night at the Ryman Auditorium! Happy early birthday to me!

Oregon, Sweet Oregon

The pacific northwest was my first real case of Fernweh. I loved it for so many reasons before I ever step foot there. When I was 28, my mom and I took a road trip starting in San Francisco, then on to Napa, the Redwoods, Oregon coast, Portland, Seattle, and eventually the San Juan Islands. That trip confirmed my suspicion that the Pacific North West is an incredible place.

Well, let me tell you, my second time in Oregon did not disappoint. They have an ocean, mountains, AND people that care about the environment!? Talk about the full package!

Also, before we get to far, let’s make one thing clear: it’s pronounced /ˈɔːr.ɪ.ɡən/ similar to organ, like the musical instrument or in your body. Not “or-a-gone.”

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It started with a primitive campsite up a gravel road just east of the North entrance to Crater Lake National Park. I was super nervous, as it was my first time using freecampsites.net or a “first come first served” site. With a 40-foot rig, it’s easy to get into a bind. As I bumped my way down the gravel US Forest Service road, I prayed there would be space to camp AND even more important, space to turn around. Getting to a dead end and having to back up a half mile is a scene from my worst nightmare.

Y’all, this water is the blue-est blue that I’ve ever seen. I unknowingly got there the DAY AFTER the North Entrance opened for the season. Had I arrived any sooner, I would have had to back track to the Southern Entrance and put a lot more miles in each day. Again with the luck and good timing! Since my first day was primarily spent driving and pulling off for stunning photos, the second day I was itching for a hike. I brought the dogs with me, and we walked the 9 miles to the Cleetwood Cove Trail, which is the only path to the base of the lake. Sierra, my 10.5 year old pup, was looking tired and sore, so I opted not to add two more miles to our hike by going down to the water. I loved taking in the surreal blue vista, but in all honesty, there wasn’t much else to do in the park. The trips to Wizard Island and boat tours of the lake were not up and running yet for the season and the entire east side of the park was closed due to snow, so two half days were more than enough to see what was open. Maybe I’ll get back someday and experience it more, but I don’t have the same draw to go back like I do with other parks. Quick history lesson: Mount Mazama erupted around 8,000 years ago, an explosion 100 times more powerful than Mount St. Helens in 1980, and created the crater which only gathers water through rain and snow run off, hence, the super clean blue water!

 

“Bend sucks. Don’t move here.” The bumper sticker says it all.

This small town is booming, and the people who live here are seeing the rapid growth create change they didn’t ask for. While some people might try to convince you that the growing population, without job or housing markets to support it, is going to ruin the town, I’m not so sure. Bend is a great mix of outdoor activities, craft breweries, independent shops, and Midwest-caliber friendly people, with the convenience and amenities of a bigger town. Yes, change can be hard but perspective is important. When locals complained about traffic, I couldn’t help but compare it to my own experience of commuting in Chicago which I considered to be 1000x worse. I hope Bend keeps its charm and the housing and job markets evolve in order to keep up with the population. But until then, there’s only one thing you should remember: Bend sucks. Don’t move there.

But if you visit Bend, there is sooooo much to do! Don’t miss driving down the Cascade Lake Scenic Byway, which has stunning views of Mount Bachelor and passes by several lakes, perfect for kayaking. Nearby Sisters has a cute and walkable downtown, and the beer at Three Creeks Brewery is not to be missed. Although I can’t speak from experience, I hear this area is great for skiing and snowboarding as well.

Portland. It’s notoriously weird. A town that has already experienced huge growth in the last decade or so, Portland has sprawling suburbs that provided me with two fantastic places to park for free. First was Hoffman Farm Store, a U-pick berry farm with no hook ups, but plenty of space to walk the dogs and enjoy the country atmosphere. Next up was Tripod Ranch, a beautiful piece of land with llamas, goats, sheep, and chickens, three friendly hosts, hot tub, fire pit, and full hookups- for FREE! I could have stayed here much longer, but alas, it was eventually time to move on. Side note: I spent almost all of my time working, and only went in to Portland once. When trying to stick to a budget, a giant independent bookstore, delicious breweries, and incredible foodie destinations are best avoided.

 

However, a drive in the Columbia River Gorge is completely worth the gas money. Waterfalls are the main attraction, although apparently the wind down the gorge makes it a world class destination for wind surfing. At the end of the drive, I was ready to cross another state border- Washington state, here I come!

 

 

 

Check… Check… Is This Thing On?

Well that was a much longer break that I intended to take. My apologies.

After several wonderful weeks in Oregon and Washington (posts on those to come soon!) I booked it across the northern states at a ridiculous pace in order to be in Wisconsin for part of summer. I love the RV life, but it creates an isolation from my friends and family that is sometimes difficult to accept. Luckily, my house is on wheels, so when my sister reached out to me, I was able to adjust my plans and enjoy stationary life for a while.

This was not without its own complications. Since I’m always on the move and usually stay at free sites, I was not able to stay in the RV while in Wisconsin. Campgrounds and state parks are busy and expensive this time of year! A family member with land graciously allowed me to leave my rig on her land for a while, but with no hook ups, the heat and humidity were too much to handle. Thankfully, I was able to stay with my sister and her family (how nice are they?!) but Shirley was left empty for a while.

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Then I made the decision to downsize to a smaller RV.

I had kept my eye on several dealerships in the area, and when I saw the 32’ KZ Durango at such a great price, I was able to jump on it! It was sad trading in the 40’ Cougar that had been my home for 10 months, but the benefits of less weight, length, and price were too good to turn down. With the RVs parked side by side, my sister and I moved all of my stuff from one to the other (seriously, she’s the best!) and picked through what I could donate or sell in order to live in a smaller space. The quest for minimalism continues!

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The weeks flew by, working during the day and seeing friends and family in my spare time. After living so many places, I really appreciate being in a city that feels somewhat familiar and getting drinks with friends that I’ve known since we were 14. It’s normal to make new friends, and lose some along the way, but I love having a handful of close friends that grew with me over the years. Our friendships have matured, so instead of giggling about boys on the phone at night and trying to score fake IDs, we’re discussing our careers, their children, and politics- and we haven’t been ID’d in years.

“And it’s good, good to be back home. How I missed this time zone. Strangers are exciting, their mystery never ends. But there’s nothing like looking at your own history in the faces of your friends.” –Ani DiFranco, Good Bad Ugly

Since I don’t have any kids, being an auntie has always been an important role in my life. I have five nieces and a nephew, and they are growing up so quickly! Extra time with them this summer meant birthday celebrations, running 5K’s, newly pierced ears, snuggles and stories at bedtime, and backyard campfires! The joy and fun this time brought to my life already has me thinking about how I can spend another chunk of time with them next summer.

The week before I was set to leave on Trip 2, my cat Iris stopped eating. I knew it was a sign that something was wrong with her, so I called my good friend that’s an awesome vet for advice. Her help was appreciated and got her to eat again! Unfortunately it didn’t last and the next day she was even more lethargic. I took her to the vet where they did tests, rehydrated her, and gave her meds. The next day, Iris was still not back to her normal self, and tests indicated she likely had a foreign body blockage (she ate something she shouldn’t have and it was stuck in her guts).

I love my pets and always try to give them good care- annual check-ups, healthy food, clean water, exercise, and love. But I’m also a realist. I rescued all 4 of my pets from shelters, and have a limit to how much I can spend on each of them. In two days, Iris quickly surpassed that limit, and ultrasound + surgery was going to cost several thousand dollars. It’s never easy to lose a pet. It’s a terrible feeling to know that decision was based on finances. It would have been irresponsible of me, in my current financial situation, to go ahead with the surgery. So we snuggled and said our goodbyes. Many tears were shed, and my heart felt heaviest thinking of her littermate Sage, who would never understand why her sister didn’t come home that day.

The next day I had to pick up the new RV from the dealership. Parked on the street of my sister’s neighborhood, I finished packing up and organizing so I could get on the road. Being busy gave me less time to think about how much I missed Iris, but it wasn’t easy. The next morning came quickly, and after lengthy “see-you-laters” with my sister and her amazing family, I was driving off and starting Trip 2 of my RV adventure.

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First stop: Washington Island, Wisconsin

The Times Are Hard For Dreamers

Anyone that knows me can tell you that I don’t have a filter. Often, what goes through my mind comes out of my mouth. It’s something I’ve been working on for years, but impulsive thoughts or opinions still come out from time to time. Along those same lines, I do not believe in making my life look all shiny and sparkly on social media. I’ve had a particularly rough day, and I’m ready to vent. #nofilter

Recently, a few challenges have been wearing down my patience. First up: the cons of boondocking. There are many, many pros to boondocking, but that’s for another day. As much as I absolutely LOVE to find free places to park, there are challenges to not having hookups (water, electric, and sewer. Not having the other kind of hookup is an entirely different problem that I will likely not get into, because my parents read my blog, and I’m working on that whole filter thing.)

Not having electric isn’t a huge deal, because I have a great generator to keep my laptops and phone charged, a key to working remotely. Water is more challenging, because it means filling several jugs whenever possible, and not doing simple things like dishes, showering, or cooking.

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This little guy (Honda 2200) keeps my rig and devices charged like a pro!
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The less glamorous side to boondocking includes a build up of dishes. I struggle to use disposable items because it creates needless garbage.

I was recently in Bend, Oregon and going into town every day to work and then enjoy some breweries. But I was on Day 8 of not showering. A lot of campers use body wipes, which only go so far. I actually scheduled a haircut just so someone would wash my hair and I could feel human again. My other options: truck stop (safe? clean?), day pass to a gym (this might work in the future with some planning), or troll Tinder for a person that will let me shower at their place (safe? clean?). I’ve since heard that a lot of state parks have shower facilities, so again, that might work in the future. Luckily, my good friend and boss is amazing and reached out to his mother-in-law who lives in the area. I hadn’t seen her in a few years but she graciously welcomed me into her home to shower, and then we went to lunch. It was a real treat, and saved me from some nightmare Tinder dates. Side note: If you’re ever near Sisters, OR check out the Three Creeks Brew Pub- great food, beer, and atmosphere!

Ok, deep breath. We’ll get through this rant together.

Challenge number two: life on the road can get really lonely. I’m an introvert so alone time is crucial to my happiness, but sometimes there’s just too much of it. Although I meet a ton of nice people at each location, I’m leaving them within a few days. I also appreciate the digital community of other RVers, travelers, etc. on social media but again, not many meaningful, lasting relationships. My true friendships are reduced to phone calls and texts right now, and that can be difficult. Long distance relationships, whether they’re romantic or otherwise, take a lot of work.

Solo (single) traveler problems exist too. Sometimes life on the road would just be easier if I had a partner along for the ride. I’d be able to safely back up my rig, divide and conquer the chores, and share amazing experiences with someone. When I’m overwhelmed, it would be nice to have someone else take the lead and the pressure off of me. Someone to share the expenses, and the mental burden of problem solving new issues or planning a route and places to stay. But life on the road proves to be impossible for dating. I’ve been known to move quickly in relationships before, but meeting, falling in love, and moving into an RV in the span of four days before I move on to the next location? Not gonna happen. (Although having a silly crush on someone never hurt anybody.) And at this point, the only hookups I have any interest in are 50amp.

Alright, we’re almost done with my complaining post.

The last 24 hours have been ROUGH. It’s a beautiful weekend on the cusp of summer, and RVers are out in full force. I’m finding out that many non-RVers lack patience on the road, often cutting me off, or not letting me into a lane (I KNOW YOU SAW MY TURN SIGNAL ON!) While driving through Salem, OR I missed my exit THREE times because it comes up fast and people do not let you over. When you miss a turn in an RV, the GPS wants you to U-turn, which is laughable towing a 40-ft rig. Instead, you go around a few blocks if you’re lucky, and tour the entire west side of Salem if you’re unlucky. After the third time, I was almost in tears.

Once out of the city, I was on country roads, which were narrow, twisty, and full of hills. Driving safely (ie the speed limit or 5-8 mph over) caused a long line of cars behind me to get annoyed, since there were few places to pass me safely. Shout out to California for having so many turn-outs where I was able to safely pull over and let the crowds pass. So far this concept seems to have eluded Oregon.

Yesterday, my location took a lot of maneuvering to get in and out of the designated space, which is crazy stressful. I never want to run over a host’s plants or smack into a fence, and I definitely don’t want to scratch up or dent my rig. So when I showed up to my new location this morning, the space was even tighter, and there was no room to turn around. It’s probably my own fault that I don’t feel comfortable backing up my rig without assistance, but I was in no mood for a tricky spot without a turn around. I called my next location, and asked if I could come in a day early. Luckily, they had plenty of room, and I’m now parked on a berry farm in a huge field where unhooking and turning around will be easy. Phew!

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Parked on a berry farm in northwest Oregon. Great spot with lots of room.

Life will have stressful situations, problems will arise, and things will go wrong. That’s the case whether you live in a house, apartment, RV, or yurt, because that’s just life. I was never under the impression that I would lead a worry-free or problem-free life on the road. And honestly, my problems have been extremely minimal. Truck and RV repairs, vet visits, health issues… things could be much worse.

But sometimes I wake up in a grumpy mood, and my window is still broken from the dog busting through it last week, and a cat has learned how to open the screen door and escape, and my tailgate falls open and dents the front of the RV, and I’m getting a zit on my chin that really hurts, and I need to do a month’s worth of laundry, and I keep crossing that damned Pacific Crest Trail, and gas prices are about to go up, and I hit a chipmunk AND a squirrel within a mile of each other more than a week ago and still feel badly, and I need good wifi to bust out a ton of work hours, and the bills are all due this week, and I’m tired, and hungry, and miss my friends and family.

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The busted window (thankfully the glass is fine!) is held in place by duct tape. I’m the kind of girl the buys purple duct tape, because broken things deserve to be pretty too.
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It’s only an inch or two long, but it’s the RV’s first crack, thanks to my truck’s tailgate.

So I’ll take a few more deep breaths. I’ll meditate, call my sister, walk my dogs and snuggle the cats, and enjoy the world around me. I’ll remember to count my blessings, let the little stuff roll off my back, and turn the music up loud- a dance party can fix almost any bad mood.

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Bonus! A fresh apple turnover and Pie Crust Treats (I don’t know what they are but I’m excited to find out!) from the farm I’m parked at!

Yosemite.

Yosemite.

Back in October, I purchased a National Parks Pass for the budget-friendly price of $80 for a year of unlimited National Park access. Road trips to see the National Parks are common, and the crowds can be brutal during peak season- but this one was oh sooooo worth it.

While the huge expanse of wilderness (747,956 acres!) deserves at least a week-long visit, I only had two days and was prepared to make the most of it. Waking up around 5am is the norm in my household (or, um… RVhold?), thanks to an aging dog with an affinity for vomiting if not fed promptly. Normally I’d dive right back into bed and get a few more hours of sleep but not today! I hit the road and crossed into the park well before the rangers were posted at the entrance stations. You’re welcome to enter the park 24/7, so this wasn’t a problem. This “early bird gets the worm” strategy paid off handsomely and I highly recommend it if you’re unable to stay inside the park.

Driving into the valley provides stunning views with frequent pull-offs for snapping selfies with picturesque mountains in the background.

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The campground host suggested I hike the Mist Trail up to Vernal Falls to start the day, and continue on to Nebraska Falls if I was feeling ambitious. The trail was 3.4 miles to the summit of Nebraska Falls, but the distance does not even begin to capture the vertical climb over loose rocks that is required to reach the top. As an armature hiker, I will easily admit that this hike kicked my butt, but again, was soooooo worth it.

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Soaking wet after passing through the mist of Vernal Falls. 
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Several bridges cross over the rushing river below. 
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These feet needed a rest. 

I made it to the top in two hours, and enjoyed the view from the top for about a half hour. The hike back down seemed easier since I was high on the views and had accomplished my goal of the summit. Also, encouraging other hikers on their way up is great fun. “You’re almost there! You’re doing great!” as you hear a group deciding if they can make it to the top or not. In addition to the mounting pain of my knees and toes being shoved into the tip of my boots with each step, the crowds got heavier and heavier as I crossed Vernal Falls again. Small children, selfie sticks, and strollers littered the path and made the end of the trail unbearable.

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“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.” -John Muir
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Beautiful view from the top! I’m not a fan of edges where you can easily fall several hundred feet to your death, but this picture was worth conquering that fear (sorry mom!)
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Credit goes to these boots- comfy and reliable on rough trails- no sprained ankles yet!

From there I hopped on the popular (and free!) bus system that loops around the valley with many stops to get on and off as you please. The various stops provide many vistas from different perspectives, along with bathrooms, food vendors, and gift shops. Side note: there’s an actual grocery store with a solid selection of food and booze, because so many workers live in the Valley all season. I skipped the long fast food line and made myself a little picnic, which was shoved into my face so fast I can’t even remember what I ate. No one likes a hungry hiker.

Day 2 started just as early, but my aching legs were glad to spend most of the day in the truck. I took the road to Tunnel View, Bridalveil Falls, and Glacier Point. The parking lots were still fairly empty and lots of space to walk around and enjoy the nature without people bumping into each other.

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Bridalveil Falls
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View from Glacier Point. Half Dome on the left, Vernal and Nevada Falls to the right, and Sierra Mountains in the background. 

History Lesson: John Muir (renowned naturalist, well known for saying things like, “In every walk in nature one receives far more than he seeks” and “The mountains are calling and I must go”) took President Theodore Roosevelt to Glacier Point and they camped under the sequoias at Mariposa Grove in 1903, which led to California ceding the land to the National Park System in 1906. Politics were put aside so he could experience the wilderness and understand the threats facing it. Roosevelt was responsible for creating five National Parks and is well-known for his conservation efforts.

Overall, this park is DEFINITELY worth a visit. I’m glad I went in the shoulder season, and don’t think I’d be able to handle the summer rush. I’d also try to camp inside the park next time, although that takes far more planning than I’m capable with my nomadic life. Finally, I should apologize, because my phone photos absolutely do not do the place justice. Similar to the Grand Canyon, seeing a picture is just not the same as seeing such vast wilderness with your own eyes. Smelling the pine trees, getting soaking wet on the Mist Trail as if you were sitting front seat on a Log Ride, and having neck cramps from staring up at the waterfalls for too long- these things should be experienced in first person, and I hope you get there some day!

“Few places in this world are more dangerous than home. Fear not, therefore, to try the mountain passes. They will kill care, save you from deadly apathy, set you free, and call forth every faculty into vigorous, enthusiastic action.” –John Muir

Three Weeks In…

How in the world has it been three weeks since I left Sky Valley??? I’ve seen so much in such a short amount of time. Let’s review, shall we?

Sky Valley —> Ventura (191 miles) —> Acton (86 miles) —> Bakersfield (96 miles) —> Lake Isabella (38 miles) —> Sequoia (155 miles) —> Merced (90 miles) —> Yosemite (54 miles) —> Lodi (88 miles)    Phew! And those are just the miles I’ve gone while towing the rig. A total of 798 miles in just 3 weeks!

This frantic pace won’t always be the norm for me, but California has so much to see! Unfortunately, the RV park prices reflect the popularity of the state, and it will hopefully be the most expensive portion of my journey for a while.

I can’t shake the feeling of being incredibly lucky- both to be on this journey, and in the day-to-day happenings. Laverne and Shirley have been holding up great, even when I take them on winding mountain roads that are under a wind advisory. The pets are all doing great so far- the dogs love exploring the new areas and sit nicely in the back seat when I’m driving. The cats- well, they haven’t escaped into the wilderness yet, so I’m calling it a win. Even my timing has been wonderful. The weather is gorgeous and the summer crowds haven’t hit yet.

Parking along Lake Isabella was the first time I spontaneously changed my plans from one campground to another, and I’m so glad I did. I had made reservations at a state park, but when I got there it was deserted and closely resembled a parking lot with weeds growing everywhere. The kind of place you expect to see drug paraphenalia laying around and stray cats begging for scraps at the fish cleaning station. I had a bad gut feeling about the place, and so I ventured back in the direction I had come. There had been signs for other campgrounds, and they were right on the edge of the lake. Even though I could see neighbors in either direction, they were a solid 150+ yards away. I love these pictures and how small they make my rig look!

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The sun creates so many different moods throughout the day.

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Days later, I only had a few hours to enjoy Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, which was disappointing, but better than nothing. So I made my way into Kings Canyon, saw the 3rd largest tree in the world, hiked around and took some pictures. I was ready to be on my way. At the intersection of the road into Sequoia (the parks are adjacent to each other) a friendly motorist flagged me down and told me the road into Sequoia was closed. I was MAJORLY bummed. There are no alternative routes or detours, just a locked gate to the road. I figured, I could drive a few miles and maybe take a few more pictures before running into the locked gate. While I was pulled over on the side of the road to capture some beautiful scenery, a Park Ranger truck drives by. Well wouldn’t you know it? He was going to unlock the gate to the road into Sequoia! I seriously couldn’t believe my luck or timing. I only hope the friendly motorist tried the road again later that day. Needless to say, the second park was fantastic as well. I saw the largest tree in the world (by volume) and hiked on some great paths. It was well worth waking up before the sun that day, and as I left the parks, I knew without a doubt I’d return some day to spend more time than a few hours enjoying the sites.

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My neck hurt from looking up so much this day!

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Walking inside an ancient fallen tree.
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It’s blurry, but gives you a good idea of the scale of these massive trees!

I recently joined a camping club called Harvest Host ($49/year) which has about 600 farms, wineries, and museums that welcome RVers to stay overnight at no cost. There are rarely hook ups, but a safe and interesting location is always worth the trouble of boondocking. The first one I enjoyed, Vista Ranch and Cellars, had beautiful grounds with wild flowers, gardens of produce, rows and rows and rows of almond trees, and I stumbled upon (literally, I stumbled- there was a lot of wine that night) a labyrinth! This random discovery warmed my heart and made me think of the wonderful Holly Bendz. As I slowly walked the winding path, I expressed gratitude to God, spirits, angels, etc. for bringing me on this journey and asked for safety as I continue.

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My second Harvest Host stay was at Harmony Wynelands in Lodi, CA. The vineyards that surrounded my rig were heavenly. I’ve been able to work from my RV or their patio, enjoying their lush gardens and grape vines that stretch out in every direction. The estate zinfandel is delicious, and the winemaker is super nice (and easy on the eyes)! The problem with these “free” stays is that you are expected to buy some wine, and damn it, the things for sale in their tasting room were just too wonderful to pass up.

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When I see something like this, I know I’m in exactly the right place at exactly the right time.
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A beautiful setting to work in for a few days.
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When boondocking, I use as little electricity as possible- reading a book by the light of the setting sun with a view of a vineyard was incredible.
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The view from my bedroom window as the sun was rising today. Not too shabby.

It’s comforting to know I’ve got the hang of this whole Rv’ing thing down. Well, for the most part. I’ve made my fair share of mistakes, and had plenty of laughs at myself. But I know these first three weeks have only been a small taste of what’s in store for me. Reality kicks in as I realize campground prices are hurting my budget, and I have three weeks of laundry to do at my next location. I should probably get to a grocery store at some point too.

For now, the mountains are calling, and I must go.

(Up next: Yosemite! Which deserves its own post.)

 

 

Bon Voyage!

It’s the end of the busy season here at Sky Valley Resort, where I’ve lived and worked for the last 6 months. The year-round residents and workers are used to the ebb and flow of the high and low season, but for me, finishing up my first season of workamping brings with it anxiety and excitement. In just a few days I’ll be taking off for an adventure of full-time travel and working remotely. That was the ultimate goal, when I first bought the RV, but now it was actually happening. It’s like when the Momma Bird pushes the Baby Bird out of the nest, because, damn it, you’re ready to fly.

I went into over drive mode making to-do lists and attempting to organize the tasks that needed to get done before I could leave. Change of address form- check! Move items so nothing bounces around the rig while on the road- check! Buy a generator and learn how to operate it- check!

Say goodbye to the amazing people that have been loving, supportive, helpful, and generous to me over the last six months. That was a rough one to check off, but it had to be done. (Except for the Bendz family, in which case, it was more of a “I’m refusing to say good-bye because I hope to see you again soon” situation.)

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Ray from the Office
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Co-worker Lisa
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Bendz Family
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Tom helped me hook-up the truck and RV
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Dana taught me essential RV skills
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Checking the pressure on all 8 tires before taking off!

One burning question is still looming in the air, even on the night before I leave Sky Valley: where are you going next?

My best answer for a while was, “North.” But apparently my GPS did not recognize this as a location, and I had to narrow it down. After hours of research and crunching the numbers, I ended up heading for Ventura, California, about 75 miles north of LA. I will fully admit to being nervous as heck as I pulled out of the park, driving WAY below the speed limit down the main road. But once I got on the highway it was smooth sailing. My playlist for the drive included songs like, The Long Way Around and Wide Open Spaces (Dixie Chicks), Face Up and Sing (Ani DiFranco), Since U Been Gone (Kelly Clarkson), Shake It Out (Florence + The Machine), Extrordinary (Liz Phair), and Girl On Fire (Alicia Keys), among many others. Basically, I was pumped up and empowered AF, and the dogs were great back-up singers.

I had been told there was a stretch of road along the coast where RVs can park for a few days, without hookups, for $30/night. Well, Laverne and Shirley fall into the “Beast” category and did not fit into one of those spaces. So a friendly guy suggested I try Emma Wood Beach State Park a few miles further south. Turns out, this was a fabulous suggestion!

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View of the beach at Emma Wood Beach State Park
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Beautiful sunset
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Laverne and Shirley are parked just a few feet from the Pacific Ocean

For $40/night (no hook ups) I was parked along the west coast with the constant sound of crashing waves to sooth my nerves. The scenery was incredible, especially for someone that just spent six months in a dry, dusty desert. Walks along the beach, working with an incredible view from my “office,” and officially boondocking for the first time- it was a great few days!

For the non-RV crowd reading this, boondocking is when you’re not hooked up to electric, water, or sewer. I had to bring drinking water and have some water in Shirley’s fresh water tank (I could avoid showering and doing dishes, but water is necessary for flushing a toilet and washing hands). My generator would keep the rig’s battery charged so my phone and laptops would continue to work, and I could use lights at night if needed. However, the use of AC, television, and microwave are not suggested. This is all fine by me since I grew up tent-camping and can easily get by without TV or AC! The black tank would just have to wait until I got to a place where I could dump it. Thankfully, all went well, and I feel like I earned a Girl Scout badge for accomplishing it all on my own.

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This girl is unstoppable.
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At 10.5 years old, Sierra has lived in 6 states and loves beaches!

While this location was amazing, it was a bit pricey (ideally, boondocking locations are free). While on the road I’m determined not to get too comfortable with any one place, and not be sad when it’s time to move on. So I once again made sure everything was packed up, the dogs jumped up into the truck, and we took off for the next location! Bon Voyage!