Saturday, February 27, 2016

2nd Anniversary and Quartzsite Wrap-up

Two years ago this week we drove out of Wisconsin for the last time as residents. It is hard to believe we have been on the road for two years. We have traveled from east coast to west coast and Mexico to Canada several times over. We have seen some incredible sites and met some great friends. If you were to ask us two years ago what we expected in this new lifestyle, we would have almost described what really happened to a “T”. So far it is pretty much what we envisioned. Year one found us traveling way too much racking up over 11,500 miles. This past year, although we slowed it down a little, we still covered just over 7,000 miles. This is a few thousand more than we had originally planned.

But plans change… you may recall, we started out this year planning to workamp in several western states mapping BLM roads with some friends of ours. Within a few weeks we determined two things; one, we just weren’t happy with the thought of doing this for 20 weeks. The work as not bad and we really enjoyed spending time with our friends, but not something we were ready for. In hindsight maybe we should have stuck it out. But the second factor was pulling us in another direction….the lakes and woods of Ontario were calling us. The thought of not spending the summer fishing and exploring the north woods were too much so we pulled up stakes and headed to our home away from home Pasha Lake Cabins. This little “detour” added over 2,000 miles to our annual total.

One of the biggest unknowns before hitting the road was how much we would spend each year. I always appreciated it when I found someone who shared their expenses so we will share ours for those who may be interested. Expense-wise we overspent our budget again spending over $58,000 this year (March ’15 to March ’16). This is about $10,000 more than we had originally budgeted.  Our single largest expense was truck and trailer payments. This is one thing we struggled with before hitting the road, to pay off these items or make payments. We met with our financial advisor….. since the interest on these loans were so low (1.48%) we decided to leave the money invested. Our next largest expense was our grocery store/Walmart/Target expenses coming in at $7,400. Our other larger categories included; Fuel $6,300 and Health Care $5,200.  Campground fees was a win again this year totaling $1,668 or $4.57/day. The solar system is really paying for itself!
We continue to ask ourselves the question….How long are we going to do this? So far the answer has been the same. For the foreseeable future. Right now we have tentative travel plans through 2018. That said, we continue to evaluate each area we visit to see if it is where we would like to settle down when the time is right. One thing we do know is that we would still travel part time. Another question we ask ourselves is do we want to travel primarily in the winter or summer? The answer will definitely influence where we look for property. After all, who wants to summer in the south and travel north during the winter? This question seems to be answering itself……As there are only two areas so far that have made our “short list” those being back to Wisconsin and the Black Hills of South Dakota meaning we would travel in the winter.

But back to the present….We have come to the end of our 10 week stay here in the Quartzsite desert. Overall it was a great experience. We had an initial plan to stay in the area for 4 weeks than move on to Joshua Tree, Salton Sea, Tucson and a few other areas to break up the winter. We even went as far as putting these locations and travel dates on our calendar. I was looking at our calendar the other day and told Barb, “We are supposed to be in Joshua Tree!”  We were enjoying our time here so much that we totally forgot that we were going to move.

Not only were we busy and enjoying ourselves, we saved some money along the way. Over the past 10 weeks we saved $2,000 over of what we would have normally spent. We did not scrimp or live meagerly, we still went out to eat about once a week, where we saved most of our money was in fuel costs. We only spent $210 total in the past two and a half months here where our average the rest of the year was $610/month.

Will we come back here next year? Yes! Our advice to anyone thinking of spending more than a few weeks down here…… bring a jeep or 4 wheeler. We explored hundreds of miles of BLM roads while geocaching, heading to hiking areas or just plain exploring. Without these, it would have been difficult to impossible to do many of the things we did which would have been a much longer winter!

The most surprising thing about the past 10 weeks was the friends we met and reconnected with. We never imagined how social staying in Quartzsite can be. We could have literally planned something every day with others if we wanted to. From happy hours, hiking, geocaching, road trips to things as simple as going shopping or doing laundry. You really have to pace yourself otherwise you could overdo it and burn yourself out.

Speaking of social events, I think this past week may have been the busiest of all! Lee and Tracy, Greg and Cori have returned bringing with them Bill and Kelly who we had met last spring in Florida! They arrived Tuesday afternoon so Red and Pam hosted a neighborhood wienie roast to welcome them. (Thanks to Steve and Dianne for the pictures!)
Red grill'in with Pam posing in the background!

Wednesday, Barb, Lisa, Pam, Dianne and Kelly went to their last line dancing class. These weekly classes were a lot of fun, they did not take it too seriously and spent most of their time laughing at themselves. That afternoon Barb and I went on the Palm Canyon hike with Lee and Tracy. They had wanted to do it last time they were here but time got away from us. This time we were going to make it happen! They were not sure if they wanted to go all the way to the palms or just to the lookout area. They said they would decide when they got there. This is the 4th time we have made this hike and the beauty and enormity of this canyon never ceases to amaze us. It is fun to take other people there for the first time and see their reactions. Lee and Tracy did not disappoint and they were equally as impressed. We made our way to the palm lookout. As we were looking up at the palms in the distance, Lee said “Let’s go for it!” So up we went! Contrary to what Tracy might think, I did not try and push her off the cliff or roll a boulder on her....It was a great hike and one I don’t think they will forget soon. (Thanks for Tracy for these pictures!)
Barb and Lee headed up

Tracy squeezing through a crevice

Almost there........
Barb was all smiles......
Tracy really liked this rock!

Made it!!!!!
That night we took Steve and Dianne out to dinner at Grubstake as kind of a thank you for everything they had done for us over the past 10 weeks; watching Daisy, the 4 wheeler rides, geocaching adventures and showing us the ropes during our first year here at Quartzsite. Grubstake has good food and reminds us of a typical bar back in Wisconsin! (I did a horrible job taking pictures this week, I stole almost every photo from Steve and Dianne!)

You would think that those were enough events for the week right? But wait, there’s more!!!!! Thursday morning found us getting ready for our last 4 wheeler/geocaching ride with Steve, Dianne, Red and Pam. We found 35 caches, Pam got her first trackable, we brought our total caches to 313 and Steve and Dianne broke 1,000! It was a great season with these guys.
Barb, Daisy and I riding by!

Red and Pam off to find another one....

Celebrating Steve and Dianne's 1000th cache!
That night was the 200th episode of The Big Bang Theory so we had a party! (I know, any reason to have a party) We all gathered at Greg and Cori’s for appetizers before the big event. At 7:00 we all gathered around their outdoor TV to watch the show. A great time was had by all!

Everybody gathered around Greg and Cori's rig waiting for the big show

Harry, Bill and Kelly getting some grub
Show time!
 Friday found Barb doing laundry while I started packing things up around the rig getting ready for our departure. That evening Dino and Lisa made us dinner consisting of a rack of ribs, baked potatoes and tater tots! I had mentioned that I was craving tater tots so Lisa baked up a batch.

Saturday, our last day here went out with a bang. Another couple, Ben and Jo arrived in our little community. We met then last year in Florida as well. That night everyone (and I mean everyone) got together for a taco/margarita/80’s dance party. I think Tracy was trying to convince me that 80’s music was not so bad after all. Bill was the official bartender and made sure that nobody's  drink ever went empty.

Lisa getting a margarita from Bill

Welcome to Jo (Payten) and Ben

Tracy, Kelly, Pam and Cori out on the "dance floor"

Dianne taking care of some bills she recently received in the mail!
We actually lasted to the end of the party and were not the first ones to leave having an absolute blast!!! It was a great way to say goodbye to all our friends, goodbye to our familiar landscape with Abe and the running horse and to our little rock yard which had been our home for the past 10 weeks…..until next year…..

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

How we Survived a Week Without the Internet (well kinda)

You don’t realize how much you will miss the ones you love until you lose them. Sometimes you don’t even realize how much love you have given until you experience such a loss. This week I experienced a loss that pretty much turned our world upside down. Before I go on, let me say Daisy is fine and as far as we know our friends and family are doing well. That said, we were in mourning and were left lost despondent and wandered the streets of Quartzsite totally out of touch with the rest of the world. The loss I am referring to is our Verizon Jet Pack!

Wednesday started like any other Wednesday…… Barb and the girls went to line dancing followed by a lazy afternoon, happy hour and dinner. That night Barb was working on our Alaska trip, I watched a little TV and we checked the internet to see what was going on in the outside world before we turned in. Everything was going well, nothing too exciting going on…..we turn off the computers, turn off the Jet Pack and go to bed. Our morning routine is breakfast, news on the TV and turn on the internet to see what we missed overnight (really pathetic when you think about it). When I went to turn on the Jet Pack…..nothing, would not even turn on. Well, that’s weird I thought it was fully charged. Well, I will just plug it in and turn it on….still nothing. It must really be dead, I will let it charge for a few minutes and try again. 30 minutes later, still nothing. Now I am starting to panic! I take out the battery, look it at (actually I did this twice), put it back in….nothing. OMG, we have a crisis on our hands! How can we even start to think we will make it through the day? What if someone emails us, someone messages us on Facebook or heaven forbid, we miss a really inspirational quote someone posts! The world as we know it has changed in an instant!

Luckily we had a full day planned and we were able to put it out of our minds. Our friends Dave and Maxine were stopping by on their way through the area to their BLM mapping job just east of here. We had not seen them since last spring and it was great seeing them. Of course we had to have a neighborhood happy hour to greet them!

Dave and Maxine along with Vicky and Harry
The next day, Kevin and Cathy from Wisconsin flew into Phoenix and were coming to visit! They arrived shortly after noon, Kevin got out of his car and said “I want to go Jeeping!”. Kevin had sold me his jeep shortly before we hit the road and he has been jeep-less ever since. So we took the top off the jeep, I tossed Kevin the keys, and the four of us piled in.

We had a great ride through the foothills of the mountains and even saw several Desert Bighorns!

That night we went to dinner at Heaven’s Kitchen, a BBQ rib place in Quartzsite. The food was very good and I would highly recommend this place. Afterward we went to Dino and Lisa’s and had a nice fire before we turned in. We gave Kevin and Cathy our bed while Barb and I slept on the blowup mattress in the couch. We were actually quite impressed at how comfortable that mattress is. After some visiting and 4 wheeling that morning, Kevin and Cathy left to visit other friends and family in Phoenix and Tucson.

That evening Dino and Lisa hosted happy hour!

Daisy and Moose were the center of attention!
So far we were surviving life without internet….we had missed a couple of messages from our desert neighborhood friends but the world was still turning. We were planning on a road trip to the Yuma Verizon store early next week. After a lazy Saturday morning we headed over to McDonald’s for…. their free wifi! So there we sat absorbed electronics, eating our lunch with the rest of the “disconnected”. Two hours later we were all caught up with the world (emails, Facebook, blogs…..) and ready to continue with our lives. One thing we forgot to do was look up how to get a new Jet Pack! Later that afternoon we found out that is a Verizon store in Blythe and would could have gotten a new on that afternoon!!!!!
Sunday…..Verizon closed. We stayed home most of the day and read, totally oblivious to what may be going on in the internet world. 

Monday we had a day trip planned to Joshua Tree National Park with Dino and Lisa. So leaving Daisy in the care of Auntie Dianne, we headed west for the 90 mile drive to Joshua Tree. High winds were forecasted for the day and they forecasted right….. there was a “brown out” from all the dust in one area and the wind was so strong it blew over a semi-truck along the way!

The winds really blew up a dust storm.....

.......and blew over this truck!

We had no idea what to expect of Joshua Tree so we set our expectations pretty low. Well, let me tell you Joshua Tree is very cool! We entered the south entrance and went directly to the Visitors Center where Barb picked up a National Parks Passport book. This small book is a guide to the national parks with maps, information and a listing of all National Parks in America. Each park has rubber ink stamps indicating the date and park location so you can stamp each park on the appropriate page recording the date you visited. We would love to visit all 58 Nation Parks but there are a few that would really be a challenge….Hawaii and U.S. Virgin Islands would be tough.

Our first passport stamp!
Passport in hand, we set off to see the park! The southern end is rather arid with a lot of desert features. As we progressed north and climbed elevation we really started to notice the changes in the rock formations from jagged rocks to smooth, rounded rocks which made for some excellent photo ops.
Many of the Cholla had buds on them

Do'in a little rock climbing!

Great example of a Joshua Tree


Barb captured a picture of this lizard......
....and this rabbit.

Lisa sitt'in on a rock!

Lots of Joshua Trees

We spent most of the day driving through the area with the promise to be back when we can spend more time and do some hiking amongst the hills and rocks. That night was a full moon and I had been working on my moon photos over the past week so we went out later that night for a few shots.

Tuesday morning I woke up just as the sun was coming over the horizon. It was going to be a glorious day, it was Verizon day! After breakfast and Daisy’s morning walk we head off to Blythe to see about a new Jet Pack. We arrived at the Verizon store, gave them our information and guess what? We qualified for an upgrade!!!! For only $20 more dollars a month we can get a new iPhone. That would also require a new contract which would end our $15 a month credit on our existing device. So this “upgrade” would cost us $35 more a month. No thanks, we just want to replace the Jet Pack and be on our way. No problem the clerk says, then Barb asks “Can we get more gigs and pay the same amount?” The clerk plays with the computer and says that she can give us 3 more gigs per month and lower our bill by $5 per month. Ya, we will go with that deal, more gigs, less money. A few minutes later we were on the road with our new Jet Pack…..Thus ending my week from hell without the internet.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Alaska Travel Plans Revealed!

I mentioned in a previous post that Barb has been busy planning and putting details to our Alaska travel plans for the summer. Although it will probably change slightly from here to there I think it is to the point that we can share it!
But first, what have we been doing for excitement this week? With temperatures in the low to mid 80’s it was mostly fun in the sun in the morning and early afternoons and then hiding in the shade later in the afternoon.

How about a Desert Bar run with Red (Pam stayed home to watch everyone’s pets since it was so hot) Vicky and Harry, Steve and Dianne, Dino and Lisa as well as Richard? The place was absolutely packed! Note to self, check website to see if there are special events going on the weekend you plan on going. You see, this was Desert Dash weekend at the Desert Bar, when we got there the parking lot was full even before they opened. We did manage to find a parking spot out on the outer edge right next to Harry who had a flat tire! Luckily it was the outer tire on his rear dually and we got it changed in short order.
Don't think they can patch that one!

It was packed!!!
Clockwise....Red, Harry, Rick, Dino, Lisa, Me, Barb, Vicky, Dianne and Steve
Or how about a road trip to Mexico? Dino and Lisa had never been to Mexico so with passports in hand and Daisy over at Auntie Dianne’s and Uncle Steve’s for the day, we took the short 90 minute drive to Los Algodones Mexico. Arriving in Yuma we stopped at Target so the girls could use the restroom one last time before hitting the boarder. After waiting what we thought was an unusually long time Dino and I FINALLY see the girls emerging out the front doors, but wait….. is Barb wearing a new top? Why yes, yes she is….apparently the one she had started out with in the morning just wasn’t going to cut it. Note to self… time we stop for a bathroom break do it at a sporting goods store.

Los Algodones caters to Americans needing dental work, eyeglasses, liquor and prescription drugs and was absolutely packed! No dental work for us this year, my crowns from last year are holding up well. We were down here for the drugs, liquor and the pure entertainment of watching the look on Dino and Lisa’s faces as they walked the streets of Mexico experiencing the onslaught of beggars and vendors. We walked the sidewalks checking out the street vendors wares. The vendors usually start at about double what you can get it for so negotiation is the name of the game. Dino picked up a leather holster while Lisa picked up some ironwood carvings and a jacket.
Pretty much anything you need, no prescription required!

This is where I had my dental work done last year

Sidewalks were filled with vendors

 Next up was lunch at Pueblo Viejo and a stop at the Purple Pharmacy and Liquor store. Barb and I had lunch here last year and it was pretty good. This time however, it was underwhelming and disappointing. At purple stores we each picked up a bottle of liquor for less than $10, a couple of Z packs, ibuprofen, Benadryl and melatonin. The prices down there are unbelievable with the average price of a bottle being about $3-4. We had to stand in line for about an hour on the way back through the border....luckily we had plenty of street vendors along the line to say "no" to the entire time!
Like Barb's new top?

Dino checking out "Anima" magazine

Ugh! Long line to get across the border.....

From the back of the line
 Note #2 to self…..when you tell your daughter you are going to Mexico for the day make sure you call her when you get back and don’t leave your phone in the truck so you don’t get her texts and panicked voicemails wondering if you made it back alive….Oops, our bad. When we did not get her call until the next day. She even Googled Steve and Dianne’s blog to call them to see if we were alive!

Now, on to our Alaska itinerary!
Our plan is to leave Salt Lake mid-April and slowly work our way west and north with stops in Redding California, Cave Junction, Grants Pass and Florence Oregon to visit some of Barb’s relatives. Continuing north through Washington we plan on stopping at various lighthouses before crossing into British Columbia where our first major stop will be at Fort Langley where we will stop and visit Steve and Dianne for a few days!

First leg up the west coast
 Then it is off northward to Prince George, Dawson Creek and onward with major stops at Liard Hot Springs, Watson Lake, Whitehorse (stock up on groceries) and Skagway where we will take our first ferry ride over to Haines then north to Haines Junction where we have read that wildlife is abundant. 
Through BC and Yukon (left side going up)
Then on to Tok and Glennallen, we will stop and visit our friends Lee and Trace who are workamping there for the summer.  We will spend some time in the McCarthy area (Kennecott Mine, salmon fishing and glaciers).  Onward to Valdez (Solomon Gulch hatchery and more glaciers).  Next on to Anchorage where we will stock up before heading to explore the Kenai Peninsula (stopping to see Bill and Kelly in Seward) down to Homer. 

Boarding the ferry in Homer with our camper we will take a 9+ hour ferry ride over to Kodiak Island for a week of camping, fishing, hiking and bear viewing!  Then we (or just me if Barb gets eaten by a bear) will head back through Anchorage on our way to Denali National Park for a week before we head to Fairbanks to visit Barb’s cousin, Lori for a week! We have not seen them since 2005 so we are really looking forward to that.
The Alaska leg
 Leaving Fairbanks we will go through Tok again, then north to Chicken (gotta visit Chicken Creek saloon!) and take “The Top of the World Highway” to Dawson City, Yukon.  Continuing on our route south we will take the Cassier Highway into British Columbia staying in a couple provincial parks.  The last legs of our adventure will be Jasper National Park, Banff National Park and Calgary.  Then we will cross back over into the US and spend some time in Glacier National Park. 
Our return trip is the upper lines then east towards Glacier

Whew, there you have it 5 months in 5 paragraphs! These are just the highlights as we have many other stops, sightseeing, kayaking and fishing adventures along the way. We don’t have any definitive dates for anything except our arrival to Fairbanks (end of July) as we wanted to leave flexibility in our schedule in case we wanted to stay longer and any one spot. For any of you who have been to Alaska or are going and see something that we “just have to see” please let us know!