It definitely feels different now.
The transition from the traveling lifestyle to an “almost there” feeling in which we’re technically still rootless but in reality almost entirely focused on the next phase was at first quite subtle. The subtlety is gone.
We need to make a decision about both a place to settle and a house in which to do so; putting it off in hopes of further inspiration or “ah ha” moments is no longer feasible. The list of travel destinations we still intend to visit has dwindled to a scant few to our north and west. We need to get our newly vacated house in Anacortes on the market. And the kids, it’s safe to say, are “done” with motorhome living. They’re not complaining, in fact they’re doing perfectly fine, but it’s crystal clear where their hearts and minds are.
We’ve hit the whole family version of the “where do we settle?” discussion from several different angles, and every time have come up with a similar answer from the kids, which is that they understand the up and down sides of all of our options, they really do, but are ultimately happy with anything we decide. They just want to settle. Really guys, can we settle please? Please?
So it’s up to Tacco and me, and the stark reality that we Just Need To Make A Call.
She and I weave around each other in our meandering and interminable “what if” discussions, alternately preferring one destination over the other. Through all the reversals, though, what it has come down to is that we could very easily make either Park City or Bend home. And while Bend seems to be the unicorn of the two, it comes at the price of significant professional difficulty for both of us – the long, difficult commute to work for me and the relative isolation and lack of acupuncture opportunities for her. That is an oversimplification, but captures the gist. So we’ve opted for practicality and decided on Park City. Park City!
BUT! (there’s always a but)
We can’t find a house. That’s a bit of a complication. I’ve already touched on this, but Park City’s housing market has recently become, if not exactly on fire turnover-wise, a beast that would require scraping at the extreme reaches of our home buying budget to settle there. In fact it would likely require exceeding it and hoping for the best. We have a fantastic realtor there and he has patiently taken us through dozens of houses on multiple occasions – in fact we get an alert any time ANYTHING happens in the market within our range, and we’ve looked at every single house that we think could possibly work. And we can’t quite get there. Not yet at least. They’re nice houses (well, most of them are. Some seem to think they’re in Palo Alto and can get away with location-based extortion. And maybe they can, but not with us), they’re just not nice enough for us to stretch that much financially. We know we’re not going to find the perfect house; this is wise counsel we’ve received time and time again and fully agree with, yet it goes beyond that. We just can’t spend that much on a place that we find “just ok.” So we continue to search and hope. Our realtor informed us, quite reasonably, that he’s certain the right house for us will pop there, and we had to reply that while he’s undoubtedly correct, if it doesn’t pop very soon that fact doesn’t really help us.
Back to California (and then back to Washington). We had a few days back on Camp Pendleton’s beachfront before flying up to Anacortes to do the throw-money-at-the-house dance to get it prepared for the market. A Costco run upon our arrival in the Pacific Northwest netted us a couple nice air mattresses and some cozy blankets – camping in the house is both cheaper and more fun than staying in a hotel or AirBnB. Plus we got to use the hot tub.
Watching the kids react to our old house was fascinating. They were all born there, but only the older two remember it, Firebolt faintly so. It stirred up quite a few memories in Keeper, both melancholy and joyful, and it wasn’t long before he offered up a “so why can’t we just live here?” The girls enthusiastically followed suit. They loved the raspberry plants and fruit trees, the hot tub, the view of the islands and sunsets, and opined that our assurances that it was too small rang hollow. Fair enough, living in 300-odd square feet for two years will make anything seem spacious. We chalked it up to a combination of the beautiful scenery and a temporary relief from cabin fever. But there are other reasons for Tacco and my reluctance to consider it further – some are pragmatic in nature, but more than anything it comes down to the fact that as much as we love Anacortes, we emphatically no longer feel its pull as a place to raise our kids. That’s a tricky one to explain, so we had to default to variations on “trust us” when the myriad versions of Keeper’s question kept coming back to us.
Interspersed among the house work and organization of the larger items of house work, we took a few more hikes and soaked up the scenery.
I also was fortunate to be able to attend the retirement ceremony and party of three of my dearest friends from my old Navy Reserve squadron back at Whidbey Island. One had shared a brain with me for a while as we co-led a Combat Aircrew for some three years while squadronmates. She’s one of the best people I know, and being present for her transition to 100% civilian life was an incredibly poignant reminder of the camaraderie and deep friendships squadron life brings. Adding to the poignancy was the stark realization that the squadron is no longer mine, and in fact I’ve been away from it for far longer than it seems. I only recognized about half the faces, and I felt a distinct sense of being separate from it all.
The required work completed and/or scheduled, we headed back to SeaTac airport for the flight back to Southern California. But as April is tulip time in the Skagit Valley just east of Anacortes, we stopped for some flower gazing and photos.
Skagit Valley’s tulip festival is second in size only to Holland’s near Keukenhof (which I was also fortunate to live near and see when I was a semi-Dutchman), and we’ve made a point to visit on a non-crazy weekday morning every year we could. It was a fitting end to this visit, though we intend to return to the area once more this summer, no matter where we opt to settle.
We relocated to a smaller campground at the northern end of Camp Pendleton upon our return. It abuts San Onofre State Beach, and sits near an old nuclear power plant which is in the process of being decommissioned.
Where the other Pendleton campground (and its BEACH Services!) was vast and well-appointed, this one is quaint, narrow, and solidly surfing oriented. In fact one of Southern California’s most famous breaks, Trestles, sits within walking distance to the northwest. Two slightly less famous breaks, Churches and Old Man’s, bracket the campground and could be seen from out our windshield. Evidently there’s an agreement between the base and the local surfers which allows them to access the breaks despite their being on military property, as long as they walk along the beach from one to the other and don’t attempt to stray into base territory. As the distances to anything important on base are long and a barefoot guy in a wetsuit walking past Marine Corps barracks would likely raise suspicion, the setup seems to work well.
There was a steady stream of surfers parading past us each morning, and we were treated to the view of dozens of them, if not hundreds, riding the perfectly peeling breaks.
I loved it. The family… well… they liked it. Honestly, I think that not only are they about done with the motorhome thing, but they’re beached out. I could sit with my toes in the sand pretty much all day any day, and in fact it’s where I chose to drink my morning coffee, as well as tool around on my computer when I needed to. But I was generally alone in doing so,
Keeper and I did head out for a few boogie boarding sessions, and I cherished them as I was acutely aware of their being the last in what could become a very, very long time. Ultimately this was a beach far more suited to surfing though, and I never managed to arouse the interest in him that I’d hoped I could. And to be fair, I didn’t get out there on a surfboard either, and really have no good excuse for that. The office just up the bluff from us had both rental surfboards and wetsuits (though my shorty would’ve sufficed just fine). So why didn’t I? Learning to surf had been one of my goals since our departure, and we had had a successful lesson back in San Elijo last year… now here we were with these amazing breaks in our front yard, and I kept finding reasons not to get out there and have a glorious time making a fool of myself.
I think it circles back to everything feeling different. We’re near the end and oriented almost entirely toward the next few months’ challenges rather than the here and now. Fulfilling travel goals is no longer a priority. That’s a weak excuse and bit of a bummer, but I’m oddly ok with it. I’m realizing I don’t want a fanfare and abruptness at the end of our journey – it strikes me as too much. Too much emotion, too much upheaval, too much disorientation. Easing gradually out of this lifestyle and into the next seems a better way for us. I don’t know, that’s probably a massive stretch to peg my failure to get out and surf on the desire to land smoothly; the truth is probably closer to the fact that I succumbed to inertia. But as I said… I’m all right with less ambition presently. I think we all are actually.