Growing Up, Calming Down, Covering Ground

Going large, or at least larger than we had already been going, had certainly been on the table for our work-free September.  It seemed wasteful not to use the free month to take the kind of massive trip you always dream of taking but can never make work logistically.  But ultimately… that’s kinda what we’re already doing. 

It took us a while to realize this as we meandered through discussions of two weeks in Thailand or Bali or Tahiti or a slow drive through southern Germany and the Swiss Alps.  Those had been enticing possibilities, entertaining to imagine in the abstract, but a few iterations of doing even the most basic logistical calculations – Flights? Accommodations?  Rental cars? Oh, and where do we park Davista while we’re gone? – made us realize that interrupting our once-in-a-lifetime-trip to do a once-in-a-lifetime trip was redundant, and an expensive redundancy at that.

So I grew a beard instead.  Sort of, at least.  Had to do something with my time off.  I decided a little too late in the month to really give it a chance to fill in, and never quite got past the itchy stage.  Frankly I’m not sure how anyone gets past the itchy stage; it drove me freakin’ nuts.  But clearly they do – in 2018 every self-respecting hipster, about half of our pro athletes, and a significant chunk of the remainder of American males sport ZZ Top facial hair or something aspiring to be, so probably it’s just me.  I also discovered that mine is both grayer and more leprechaun-ish than I’d prefer.  So likely a good thing that I have the excuse that my profession doesn’t allow them to fall back on.

At any rate, we settled comfortably into the idea of just extending our summer and cruising the California coast once we realized that we were under no obligation to push the envelope on our wanderlust.  And the month wasn’t entirely work-free, either.  As it turned out, Tacco had a Navy commitment mid-month in Chicago, which would have been inconvenient to reach from Thailand.  As an actively drilling Navy Reservist, she is expected to fulfill the normal one weekend/month & two weeks/year commitment at a minimum, but her Unit allows for flexible drilling, which has allowed her to do most of her drilling from the road.  Most but not all; certain commitments require her to be physically present, and this Chicago stint was one of those commitments.

Consequently, after Leavenworth we traversed the Cascades once again, this time on highway 2 over Stevens Pass, which I believe to be the second prettiest Cascades crossing after highway 20 to the north, and headed south to Issaquah, about as near to SeaTac airport as we could camp.  It wasn’t the nicest campground, but RV parks in the middle of cities often aren’t, and at least we had a pear tree drooping with ripe fruit in our site.

Here was our route south. It’s long — tough to see any detail here.

We dropped Tacco off at the airport in the morning and headed south, on a beeline back to my parents’ house in Alamo, CA.  The drive was pretty, if nondescript.  Lots of trees.  We followed the Columbia River for a bit before hitting Portland, drove the length of Oregon’s Willamette Valley to Eugene, then entered the forest in earnest until we petered out in Grant’s Pass for the night, setting up camp beside the Rogue River.  I said lots of trees, but one thing that did stand out about southern Oregon is the extensive logging.  I’m certainly a fan of wood, particularly in a house, but sometimes it’s a little too easy to imagine it comes from Home Depot rather than a forest.  I don’t want to overstate this – Oregon is still gorgeous, and is in no danger of going the way of the Amazon rainforest, but it’s interesting to see the checkerboard pattern our appetite for lumber leaves on the landscape.

Off again in the morning, we crossed into California near Mt. Shasta, which never ceases to be impressive, as any 14,000’+ mountain that stands all by itself would be.  Descending into California’s Central Valley, we realized that our interesting scenery was now behind us, and ground out the rest of the drive to my parents’ driveway.

After a few days’ rest, some solid family visitation time punctuated with good food and wine, and a Tacco retrieval from the airport, we headed south again, this time to Big Sur, and the segment of California’s Highway 1 that we had previously missed due to last year’s landslide.  The road had recently re-opened, with a new path that took it around the new bulge in the shoreline, and we were excited to check out that stretch of coast.

Before that, though, check out how cute Woodsprite is doing her math schoolwork with her little Turkish towel drying her hair.

We were right to be excited, it turns out.  That drive is iconic for a reason, and should be seen by everyone on a sunny day at least once, as far as I’m concerned.  Absolutely breathtaking, with curve after curve revealing vistas that keep you gawking, face pressed to the window, for hours.  Or it would if you weren’t driving, which I found inconvenient.  It was actually difficult to concentrate, which is not an option while steering Davista + Toad around the hairpin corners. 

I mentioned long ago that we’ve given up on trying too hard to get the kids to appreciate scenery, as their attention spans combined with the allure of their various screens tend to make our attempts to get them to actually, you know, see our country an exercise in frustration.  So we point things out when we can, they look up and say “cool!” and that’s the end of it.  We’ve become ok with this.  But this drive was different.  Firebolt in particular was transfixed by the cliffs plunging into the sea and the huge waves below breaking on the offshore rocks.  This made me happy.

After a few stops for photos, we pulled up to a campground along the Big Sur River about a third of the way down that stretch of coast.  After setting up camp and doing some more river wading, a recurring theme during this stage of our trip, we drove down to Pfeiffer Beach to do a bit of exploring.  Again, stunning.

One of the features on this particular beach was the purple sand, which reminded me of what we saw on the shore of Lake Superior way back in our first month of our travels.

But it wasn’t just the sand, it was the cliffs, the caves, the waves, the wind, everything. 

The kids are doing incredibly well right now.  It’s difficult to ascertain what exactly brings on these moments, but as any parent can tell you, it is deeply, profoundly satisfying to see your kids exuberant.  It’s been simmering for the past day or two as they’ve relaxed into the reality of our continued travels, but for some reason in Big Sur and especially at this beach it seemed to boil over in all three of them at once.  We ran around on the sand and then just stopped to watch them when we couldn’t keep up.  Keeper climbed a huge sand slope that was pushed up against the cliff, then did it again, then invited me to come up with him and take some selfies, which of course I did.  Full smiles aren’t something we see much from him these days due to self-consciousness about his teeth, one of which simply isn’t there, causing several of the others to come in crookedly due to its absence.  He will definitely require significant orthodontia, and has requested it come as soon as possible.  And it will.  But here on the beach he was as un-self-conscious as could be – just happy.

It continued back at the campsite. After making little rafts out of sticks and racing them in the current, the kids found a rope swing hanging over the water and decided to make good use of it, despite the brisk temps. 

At one point Keeper turned to me and talked about how excited he was for everything that was in store for him/us over the next several months.  I think his actual words were “There’s so much to look forward to!”  He has not said that before. Again, almost impossible to overstate how satisfying it was to hear such a sentiment from my twelve-year-old eldest son, particularly with my persistent concerns about possible negative effects on the kids stemming from our doubling our travel time.  Perhaps he sensed that.

What I really think is happening, though, is that he’s growing up.  I looked at pictures of him at the beginning of our trip and had the predictable reaction.  He was a kid, and now he is not.  He’s taller than we are, has a deepening voice and facial hair, and, well… here we go!  I’m far from the first parent to ask for the brakes to be slammed on this whole process, in fact I think we all do it at some point.  But that doesn’t make the feeling any less acute.  I love who he’s becoming, and I love even more that I have the opportunity to spend this much time with him while it happens.  But can’t it slow down just a little?

Unfortunately we had budgeted only one day of our time in Big Sur, and set off to see the rest of the coast in the morning, on our way to Morro Bay.  I would have liked to stay.  While there have been portions of our trip with greater flexibility to tweak itineraries, this was not one of them, as we had a string of reservations at completely full campgrounds on the coast, culminating in our return to Coronado and its Navy beach cottages.  Even one extra night somewhere would break the entire chain and leave us looking for the nearest Wal-Mart parking lot.  So onward we pressed.

The views remained spectacular, but began to mellow out a bit the further south we traveled.  One thing I had forgotten about that stretch of road is how high above the water it climbs in places.  I didn’t check our elevation, but just from professional experience, having spent many, many hours at various relatively low altitudes above the ocean, I estimated that we were nearly a thousand feet up at times. 

Near San Simeon we stopped to check out an elephant seal rookery, which, to save you from having to look that word up like I had to, is a place where they hang out in a big group and breed.  Elephant seals are interesting creatures, and surprisingly fun to watch.  The males, with their long, dangling snouts (hence the name I suppose), do a good bit of sparring, though most of them just hang out, make grunty noises, and use their flippers to toss sand over themselves.  Evidently it cools them off.  If it were me I think I’d opt for a dip in the chilly water instead, but what do I know…

I also spied what I could have sworn were a few zebras grazing alongside the road.  Wait, zebras??  Yes, that’s what I said, as did my family, who initially didn’t believe me, but this being 2018, in which wondering about things is obsolete, we went straight to Google and discovered that yes, William Randolph Hearst did indeed bring zebras, as well as other wild animals, to his San Simeon castle and ranch, where they still roam to this day.  So I saw zebras.

We pulled into Morro Bay late in the afternoon, and topped off the day with Firebolt taking a respectable spill off of her bike and skinning both knees as well as a bit of her palms.  Not how we wanted to end things, but she’s a trooper and joined us for a hike along the bay at sunset after a bit of initial TLC. 

That’s a lot of ground covered, both in the past few days and in this post.  Fortunately I think, our drives will get shorter and less frequent during this next phase, as we stay West and choose our excursions carefully.  We do have much to look forward to – another month and a half of summery lolling on the beach, time with my parents, skiing…. Keeper was absolutely correct.

Das Re-boot

Aaaaand we’re off again. 

Though technically our journey has been continuous, there’s a real sense in which we’re now starting over, and we’re feeling that acutely.  First of all, it’s a new school year.  Keeper is starting 7th grade, and Firebolt and Woodsprite are starting 4th and 1st, respectively.  More significantly, though, Anacortes was where we initially intended to end our travels; we really didn’t have a master plan to go further.  What came after was and remains a big blank spot on our family calendar.  Lastly, we spent much of the past month and a half deeply engaged in closing, at long last, the previous chapter of our lives.

After toying with several potential versions of September’s travel plan (one of which involved going all the way back to New England – and I’m going to be honest, that one gave me an instant headache), we opted to take Highway 20 east over the Cascades and then head south from there.  Highway 20 is the most scenic of the roads that cross the Cascades, passing several deep, glacial lakes and serving as the gateway to North Cascades National Park

North Cascades has to be one of our most remote national parks.  As far as I know, no roads, or at least no paved ones, reach into it; it’s all jagged, glaciated peaks and wilderness.  Even the Visitors’ Center is outside of the park boundary.  I was surprised, when capturing the above map screenshot, that it wasn’t even marked.  I had to zoom in to even get Google Maps to acknowledge it.

We only did a short visit & hike there, probably more accurately a stroll, but with the fall colors just starting to kick in, it made for quite the scenic stop. 

Further in our drive, I was struck once again by stark difference between the eastern and western sides of the Cascades.  More than any mountain range I know of, it truly wrings out the vast majority of the eastbound Pacific storms’ moisture – the transition from lush green to high desert brown happens almost immediately at the line of peaks and passes.  The weather changed dramatically for us, too.  We had already transitioned mostly to long pants, fleece, and flannel back in Anacortes and La Conner, but as soon as we crossed the mountains the sun came back out and the temperature rose 10-20 degrees. 

Our first overnight was on the Methow River just south of the town of Twisp.  Our goal was the faux-Bavarian town of Leavenworth, where we’d loll about for a few days, but the drive was a bit longer than we wanted, so Twisp it was.  I’m always happy to camp riverfront.  It’s a tossup for me whether river or ocean sounds are more relaxing at night, but lately I’ve been leaning river. 

Eastern Washington is also apple country, and apple season was just on the verge of kicking in.  In general we’ve found that Fall is, straight-up, the best season to do this RV traveling thing.  One of our original guidelines was to “chase mild weather,” and what we discovered during the planning phase is that pretty much everywhere in the country, with the possible exception of Florida (still too hot) and the “green” parts of the Pacific Northwest (tending toward cold and wet already), are at their absolute peak in September and October.  In any case, deep relaxation was what we were after and that’s precisely what we found.

The next day we followed the Columbia River downstream to the South and made a turn to the West back into the Cascades, where Leavenworth sits at the bottom of a steep valley.  It’s extremely picturesque.  The Bavarian theme came about in the mid-’60s as a ploy to revitalize the town’s economy after a railroad was moved and logging wasn’t thriving. The idea to “theme” the town actually came from Danish-themed Solvang in California, where we put Woodsprite into a giant clog and managed to avoid eating æbleskivers last Fall. Though arguably cheesy, the plan unarguably worked, as Leavenworth has become quite the year-round tourist destination. Not our normal cup of tea, but frankly, a few days of large German beers, sausages, and oom-pah bands sounded therapeutic. Who doesn’t like Bavaria?

Uncharacteristically, we drove into town without a camping reservation, assuming that its being midweek and slightly off season, we’d find something walking distance from the dolled-up Main Street and would sleep to the sound of distant accordions. What we found instead was a riverfront wonderland just outside of town.

Leavenworth itself turned out to be somewhat of a bust.  We ventured in on the first evening to sample the atmosphere and wares, and found ourselves a little put off by the borderline tackiness of it all.  We did sit down at a communal bench in a biergarten for some wurst, but… I don’t know, it just wasn’t that good. The sausage wasn’t especially tasty, and the meal as a whole was far heavier than anything we’ve been eating. It didn’t strike me as particularly German either. Even the beer was so-so. And all over-priced.  Perhaps we just picked the wrong restaurant, but the Gemütlichkeit never quite caught on, and though Firebolt did make a point to inform us that she was very happy with her meal, we returned to our campsite that night pretty certain that we didn’t need to come back into town.

The campsite though, WOW.  Yet another riverfront site, but this time the river in question (Icicle Creek) was a stunner.  Crystal clear, shallow, rapid, and strewn with smooth boulders which begged to be hopped upon.

The advertised wi-fi was essentially useless (common occurrence a RV parks, incidentally) and furthermore we had only the grainiest of 4G cell phone signals, and that caused a bit of tension in the kids. This, too, however, turned into a positive. The kids know nothing of a world without a connection to the internet, and I’ve mentioned previously how I’m both disturbed by that fact and perplexed about how to ensure that this lack-of-connection anxiety doesn’t become normalized.  So after the initial grumbling about no signal, it was both a relief and a thrill to have the kids not only forget about the lack of phone coverage, but ask, on multiple occasions, if they could stop school for a bit and head out to play in the river.  Yes.  YES!  By all means, get out there.  I’ll join you shortly!

There was lots of river play.  Rock stacking, dam building, races involving rock-hopping in the middle of the current…

And then in the evening we decided to set up a mini-soccer field using some cones and play a family soccer game.  How have we not done this before now?  This was exactly the type of scene I envisioned when I imagined our journey at its most ideal – the whole family heading back sweaty and laughing to our RV by the rushing river in the mountains, having been forced to end our soccer game because it got too dark to see.

We really needed this.  Or at least I did.  Between the stress of finally closing on the Maryland house, the decision to double our on-the-road time, and the corresponding uncertainty about pretty much everything, I’ve been chronically anxious.  For quite some time.  If our time in La Connor allowed me to step back enough to articulate it, then this stretch of days allowed me to step even further back, or perhaps better said, to zoom out and view the whole thing from altitude.  I don’t have a clue whether we’re making the right call, but I’m easing back into the belief that such a thing doesn’t exist, and looking forward to what’s in store for us.

The plan that is gelling is this: Spend the rest of September and most of October on the California coast, then spend November + the Winter bouncing between my parents’ house in the SF Bay area and southern California, from which I can (for once!) drive to work, given my impending transfer back to the Long Beach / Los Angeles pilot base.  Take several family ski trips – as many as we can muster.  And then come Spring, return to Washington to put our Anacortes house on the market, buy a house in Bend, and settle next summer.  Maybe bag a few more National Parks in the meantime.  This is far from a bad plan.      

Islands, Volcanoes, and Crabs

Our immediate future figured out (ha!), we got back to playing.  Labor Day weekend was a wash due to my having to work, and that had always been a huge get-out-and-do-things time for us when we were Pacific Northwest residents, so we pushed it to Labor Day midweek instead.

First on tap was inflation of our kayak flotilla, which hadn’t seen nearly enough action over the past year. We boarded them to venture out to Hope Island. Like the vast majority of the San Juan islands, it is uninhabited and inaccessible by road or ferry, but this one also happens to be a Washington State Park.

This is the type of water exploring we missed in Maryland, even though Annapolis is by all accounts a boating mecca.  Secluded beaches on isolated islands, clear water, sea life… they’re everywhere in Washington’s waters.  In Annapolis we found it more to be about the boating itself than the destinations.  Sailing reigns, and we had a motorboat.  Our Maryland boating career had ended abruptly one warm afternoon well over a year after we had spent far (FAR!) more money than the boat had initially cost us getting it towed across the country, stored someplace suitable (much more difficult/expensive than it sounds, or ought to be in a self-proclaimed boating town), and in good enough working order to run for 15 minutes without overheating.  Within a few minutes of our victorious departure from the marina into Chesapeake Bay, standing tall at the helm and puffing out my chest, Keeper turned to me and asked “so…uhhh… what do we do?”  “Well…” I had to think about it for a moment. I wasn’t entirely sure. This part of the evolution had been theoretical up to now. “I guess we cruise around here, maybe look at some of these houses from the water, and then find someplace to dock for lunch?”  His deflated answer: “That’s it, huh?  No islands, no beaches? In that case, do you mind if Firebolt and I just go down below and take a nap?”  A split-second calculation involving future gas, maintenance, and storage money, compounded by time and stress involved in boat ownership, flitted across my transom before I turned the boat around and headed directly back to the marina, to no objections from the kids.  It was up for sale the next day. 

Back to Washington, though.  It’s a sea kayaker’s wonderland, and even has established “water trails” as well as the more well-known hiking trails.  Hope Island is a stop on one of the more popular ones. It was a short journey and easy paddle from our campground, but the currents in the San Juans can be brutal.  On the way back the tide was coming in, and we had to aim about 45 degrees to the left of the point to which we wanted to land.  That’s quite a crab.  (aviation-speak again).

The following day we opted for a hike up at Mt. Baker, or “Mountain Baker,” as Keeper used to call it.  Baker is the furthest north in the chain of volcanoes that dot the Cascades mountain range, and is just a few miles south of the Canadian border.  In the winter snowboarding reigns supreme, and I believe it holds the record for the most single season snowfall at a ski area ever.  I remember that year – they actually had to dig out the lifts.  But in the summer, it’s all about hiking.  You can drive to Artist Point near the top of the ski area, which gives you access to some absolutely spectacular hiking trails.  Hiking in the Cascades is different than hiking in most US mountains in they are so jagged, are glacier-topped year round, and rise up from near-sea-level river valleys.  Most hikes involve steep switchbacks to get up to near the tree line, but then you’re rewarded with views of glaciers, ice-fed lakes, and knife-edge ridges.  Artist Point is one of the few Cascade trailheads which starts at a relatively high elevation (avoiding the switchbacks), and has several trail options.  We opted for the Chain Lakes loop, which we had done once pre-kids but with two puppies. 

Though there was still lingering smoke from the various Pacific Northwest forest fires, the views were still awe-inspiring.  We traversed a steep ridge to a saddle, where there was a snow field on which to run around and toss snowballs.  Not bad for September.  The kids got a kick out of the stories of our puppies running around on this same snowfield and ending up at the bottom after not being able to get any purchase. 

We then descended into a valley with several lakes & stopped for awhile. 

Our kids have never shied away from cold water, and ribbing from their siblings tends to push the “I dare you to…” game deep into polar bear zone. 

Tacco and I sat back and watched from the comfort of our sunny rock while the kids happily froze themselves in the clear water. 

I wish we could have stayed longer, but as often happens on these day trips, our leave-home time had been delayed by family inertia, and we found ourselves in a bit of a race against the lengthening shadows.  Wouldn’t want to get caught up here at night without the proper gear. 

Rather than complete the loop, which would’ve taken longer than we had daylight, we turned around and retraced our steps.  Impossibly, the ridge traverse appeared even more dramatic in the late afternoon / early evening, and we managed to catch sight of a white mountain goat clinging to the rocks well above us.

We rounded off the day with a few group pictures and then headed back to camp to prep for tomorrow’s departure. 

So here we are… a year in but about to do another year, a month of playing in the mountains and on the beach ahead of us, and hopefully a full ski season after that.  Shoot, maybe at some point we’ll even find a house to live in.  Though the overarching unease still lingers, it’s hard to summon up any angst when I look at the upcoming few months the way I just described them; we truly are fortunate to be doing this.  It’s a good thing to remind yourself.   

And Now?

When we bought Davista, one of the many shiny objects dangled in front of our overwhelmed faces was a free Thousand Trails membership for a year, to include 30 nights at any TT campground within a certain region that we would later get to select.  Unlike many of the other shiny objects (extended warranties, discounted accessories we would “absolutely need,” RV-safe toilet paper…), this one was free, so we signed right up.  Though we knew nothing about the company or the campgrounds, our membership did come in handy in the northwest, both in Bend (Sunriver actually) and here in La Conner, which sits right across the water from Fidalgo Island and Anacortes.

We opted to burn the rest of our free nights with a two week La Conner stay.  The Sunriver campground had earned mixed reviews from us.  It seemed well-appointed, but not especially well-maintained.  La Conner is similar.  The setting is gorgeous, as would be just about any Puget Sound waterfront campground.  But… something was off.  What was it?  The facilities maybe?  A little too mossy and neglected?  The clientele?  A little too permanent?  Difficult to say. 

We did enjoy it, as it was quiet, relaxing, and fit our mood, which could be described as coming down from gobsmacked.  With Annapolis and the house sale freshly behind us (save for a frustratingly lingering dispute over a refrigerator that we should’ve handled before closing) and the reality of Plan Moon’s new year of travel ahead of us, we felt a bit unmoored, or at least more so than usual.  Adding to that was the quiet of late summer/early Fall.  School was starting without our kids in it, the weather was cooling, leaves were changing colors… we had quite a bit of walking along the rocky beach time to talk things over and try to figure out what on Earth we were doing.

Bonus: if you read the post about Seattle and remember my extended digression on an unconventional work trip I flew, you’ll remember that I said it came into play later.  Well here’s how… essentially that all took place during the time I was bidding for my September schedule.  That’s all submitted and processed via computer, and evidently something about the way that trip was encoded interfered with its ability to award me a schedule for September.  I’ll spare you the intricacies of what happened between my bidding and the final result, but ultimately I lucked into a once-in-a-career-if-ever paid month off.  Yes.  September off, for pay, no vacation time deducted. 

So along with figuring out what exactly to do with this extra year of travel & homeschooling for the kids (and the attendant uncertainty that we’d made the right call), we had a month of no commitments whatsoever to play with.  That’s a lot of strategizing! 

I previously mentioned an impossibly cozy restaurant in La Conner at which Tacco and I had, on several occasions, dug in over cider and stouts to work out our lives.  We returned.  Unfortunately we discovered that they had moved to a waterfront location, selling their original building to another restaurateur.  Quick dilemma – is it the restaurant we need for the planning-our-lives vibe or the location?  We opted for the location.  Good call, we think.

I’m not going to say we figured it all out.  But we did put a sizable dent in it and managed to gain at least a bit of control of the rudder.  We started big with the free month thing, reasoning that this was an opportunity we’d likely never have again.  So… Thailand?  Munich for Oktoberfest?  Normandy?  Head back east to New England, which we’d missed before?  Or maybe better to just slowly make our way down south as planned, but take advantage of the fact that we wouldn’t need to be anywhere near an airport all month.  We figured we’d get some input from the kids as well since, you know, they’d be going with us. 

And as far as everything else – the staying on the road, homeschooling for an extra year, doubling our travel time.  I think more than anything else we, and by “we” I mean “mostly I” needed to just chill the heck out.  My overarching concern with this entire endeavor is that we give our kids a unique and valuable experience without ruining them.  Emphasis on the not ruining them part. And yes, that’s overstated, but missing 6th grade is one thing, missing most of middle school/junior high is another.  Also, roadschooling is different than homeschooling. Homeschoolers who are staying in one place tend to connect with a network of other homeschoolers and pool their resources. In our case, it’s just us. Our kids are troopers and quickly sought out the positives once we told them we would be staying on the road, but they made no secret of their preference to get back into school and start interacting with other kids their age again.  And frankly I don’t know how well we’re doing with their education.  They are ahead of the game in math and probably a few other subjects, definitely so with respect to life experience, but I don’t have a clue what I was learning (and they might be missing) in 7th/4th/1st grade.  I suspect that, just like life in general, there’s a lot of “playing well with others.”  They’re not getting much of that, other than with each other.  This is the call we made, though, and Tacco did a great job of teasing out all the ways that this will continue to be just as, if not more, valuable than our being settled somewhere.  I knew all this, but having her say it was helpful.  Tacco and I both experience and express our concerns in very different ways. She’s an ocean and I’m a river. There are things to be concerned about, sure, but there always are. In the grand scheme, we’re doing fine. We plan to spend quality time with my parents, we plan to use our Epic Passes to do a whole lot of skiing, and we plan to use our time to further refine our choice of where to settle.  It’s going to be a great year.

Back in La Conner at the campground we spent some more time lazily playing on the beach with the kids and reading them into our plans, as well as getting some more input.  Ultimately we decided to spend our September checking out parts of the Washington Cascades and then rolling back south via California’s highway 1, which had been closed last year due to a landslide.  The Coronado Beach Cottages had been a highlight last year, and I managed to get us another reservation there.  So rather than doing a crazy overseas thing, we’ll extend summer.  Nothing wrong with that.

Thousand Trails had a few more interesting experiences in store for us as well.  This one we’ll file under Interesting Neighbors.  The sites at this campground were pretty heavily wooded, just as the one in Sunriver had been, so we were mostly isolated from our neighbor to the north, but we couldn’t help but notice his multiple projects-in-progress as well as his seemingly cobbled-together rig.  It appeared he had been parked for a while.  At a certain point he strolled into our campsite and asked us if we smelled anything interesting.  Not a question we get a lot, but we answered honestly:

“Well…. yeah, I guess we have.  You mean the weed?”  

“Oh no, not that, that was me.  I mean something like rotten crabs.”

“Hm.  Well, no, but we’ll keep our.. uh.. noses open.”

“Yeah, please do, because I think the people who stayed there before you caught some crabs, cleaned them, and then just threw them into the woods, and it’s stinking up the place, and that’s pissing me off if so.”

Later:

“You know we did smell what you were talking about, but didn’t see any crab carcasses in the woods.  I think it might just be the smell of low tide coming off the water.” [spoiler: that’s exactly what it was]

“Oh no, that’s not it, it’s crabs.  You’re not pissed off about this!?! Cuz let me TELL you, I’m a TT platinum [or something] member, and if this doesn’t upset you then… *storm around storm around storm around*… I oughta get that guy kicked out of Thousand Trails!! *mumble mumble storm into RV and slam door twice*”

The next day, after more cannabis clouds wafted through our site:

“Good morning!  Hey, have you ever read this book?” [Shows me about a 1000 page tome on American History]

“Don’t believe I have, no.  Good morning!”

“Well man, you gotta read this, it’ll blow your mind, I’m telling ya!  Here!” [hands me his book]

“Ummm.. thanks, I mean we’re leaving in the morning so I don’t see how I’ll have time to –“

“No man, c’mon, take it!  Just check it out before you go, you can just leave it on my table when you’re done!”

“OK. Sure.  Thanks!”

So… though we appreciated the free camping this year, we decided not to renew our Thousand Trails membership. 

Closed

One aspect of pain that I find fascinating is that when you’re experiencing it, it dominates everything.  You can hardly think about anything else.  But when it’s gone, amazingly quickly you forget it was ever there.  Which isn’t to say you forget that you were ever in pain at all, though that can happen too, but remembering exactly what it felt like becomes difficult almost the instant you no longer feel it.

Multiple reasons for bringing this up – one is that my sciatica is gone, the other is that we closed on the Annapolis house and have finally cut our ties there.

The sciatica… what a relief.  It had been really starting to concern me, and was affecting decisions we were making.  Yet when it faded away, and that happened pretty quickly, I had this odd nonchalance about it.  Tacco would ask me how my leg was feeling, and I’d say “fine, why?”  Oh no reason, only that you’ve spent much of the past few months literally sweating from the pain…  I don’t know whether I can contribute its resolution to one particular treatment or  many, but I know that it began to turn the corner when Tacco did a lot of acupuncture work on me, her friend did the varsity huge-needle-plus-electricity treatment in Albuquerque, and the chiropractor in Salt Lake seemed to put the nail in its coffin.  Wish I knew exactly how to make it disappear if it comes back – I don’t — but I do hope that the knowledge that it originates in my glutes will help me keep it at bay.  Regardless, good riddance!

The house… ok, not good riddance exactly.  It served us well and we made great memories there.  But it had become such an albatross.  A growing albatross.  Its failure to sell was hanging over everything we did and turning what few hairs I still have gray at an alarming rate.  It was long past time to go, and… now it’s gone.  I’d love to say we don’t even remember what the stress of its drawn-out sale feels like anymore, but that’s not entirely true.  We’re still coming down from the experience, and there may be a lingering loose end or two.  But we did close.

The week back in Maryland was fruitful but very difficult.  We didn’t sleep.  We did far too much hauling things and cleaning things and painting things.  I came unhinged over a dumpster order gone awry, which isn’t my way.  I don’t yell at people over the phone well, nor do I enjoy it.

Ultimately though, we all got together on our last day in Maryland and signed the house over to a new and thoroughly pleasant family who we hope will make it their own even more than we did, and create even better memories there. 

We even got to use our newly lined pool.  It looks pretty good!

Before leaving we each signed one of the studs in the basement, something that’s become a tradition for us as we move out of family houses.

I’ll miss the basement we built.  It was only complete for our last year there, but we more than made up for it in how much time we spent down there.

Most of all though, I’ll miss our friends and cousins.  We stayed with them (our cousins) on our last night, and prior to that met in downtown Annapolis for a well-deserved outdoor happy hour.  At one point an ‘80s cover band was belting out Take On Me below us in the grassy area.  I sent a short video of it back to Keeper, hanging out with his cousins back at their house.   Which is perfect, as there’s an infamous video of our three kids heavy into a Just Dance for Wii session in our living room with that song as the soundtrack.  Keeper responded to my message with a spot-on text representation of their Norwegian singer’s falsetto.  He’s pretty funny.

A night with family was the perfect way to bookend our impossibly hectic week and our five years as official Marylanders.  And now we’re back to Washington, and breathing again. 

A-Town Funk

Anacortes, Washington is a magical place.  Reasonable people can and do quibble over its weather and its relative isolation, but no one in their right mind who has really seen it would say it isn’t beautiful.  Most would say it’s drop dead gorgeous.

Though the entirety of Fidalgo Island is considered Anacortes, the actual town occupies approximately the northern third of the island, which, though not technically one of the San Juans, shares their geology and geography.  It looks more like a peninsula from the air, but much of its eastern side is separated from the mainland by a canal, and it is accessible via three bridges, two over that canal and one from Whidbey Island spanning Deception Pass.  As Anacortes is most well known for being the location of the San Juan Islands’ ferry terminal, all most folks see of it are the refinery you pass just south of prior to entering town, and its only two busy streets, one of which runs most of the length of its small downtown (but skips the interesting part) and the other which heads along the northern side of the island to the ferry, in the process also stopping just short of some of the island’s most scenic shoreline.  Consequently many people from the general area (*cough* Seattle *cough*) aren’t aware of its charms.

Several lakes are scattered among its forests, all of which have excellent fishing and some of which are good for more active types of recreation (waterskiing/wakeboarding, cliff jumping…).  Most of the shoreline is rocky and dramatic, but there are multiple beaches as well.  Almost half of the town’s surface area is comprised of the Anacortes Community Forest Lands (ACFL), which are lushly forested and riddled with trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding.  Mt. Erie, in the island’s middle, reaches just over 1200’ high and sports multiple rock faces that attract climbers from far afield.  Two marinas make it a boating hub, with unparalleled access to the San Juans.  And along with the ACFL there are several other parks, including breathtaking Washington Park in the northwest corner and the northern portion of Deception Pass State Park along the southwest coastline.  Orca sightings are relatively common.  Everything smells fresh and green.

Here are a couple more of our pics from when we lived there. 

They’re ok, but there’s a local photographer who has managed to capture the island’s beauty.  Check out his work if you’re so inclined. Here as well. It’s jaw-dropping stuff, at least if you like nature photography. You see the pictures and you think “wait, people actually live here?”

We did live there for the ten years prior to our move to Annapolis, not counting the time we were stationed there for our Active Duty Navy stints.   Our house sat perched on the top of a steep, wooded bluff on the west side of the island, looking out through evergreens and madronas at the San Juans and the Olympic Peninsula.  Bald eagles soared overhead and perched on our trees regularly.  We gasped at and took photos of the sunsets every night until we realized that these sunsets were the norm, not the exception. These were all taken from our back deck.

There were down sides.  I mentioned the weather, and though it never bothered me while I lived there, it’s undeniably chilly and often damp in every month but July, August, and September, with stretches of grey that can extend from days to weeks.  It’s also quite small, with only a few restaurants and not much in the way of retail.  And our house sat on a reasonably busy street, with cars zipping by at 50 mph – having small kids on bikes was a non-starter.

My commute to work was also tricky, entailing an hour and a half drive to the airport followed by a flight to my domicile (initially New York, thereafter Long Beach/LA) prior to starting a work trip.

When we first departed on our adventure, an eventual return to Anacortes to settle was by far our top choice, and it held that position for quite some time, despite an event I’ll describe momentarily.  Each time I would get the opportunity to return for a short visit thanks to my airline schedule, I would steel myself for what I imagined was the inevitable feeling of “this place is nice, but I think we’ve moved past it.”  And each time I would surprise myself by experiencing the exact opposite. 

It wasn’t until we visited for the 4th of July week just prior to our departure on this journey (which, at that time, we were far from certain would even happen) that the first small cracks started to appear.  We were on the roof of the Majestic Hotel downtown, having just marveled at yet another magnificent sunset and just about to watch the fireworks, when Tacco and I looked at each other, shivering from the cold.  “You know what?” I offered gingerly, “… it’s a little chilly!”  What I didn’t add but was certainly thinking, as was Tacco I would soon learn, was “… and it’s July.  I mean, I love this place, but shouldn’t we be in shorts right now?”   I guess Maryland’s soupy summers, though not our preference, had nudged our tolerances ever so slightly toward warmer weather.  And it was hard not to notice how small the town is…

And then came Bend, and Park City, the rocketing West Coast housing market which priced us out of many of the houses we had been previously checking out, and my airline’s partial pull out of Seattle, which promised to complicate my commute even further should we return to Anacortes. 

So we drove across Deception Pass very eager to learn how Anacortes would sit with us and with the kids now that we had a year of travel under our belts.

Our plan was to camp first in Washington Park, and then move to the marina for the weekend, which is walking distance to everything downtown. 

Washington Park is arguably the most sublime place on an already enchanted island.  Tacco has on several occasions called it “sacred,” and I can get behind that — it definitely has that vibe. The campground sits in the interior of the park and therefore somewhat away from its jaw-dropping vistas and waterfronts, but we settled in and wasted no time getting to some hiking.

There are no uninteresting trails through Washington Park; most offer multiple view points, mossy trees and rocks, and calm water lapping against the rocky shore.  The only negative during this particular visit was the smoke.  2018’s summer was an especially brutal one for wildfires in the West, and a lingering high pressure system gave the smoke no escape route. 

Keeper had a bit of a damper thrown on his Anacortes visit as well.  We had been working hard over the previous few months to find a time and a way to fly his good friend out from Maryland to join us for a bit, and had determined our Anacortes stint to be the best shot.  It would require Keeper and I to fly on the redeye from Seattle to Boston and thereafter to DC in the early morning, meet his friend at the airport, and then do the whole thing in reverse to get him to Seattle, but we were all set to go and Keeper was thrilled to get the opportunity both to hang out with his buddy again and to show him his childhood hometown.  Summer is definitively not the best time to fly standby, and this we knew well, but I had checked the loads on all of the pertinent flights, and there appeared to be plenty of space, or at least enough. 

Right up until there wasn’t, that is…  With everything in place and Keeper and I having driven down to the Seattle airport, we arrived at the departure gate only to find that several last-minute tickets had been purchased, not only on our flight out to Boston, but on the subsequent flights as well.  Suddenly the entire plan looked dicey, and the house of cards crumbled.  I searched frantically for other options, but nothing materialized.  This is a semi-frequent occurrence, familiar to all non-revenue fliers (“non-revs”), but still it was difficult to make the late night call back to his friend’s mom in Annapolis to let her know that our plan had fallen apart and that there would be no visit. 

Keeper did take it in stride though, I have to hand him that.  We’ll try another time.

Mountain biking is a year-round activity on the ACFL trails, as well as the many other trail systems in the area, and I had cut my teeth on ACFL’s singletrack back in my Navy days.  We had a group of junior officers who would try to get together to ride every Saturday morning, and I could reach the trails from my house, so I would often go alone as well.  After our Slickrock adventure, I was eager to show Keeper where I’d learned to ride.

What I had forgotten and soon re-discovered, was how technical those trails can be.  They’re narrow, steep in places, and riddled with roots and rocks.  This makes for more exciting riding, and after watching Keeper struggle to navigate some of the trickier stretches, I suddenly remembered from back in the day several tree collisions and “taco-ed” front wheels, not to mention the occasional unintentional fall into one of the lakes.  His bike (my very old bike) wasn’t helping him much either – not only was the front suspension completely non-springy, but it’s a heavy bike, and the front brake is next to useless, having lost one of its calipers.  He’s going to need a new bike if we move to… well, pretty much anywhere. 

He was a good sport as always though, and we made it through a slightly shortened ride unscathed.  As a bonus I was able to show him the spot where I nearly spent a winter night in the woods 23 years ago after having my brand new bike light’s battery go dead on its maiden night ride.  But that’s another story.

After a few days in Washington Park we re-located to the marina area downtown, where I recently learned there are several RV sites available year round.  No electrical or water hookups, but the location couldn’t be more central.  On Saturdays from late Spring to early Fall there’s an outstanding Farmer’s Market that we would now be right across the street from. 

One of the kids’ memorable activities from our time living in Anacortes was picking blackberries on Farmer’s Market days, so they were excited to do it again.  Blackberry plants pretty much blanket the island, or would if the residents didn’t control them like weeds, and they are huge and tasty when ripe.  Some of the thicker patches sit right next to the square in which the Farmer’s Market is held, and there’s a more or less unlimited supply come August.  We ended up with berry-stained faces and enough fruit to make several jars of jam.  Which Tacco did. 

The week passed far more quickly than we had hoped it would, and we faced our return to Annapolis to close on our house for good this time (hopefully!).  We enjoyed ourselves in A-Town, no doubt.  I think everything I’ve described about our visit was positive.  Yet undeniably by the end of it both Tacco and I had at least a taste of the feeling I described earlier – the “I think we may have outgrown this place” feeling.  Perhaps having the unpleasant task of cleaning out and turning over our house hanging over our heads affected our receptiveness to its charms during this visit.  But I do believe it was more than that.  It felt small.  Small and a bit remote.  I’m not sure those are negatives, but they came across that way this time.  And the prices – if they haven’t quite outpaced our means, they’re certainly getting there rapidly.  Many of the places in which we had imagined ourselves raising our kids we can’t quite manage now.

The kids’ impressions seemed to track with our own.  They liked Anacortes. Quite a bit. But they didn’t seem to love Anacortes.

We will need some more processing time for this, but it’s an interesting development.  To be sure, we need to narrow down our options, not expand them, so ruling out a potential future home town helps us.  But it’s difficult not to wonder what happened, whether our needs and tastes have changed or we simply found places that seem to suit us better.  Or whether possibly this was a temporary impression, colored by our current mental state.  Impossible to know, and representative of this entire endeavor… while too much freedom is absolutely not a thing to bemoan, it can make the process of making big decisions dauntingly complex.  At some point you just have to trust your gut and make a call.  We’re not there yet. 

We’re returning to the area after we close on the Maryland house, but we plan to stay in nearby La Conner rather than Anacortes.  There’s an impossibly cozy restaurant there in which Tacco and I have nestled in a small booth on rainy nights over adult beverages and done some of our best collective thinking, hatching some of our greatest plans.  Sounds like we need another session.

Before that though, time to cut Annapolis loose at last.

This Place

My first day on Whidbey Island is a distinct memory.  It was June, 1995, and I had just spent the few years since college graduation in training mode for the Navy.  Learning to fly in Pensacola and Corpus Christi, learning to operate the P-3C in Jacksonville, and learning to what to do if I were ever to be captured in combat in San Diego.  San Diego was the training site, not the theoretical location of combat, if that wasn’t clear.  There were also several boondoggles, mostly of my own making, thrown into that mix, made possible by the temporary glut of newly minted Naval Aviators at the time – I spent a few months hanging out in southern Spain with a C-130 squadron, and another few in Cambridge, England as part of a small permanent detachment flying King Airs.  But all of it was preparation for this, my check-in at my first fleet squadron, VP-40 at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.  Two of my flight school friends who had checked into a sister squadron a few weeks earlier met me upon my arrival to show me around.  We had decided to share a rental house in nearby Anacortes, and they had set everything up and were eager to see what I thought of the house.  I drove onto the base via the back gate, and basically what I saw was this.

Had they plopped a Naval Air Station into the middle of a National Park by accident?  From the end of the runway and along the entire west side of the base you look out the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the mid-line of which serves as the border between the US and Canada.  To the south, the Olympic peninsula with its year-round snow-capped mountains rises jaggedly out of the water, and to the north the hundreds of San Juan Islands dot the calm ocean.  And everything’s green.  Except the water, of course, which is a deep blue that would make you want to jump into it if its temperature ever exceeded 50 degrees or so.  I was overwhelmed; I could not imagine that this was to be my workplace and home for the next three years. 

Check out the geographical setup above. Whidbey is the long island in the middle shaped like an old school telephone receiver, and the Naval Air Station is the somewhat lighter blotch just above the town of Oak Harbor. The nearest sizeable city as the crow flies is Victoria, BC, a few miles to the west.

Impossibly, the scenery got even prettier as we made the short drive up to Anacortes, first crossing the iconic Deception Pass bridge, under which several times per day the water roils itself into standing waves and whirlpools due to the rapid tidal currents. 

We pulled up to the house they had rented and I think my first words were “you can’t be serious.”  The entire front consisted of an A-shaped wall of windows that looked out upon the water, islands, and mountains.  This was to be my view, every day. 

Now, to be fair, I need to concede that I was extremely fortunate to be able to have formed my first impressions at the end of June.  Whidbey Island is a very different place from October to May.  This is not to say it is ever less than stunning, but the grey days, the misty rain, and the temperatures hovering mostly between 40 and 50 well into June at times can be oppressive.  But I didn’t know any of that then.  And it was never enough to keep this Southern California born and raised kid from loving the area for the three years I was there, enough so that Tacco and I moved back for another ten. 

It would have easily and happily been the place we raised our kids and likely retired had the opportunity for Tacco to teach back in Annapolis not arisen.  And at the beginning of our current traveling adventure, it held the front-runner spot by far in the where-do-we-settle competition. 

But the past is prologue, and here we were driving our flight of five in our moving home back onto the base to spend a week soaking up more of the Pacific Northwest summer vibe.  Tacco and I were curious how it would strike us, not to mention the kids, only one of whom had any real meaningful memories of living here. 

And of course this is what we saw. 

Cliffside Park, Whidbey’s RV campground, has got to be one of the nicest, if not the nicest in the military system.  It was given a major overhaul a few years back, and on top of the stunning natural waterfront setting, the trail system, the cheap (often free, depending who’s on duty) rental bikes, and the easy access to civilization, the gentleman who took the permanent camp host job happens to be a master gardener.  So you get this.

The playing comes naturally, and play we did. 

First a bit of work for me though, as I flew up to Anchorage to meet a plane which I then piloted back down to Portland.  It was the only leg I was required to fly on this particular trip, and was the result of another boondoggle for me, the type that rarely falls into an airline pilot’s lap but is hugely welcome when it does.  Here’s what happened… Essentially a flight had gotten “stuck” in Anchorage, presumably because the pilot who had been scheduled to fly it out the following day got sick.  Not having any reserve pilots available on the West Coast able to get to Alaska in time, they began calling “local” pilots to see if any were able to operate the flight, and since I had recently changed my “home city” of record to Portland (seemed as good as anywhere to list, given our lifestyle), I got the call from our scheduling folks just before our family’s departure from Seattle.  If this doesn’t yet seem like a boondoggle, it’s because I haven’t yet described how such a trip pays out.  Essentially what I would need to do is get myself up to Anchorage (easy to do from Seattle) and fly to Portland.  That’s it.  BUT… as I am technically still based in Boston for my airline, they’re required to pay me for the trip from Boston to Anchorage, as well as the return leg from Portland to Boston.  AND… it’s paid at a higher rate due to its being an emergency assignment – almost double.  And as if that weren’t enough, they “bought” my next trip, which I would now not be legal to fly due to my flying this one – i.e. they paid me for it without my flying it.  Basically that’s about as good as it gets airline trip-wise.  And lest you think that description of the ins and outs of how airline flying can sometimes break insanely favorable was excessive, there was a point to it, which will come into play in a future post.

At any rate, I returned to the family happily settled into Whidbey’s rhythms.  The tidal swing there is high, about 15 feet from the highest high to the lowest low, and that makes for fruitful exploring at low tide.  As Cliffside’s beach is quite shallow, that much tidal swing makes for several hundred yards of extra beach when the tide is out, much of which is teeming with semi-trapped sea life that isn’t used to being sought out by curious kiddos.

The crabs were not as easy to see as we imagined they would be, given the fact that they tend to dig mostly into the sand when the water recedes.  But once we knew what to look for (and not to step on, oops…) we were able to spot several Red Rock crab and a few baby Dungeness, whose parents were presumably out foraging in deeper water.

The clams were somewhat trickier to capture, as they tended to be visible only via a jet of water they would shoot from their foot, only the top of which was exposed.  What’s more, they’re skilled diggers, and can immediately sense probing hands.  Keeper was pretty proud of himself for managing to unearth this one (which he shortly thereafter returned to the wet sand). 

And then there was this guy.  A baby flounder maybe?  Not entirely up on my flatfish, but we spotted him hiding from us in at the bottom of a large, shallow pool that had been open water a half hour before.  Keeper chased him a bit, and to both of our surprises managed to grab him once before he skittled away.  Not enough for dinner, or even a snack, but good to know my son can catch fish with his bare hands if it ever comes to that.

In keeping with our National Park site theme, we visited nearby Fort Casey, which I had flown over at low altitude hundreds of times, but never spent the time to visit during my time as a local.  Puget Sound’s relatively narrow and deep waterways make for easily defendable chokepoints, overlooking which sit several gun embankments.  I had ridden by a few of them while mountain biking or unsuccessfully fishing for salmon, but never took the time to learn much about them. The girls did so while earning their Junior Ranger badges, and filled me in.

The rest of the time we spent beachcombing, wandering, and playing in the campground for the most part.  And it was soul-soothing. 

Whidbey is such a relaxing place; it’s difficult to convey how calming looking out at this water is on a perfect 75-degree day, so I’ll just post the pictures.

After this we drive the few miles north to Anacortes, where we’ll camp at a few of our favorite places and attempt to pay attention to what our guts tell us about its prospects as our future home.  It has dropped in the rankings throughout our travels during our time on the road, but that’s possibly just a factor of our prolonged absence rather than anything rational or even emotional.  I’m curious to see where this goes.  In a week we return to Annapolis to close on the house (again), which I’m certain will spool us back up.  But right now, savoring the serenity is the order of the day. 

Sea/Sun/Sky-attle

Still discombobulated from the previous week’s flurry of activity, we flew back to the Pacific Northwest eager to join our friends in Seattle.  Twice before we had made plans to spend time with them at their gorgeous house on Lake Washington, and both plans had been thwarted at the last minute by illness.  Fortunately no wayward bugs this time around, and we lumbered our beastly rig up into their golf course neighborhood on a stunning Friday afternoon.  The only uncertainty that remained at this point was whether we would actually be able to maneuver into their driveway.  My friend had made rough measurements which indicated that we’d make it, but you never know about the angles, the slope, or the vertical obstacles, all of which had bitten us in the past.  His measurements were good though, and I squeaked Davista down and into place in front of their garage.  Let the recreation begin!

Here’s the setting.  Imagine waking up to this view every morning.  “But wait, isn’t it always raining in Seattle?” you say.  Yes, absolutely.  Especially in the summer.  Every day.  Whatever you do, don’t move there. 

Our arrival was a bit late in the day for watersports, but we knew there was plenty of that on tap for the weekend, so dug into the first of several tasty outdoors meals instead while the kids got reacquainted.  Their two sons are the same age as Keeper and Firebolt.  In fact, we took a trip to Tuscany with them back when Keeper and their oldest were just over two months old (they were born two weeks apart).

Summer days are long, but summer days in Washington are even longer, and the wine and conversation stretched well into the evening as the sun didn’t set until well after 9PM.

The following day was Seafair day, Seafair being an annual August festival that centers on Lake Washington and peaks with boat races and an airshow.  It’s quite the floating party, with the best airshow viewing location by far being Lake Washington’s center, where a giant, morphing raft of loosely connected boats bob and drift and their occupants jump in and out of the water.  Water fights tend to spring up frequently as well, and our kids spent some time building up their arsenal. 

First, though, some pre-airshow tubing.  The girls were less interested in getting bounced around on the water, so we took the boys out early.  Probably safe to say they enjoyed themselves.  “Flossing” is even trickier when you’re doing it on a speeding tube, “dabbing” less so.

After returning to the dock and packing up our gear we headed to Seafair central, where a couple more families (friends of our friends) were already anchored and in full celebration mode.  After a few unsuccessful attempts to set our own anchor in the deep water, we tied up to their boat instead, unrolled the floating “party island” and got busy enjoying the day.

Quick Seattle geography digression.  Everyone knows that Seattle is on the water, but some likely don’t appreciate the full diversity of its waterfronts and waterways. 

Essentially it sits on a strip of land between Puget Sound and Lake Washington.  Puget Sound is a large inlet of the Pacific Ocean carved out by glaciers, which left it with countless islands, canals, and passageways.  On the western side of Puget Sound lie several islands and the Kitsap Peninsula, and beyond that, the Olympic Peninsula, with its year-round snow-capped peaks.  To the east, the equally jagged and glacier-dotted Cascades run the length of the state from north to south.  When you see the area from the air, it essentially looks like a maze of waterways sandwiched between the two snowy mountain ranges.  It’s easy to think that they’re all saltwater since they’re all connected.  But Lake Washington is entirely freshwater, fed by the Cascades’ snowmelt.  Lake Washington feeds into Lake Union, which is right in the center of Seattle, and then to the Sound via a series of locks which bring the water down to sea level, as well as regulating the level of the lakes. 

Here’s the point of all that, or at least a point – the perception of Seattle is that the water is too cold to swim in, and that’s true of the Sound.  The lakes, however, are pristine, fresh, and warm up nicely in the summer.  Perfect for swimming and playing.  Best of all worlds.

This being the third time we had seen a Blue Angel show, the novelty had largely worn off, and it was tough to get the kids too enthused about it.  But the water fights and general good cheer more than overcame any airshow ambivalence they were fostering. 

It was more or less a perfect day, capped off by another lakeside dinner and some sunset waterplay. 

Though we opted to depart Sunday afternoon due to our friends having commitments the following morning, we managed to get another tubing run in that morning, with my getting talked into joining my friend and his younger son on the tube.  My initial hesitation sprung from my not finding tubing especially exciting, but evidently that is entirely driver-dependent, as I would soon discover.  We got flipped around like rag dolls back there.  I didn’t know my face could do that.

The ride culminated in this spectacular spill.  Evidently I was in the “lucky” seat.

No one hurt, but we did decide to cut our losses while we were still laughing and get back into the boat.

I think my favorite part of a weekend that was one long highlight was watching the kids play together.  It’s been awhile, but I know that I’ve mentioned one of my overarching concerns about this trip was the lack of “play with other kids” time that we’ve been able to provide for ours.  Their kids are not only close in age to ours, but also close in temperament.  I have the feeling that if they lived near to each other they would become lifelong friends.

That would seem to lead to an argument for considering Seattle, more specifically their area of Seattle (which is actually Kenmore) as an ultimate destination.  Schools are good, we know we love Seattle, there’s an airport nearby and good recreation around…. But of course it’s never that simple.  Seattle of late has gone through a real estate boom that is comparable to the one in California’s Bay Area.  Houses get snapped off the market within days, at prices higher than the asking price.  Which means that we can’t afford it. 

This is not to say that we would live in Seattle if it weren’t for the cost.  We’ve considered it during our brainstorming sessions several times, and it always comes in high on our list.  But the final analysis we’re drawn to smaller towns – traffic drives Tacco batty, and to an extent I agree.  We both want fewer people around.

It’s not ruled out of course… nothing is really.  But we left in a melancholy mood after enjoying ourselves so thoroughly.  The kids connected deeply within 2 days, and we’re pulling them back onto the road and pushing their rediscovered friends back to “hey let’s play Fortnite together sometime” status.  

We did have a little fun with photography before departing.  There are a couple classic pictures of the two oldest kids (and some of the adults) from our Tuscany trip 12 years ago, so we decided to re-create them.  Did a decent job, too, though we couldn’t quite get them into Baby Bjorns.

Ultimately, yet another highlight, leaving us with much more to reflect upon as we head north back to Anacortes, where it all began.

Plan Charlie Whisky? Yes, please!

And so we revised our paradigm to roll with Plan Moon.  You can learn more about how we came to find ourselves in this new mindset in my previous post here.  Since we were no longer tied to finding a permanent home in the immediate future, everything sort of opened up to us.  The temporal reprieve we granted ourselves by taking another year to travel (or, as Flight so eloquently stated, we simply “kicked the can down the road for a year…”) was now wide open with possibilities, but there was so much we had to tend to immediately we couldn’t even contemplate what that meant.

Flight and I made the opportunity to go to one of our favorite places in DTA (Downtown Annapolis for any non-locals) leaving Keeper in charge.  We went to Dry 85 (see below – not my picture, but found it on line…), which we love for fantastic eats and scrumptious beverages served in a gezellig  environment, and squirreled away with computers, paper calendars, notebooks, and pens.  Okay, so the former was all Flight and, as he calls me the “Walking Electromagnetic Pulse” (or “Walking EMP” for short), the elegant tools of 20thcentury record-keeping were all mine.

Photo request: Eats review of Dry 85 Name of event: n/a Run date: 3/19 for b, 3/21 for Live Reporter: Kit Pollard Assignment sta

Based on Flight’s work schedule, we came up with an appropriate means of dividing and conquering the possessions we had amassed to shoehorn as much of them into a POD as possible.  Flight tackled the shed and the garage during his few days home and I packed out the kitchen, all the while lamenting why we have so many dishes (living in 280 sqft has made me very aware that we truly don’t need much to joyfully exist – I think Marie Kondo is onto something…), and started on the basement.

I should mention that (over?)zealously packing up all the pots, pans, and dishes required some culinary creativity.

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During one of our delivery runs out to the slowly filling POD, one of our gracious neighbors strolled over and casually observed that she noticed the “Under Contract” sign had been taken down before asking, “What happened?” We gave her the bare bones rundown of our latest real estate drama (which was nothing compared to the first go around and you can read more about that here) and she said something to the effect of, “Well, good friends of ours put in a contingent offer on your house and were disappointed when it wasn’t accepted.  Let me reach out to see if they’re still interested…”

Within an hour, their realtor called ours to officially indicate their interest and we asked them to put together an offer once our house went active again the following week, most likely after we flew out.  Our fantastic realtor team made the opportunity to reach out to other families who had expressed interest in our house to advise them the deal had fallen through and gauge their interest in writing an offer.  One such family was hours away from writing an offer in on another house and jumped on our recently liberated property within hours after the first deal fell through.  Through the neighbor network, the other couple also put in an offer as well, although as theirs was still contingent, we went with the first.  Although, more than a little jaded by our Maryland real estate endeavor to date, we knew not to get our hopes up…

Flight and I took a break from sorting through, throwing out, and packing up most of our worldly goods to join in the celebration of a friend’s retirement from the Navy after 25 years of honorable service.  Despite neglecting to get a picture of the man of the hour, I managed several with his wife, with whom I’d shared our four years by the Bay at USNA, and several of our Academy classmates.

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While each of these women is remarkable in their own right, this lovely soul picture with me below is one whose friendship dates back to third grade Brownie Scouts.  I’m not making this up.

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After a couple solid days of work, Flight left on another work trip and I got down to serious business. I took the girls to gymnastics camp every day and left Keeper to tend to his own entertainment.  He was so excited to have his own room again, one with a door that actually shut, that I’m not sure my abandonment even registered. Meanwhile, I squirreled away in the basement and streamlined 20 boxes of likely superfluous memorabilia down to eight (translated: 12 boxes sparked no joy…).

In my spare moments, I oversaw the bittersweet installation of our new pool liner chosen by a family who would not be residing here and, as Flight noted, the pool looked its nicest since we’ve owned it.

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As is so often the case, especially when we attempt to fly standby in the summer, all the potential flights filled up at the last minute and we had to change our itinerary countless times.  After being in the Caribbean for a few days, Flight had landed in Boston near midnight, called me and we talked through the possible options for the next day’s travel plans. Ultimately we decided on a late departure the following day to Boston, overnighting in Boston and an early flight to Seattle where Flight, after catching an earlier flight from Boston to Portland to collect Davista and drive to Seattle, would pick us up at SEA-TAC. I told the kids they could sleep in as long as they wanted because we were no longer departing early.

Kidding!

Flight called me at 6:38 the next morning to let me know most of the options we’d previously discussed were no longer possible.  Well, shoot. I had a most impressive to do list still awaiting my attention, but really needed to prioritize because we now had to catch an Uber in less than three hours.  Deep breath and initiate Operation Perfect Stage Triage Departure Checklist…

Okay, first things first – add a few more boxes into the POD in the driveway and secure our belongings in situ and away from the door so that if they move around and make it impossible to open the door when we get our stuff delivered at a time to be determined. Thinking ahead, my last trip to Home Depot was for boxes and more packing paper, but I also bought some rope and a few large boxes to tape together and create a barrier of sorts. Since we had another POD coming in a few weeks, I thought 100’ of rope ought to do it.  After I cut the line in half, the ends immediately began to unravel, really faster than I thought possible. Not really thinking things through, I took both ropes in to the kitchen to burn the newly cut ends to preclude further unraveling. Good idea in theory that becomes a bad idea when the rope burns enough poly material to drip on the wood floors that have recently been refinished.

Idiot.

I immediately tried to get the black melted nylon off the floor but it was as if the new embellishments had been epoxied on.  Awesome.  The POD was going to be collected sometime this morning, so I needed to tie everything down and lock it first before I could tend to the self-induced disaster I just created.

After doing further research, Flight called me as I was, with surgical precision I might add, steadily peeling up the burnt rope droppings with an Exacto knife.  He asked me if we could be ready to go in less two hours and I committed to being so.  A crucial 20 minutes later it was as though I had never engaged in rope burning jackassery and the floor was returned to looking beautiful.  The kids were extremely helpful in getting our house back to show condition, vacuuming all floors upstairs, the kitchen and living room downstairs and sweeping the stairs.  I cleaned all bathrooms, took a four minute shower (and again gave thanks for my plebe year training at the Naval Academy) and cleaned the kitchen with our ride to the airport inbound.

We had hoped Flight would catch an early flight down to BWI and rent a car to come back, help finish up with loading the POD, and run us to the airport.  Sadly, the flight he had his eye on pushed back from the gate 25 minutes early (that never happens!) and he wasn’t able to get back in time to be our shuttle.  So we rolled with it.  The only problem was I couldn’t sort out how to pay for an Uber or a Lyft with only our recently cancelled credit card stored in my phone. Our card had been cancelled the previous day after it was fraudulently compromised – I swear I’ve never been to a Walmart in Ohio.  Given that I was unable to devote any further mental power to sort that out, I requested that Flight set us up with a ride, which he did from afar and we had someone coming to collect us soon.

The kids and I left the house in show ready condition and we made our way to the airport.  We met Flight in Boston and caught a ride to Portland with his company.  Our arrival in Portland was too late to collect Davista, so we collected the Subaru from the Radisson (where we’d parked for free for the last two weeks – !!!) and drove to a Marriott affiliated hotel to stay on points.   As we collected our house on wheels, we were assured that Davista was just fine and sent on our way to Seattle.   It took us about an hour to unpack and settle in before we buttoned up Davista and made ready to get underway again.  No flashing check engine light on our way to Seattle – so far so good… Onto SeaFair and a good single malt…

Oban

Diversion / Resolution

In aviation-speak, a diversion is the term for when unusual circumstances dictate that you change your destination and land somewhere you hadn’t planned to.

So there we were.  Shocked into silence in the kitchen, haven’t slept, home deal almost certainly about to implode (spoiler: it did), motorhome back in Portland not fixed, pool about to be opened with an expensive new liner that we don’t particularly like in a house in which we no longer live, packing everything out but suddenly realizing that we would have to instead get the house back to “show ready”  in the next couple days.

While I realize that having a home sale deal fall through barely even registers on the “unusual events” seismograph (we had already had that happen once after all, though much earlier in the process), there were so many second and third-order effects tied to this particular event for us, that it was too much to process. We had to just stop, pop a bottle of wine, and detach.

My first thought was “Trip’s over!  We’re pulling the house off the market and moving back to Maryland.”  In all the disorientation, it was difficult to see another viable option.  Not how we wanted to end this.

Fortunately we were able to detach enough to recognize that we were in no condition to make any decisions, and we slept on it. 

It was not a fun week.  But it resolved.  And everything’s fine. Rather than drag you through the chaos of the rest of our time in Annapolis, I’ll tell you how it ended:

  • We committed to Plan Moon.  Plan Moon, if you read our earlier post, was one of two “big picture” scenarios we were weighing, and entailed NOT settling as originally planned, but instead staying on the road, continuing our travels (though scaled down somewhat), and home/road-schooling the kids for another year.  The prospect had been slightly terrifying to me when first proposed, but I had warmed to it in the interim, and these recent developments made it the only logical choice.  It felt both right and good to make that call.  A relief.
  • They finally fixed Davista.  Well, maybe.  They “fixed” her.  At some point the technicians back in Portland threw up their hands and opened an assist case with the Ford mothership.  After a string of troubleshooting steps, they landed on the serpentine belt tensioner, which apparently was at least marginally defective on our model of engine.  “Huh??” you say?  Me too.  It took some mental gymnastics to connect a potentially loose belt to random misfires of multiple cylinders, but I pushed the “I believe” button after accepting the Portland folks’ assurances and reading through the self-styled internet experts’ descriptions of how a fluttering belt could case tiny rpm fluctuations, which could be interpreted as misfires, and and and… ok, sure, fine, enough. 
  • Three days after the home deal’s implosion, that word somehow got out, and we got two more potential offers.  Evidently the new sense of urgency spurred them into action. One offer was contingent on at least one home sale and gave us headaches, but the other looked promising, and they wanted a short closing time.  We haggled the price a bit and accepted.  Closing at the end of August.

We flew back to Portland, re-packed ourselves into Davista and hooked up our Toad, and set off for Seattle, where we had arranged to visit some dear friends for the long weekend.  They live right on Lake Washington, with a boat and many toys, they’re some of our favorite people, they like good food and drink as much as we do, their kids are our two older kids’ age, and on top of all that, it was Seafair weekend in Seattle, the pinnacle of which is the Blue Angels airshow over the Lake.  We would be watching from the water, and there is nowhere in the world better to be in August than the Pacific Northwest. 

So ready for this.