Day Three: Modesto, CA to Anaheim, CA

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6 March 2017 – Anaheim, CA

We didn’t hit the road until nearly 10 AM again since we chatted with the couple from the previous night while breaking down and then I had to take a call with some university and government collaborators of ours. During that hour, the kiddos played around and made a couple of friends. After Serg and I had managed the first dump, we were on the road!

We had sandwiches in a grassy park area near a massive truck stop in Coalinga and reveled in the sun that was now beginning to show itself. We spent longer there than we should have, so we hit the road again. Sergio was very nervous as he realized he was going to be driving through LA and then Anaheim during rush hour traffic. GASP! It didn’t go terribly, but it was also nerve-wracking. The biggest issue was that we were also low on gas as we were too nervous to take any of the city exits to refuel as we weren’t sure they would be trailer friendly or would have a freeway return. What if we got stuck?! Luckily, we made it to Anaheim with 15 miles worth of gas left and found a gas station that would work well enough. Anaheim RV park, where we decided to plant for the next five days, was just around the corner. Ah, joy, another back in spot!!! This one was much, much, much more challenging. It included moving around some picnic tables and about two hundred pull forwards, backup, straighten out, and try again. But we did it!

We made macaroni and cheese and realized our milk had gone bad. So, awesome. Scratch that, but quesadillas work! The kids were so excited to get to sleep and take Disneyland head on the next morning!

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Day Two: Grant’s Pass, OR to Modesto, CA

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5 March 2017 – Modesto, CA

We woke up without the kids stirring all night at a very reasonable 7:05 AM.  I mentioned I like sleep, right?  I was kind of afraid sleep was a thing of the past embarking on this trip.  Six people in a minimally insulated mobile hotel room?  Scoffs.  Turns out the doors work some minor wonders!  Exhaustion probably helps, too.

Sergio made the kids oatmeal and our coffee, and as we were cleaning up and finishing getting dressed, our lucky feeling started going away.  The snow began to fall heavily, and we had already accumulated over an inch in less than an hour.  We stuck the kids in the Suburban with a movie and started going down the breakdown checklist.  Sergio started raising the stabilizer jacks with the drill we brought and realized it wasn’t working anymore so manually did it with the included tool.  That wasn’t too hard!  I walked with another couple up to the KOA office to inquire about road conditions.  They were a fellow self-employed couple who were headed to Vegas for a heavy construction equipment conference.  I have the feeling we’re going to meet some awesome and colorful people on this trip!  The good news is that Grant’s Pass was right on the edge of the storm and the roads south, including the pass, were pretty clear.  We finished packing up the trailer doing all the things I mentioned the previous night in reverse.  We’re figuring it out, or so we thought.  We turned off the fridge, the LP gas, the lights, folded down all the tables, stowed everything away, and then actually said, “Hey, the snow on the slideout will squeegee off when we bring it in.  No problem.”  Ahem, yes it was a problem.  When we pulled it in, I stood on top of the cooler to see if the slide out (now inside) was mostly free of snow and saw there was still an inch of snow.  After laughing and debating how to solve the problem (hey, let’s just slide it back out and then broom it off outside didn’t work, haha), we decided I was going to stay on the cooler and use the broom to slide the snow to the sides, where Sergio would try to catch the snow in a salad bowl to dump back outside.  I’m laughing while writing this!  He caught some of the snow in the bowl, and the floor caught the rest, but I fairly quickly got it off the slide and pushed it back out so we could clean off the floor.  Swept that all up (plus the gravel that SOMEONE tracked inside with their slippers), then pulled the slide back in.  Laughed some more and added that experience to our mental checklist of things to do/not to do.  Nothing like life to keep you humble!

We pulled out just before 10:00 AM with the help of the 4WD and drove over the first pass easily.  We stopped at an Albertson’s to pick up some lunch things – worst organized grocery store ever! – and Sergio took a work call.  He’s been asked to keynote a conference in July at MITRE, which was exciting enough on its own but then I really got excited when I learned they wanted him to present on my nonprofit, Global Emancipation Network, for which he serves as the Technical Director.  Squeal!

Sunset at RiverPoint Marina

RV Camp Site at Riverpoint Marina

We hit the road again and went up over a second pass and crossed over into California.  We took turns driving and eventually pulled into RiverPoint Landing Marina Park.  We started by debating whether or not we had to take the sway bars off the Equalizer 4-way weight distribution hitch and decided we didn’t have to, but being nervous newbies, we decided to do it anyway.  Probably with amusement, another couple came out of their giant motorhome and asked if we needed help as Sergio and I began the dance of backing the trailer into a spot for the first time (yes, in the dark).  I was driving the Suburban and Sergio was behind the trailer, both with walkie talkies in hand.  I nodded enthusiastically, and the lady stood by my window helping me sort out which way to turn the wheel while the two men shouted directions through the walkie talkie to me.  It was great!  We got in without too much trouble, so I felt pretty good about everything.  Night two in the books!

Day One: Woodinville, WA to Grant’s Pass, OR

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4 March 2017 – Grants Pass, OR

Sergio woke me up bright and early Saturday morning – accent on early (6:30 AM is brutal for this lady) – with a smile and cheerily asked, “Are you ready to go camping?!”  After taking what I fear to be the last long and hot shower for a while (yes, there is a shower in the trailer but only 5 minutes’ worth of hot water), we frantically loaded all the last items in the car, bolted up the house, ran keys to friends and neighbors, and waved goodbye.

Our first stop was the Battle Ground, Washington rest area where we met my family for Rocky’s Pizza and a quick goodbye peek at our new “rig.”  We’re learning the lingo already.  J  Then we hit the road again with our first destination plugged into Waze: Grant’s Pass, Oregon.  The trip was estimated to take 7 hours, 20 minutes but you know, kids.  And also RV.  So a zillion of potty stops, not to mention gas fill-ups (hello, average 12.5 mi/gal fuel efficiency while towing!), and a Taco Bell run for dinner, we ended up towing for the first time ever in the dark.  And the snow.  In construction.  But you know, it’s cool, it’s all part of the adventure!  We both drove and learned how to use the towing brake and figured out lane changes and how not to bust a tire on a curb.  We pulled into the Grant’s Pass KOA with minutes to spare as the office closed at 8:30 PM.  They took pity on the newbies and moved us into a bigger pull through the lot by the office where we basically could just pull in and out without any maneuvering.  Yay!

Sergio and I began going through our checklist, which included a million things, like: lowering the post, setting out the stabilizer jack blocks and lowering those, putting out the tire chocks, setting up the drinking water hose with the L joint, water filter, and pressure regulator, and setting up the electrical plug with the power conditioner and hooking it up.  Did I mention it was dark and snowing?  We got all the outside stuff done in about 20 minutes since we decided to leave the trailer hitched.  We extended the single slide out, turned on the furnace to heat up the ice box, turned on the water heater, and prayed to the RV camping gods that we did everything right, and we wouldn’t roll away or blow up in the middle of the night.

The kids tornadoed into the trailer, and we eventually managed to wrangle them into pajamas and bribe them into bed.  We finally got them quiet and possibly asleep around 10:30 and were just drifting off to sleep when I tried to turn on my heating blanket and realized hey, we no longer have electricity flowing.  The interior lights can work off the battery, but the outlets do not function if the RV isn’t plugged in.  That’s probably a good thing.  Sergio had realized earlier that something was wrong when the kids OK to Wake clock suddenly lost power but chocked it up to an issue with the clock.  The heating blanket definitely tipped us off to another problem.  Serg buttoned back up and went outside to find the power conditioner had actually fallen off the hookup post, so the fix was very simple.  Sweet, sweet blanket heat followed, and we collapsed quickly into dreamland.

And We’re Off to See America!

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4 March 2017 – I-5 Heading South from Seattle

New Suburban

My family always had a travel trailer while I was growing up.  It was classic late 70s with the interior having those hallmark orange, olive green, and brown fabrics and wallpaper.  My parents slept on the pull-out sofa bed, my siblings had the bunk beds in the back, and I was the “lucky” one who slept on the convertible table cum bed.  The good thing was space was bigger than anyone else had.  The bad thing was that I couldn’t go to sleep until everyone else was ready for bed – and yes, I was the one who always sought sleep the earliest and wanted to wake the latest.  I also have a fond memory of my mother getting into the cabinet above the bed early one morning to take out coffee and filters for herself and my dad to ease into the day.  A pile of napkins landed on me and gently ringed my face, making for a great photo op and an interesting way to wake up.

We used to take an annual family vacation with another family to a place called Rainbow Falls State Park in Washington State during the July 4th weekend when they hosted the Scottish Highland Games.  We could participate (pretty sure I still have a stack of ribbons somewhere!), and there was always a closing ceremony where the Scots would march through the campground playing the bagpipes, dressed in their finest kilts and traditional clan garb, and we’d celebrate the winners over the campfire.  Those are some of my warmest childhood memories.  We also made a few bigger trips, like the time we drove to Mt Rushmore and back, hitting Yellowstone and other epic sites at the same time.  I remember seeing Crazy Horse in its early stages, and the Mt. Rushmore visitor’s center was much smaller than it is now.  We also went to British Columbia and Alberta, crossing over the Canadian Rockies, and visited Banff and Jasper National Parks and saw my great-grandparent’s homestead near Calgary, Alberta.  My parents used to go out more frequently with my older brother when he was in drum and bugle corps; after three more kids had come along a decade later, those trips were fewer and farther between.  I don’t blame them. ;-)4

Sergio’s family traveled quite a bit between some incredible trips to Europe, including the UK and Italy, and often went to California to visit their close family in the San Jose area.  Once they started the restaurant, travel slowed down drastically, but they all retained their sense of wanderlust and cravings to explore the world.

Picking up our new trailer – an MPG 2800BH

Sergio and I have tried to recreate for our children some of the best things we remember about our own childhoods, including picnics in the backyard woods, summer Otter pops, gobs of travel, and plenty of laughter.  When Sergio and I started talking about what we wanted in our next house several years back when we first moved to the UK, we both those of those things.  Then we started really going down the rabbit hole and set our hearts and minds on buying a travel trailer and dragging the kids along to see as much of the world as we can while they still like us.

We’ve spent much of the past two years researching what type of trailer we should buy, floorplans, crunching numbers of towing capacity and payload, and saving for the day we can finally do it.  Well, that day has come!  After *much* deliberation and countless trips to RV sales lots and seasonal shows, we settled on a new 2016 Chevrolet Suburban LT with “luxury package” (read: heated leather seats baby!) and “sun and fun package” (read: DVD player for my sanity).  A model with the max trailering package was crucial as that raised the towing capacity up to around 8000 lbs and the payload capacity about 1600 lbs.  It also gave us an integrated trailer brake, tow/haul mode, automatic transmission cooler, and the 3.42 axle ratio v. the standard 3.08 axle ratio.  We had to locate this unicorn Suburban in just two days as we realized after looking in fear at our upcoming travel schedules, one or both of us would be gone for the next two and a half months, leaving child care a tricky situation.  We decided that since we homeschool the big two kiddos and Aurelia is only in preschool, it was the perfect time to take our circus on the road!  That gave us only THREE DAYS to select our trailer and tow vehicle, pick them up, and leave home.

We took a three-hour class on how to operate the RV at Tacoma RV where we purchased it on Friday afternoon after frantically picking up the Suburban at 1:30 and signing license docs in Enumclaw.  What a day!  Luckily we have good friends and neighbors, and an incredible babysitter, who jumped in to help take care of the kiddos while we dashed around trying to execute our harebrained scheme.

Miracle of miracles, though, we actually flipping did it.  We loaded the trailer until 11 pm on Friday night and finished up over a couple of hours on Saturday morning.  We were quite the spectacle in our cul-de-sac as we just left it all hitched up overnight (um, we were possibly afraid of “fixing” what wasn’t broke!) and we had some neighbors out watching on with amusement and peppering us with questions over our nutso plans.  We love our neighborhood – shout out to HPE!!!

Here goes one of our most insane, most incredible adventures yet!

Yosemite – Mist Trail

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16 June 2016 – Yesterday we were up on the rim looking down 4000 ft to the valley floor.  Today we were hiking in the Yosemite valley floor looking 4000 ft up.  We took the highly rated Mist Trail which leads to 3 waterfalls.  However, we only had time (and energy) to reach the first set at Vernal Falls.

Lucas attempts to start a fire bybrubbing a rock on a stick before our hike


1.5 miles of 10 degree incline gaining 1000 ft is quite a challenge for little legs. Plus, we aren’t in full hiking shape this year.  After yesterday’s climb, I mistakenly thought the hike would be easier than it was.  I recorded 300 flights of stairs on my fitness tracker.
The park was not overly crowded but even on light days the valley floor can be overwhelmed.  We found parking to be something of a challenge but luckily only had to search for about 10 minutes.  However, it put us about .75 miles from the trailhead.

The kids found some granite boulders to climb along the path


The trail itself is paved and follows the path of the river which keeps it cool – but also increases the mosquito population as it nears evening. The trail is also really busy.  Too busy for our taste, but still – its Yosemite, so one cannot complain too much. 

The kids had a bit of a rough go on the incline given a lack of sleep and the strenuous hike the previous day up the Panorama trail, especially Aurelia.  But we managed.  The primary portion of the trail ends at the Vernal Falls bridge, where you see the lower falls directly below you.  However, to see the more spectacular upper falls you have to go, that’s right, higher 🙂

Fat squirrel on the trail

Lower Vernal Falls and the Yosemite Valley


We continued to the upper falls which were astounding – water falling from a straight-edged cliff making it look like a curtain.  The trail ends and one point and continues as a steep stairway cut into the granite along the river canyon.  You feel both the mist of the spray as well as the vibration of the falling water.  We went only a quarter way up the steps and  turned around to head back down.  It was just too much for the kids – and too much of a risk with them so tired.

We returned to our car at about 6:15.  The sun was going down and the 70 degree weather was more like 55 – so we put on our jackets and enjoyed dinner al fresco beneath half dome amongst the majesty of Yosemite.

Dinner beneath half dome


On the way out of Yosemite, the park decided to give us one more treat – a beautiful view of half dome during the sunset.

Half Dome as the sun falls behind the rim of the valley

Yosemite – Glacier Point and Panorama Trail

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15 June 2016 – Our first stop of the day was Mark Twain’s Cabin – it was on the way and we noticed the sign.  Not the original cabin, a recreation from the 1920’s on “Jackass Hill” where Twain stayed for little over 1 year.  It was there he wrote his famous short story about a jumping frog in Calavaras country.  

We jumped out for a quick look and then continued on our way.  The kids took note because we’ve been listening to the short story and visited Angels Camp the day before.  It is a great gem of Americana and certainly a famous location for American literature.

Mark Twain Cabin – a reproduction in the same area he stayed for a year


We reached Yosemite at 12 noon.  Not a short drive from anywhere.  It was another 90 minutes (with lunch break) to Glacier point.  It is about .25 miles from the parking area to the lookout.  Luckily we found a parking space, others had another mile walk from a secondary parking lot. 

From the point is the best view of the valley – over 8000 feet above sea level and 4000 feet above the valley floor.  The view is outstanding.

Welcome to Yosemite


You can see all of the major Yosemite sites: El Capitan, Half Dome, Yosemite river, and Yosemite falls.  The point is really crowded but the view is amazing and worth it.  Even better is the Panorama trail head which begins at Glacier point.

Family at Glacier Point – Half Dome in the background


From the trail the views are just as awesome but less crowded, a lot less crowded.  The hike goes over 8 miles to the valley floor 4000 feet below.  However, the hike is great at any distance and you can turn around at any point.  We went about 1.5 miles and then took a long rest to look over the valley before the calf-burning hike back up.  It took us a total of 3 hours and approximately 3 miles round trip.  We took a 10 minute rest and snack break half way through.

A rest and a snack on the panorama trail


Hiking on the Panorama Trail


While June is a bit early we did catch some wildflowers beginning to bloom


The kids had a great time, they always love hiking.  Giuliana slept in the kid carrier most of the way 🙂 The views were better than promised with both Half Dome and 3 waterfalls illuminated by the sun.  One of the most stunning views I’ve enjoyed on a hike.  Well worth it. It feels like the greatest cathedral in the universe.

Family on the Panorama trail – half dome in the background, Giuliana sleeping on Sergio’s back


Half Dome and Waterfalls – the neverending view from the Panorama trail

Redwood National Park

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12 June 2016 – Today we visited a location we’ve always wanted to visit, Redwood National Park.  Home of the largest trees in the world.  It is a park 50 miles. long along the Pacific coast.

On our way from Grants Pass we couldn’t help ourselves but to stop and picnic at the beach.  The kids put on their sandles and had an opportunity to play in the sand – unfortunately nothing interesting in the tide pools.

Tide Pools

Pacific Coast Panorama

Thirty more minutes and we were in the midst of the giant Redwood trees.  Having only a few hours we chose the Trillium Falls trail.  It is a beautiful 2.8 mile loop through the forest, along streams, a small waterfall, skunk cabbage, banana slugs, and of course trees bigger than you imagine.

Redwood Tree Canopy


Aurelia standing next to half a fallen redwood trunk

The forest was cool with dappled sun filtering through the canopy.  We had several opportunities to walk over, under, and through the kings of this forest.  Some were so large it was easy to imagine a whole family camping comfortably within a single hollow trunk.  It was hard to keep your eyes on the path with such a cathedral ceiling above you.

Family selfie inside a Redwood tree trunk

Hiking Trillium Falls

Trillium Falls


While we didn’t see much in terms of fauna (only banana slugs and Elk – hoping for a glimpse of the giant pacific salamander) the flora was amazing: Redwood trees, pine, aspen, red huckleberry, blackberry, coastal man root, iris, beautiful nursury logs, an amazing a variety of fern, moss, and lichens.  We saw the remnants of trillium, but too late for blooms.  There were also fragile white flowering vines called coastal manroot which had tendrils hanging along the path.

Coastal Manroot

Fern

Banana Slug

Wild Iris


The park is also home to a several large herds of Roosevelt Elk.  Coming back from the hike we saw a herd close up with several small calves with their spots.  We were only 30 feet away from several of them.

Elk herd grazing off Trillium Falls Trail within Redwood NP


Driving south we also spotted another herd lounging in the lawn of an RV park, so we stopped to admire this herd as well.

Herd of Redwood NP elk grazing in an RV park


From Redwood we drove to Redding, CA for  an overnight before heading East into the mountains.

Settling in for a trip from Redwood to Redding

Gold Mining

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13 June 2016 – We spent the traveling from Redding, through Sacremento, and into the Gold Country.

We stopped first at Gold Bug Park in Placerville, CA.  The location of some mining activity and now a state park with several activity – panning, two gold mine tours, a blacksmith, and a stamp mill.

For $2 each of us got a pan and an hour at the sluices searching for our treasure.  We had a great time, and at 82 degrees happy that the sluices were shaded and the water cool.  All of the kids loved it and found interesting gems and stones.  It was a great hour playing in some water after a long drive 🙂

Panning in Gold Bug Park


Panning Results from Gold Bug Park


After panning we took a self-guided tour of the gold bug mine.  A great tour for the kids with about 45 minutes long taking us about 1/8 mile into the mine 110 below the surface with exposed quartz veins, mining cars, dripping water, and dynamite holes.

Gold Bug Mine


From Placerville we traveled 8 miles north to Coloma and Sutter’s Mill – the site of the first California gold discovery by James Marshall on the American River in 1847 starting the famous gold rush.


The kids felt compelled to dig in the river sand to look for gold – but luck was not with us and it looks like we’ll be going back to Seattle instead of traveling the world.

On our way towards San Andreas for our B&B we had dinner in Placerville at Pizza Bene.  The restaurant was unremarkable but while we were eating some folks rode their horses into town and tied them up to a post outside during their own dinner.  The kids were quite amused.

Horses In Placerville

Crater Lake

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11 June 2016 – We spent most of the day driving south from Portland towards California.  Having never seen Crater Lake and having the opportunity we decided to stop by.

The park opened not too long ago and tall snow banks were all around. All of the trails still closed.  However, having the opportunity to see the lake was enough.

The lake was beautiful – an unimaginable blue.  Clear enough to see the lake bottom contours from hundreds of feet above while standing on the rim.

Wizard Island was dusted in snow but the evergreens still gave it a green and brown hue.

Crater Lake from the East Rim


We spent about 90 minutes on the lake rim walking around the snow-cleared walkway and the visitors center.

Crater Lake and Wizard Island from Visitors Center


A 2 hour more drive south took us to Jacksonville, OR outside Medford for German cuisine before retiring to Grants Pass.

Chasing the Snow

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20 December 2015 – After a snow-less winter so far we headed up into the mountains for some proper winter exposure.  We bundled the kids up, packed up the sleds, and headed into the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and towards Mt. Rainier National Park.  This is near some of our favorite hikes.  State route 410 was closed at the park entrance, but the road to Crystal Mountain was open and we headed into elevation for deeper snow.

Just down from the resort area we found a decent place to park across the road from a good sledding hill.  The hill was obviously a well-used sledding spot given the packed snow and a small snow jump.  But, while we were there only a few other families showed up – maybe it was the ‘no sledding’ sign which kept the crowds down 🙂

The kids grabbed their sleds and headed up the hill.  For the first runs Sherrie stayed below to stop the kids from going too far and Sergio was on top helping the kids get on the sled before it slid out from under them.  Isabella (7) and Aurelia (4) loved going together, hitting the jump a couple of times.  Lucas (6) loved to go down by himself, but didn’t want to go too high up the hill.

Giuliana (1) didn’t care too much for the snow.  At first she wanted to get down with the other kids and play in the snow, but after a couple of minutes of feeling the cold snow on her hands (she wouldn’t keep her gloves on) and sinking waist-deep into the snow.  However, she went sledding down with both Sergio and Sherrie but didn’t seem to care too much either way.  She spent most of the time in the ergo keeping Sherrie’s back warm 🙂

After an hour the kids were tired and sledding and spent the time playing in the deep unpacked snow building snow castles and trying (unsuccessfully) to build a snowman.  In the end everyone loved the adventure and wanted to go back again in the future.  Living only an hour from the mountains has its advantages in the winter – and the summer!

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Sergio, Giuliana (1), Aurelia (4), Sherrie, Lucas (6), and Isabella (7) enjoying the snow!