The Return (Part 1)

The Return (Part 1)

Following the fantastic time at the Tree Lot (see “A Tale Of Trees“), it quickly dawned on me that we were nearing the time to begin our return journey. Although we still had a few months ahead of us and countless experiences yet to come, I was still filled with a sense of impending finality as we headed south down the California coast. As already documented in Tanya’s post “Californication”, we enjoyed marvelous times in southern California and witnessed some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable. With stops in Hollywood, San Diego, Joshua Tree, and of course Slab City, our roster of experiences continued to increase drastically as I in turn continually tried to remind myself that there was still plenty of the journey left.

Now that we are back, it seems that most folks are curious about the aforementioned Slab City. Still government owned property, it is the remains of what was once the World War II Marine barracks of Camp Dunlap. Now home to Rv’ers, squatters, and the homeless, Slab City is commonly referred to as the last free place in the U.S.. People tend to stay during the winter months and head out in the early spring as temperatures begin to rise to unbearable levels. One of the residents informed us that those who decide to stay through the summer are never quite the same come the following autumn…Slab City (37)REV
For my part, I found it a strange yet intriguing place filled with dichotomies and contrasts running the gamut of all expectations. While looking at some incredible folk art in one area, we could see plumes of black smoke rising from the burn pile of someone trying to clean up their junked up “yard” in another. There were beautiful and expensive RV rigs set up in one section, while others contained burned out shells surrounded by yet more junk, with perhaps a dog tied under a makeshift lean-to for shade. I would have stayed longer if the kids were not with us as I was fascinated by this strange, almost apocalyptic landscape with its denizens of various backgrounds, filled with stories and tales of journeys that led them finally to this… place. As Tan put it, “There was art and there was junk-art. There was hip and there was hippy. There was trash and there was trashy. There was clean and there was dirty. There was young and there was old.”

Turning east again, we tried to take some different routes as we continued along our homeward trek. Some of this territory we had already been through and wanted to change it up a bit so as to not repeat places we had already seen (although some places we did want to see again). One new stop was the town of Quarzsite, Arizona. We had heard about Quarzsite from some fellow RV’ers we had met while doing the Sugar Beet Harvest. Generally a winter destination, the area boasts lots of BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land therefore making it an attractive and (like Slab City) cheap place to hang one’s hat for a bit. However unlike Slab City, it is not a lawless community where anything goes until there are serious problems.

Quartzsite is actually a dying destination for RV’ers, although thousands still flock to the town for the winter. Tents, flea markets, and open air markets abound mostly with people selling and shopping for gems and minerals of various nature, along with vendors peddling everything from used books to clothing to RV parts. In recent years the Gem and Mineral Show in nearby Tucson has taken some of the wind out of Quarzsite’s sails and its winter population doesn’t reach the heights it once did, but as a newbie you would hardly know it.
One nearby attraction of interest was the Nellie E. Saloon desert Bar.
Now you all know how much Tan and I love new bars so this was one we couldn’t miss.  Located in (kinda) nearby Parker, AZ, you have to travel five miles down a dusty, dirt road until finally arriving at the desert bar. Pulling into the parking lot after those long five miles, we were more than ready for a couple tasty beers and soft drinks for the kids. The atmosphere was great, and with a good band playing and people dancing and having a good time, we were anticipating a fun afternoon… until we saw the beer choices. Budweiser and Coors Light. That’s it. Yea, you could get a mixed drink, but that just wasn’t what I had in mind. Beer snob that I am, I was hoping for a good IPA or something along those lines. Now don’t get me wrong, I love a frosty Bud after mowing the lawn or some other sweaty activity, and after that long drive on a hot day one of those would have been more than welcome but… I was hoping for a few more choices. Anyway we did have a good time and it was well worth the drive and opportunity to check out something new!

Eastbound again we followed Route 10 into Phoenix for a few days, spending time with a crew of great folks we had met outside Seattle previously. Making new friends is always a welcome event, but keeping in touch and meeting up again is always the trick.  We spent an afternoon doing a little desert exploration while afterwards Riv got to show off his new guitar, and get a few tips from our friend George. AZ (13)REVThese folks really welcomed us with open arms and allowed us a few days of nice rest and relaxation before continuing the trek south and east to Tucson for another stop. Once again luck was on our side and we were fortunate enough to spend some time with a family member who had flown in for the Gem And Mineral Show that week.

Back down towards Texas we went, following the same route we had originally come west on. We tried as much as possible to avoid repeating highways but in some cases it is unavoidable, although seeing the same scenery from the opposite direction can at times be interesting…. I guess. We finally altered our course turning south into Texas and through El Paso. A night in the local Camping World was good enough for us in that city and we continued our breakneck pace across the Lone Star state to a much anticipated stop in Corpus Christi.

We had heard that Corpus Christi is not a particularly nice place, having dirty water and trash washing up along the shore. Fortunately we were pleasantly surprised and found ourselves in the clean, open air of Mustang Island State Park which adjoins Padre Island on the east coast of Texas. Although a little too breezy to swim, we were rewarded with days in the mid-seventies to low-eighties and just enjoyed a quiet time along the Gulf. Even though it was late February, the prospect of returning home began to loom heavily over my head as I began to reconcile the thoughts of life after this. The road had certainly become our home and I was comfortable with the idea of venturing from place to place while still keeping a distant attachment to work and our responsibilities back east…

After just about a week in the state park, it was time to move on again this time with the full intention of returning someplace we had already been. We loved Fontaine Bleu State Park in Louisiana so much the first time that a return stay was well in order. Another trip to the Abita Brewery (this time with the kids) was on the agenda as well as a little more exploration of the area of Mandeville along Lake Ponchartrain. Tan and I were directed to a wonderful Brew Pub (why does that always happen?) along the lake shore that we couldn’t believe we missed the first time around. We loved the little neighborhood there so much that we brought the kids out the next day for a stroll, all the while trying to half-jokingly convince them that we needed to stay.Abita (1) REVWith a pang of remorse we set off again along Route 10 for our final approach back to the east coast. Once again with a destination in mind and friends to see we happily entered the Sunshine State knowing we would be in the Florida sun for a few weeks before turning north towards the colder weather. 

First stop was Orlando to visit friends, and deliver on our promise to the kids to go to a fine waterpark. After finding another state park to hang our hats for a few days, Tan and I slipped out for a little grocery shopping and to solidify our plans with the afore-mentioned friends. With plans to meet that evening, upon our return to the campground we were pleasantly surprised to find our friends hiding in the RV with the kids! It was a truly endearing reunion as they had allowed us the pleasure of staying with them over a year ago when we were on our way out to the vast wilds of the country. Seeing their smiling faces sitting unexpectedly in the RV was such a wonderful sight that will always stay with me. Frederickson'sWe spent the next few days with our friends, enjoying their hospitality and relaxing poolside as guests in their resort complex. The days and evenings were filled with laughter and the comfort of spending time with people you truly care about and respect. The week was capped off by a trip to the waterpark in Disney and we all enjoyed a great time doing the slides, rides, and swimming in the giant wave pool. Sadly it was time to go and we bid them farewell for now…

A return trip to Jensen Beach was up next and I greatly looked forward to seeing my father who I hadn’t seen in almost a year and a half. We were able to secure a spot not too far from where he was staying and spent the week again enjoying the sun and fun that a resort community offers. We reconnected with folks we had met on our first stop in Jensen Beach at the beginning of our trip and talked much and shared stories about our mutual travels and experiences on the road.Jensen Beach (57)REVA pleasant surprise was a visit from my two step brothers who had also come to visit my dad in Florida. We got to hang out with those guys for a few days and really got re-connected. We had never really spent much time together as adults, and although I was not surprised, it was very pleasant to be able to hold intelligent conversations, and laugh and joke comfortably as people who have known each other for a long time do. I can only hope that as many years don’t go by before we can all get together again. 
As our impending return edged ever closer, the time came for us to begin the last leg of our journey. Heading north up the east coast for the first time in 18 months brought feelings of happy anticipation as well as tinges of sadness. Happiness knowing that we would soon be reunited with friends and family that we hadn’t seen for over a year and sadness to leave behind a lifestyle that suits us and that we truly feel at home in…   

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Californication

Californication

It’s been about seven weeks since we left The Golden State, but I honestly started feeling the pangs of leaving immediately after crossing the state line.  I’m pretty sure that it’s not the traffic congestion, high gas prices, outrageous camping fees, the gangster neighborhood we did our laundry in or the constant thought of earthquakes that left my heart back there.  It could be the fact that in only a matter of hours I could find myself hiking through the forest, strolling along the beach, gallivanting around the city or exploring in the desert. Or maybe I simply felt spoiled by having affordable, local and organic produce at my disposal, a farmer’s market in every community, and a Trader Joe’s on virtually every corner.

We spent more time in California than we have in any other state in our 17 months on the road and are all in agreement that a return visit is absolutely necessary.  Factoring in winter weather conditions and our job at the tree lot (see Bri’s post), made for the unfortunate but necessary decision to bypass the mountains this time around.  We came in from the north in Humboldt county and basically hugged the coastline down to San Diego.  Here’s what we experienced in just two short months…

Redwood National Park

I love trees, all trees!  I remember spending many days as a kid in a tree fort,  My dream home is a log cabin (on wheels of course),  My very first crush was The Lorax!

Giant Redwoods
Giant Redwoods

The Redwoods are amongst the oldest and tallest living things in the world and to stand alongside these ancient giants one can’t help but feel the majesty of their beauty.  We spent an entire day in the Prairie Creek State Park area exploring the forest.  We stood inside the trunk of one of the gigantic elders, located the remnants of yet another giant which at one time housed an entire family, and hiked a foggy, misty trail which resembled something from one of the  “Jurassic Park” movies.

Where's Mom?
Where’s Mom?

A couple of days later we took a drive along the infamous “Avenue of the Giants”,  a 31 mile stretch of road nestled between these towering beauties.  Half expecting this to be a tourist trap, we planned on driving straight through….until we discovered the groves.  Founder’s Tree Grove was our favorite. A half mile nature trail, complete with an informational guide, provided for a very educational walk along the plush forest floor, abundant of uprooted and fallen trees.

Founder's Grove
Founder’s Tree Grove

I personally felt very much alive in the coastal redwood forest and found it difficult to leave….that is, until I discovered that we were also in Big Foot country.

He aint so Big!
He aint so Big!

Sacramento

We ended up spending a day here because we were graciously offered an awesome opportunity by Birkenstock for the kids to participate in the making of their own pair of Arizona sandals.  This experience, thanks to Anne, our contact at Birkenstock, and the owners of Birkenstock Midtown Sacramento, provided for a hands on lesson in what it takes to run a successful retail business with the added bonus of walking away with a custom-made quality product.  Even Daisy was given VIP treatment as California is truly a dog-friendly state. 

Arizona Birkenstocks
Arizona Birkenstocks
Birkenstock VIP
Birkenstock VIP

The second half of the day was spent in Old Sacramento, a historic landmark along the Sacramento River set within the time of The California Gold Rush and The Transcontinental Railroad.  We explored this quaint little district rather quickly along the docks, over the railroad tracks and through the alleys.

Old Sacramento
Old Sacramento

San Francisco

Having only one day to explore the city we took advantage of the public transportation system (minus the cable cars as the line was excruciatingly long) and covered many miles on foot.  Our first stop was the Golden Gate Bridge. Aside from being one of the most popular Facebook profile picture settings, the Bridge Pavilion houses various exhibits on its history and construction.  Mercy’s assignment for that day was to find out why this bright orange wonder is named The Golden Gate Bridge. It didn’t take her long to find her answer and I am betting that unless you are either a Californian or a geography buff, you wouldn’t know that it is named after the Golden Gate Strait which is the entrance from the San Francisco Bay to the Pacific Ocean.  We braved the gusty winds and the three busloads of tourists ahead of us and walked out onto the bridge to feel its grandeur.  It truly is a technical masterpiece!

Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Gate Bridge

Haight Ashbury.  I’ve been wanting to get back there for 20+ years.  Unfortunately, the kids weren’t as hippy happy as I was to hang out in thrift store, iconic rock star heaven for any length of time.  We hit a local market, a few hip shops and a record store and called it good.

Hanging in the Haight
Hanging in the Haight

Fisherman’s Wharf.  We donned our tourist caps for this colorful waterfront community and spent a few hours popping in and out of various shops alongside spectating interesting street performances.  We made our way to the infamous pier 39 where we all decided on a restaurant as we had been looking forward to a fresh seafood meal for a while. Looking back, I find it quite humorous that we all ordered New England clam chowder and Maine lobster bisque.

Being in San Fran during the Christmas season provided for some interesting holiday entertainment amongst a few of the homeless characters.  Here is Bri’s spot on impression of a jolly street panhandler we encountered and grew very fond of…

Suffice it to say, this performance is sure to become a part of the Dunn family Christmas tradition!

Pacific Coast Highway

One of the most scenic drives in the country,  the PCH actually extends from the southern tip of Baja California to the top of the Olympic peninsula….roughly 2500 miles.  We knowingly ventured along portions of this highway while in Washington and again in Oregon, not realizing that it was just a preview of what would take our breath away when we hit the infamous route 1 along the central coast from Monterey to LA.

Pacific Coast Highway
Pacific Coast Highway

We were hesitant at first to take the 5th wheel along the hairy, twisty, turny, cliffy, misty, and at times foggy stretch of this highway. But, seeing as our max speed would only be around 25 mph, we figured we’d have enough time to jump ship if we got too close to the jagged edge.  So, we went for it.  And what a trip it was! Mountains to the left, ocean to the right, cyclists up ahead, idiotic, convertible sports car speeders passing you from behind.  All part of the experience I’m told!

The plan was to spend a couple of days exploring and hiking in the Big Sur region.  The only problem with that was that we didn’t plan.  We never really do plan. This time though, it was a holiday weekend (New Year’s) and that is when everyone else plans.  So, we were out of luck and couldn’t get into a campground.  I must confess that situations seem to work out for us as I feel we truly benefited from not being able to get into the campground. Instead, we pulled off on the side of the road just as the sun went down and set up camp for the night .  In the morning we awoke to this! 

PCH near Big Sur
PCH near Big Sur

You can’t get an unobstructed view like that  from a campground, even if you pay for it….which we didn’t!.

Heading further South that morning with our destination in mind and feeling totally sight satiated, we hadn’t planned on any more stops.  That is, until we noticed groups of people congregating along the pull-offs….and I’ll be damned if I’m missing anything!  So, I insisted Bri pull off at one and I believe everyone is thanking me that we did.  Otherwise, we never would have witnessed the unbelievably large colony of northern elephant seals covering the shoreline.  What an incredible sight and our timing couldn’t have been more perfect.  The female harems had just arrived and had given birth to the cutest shiny black pups!

Seal Pup
Seal Pup

Ventura

Said to be one of America’s most livable communities, Ventura has lots to offer.  Miles of surf-friendly beaches, neighboring mountains, and scenic bike paths combined with a mild year-round climate make for some healthy and happy residents.  The city also prides itself on supporting local businesses and promoting economic, social and environmental sustainability.  No wonder Bri and I both have placed Ventura at the top of our list for future,  part-time residency!

Trying to decide on the perfect place to hang out for a few days wasn’t easy.  One thing we discovered early on in this state was that we had to be prepared to pay higher camping fees.  Beach front with electric and water at an affordable rate was going to be a challenge…so we thought.  After making Bri drive up and down route 1 and pull in and out of tight areas we found Hobson Beach campground where we settled in amidst a mecca of care-free and friendly recreational surfers.  The price was attractive, the view spectacular, and the vibe sunny.  It was definitely one of the harder places to leave.  For me, exercising on the beach every morning and watching the sunset over the Pacific every evening is paradise.

Beachside living
Beachside living
Ventura Sunset
Ventura Sunset

Hollywood

Hollywood Baby!
Hollywood Baby!

Much fun was had by all four of us in the famous LA district which is nicely detailed in River’s post.   I will add that if it wasn’t for the hospitality of a dear friend who also played tour guide for the week, we would never have had the opportunity to experience as much as we did during the time we were there.  Aside from the studio tours, activities on Hollywood Blvd and our adult night out on The Sunset Strip (where Bri and I were hoping to bump into some rock stars…..instead we got Ron Jeremy),  I thoroughly enjoyed my morning hikes in Runyon canyon with Daisy where the view never got old. The drive through Laurel Canyon up to Mullholland Drive was also a highlight for me as I was envisioning a time when the bohemian neighborhood was alive with some of my favorite iconic rock legends, like Jim Morrison.

Runyon Canyon Lookout
Runyon Canyon Lookout
Sunset Blvd. fun
Sunset Blvd. fun

San Diego

We were all eager to get to San Diego for a few reasons.  First being, we had decided mid-way through working at the tree lot that this would be the place we would splurge, for the first time, and spend an entire week in a resort, complete with all the amenities.  In doing my research, I chose the one boasting of its central location, super sites, spa facilities and superior customer service.  Upon our arrival (after getting lost due to the lack of signage pointing us in the right direction), we soon discovered that the central location was nestled between the busy freeway and the active railroad tracks, the super site required our neighbor to move his vehicle in order for us to back our rig in, the spa facilities consisted of a two person hot tub in the pool area where we could barely carry on a conversation due to the noise level of the traffic, and the superior customer service was more than lacking.  I should have been clued in at the time I made the reservation when after I declared my budget wouldn’t allow for the weekly fee, the representative actually asked me what my budget would allow and gave me a pretty sweet discount.  Nonetheless, we decided to stay as we had a pretty busy agenda planned and we didn’t want to deal with the hassle of picking up and moving.

A visit to The San Diego Zoo and a whale watch excursion were two more reasons for our stay in the area.  The zoo had been on our list since the planning stages of the trip and it surely did live up to all of our expectations.  Our day spent there is nicely detailed in Mercy’s post.    As for the whale watch, we got lucky on two levels. Groupon happened to have a half-off deal for the 3 hour cruise and our timing couldn’t have been more perfect. It was migration season for the gray whales and they were passing through from Alaska on their way south to Baja which made for many sightings on our tour.  Such beautiful creatures they are.

Big Whale
Big Whale

Bri and I had our own motives for hanging in San Diego and that would be to re-live some memories from our first trip where we spent a large chunk of time living in and around the parks and beaches.  Surprisingly, we didn’t really notice any major changes.  It seems it is still a very popular hangout for those living out of their vehicles.  We actually found ourselves trying to locate a couple of characters we befriended there back in 1992 and then realized that one guy would be well into his 90s by now.  Hey you never know….once you’ve gotten a taste for the nomadic lifestyle, it’s hard to leave it! 

We hit the farmer’s market in Ocean Beach, took a drive through Mission Beach and enjoyed a local brew in Pacific Beach.  My favorite….Dog Beach!

Pacific Beach Alehouse
Pacific Beach Alehouse
Dog Beach
Dog Beach

Joshua Tree National Park

The trees, the trees, the Joshua Trees, I’ve never before seen trees like these!

The only thing any of us knew about this National Park was that it was home to these very unique looking trees that U2 had titled one of their albums….and that it was in the California desert.  The rest remained sort of a mystery to us and I refrained from researching anything but the campgrounds before our arrival so as to make it somewhat of a surprise.

The name Joshua Tree was reportedly given by a group of Mormons in the mid-nineteenth century as the trees’ form reminded them of a Biblical story in which Joshua reaches his hands up to the sky.  I guess this was before Dr. Seuss’ time.

Joshua Trees
Joshua Trees

Two deserts come together in this park, each with its own ecosystem. The Colorado, being at the lower elevation and occupying the eastern end of the park, is generally ten to fifteen degrees warmer and also where we chose to camp at Cottonwood Springs.  Unbeknownst to us, this was not where we were going to find the trees.  Their special habitat is located in the  Mojave, which is higher up in the western part of the park and about fifty-five miles from Cottonwood Springs.  So, being that it was nearing sunset, we decided to wait until the next day to drive to the west end and explore.  We hung out in the campground listening to the desert sounds and witnessed a fearless and apparently very hungry coyote rummage through everyone’s camp-fire pit.

Not so coy coyote
Not so coy coyote

The drive was spectacular.  To see and feel the crossover of the ecosystems and the changes in scenery was very interesting.  In the same day, we went from an arid land abundant of beautiful Ocotilla and Cholla cactus to a cooler, moister climate plentifully bestrewed with the park’s namesake trees. 

I could never tire of looking at the trees.  Each one, individually unique in size and structure, tells a story of survival and resilience.  Of course  Bri tried to locate the famous one on the cover of U2s album “The Joshua Tree”,  but to no avail.  We did have a lot of fun re-creating that cover in total “Dunn” style…..which so proudly graces the front pages of this blog.

Joshua Tree
Joshua Tree

Of other interest throughout the park is the amazing geologic landscape.  Huge eroded boulders lying on top of one another and naturally formed dikes within the granite made for some fun climbs.

Joshua Rock?
Joshua Rock?

We managed to fit in two fairly strenuous hikes during our stay, one in each of the deserts.  Ryan Mountain in the Mojave, took us up over 5,000 feet to the summit where the views of mountains and valleys in the background were complimented by the Joshua Trees in the foreground.  It was cold and windy up top.

Ryan Mountain summit
Ryan Mountain summit

In The Colorado, we hiked Mastodon Peak.  3,000 feet up this hike required some basic rock climbing skills.  The views from here included mountains, jagged rock formations and The Salton Sea.  It was warm and sunny on top.

 Mastodon Peak hike
Mastodon Peak hike

Slab City

Where to start?  Known by its inhabitants as “The last free place”, it’s no city at all.  Formerly a military training base during World War II, the only remains are the slabs of the deconstructed buildings.  There is no electricity, no water, no sewer, or no trash removal.  It is simply off-grid living in the middle of the desert where, during the winter months, you will find the likes of many nomads including RVers, squatters, hobos, and train hoppers hanging their hats (or bandanas).  However, there are a handful of permanent residents who weather the 120-130 degree summer temps. and therefore retain the authority to impose the ethics and courtesies that all visitors are expected to follow.

Welcome to Slab City
Welcome to Slab City

Slab City is also home to a fairly well-known attraction and most likely how we discovered it…  Salvation Mountain.  Created solely by one man,  this 50 foot tall and 150 foot wide painted adobe clay structure has a recurring theme of “God is Love” and is Leonard Knight’s tribute to God and his gift to the world.  It is listed as an official “Folk Art of America”, draws hundreds of visitors daily and has been featured in the movie “Into The Wild”. 

Salvation Mountain
Salvation Mountain

Speaking for my family, I can say that none of us was deeply moved by the message.  That is not to say that Leonard’s passion and dedication is not worthy of admiration and appreciation and his Seuss-like art style thoroughly fun and enjoyable.

Adobe Art
Adobe Art

There were many interesting sights in Slab City and certainly no lack of interesting characters.  We kept busy during our stay and by the time we left we were somewhat familiar with the “neighborhoods” and “communities” and all the happenings.  There was a one-man radio station, and a Saturday night talent show.  There were Canadian clubs and singles clubs. There was art and there was junk-art. There was hip and there was hippy.   There was trash and there was trashy.  There was clean and there was dirty.  There was young and there was old.  

Slab City Art
Slab City Art
Slab City Junk Art
Slab City Junk Art

If we took anything away from this out of the ordinary boondocking experience, I would say that it’s the realization that everything is not as it appears on the surface.  Our trepidation upon our arrival was totally overcome by the time we pulled out four days later and we now know that desert life is crawling with creativity and irregularity….in the good sense.

Slab City living
Slab City living

I would say that California was the state that exposed us to a multitude of diverse experiences in such a short time.  My hopes are, that if the four of us don’t get back there together, the kids will make it a point to at least get out to Yosemite National Park someday.  As for Bri and I, we’re already California Dreaming about getting back there.  And this time you can bet that Wine Country won’t just be a drive through!

A Tale Of Trees

A Tale Of Trees

I can remember Christmas Tree shopping as a kid when my father would drag us to at least six lots before finally settling on the perfect tree. I remember the feeling of excitement as we drove from the lot across from Quick Check to another lot in Westfield, then maybe over to Bowcraft (was there a tree lot there?) and up to a couple in New Providence and Berkeley Heights. Bounding around in the red M&M delivery van (once or twice with our Fanwood cousins) we would spend the entire evening combing the area for what would be the centerpiece of our Christmas holidays.

With those memories in mind, I enthusiastically agreed when Tan asked me if we wanted to manage a Christmas tree lot in California. I pictured us eagerly assisting joyous customers as they picked out their trees on our small lot. I envisioned myself happily pulling out the various trees for people as their small children stood staring in wonderment, the family picturing each one I displayed for them covered with their own ornaments.

These thoughts were a hazy, faint memory as I lugged the 114th 7’ Noble Fir off the delivery truck in the pouring rain. With only 164 more of various sizes left to unload, and the knowledge that we would be getting another delivery of roughly the same amount in a few days, I had to ask myself what in the name of Saint Nicholas was I thinking?  Sloshing through the mud and dumping the load from my rain soaked shoulders onto the growing pile of trees, I couldn’t help but think about last years’ Christmas in Florida and how the spirit of the season remained so elusive until Christmas Eve itself… but oh how good that sun and warmth would feel right now! Let me back up a little...    

We probably should have known this operation was going to be a bit bigger than anticipated when a steady stream of teenage boys starting showing up at the RV to fill out job applications. Tan and I figured we’d do the majority of the work ourselves so as to maximize our overall profit. How many guys would we really need? After all, how hard could it be? Show a few trees, carry one out to a car, tie it on if need be. No big deal. The kids could certainly help if needed, right? Right! But oh so wrong.

Parked near the lot next to us was a storage trailer. Once work began getting the lot ready it finally dawned on me that this was much more than we thought. Fortunately the area was already set up with fencing, posts and railing, etc. We just needed to set up the tents, decorate, put out the water bowls(?), set up the flocking machine (Flocking? What‘s that?), run power to the flocking machine, run power to the pre-drilling machine(?), make sure the chain saws were running, make sure the cash register worked, make sure we had flame retardant to spray on a tree if necessary(?), learn how to change the nets on the netter(?), set up the stereo… On and on it went as we looked at each other, our eyes glazing over with the knowledge that we had no idea what we were doing and wondering what we had gotten ourselves into.  However, salvation came in the form of Dale. A relative of the lot’s owner, he was assigned the initial task of getting us organized and help us get the lot ready for business. Without his help I don’t know how we would have gotten our act together in time to open for the crushing throngs of people that wanted to purchase their trees on Black Friday.

Twas The Night Before The Trees
Twas The Night Before The Trees

Then the trees arrived… and arrived. And arrived some more. Not only did we carry the usual assortment of 6 – 8 foot trees, we had 9, 10, 11, and a few 12 foot trees. By this point we wisely had a full staff of high school and college age kids to help unload. My knees grew weak at the prospect of having to load (or even deliver) one of these monsters onto someone’s car or truck. My only hope was that when we sold any of these gargantuans that I would have enough staff to give me a hand. Of course the small trees were not a problem and even Mercy was able to earn some keep by unloading the 3 – 5 footers.

Tree Unload
“And just how many more 10 footers are in that truck?”
Tree Unload
“Really Riv, I can take this one by myself”
Our Crew
Our rockin’ crew

From that day on, our lives were filled with nothing but the constant stream of Christmas music, the ever present aroma of the trees, and the intermittent sound of the chain saws. And flocking…

The calm before the storm
The calm before the storm

I had never heard of flocking before but was soon getting my first lesson on how to flock a tree. Flocking is the practice (it’s actually an art…) of spraying fake snow on a tree. I don’t mean the spray cans you buy at your local craft store, this is an operation that I soon discovered Californians take very seriously. The dry flock is drawn through a hose into the flocking gun where it meets another intake of water and the combination is then sprayed on the tree in such a manner as to give it the most realistic snowed-upon look as possible. The flock being a chemical, I had to don a mask, goggles, and coverall (actually a black plastic trash bag with head and arm holes cut out) so as not to breathe or get the wet flock on me. At one point I actually had an EPA guy tell me to make sure I had my mask on while spraying this stuff!

Flocking Tree Dance
Flocking Tree Dance

Soon enough we were ready. The next few weeks were spent running the lot from 9 – 9 every day. Tan would open while I hung back at the RV working my regular job. With the mornings not an especially busy time for tree shopping, I could work peacefully while getting the occasional interruption if she needed help with a larger tree or if things got a little too busy. The kids would do some school work then head down in the afternoon. River was able to make quite a bit of money being the only helper on the lot before any of the staff showed up. The Bay Area weather being mild, it was pleasant to get outside a bit and then spend my entire afternoons and evenings in this merry holiday atmosphere. As holiday music constantly played, I couldn’t help but get caught up in the good feelings that the holidays bring. Perhaps I was making up for last year!

Mercy Fir
“Don’t I look great in green”

The town of Walnut Creek was a most pleasant place to spend the season. With a little shopping area within walking distance, we could get groceries and other necessities quickly and conveniently. Although the lot was located a few miles from the actual town center, when time allowed (not often and after 9pm!) we enjoyed running down to do a little Christmas shopping and perhaps grab a beer.
Finally as the season wore down and after selling a multitude of trees, it was time to bring things to a close. Late Christmas Eve, after our final day of selling trees, I was taking Daisy for her usual nighttime walk. I had circled the block as I usually did and upon returning to the lot saw a car parked there. A man emerged dressed all in black. Black cap, black coat, black pants. The only way to describe him was that he had the look of a cartoon burglar from the 1950’s. It wouldn’t have surprised me if he were wearing a mask!
Ducking into the shadows so as not to be seen, I watched as he quietly made his way over to the small pile of remaining trees (that we had been selling that day for the bargain price of $25). With no more fencing to keep people out, the trees were left in the open for anyone’s taking. I silently followed a little behind and when he reached down to grab a tree, I asked if I could help him. He looked up with a pained expression on his face, realizing that he had been caught. He kindly asked if I minded him helping himself and I decided that since it was Christmas Eve and we wouldn’t be selling any more trees anyway, he was welcome to it. He was very thankful, explaining that his daughter was hoping to wake up to a Christmas Tree and that he wasn’t capable of buying one earlier.
As he started to drag the tree back to his car, feeling an overpowering wave of Christmas spirit, I reached down and picked up the other end. Being touched by his story and not being able to bear seeing the tree so mistreated, I couldn’t help myself. Suddenly and ironically it dawned on me that I was doing exactly what I had asked him… I was indeed helping him. Helping him to steal one of our trees!
Going to bed that night with the comforting feeling of knowing that for the first time in a month we had no responsibilities the next day, I thought of what an exhausting, yet exhilarating experience it was. The kids learned a lot about working a small business. With Mercy helping with the register she got a hands on lesson in customer service and continued her math lessons by making change without the aid of a machine. Riv also got his fair share of customer service by helping people with their trees and loading them into cars. Once he realized the tips he could make, it was sometimes hard to keep him off the lot!

Tree Tying
” I get the tip, right Dad?”

Tan and I got to work together all day, every day and I enjoyed the evenings when it was just the two of us for the last hour, listening to the Christmas music, and trying to keep warm in the little shed, occasionally stepping out to help the few customers that came tree shopping at night. The physical work and time spent outdoors contributed to my overall feelings of healthiness and self satisfaction and I can’t remember a more joyous holiday season in years. The only thing that could have improved it was the presence of friends and family who were hopefully enjoying their own feelings of goodwill back home.

Together at the Tree Lot
Pete’s Trees- Walnut Creek CA
Daisy, our festive greeter
Daisy, our festive greeter
Hanging In Hollywood

Hanging In Hollywood

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Hollywood. Where do I begin? Should I start with the fact that I didn’t see anyone famous that I would have liked to? Or something a bit less unfortunate like the fact that we got a tour of the Paramount Pictures and Warner Brothers studios? Or that I got a gold top Epiphone Les Paul at a store on Sunset Boulevard? Or, maybe I should just start at the beginning.
    I don’t think many people expect to see a truck with a Maine license plate pulling a thirty foot fifth wheel through the middle of Hollywood. We were going to stay with some friends who manage an apartment building in the Hollywood Hills. They said that they had a space next to the building where we could park the R.V. It took a little while but we eventually managed to get it backed into the said space.

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    One of the first things we did when we stayed there was get a tour of the Paramount Pictures studios. Now our friend knew someone who worked there and we were able to get a free, private tour. I don’t know about you, but in my book that fits under the “awesome” column. Now we don’t watch that much television, so I didn’t recognize many of the sets we got to go on. I did recognize the set for the Dr. Phil show. I have never seen the show but I have heard of it before. We saw Jane Lynch, but I don’t really know who she is because I don’t watch Glee. Mercy recognized her from a movie she likes. At the end we saw the bench where some of Forrest Gump was filmed.

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 A few days later we got a tour of Warner Brothers Studios. It wasn’t a private tour like the one at Paramount but was great nonetheless. We saw the set of Two and a Half Men. I’ve only seen the show once but I recognized it immediately. During another part of the tour there was a room with vehicles from a bunch of movies. Every Batmobile, the flying car from Harry Potter, and some others that I didn’t recognize. There was also a whole warehouse full of props that are still used. One that I recognized was One-Eyed Willie’s skeleton from The Goonies. We saw a prop that was used on the set of Pirates of the Caribbean. It was a lamp that was on the Black Pearl. We actually found out that our tour guide was an extra in the movie. Towards the end of the tour we stopped at a museum with the original costumes from countless movies and television shows. There were the costumes worn by actors from the Batman movies, the Harry Potter movies and many others. We also saw two of the cast members from The Big Bang Theory. But again, I don’t watch the show so I didn’t recognize them at all. My parents were excited to be on the set of Friends, another show that I have never seen.

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    One night when we were walking down Hollywood Boulevard, we saw… drumroll please, Emma Stone and Russell Brand. Unfortunately it was only from a distance. I would have liked to see them up close… especially Emma Stone. They were at the premiere of Gangster Squad, but I’m not sure if Russell brand was in that movie so I don’t exactly know why he was there. Not that it really matters though. There was a guy standing behind us who kept trying to get Russell to wave to him, and when Russell didn’t, the guy yelled: “You sucked in Arthur!”

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    One of the last things we did while we were there was go to the Hollywood Wax Museum. They had wax figures of so many movie characters and celebrities. There was one of Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Michael Jackson, Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones from Men in Black, Davy Jones, Darth Vader, Yoda, even the aliens from Aliens Versus Predator. That’s just to name a few.

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    Later that night, we went to a music store and I bought a gold top Epiphone Les Paul. It was in great condition for a used guitar, and the price was $399. I was told that if it was brand new it would be have been $699. Apparently the store wanted to get rid of it so they lowered the price to $340 and offered a free case! Sold! I can even brag that I bought it on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood.

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    Well I can definitely say that it was one of my favorite places to stay. I would also like to thank our friends for letting us stay next to their apartment building and driving us around. I don’t say names in any of my blog posts but you guys know who you are. Don’t tell my parents, but I’m giving you bragging rights.  

My AFFs (Animal Friends Forever) at the San Diego Zoo!

My AFFs (Animal Friends Forever) at the San Diego Zoo!

When we first pulled into the parking lot of the San Diego Zoo, I could hardly wait to step out of the door of the truck. I have been waiting to come here since before we even left Maine.

After we went in and got our tickets, we headed to the zoo tour bus. We decided to go on the bus first because it covered 75% of the zoo and we would know where everything is. It was a double decker bus and we got to sit on top!

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When we got off the bus we made our way over to the “big cats.” On the way there, we passed an exhibit with TONS of monkeys in it.  My favorite ones are the Capuchins. They are the cutest monkeys you could ever imagine, and they were definitely the most entertaining! They would pick the bugs out of each others fur and eat it, and the way they eat is so human-like!

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I really liked the gorillas too. The troop leader is always a male and called a silverback. The silverback of the troop we saw was sleeping the whole time with his foot pressed against the glass. I felt kind of bad for all of the gorillas, because how would you like it if millions of people came to see you all day, everyday?

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My favorite animal there was the cheetah. It would just pace along the fence watching your every move. Did you know that every cheetah at the San Diego Zoo has a dog as a companion? Well, when we were there the cheetah we saw was paired with a husky mix. River explained to me that they do this so the cheetah is more calm around people. Sadly we didn’t see the dog, but the cheetah was absolutely amazing! The tiger was also one of my favorites, but it didn’t do much except sit on top of a rock and look down on everyone. I was half expecting it to lick it’s lips thinking we would all make a great meal, but it didn’t.

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There were also two different kinds of leopards, the black leopard and snow leopard. We saw the snow leopard, but not the black one because it was inside it’s little “house” the whole time. The snow leopard was not white it was grey, and had a tail that looked almost as dangerous as the claws. It was really long and very fat at the end.

After a while we finally got to the pandas. There was a mom and a cub. The baby was a lot more active than the mom. He would roll around, climb on stuff, and run around the pen. All the mom did was sit there, eat bamboo and watch her son.

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When you think of polar bears do you think of big, white bears? Well that’s basically true except the “big” part. They are not just big, they are HUGE! Did you know that full grown polar bears can get up to 10 feet?! I don’t know how big the one we saw was but it looked pretty close to 10 feet! The way they get their food is very interesting. They’ll wait outside of a seals breathing hole for hours until a seal comes up, then they will grab it. They must be so patient! If I tried to do that I’d be getting up within 5 minutes trying to find food elsewhere.

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On the way over to the elephants we passed more monkeys. This time there was an otter in the same exhibit as the monkeys. It was funny to see an otter and a monkey living together. Just like the Capuchins he was very entertaining, and happened to be my Dad’s favorite animal there. He was super cute especially when he would float on his back down the river, and catch the food the monkeys threw him.

Then we got to the elephants. There were about 3 of them and we were watching one of them eat hay. It’s really interesting how they use their trunks to take the food then put it in their mouth. The San Diego Zoo has 2 different types of elephants, the African and Asian. Two ways to tell them apart are the shape of their ears and their tusks. African elephants have bigger ears that are the shape of the continent of Africa and both males and females have tusks. Whereas Asian elephants have much smaller ears and only the males have tusks.

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After, we went over to the giraffes. There were a few adults and a few babies. They were all so cute and a lot bigger than I thought they would be. A giraffes neck can be 6 feet long and weigh 600 pounds! Imagine having a neck that tall weighing that much!

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I thought the oddest looking animal there were the rhinoceroses. They have a protective layer of skin on the outside which looked like a huge layer of fat, it was very weird. Well I can’t say the rhino is the oddest looking animal there was, because the camels came pretty close. One of them was very old and had a lopsided hump. Through my research I found out that his hump is like that because he is old and his activity level is low, therefore he uses all his stored energy (which is in his hump) causing it to droop. He also had spit coming out of his mouth. I mean literally hanging out of his mouth, it looked like toothpaste. YUCK! The reason camels do spit is to surprise, distract, or bother whatever the camel thinks is threatening it.

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I had such a good time at the San Diego Zoo and it is definitely on my list of places to come back to.

The Other North Coast

The Other North Coast

The air shifted and definitely became a little cooler as we drove west from the BurntwoodsStock music festival. With the music still in our ears and the fullness of heart from meeting new friends, we headed out to the Pacific coast. We had already spent the previous week around the Portland (Oregon that is… the SECOND Portland) area and had quickly become enamored with the place. Tan and I both immediately felt that it is somewhere that we could go eventually to escape the long winters yet still maintain a sense of changing seasons. It has that same feel that our own Portland area does with rolling hills, plenty of trees, a sense of culture and of course, good natured people. The only difference is the ocean is on the left. We definitely felt that we could fit in. But I’m years ahead of myself…
    As I kind of work this narrative backwards a little (sorry) I have to mention the Columbia River and the beautiful landscape around it. We initially came west that way and were mesmerized by the gorgeous views of the river as we meandered along. I love seeing hills in the distance with a scattering of windmills along their peaks. It makes me feel that at least on some level, we’re trying to do the right thing environmentally. Many folks would argue that the sight of windmills clogs up the scenery and takes away from the natural beauty, but to me it takes me to another place and time. Perhaps a simpler one where wind power was a valuable resource to the surrounding village and where the people who lived there had more time to appreciate the real things in life like love, friendship, and family. My only regret was that we didn’t stay a couple nights there along that river.

Columbia River
    So, after a brief stay in Portland and our great weekend at the music festival, we finally made it to the Pacific Ocean. Feeling a little like Lewis and Clark, our journey seemed to have reached a certain point. Not a conclusion, but something. A milestone perhaps as the Pacific Ocean was certainly a destination. But even at that moment I realized the journey is far from over.
    One of the first things we noticed about the coast is that it’s not quite as “oceany”. It just doesn’t have that aroma of salty air that is ever present on the Atlantic. Regardless though, the scenery is breathtaking with rocky crags, pebble beaches, and tons of driftwood. The sight of the tall outcroppings of rock just a little ways out into the surf add an air of mystery to the place as they come into view through the fog. While I was always under the impression that pirate activity was relegated to the Caribbean, I could understand how this rough coast with its myriad coves and hiding places was host to its own rich history of piracy.
    Another enchanting difference was the presence of seals floating in nearby waves. Resting on their backs for a bit, they would suddenly disappear into the foam to resurface a dozen or so yards away, their heads poking up to have another look around. As we ventured out across the low-tide sandbars towards the stony islands just off shore, we would come across various eddies filled with all kinds of sea life, like starfish and countless anemone of some kind or other. Gazing up at the cliffs along the shore, I couldn’t help but imagine what it might be like to live up there just through the trees always having a spectacular view into this majestic scene with the rays of distant sunshine slicing through the fog.
    Back in-land we headed for we were told that we could not dare to miss; Crater Lake, especially if we were already this close. While taking us a little further south than we expected to go on this leg, I am happy to say that I am glad we did. Being the deepest lake in America, it is also known for its clear, blue waters. Driving around the perimeter, you are rewarded with spectacular views all around the lake as it sits in its recess formed by the collapse of the volcano Mount Mazama. On such a gorgeous day we could see clear across the five or six miles easily making out the rocky formations of the mountainsides as they descend into the deep blue crater.

Crater Lake
    
    Suddenly finding ourselves with a deadline in hand, we returned north again, although this time staying a bit inland through Oregon on a course towards Seattle. We picked up a job working the sugar beet harvest so now we only had a certain amount of time before we needed to be in eastern Montana for the month of October.
    Along that way we experienced much more of the great Pacific northwest and the intense division between the fog and rain along the coast and the relative warmth and sunshine just a few miles inland. A couple nights outside of Forks, Washington made this phenomenon all the more (un)real as it is the area where the Twilight series takes place. It truly is a great setting for a tale of vampires and werewolves. Of course the town of Forks itself boasts more than a few tourist/fan traps, such as the high school and the beaches where the story takes place, as well as gift shops dealing in Twilight related finery.

Rialto Beach
    A few casino parking lots later we found a wonderful little fairgrounds RV park we could call home for a week or so. From there we could visit Mount Rainier and hopefully meet up with an old friend in Seattle. Unfortunately the hookup with the friend didn’t pan out. (An aside: I’m wondering if people along our path fear that we are expecting them to put us up, and therefore feel uncomfortable making plans. I’d like you all to know that we are entirely self sufficient and don’t expect or plan on any kind of accommodations from anyone. If you have, or know of somewhere we can park it, great. But if not, please do not feel obligated to make arrangements for us. We will find a way.) But fortunately we met some new friends who we hope to see again.
   Mt. Rainier turned out to be pleasant, though not an unexpected surprise. The drive through the park to the mountain itself wound up and up until finally reaching the base. With a few different paths to choose from to begin a hike, we picked one and began our ascent. After a half mile or so we began to distance ourselves from the denser foliage and emerged onto the inclining slopes of snow and flowers that form the lower regions of Mt. Rainier.

Mt. Rainier
    We continued on always moving uphill, with a tremendous view of the summit, and eventually decided that was good enough for us (as much as we could have gone on, we don’t always have eight hours to dedicate to long hikes that we can’t bring Daisy on) and began the gradual trek down. The geography surrounding us looking away from the mountain was almost as breathtaking as the peak behind us and I couldn’t help thinking that I was in The Sound of Music or something!
    With the aforementioned deadline to be in Sidney, Montana for the fall beet harvest, we had to head a bit east again. After a quick trip to Seattle (see Mercy’s post) we made a straight shot across the northern plains with a stop in Idaho to see some family of a friend back home. With a welcome that felt as if we already knew each other, we fell right in and extended our planned stay a couple times. River was taught how to shoot and properly maintain a variety of guns, and Mercy got to do a little horseback riding; something she had been asking to do for quite a while now.

Weippe

We couldn’t have hoped for a better and friendlier stay as we made some great new friends. I can only hope that they make their way back east so we can see them again sooner rather than later!
    Sidney proved to be quite an interesting place (see Tanya‘s previous post). A strange dichotomy where many of the residents are quite well off due to the oil richness of the Bakken, yet the town  itself is virtually devoid of culture. Suffice it to say that after a couple of weeks I was more than ready to move on despite the kindness and hospitality of the locals we met and worked with at the beat harvest.
    With just hours to spare we made our way south again trying to avoid the snow and increasingly chilly temperatures descending on the northern plains. Not entirely successful in our escape, we wound up spending a couple frosty nights in southern Montana and Wyoming on our path to northern California. With the west offering a warmer climate where we could explore the Redwoods and coastal routes that would take us down to the San Francisco Bay area, we were more than happy to finally escape the cold of the encroaching winter.
    As I finish this up in our warm and cozy home on Christmas Day, I begin to think back on the last month and the craziness that has been our life selling Christmas trees since that retail nightmare known as “Black Friday”. Still in decompression mode from those busy, exhausting (yet exhilarating) few weeks, I’m thinking of friends and family back home and hoping all have had a very merry and happy Christmas.

Mercy's tree
    Next: A Tale of Trees
 

Sugar Beet Harvesting in Montana

Sugar Beet Harvesting in Montana

I write this post for three reasons…..to admit guilt, to redeem myself and to spread awareness.

As a family of four, traveling (living) on only one income is very challenging at times, most times. Brian averages 32 hours per week working remotely.  We always seem to make ends meet as we are simple people and know where our priorities lie. That being said, there are sacrifices that I refuse to make, especially when it comes to keeping myself and my family healthy. I’m talking about food choices.  Yes, perhaps we would have a little extra in the budget if we lived solely off of processed, pesticide ridden or genetically modified foods.   Then again, perhaps that little extra would end up going to remedying the illnesses I’d expect one (or all) of us to contract from eating such foods.

It became inevitable after the first couple of months of being in areas not conducive to our eating habits that we would have to try and pick up some short-term work along the way. So, with the help of  FB, Craigslist, and RV forums, we have managed to supplement our income enough to keep our bodies (as well as our truck) fueled.

Back in June, I came across a thread on the Fulltime Families FB page, one of the on-line family travel groups I belong to.  Folks were talking about working a sugar beet harvest in Montana and how insanely lucrative it had been for them in the past. Upon doing my research, I learned that the job required little experience, the commitment was for roughly one month during September and October, the employment agency put you up in an RV park with full hook ups, and the pay was indeed desirable.  Perfect for us!  We planned on visiting Glacier in early September so we’d be in the area anyway.  Not to mention we had just spent a chunk of cash on RV and truck repairs, setting us back quite a bit. Applied. Hired. Happy.  Truth be told, I wasn’t even sure what a sugar beet was.  Nonetheless, the idea of working outside, in the fall, in the dirt was quite appealing . I bookmarked the company’s website and forgot about it.

Until…  sometime after arriving in Montana I came across information that sugar beets were amongst the top GMO foods in the country… not good!  GMOs are food products that have had their DNA altered in a lab to make them drought, herbicide and pesticide resistant.  Sometimes referred to as “Frankenfoods”, they have been altogether banned in many other countries.

Red flag went up.  I panicked. I researched. Suspicions confirmed.

I had signed us up to work for the devil…otherwise known, in this case, as Monsanto!

I was discouraged, the kids were horrified, and Bri , well, let’s just say he’s the reason to my rhyme.   After a fairly lengthy discussion we decided to honor our commitment and show up to the job.  Yes, we were compromising our principles and going against our beliefs.  But, as Bri pointed out, it was a necessary evil. We had already counted on the money to get us to California.  And, in my defense, none of our earnings would be knowingly spent on Monsanto supported foods.   Furthermore, we could use this opportunity to spread awareness.

We pulled in to Sidney, a remote town situated in northeastern Montana with relatively low expectations.   We learned that the area was currently in the midst of an oil boom, which was clearly evident by the shoddily constructed “man camps” we observed along the way.  We had also heard that there had been a fairly recent murder in the community, which, once again, made us rethink our decision.  We decided that we would show up to the RV park (aka county fairgrounds) and if at that point things appeared overly sketchy, we’d skip town. Fortunately, that was not the case and upon our arrival we were greeted by our camp host and security guard who assured us that we had nothing to be concerned about, safety wise. Aside from the two other families there with kids, the majority of the RVers in the lot were retired couples with fancy rigs and small dogs.  If it was safe enough for them, then we had nothing to worry about in our 04 model 5th wheel guarded by our ferocious watch dog Daisy May.

Nearly half of the world’s sugar production comes from sugar beets and in Montana it is a $60 million industry.  Local farmers are contracted to grow the beets  and are paid based on yield and  sugar content.  Here is where my issue lies. The farmers are only allowed to plant approved seed varieties.  And guess what?  Ten out of the twelve approved varieties are “Roundup Ready” seeds.  Yes indeed, a Monsanto product.  I’m not quite sure about the other two varieties but that really doesn’t matter.  If some growers did plant the other varieties, and if they aren’t GMO seeds, cross pollination would contaminate those fields anyway.  So, it is my knowledgeable assumption that all of the sugar beets that Bri and I worked with were genetically modified. Very bad!

Beet field
Beet field

During the harvest, the beets were delivered by truckloads to a factory yard where they were weighed and piled and random samples were collected for testing. I was part of a 6-7 member crew who worked in the factory yard for 7 hours a day.  We kept the piler running, the area clear of all stray beets and collected the samples. From that shift, I went to work inside the factory with Bri for another 4-5 hours.  It was more or less an assembly line job where we weighed, washed and dried the samples before the pulp was extracted and sent into the lab for sugar content. Neither position was difficult but the hours were long and went by ever so slowly.

Beet factory
Beet factory

We worked with many interesting people, toting quite diverse backgrounds during our time there. Aside from our fellow RVers, we fraternized with a group of transient 20 something year olds ,a train hopper, a retired local schoolteacher (who came to our RV bearing fresh, produce from her garden), a car salesman (who brought us fresh, local eggs)  and “Cowboy John” (who provided us entertainment via song and ferrets).  I’m pretty confident in saying that I don’t believe many of these people are even aware of Monsanto and their evil ways. I do know that most are aware of my affection for kale which did prompt some words of healthy living from me. And though I do feel a bit hypocritical, I’m glad we had this experience.  Especially, if it adds more members to the Millions Against Monsanto campaign.

Piling beets
Piling beets
Weighing beets
Weighing beets