Into Montana! Glacier National Park

Once we left the North Cascades National Park area in search of clearer skies, we pushed west through Washington with a couple of short stops.  Now we were continuing through Idaho into Montana, the first of three states we had missed in 2015 (along with the Dakotas.)  We broke up the drive with an overnight stop at Silver Dollar, a bar, inn, restaurant, gift shop, and “casino.”  That last in quotes because Montana is chock full of little places that have a handful of bingo machines disguised as slot machines that call themselves casinos.  The great thing about this touristy little place is they offer free RV parking with 30 amp electricity.

This sort-of-a-campground is well back from the road, behind the casino, with some rough dirt and gravel paths and sites that mandate a very slow approach.  We have stayed in far worse spots that had no services, so for free electricity at about the point I wanted to stop, it was an excellent deal.

The next morning we had to fill Serenity’s big gas tank again (second time already this month, we expect as many as six 70 gallon refills in August) at the cheapest on route place Gas Buddy could find, and continued northeast to West Glacier, a small town just outside the west entrance to the national park.  After finding no Passport-America option in the vicinity, we relied on All Stays and RV Park Reviews for guidance, and ended up selecting Glacier Campground for our four day stay.  What a gem.

There are those who prefer what you might call a “traditional RV resort” as their ideal site: manicured landscaping, large pull through sites with full hook ups and services along with a host of amenities.  Our preference is more along the state park model: well separated sites, each surrounded by natural, barely tamed greenery.  We can usually get that cheaper than the traditional resort, even if we have to give up a few services and amenities.

Glacier Campground was exactly the sort of place we seek out.  A well managed place with every site in the forest and plenty of separation between them all.  Sure the sites were back in, on dirt and gravel, and we only had 30 Amp electricity and water, but that was perfectly sufficient, and the rate cheaper than the more resortish parks in the vicinity.  With the 10% military discount, and after taxes we were out just under $34 a night.  For something so close to a popular national park, that is a solid rate.

The day after our late afternoon arrival we headed into Glacier National Park (our 28th national park) which entailed having to purchase our annual park pass since our last one expired in May just after we visited the Channel Islands National Park.  At $80 it gets us and anyone in our car into any national park, monument, forest, grassland, historic park, recreation area, etc for free.  It doesn’t cover campground costs, just entry fees, but since the national park system, unlike most state park systems, does not waive or include the entry fee into campground costs, this annual pass makes sense for us.

The annual pass is not for everyone; many visitors would be better off just paying for the one week pass at the individual park they visit (and not every place charges; the North Cascades was free!)  But since we know we will be hitting a good number of parks in the coming year, this pass will pay for itself.  Heck, Glacier’s one week vehicle entry fee is $30, so we are already nearly half way towards cost justification.

Anyway, the park…  It’s awesome.  Spectacular views, though still a bit smoke shrouded by the ongoing forest fires, incredible scenery, a striking abundance of wild flowers, beautiful streams, creeks, waterfalls and lakes. And no small amount of wildlife either.  During one of our short hikes to Hidden Lake we saw a herd of bighorn sheep and got up close and personal with a family of mountain goats.

We spent our first full day in the park casually driving through the lower reaches and then a nice day hike up to Avalanche Lake, were we had lunch on the shore.  Highly recommend this moderate hike to anyone visiting the park if you want a quick taste of what it has to offer.

The next day we made the drive along “The Road to the Sun,” a winding and in places steep and narrow road with cliffside railings.  Due to these conditions, the max vehicle length permitted on the road is 21 feet.  We went to the halfway point, Logan’s Pass, to make the aforementioned hike to Hidden Lake.

This was described as an “easy” hike in the brochure since the path is improved with boardwalks and stairs, but given the height and unevenness of the steps and grade, and the number of people we saw struggling, this should probably be rated as moderate so as not to lure in the unprepared.  It was a great little hike for us, not least of all because of the mountain goats.

We headed back down the mountain road, stopping at a couple of the overlook points along the way, including one that had a significant patch of snow that remained at this altitude despite the warm temperatures due to the significant shadow effect from the tall surrounding cliffs.  Along with the a couple of children, I took the opportunity to scramble to the top and sled down on a ragged piece of plastic bag.

Once back down the mountain we backtracked a bit southeast to visit some local sites of interest in the nearby towns, starting with a whiskey (and other assorted options) at the local Glacier Distilling Company.  We each selected a flight from their score or more options, and enjoyed the warm glow provided by fine spirits.

After that it was on to Columbia Falls and one of the most active local farmers and artisans markets we have ever witnessed.  Trying not to be jealous about not being able to vend, we were astounded at the crowds wandering through the tight area, along with energetic live music and food trucks providing an assortment of options.  The customer to buyer ratio was fantastic, and though the pizza we purchased was disappointing, the fresh artisanal cheese stuffed bread and huckleberry macaroon were to die for.

For our last day in the vicinity we sought out advice from the Campground owner on where we could find a nearby clear running river or steam with easy access and parking at which we might spend a leisurely afternoon with our feet in the water and butts in lounge chairs.  She pointed us towards Belton Bridge, which straddles the middle fork of the Flathead River, and used to lead to the west entrance to the national park.

It was perfect, and came fairly close to recapturing our great days on the Salmon River in Idaho, only with the added benefit of getting to watch local kids jumping and diving from the 28′ bridge into the river, and occasional flotillas guide-led rafters heading down through the mild rapids.  Combine all that with a nice picnic lunch made up of the bread from yesterday’s market paired with white wine, and you have an ideal afternoon by our standards.

We have since left Glacier and pushed hard eastward into North Dakota where we are drycamping for a few days in the vicinity of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  We will update that in the next post, and then project our heavily revised future route for the remainder of 2017.

Heading East across Washington

After 37 days on Whidbey the wanderlust overcame our love of the island, and since we finally ran out of extensions at the fantastic RV Park on the Naval Air Station, we decided to continue on our original roughly outlined plan.  So on August 1st we pulled chocks and headed generally east.  We left via the north end of the island chain, which means that rather than an expensive ferry ride we crossed Deception Pass and then took the bridge to the mainland.  We made a quick stop at the Swinomish Casino to do our usual players club sign up for free slot machine credit, and walked out with an additional $11 bucks to our name and working a sugar rush from the free soda.  Woot!

We also stocked up on booze, mistakenly thinking that the tribal casino would not charge the ludicrous Washington liquor taxes.  In addition to 20.5% sales tax, the state also charges $3.77 per liter excise tax.  So a $20 fifth would actually cost you $26.93. Ridiculous.

From there it was a short 90 minute drive to our first stop: a small private RV site just outside North Cascades National Park.  Our campground, Alpine RV Park, was a fairly utilitarian affair less than a dozen miles from the park entrance, but since they took the PA rate, it was a great deal: $15 a night for full hook ups including generally usable WiFi.  The shower house was pretty deteriorated and the lot was nothing to write home about, but the price and location were perfect for us budget travelers.

This would be only our second national park of the year; we had managed to get to the Channel Islands, but circumstances (crowds, availability, weather, and our own financial limitations) had caused us to skip the popular California, Oregon and Washington options.  Unfortunately, our timing was pretty awful for this park since the entire region was blanketed in smoke from several out of control wildfires in British Columbia.

This meant that the normally amazing views were heavily obscured and hiking would involve sucking in a lot of particulate.  We made the best of it with our traditional stop at the visitor center for the park movie, a day drive through part of the park, a short hike beside a set of waterfalls behind the old hydroelectric power plant, and a (very) quick swim in the Skagit River just south of Lake Diablo.

We spent our last day in the area doing a bit of geocaching (dropped off two trackables we had lugged all the way from the Florida Keys), visiting a fish hatchery, and wine tasting at Glacier Peak Winery.   While they had some traditional dry wines there, we were surprised by how much we enjoyed the dessert options since that is usually not our thing at all, and we walked out with the excellent and unique black currant wine.

In better conditions, North Cascades would be in our our top third of National Parks, particularly since it is not nearly as crowded as the better known places.  We cut our stay to three days and moved on, pushing through the rest of Washington.  After a 20 mile detour to dodge another wildfire, we arrived at Lakeview Terrace, a Passport-America park near the Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River.  It was a nice little place, not exactly a resort or destination location, but the small RV section had medium sized spaces, full hook up connections, and a bit of greenery in each site.

We were particularly surprised by the wildlife wandering through what is basically a residential neighborhood.  Three does spent a good amount of time on a nearby site chomping down on what looked to be a crab apple tree, and a flock of wild turkey passed through as well.  At $17.50 a night on the PA rate, this park was an excellent value.

The little known alternative album cover for Abbey Road.

From there it was on to our last Washington stop: one night at Clear Lake Recreation Area, an Air Force Family Campground near Fairchild AFB.  They operate two facilities in the area, one on base and this one a dozen miles south.  Like many Air Force camps, the former is a first come, first serve facility, and a call to the Recreation Office revealed that it was full.  So we turned off the interstate for the Clear Lake option.

It was a great choice; we didn’t have to deal with finding a commercial truck gate on base, and Clear Lake, as the names suggests, is situated on a nice big lake.  The sites were pretty basic and few of them had any trees, but at $20 for full hook up it was a good stopping point before we moved on through Idaho into Montana.  Additionally, due to our participation in the Air Force Frequent Camper program, every Family Camp at which we stay effectively gets us half of a free night certificate for future stops. 

We are headed towards Glacier National Park next, which segues into a public service announcement:  If you are 62 and over, the senior lifetime National Park Pass will increase from from $10 to $80 on August 28th, so get you pass now while it’s dirt cheap.

31 Months Fulltiming: July 2017 Report

OK, we are still fighting to recover from the Photobucket fiasco, so I know some of you still can’t see any of our posted pictures.  We have not forgotten you, we are working it, but we are at our wits end as to how to solve the problem of some readers having no trouble seeing our pictures while others, depending on how they arrive at our site or what platform they are using, are not able to see anything but broken links.  Stick with us, we’ll get it fixed.

The Distance: We said we wanted to get someplace and settle down for a while, reducing our gas expenditures and maybe taking advantage of long stay rates, and in July we did just that.  We traveled a grand total of 47 miles from Langley in South Whidbey up to the Naval Air Station RV campground in Oak Harbor and then down to the Staysail city park.  This brings out 2017 mileage up to 4,862, a huge slowdown from the last few months.  August will see a major uptick as we begin working our way east across the top of the country.

The Places:  We spent another six days at the Island County Fairgrounds before moving up to the Naval Air Station’s Cliffside RV Park for 23 days.  We closed out the month with two days at Staysail City RV Park just a handful of miles from the navy base.  It was all military (23 days) or municipal parks (8 days) this month.  We enjoyed full hook ups for 25 days (with free WiFi!) and a power and water site (now WiFi) for 6.  Other than the obviously subsidized military rate, we didn’t get any discounts from our clubs or memberships this month.

The Budget:  A combination of tight control during the first half of the month, no gas fill ups for Serenity, and four successful Second Street Markets along with one fantastic Kiwanis Beachcomber Bazaar allowed us to finish 10.5% under budget.  We did so even with higher than average RV campground costs ($28.71 a night) and a loosening of the purse strings in the latter half of the month.  It’s gonna be hard, if not impossible, to completely get on track for the year after more than $2000 in dental expenses in May, but we have at least made progress towards reducing the impact.

The Drama and the Improvements:  Not much to report this month.  I wish I could truly get into the habit of “one small improvement every day,” but at least we had no major incidents or failures this month.  We washed Serenity, we reorganized several major underbelly storage compartments, and redid our jewelry racks (including building a new one) but that’s all small ball.  Next month I hope to report a final solution to our embedded photo crisis.  The bottom line is I either need someone to help me sort out the glitches associated with third party hosting on Google Drive as it is seen from different platforms, or I need to do a lot of grunt work (again!) uploading and reestablishing two years worth of embedded pictures on an entirely new image hosting service. Ugh!

Here are our monthly reports for the year so far:

And here are our 2016 and 2015 annual summaries, each of which have embedded links to the individual monthly reports from those years.

Lavender, Shipwreck, Thrift Stores, Jewelry, Wine, Cheese, and even a few restaurants in our last weeks on Whidbey Island.

In closing out last post I alluded to loosening up the purse strings in the latter half of our stay on Whidbey Island.  We had kept things pretty tight during late June and early July, and this combined with some success at various markets allowed us to splurge a touch during the second half of last month.  We started things off with a day outing up to Anacortes for the annual Shipwreck Festival.

Three rows of vendors running for half a dozen blocks at the Shipwreck Fest

This is a giant yard and craft sale that the city of Anacortes puts on each year.  Upon learning of the event and calling the city Chamber of Commerce, we had been disappointed to learn that we were to late to participate as sellers.  In light of our rousing success at the seemingly similar Beachcomber Bazaar we thought this would be a great event for us, but c’est la vie.  It was a fun outing that we did with Nancy and her granddaughter Kyla.  We enjoyed being tourists for the day rather than vendors, and managed to find a few affordable items and a couple of great craft beers.  We were also happy to learn that it was not exactly our sort of selling event, closer to a flea market than farmer or craft one, so perhaps we had not missed out on a prime selling event after all.

We enjoy thrift stores of all kinds, and Whidbey did not disappoint.  We hit the base option, four in Oak Harbor, another in Freeland, and one or two while in Anacortes for Shipwreck Fest.  We found some affordable jewelry to disassemble and re-purpose into Rosemarie’s items, a few nice shirts and pants, and this astounding set of pillow cushions:

Almost everything is wrong with these knock off Game of Thrones pillow cases.  Aside from misspelling Game of Thrones, they leave words out of two of the house mottos and even manage to butcher “Baratheon” into “Prtuion.”  This makes them even more awesome.

Another day outing had us down in Greenbank to acquire a couple of LuLaRoe leggings (Rosemarie’s go to to active/leisure/formal wear) from a discounted private seller, and on our way back we stopped at Greenbank Farm, a historic location now hosting a set of shops, galleries, park, and restaurant where we acquired some local aged sharp cheddar cheese.  As we worked our way back to Oak Harbor we swung into the very quaint downtown area of Coupeville, purchased an excellent rosé and a loaf of fresh bread at a great price, and made a meal of it along with our recently purchased cheese.  The end to a great day!

We enjoyed two affordable restaurants during our stay in Oak Harbor: Jumbo Burrito and Noe Jose Cafe.  I liked the Yelp/Trip Advisor reviews for the former: a family owned little restaurant offering a stripped down menu of California and Mexican style burritos and the like, with ludicrously large serving sizes.  We split the jumbo burrito and still had leftovers for another meal.  The taste?  Delicious and flavorful.  Even though we keep our restaurant outing few and far between, we hit this place twice in one week.

Noe Jose (pronounced, apparently, “No Way Jose”) came recommended by some locals as well as semi-locals Bruce and Nancy.  They offer very warm service and fresh made breakfast and diner-like options in large portion sizes.  We all enjoyed a group outing there, and would happily return should we get back to Whidbey in the future.

I’m never happier than when I’m in a cheese shop.

Finally, Nancy took us to the annual Lavender Festival in Sequim, WA.  This involves a couple of hours in the car along with a ferry ride across to the Olympic Peninsula region. We had visions of tents and parades through blooming lavender fields, or perhaps on the closed streets in a quaint historic downtown area, with vendor after vendor selling lavender oriented items.  Instead it was a very crowded row of 150 vendors selling mainly non-lavender art, crafts, and food in a school parking lot.

Don’t get me wrong; we are quite content to visit such events, it was just that our expectations were so much higher, and given the time and cost of getting there and back, it was a disappointment.  We made the best of it, and even purchased a beautiful Abalone shell necklace for Rosemarie that will hopefully inspire her own ongoing work with abalone, and visited a working Lavender farm on the outskirts of town on our return trip.  I learned from a vendor (and have since confirmed) that the minimum booth fee for sellers was $395 for the three day event, which would pretty much be a non-starter for us, just too much of a risk despite the claimed 30,000 person attendance.

As for our own markets, we attended two more Fridays afternoon events at the Second Street Market in Langley, and man were they great.  After our successful attendance at that first Friday, things had dropped off for the second and third weeks.  Our fourth and fifth Fridays, however, were excellent with each one vastly exceeding expectations.  It was probably time for us to move on; we were sensing a bit of coldness from a couple of other jewelry vendors there.  Usually everyone understands that we are all trying to make a buck, but sometimes the local, longer term vendors can get a little pissy about drop ins like ourselves, particularly if we are under their prices.  Oh well, at least our vending neighbor Andrea, selling incredibly delicious and imaginative chocolate, enjoyed our company, as we did hers.

Rosemarie and Andrea (Rose sporting her $2 find from the Shipwreck Festival)

I mentioned in our previous post that we had managed to stretch a few days at Cliffside RV into a full week based on cancellations.  We continued to stretch it, asking every day or so, and for two weeks it worked!  Seven days turned into ten, then 14, 18, 21, and 23 days.  But we could stretch no further.  Too close to peak season at a too popular park, and with excellent weather we finally hit a day with no cancellations.

In stretching our stay at Cliffside RV from 5 to 23 days, we did have to move sites once.  This was our second spot.

The day after our final Second Street Market, we had to pull out and head over to the city park, Staysail RV where Bruce and Nancy had been ever since leaving the Naval Air Station.  It is full hook up for $25 next to a very nice park, but you do have to deal with close neighbors, some loosely enforced rules, and a thriving homeless population that calls the park a part time home.  Not really our preferred place, we made the best of it for two days, enjoyed hoisting a few more glasses of Nancy’s homemade Irish Cream, but finally had to bid goodbye to Whidbey Island on the first day of August.

Goodbye Cliffside Beach!

Extending our stay on Whidbey as we transition up to the Naval Air Station’s Cliffside RV Resort.

In our first week on Whidbey Island we stayed at the affordable but basic campground at the Island County Fairgrounds, and while there got ourselves inserted into a couple of farmer and craft markets.  The plan was to move up to the highly regarded campground at the Naval Air Station in Oak Harbor, but there was not a single day of availability until several days after the July 4th holiday period.

One of the smaller equestrian events we watched from our site at Island County Fairgrounds.

So we stayed at the fairgrounds another six days, or rather, I stayed for another six days.  Rosemarie made her third trip back to Florida in as many months, this time to walk in our friends Roseann and Anthony’s wedding.  We secured an airport hotel on points the night before her morning flight out of SEA-TAC (and thanks for the snacks and meal, Seattle USO.)  We love our RV life-style, but an occasional nice hotel feels like heaven.  Rosemarie spent four days in Coral Springs at her dad’s for the wedding event.  Congratulations to Roseann and Anthony on their big day!

Bride, father, and bridesmaids

The day after Rosemarie returned, we made the transition to the navy campground an hour up the road.  As it is an extremely popular place, particularly during the peak summer season, originally we had only been able to lock in a handful of days there.  Our periodic calls to the well managed office to check for cancellations, however, paid off nicely; by the time we arrived we had extended our reservation out to a full week, which included a free seventh night.  We even managed to find a three day opening to sponsor our friends Bruce and Nancy onto the campground, giving them a few days break from the nearby city park.

View of Washington mountains from the plane.

The Navy’s Cliffside RV Resort is, without doubt, the most beautiful military campground at which we have ever stayed, and is probably in the running for most beautiful site in general; military, private, or public.  It has has everything: a fantastic location right on the Puget Sound with nearly every site enjoying a great view; new and extremely well maintained facilities, access to the standard base amenities, a highly professional and helpful staff, and perhaps most astounding of all, some of the best landscaping we have ever seen at any park.

The path to the beach at Cliffside RV Resort and Campground

Apparently one of the camp hosts and a former employee, Ken, had a vision to redo the entire grounds and was given the funds to make it happen.  The result is an explosion of color in every direction from the extensive and varied flower beds.  Other accents include driftwood art scattered throughout the grounds, a collection of personalized signs from several hundred previous and current campers, bike and running trails, and even a community strawberry patch that produced very sweet fruit.

We did a terrible job of recording how beautiful the landscaping was there.  This only gives you a small idea, there were flowers everywhere, between and behind every site.

We also continued participating in markets, particularly the Second Street Market in Langley that would turn into our regular Friday afternoon event for the duration of our stay.  It had been very good to us our first week, and the second and third Fridays were decent as well, and allowed us to get to know a couple of the other sellers better.

Another Friday at Second Street Market in downtown Langley.

Rosemarie’s research had also turned up a major, once a year selling occasion: The Kiwanis Club Beachcomber Bazaar.  Sort of a mixed craft market/giant public yard sale, for $35 anyone could set up in an assigned 10’x10′ area on the main walking path within Windjammer City Park.  The only down side was that Rosemarie returned from the wedding having been given some sort of horrific flu-like virus from one of the junior bridesmaids (thanks a lot Antonella!)  Even as she arrived back in Washington she was starting to feel the effects, and after a day of slow deterioration she went into full bed rest with a noticeable fever for 48 hours, followed by a lingering weakness and cough for another four days.  It was bad enough that she actually stayed in the bed while we moved the RV the one hour drive from Langley up to Oak Harbor.

In addition to helping me with the Kiwanis Bazaar, Bruce and Nancy gave us two dungeness crabs that they had received from a friend.  I scraped every bit of meat I could from them….

…which I turned into delicious crab rolls.

With an all day event that turned out to occasionally be quite busy, having to manage things alone would have been tough.  Fortunately Bruce and Nancy lent a hand, helping man our tent through much of the day.  It ended up being one of our top events ever, and put us on track budget-wise for the month.

Our waterfront site at Cliffside.

So that’s two more weeks on Whidbey Island, which means we have stayed here longer than any place since leaving Key West, and I still have more days to write about.  That should give you a pretty good idea how much we like this place.  In fact, it has entered the top three locations that we would consider as a more permanent late spring to early fall residence (along with Coastal Maine and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.)

Next post: we loosen the purse strings a bit and hit thrift shops, a few restaurants, and a couple of big festivals as tourists, not vendors.  But we still did some vending.

30 Months Fulltiming: June 2017 Report

Well, we have sort of recovered from the great photobucket fiasco of ’17, but there are still glitches we are working on, and still have a about eight months worth of older posts to fix as well.

The Distance: 962 miles once we finally left Travis AFB, headed to the Pacific Coast, and then made our way north all the way to Washington.   Our 2017 tally is up to total is 4,815.  July will see a major slow down as we catch our breaths and try to get back on budget track.

The Places:  We departed from Travis AFB in Fairfield CA and crossed the coastal mountain range to get to one of our favorite 2015 spots: Glass Beach in Fort Bragg, CA.  There we split time between Cleone Campground and MacKerricher State Park.  From there we undertook our great gambling sprint, staying at five different casinos as we pushed through the rest of California, Oregon, and part of Washington.  Finally, we crossed the ferry from Mukleteo north or Seattle onto Whidbey Island to close out the month at Island County Fairgrounds.

Serenity on the ferry to Whidbey Island

We mixed things up a lot this month in terms of types of facilities, with 8 days in a military campground, 7 in a private RV resort, 9 in public parks (3 state, 6 county) and parking lot camped for 6.  We had full hook ups for 3 days, power and water connections for another 13, and dry camped for 14.  Aside from the subsidized rate at the Travis AFB, enjoyed full hook ups, sometimes even with cable or usable wifi, for 30 days, and dry camped for one. Other than the tax payer subsidized rate at the five different military facilities, and the cost free stays at the casinos, we didn’t use any discount program this month.

A tiny portion of the rabbits of Langley.

The Budget:  We got ourselves on track this month by staying 4.5% under budget, but still have a long way to go to recover from the budget busting May.  We were able to stay in the black this month despite the costs of a short trip back to Florida and expensive campsites in California by supplementing our income with some modest winnings at the various casinos (using the complementary free play money they gave us) and then two markets on Whidbey Island.  The drycamping days helped a lot, and despite sprinting all the way to Whidbey, we only had to fill the big tank twice.

Tilth Farmers Market and Music Festival.

The Drama and the Improvements:  I can’t believe I was contemplating eliminating this section entirely for monthly reports this year.  We have definitely had drama!  The theft of our awesome portable Honda generator at the last casino stop tops the bill, but the loss of all of our photo links on this blog when Photobucket eliminated third party hosting continues to be an issue for us.  And the battery disconnect switch failure that left us stuck for a couple of hours was no small matter either.

As to the embedded picture status:  I have spent hours and hours trying to shift our photos from Photobucket to Google Drive, and now have them “fixed” going back into November of last year.  That leaves two problems:  I still have to fix April through October, 2016 (pictures older than that were hosted on our now completely full WordPress site,) and the newly uploaded Google Drive pictures don’t seem to be showing up for everyone.  Some users report seeing everything just fine, others can’t see a single picture.  I don’t know what the solution is, but I’m still working it.  Once we get that little glitch solved, the whole mess will turn out to be an improvement for us: we have a much better organized and labeled picture database now, and I don’t ever have to deal with Photobucket’s terrible interface again.

Here are our monthly reports for the year so far:

And here are our 2016 and 2015 annual summaries, each of which have embedded links to the individual monthly reports from those years.

Recovering from the Photoshop picture hosting fiasco? You tell us…

As you many of you noticed, on July 13th all of our embedded pictures going back to April of 2016 stopped showing up on the blog.  It turns out that Photoshop, with no notice, suspended third party hosting on anything but there ultrapremium ($399 a year) memberships.  Since that time I have spent hours trying to fix the broken picture links by hosting them on Google Drive, and establishing the new embed links to the blog.  I am hearing mixed reports, so please: tell us what you are seeing.  Since making the last adjustment I have heard from one commenter that says its working fine, another that says it still isn’t working, and a third that says it works if you go direct to the blog, but does not work if you go through our facebook post.  I’ll make it easy for you: Can you see this picture?

If so, how about in recent posts like this one, or maybe that one?  What about in older posts like this one?  Let me know in comments please!

Our First Week on Whidbey Island

So we made it.  After 750 miles, a handful of nights parking lot camping, the theft of our Honda generator, and a significant electrical problem, we arrived at the Mukilteo Ferry Landing to take the boat to Whidbey Island.  We saved $15 bucks by disconnecting Loki, but it was still $57 for the crossing.

We undertook the entire journey, a big sprint by our travel standards, in order to find a great but affordable place to settle down for a month and sell at a bunch of markets.  Now, Whidbey Island is not a cheap place to live.  But before long we would have access to the RV Park, commissary, and other facilities midway up the island at the Naval Air Station.  Unfortunately availability there was not to be found until after the long July Fourth weekend.  So for the time being we settled in at the county fairgrounds near Langley on the southern end of the island.

The Island County Fairgrounds are pretty utilitarian: a grass field, 30 amp power and water, a dump station, and almost nothing in the way of landscaping.  But what it had was lots of first come, first serve availability at a cheap (by Island standards) price of $25 a night.  By contrast, the few state parks on the island were fully reserved for the week, and were more than $40 a night anyway.  Besides, the fairgrounds were perfectly positioned for the first vending opportunity we had secured since leaving Tucson.

And this was fortunate, because despite our early departure from the ghetto at Muckleshoot Casino and but a limited delay waiting for the ferry, we didn’t have much time to spare.  We arrived at the fairgrounds mid morning, did the most minimum set up possible (we didn’t even put out the slides) and headed straight for the Tilth Farmers Market and Music Festival.

Shell Crowns, or Mermaid Tiaras, something Rosemarie started making this month that we are hoping will sell at these market.

It was not quite what we expected.  You hear music festival, you think a lot of people and a lot of vendors.  This was a tiny, but intimate event with about a dozen vendors and a sparce but enthusiastic crowd.  In addition to the vendors and musicians, they had some performance artists out and about, including a juggler/comedian/stilt walker and a couple of faeries in full fantasy get up doing face painting and story time for the gaggle of children present.

Butterfly adorned faerie as seen between our racks at the Tilth Farmers Market and Music Fest

The normal market hours had been extended for the festival, so it was an all day affair.  We had a pleasant time of it, sold just enough to be satisfied, enjoyed several of the musical acts, and met some interesting and informative people that gave us the inside scoop on several other markets in the region.

Once done for the day we returned to the fairgrounds to do the remainder of our full set up: connections, levels, slides, grill, outside decor, etc.  Which brings us to the rabbits.  The fairgrounds, like most state and county versions, hosts a lot of agricultural, equestrian, and other farm oriented events.  The history we were given is that decades of 4H gatherings there, particularly the “children’s rabbit chase,” which is exactly what it sounds like, led to the occasional escape of these domesticated bunnies.  Once a few mixed pairs got out, they did what rabbits tend to do.  In an area with few natural predators, the population exploded.

Just within the RV field I counted more than 20 of the fur balls.  Half tame to the point that some will eat out of your hand, they are both a town curiosity and a nuisance.  The extent of their population boom has given Langley a bit of international exposure on the invasive species front.  Google it, you’ll see what I mean.  For us, though, it was just a source of constant stimulation for Pad Kee Meow, whose murderous desires were kept only in check by a short leash and close parenting.

During the next few days we met new friends Bruce and Nancy, who have been RV living on the island since last year.  They gave us the lowdown on places of interest, restaurants, markets, and, since Nancy is a crafter and jewelry maker as well, beaches at which to find sea glass, interesting stones, and driftwood.  During one such joint outing we found enough nice glass to make a dozen or so “locally found and made Whidbey Island sea glass pendants,” which would become one of our better sellers in subsequent weeks.

We closed out June with another event, the downtown Langley Second Street Market.  At this four hour afternoon affair the city closes down a block to auto traffic, while market manager Ben marks out the assigned spots to the dozen or so sellers.  With a solid amount of resident and tourist foot traffic through this street in the heart of downtown, we did quite well our first day, and decided then and there that though we might not make the next Tilth market, we would definitely be coming back as vendors at the Second Street event.

A Mechanical Hiccup On Our Way North: Serenity Shuts Down

For the sake of story continuity, in our generator theft post I left out a bit of excitement we experienced during our casino run up the west coast.  After we left our second casino we crossed into Oregon and fueled up just enough to get us up to a really cheap area for gas a couple hundred miles further north.  About 30 minutes after refueling, Serenity gave a bit of a hiccup, sort of a very short but noticeable loss of power, less than a second, before returning to normal.  I didn’t think anything of it the first time, but when it happened again a bit further down the road, along with giving me a check engine light I got a bit worried, and had myself half convinced we had gotten some bad gasoline.

Irrelevant to the story, but did you know some Oregon rest stops have dump stations?  Came in quite handy after a few days of parking lot camping.

The third time it happened I pulled over, turned everything off, gave a visual check, and pulled out my OBDII scanner to see what codes it was throwing.  It gave me two that I was not able to make much of with our limited connection, so we decided to push on the remaining half hour to our next casino stop, more than a little on edge the entire time.  We made it without further incident, pulled into what looked like a check in area, shut the engine off and made arrangements to stay a night.  When I tried to start her up to pull into an RV spot: nothing.  Not a sound, not an attempt to crank, not a warning alarm, not even an indicator light.

Irrelevant but interesting bridge we crossed while nervously awaiting Serenity’s next hiccup.

After repeated attempts we called for roadside assistance through our Easy Care extended warranty policy, and they took my recommendation for a mobile mechanic I had found through my own research.  After an hour or so of waiting, bored and on a whim I tried one more time to get Serenity started, and she fired right up without hesitation, pretty much just as the mechanic was arriving.  I pulled into our spot, shut her down and talked to the man before he began trouble shooting.

Gratuitous cat photo: PKM is unconcerned with our latest mechanical difficulties.  Do we still have cat food?  Then all is well.

I mentioned one of the weird things I ran across when I googled the two codes my scanner had revealed: something about a Transmission Indicator Switch, or Transmission Neutral Switch.  He agreed that the symptoms sounded a bit like a malfunctioning switch of that nature, crawled under the bus, found the switch in question and reported that it was very loose.  He tightened it up and suggested that was the likely culprit.  Easy Care covered the bulk of the bill as well, so success!

The loose transmission switch.

Unfortunately, there was more to it.  During the next leg of our northward journey I got the very same hiccup a couple of times on the road, and when we pulled in for gas at that previously mentioned cheap gas area, Serenity would again not start.  The gas station attendant seemed not the least bit worried about us being parked there for however long it took, so that at least took some of the pressure off.  I talked to an RV repair center just a few miles up the road that agreed to take a look if I could get her in, but didn’t have a mobile tech available.  Fortunately, just like at the casino, after less than an hour Serenity fired right up.

A welcome RV Repair sign just up the road from our latest problem.

We pulled into Florence RV and Automotive Specialists, and they started in on us right away.  After a few minutes of trouble shooting, our mechanic became convinced that we had a bad battery isolation solenoid.  Like most motorhomes, we have two solenoid operated switches that allow us to disconnect and reconnect both the house and engine batteries at the push of a button.  The one for the engine, or chassis, was going bad, and after it got hot it was disconnecting the battery causing the engine to shut down.  When it cooled off, things went back to normal.

Battery disconnect panel.

He removed the panel to check what he thought was the dying switch, but after consultation with another expert determined that the bad one was further behind the panel, and once accessed looked like no isolation switch he had seen.  He was sure he did NOT have one in inventory, and wasn’t sure how easy it would be to find one.  While he researched, we made plans to stay the night, or several nights, at a nearby RV park.

The problem is in here.

Fortunately, he struck gold while searching for the part on the internet:  Thor, the RV manufacturer who bought Hurricane, had issued a recall on this exact part, and published mechanical instructions on how to overcome this potentially dangerous failure:  bypass the disconnect switch.  That’s right, Thors solution is to completely eliminate the functionality of the switch by wiring directly past it.  OK then.  Armed with the info, our mechanic had us up and running within half an hour.  We have since submitted a claim to Thor’s warranty department, and are waiting to hear back if they will cover the $150 in labor. Fingers crossed.

See that solenoid on the left?  That’s no it.  That’s for the house batteries.  The bad one is behind the circuit board.

Despite a few glitches along the way, the ease with which we can find a mechanic for Serenity has been quit the relief.  Contrast that with extensive online and phone research to find a specialized vintage diesel mechanic, usually at great expense, like we did for The Big Kahuna.  Whenever we find ourselves missing the old bus, we just remind ourselves of that!

We made it to our next casino destination after just a few hours delay.

Robbed at the Casino. Literally.

This was supposed to be a post about how we saved money, even made money, with a new plan of attack after getting behind financially in May.  It was supposed to be a happy explanation of how we decided to dry camp in free spots and won a bit of money from some casinos as we worked our way up to Washington state.  Instead, this is a post about becoming complacent, not maintaining a bit of security awareness, and paying the price for it.  I won’t stretch it out too long, but it’s a story.

PKM finds this story riveting.

Our dental work in Mexico had put us, budget wise, deep in the hole in May, and we needed to change things up to get back on track.  We couldn’t afford to travel at the rate we had been going (gas), stay in expensive RV parks (California), live high on the hog (wine country), and not make any money at markets (strongly enforced California rules locked us out.)  We had three general options: hunker down somewhere affordable, work camp, or get to a place where we could make money at markets.  After a bit of exploration we decided on option three with a bit of one: boondock at free places while we sprinted up to Washington State, and once there settle in for a month and do a bunch of markets.

Our friends Jen and Dees told us about a nice, safe casino up the road, so we made that our first stop: An overnighter at Bear River Casino a couple hours north of  Fort Bragg.  It was just as promised, and while checking in we learned that new attendees would receive $10 each in credit to gamble with if they up for their players club.  Great, something basically fun and free to occupy our evening!  We signed on and ended up winning $44 in real money using their credit.

Buoyed by the overall solid experience, we chose another casino for the next night stop: Lucky 7 just south of the Oregon border.  There we won about the same amount with the free credit they gave us for signing up to their players club.  And so began a pattern: moving northward we would stop at a casino for a night or two of free drycamping, sign up for their club and have some fun, hopefully even winning a bit, while never using our own money.  We even starting exploring the nearby casinos that we weren’t even staying at for the same purpose.  We didn’t always win anything significant, but we never lost because we were using house money.

Lucky 7, like at least one other casino we visited, offered addition free play money for a text.

It was going along swimmingly; we were staying at our fourth casino, having visited an additional two in Loki, when we hit it (relatively) big: Rosemarie won about $260 with the $5 in free credit at Spirit Mountain Casino in Oregon.  All in all we were up nearly $400 while having saved roughly $150 in RV Park costs, and had even gotten several free or steeply discounted meals from the casinos as well.  Giddy, we planned our last casino stop, Muckeshoot, just outside of Tacoma.  One last night, then we would pass through Seattle and take the ferry onto Whidbey Island where we had a market already lined up.

The nice RV area at Bear River.  Unlike the ghetto at Muckleshoot.

We should have pushed on.  Heck, we should have done lots of things differently.  We should have noted that this casino’s RV lot had the least security presence, no barriers preventing access on any side, and no check in process at all.  We settled in for the evening, set up Honda generator, and decided that we would not merely put the genny up for the night when we were done, but we would actually put it inside the RV for safe keeping.  We had the blinds open, door open, lights on, and were within about five minutes of calling it a night when the lights dimmed and the low hum from the generator went silent.

Not even sure which casino’s lot this is.  But it is not the ghetto at Muckleshoot.

Thinking I had run it out of gas I stepped outside only to find our shore power line connected to… nothing.  We had been robbed.  One of the nearby neighbors (who was outside in his chair during the whole thing!) reported that he saw an SUV or camper topped pickup creeping along through the lot just before it happened.  We surmised he had scoped out the lot, locked in on our generator, waited for darkness than crept up next to it and snatched it straight into his truck.

Deflated, we called casino security, who leisurely made their way out to us, and proceeded to go on the attack, accusingly questioning us about why we had the generator out, why it wasnt’ locked up, why had he seen tables and stuff scattered around our RV earlier that day when he had taken a drive through, and other unimportant lines of inquiry that would not help at all in finding the generator or those who had taken it.  Infuriating.  As things got heated, his supervisor sent that giant incompetent tool of a guard away and took over himself.  A lady from the Tribal Gaming Commission also came out, and local police as well.

Also not the tweaker laden ghetto at Muckleshoot.

Reports were taken, paperwork exchanged, and the cops, professional and business like, told me there was a chance of recovery since they would have the word out at pawnshops and the like, but it was not a big chance as the cameras in the lot were of limited effectiveness, especially at night.  It had probably been tweakers who would dump it fast and cheap.

PKM in happier times, before we encountered crime town and arrogant, ineffective security at Muckleshoot Casino’s ghetto RV lot.

So there you have it: our beloved $1100 Honda generator is gone.  We learned a lesson about complacency, and will be a bit more on guard in the future.  So to all you out there: always lock up your portable generators (like we usually do!) and be aware of the security situation when parking lot camping.  And avoid the crime ridden ghetto that is the Muckleshoot Casino RV lot!

So long genny, I hope the tweakers found you a good home.