A few more days at Travis to catch our breath and visit Napa.

Having made it back safe from a short trip to Florida, we lingered at Travis AFB for three more days to get ourselves stocked up, rested up, and wined up before moving to Norther California.  We hit the base commissary and exchange of course, but also stumbled across a list of “military friendly vineyards and wine tasting rooms” in the Napa area.  While we had previously hit half a dozen affordable places in the Suisun Valley, we had yet to go to the actual heart of wine country this year.

Our final site at Travis AFB

List in hand, I plotted a course that would take us to as many as we could handle, most offering free flights, or 2 for 1 specials at the very least.  We made it to a grand total of two of them.  The closest two.  Because, if I am not making myself clear, they gave us so much wine.

First up was Black Stallion Vineyards, operating on a beautiful piece of land with fantastic buildings, formerly stables, as their tasting room and facility.  They were very accommodating, and were not at all put off by the fact that their prices were pretty obviously out of our range.  We had a great flight of five or six wines each before moving down the road a bit.

Next stop: Pine Ridge Vineyards, and what a gem this was.  Our fantastic sommelier served us up five great wines ranging from $50 to $100 a bottle despite our rather clear indication that we would not be buying something that pricey.  He gave us a great lesson in the nature of Napa Valley and why it produced such great and varied wine.  He even brought out a special reserve vintage normally priced at $200 a bottle for us to try.

Our head was spinning for more than one reason by the time we walked out for some fresh air, resolved to skip all the other vineyards on our list and just get a bit to eat before calling it a day.  We stopped at The Noodle House, a convenient and tasty Chinese place nearby for some egg rolls before heading back to base.  All in all, I strongly recommend that any active, reserve, or retired military people get the latest list from Travis and make the rounds.

Back to Florida for a Big Birthday Bash

In the 2 and 1/2 years of full time RVing we have had some very fortunate “place and date” timing:  We have spent the major Fall and Winter holidays with family in Florida and North Carolina, we have met up with our kin and friends (both old and new) in California, Texas, Oregon, Virginia, Maryland, New York, New Mexico, Iowa, Alabama, and Arizona.  We happened to be on the most convenient coast for vacation flights to England and Hawaii.  We coordinated our return trip down the east coast to be at my Mom’s Red Red Wine birthday bash in 2015, and by pure accident stumbled into the same Texas state park where my Dad and Stepmom were camping earlier this year.

But sometimes that time and place coordination is completely out of phase.  Such is the case for this Summer, when we have three obligations to be in Florida as we worked our way up the opposite coast in Serenity.  In May, Rosemarie flew to Orlando for Linda’s big family  trip to Disney with all three of her sons and grandchildren.  In July she will return for our friend Roseann’s wedding.  And this last month, we both made it back to Coral Springs for Rosemarie’s dad’s 70th birthday party.

It was not the easiest trip we have made.  In addition to the actual flight (on points of course) we had to arrange secure parking for Serenity, a cat sitter for Pad Kee Meow, and off airport parking for Loki.  It all worked out: Travis AFB had a drycamping spot for the duration, the semi-official camp hosts volunteered to take care of kitty, and we saved about $75 stashing the tow vehicle in a Hyatt lot next to SFO for the five day trip.

The event itself was fantastic.  The three daughters coordinated a rousing good party, the only danger was overdoing it (I’m looking at you Dolores).   We had a ridiculous amount of food, an extravagant amount of liquor, and decor appropriate to the occasion which also facilitated some memorable pictures.

It was all too short of a visit, but we needed to get back to California before either the cat sitter and campground rebelled.  We suffered through some flight delays, a stopover in Dallas-Fort Worth that barely allowed us to visit the USO, and a long nighttime drive from SFO to Travis once we finally made it back to the Left Coast.

29 Months Fulltiming: May 2017 Report

A couple of nights ago I pounded out a post to start catching us up.  At that point we were 24 days behind on the blog.  With this monthly report we are down to only 13, woot!

Yes, this picture is blurry, but only because Pad Kee Meow’s Jiu Jitsu training is progressing so well that we are moving at an extraordinary speed, and the lens just can’t quite capture it.  Just like how fast this blog is getting caught up.

The Distance: 998 miles as we worked our way west from Phoenix through Yuma into Southern California, and then up the coast to just north of San Francisco.  Our 2017 total is 3,853, all but a handful of that occurring during the last three months.  I suspect we are on track for a 15,000 mile year.

The Places:  We left Phoenix bound for Yuma, and stopped there for eight days getting dental work done in Los Algodones.  From there it was on to Coronado, CA and the Navy’s campground at Fiddler Cove.  We then moved north to Ventura, staying at another Navy camp on Point Mugu, and included a day trip to the Channel Islands National Park.  While there we were able to meet up with Dad and Stopmom Marcia again when they rolled into town for a couple of nights camping on the Channel Islands.  Then it was on to Monterrey, broken up by a one night stop over at Camp San Luis Obispo,  Finally, we continued north beyond San Francisco before stopping at Travis Air Force Base’s Family Campground.  We used that as a jumping off point for a trip back to South Florida.

Channel Islands National Park

We spent 23 days in military campgrounds and 8 in a private RV resort.  We 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, we also used one of our Air Force Frequent Camper certificates for a free night at Travis AFB, and were discounted four nights in Yuma due to our Passport America membership.

The Marina at Coronado Naval Base.

The Budget:  May was a budgetary disaster for us, but we knew that going into it.  We ended up 139% over budget!  The vast majority of that was because of our dental work in Mexico, but we also had to get a partial brake job for Loki (pads and rotors on the front axle.)  This puts us over for the year, but we are still confident we can make it up the majority of that with rational expenditures in June and July.  Once we are out of California we hope the less rigid regulations will allow us to participate in a few markets to help pad the budget as well.

One of Rosemarie’s more elaborate pieces recently sold on her Etsy page.

The Drama and the Improvements:  Loki’s brakes started squealing and grinding about when we arrived at Travis AFB, so we had pads and rotors replaced on the front axle at the base Firestone center.  As for drama: the softball incidents at Travis are about the only thing I can think of.

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.

Starting a lengthy (for us) stay at Travis Air Force Base Family Camp

During our meet up with Jennifer and Dees near Monterrey, they prompted us to get busy reserving something for the coming weekend; we had completely forgotten about Memorial Day!  We were particularly constrained as our next stop was to be the San Francisco Bay Area in order to visit family, and we already had flight reservations out of SFO to return to South Florida for a couple of days to attend Rose’s dad’s 70th birthday party.  It’s bad enough heading to the Bay Area as an RVer: quite expensive and limited site options, but doing so on a three day summer weekend makes it even tougher.  A couple phone calls ruled out the few Passport-America options, and there are only two military facilities in the region, one of which has but six sites, and they were full.

The other, Travis Air Force Base, like many Air Force Family Campgrounds, does not allow reservations within thirty days of arrival.  So it would be first come first serve in a park that was reportedly filling up fast.  Nothing for it but to try, so we made loose dry camping back up plans and headed north on a Tuesday morning, hoping that an early weekday arrival would mean there was something still available.

When passing through California wine country, you see vineyards nearly every place you look.

Sure enough, a spot was opening up just as we got into town, the only catch: it was in the “no pets allowed” section of the park.  Travis set aside roughly 1/3 of the campground as a pet-free area, and they included cats, not just dogs, in the ban.  The good news was that they had an opening coming up the next day in the pet area that would get us all the way through the Memorial Day weekend, which we locked in.  And so for on day we did not have a cat, and then suddenly we did.

We forgot to get a picture of our spot on the “no pets zone,” but here is our “kitty legal” second spot.

Travis’ Family Camp is a full hook up place at a great $23 a night rate.  After paying $35, $30, and $32 in Coronado, Point Mugu, and Monterrey respectively, it was nice to be back down in what we think of as the traditional military price range.  Plus, being an Air Force Family Camp, we were able to use one of our Air Force Frequent Camper coupons for a free night.  Given our loose travel plans for June, it might be a while before we would have access to another commissary, so we definitely stocked up here. 

During our first few days at Travis we made the 40 minute drive down to sister Dolores’ place twice to visit with her, Josh, and niece Tamiry.  Now four years old, Tamiry is a lot more communicative than during our last trip west, and we loved hanging out with her watching movies (as she gave away every upcoming plot point) and going to the local park pool to swim.  Dolores, Josh and Tamiry flew to Florida several days in advance of our trip, so we were left with quite time in Fairfield awaiting our own trip.  What to do?

The last three military campgrounds at which we stayed had the advantage of a fantastic seaside location, which goes a long way towards explaining their price.  But what Travis has is proximity to the true heart of California wine country: the Napa and Sonoma Valleys.  Given the strained status of our budget following our Mexican dental visit, we decided to limit ourselves to one day of wine tasting, and to stick to the more affordable places.

Since the Suisun Valley was just a couple of miles from base, we started there, visiting six tasting rooms, and purchasing a flight in five of them (the first one was just too expensive for our blood.)  They all had a pretty similar business plan: charge a nominal fee for a flight, the cost of which could be put towards the purchase of any bottle, and waived all together if you joined their members club.  This all but guarantees you will buy at least one bottle, and we were not the exception.

We ended up with five bottles for the day, and can say that our favorite was the Viognere from Mangels Vineyard, unusual since we were unfamiliar with the varietal and usually prefer reds.  In terms of bang for your buck, you can’t go wrong with the Suisun Valley Wine Cooperative, which currently has three vineyards offering tastings, with the entire line from all of them available to try for only $10.  We also enjoyed the ambiance and offerings at Wooden Valley Winery.

Our haul for the day.

Our impending trip to South Florida involved several moving pieces that were as yet unresolved upon our arrival a Travis earlier in the week: we still needed a place to store Serenity, off airport long term parking for Loki (SFO charges $25 a day!) and a cat sitter for Pad Kee Meow.  The former was turning out to be tougher than I expected since the base storage was completely full.  We eventually resolved this by moving to one of the six dry camping spots within the Family Camp since none of the hook up site were available for the full period of our trip.  In order to do that, however, we needed to get a waiver to the “three day maximum stay in dry camp” policy at Travis.  Fortunately we got approval, and then it was just down to the cat.

Our drycamping site, one of only six at Travis AFB.

Walking around the camp I ran into Steve, a volunteer on site, and figured he would be about the best person to put the word out regarding our need.  He immediately went to talk to his wife, Cindy, who is apparently a barely recovered cat addict, perhaps still in withdrawal and missing having such furballs around.  We worked out a deal, and Pad Kee Meow had a personal feeder, walker, brusher, and human to shower her with attention during our absence.  Thanks again, Cindy!

We moved into dry camp the day before our flight, set for an evening of final preparations and relaxation before the storm of a big family gathering in Florida.  If only.  We were jolted out of our peaceful state of mind by the loud smack of something hitting either the back or roof of our rig.  Upon investigation, we found a softball next to our rear, and observed several more easily clearing the fence behind us and landing among the dry camped RVs and a few adjacent hook up sites.  Let the drama commence!

Three players were having a go at batting practice, with one of them smacking every other ball over the fence.  After a couple of minutes of yelling and waiving we managed to get one of them to come talk to us in an attempt to negotiate and end to the bombardment.  They were having none of it: as far as they were concerned, if we parked in the (designated, assigned) RV spots near the fence then we took our chances.  One of the other campers lost his cool in a fairly extravagant manner, while the rest of us continued the conversation, but it became clear that the batters either didn’t care, or even held us in utter contempt.  I believe “look how these people live!” was one of his lines during talks with a resident officer.  Apparently in his eyes we were dirty, homeless, trailer-bound scavengers wandering the planet.  Eventually base security showed up and shut them down for that evening, but it was to be a short term solution.

I can sympathize: the field is one of the three officially designated base softball fields, but this was, we would learn, far from the first incident, with several of the campers having been led to believe that it would be closed until a permanent solution could be worked out.  Oh well.  Hopefully we would return from Florida to find an undamaged rig.

Monterrey and Carmel Valley

We have once again fallen a bit behind on the blog, roughly three weeks it appears, so it’s time for a flurry of catch up posts!  After our fantastic stay at Port Mugu near Ventura, we continued north towards the San Francisco Bay area, but there was no way we would pass up Monterrey and Carmel Valley.  We loved our last stop in Monterrey in 2015, and hold the Carmel Valley vineyards in high regard.

Obligatory cute cat photo to start things off right.

We broke up the trip with a one day stop at San Luis Obispo Army Reserve Base, a small campground on a small base, but for a great price with decent facilities.  During our one night stay we enjoyed full hook ups for $23, along with clean facilities.  Pad Kee Meow was particularly happy with the proliferation of ground squirrels in the vicinity of our rig.

Our spot at San Luis Obispo Army base.  PKM loved the ground rodent holes.

We pushed on to the Navy facility at Monterrey Pines, situated on a very nice golf course.  At $32 a night it is a bit pricey for a military campground, but given the area, that amount for a full hook up site is still a bargain.  It is a small campground, and some of the sites are awkardly situated, but consiering the cost of other local options, we can’t complain.

Pollen driven allergies in this section of California are beginning to take a toll on Rosemarie, so we scaled back our aggressive plans for the region and just relaxed a bit.  Of course, there was no way we were going to forgo a trip to nearby Carmel Valley and the profusion of wine tasting rooms there.

Our timing was fortuitous; our day trip to the valley coincided with the weekly farmers market, and we indulged in two hand made dips and chips as well as to die for sausage links from Cowboy Sausage.   We distinctly remembered his offerings from our trip in 2015, when he had been set up on Heller Estate’s property.

After the market, it was on to the tasting rooms, starting with our near annual pilgrimage to Heller Estate.  This time we limited ourselves to an excellent Chardonnay even though that is not a grape we usually choose.  We hit a couple more nearby places after that; Carmel Valley is fantastic because you don’t have to drive between the tasting places, they are all situated within a short walking distance.

We particularly enjoyed Cowgirl Winery’s Pinot Noir.  The overall sit down experience for their flight tasting was quite nice, and the prices were right for our retired budget.  We finished the afternoon with a stop in Bunter Springs for a thoroughly enjoyable flight from this small vinyard, and enjoyed chatting with the owner as well.

On our last full day we managed to meet up with our friends Jennifer and Dees of Nealys on Wheels, fellow full time RVers whom we last saw in the Florida Keys during our stay at Curry Hammock State Park.  So here we are on the other side of the country, but our travel schedules aligned just enough for a day, allowing us to share a couple of pints at a British-styled pub half way between our respective campgrounds.  We convinced fellow RVillagers Terry and Melanee, neighbors in the Monterrey Campground to join us.

English Ales Brewery Pub was literally the only non-chain place with decent ratings we could find near Marina, CA.  I enjoyed the Dragon Slayer IPA, but heard nothing but positive reports about the Bad Bobby and a couple of others, plus the fish and chips were up to standard.

Four days in Monterrey, and we never actually visited the city!  Ah well, we exceeded our allowance on wine and treats, so heading into town would have only pushed us that much further over budget.  Next trip we will spend more time near the Monterrey Marina and shore.

But for now it is on to the San Francisco Bay Area to meet up with Rosemarie’s sister Dolores, Josh, and our niece Tamiry.