Finally, the San Juan Islands

Rosemarie has mentioned her desire to visit the San Juan Islands for years. These are a group of islands between Whidbey and Vancouver famed for tourism, beauty, and whales. I had not really internalized how badly she wanted to see them until, during our time on Whidbey Island, we were planning out the rest of our summer and she placed it as her number one priority. (In my defense, she has a rather extensive list of must-see places.) And so we planned it. Doing so this late in the game was hardly ideal; many of the RV park options, especially the county and state parks, are full, and the ferry spots for large vehicles can fill up, but we made it work.

On the ferry with the other large vehicles. Several other RVs, but none quite as big as us.

Let’s start with that ferry. The Washington Island system provides service from Anacortes, less than an hour up the road from Rhododendron Park, to the four largest islands, San Juan, Orcas, Lopez, and Shaw. Based on our RV park selection, we needed a round trip from Anacortes to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. Due to the size of our rig (52 feet with the tow vehicle attached to the motorhome) it cost us over $400 for the journey. We paid less than $100 for the trip from Port Townsend (near Sequim on the Olympic Peninsula) to Whidbey back in July, but this is a longer trip, though not by a lot, taking about 90 minutes each way.

Arriving.

As for our accommodations, there was really only one game in town available: the county fairgrounds in Friday Harbor. The county and state parks were either full or could not accept rigs our size, and even most of the private resorts were at capacity even with their exorbitant prices. As it was, the partial hook up (power and water) fairground was over $50 a night, despite which we were lucky to find four days available split between two different sites.

So many beautiful coastal lookout points.

Friday Harbor is a fun little tourist town. Our campsite was within easy walking distance of downtown where we enjoyed the plethora of boutique shops and seaside sights. We found the locals very helpful with recommendations as to what to see, how to do it, and where to eat. Such freely given advice helped us plan our car tour of the island during our second day.

We had a great little sightseeing adventure, taking the mostly coastal road along the west side of the island to Lime Kiln State Park. While enjoying the views and heading to a couple of geocaches, we noticed a distinct and rather loud vibration coming from the Tracker’s engine. Popping the hood, I could not spot anything visually, but we resolved to head home. Unfortunately, Loki had seen enough of the island, and dropped what we would later learn was the harmonic balancer pully straight off the engine into the road within the next half mile of travel. This is one of the main pulleys, and the associated fan belt powers the engine cooling fan, among other things.

Though we were able to retrieve the actual pulley, and Loki would still start and run, it would overheat almost immediately unless coasting downhill. Now, we only had about nine miles to get back home, and it’s possible that we could have made it by pulling over, shutting down, and letting the engine cool off every half mile or so, but man if we screwed that up we could be looking at another blown engine. Instead we coasted to a wide spot along a cliffside pull out, and I hitched a ride back to the rig. Since nothing can be simple, I of course forgot to bring the door key, and had to break into the RV through a window, managing to crack the screen of our front TV with my wildly careening foot in the process.

I made it back to the lookout point in the motorhome where, with some assistance from a couple of locals, we managed to push Loki into position and hook up while the limited traffic along the road waited patiently. Thank you, San Juan Islanders, for your assistance and understanding during this stressful event. The silver lining: Rosemarie got to see orcas swimming and broaching along the coast while I was gone.

OK look, we have been here before. The tracker is 23 years old, and even with a fully rebuilt engine, things break. We were on a beautiful island, within walking distance of a cute town, biking distance of other interesting sights, and with plenty of bus tour options as well. Heck, we did most of our first year of full time RVing with no tow vehicle whatsoever, so we would manage. The next day we took advantage of the tour bus availability and enjoyed a day trip around the island with a lengthy stop in the ritzy, yacht-filled Roche Harbor on the northwest side of the island.

We toured the harbor, the main waterfront drag, and a few of the points of historical interest before enoying a light lunch overlooking the harbor at one of the lovely outdoor restaurants. We spent most of our time, however, in the beautiful botanical garden filled with installation art pieces. We found a handful of geocaches before catching our bus back to Friday Harbor. Once back in town, we closed out the day with a rather odd pizza buying experience, involving as it did a seemingly closed restaurant, ordering through a cracked open door, cash only of course, and waiting in the parking lot for it to be done. Fun experience, mediocre pizza.

On our last full day, lacking a working car, it was bike time. We took our old, rickety bicycles on a multi-mile tour of the Pear Point Peninsula, hitting half a dozen geocaches along the way, enjoying the coast, beautiful weather, wild raspberries, and exclusive looking neighborhoods.

The next morning we had reservations on the first ferry out, and awoke before dawn to get things ready. Unfortunately, with Loki broken, I had a very difficult time getting connected for the drive to the terminal. Much swearing, sweating, and panicking ensued as the minutes raced by. Eventually we got it done, arrived at the ferry, and despite being beyond the show time, they let us on for our journey to the mainland.

We would definitely return to these islands, although next time with a bit more advance planning, and hopefully the ability to visit a couple of the others. Next up: Spokane, Fairchild Air Force Base, and auto repairs.

Half of August on Whidbey Island Before Getting Back on the Road

When last we wrote the Shell On Wheels clan had completed three weeks at the Naval Air Station on Whidbey Island, followed by two days off island for windshield repairs, then returned to Whidbey for nine more days, including a full week stay at Rhododendron County Park in Coupeville. Despite all this time we just weren’t quite ready to leave, so we returned to Cliffside RV Park for nearly two more weeks to close out our time on the island and plan our next moves.

Rosemarie never tired of photographing the amazing flowers at Cliffside RV Park.

As we strung to together a couple more stays at Cliffside, the front office informed us that we were close to our maximum allowed time in the park. Many military bases, especially the seasonally popular ones, have such limits, and the specific rules vary greatly from place to place. In this case we were caught off guard, thinking that our time off island and at Rhododendron Park had reset the clock.

As ever, Pad Kee Meow is beside herself with worry and tension.

Four years ago during our first visit to Whidbey that would have indeed been the case, but a few cases of perceived abuse had prompted a rule change and we needed to vacate a bit sooner than expected. So we pushed out as far as they would allow, finished our time on the island with a couple of days back at Rhododendron, and allowed the stay limits to help define the dates of our next adventure.

Cool driftwood sculpture in Anacortes.

We took advantage of our remaining two weeks on the island to revisit our favorite places, find a couple of new ones, and participate in three more local Saturday markets put on by the Lion’s Club. As we had in July we timed one of our RV moves to coincide with the market, making this event quite convenient. Between July and August we sold at this venue five times, and while not all of them were great, the average of our sales made the overall endeavor worthwhile.

Did you know artichoke flowers were this beautiful? Neither did we!

The Lions Club market is the island’s newest regular craft event, and fills a niche for what I think of us “entry level” or “easy access” sellers. I.e., it is cheap ($20 vendor fee), short (one day a week for five hours) and accessible (all are accepted with no category limits and no special licensing or paperwork.) For us it replaced the weekly (and since cancelled) 2nd Street Market in nearby Langley at which we sold in 2017. They are still growing, working on their client base and community awareness. If we were back on our home turf in Florida and COVID had never happened, we would have skipped this modest market, but here out west, with so many festivals and fairs still rebuilding, it was quite worth our time and effort.

Part of the Penn Cove Bay near Coupeville. The floats are mussel farms.

In this, our second summer on Whidbey Island, growing familiarity with the place has solidified our favorite spots. Coupeville is our preferred town here. It is quite small, and the limited population and tourism mean there are only a dozen restaurant options, some of which have quite limited hours of operation which further constrain the unprepared diner. We love Little Ren Hen Bakery, but it’s only open Thursday through Sunday. Front Street Grill (our favorite mussel place) and nearby Toby’s Tavern are both open daily, whereas Oystercatcher is much more limited, and we never managed to catch them when we were hungry.

Despite such limitations, we thoroughly enjoy this town, and had many great experiences. Besides, Coupeville is big enough to boast its own craft brewery, which is sort of a minimum requirement to be considered civilized in my book (I’m looking at you, Sequim.) We expect to be back in mid 2022, and look forward to catching a few of the places we missed this visit.

While we were in Whidbey, Baby Zion, our new nephew was born to Melissa and Hamed in New York.

So that’s Whidbey for 2021. After nearly seven weeks on the island, it’s time to move on. Next up: The San Juan Islands. (Hint: not Puerto Rico.)

79 Months Full Time RVing: July 2021 Report

The Distance: 264 miles, all of it coastal Washington driving, as we finally got around to visiting the Olympic Peninsula and then returned to Whidbey Island. We piled in a bit more mileage with our trip off island for repairs. Though we will be stationary for most of August, we get back on the road “for realz” toward the end of that month. Our 2021 total so far: 5,355 miles.

The Places:  We left the Enumclaw Expo Center bound for Sequim and the Blue Hole, staying three days at an unofficial site in someone’s empty lot before shifting a few blocks to Dave and Rebecca’s street. We took the ferry to Whidbey Island, staying at Cliffside RV Park on the naval station for three weeks. We left the island to get our windshield replaced at Louis Glass in Mt Vernon, staying in their parking lot for two days. We returned to Whidbey Island, splitting time between Cliffside and Rhododendron Park, a wonderful and underutilized county property with a small, dry camping loop.

Fourth of July at Dave and Rebecca’s in Sequim.

We spent the bulk of our month, 23 days, at a military park, 2 days at municipal properties, and 6 at a private residence or business. We enjoyed full hook up services for 24 days, partial for 5, and dry camped 2.

Penn Cove mussels to go at Front Street in Coupeville.

The Money:  9% under budget, which is a much-needed change after the previous month’s financial challenge. We managed to get ourselves back on track primarily by getting back to vending at markets, starting out with a fantastic showing at the Kiwanis annual event in Oak Harbor, and followed up with two modest Saturday markets put on by the Lions Club. It also helped that we did not have any significant unexpected bills; Loki only required a modest $59 lug nut repair and PKM just needed her annual check up and vaccinations. Though our campground fees where a bit higher than we like, we did what we could to keep those in check by staying at free spots for three days and working the naval station’s system to qualify for the modest weekly discount. We averaged $33 a night for the month.

Kitty Meow Meow loved Cliffside Park’s many plants and edible wildlife as well

The Drama & Improvements:  Very little to report, and thankful for it. We continue to work through an annoying slow transmission seal leak on Loki, which I had repaired in California but continues to bedevil us, and we fixed a damaged lug nut as well. The cat is fully vaccinated again, so yay for that.

Next up: Our final two weeks on Whidbey Island before we resume our travels.

Geocaching in Rhododendron Park.

Back to Whidbey Island, Where Lack of Availability Drives Us to Find a New Place: Rhododendron Park

During our recently completed stay at Cliffside RV Park on Whidbey Island we had been quite fortunate to string together three full weeks at this popular spot on relatively late notice. We had done so by using our well tested “method” of checking for cancellation-based openings daily, which has brought us success at Bahia Honda, Wekiva Springs, Sigsbee Key West, Travis Air Force Base, and many other locations. It does not always yield an opening, of course, and this time luck was not with us; after our windshield repairs in Mt. Vernon were complete we headed back to Cliffside, but only for two days, unable to extend into the weekend during this, the summer high season.

Pad Kee Meow surveying her new woodland realm.

There are not a lot of RV park options on the island, and those that do exist are mostly full (and quite pricey) during the summer months. Though willing to rough it and only requiring a two day stay, we could not even avail ourselves of “parking lot camping” at a Walmart or Cracker Barrel: like many high population or touristy areas, the few “almost big box” stores on the island do not allow overnight parking. Fortunately, we had done our research during that previous three week stay and found a little discussed county park in the nearby town of Coupeville, already a favorite of ours due in no little part to the Penn Cove Mussels.

Yes, yes! More crafting supplies. Haha, exactly what we need. Yes.

Because of the dearth of information available online (RV and campground review sites had very limited and occasionally incorrect information) we had physically scoped out the place in our Geo Tracker earlier in the month. This reconnaissance revealed that Rhododendron Park, located on 37 wooded acres, has 15 sites along a bisected loop of sometimes narrow dirt roads. There is no onsite management, security, ranger, or camp host. All sites are “first come, first serv” and “unserviced” dry camping, i.e., no electrical, water, or sewage connections. The narrow roads and tree canopy likely act as a natural size limiter, but there is no posted official maximum RV length. Though not mentioned on the county website, signs in the park itself list a seven day stay limit. Finally, the website mentions that only three of the sites are suitable for an RV (versus a tent), and this probably refers to the three sites along the center paved strip, no signs in this unmanned park forbid an actual RV at any of the other sites, several of which were, in fact, occupied by various sized RVs during our scouting venture.

Almost all of these factors worked in our favor: the “first come first serve” basis and limited length of stay allowance meant that a few sites might still be available, while the dry camping, narrow roads, and heavy tree canopy would discourage a significant segment of the RV community, and thus limit our competition for a weekend spot. Which is pretty much how it worked out: though we arrived on a Saturday, there were still a handful of sites available, and we ended up with a fantastic, large, oddly shaped, heavily wooded, dreamland faerie site in a park next to a quaint seaside town on a fantastic island. Hard to ask for better than that. Oh right, it was only $15 a night.

Given the beauty, price, and availability of the park along with our tolerance and equipment for dry camping, we elected to stay for the maximum one week. This would temporarily eliminate the battle for a spot at the naval station, cost less than half as much, give us a bit of variation in our summer environment, and provide an esoteric, unusual benefit related to our newfound weekly Lions Club market as well: we could time our RV moves between campgrounds to coincide with the market, meaning one less painful haul of stuff in a cram packed little car to the market and back, and the convenience of our home on site for the duration of the event. As a comfort factor, this is not to be underestimated.

The previous Saturday we had participated in this relatively new and modest market to test the waters, and enjoyed just enough success to lure us back, particularly since we lacked any other options. I realize that sounds a bit negative, something south of “damned by faint praise,” but I don’t really mean it that way. It comes down to how much trouble are you willing to go through for limited and uncertain returns? In our early days the previous week’s earnings would have locked us in for a month of Saturdays, but the intervening years have taught us a lot about event selection and thus raised our expectations, though we are still adjusting those to the latest COVID reality. Which is a long way towards saying that the additional benefit of the RV move coordinated with market day made us more comfortable with the cost benefit calculation. Need a break? There’s our house. Want some coffee? Breakfast? A cat? Also in the house.

An example of one of the things available to us during a market if we bring our house.

Once settled in, we really took to this park and Coupeville. Though of modest size and close to town, the 37 wooded acres feels larger and further from full civilization than it truly is. The trees create a natural sound barrier, removing road and neighbor noise, particularly with only fifteen campsites and surprisingly limited day use. Partially market paths, some of them well-trod, others close to overgrown, meander through the property. A score of geocaches are hidden on or near the trails, with more along the nearby bike paths.

While most of these were along well marked trails, due to overgrowth a few of the loops were quite difficult to find, and we ended up doing some light bushwacking until we intersected a path or at least a game trail.

The proximity of Coupeville allowed us to explore it a bit beyond the two blocks of waterfront cafes and shops. We found wonderful chocolate croissants and other baked goodness at Little Red Hen, and craft brew with next door pizza at Penn Cove Brew. The big town of Oak Harbor was only half an hour down the road if we needed supplies, special shops, or annual check up and rabies vaccination, as one of us did. This was a great week on Whidbey Island, and we will happily include Rhododendron Park in our plans during future visits.

Next up: a monthly report and our two final weeks on Whidbey Island.

Heading Off Whidbey Island for Long Overdue Windshield Repairs

Two and a half years ago, shortly after picking up the motorhome following repairs made at Mr. Mobile RV in Florida, we took a rock from a passing semi to the windshield, leaving a noticeable divot in the passenger side. Knowing that Florida law requires insurance companies to cover all windshield repairs for vehicles registered in the state (with neither a deductible nor rate impact) we knew we could get it repaired, just as we had twice in the past, but that it might take some weeks to get the new glass, arrange the repair, and so forth.

Our damage.

We were not in a big hurry to do it, but when a couple of sales reps for a glass repair company talked to us at a weekly craft market and were willing to coordinate with our insurance company on the spot, we were convinced to proceed. What followed was a six-month odyssey of incompetence, mismanagement, and general delinquency by this unmentioned auto glass company. We had repair people come out only to realize they needed more tools, an extra person, or more parts. They rescheduled five times. It culminated months later when the third person from this company to come out for the same repair did some prep work on the seals, promised to return the next day for the full replacement, but then never showed or contacted us again.

I ran out of pics for this limited post, so enjoy this map of the eight geocaches we found while getting our windshield replaced in Mt. Vernon, Washington.

Once COVID hit we sort of forgot about the whole thing, particularly once we got back on the road for real travel. But come this last summer we contacted Progressive Insurance to finally get the repair done, expecting to get some push back because of the just discussed fiasco, but they took the info they needed and put us in contact with their recommended specialty glass company right away. We coordinated the windshield glass order, arranged for delivery at our anticipated July location, and worked with them to select the closest repair shop, which turned out to be Louis Glass in Mt Vernon, Washington, just off Whidbey Island to the northeast.

Our campground for two nights while Louis Glass replaced our windshield. Electrical hook up, wifi, and enough room to put out the slides. We are surely glamor camping now!

So: after three weeks at NAS Whidbey Island’s Cliffside RV Park, we pulled chocks and headed north across Deception Pass and then onto the mainland. Though focused predominantly on car windshields, Louis Glass was well prepared for bigger vehicles; they had a section of their parking lot set up for oversized rigs, and even provided us an electrical connection and wifi during our stay. Since we arrived the night before, a tech was able to start on our rig first thing in the morning. The deed was done within perhaps two hours, though we stayed overnight to allows the glue to fully cure.

Repairs in progress. Look, this guy has his own ladder!

The ease and speed with which our Louis Glass man accomplished the removal and replacement rendered the months long clown show provided by the previous repair company even more bewildering. The contrast reminded me of an old AAMCO commercial where a frustrated car owner encounters ridiculous service headaches, culminating in a slack jawed dimwit exclaiming that he “always wanted to work on a transmission.” Lest you think this comparison a stretch, consider some of the comments and actions of the first company’s techs that came out for our repair:

  • “Oh man, I’m gonna need a ladder for this one. Do you have one I can use?” Because, you see, each half of the windshield is four feet tall, nearly five feet long, and extends up over ten feet in height on our rig, something that was apparently completely unknown to this tech before arriving on scene.
  • “I think we’ll need to reschedule until I can bring another person.” Again, because the size of the windshield being a complete mystery to this second tech before arrival.
  • “I’ve never seen one that was glued in place.” Referring to the aforementioned giant windshield.
  • I don’t have a quote for this, just imagine it starting with “Darlin’ ” or “Sweetie Pie” or some other vaguely southern, faux suave, caricature of office sexism, and proceeding for 20 minutes as this third tech flirted, on speaker phone, with his dispatcher/office person, seemingly for my benefit and amusement, which I safely assume based on the number of knowing winks he gave me during this painful-to-witness conversation.
During my google search I found several of their ads from that era, but only this screen cap from the specific AAMCO commercial in question. Y’all remember it though, hopefully.

Incidentally, a few asides originating from my casual research of the aforementioned AAMCO commercial, which, because I harbor no illusions about the reader demographics of this retired RVer couple’s blog, I believe most of you are certainly old enough to remember (even if, because of your ages, you don’t actually remember.)

  • It was from 1984, the end of what some high-profile automotive writers refer to as the “malaise era” of US car production (i.e., a rough decade of crappy cars made by The Big Three, who were ever so slow to catch on to the new era of gas prices and foreign, quality-based competition.)
  • Apparently, there was some sort of James Brolin connection to AAMCO that was casually ridiculed by late night comedians, particularly after his wedding to Barbara Streisand, which of course sent me down another google rabbit hole to figure out why.
  • The Brolin-Streisand nuptials (and subsequent comedian references) occurred in 1998, yet I remember far better the AAMCO commercials from more than a decade previous, which says something, though I am not sure what, about memory, advertising, and celebrity. 6
Everyone remembers James Brolin, but not all of you have heard of Barbra Streisand, apparently a minor player in Broadway musical theater and film. A rigorous internet search turned up this photo of “Babs” pictured in her childhood bedroom surrounded by local talent contest trophies earned during her youth.

Next up: Back to Whidbey Island, where we explore a new campground, Rhododendron Park.

Happy New Year to All, and Happy 7th Nomadic Anniversary to Us

On December 30th of 2014 Rosemarie and I took our 1963 GM Bus down to Key West Florida to symbolically start our full time RV adventure at the southeastern most point of the continental US. A few weeks later we left the Keys to start a 15,000-mile circuit of the US, visiting 27 state and 88 RV parks. In the subsequent years we have made six more journeys around the county, now having been to all 48 CONUS states, 5 Canadian provinces, and two in Mexico.

The Big Kahuna in front of The Southernmost Point.

We originally committed to two full years of RVing, after which we just kept going; we found we loved the lifestyle and there was so much more to see. As we begin our eighth year of this journey, we look forward to our winter in the US Southwest, more western exploration during the spring and summer, and then beginning a casual, meandering return to Florida in the fall.

Pad Kee Meow joined us almost a year into our journey.

Though we are starting another year on the road, we have started to miss having a fixed place to call our own. Not necessarily a house even; perhaps just a piece of property (in the woods, with full hook ups, on the water, near a cool town, not too close to neighbors, with temperate weather, and affordable…) to park our RV and build upon.

Serenity, pictured shortly after we moved in, and now in her seventh year on the road with us.

But not yet! So Happy New Year from the road, and we look forward to seeing as many of you as we can in the coming year.

3 Weeks at Cliffside RV Park, NAS Whidbey Island

Following our frenetic first year of full time RVing in 2015, during which we conducted a ridiculously aggressive circuit of the continental U.S., we attempted to establish a pattern whereby we would spend the winter in Florida, and then alternate our travels between the west and east halves of the country. This worked for the next three years, during which we focused on the Eastern US in 2016, the West and Midwest in 2017, and back to the East plus parts of Canada in 2018. In 2019, however, our plans to return west fell by the wayside after we prioritized an international travel opportunity to Cuba, and then COVID collapsed our western tour plans in 2020, during which we spent fare more time in Florida and a limited our exploration to the southeast.

But here it is (was), the summer of 2021, and we took our fully vaccinated selves west, exploring favorites from 2015 and 2017, and adding to them along the way. Many of the places we are hitting this year are old favorites from four or six years ago, but even among our list of western faves, Whidbey Island has a special place in our memories and was one of our top priorities for this 2021 trip.

The thing that makes this island so fantastic for us is Cliffside RV Park on the Naval Air Station. You can read our past posts about the park, the short version being that it is an astoundingly beautiful ocean front garden, lovingly cared for, with every terraced spot having a wonderful view. In addition to the ocean front setting on the sound, the property is overflowing with flowers, with beds occupying every available space.

Just one of many, many flower beds one can see from nearly every campsite.

It is not cheap, at least by military campground standards, but compared to civilian equivalents, it is a solid deal. During the summer it is also quite popular. Not “NAS Key West during the winter popular,” but enough so that the weekends are usually booked. In fact, this is one of the few places we bother to reserve a stay in advance (even weeks in advance, which is, like, years by our standards.) From past experience we knew the July 4th weekend would be booked solid, but we managed to secure four different multi-day stays over a three-week period in July.

The shoreline below the campground extends a good way in both directions, the effective length of the base.

And so Tuesday morning after the holiday weekend we caught the ferry from the Port Townsend harbor, about an hour down the road from Sequim, to Coupeville on Whidlbey Island. If my records are right this only cost us $81 for the motorhome and tow vehicle, though I think they let us get away with being a little longer than our 50′ combined length listed on our reservation. After a bit of google maps confusion relating to which of the naval station gates were actually open, we arrived at our home for the remainder of July.

Our first site: even though not front row, it still has a fantastic ocean view.

At check in the office linked our multitude of reservations together, giving us a continuous 21 day stay, though, because of the different price points between front row and everything else, we had to move sites a couple of times. You would think that military base campgrounds, or at least those within the same service, would have consistent policies, but that is far from the case. The rules regarding reservations vs first come first serve sites, availability of overflow “dry camping” areas, maximum length of stay, discounted rates for long stays, and a myriad of other characteristics vary significantly base to base. Whidbey, for instance, is a bit unusual in that they offer a discount for week long stays, which means we paid $35 a day for most of our nights (down from $40) but had to pay $50 for the three nights that we had to move to a waterfront spot due to availability.

The shore is awash in well-seasoned driftwood, including many large logs.

It was there in Whidbey that we finally got back into selling Ramblin’ Rose’ jewelry and accessories at local markets. We had not done an event all year, but now, fully vaccinated, we felt comfortable doing outdoor sales, with reasonable precautions. In 2017 we had great success at the annual Kiwanis Beachcombers Bazaar, but after several years of growing experience, expanded inventory, and market selection knowledge, our expectations are far higher. Would the Kiwanis event hold up? We were marginally concerned by the location change from a well-used public park to a middle school athletic field, which did not strike us as having any natural foot traffic or drive by visibility.

Setting up in our current form: a trio of 6′ tables in a u-shape, and a seasonally dressed sales associate strategically positioned in the back left corner.

We need not have worried: this once-a-year event has enough local awareness and current advertising that plenty of people came out. We had a steady but not overwhelming stream of potential customers, and unlike a more publicly utilized spot, such as a park, the attendees were not looky-loos stumbling across the market whilst walking their dogs; they came for the sole purpose of checking out the wares from the thirty or so vendors. We ended up selling nearly three times as much as we did in 2017.

The gardening crew get creative with their many planting areas.

During our peak, pre-COVID, year we had transitioned away from all but a select few weekly markets in favor or seasonal or annual events; for less work we made more money. But beggars can’t be choosers, and out here in territory we had not explored since 2017, with some events already full and others having never recovered from cancellation in 2020, we took what we could get. That included the new Lions Club Saturday morning market situated at the Blue Fox drive in theater between Oak Harbor and Coupeville.

All that driftwood down at the shore has been put to some attractive use up in the campground as well.

As the new kid on the block, the Lions Club event had not yet developed much awareness among the locals, was set back a bit far from the main road to pull in much drive by traffic, and only had ten or so vendors on any given week, but it was convenient and low stress, so we gave it a go. It was a lot like our first year selling in Key West or Grand Marais, Michigan; we made a small but respectable amount that was just enough to keep us coming back for the next month, during which our sales improved pretty much each week.

The start of a driftwood structure previous beach goers erected.

In past years we enjoyed some great meals on the island, particularly the fresh caught Dungeness crab that our friends Bruce and Nancy gave us, and every meal at Jumbo Burrito. But it was not until this summer that we tucked into a well-prepared dish of one of the most significant local dishes, Penn Cove mussels. In this case, “Penn Cove” may refer to a specific species of mussels, those harvested from this location regardless of species, or the major shellfish company in the area. Regardless, though we love seafood, including shellfish, and especially locally produced options, we somehow missed them during our previous tours of the region.

Oak Harbor, the city that hosts the naval station and our campground, has all the conveniences one can expect, but for ambience we much preferred the nearby small town of Coupeville.

We remedied that with a vengeance this last July. During a casual and loosely planned outing to Coupeville’s downtown waterfront district, we found a couple of well-reviewed places closed, and thus “settled” on whatever was open, in this case Front Street Grill. Their quite modest indoor seating was completely full with a wait list, but they offered outdoor seating at the tables on the waterside deck, though such dining would be a takeout order, i.e., no table service, silverware, etc. Fine by us! We split an entree of one of their seven mussel offerings, and it was fantastic. So much so that, though there may very well be other excellent seafood restaurants in the area, we found ourselves returning multiple times to Front Street Grill for their mussels.

Our first batch of Penn Cove mussels from Front Street Grill. We would end up trying four of their seven mussel-based entree’s before leaving the island.

We are not finished with Whidbey Island: before all is said and done we would end up staying for six weeks broken up by a few days on the mainland for a long overdue windshield repair.

Every evening at Cliffside RV Park.

Next up: the aforementioned windshield repair, and a week in a different RV park on the island.

The Blue Hole: Sequim, Washington

Despite two previous years in which we explored the west coast, we had yet to visit the Olympic Peninsula. With our Key West friends Dave and Rebecca extending an open invitation to visit their home town of Sequim, this would be the year. We had several spare days before our reservation at Whidbey Island Naval Base, so we headed south and west around the bay to the coast. The plan was to spend a few days in Sequim, then take the ferry from nearby Port Townsend to Coupeville on the island.

As usual, our late planning complicated the search for accommodations; the state and municipal parks were mostly full (and pricey!) Though Dave and Rebecca were fine with us parking the rig in the street across from their seaside home, they also pointed us towards a couple of unofficial RV park options in their neighborhood: several members of the local landed gentry have installed power and water pedestals on the open portions of their lots and rent them out for RV use.

This is apparently rather contentious with regard to city approval and zoning, but so far they remain available if you can live without sewage hook ups for the duration of your stay. Be forewarned: this is an expensive area and the property owners have high expectations. We negotiated the $50 per day asking price down to $40 for our three days at one site, while another owner we talked to would not even quote as a price until we had… met some undetermined criteria? I don’t even know what he was waiting for. The whole conversation felt like we were all engaged in some vaguely illegal activity and he was scoping us out to make sure we weren’t undercover feds or wearing a wire.

I know that sounds somewhere between paranoid and contrived, but in my defense Rosemarie tends to leave the TV on true crime shows as background noise most of our waking hours. In her defense we typically only have access to “Over The Air” channels, which are a cultural wasteland, with Dateline and 48 Hours reruns being the top quality among the limited options.

Though official RV sites at any of the nearby public campgrounds might have been, if not more affordable, perhaps more attractive, none of them were within walking distance of Dave and Rebecca’s, the primary reason for our being here. They were phenomenal hosts, and Dave should be receiving some sort of stipend from the local chamber of commerce for his enthusiastic guided tours that border on sales pitches for the city. Once in real estate, always in real estate, I suppose!

Sequim is located roughly in the center of The Blue Hole, an area of very low rainfall less than 40 miles from a n actual rain forest. The Olympic Mountain Range creates a weather shadow: Pacific moisture blows inland and is pushed upward to 7,000′ during a 70-mile journey across the mountains, where it cools, condenses, and drops all the moisture as snow and rain (over 100 inches a year), while across the mountains Sequim receives only 16 inches. This makes for a beautiful, mostly rain free and relatively warm climate in a larger region known for precisely the opposite.

Rosemarie loved the area; it was all she could do to refrain from going down the local real estate rabbit hole looking at property during our short visit. The town is a bit small (not even one craft brewery!) but it has decent restaurants, the usual midsized to big chain stores and an excellent weekend market. The main draw, however, is the fantastic coast and near coast setting.

Dave and Rebecca hosted a Fourth of July party at their place, which we were quite glad to attend since that is also our anniversary date. Their house is positioned such that you can see down the coast for miles and appreciate all the private fireworks being lit off at many other shoreline homes.

We were having such a good time in Sequim that on our second day we moved our reservations for Whidbey Island back a day, giving us one more on the peninsula. For this last night we moved the rig in front of Dave and Rebecca’s, across the street where there was nothing but a fence and fields. Though it would have felt intrusive and odd for the full stay, one night of dry camping on their lightly travelled road was just fine, and free to boot.

We generally love the Pacific Northwest, particularly the coast from Norther California up through Oregon and Washington, but Sequim was particularly wonderful. We look forward to visiting the area again, perhaps during the coming summer as we work our way north.

Next up: Back to Whidbey Island.

78 Months Full Time RVing: June 2021 Report

The Distance: 1,333 miles as we worked our way north into Washington. While hardly as aggressive as our 2,400 mile run from North Carolina to California in May, over thirteen hundred miles is a good chunk of RV driving, and we expect to slow things down in July. Our 2021 distance is up to 5,091.

The Places:  Four national parks and two family visits during a busy month. We started with four days near Sequoia National Park before heading to Travis Air Force Base while visiting Dolores, Josh, and Tamiry. Then it was three more national parks, Lassen Volcanic, Crater Lake, and Mount Rainier, broken up by a couple of stops in Oregon. We closed out the month with a couple of days at Joint Base Lewis McChord and nearly a week in Enumclaw while Rosemarie was in New York City for sister Melissa’s baby shower.

Cooling off in the lake at Horse Creek COE campground near Sequoia National Park.

Another month with a wide variety of campground types: 10 days at military parks, 17 at public spots (4 Corps of Engineers, 2 national forest, 9 county, 2 public utilities) and 3 at private places. We had 21 days with full hook ups, 7 with power and water, and 2 days dry camping.

Slushies for all my friends! (And nieces.)

The Money: 107% over budget. Yeah, a bad month, money-wise. The main problem was Loki. While the rebuilt engine is running great, the rest of the 24 year old little truck was due for significant work (brakes, shocks, leaks) which we got done while near Travis AFB. It was also another month of tire drama, with two new front ones for the motorhome in addition to the plugged flat on one of the rear dualies. Our 1300 miles of motorhome driving translates to a good amount of gas money as well, and our average nightly camping fee was higher than we like at $28 despite six free nights. Unfortunately, we have had additional mechanic related expenditures since then, and we are really hoping that September marks a turn around in this area.

Fumaroles at Lassen Volcanic National Park.

The Drama & Improvements:  A flat tire on the motorhome while camping near Crater Lake necessitated a plug and some backtracking, and two new front tires on the big rig have significantly improved our ride and reduced road noise.

Crater Lake National Park.

Next up: Sequim, Washington, on the Olympic Peninsula.

Joint Base Lewis McChord, NYC, and Enumclaw

It’s baby season. Not for hunting, mind you; the liberals put an end to that years ago, but for birthing, rather. We have a new niece back in Asheville, and Rosemarie’s youngest sister, Melissa, was quite far along, with friends and family planning an elaborate baby shower in New York. Context for future readers: this would have been after wide spread COVID vaccine availability, but before the Delta variant wave ramped up, so this would be an in-person affair. Rosemarie had no intention of missing it, and Melissa was kind enough to share an unused JetBlue voucher for a flight from Seattle-Tacoma airport to JFK.

Melissa and Hamed

In support of that we secured two nights at Joint Base Lewis McCord’s travel camp south of Tacoma. There were options closer to the airport, but nothing nearly as affordable, and JBLM worked out quite nicely. The JBLM Travel Park is not to be confused with the other two local military parks, Camp Murray Beach and Holiday Family Camp, both just a few miles away on the same expansive base. All three have mixed reviews with lots of complaints about how they are managed and maintained, but other than some delay in getting hold of an actual person on the phone, we found the travel park quite nice, but at $29 a night just a little pricier than the typical military park.

Tamiry, Dolores, Melissa, and Rosemarie

I dropped Rosemarie at Sea-Tac the morning of our second day. While she was in NYC, the Pacific Northwest was preparing for a massive heat wave expected to break all kinds of records. With the military and state parks full for the coming weekend, I expanded the search west, and found a full week open at the Enumclaw Expo Center, which is like an overpriced county fairgrounds, but with a nicer than usual RV section. It was nothing special, but the sites were level, well maintained, and had 50 amp service for $40 a night on their mid-tier rate.

Before heading their, however, I spent part of the morning at GCR Tires. Serenity had developed a quite annoying cyclical vibration and “wah-wah-wah” noise as a result of significant cupping wear on the front left tire. After consulting with the specialists there, I opted to replace both front tires; the right one, while not as bad, had noticeable wear as well. The final tally was $565 all in, which is not bad at all for motorhome tires, and the ride is vastly improved.

The heat wave was no joke; its not simply that every town in the region set a new record, its that these record breaking triple digit temps were sustained through multiple days. To put it into perspective, during the last 76 years of tracking SeaTac had recorded temperatures of 100 degrees or higher only twice before, and yet they did so three days in a row this June. It was a good time to have uninterrupted power and fully working ACs.

Not even sure this was peak heat.

While wandering about the campground I met a surprisingly high parentage of very new full time RVers. Next door a family with young children had recently begun the adventure in a fifth wheel, directly across from me a retired couple was new to it as well, and next to them a single retired gentleman in a motorhome was in his second week of full time RVing. I enjoyed talking to them, hearing their enthusiasm and reasons for making the jump, and shared a bunch of lessons Rosemarie and I had learned during our nearly seven years on the road. The solo traveler, Don, even signed up for Passport America on my recommendation, and gave me us credit for the referral, resulting in a few months added on to our membership.

Heavily discounted sea scallops from the last commissary run. Experimenting while Rosemarie was in NYC. Fantastic.

Meanwhile, Rosemarie had a busy time staying with Melissa in the city. Born and raised in NYC, Rosemarie still has a lot of family in the area. She was able to reconnect with a good number of them at the baby shower and other events, some of whom she had not seen in many years.

Rosemarie with Cousin Junior (Jose) at the shower. It has been decades since she had seen him.

Rosemarie was not the only one to fly in, Dolores and Tamiry came in from California as well. They stayed in the city for three weeks (Dolores doesn’t believe in short visits or doing anything half way: “if you’re gonna go, make it worth the trip” seems to be her travel motto.) One of the highlights was a family trip to Coney Island with the sisters and niece. With such vivid and nostalgic memories of the place, Rosemarie took particular pleasure in experiencing it through Tamiry’s eyes; a child’s first time visit to this iconic New York venue.

And of course, their was the baby shower and all the associated perpetrations. The sisters coordinated a photoshoot for Melissa and Hamed at Coney Island. The shower was a big affair at a lovely downtown venue, and professionally catered within COVID limitations.

That’s it for New York City, the Seattle-Tacoma region, and June of 2021. Next up: the June Full Time RVing Report and then our visit with friends on the Olympic Peninsula.