Life on the Road is Still Life

Clumsy, Messy, Imperfect

IMG_3884.jpg

In the kitchen, that is to say when I was running a kitchen as my job, I had been accused of being cocky from time to time. Arrogance is nothing new in the world of the professional chef, but it isn’t something that is there from the start of your career. It grows, fueled by the necessities of the job; leading people to execute your vision, guiding people to hold to your standards. To avoid arrogance, you have to be vigilant, ever aware that the scales could tip from confidence to something much more toxic at any time. My philosophy then was, “If I knew a better way, that is how I would do it.” That statement alone illustrates the fine line between arrogance and confidence. Read one way it can seem like, “Wow, that guy is a complete ass.” For me, though, it wasn’t about always being right, but more about trying to understand the best way to execute a dish. I prepared the food the best I knew how and always wanted to do better, gleaning from everyone I had ever worked with or for.

It’s really the same with all aspects of life though. You can take your experiences to inform your decisions, but if you aren’t careful, arrogance creeps up. I think there is a danger of that too, in this strange vagabond lifestyle. It can offer some great rewards, but isn’t the cure to all that ails modern society. Attention can get put on the wrong part, the drastic and strange part, but gloss over the key thing that has little to do with living in a house on wheels. The reward has been in choosing a life that forces us to live with less and opened us up to new experiences every day. Living in an RV has reintroduced us to the beauty of the natural world, but those things can be done from any type of home, without upending your life. We haven’t found the way, just a way that’s worked for us.

Throughout the last few years, though, we find ourselves regularly being told, “Your life is so great,” “I wish I could do that,” or “You are living my dream.” I think this parallels what can lead to arrogance in a chef too. Constant praise and affirmation can cause you to forget the team that works so hard to make you look good. It is the skills and support of those around you that allow a chef to be truly successful. Living in an RV demands a spirit of self-sufficiency and ability to troubleshoot your own problems. On the road, the temptation is to also gloss over the privileges of a support system, but without the people in our life, we would have been forced off the road long ago. They have put us up over the holidays (or sometimes for much longer visits), been more than generous in a myriad of monetary ways, or just continued to show us an outpouring of love that reminds us we always have a home to go back to. Our life is better (and easier) because of the people we are lucky enough to have in it.

This is also a lifestyle that’s easy to romanticize. Facebook and Instagram lean heavily towards showing the best parts; sunsets, mountain tops, and the open road, but as Sara and I have been preparing to leave for the next leg in our journey, the conversation we’ve had several times is about what you don’t see on social media. Life is still life wherever you are and if you ever really need to understand that, imagine food poisoning or a stomach bug while living in an RV. There is plenty that is just not glamorous out here too. There are always same the day to day chores that need to be done: cooking, cleaning, and shopping. Plus, the new chores: emptying the sewer tanks, refilling propane, and the much more frequent trips to the mechanic. Even beyond that are the completely different hurdles to leap: living in such a confined space with another person, taking a drastic pay cut and living on a tighter budget, or missing significant milestones for friends and family back home, but life itself is always one big grey mess, wherever you are. Some good, some bad, some neither. Life isn’t a problem that needs a solution, it’s an individual course to be navigated. We surely haven’t solved all life’s issues or even written a road map. We are stumbling our way along, like everyone is, but then again, if we knew a better way, that’s how we would do it.

2018 in the Rearview

If 2018 was anything for us, it was a year of reflection and re-evaluation. When we were heading home last fall we were going back to Massachusetts after two years of travel with the idea of coming off the road. That idea was on our minds as a possibility until March, when a feeling of restlessness took hold. Over the previous two years, late winter and early spring had been the time of packing up, saying goodbye, and moving on. As it would happen in 2018, when our inner momentum was telling us it was time to go, we found ourselves settling into our planned year on Cape Cod. That feeling was the driving force in the next big decision for the year:

Meet Wanda

Our restlessness was the catalyst for many conversations, but the first was: if we aren’t staying in Massachusetts then where are we going and what are we doing? While the details of that plan took months to shake out, we were getting more and more comfortable with the idea to keep on wandering.

This decision, though, led right to another question. After two years in our well-loved travel trailer “Junior” we began to see its shortcomings. Little insulation in colder months (May and September in Yellowstone had us camping in snow and frozen weather regularly) and tight space made us consider an upgrade, preferably before starting our summer jobs. RV shopping hadn’t been on our radar, but there we were on the lot, trying to find a rig that would meet our needs. We found that in “Wanda” our new 30-foot Keystone Springdale. More room, better insulation, and only slightly longer than Junior was. We were ready for our summer.

Hitched

Of course, no year in review would be complete without some mention of the pivotal point of 2018, what brought us back to Massachusetts for the year: our wedding. A day and night of great fun, despite rainy weather, to celebrate with so many people from all aspects of our lives, including some we had met during our travels who made the trip east to be with us.

Destination: Cape Cod Maple Park

Despite our desire to be back on the road, summer on Cape gave us a great opportunity to be home for a longer period than we have in a while and working at a local summer fun spot meant family visits to our campsite where we could share a little of how we have lived since 2016. Our job at Maple Park, a destination family campground, was also a new workamping experience and was quite different than our two summers in a national park. Slinging egg sandwiches and coffees in the snack shack was a fun gig where we could interact daily with campers and coworkers. I was able to teach Sara “line cooking 101,” and watch her mind shift from waitress to cook where suddenly all my back of house complaints made sense.

In addition to reconnecting with our families and friends from Massachusetts, our summer at Maple Park also gave us the great benefit of really solidifying our friendship with our neighbors from Yellowstone, John and Marie, who were also workamping in Maple Park and would be our neighbors again. Sharing in their discovery of Cape Cod and reminiscing about Yellowstone were highlights of the summer for both of us.

Detour for Adventure

Even while we knew our nomadic lives would be ticking up again January 2019, Sara and I both felt the need to get out and have some sort of drastic adventure. Neither of us were quite satisfied with the amount of outdoors time we were able to fit into our schedules over the summer and so we began planning trips, separately, for the fall and early winter. Mine would be an attempt on the 273-mile Long Trail through Vermont. A trip that would unfortunately be cut short by bad weather and soggy spirits. Sara’s would be her birthright trip, a program offered for young adults of Jewish heritage, to visit and learn about the history and culture of Israel. A trip that she has spoken of for years.

New Year’s Eve at C Salt

Nearly every year since our great friends Jon and Jill opened their restaurant C Salt, we have found one or both of us working there for New Year’s Eve. Indeed, C Salt itself has a special place in our memories of traveling. It was during our first road trip, a three-month jaunt in our 1981 class c motorhome, that Jon and Jill flew to Napa Valley, CA to vacation with us. It was our first day visiting with them that they told us their intentions to open what would become C Salt. That trip holds a special place in our hearts as it was a great vacation with friends, our first trip to Napa Valley (of many), and a lot of fun eating, drinking, and brainstorming.

Each year since then has found one of us working at some point and in some capacity at C Salt, and it is always a feeling of being home. That feeling is never more poignant than when we have the opportunity to work New Year’s Eve, which we did this year. Being fortunate enough to participate in a well-oiled machine that strives to focus on quality in all aspects of its business always leaves Sara and I on a high. Those New Years have all acted as a familiar punctuation to our annual travels. Each drawing one year to a close and pointing us forward to the next year’s adventures and we are lucky to have been a part of them.

Prepping Wanda for departure 2019.

Prepping Wanda for departure 2019.

Prepping for Departure 2019

2018 is now behind us with all the flurry of activity it was. Wedding bells have ceased, the ink has dried on the paperwork for a new truck as well as the new trailer, and the holiday season has drawn to a close. With all that behind us we look forward as plans take shape for the adventure to come, first Park City, Utah, where we will work from February through April before our great trek north. Alaska lies on the horizon with a nearly three-thousand-mile road trip that will take us through Canada and hopefully to Denali National Park, where we plan to work summer of 2019. There is lots to do before we get there, though, and plenty of time for plans to change, as they tend to do when your life is out here, on the road.

Recipes from the Road

In addition to regular posts about our travels, I plan to share some recipes here and there, here's two quick ones that go hand in hand.

It’s no secret that the majority of my working life has been spent in kitchens, first as a dishwasher, then prep cook, line cook, sous chef, and head chef, but I’ve never cooked much at home. As most people who work in restaurants can testify, some of the best professionals eat the worst. Greasy cheeseburgers, takeout pizza delivered to the back door of a fine dining restaurant, or late night frozen chicken wings over beers post shift are all part of the restaurant life routine. After filling in at one of the better restaurants on Cape Cod I was done earlier than the regular staff, part of the trade-off of being sent home early: going on a Burger King run while everyone else served the final few tables in the dining room. It was eleven o’clock at night and after serving fifty-dollar steaks and hundred-dollar bottles of wine all night, the sommelier, chef owner, and myself stood hunched over a garbage barrel, eating rodeo cheeseburgers and drinking rolling rocks.

Since being on the road, cooking at home has been a pleasure, not a chore. It’s something I can enjoy again and want to do since I’m not doing it eighty hours a week under the dim fluorescence of an industrial kitchen. Here’s a quick, on the road favorite, pico de gallo and fresh guacamole. Enjoy!

 

Pico De Gallo ~ Serves 4

Ingredients

2 Medium Ripe Tomatoes

1 Small Onion

1 Small Red Bell Pepper

4 Cloves Garlic

1-2 Jalapeno* Peppers (however spicy you like it)

½ Bunch Cilantro

1 Lime

1 Tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar

Salt & Pepper to Taste

1 Tablespoon Hot Sauce (whatever your personal favorite is, I like Cholulah)

Tools:

Sharp Knife

Cutting Board

Medium Mixing Bowl

Microplane Grater

Citrus Juicer (or the two God gave you: your hands)

-       Dice Tomatoes, Onion, and Red Bell Pepper, place in mixing bowl and set aside

-       Finely chop Garlic, Jalapeno Pepper, and Cilantro. Add to mixing bowl and set aside. 

-       Zest using the microplane and Juice the Lime

-       Add Lime Zest, Juice, Red Wine Vinegar, Salt, Pepper, and Hot Sauce to bowl and stir well

-       Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper as needed.

*For a spicier batch try substituting Scotch Bonnet Peppers

 

Guacamole ~ Serves 4

First off, let’s dispel a major guacamole myth that drives me batshit crazy when I hear it, “If you put the avocado seed in the center prepared guacamole, your guac won’t turn brown! I swear it works! My best friend’s brother’s sister-in-law’s roommate told me she does it that way, and her guac is neverbrown.” If you’re B.S. alarm isn’t sounding when you hear this, there may be no hope for you.

One thing causes brown guacamole, oxidation. It’s the same thing that turns apples brown when grandma is baking and no one is throwing avocado pits at her. The solution is the same for you as it is for granny, acid. Just like adding lemon juice to the apples, lime juice will help prevent browning with the guacamole. Ascorbic acid reacts with the oxygen in the air at a faster rate than the avocado (or apple) thus preventing browning.  If your guacamole is going to sit on a buffet for a while, double down on lime juice or throw in some red wine vinegar, that should help slow everything down. The only real solution is to eat faster! 

Now, on to the preparation. If you’re going to go through the trouble of making fresh Guacamole, there’s really no reason not to make a batch of Pico De Gallo. If you skip making the Pico, you still have basically the same amount of work in prepping all the same ingredients as a Guacamole starter. My suggestion is never make one without the other. It’s about the same amount of work with double the reward.

Ingredients

2 Perfectly Ripe Avocados (as rare as unicorns, so do your best to find them, or plan ahead and ripen in a paper bag on the counter)

¼ Cup Prepared Pico De Gallo

½ Bunch Cilantro

2 Limes

Salt & Pepper to Taste

1 Tablespoon Hot Sauce

Tools:

Sharp Knife

Cutting Board

Large Mortar & Pestle or Medium Mixing Bowl & Potato Masher

Microplane Grater

Citrus Juicer

-       Cut Avocados in half and remove seed with knife and scoop flesh with tablespoon. Place flesh in Mortar/Mixing Bowl

-       Chop Cilantro, zest and juice both limes, add to Mortar/Mixing Bowl

-       Add Pico De Gallo, Salt, Pepper, and Hot Sauce.

-       Mix well with Pestle/Potato Masher

-       Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper as needed and serve.

 

The Lost Coast

October 13-19, 2017

Day 1: Friday 10/13/17

Usal Beach Trailhead to Little Jackass CreekAnderson Camp

7.5 Miles5.0 Miles

We started the day late after having a slow time moving the rv to storage at the KOA in Benbow, CA. Our plan was to be on the road by 7 am, but after everything was said and done it was closer to 8:45. I hate starting behind schedule. Our drive was south to Leggit where we got on Route 1 South to Usal Road, a winding one lane mountain road that led us down six miles to Usal Beach, the southern terminus of the Lost Coast Trail. The trailhead proved difficult to find, though we did eventually and left our truck parked below a striking redwood.

The hike climbed up the hillside to the ridgeline from the forest below and to our first mountain view of the Pacific.

Stunning.

The day continued in some strenuous ascents and descents alternating between cool redwood shade and hot sun. Our camp was made at Little Jackass Creek which we followed down to a beach side camp. A seal community based just offshore had couple curious creatures swimming towards the beach to investigate our presence. Dinner was chicken with noodles, a little cous cous, and hot apple cider with a chocolate bar for dessert.

We waited to pitch tents until high tide, around 7, to be sure we wouldn’t be washed out. Just before dozing off Lily said to me, “You know, we’re about twenty-five years over due for a hundred-year quake. If one hits, we’re pretty much screwed.”

Thanks for the peaceful thought before nodding off.

In the middle of the night the wind kicked up and nearly booted the tent away. The rainfly whipped and woke us often. Between the wind and waves, dreams were strange, but I slept well regardless.

Breakfast of coffee and grits as we broke camp. A twelve-ish mile hike to needle rock in front of us. A fantastic first day, hopefully several more to follow.

Day 2 Saturday 10/14/17

Anderson Camp to Needle Rock

14.5 Miles

So good news is: Jackass Creek is BEAUTIFUL, bad news is: Jackass Creek is NOT where we camped last night!

In our inattentive excitement we pitched camp at what was actually Anderson Camp. We learned our mistake on the slow grind of a climb that did not seem to end. That climb led to a long day of hiking, finishing with three miles in the dark.

Despite the tough day, the scenery was a rugged beauty that blew us all away. We hiked down gulches and through groves of redwoods that led to epic ocean views. Fortunately, our destination offered a camp shelter created from a converted a welcome sight after a long day. We arrived late, 8:30ish, spread out on the barn floor for a dinner of lasagna. Sarah N. was planning on Chana Masala until she spilt it on herself. The rest of the week will be long for her, with burnt legs and curry scented pants.

Sleep came fast to us all.

Day 3 Sunday 10/15/17

Needle Rock to Shelter Cove (via the Hidden Valley Trailhead)

8.6 Miles

Yesterday (I’m writing this on Monday) was our last day of hiking in the mountains. After our longer day on Saturday, and another day up and down in the hills, we arrived in Shelter Cove. The trail along the way did not disappoint.

The day began with incredible switchbacks along a creek and through a dense fern forest. We climbed the 2,500 feet to the peak of Chemise Mountain. The going was slow over two small peaks, Red Rock 2 and Manzanita, before reaching the Chemise summit where we broke for lunch. From there it was a quick 2.7 mile downhill stretch to the car and resupply box we had stashed earlier, and even more importantly, the general store.

The beer, Gatorade, and mango frozen bar did not disappoint.

Our plan was to camp just beyond Black Sands Beach, but the RV park in Shelter Cove was too inviting to pass up. A shower and campfire along the ocean was a perfect end to a lighter day on the trail. Both employees at the park assured us that the next stretch of trail is easier, gaining only 100 feet between here and Mattole. Though “easier” may be relative as I’m not sure about hiking on the sand.

Day 4 Monday 10/16/17

& Day 5 Tuesday 10/17/17

Shelter Cove to Miller Flat

10.5 Miles

The first day on the norther section of trail was more or less what was expected. Hiking through sand with fully loaded packs slowed us to a crawl. The tidal zones weren’t any worse than the rest of the trail, except for the added stress, which some of us felt more than others. We arrived at Miller Flat in the early afternoon and set up camp at an epic spot with a view of the ocean and King’s Peak. Something about looking at a mountain that size from “sea level,” literally sitting on the beach, struck me.

Our original plan for today was to hike up to King’s Peak, but we scrapped that in favor of pitching the tarp on the beach and relaxing for the day, it wasn’t much of a debate. We lit a fire at breakfast and kept it burning all day. Chris arrived at camp early in the day, making us all look bad by whipping down the trail in a couple of hours. Other than that, the day was uneventful and fantastic. Reading and laying around camp is easily something I could do for days.

The day ended with a driftwood sculpture and chicken rice for dinner. Tomorrow we head to Spanish Ridge to camp for another night before heading to the Mattole River where the car is waiting for us. This has been a great week and I hate for it to end.

Day 6 Wednesday 10/18/17

Miller Flat to Punta Gorda

12.2 Miles

With a full rest day behind us we hit the trail refreshed. The plan was possibly going to Punta Gorda Lighthouse and definitely going to Spanish Flats. We broke camp at a relaxed pace and left heading north to one of the patches of private property which contained a small airstrip. During our day on the beach we had watched a plane land and take off from that airstrip as well as met a surfer who was living and working on the property. The plane had been construction supplies dropped for the work he was doing there. He was shocked to hear that we had hiked from Usal Beach.

“Nobody does that!” has become a common response from the few people we have encountered on trail. Though it was trickier to organize transportation, and the terrain was difficult, I cannot understand why people don’t do it. The surroundings were stunning and the hike was fantastic, even more impressive than the more well-known northern section.

As we approached the house with the airstrip, two dozen deer watching us on our right, the sight of our newfound friend running towards us yelling, “The Usal hikers!” definitely made us feel all the cooler. We chatted for a few minutes before he realized he had forgotten oatmeal that was burning inside, “come in, come in,” he tried to talk us into staying, and though I wish we had, we pressed on.

The weather was off and on all day, never raining terribly, but the ocean was violent and angry. It was intimidating to walk alongside of, like an angry drunk who could throw a punch at any minute. The day dragged for the first time as we made our way to the historic Punta Gorda Lighthouse. We had planned to camp nearby, but the water source was dry, so we pressed on to a creek that lay along private property where we filled water and backtracked to a camping area. Our spirits were slightly low after a day of hiking in the rain, but after building a fire and a dinner feast we all felt better. Dinner consisted of a smorgasboard of dehydrated meals, everyone heating up the extras we seemed to have in our packs and sharing mac and cheese, pho, pad thai, chili mac, spaghetti with meat sauce, cous cous, freeze dried ice cream and more.

The weather continued misty into the night, but the sleeping bags were dry and our bellies were full.

Day 7 Thursday 10/19/17

Punta Gorda to Mattole Beach

2.4 Miles

Our hike ended with a short slog over loose sand. It seemed the last two miles were the worst of the sand hiking and we were glad to be done with it. The sky was grey over Mattole Beach, but our breakfast of oatmeal and lukewarm PBR that we had stashed in Matt’s Jeep hit the spot. I am sad to see the trip end, this week carried some of the most impressive sights, some expected, others completely surprising.

Both Sara, Sarah N. and myself stayed behind while Matt brought the first carload of people back. We hunkered down and napped waiting for our ride into town, lunch, and the rest of our California adventure.