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Archive for December, 2005

Christmas Day at the San Diego Zoo

We’ve had a very nice Christmas (for the second time this year!)

Last night Eleanor made the Christmas eve dinner I talked about the other day. I grilled the steak outside since the weather was fairly warm (about 58-60 last night), and Emma and I played a little “flashlight tag” in the dark, while Eleanor prepped the rest of the meal. The steak came out perfectly. We met up inside around 7 pm and had a fabulous meal. The plantains were included mostly because Emma saw them in the grocery store and was wondering what they were. They were delicious, pressed, fried, and seasoned.

After dinner we watched “Dr Doolittle 2″, put all the Christmas presents under the “tree” (our rosemary bush), left out cookies and carrot sticks for Santa and the reindeer, and cajoled Emma into bed. Santa arrived later with a few additional presents.

Christmas San Diego.jpg

It is perhaps the oddest Christmas we have ever spent. 3000 miles from home, in a warm climate, in an Airstream trailer, sitting atop a hill in the arid hills above San Diego, but it was also an excellent Christmas. The little things that make holidays great were all there: each other, good times and good food, calls from friends and family, and a feeling of well-being. So it didn’t feel odd, it felt fine.

Emma would like you to know that she got everything she asked for: a unicorn, a tin whistle, and a seahorse. She also got a few other goodies. Mommy & Daddy got some books, edible treats, and DVDs.

But mostly what we got was a nice day. It turned out that the San Diego Zoo is open on Christmas, so after pancakes we spent a very nice day among the birds and animals. If you have never been to the San Diego Zoo, let me recommend it. I am not a big fan of zoos, but this one is a day well spent. I will have some pictures on the Flickr photo album later tonight.

Rhino.jpg

We’re back now, and worn out, so we have decided to eat leftovers from last night and save the pork roast for tomorrow. No need to push it — we’ll just let the holiday go an extra day!

Quick Answers and our Christmas Menu

It’s Christmas Eve and the birds are singing in the trees outside our windows.

A few people have asked questions recently, and I wanted to share the answers with all of you:

Q: How was it driving the curvy roads of Route 1?

A: Not a problem at all. The Airstream handled beautifully. Just remember to slow down in the tight curves and obey the speed limit at all times. By the way, we use the Reese Strait-Line hitch with Dual Cam. I think it is a superb hitch and it has worked very well on this large heavy trailer as well as on our previous Argosy 24.

Q: Are we re-greasing our bikes after washing them?

A: So far we have not needed to, but I expect to do that soon.

Q: How is Emma doing?

A: Very well. She has been traveling by Airstream since she was three years old, and to her this is just a normal part of life. She meets kids and adults everywhere she goes and just a few minutes after meeting a new folks she is starting games with them. She talks to her grandmother and grandfather via phone every few days, too.

Q: Can you use Google Earth for the Tour map?

A: Well, we can’t, for two reasons, but you might be able to. Google Earth requires both broadband Internet and a PC. We use Macs and we don’t have anywhere near broadband capability. Frappr works best for us. But if you want to see where we are, you can get the zip code from our Frappr map or www.usps.com, and then use Google Earth to explore the area.

Q: Will we make a book out of this trip?

A: You never know. I’d want to re-write a lot of it if I were to publish in book form. The original plan was to come out of this trip with a book on full-timing as a family. We might still do that.

Q: Where’s my free CD??

A: Would you believe it got lost in the Christmas rush? No? OK, the truth is that I haven’t mailed them yet. But I will get on that this week, I promise!

By the way, we have set up RSS syndication on this blog, which is a really cool feature. I’ve only tested it on the Firefox browser, but it may also work on Internet Explorer. On Firefox, you look for a little symbol in the bottom right corner of your browser window that looks like orange radio waves. Click this symbol and select “RSS 2.0″. This will put a bookmark on your browser.

I recommend you put the bookmark on your bookmarks toolbar so you can easily click on it. When you click on the bookmark, you’ll see a drop-down list of our latest blog entries. It will automatically update itself so you can see at a glance if we’ve posted anything new.

If anyone is running Netscape or IE on a Windows PC and figures out how it works on those platforms, let me know and I’ll post the instructions here. If you haven’t tried Firefox, I strongly recommend it. It disables pop-ups, is highly resistant to viruses, is fast, has many useful features, and it is free. It works on Mac and Windows.

Today we will probably head into town for a museum or something. Tomorrow, being Christmas, everything will be closed and so my plan is to go cycling on the many dirt trails around this park.

Last night we braved the crowds and did a little shopping, mostly for groceries. The result will be two days of fine dining courtesy of Eleanor’s culinary skills. We’ve added a few items to the menu to reflect that we are only 10 miles from Mexico now.

Today’s menu: Grilled steak with mushrooms and onions; salad of mixed baby greens with ginger dressing; corn and fried plantains; sugar cookies made by Emma, and Mexican hot chocolate.

Christmas menu: Roast pork with roasted potatoes, carrots, and pearl onions; haricot verts (French green beans) with onions and almonds; grapefruit and avocado salad with honey-lime dressing; hot apple turnovers. Who says Airstreamers never use their kitchens? ;-)

We hope you are enjoying the weekend also. Happy holidays!

Sweetwater Summit County Park

We had to flee the Los Angeles area. The original plan was to head down to San Clemente for another day or even through Christmas, but we got so frustrated with driving in the incessant traffic that it felt like a better decision to head to our base in San Diego and just sit still for a while.

So, although a few people recommended Newport Dunes (pricey but substantial), Doheny State Park, San Clemente State Park, and other spots, we bailed out. Los Angeles was tough on us and the trailer. We came in with a perfect trailer and left with a new stone ding and a bent stabilizer pad (impacted an obstacle despite being fully retracted), plus the aforementioned greasy coating.

The truck wash turned out not to exist, but we did find a car wash that seemed big enough at first glance. It wasn’t. I pulled in straight but couldn’t get out going forward, so I did a quick spray of the truck and trailer, and then Eleanor stood in the middle of a side street and directed me backwards while watching for oncoming cars. We survived. The trailer isn’t sparkly clean, but at least it doesn’t leave a residue on bystanders anymore. We’ll do a proper wash later.

sd campsite.jpg
We’ll be here for a week.

sd stockings.jpg

Christmas is in two days and Emma is very excited. She and Eleanor spent much of Thursday making decorations for the trailer and the little rosemary bush. So we’re all decorated and ready for the holiday. I’ll post a few shots of the decorations they made in a new Flickr photo album soon. In the meantime, stay warm, wherever you are!

Time for a Bath

Boca Chica traffic.jpg

Here’s a picture taken this morning … fog today, but the weather report says it will clear up soon. Still, you can see how little space there is between the RVs and the Pacific Coast Highway.

For the past week I have been noticing that we need to get a wash. (Not us, the truck and trailer!) After a couple of weeks of traveling by highway, and near the coast, the entire rig gets coated with a brownish oily film. It doesn’t look dirty, but the sticky mixture comes off on our clothes, hands, and makes the Airstream looks less shiny. Can’t have that! ;-)

We can wash the truck by unhitching and removing the bikes from the roof — then it fits in most car washes — but the trailer is a another story. We had a few “interesting” experiences trying to fit it into manual car washes. They don’t usually have enough entry/departure area for a 30-foot trailer.

Washing by hand would be an option except that all campgrounds prohibit this. I was hoping we’d end up at someone’s house (courtesy parking) and they’d let me wash it, but this hasn’t happened since we visited Lou & Larry in Ohio.

So a truck wash is the most practical option. Blue Beacon runs a chain of them across the country, co-located with truck stops such as Petro and Flying J. There are usually local truck washes in major cities as well. It’s expensive (about $40) but worth it. They do a nice job and everything gets clean, including the bikes. A whole crew of guys comes out with high-pressure wands, spray everything about six times, and voila! shiny again.

Our last wash was in Nevada, a couple hundred miles after we boondocked in central Nevada (see November archives for details). We’re due. I did a little research online last night and found a truck wash that is approximately along our route out today, so we’ll try to stop there this morning.

Bolsa Chica State Park, Huntington Beach, CA

We arrived at the Bolsa Chica State Beach campground before 8:30 this morning, but they have a policy of allowing no “check in’s” before 2 pm. So we bought a site and parked the trailer in the Day Use area, while I headed off to Costa Mesa and Chino Hills to meet some Airstream people (research for future articles). When I got back at 4 pm, I hitched the trailer back up and towed it into the parking space — er, I mean “campsite”.

None of us are wild about this spot. The beach here at Bolsa Chica is long and broad, but also flat and featureless. The high surf and cold water meant frolicking at the beach was not much fun (despite daytime temps in the upper 60s), and the campsite is so close to the Pacific Coast Highway that the roar of cars is nearly constant. Campsites here are really just parking spots on asphalt, delineated by painted white lines. There are no trees. All this for $39 — the most expensive site we’ve purchased to date. We’ll be outta here tomorrow morning, in search of a better place somewhere down the coast.

Free Parking

Our Wal-Mart experience was a bust last night. At 10:30, we were surprised to hear a knock on our door. The manager of the store was there, apologetically explaining that although he had no problem with us parking, the Torrance police were known for placing “very expensive” tickets on RVs parked in the lot. The security guard who had told us it was OK was not aware of this. So, off we went — driving in pajamas — in search of a new spot to park. (The Bolsa Chica State Beach campground in Huntington Beach, our original destination, was not an option. The gates are locked at 9 pm.)

The good news is that the L.A. area is loaded with neighborhoods and industrial areas where one can park overnight, if you are subtle. The bad news is that our trailer, 30 feet of gleaming aluminum festooned with giant colorful graphics, is not subtle. So Eleanor punched “Camping World” into the GPS and it turned out there was one just a few miles away on I-5. By 11, we were tucked away behind a few big motorhomes in the Camping World parking lot, and back in bed.

We’ve stayed at Wal-Marts and other such places many times, but never have we been “moved on” by The Man. Still, we always knew it was a risk. We have enough experience finding places to park that there was never any doubt we’d find a good spot. There are no commercial campgrounds to be had in most of the L.A. area, but we have a long list of free places to try:

Wal-Mart
Super K-Mart
Cracker Barrel
Camping World
truck stops
certain fast food restaurants
municipal and county parks & parking lots
neighborhoods where RVs are visible on the street
harbor and industrial areas
unnamed pullouts

The first thing to do when checking out a spot is to look for a sign that says “Overnight parking prohibited” or words to that effect. The second thing to do is to ask anyone in authority (parking lot owner, local police, security guard) if they mind if you park there “for a few hours”. The third thing to do is to make sure you feel comfortable with the spot, and finally the fourth thing to do is to park subtly (no satellite dish, no awning, no slideouts, etc) and leave early. With this strategy we have successfully parked for free many times in at least a dozen different US states.

We are going to have a bunch of articles on this subject in the next Airstream Life magazine (coming out in January). We’ve got a piece on boondocking, another on how Wally Byam selected free parking spots in the 1950s, and a third piece on selecting a generator to use when you are parked far away from town.

High Surf at Carpinteria

The big waves of yesterday got bigger. We woke today to find the parking area wet between our row and the “front” row of campsites that border the beach. Around 5 a.m. a giant wave came all the way up the beach and splashed into some of the campsites. No damage at all, but it got everyone’s attention. The state police beach patrol came by to tell us they were expecting more high surf when high tide arrived at 11:50 a.m. By noon, everyone had moved out of the front row to higher and drier ground.

carpinteria big waves.jpg

The incredible waves made the beach uninhabitable later in the morning, but we did get in a little time earlier to play and marvel at the pounding, churning water. Emma tried her best to hold them back but the waves wouldn’t listen.

carpinteria emma waves.jpg

We met up with a fellow named Manuel who was camping for Christmas with his two teenage boys. Manuel has been coming to Carpinteria for over thirty years, and even he was impressed by the surge of water. So we all stood as close as possible to the high water mark to chat and act brave, and then got chased back repeatedly as random waves completely covered the beach.

Manual was fascinated to hear about life in Vermont, how cold it is back home right now (15 degrees F), how early the snow arrives, how much land we used to own (11.6 acres — in his area it would cost millions for a parcel that large), etc. We agreed that standing in shorts and t-shirts on the beach was an ideal way to spend Christmas. Santa can come in on a surfboard this year.

I want to meet with some folks in the Los Angeles area before Christmas, so we headed out around noon with the intention of reaching a state park in Huntington Beach. On the way we stopped at the Channel Islands National Park visitor center, and then of course we got mired in traffic as we got closer to L.A. Finally, after parking on I-405 for half an hour, we bailed out and got mired in even more traffic on city streets. Two hours later, we gave up completely, having managed to cover only 10 miles since we entered the traffic.

L.A. is not a friendly place for RVs. We knew it would be bad, but not THIS bad. Our timing couldn’t be worse: rush hour the week before Christmas. We couldn’t even park and rest because every parking lot was full of shoppers. We tried I-405 again but it was still jammed. That’s when I said, “If we could just find a place to park, I’d quit this and try again tomorrow.” And suddenly … a Wal-Mart appeared.

We took it as a sign. So here we are. It’s not glamorous but it beats the alternative. We talked to the security guard (we asked if overnight parking was OK, and he said “I get off at midnight and I’m not calling the tow truck,”), walked around the corner for Mexican food, picked up a few items at the Wal-Mart, and settled in. Tomorrow is another chance at L.A. traffic.

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