Monday, October 13, 2014

Tahoe and an unplanned overlander meetup with Bumfuzzle

The day after getting my family set up in our comfy Tahoe house for the week, I left for the weekend to drink and do unsavory things with my friends. Yes, while the primary reason for heading to Tahoe and moving out of the trailer was for a visit from Ann’s dad, the dates also happened to correspond perfectly with the bachelor party of a good friend. Seeing as how I was one of the planners, Reno seemed like a perfect option.

I won’t go into detail about the two nights spent in Reno. The truth is, I’m not sure if I could. But there was greasy BBQ. And there was gambling. And free drinks at the tables. And whiskey shots we had no choice but to do after a dealer referred to us as the most mellow bachelor party she’d ever seen (we were focusing on the cards!). And there was patriotic America F’ Yeah country karaoke (we were spectators).  And there was “other stuff.”



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On Saturday morning, we hauled out of bed for a surprise adventure for the bachelor. In 2009, he and I had ridden big adventure motorcycles on as much of the TransAmerica Trail (a 4,800 mile route running from Southeastern Tennessee to Southwestern Oregon on primarily dirt roads) as we could on our way out to Colorado and back. We took turns writing blog posts about it, and Ann even joined for part of the way back to CA. Since we both really learned to ride dirt on those big bikes, we’d always wondered what it would be like to ride a small, nimble dirt bike. Despite only one of the other guys on the bachelor party having ridden before, I put together a day out on the trails with rented bikes and a couple guides. The newbies picked it right up!



Sometime the night before, possibly right around the time I was ripping into a rack of ribs at the BBQ joint, my upper left molar started to hurt. I’d treated it with Ibuprofen, as much for the tooth as for the other bad decisions I’d made over the course of the night. By the end of the day on Saturday, I mentioned it to someone, and they commented that it looked swollen and had thought I was just sucking an Altoid or something.

After a successful weekend of sending the bachelor off into married life with a bang (no, not literally) and reminding ourselves why we don’t do this more often at our age, we queasily ate a greasy breakfast at IHOP and went our separate ways.


And I got on Yelp to find a dentist. The appointment the next day confirmed I needed a root canal, and with our travel schedule for the rest of the Fall, Tahoe was as good a place as any to get one. I took a referral for a specialist in Reno and spent a couple hours in the chair enduring ungodly sounds and awkward contortions in my mouth. I drove home with a numb jaw and cheek and reported that, actually, it hadn’t been that bad. They’d sent me home suggesting that I take some Ibuprofen as needed for the pain.

I woke up that night at 3 am with a jackhammer in my jaw. Honestly, the worst, most uncomfortable pain I’ve experienced. After consulting Dr. Google and futily maxing out the allowable dosage of Ibuprofen, I basically paced back and forth swearing until the storage lot opened at 8 am, and I could get to our first aid kit in the trailer. There I had a full stash of drugs, most left over from Ann’s C-section. I downed two Norco 5/325’s in the car on the way home and immediately called the surgeon’s office for something stronger.

I spent the next few days in a haze, all I could do to manage the pain. It was great to have Ann’s dad there to be the one to be asked to make pancakes and read stories and give me a chance to zone out. Every once in a while, when I’d achieved the elusive equilibrium, we still got out to enjoy a beautiful Fall in Tahoe.



By the end of the weekend, I was feeling whole enough to attend to a couple issues on the trailer. Since trading in our F250 and buying the Sequoia, one annoyance had been the inability to lift the rear hatch, essential for us to retrieve kids bikes and strollers. After a call with the folks at Equalizer, the company that makes our weight distribution sway control hitch, I determined I needed a longer shank (something I’ll admit I’ve always been afraid of hearing). I switched the hitch head from the stock shank to a new 18” shank and voila, access to the back.

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The next day, I carefully timed my Norco intake to manage pain while allowing me to safely tow our trailer around Lake Tahoe to a campground in South Lake. We really didn’t know what we would do for the next week. In fact, our plans were in flux after hearing that our flights to Baja for the friend’s wedding (same one as the bachelor party) had been cancelled by the airlines following Hurricane Odile. If you remember from our “grand plan,” we’d actually planned to be in Baja for the two weeks leading up to the wedding, but now couldn’t get there and had heard from the owners of our rental house that it wasn’t inhabitable even if we could. We talked about wandering back down Highway 50 over the next couple weeks, but then learned that the large King Fire had some of it closed. Maybe we’d go a bit further south and take Highway 4/Ebbetts Pass over to Calaveras Big Trees park we’d enjoyed so much last Spring. For the time being, we were just enjoying hanging around a completely empty campground in the off-season.




Well, completely empty except for a couple Instagram friends, @brian_devine, @theroamingpint and @mamabruin73, who I went to go meet around a campfire one night after the kids were asleep. 

We also got out to the local Octoberfest celebration at Camp Richardson and scored an impressive double whammy of some of the finest face painting and balloon animal work we’ve seen.


And then a Facebook message came in; It was from Pat Schulte from Bumfuzzle. We’d been following the Bums since we first started looking into launching off on a great adventure back in 2008 or so. In fact, they were arguably the inspiration for looking into it in the first place. The story goes that the Midwestern high school sweethearts got married and launched into challenging careers. They got themselves a nice condo in the city and by all measures were living the American Dream. One evening at their local Friday night pizza place, the subject of “the next step” came up. All their friends were having kids and moving to the suburbs to buy big houses. Was it time for them to do the same? Seemingly out of nowhere, another option popped into their heads: buy a boat and sail around the world. Sailing experience? No, they took part of a class but felt the pace was too slow. Weeks later, they left Florida for what would be a two year sail around the world, documented daily on the blog.

But that wasn’t the end; When they returned to the US, they raced a vintage Porsche across the country, bought and restored a vintage VW bus and drove it to South America and across Europe, had a baby in Mexico, bought another boat, had another baby and most recently, bought a really cool vintage motorhome with plans to drive back down into Mexico and Central America. Their blog is really a fascinating read, especially if you start from the beginning and grow along with them.

And ya know the thing that was the weirdest to us about all that? They seemed pretty “normal.” They had their up days and down days, highs and lows of the trip. Sometimes felt adventurous and sometimes lazy. In short, we thought, “Hey, we’re like that!”

We’d had a few near misses with the Bums in the past, almost getting together down in Mexico one time and exchanging several messages and comments on Facebook, but they remained “Internet friends.” When Pat messaged me to ask if I knew anywhere they could have their motorhome towed while he addressed some needed maintenance (Okay, technically, the dashboard had caught on fire while travelling down Highway 101 just north of The Farmlet, but read the blog and you’ll see that solving problems on the fly is nothing new for these guys), it seemed like a great opportunity to turn them into real friends. We gave them directions to give the tow truck driver, and they actually beat us home. We found them comfortably set up in our “pasture parking.”


With two kids with about the same age spread, just two three years older, and common interests of travel and simple living, we all fell into an easy routine of entertaining kids and chatting (between Mae’s seemingly *constant* naps at age 2 1/2 months).


It was pretty nice to look out our Airstream window (our house still occupied by housesitters who we didn’t want to displace and had told we were actually more comfortable all set up in the trailer) and see new friends, not to mention an awesome looking bus. 


During the days, Pat went diligently to work, performing amazing feats of reverse engineering on the tangled and melted wiring harness while Ali entertained the kids and made repeated runs to the auto parts store.



Wynne sure loved having other kids around and Pat and Ali’s oldest, Ouest, seemed to like having a little sister for a while.




One of the most interesting things was seeing how slightly older kids really enjoyed our property. We’d lately been feeling pretty isolated when at home, our kids too young to really explore the land and friends with kids the same age more likely to just put them in the stroller and head down to one of the parks downtown than to drive out to our house for a playdate. But Ouest and Lowe, having grown up finding their own “playground” in empty lots and public plazas in Mexico and now touring the US, had a blast riding bikes down the hills and washing their dolls in an old utility sink. While she was a bit young to participate in everything, Wynne was right by their sides.




While we were a bit ambivalent about being “home” - we hadn’t actually spent a night in the house for two months - and were enjoying our nomadic fall, each time we’ve been back in Petaluma, we’ve enjoyed it a little more. The question is, would we be as happy there if we weren’t also out exploring the world and scratching that itch at the same time?

A trip downtown to ride “The Champion” and one of two thirft store prizes…


… the other being this Eeyore Halloween costume that fit too perfectly to pass up.



A perfectly chaotic dinner outdoors at Taps with four kids.


I think we particularly enjoyed this visit “home” because it did feel like we were visiting, checking in with old friends and family, meeting new friends, going to favorite places, but at the same time moving forward with our plans to live a bit differently. In that light, the farm chores and the rooms full of stuff we weren’t quite sure we had a need for anymore that were just down the hill from where wer were “camped” fell to the back of our minds, and we were really able to enjoy where we were.




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Of course, even when trying to simplify your life, there always going to be problems, like a skunked dog in a 25’ trailer… (no, tomato juice does *not* work)


… and pigs getting into your garbage.


After a week or so, we sent the Bums on their way, the bus now running well enough to get them to San Diego to meet some other friends and some family flying in for a visit. Soon after, they posted a bit about the visit. While I’m not sure when our plans would take us south of the border in our own vehicle again, we’d like to think at some point we’ll cross paths with these guys again.