Our First Year Living on the Loose (+Beer)
2017 Year in Review
We loved Seattle, otherwise John wouldn’t have lived there his entire life, and I wouldn’t have lived there 21 years. But the repetitiveness of gloomy days, the too fast growth and fancification of the city just started to wear on us, so we left.
cannon beach, oregon
Overall a tourist destination, Cannon Beach lives up to it’s kitchy appeal with cute beachy architecture and lots of boutiques to buy overpriced T-shirts. You know, the ones with the glitter. Being there during the off-season during a dramatic cold snap, we seemed to be the only ones in our campground. Oddly, the fresh fish at the store wasn’t fresh at all. Also, despite the fact that marijuana is legal in the state of oregon, the folks decided not to allow pot shops within the city limits.
coos bay, oregon
With high hopes that this was going to be more like a city with more services, we were a little dissappointed by Coos Bay. This sad town is slowly dying, as evidenced by the nearly empty mall. We stayed in Casino parking lot where we felt obligated to have a very salty dinner, but didn’t feel compelled to gamble in the smokey casino itself. There was a strangely cute miniature Coop with very good produce, but that was just about all there was in the town left behind several years back by the logging industry that moved to Canada.
We were initially excited to be in California, and probably failed to notice that the nickname for Eureka is Eur-Tweak-A. People did seem a little gaunt and the town did seem to be in decline by the same cause as other logging towns. However it was the middle of winter so it would be hard to tell. We did read they get more rain than Seattle, and we definitely saw evidence of this since most of our hikes were more like river walks.
I have always dreamed of living in the country in Napa, and when it comes to beauty, the valleys don’t disappoint. (Of course after a terrible fire season things are a little different now.) Cycling in the city limits was easy because of the relative flatness and there are plenty of amenities, the best of which is the availability of really great food. Most people in the area are involved in the wine industry somehow, and all truth be told, we’re more of the beer type.
santa rosa, california
My hometown is a place that I usually say “was a good place to grow up” especially since I timed my coming of age with the mall boom. As a bedroom community of San Francisco, Santa Rosa is a great example of suburbia making it a pretty good family town. My mom, a San Franciscan, used to include Santa Rosa as “part of the establishment,” and that is still quite true. House prices fell steeply during the mortgage crisis, and they have been the last in the Bay area to recover. Of course the big fire that destroyed entire neighborhoods on the North end of town (the poor side) isn’t going to move the needle in the positive direction.
san francisco, california
My mom lived in San Francisco while I was growing up and I lived in the city as well for about seven years after I graduated from UC Davis. While things have changed quite a bit since I left, the city is still alive with kooky people and the cycling is great in the city, despite the hills which are easily avoided because I pretty much have all the streets memorized because SF is only 7 miles long. When we first got in to town, I wanted to leave right away, but after a week, my fond memories of my youth and general energy of the urbanites lured me back in and I think I left my heart somewhere in the city limits.
A stone’s throw in the valley east of Santa Cruz, Watsonville is a tiny farm community that has been historically dominated by agriculture, mostly strawberries and apples. We were lucky enough to park our Airstream right in our friend’s apple orchard, which the cats seemed to love. The Pajaro valley is beautiful, and the town definitely has a small town vibe with not much going on, except of course at the brewery we visited.
san luis obispo
On our bike tour a few years previous, we remembered thinking that we really wanted to check out San Lous Obispo. Unfortunately, we were a bit disappointed because the town was a little too college-ish, touristy in a weird way, and sort of dressy which does not fit our style.
What a beautiful little town situated in the hills behind Santa Barbara. Famous for sweet tiny oranges called “Ojai cuties” we were lucky to be there when they were in season which was a treat. Also, this was our first time to be able to pick lemons right of my aunt’s tree, which made the area seem very appealing. There’s definitely an artsy vibe in the town, except now after being encircled with the largest fire in California’s history, most of the businesses are suffering or closing temporarily. People always focus on the loss of family photos, but if you think about it, when businesses close it affects a lot more people and recovery becomes a much more complicated process.
(camera troubles, no photos of Ojai)
los ángeles, california
We stayed at the beach and so every day brought a 20 mile one way cycling commute through super flat terrain. Just like right out of the movie LA story, restaurant culture is complete with menus on iPads and tiny little napkins that are moistened with mineral water table-side. Droplets of chlorophyll are offered by blonds walking about on the fake grass which lines the restaurant. And you name it, LA has everything, great mexican food, great asian food, and curiously good donuts. Oh, and news bulletin, downtown LA is now cool.
Here’s how it works. First, you drive down a road that seems to lead to nowhere. Then you visit a ranger camping on the side of the road, you register, pay nothing, and then drive into the dessert and park wherever looks good. It’s an amazing place to get some real thinking done, because honestly, you can’t talk to a cactus. We got there right after all the snowbirds left so the nearby town was mostly empty as well. Seniors can be seen driving around town in super cute ATVs, their tiny dogs in tow.
We had to go through an adjustment period to get our bodies used to the hot and dry climate of Tucson, and it wasn’t even summer yet. There is no shelter from the bright dessert sun anywhere, so eventually, we joined in and sipped sunshine directly out of the fresh grapefruits, oranges, and lemons we picked right off the tree at our RV park. Tucson was hit hard during the mortgage crisis a few years back and so sporadically there are random vacant buildings. However, the economy is slowly recovering as a lot of youthful energy seems to be moving in to the area. Cycling is great in and around Tucson, and being surrounded by several mountain ranges does add some dynamism to the landscape.
We stayed near Flagstaff as our gateway to the Grand Canyon. It’s a cute college town with not much going on, but nice tall mountains and dramatic nearby dessert landscapes.
albuquerque, new mexico
Nestled against the Sandia Mountains, Albuquerque is most certainly a mountain town. We were only in Albuquerque for one day so it was really hard to get a good feel of the place, but the highways were very very clean and getting around seemed very convenient.
It just wouldn’t be Texas without steak houses lining the freeway exit. We were told the weather is either windy or grey in Amarillo, and against such a dramatically flat landscape it didn’t seem like a good idea to stay too long. Our friends gave us a good tour including super cheap restaurants and dirt cheap grocery stores as well as super chic boutiques that make very high end leather goods.
oklahoma city, oklahoma
A comedian once said that the mid-west is full of people who just couldn’t make it all the way out West so they just gave up. I’m not sure how true that is, but there’s definitely no good produce at any store in the area, so the lack of vitamins might be holding a few people back from wanting more out of life.
As one of only two other campers at the State Park in the Ozarks, this was a great place to take advantage of great hiking and watching the new leaves unfurl from the Springtime trees. We camped in a dry county, so we drank the best beer we could find and grilled some good chops on the fire pit.
For us, Memphis was the gateway to the South and it was quite nice having everybody wave at us as we passed by on our bikes. The city itself is big and very ethnically diverse. The downtown area seems to be just on the cusp of being a new destination for locals and tourists alike. Elvis will come back soon, I promise. As we saw in other cities in the state, Tennessee seems to have a very strong push to develop a wonderful infrastructure of city parks, bike paths, and places for it’s citizens to easily get a little outdoor exercise and enjoy a wide diversity of outdoor events. Plus one Tennessee.
Home to the Grand Ole Opry, Nashville is one of the fastest growing cities of the South which means the locals are starting to feel the crunch from increased housing prices and traffic. But secretly, I think they’re also enjoying a lot of the new amenities that come with growth like breweries and the aforementioned meandering bike paths. In Spring, the weather was perfect and I found myself mesmerized by all the birds singing and never wanting to leave the RV park.
Often RV parks are not located very close to the city we are staying, and in this case, it just so happened that we were in the next county, which was a dry county. Chattanooga is a very quaint town nestled in the mountains, so as such the type of cycling is usually mountain biking. There are articles that listed it as a growing cycling town, and although they have built somewhat of an infrastructure, it is fairly small, and outside of that area, neither John or I felt safe on our bikes. The breweries in Chattanooga were just not good. Honestly, we tried. However, if you’re into aquariums, the one in Chattanooga looks amazing.
asheville, north carolina
We came over to Asheville with a three day stop in the Smoky Mountains. Sort of like a grown up Chattanooga, Asheville is also a mountain town. The downtown corridor is filled with cool fancy shops, the best one being a former Woolworth’s converted into a multi-artist art gallery featuring local artists, and much of the art is affordable. Asheville was where we got our health care taken care of, which, because we don’t have insurance, was deeply discounted. (Discounts were not available in Washington because providers have a contracts with insurance agencies to match an arbitrarily high price.) Of course, you can’t think about Asheville without thinking of beer, and I think they are in the running for the most breweries per capita. Believe me, most of the breweries are really good.
lumberton, north carolina
After being in the mountains for a few months, coming down into the flat Eastern part of North Carolina was shockingly depressing. Also, summer had officially started and we got our first official taste of heat AND humidity. This poor town suffered two years prior during hurricane Matthew and the people are still selling salvaged toilet paper from the disaster. It was a great window for us to understand the long term effects of natural disasters, because most people seem to only follow the story for a short while, and recovery is very slow and arduous. Just think about how long it took to build a town. Rebuilding, if it even happens, is likely to take just as long.
wilmington, north carolina
There is a really cool dead forest on the way into town along some of the estuaries which we really wanted to explore, but on our second day, John’s bike broke. It turned out fine because cycling in Wilmington was very limited. The roads are just too busy and the shoulders are just too small. Wilmington is filled with row after row of housing developments, which translates into an over abundance of big box stores which some people like.
virginia beach, virginia
Also known for a large military base, Virginia Beach is basically an overgrown beach town, with row after row of beach rentals and places to buy assorted blow up flotation devices. I kept imagining all the college kids flocking to the area, the ones who couldn’t make it all the way down to Ft. Lauderdale. Nearby Norfolk, Virginia was an interesting town though that had a few great foodie stuff like artisan Virginia ham and peanuts, etc.
We stayed at one of the state park beaches south of Rohoboth and enjoyed many long walks on the beach and my feet got really soft. Delaware is quite beautiful, and people in the entire state, which as we know is not that big, take really good care of their homes. Lawns are neatly trimmed and all houses are pretty much all painted white with green shutters. Normally, I would be bored with such conformity, but it looked quite sparkly and felt very very safe. A nice place to raise a family if you are so inclined. We cycled in to the town of Rohoboth, but if you drive, one of the rules was that you had to buy a parking pass on the way in, which seemed like a weird way of making sure too many people didn’t crowd the place. I guess being a vacation home to many government officials, rules are fun.
Western Massachusettes felt very quaint with meandering roads and tall trees. We got there during a gypsy moth outbreak, which meant that tiny caterpillars were dangling from trees and when I went running, I would come back covered in them. The invasion is so substantial that if you listen, you can actually hear them chomping on the trees, and the weakened leaves then drop as if it’s Fall. We also ventured to Easthamton (yes, one word) which is a funky little hippie college town with an amazing bakery (Hungry Ghost) and good cycling.
Boston seemed like a haphazard mish-mosh of confusing intertwining streets. We were lucky to have my uncle, a professional driver on a closed course, as our guide. We could definitely feel the big city tension and East coast haste. I don’t think I would own a car if I lived in Boston, but I can’t imagine riding a bike in the snow. We dined in the Italian part of town and then went to a bakery (Mikes Pastry) that was super busy at night, and it was great to feel the energy of a big crowd with everybody fighting for the Cannolis. They had a really good ricotta pie that I still think about.
centerbrook and clinton, connecticut (aka nutmeg country)
Sure, most of Connecticut is filled with the trophy wives of rich New York bankers, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be an enjoyable town to explore. Plus, the pride of being one of the first thirteen colonies is salt and peppered all over the quaint towns of New England. Whether you like gravel or road riding, the cycling was surprisingly very nice, complete with gentle rolling hills and post card perfect views of barns and other indicators of olde world charm. It’s crazy to think some of these towns have been around since the 1600s in contrast to the west being only 100 or so years old.
There are two things that stand out in Brattleboro. Number one is an impressive co-op filled with everything you’d ever imagine Vermont to be famous for meaning cheese, ice cream, and maple syrup. And secondly, the hosts at our RV park had vampire teeth implants. Seriously. Like wear garlic around your neck. But I am fairly certain the only happy beings in Vermont might just be the cows, because the milk and cream and butter was definitely better than anywhere else we’ve been.
new paltz, new york
I had high hopes for the Hudson Valley because I had heard someone talk about the corn that grows there, so sticky sweet you don’t even need butter. I imagined bucolic pastures and a cornucopia of produce stands lining country roads. Unfortunately, corn is no longer grown for humans, and most of the area is filled with the zombies left behind when the manufacturing industry crumpled. We ventured out to Woodstock, which as you might imagine has become a watered down tourist town that I think really prevents the locals from enjoying all the leftover peace, love and understanding. Poughkipsee was definitely filled with the waking dead, and one guy actually wandered out in the middle of the street and tried to steal our soul. We did enjoy a great afternoon in nearby Saugerties, a small town that still holds on to the charm you’d expect to find amongst all the valleys.
After being in small towns for a few months, we were excited to visit Burlington, the biggest city in Vermont. However, we soon found out that only 60,000 people lived there, which by West coast standards is just a blip. We got there during a beer festival so everyone seemed a little drunk. There is a great Co-op in the downtown area that was filled with beautiful natural people, and I wish I had spent more time looking at all the spendy interesting products, or maybe some of the cute boys. Access by bike seemed fair and we did a couple of good rides, one taking us across a levy over Lake Champlain and into some lush farm lands.
I would never have heard of Skowhegan Maine if it were not home to one of the first bread symposiums, the Kneading Conference. I spent most of my time there as an intern helping to set up the conference, but was able to catch a little of the local flavor by mingling with the organizers. As you could imagine from a place so isolated from the rest of the country, there was a strong rural vibe, with only a few restaurants that were rarely open. The Walmart, where most of the action was near the county fairgrounds, had definitely crushed the tiny city center.
The beautiful summer weather of Portland has definitely given a boost to the tourist economy there, home to famously coveted lobsters. Just like in the rest of the country where things are starting to look up, breweries were also opening up and gaining rapid popularity. We were lucky that one of our friends from Amarillo just happened to be from the area and was housesitting for her parents, so we got to get a first hand tutorial on the buying, sexing, boiling, and eating of fresh lobsters. We also tried the Maine version of a lobster roll, which is served cold. (The Connecticut version is served hot with butter) In the end, we did feel that the brininess of the culinary selections might have had an effect of the personality of the people living in the area, because a woman drove by John riding along on his bike and she spat on him!
new york city, new york
It’s not just because it’s the biggest, New York City also lives up to it’s notoriety as the best example of a city that I know of. We were excited to get some Asian food and be back on our bikes because even though the city is harsh and aggressive, cycling is the best way to navigate through the busy city. You just have to put on your street smarts and push your way through. For us, it’s going to be a great place to visit every couple of years.
lakewood, new jersey
People seem to pronounce the state of New Jersey like it’s just one big disappointment. However, outside of the populated areas, Jersey does have a lot of the bucolic appeal of the Northeast, but mostly, the vibe in Jersey is someone is always after a buck. If you want to get on the beach, it costs a whopping $10 per person, and if you want to get a liquor license, the state doesn’t make enough of those available which means you end up buying your license on the free market, which drives the average entry point to over $250,000. (A liquor license in Washington is $1,600.)
Located near the Shenandoah National park along the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountain, this vibrant mountain town, the former home to Thomas Jefferson, is a pleasant mix of progressive collegiate vitality and rolling pastures. Also home to one of the controversial statues of Robert E. Lee, Charlottesville is definitely on the radar as a possible influencer on how we view and handle race relations moving forward as a country. Together, hopefully.
Extremely bike able and filled with tattoos, Richmond, Virginia reminded us of Portland, Oregon, except substantially older as a town and way more ethnically diverse. There are basically two sides of the river, both with different flavors. Richmond is in a great location centrally, close to New York City, the beach, and the mountains.
charlotte, north carolina
We were curious about Charlotte North Carolina as one of the cities who submitted a proposal to be considered the second home of Amazon.com so we took a day trip and brought our bikes. The city itself seemed like it was filled with banks and banking people, because everybody was dressed up in suits and walking around confidently with stern looks on their faces. Dining options reminded us of the airport, boring and derivative examples of what was popular ten years ago. We’re not sure they’ll get the bid for Amazon, because any West coaster would be shocked at having to adapt to such a strong work ethic. Plus, there doesn’t seem to be good transit options that would support the necessary growth with an influx of 50,000 jobs entering the area.
Although we didn’t see much of the Northern section, the Southern most area of the Blue Ridge Mountain range felt the most dramatic to us, with its dynamic interplay of smaller peaks and valleys that you didn’t have to look at from a great distance to appreciate. Good thing the area was beautiful, because the surrounding towns didn’t seem to have much to offer in terms of quality ingredients, dining, or even culture. There was a large lake in the area, and we’ve never seen such a high concentration of camping grounds and RV parks so I imagine this would be filled up during busier seasons. It was good to be there during the tail end of Fall and watch the final leaves drop in peace and quiet.
We had been told Atlanta was completely overcrowded and impossible to navigate through so we braced ourselves and visited Atlanta on a Sunday, avoiding the crowds and enjoying a very pleasant day. Sure, the suburbs around Atlanta are packed and filled with rivers of cars, but the city itself is extremely navigable by bike. Southern hospitality surely is still the norm, and we met the nicest people wherever we went who gave us excellent tips on where to be sure to check out. Before we left, we stopped at a small grocery store to grab a sandwich and the clerk instead suggested a house made chicken pot pie that we took home and baked in our Airstream when we got home.
Ever since we learned about REM being from Athens, we imagined it to be a cool, artsy college town filled with creative energy and fun things to do. Maybe back in the 1980s that was true, but for some reason, we just couldn’t get into the vibe, even though cycling was very enjoyable. The city center is very small and once you get out of the city limits, you’re in deer hunting country.
We were only in Alabama one night so we had to really be observant and soak in as much as we could in a short time. If you don’t like football, then the entire state of Alabama seems to be off your list, and if you do, be prepared to immerse your life savings into a plot of land near your favorite team so you can rub noses with the other fanatics. Also, try not eating for a week before getting there because, well, it’s the South and portions are big not to mention the half gallon of sweet tea to wash it down.
Not being much of a fan of pavement, this was just about as far into Florida as we were willing to go. We actually wanted to avoid Florida all together, but my Aunt was hosting Thanksgiving and my dad was also making the trek to the Sunshine State. Known as the Redneck Riviera, Pensacola had just the right amount of colorful visors, palm trees, and housing developments that included liberal usage of the word “vista”. The white sand beaches, crystal blue waters and Florida sunsets were spectacular.
new orleans, louisiana
We had been to New Orleans before Katrina so we were quite anxious to see how it may have changed. We didn’t get to venture out into many of the areas that got destroyed, maybe because that seems rude, but in our minds it was hard not to think about the hopelessness of being stranded on a rooftop waiting to be rescued watching bodies float by in the flood waters. The French quarter seemed to be almost untouched, if not fully recovered, although I don’t remember the drinks being so spendy the last time we were there. We did get to explore a lot of the outlying swamp lands, but didn’t see any wild crocodiles or alligators.
Recently hit hard with flooding from hurricane Harvey, Lumberton seemed a bit downtrodden, and it seemed like that just might have been the final blow that would sink the town. I have never seen a more depressing selection of groceries, the produce was like what’s melting on the bottom of your fridge after a vacation. Despite the entire state park being closed because a lot of it had washed away, we still had to pay the daily entrance fee because we parked our RV in the state park, even though we couldn’t even go anywhere into the park. But the fee was only three bucks per day and it was the least we could do to pitch in to support the park rangers and the park system in general.
This was actually my third time in Austin, and I actually liked it this time. I might just have a fondness for hipsters. It was like a cross between Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon. Again, we thought about their bid for Amazon and while they have the advantage of screaming fast internet, transportation in the area is extremely frustrating. It’s not just the traffic, but it’s that everything is so darned far away from everything else and everybody seems to be driving. Cycling is fine especially if you live close to where you work, but again, sprawl keeps the vibe from being intimate. One of the fastest growing cities in the nation, housing prices have definitely spiked, but I wouldn’t mind living in the hill country about an hour away, which would hopefully be immune from the sprawl for a few years.
seminole canyon, texas
It was super interesting to be just three miles from the Mexican border, and surreal to watch the border police patrolling the area never once cracking a smile. I just can’t imagine the logic behind building a wall that’s going to be substantially easier to cross than the bleak dessert that separates us from them. The weather was downright pleasant when we were there so I did lots of trail running which mostly involved running on canyon edges that reminded me of a staging place for the fake lunar landing. The canyon is home to cave paintings some 4000 years old, accessible only with a guided tour by a very strict and very pessimistic park ranger. When she greeted us for the tour, she first stated where we weren’t going to go. But as we got to know her since there were just three of us, we got some insight to what it would be like to work for the park service, federal or state, because the work is mostly seasonal and lacks the benefit of good wages.
I am not going to lie, we have started to fall in love with Texas, which came to us as quite a shock. It’s hard not to fall for a state that has so much pride, when men tip their hats in your direction as they welcome you. You can tell why it may be known as the final frontier, because the beauty of the area makes it hard to leave and continue Westward. These rolling ranch lands are covered in dramatic rustic landscapes with shifting topography and tree types around every bend, sparse cows grazing along the hills, and wild boars trying to horn in on coveted territory. Alpine is a college town on the rise, and it’s just big enough to make it interesting, and close enough to isolation to make it enjoyable.
And now we welcome the new year with a second year of travel, at a much slower pace