Monthly Archives: August 2013

Getting out of Dodge(rtown)


WARNING: The first part of this post is about my decision to leave my job for an indefinite period of travel, what it was like to give notice and to pack up and leave, and some rumination on life.  If this interests you, please continue.  If not, you might want to skip to the lower section or the posts more directly covering the geographic journey.

I loved my life in LA and had fought hard for an extremely coveted job at a wonderful buy-side shop in Santa Monica.  Resolving to leave all this was terribly difficult.  But the more I thought about it, the less afraid I became of the downside risk.  And the more afraid I became of living with major regret if Jenni and I did not seize the opportunity to travel the world sans kids and mortgage.  Besides, a certain level of risk ought to be welcomed.  I do not believe life is a perfectly efficient market, but there is undoubtedly correlation between risk and reward.

Once my mind was made, I dreaded the necessary conversation with my colleagues.  I feared I was letting them down, and that they would hurl barbs of guilt and accusations of madness.  If any felt this way, they hid it well.  I could not have been more pleasantly surprised by how supportive and understanding they were.  To be sure, this is a reflection of the good nature, warmth and professionalism of my colleagues.  I think it is also because others tend to respect those who demonstrate courage and conviction.

Reactions to the news in general were overwhelmingly positive.  “Congratulations” may have been the most common refrain.  I was nervous (and sad) about telling the student I mentored that we would have to end our formal relationship, but even he (at 15 years old) demonstrated such maturity and compassion in his reaction.  He pretty much said “well, that sounds like a great opportunity and I’d probably do the same thing if I were you.”  A few evoked Verbal Kint when Special Agent Kujan asks “who’s Keyser Soze.”  Oh #$*&, now I have to confront the possibility that maybe I could do this.  Many said they were envious and wished they had done something like this or could do something like this.  If you are reading this, I will wager that you are not dodging bullets in war-torn Congo and desperately wondering where you will find bread for sustenance.  And if I am correct, then it is probable that your life decisions (from the mundane to the complex) are really about priorities.  Perhaps you are pregnant or must care for a loved one who is not well, but most likely you could drastically change your life and start traveling soon if not this moment.  Which is not to say that you should do so.  I find it challenging yet rewarding often to ask myself the difficult questions in life rather than passively accepting the status quo.  Instead of saying “I wish I did that” or “I would love to but just can’t do that,” you might consider switching the phraseology to “I could do that, and/but…” You will thus free your mind to assess the relative weight of your priorities in life.

This exercise may be difficult in part because the side of the scale representing benefits of drastic change may have fewer objects readily visible.  And it is often difficult to determine the weight of the object without holding it in your hand, so to speak.  How do I measure the positive “weight” of traveling the world when I’ve never done it?  It seems far simpler to comprehend the negative “weight” of those thousand details that have to be sorted out when uprooting your life and, of course, the supremely scary notion of giving up a paid occupation.  All I can say is: make your decisions consciously and faithfully, then rejoice; when you are honest with yourself, you cannot be wrong.  I want to reiterate that this is a very personal decision and one size does not fit all.  I find some of the full-time travel writers more than a little patronizing when they suggest theirs is clearly the right path to choose.  I merely want to impart that if you really want to make a big change in your life, you probably can.  And if you care about the reactions of your closest family, friends and colleagues, which would be perfectly normal, those reactions may be more positive than you think.

Make no mistake, drastic change is not easy.  The path of least resistance is usually the easiest.  As with most significant undertakings, the effort is front-loaded and the reward comes after.  Think of this like physics.  It takes a tremendous amount of energy to stop a moving train and start it going in the other direction.  I won’t bore you with all the details of becoming voluntarily homeless, though there are probably more than you would imagine at first.  But once done, this new direction becomes the path of least resistance.  This is why we decided to give up an apartment we loved, sell some possessions and put the rest in storage.


This was by far the hardest moving experience of my life.  It is much more difficult to figure out what to keep, what to dispose of, what we might need access to, etc., than it is just to throw everything into boxes and move it to a place where it will be unpacked promptly.  On the back-end, though, there is no abode to decorate or cable service to set up.  Having already undertaken the effort to scale down and become rather nomadic, the presumption is now in favor of continuing to travel.

I began to notice some changes in my life even before we left LA.  Brace yourselves…I took the bus a few times!  It may seem ridiculous to those outside LA that this is worthy of comment, but most people I know in LA have literally never once ridden public transportation (in LA).  The immediate opportunity to spend more time with family was both fortuitous and related to this decision.  We probably would have seen Mia and Matty at the Phish show at the Hollywood Bowl anyway, but definitely would not have hung out with them and their delightful friends til the wee hours at Cantor’s on a Monday.  When Sam and Kaitlyn were in town a couple of days later, I was able to spend more time with them, and likewise my cousin Jonathan a few days after that.  Not much beats quality time with family.

Adventure awaits us, and I am excited to see what the world has in store!


Slimming down included selling one of our two cars.  Since Jenni’s car is newer and more spacious for a road trip, gets far better gas mileage and is still under warranty, that meant saying goodbye to Seymour (my Audi S4 convertible, and first true love in California).  It was an emotional event; I truly feel that Seymour was inextricably linked with my identity and joy upon arrival in LA eight years ago.  Classic LA stuff, I know.  I spoke with a couple Audi dealers who would not even make a bid and then a local used car business that bid me much less than I wanted.  CarMax handily beat that price, and I have nothing but good things to say about the experience.  You may be able to get a little more if you cut out the middleman, but that entails locating a buyer, ensuring payment clears, dealing with title transfer, possibly risking liability, etc.  If you want a reasonable bid and stress-free solution, check out CarMax.

Like most Americans, our health insurance was provided by our employers.  We have not yet selected a replacement since COBRA effectively offers a 60-day free option (you can enroll retroactively).  Based on our research to date, we expect to go with International Medical Group.  I will likely provide more details in a later post.

We picked a somewhat arbitrary budget of $100/night for accommodation and $70/day for food and beverage (all of these figures are total for two people).  The idea is to be frugal, but not unnecessarily so given our savings.  Some backpack internationally and spend a small fraction of this, and we certainly hope to rack up non-camping nights in Asia and elsewhere for more like $20-40/night.  The accommodation budget should allow us a mix of camping, hostels, airbnb and splurges.  Though in truth most of these splurges will seem more like the budget option from our most recent employed lifestyle.  Camping typically costs $10-25/night.  We enjoy it, and it allows us to fill our splurge fund.  Here are a few links for camping and budget accommodation:

Oatmeal for breakfast, PB&J sandwiches and simple grilled protein help save money and allow for some higher-end meals in foodie locales.

I plan to write in greater depth about packing and preparing for the international trip, but I will mention a few things about the US road trip.  We own some backpacking gear and that made it easier to camp a lot while still fitting everything into a small car.  Gear includes the following:

  • MSR MicroRocket Stove
  • MSR Quick 2 System Cookset
  • Camo folding boat seats from Wal-Mart…seriously.  We bought these in Napa for Bottlerock thinking we would just throw them out after the festival, but they have become our new favorite purchase.  They are easy to transport and, unlike a typical folding chair, can turn a picnic table bench into a comfortable dining seat. IMG_0624
  • Kelty Gunnison 2.0 Tent
  • North Face Cat’s Meow 20º bag for me and Sierra Designs Eleanor DriDown 19º bag for Jenni
  • Weber portable propane grill
  • A soft-sided cooler

For a camera, we chose the Panasonic Lumix ZS20.  There are probably point and shoot cameras that take somewhat higher quality pictures in a range of conditions, but this one got generally good reviews and the 20x optical zoom was the key selling point.  We will have more than enough gear without hauling an SLR, and I like a powerful optical zoom, especially for the inevitable African safaris.  A few photography equipment review sites that I have come across include:

A fantastic resource for traveling and life in general is downloading eBooks from your local library.  I do not know which public libraries offer this service, but I know Santa Monica and LA do, and it is amazing.  If you are a resident, typically you can join for free and download free software and then check out books to read on your computer, iPad, smart phone etc…for free, anywhere in the world you have an internet connection.

California Coastin

August 16, 2013 (Friday) – We hit the open road (meaning bumper to bumper traffic on the 101 North) Friday afternoon, August 16, 2013.  Sven (our Volvo C70 hardtop convertible) was filled with camping gear, black tie wedding attire, and everything in between.  Despite this range, we were disciplined enough to take only that which would still allow us to utilize the drop-top and live out our fantasy of rolling like soccer mom gangsta rappers.


We cut over to Route 1 just before San Luis Obispo and split takeout from the Cracked Crab in Pismo Beach.  Fish tacos and a king crab po’boy.  King crab sounds even more oxymoronic than oysters or shrimp when paired with po’boy.  We arrived at our campsite in the Washburn campground of San Simeon State Park at 7:20 pm.  The Washburn campground is set up on a hill about a mile inland from the ocean.  A few of the sites have ocean views, but most do not.  After we set up the tent, I drove down to the ranger station to confirm the water spigots dispensed potable water.  I returned to find Jenni in a mild verbal scuffle with a French family in an RV who claimed to have returned to their rightful site for the evening.  We had noticed some folding chairs in the area (but of course no tent), and perhaps foolishly thought it more likely that someone from a nearby site had spread out for a bit than that the campground would have double booked the site.  We erred, but after accusing Jenni of stealing because she sat in one of the chairs, the other family switched sites.  A small fire blazing in the ring, we popped the Moët to celebrate the first night of the trip.

August 17, 2013 (Saturday) – Left over rolls with butter and coffee sustained us through a “grand rooms” tour of Hearst Castle.  We arrived around 10 am and joined a 10:20 tour with no reservation.  Twenty-five dollars per ticket is steep, but the experience is worthwhile.  It was cool and foggy at the coast, sunny and about 20º warmer atop the hill.

We made a quick stop at elephant seal beach and continued up the coast to a 1:30 pm lunch at Whale Watchers Café in Gorda.  Spaghetti Bolognese and a tuna melt for over $40 is no prize, but options are few and far between on this stretch of Route 1.  After lunch we continued up the coast and cut inland on the 156 to the 101 to save some time getting to Felix and Amanda’s beautiful house in Hillsborough.  We drove to charming, downtown Burlingame with several blocks of shops and restaurants.  Earlier that day, I wondered if I would have chance encounters with friends while traveling.  Less than 36 hours into the trip, we ran into Doug and Tracy on our way to dinner at Urban Bistro.

August 18, 2013 (Sunday) – We woke around 7:30 am and did more research on what to do and where to stay.  Amanda cooked some eggs and we departed around 11 and drove up the hill to the 280 North and over the Golden Gate bridge.  When we left their house it was warm and sunny, but at the bridge is was cool and foggy.  We drove up to the Marin Headlands anyway and were rewarded with some lovely views of the bridge and the city.  Next, we drove through Sausalito and rejoined Route 1.  The road is very windy and hilly at least to Stinson Beach.  Muir Beach was closed for a few months for some reason.  Stinson was quite crowded despite that it was cool and foggy.  There is a little town there, the beach has dog and no-dog sections, and there are hiking trails to/from Mt. Tamalpais, Mill Valley, etc.

We took a quick peek and continued as the road hugs Bolinas Lagoon before becoming inland for a while along Point Reyes National Seashore then returning to the inland coast again at Tomales Bay.  There are many cyclists and bikers.  Tomales Bay Oyster Company was packed with perhaps 100 cars parked on the roadside.  We passed this place and stopped up the road at The Marshall Store which I think sources the same oysters.  There is an indoor counter where you order and the menu, natch, is seafood-focused.  Though there is also a smoker and they serve pulled pork.  BBQ oysters are famous in these parts and that’s what I got, with butter and garlic.  Six large oysters per order for $16, comes with some grilled bread.  The sauce was a little tangy, my dish was tasty.  Jenni got fish tacos ($13) that were grilled and mediocre.  The Allagash White ($3) was not cold enough.  The vibe and location were great, the service was very good, but the execution could be improved.  Around the shack is a little wood deck with some chairs and then there are long wood tables on the road side with chairs facing each other, half to the road and half to the bay.  A couple hundred yards up the road is a place renting kayaks.  The crowd was a mix of tourists, SF’ers, wine country folks, bikers, etc.  It reminded me of a lakeside BBQ because it’s a narrow bay and you can see the other side, and the beach is small.  This area feels like Maine or Cape Cod with more hills, cows and birds of prey.

From there Route 1 heads inland before cutting back to meet the ocean at Bodega Bay.  We saw signs for the Bodega Seafood, Art & Wine Festival the weekend of August 24-25 and that’s probably pretty neat.  Beyond here Route 1 becomes spectacular.  I realize it is heresy to do anything but extol the virtues of Big Sur, but for my money I think I prefer the coast North of Bodega Bay.  It is possibly a touch less spectacular, but far less crowded and feels less touristy.  The town of Jenner was cute, as was Gualala and Point Arena.  While we stopped at neither, John at Glendeven recommended Bones (BBQ) in Gualala and Franny’s Cup & Saucer (bakery) in Point Arena.

We arrived at the Inn at Cobbler’s Walk a little after 6 pm.  This is the sister property across the street from Glendeven in the town of Little River, just a couple miles south of Mendocino.  It is very charming with outstanding service (when they say there is a parking spot with your name on it, they mean it).  The Glendeven is on the inland side and has a reception area with wine bar, complimentary wine from 5:30-6:30 pm, and a little deli fridge with charcuterie.  We bought a delicious fennel pollen salami with Sangiovese wine from Olli Salumeria and a Petite Creme Brie from Marin French Cheese Company that we savored with Raincoast Crisps cranberry and hazelnut crackers in our room with some Peachy Canyon zinfandel. There is a chicken coop, a llama pen, gardens, etc.  The Inn is on the coastal side and also has a main room with coffee, tea, cookies and dining area.  Decor in the common spaces is dark wood and espresso leather.

After checking in, we walked down to a small beach near the Little River Inn (which staff had recommended for a nice meal).  There was driftwood, beautiful coastline scenery, and what seemed to be a sea otter playing offshore.  Our room was reasonably spacious with an angled vaulted ceiling and a fireplace stocked with Duraflame logs.  The weather after Stinson Beach was spectacular, mostly 60s and sunny along the coast.

August 19, 2013 (Monday) – An early morning light hike down to the Mendocino headlands was a delightful start to the day.  There is a narrow dirt path right from the Inn’s parking area through flora including thistle with pine trees.  We passed deer on the 10 minute walk to the coast where there are cliffs and offshore rocks and crashing waves with lots of kelp.  There are a couple wooden benches (not slats, rather a huge piece of wood carved to a bench) and some sea birds.  We walked around and returned to our room for a promptly-delivered 9 am breakfast.  It arrived in a basket containing Jenni’s cocoa, my coffee and cream, freshly squeezed organic OJ, homemade zucchini bread, Mediterranean quiche and baked local pears with anise-hyssop & berries.  This place also does farm to table dinners Wednesday-Saturday for $50++.

We hit the road and stopped at Harvest at Mendosa’s in the center of the adorable little town of Mendocino.  This is a legit mid-sized market with a good butcher (including some products from Roundman’s Smoke House in Fort Bragg).  We picked up ground beef, thick slices of bacon, rolls, oatmeal and firewood.  Patterson’s Pub had been recommended for a casual meal/drink the night before.  The Joshua Grindle Inn is a lodging alternative we had considered.

The town of Fort Bragg is larger with national chain stores and fast food.  Route 1 again becomes very windy and hilly before joining the 101 at Leggett, which is inland and about 30º warmer than the coast.  This stretch of the 101 is also fairly hilly and windy but more like a narrow highway with large trucks.  We stopped at Confusion Hill, a classic old-school roadside attraction that’s been there since 1949.  The gravity house of tilt-induced optical illusions was probably worth the $5 entrance fee.

The 101 becomes a more typical highway and enters Humboldt County.  We did not explore Eureka in depth, but it appears to be a s*#thole.  If I were looking to cast a film about cooking meth, I might exclaim “eureka” upon arrival.  About 40 miles up the coast in Orick, we pulled into the Elk Meadow Day Use Area off Davison Road where we spotted a pair of beautiful Roosevelt bulls and enjoyed some wild blackberries.

A quarter mile up the road at Elk Meadow Cabins there were perhaps 15 females.  We arrived at Del Norte State Park shortly after 6 pm and got a first come spot (#102) at the Mill Creek campground.  Thirty-five dollars is steep for camping, but the site was more private than San Simeon.  Amenities include a bear locker, fire ring, picnic table, potable water, flush toilets and coin operated showers at $0.50 for five minutes.  I was pleasantly surprised to learn we could leave scented items in the car or the bear locker.  At Yosemite, they are adamant that there can be no scented items outside the bear lockers.  I grilled some bacon cheeseburgers on the portable propane Weber and we finished the Peachy Canyon zinfandel and had a little chocolate for dessert.  It was surprisingly warm as we went to sleep before 9 pm.  Up here it rains little in the summer but 10-12” per month in winter.

August 20, 2013 (Tuesday) – The morning was cool but pleasant and it was another gorgeous day.  We cooked some healthy oatmeal type product and made coffee and tea.  Shortly after 9:30 am we drove four miles south to the Damnation Creek Trailhead at mile marker 16 on the 101.  The trail ascends briefly before dropping over 1,000 feet to a rocky beach.  It is described as steep and strenuous.  That is a mild overstatement if you are an experienced hiker, but I imagine the bottom portion could be quite tricky in wet conditions.  We saw several others, but it was not crowded.  It took us 45 minutes to descend, we spent 45 minutes at the bottom and required under an hour to ascend.  I recommend this hike as the coast is rugged and beautiful.

If you’ve enough gas in the tank to hold out for Brookings, Oregon, you’ll save $0.10-0.30/gallon.  You will also continue to enjoy a breathtakingly beautiful coastline in Southern Oregon.

I love the North coast of California.  The coastline is jaw-dropping, there are countless spit beaches with a lagoon/river on one side and the ocean on the other, it is verdant, and not crowded.  Many of the homes are rustic but quite nice looking.