Crystal — why haven’t I heard of this place before?

Back through greater Seattle I go, but in this case I didn’t mind too much since it meant an opportunity to grab a new battery. Decided not to hook it up just yet though, pending a more convincing diagnosis on the remaining battery. If the second one was also dying, I would rather switch to a pair of golf cart batteries, as there seems to be unanimous agreement that this works considerably better than a pair of standard Marine/RV “Deep Cycle” batteries. I had to admit, at this point the power/battery saga was grinding on me pretty hard. I had expected, based on what I read, that I really wouldn’t have to worry about keeping the batteries charged, that they lasted several days typically. But in fairness, I’m probably not applying a typical load what with the extra stress caused by running the furnace so often.

My next chance to test the batteries overnight would come that night. By the time I got south of the Seattle area, it was quite dark already and I knew pushing through to the ski hill would be a waste of a potentially beautiful drive. I spent quite some time in the town of Enumclaw trying to find what looked like a good place to park for the night. The satellite photos on Google Maps are a fantastic tool for this, but unfortunately they often don’t tell the story of a gate blocking what looks like a perfect road. I ran into this three times this evening, before finally finding a large, empty horse trailer parking lot off the suspiciously quiet (today at least) highway to Crystal, right across the street from a large forestry facility. I wasn’t worried about the potential noise from the yard as I picked up a whole box of kick ass ear plugs. Only earplugs I’ve ever had that I can wear every day without my ears bleeding.

The next morning my battery was all but dead, so I took advantage of the remote location to run the generator for a while to top it up, and since the generator was running anyway I decided it was time to pull out the hair dryer (which of course requires AC power) and spend some time peeling the stickers off the RV (don’t see why I should be a traveling advertisement for the rental company I bought the unit from). They came off fairly well, but it was still a slow process… and only about 1/3 done after over an hour of work.

After a few more hours spent getting some work done, the daylight was getting short so I started the push to the ski hill. The highway remained extremely quiet, and also extremely pretty. Much of it runs through country clearly populated the the timber company as the logging was all but nonstop, until I hit the Rainier park boundary. Once in the park the drive became a narrow run through fairly think forests, and the occasional tiny sign of settlement. Again, very picturesque. After a last batch of rather rustic looking cabins spread throughout the trees, the highway ended (the pass is closed in the winter) and the turnoff to the ski area began. The road up to crystal is fairly tame, and STILL all but empty despite me driving u pas most people should be driving down. I was starting to understand why that may be though, as the weather was not nice at all. It was a mix of heavy snow and rain, and some pretty strong winds. Once I got to the top, the parking lot was judt plain empty. Clearly no-one had bothered to come up today.

No-one except what few people may be staying at the limited accommodations up here and the handful of RVers parked in the large sheet of ice that passed for a parking lot. There were quite a few spots here, over 100, with perhaps have having power. Interestingly RV parking here was managed by the US Forestry Service, not by the ski resort. I chose to give the USFS the extra $10 and go for the $30 with power option. Kind of pricey given how little you get for that money (no facilities at all that I was aware of). I dropped my registration in the collection box and settled in while the wind tried to tip over my RV repeatedly.

The next morning bore the fruit of all that wind. The weather had changed and there were even some breaks of blue in the high clouds. If that storm had also brought a good dump of snow this could be a very good day. Unfortunately, it didn’t. It had clearly rained almost all the way up the mountain, and then semi-frozen into a rather hard layer. Everything I hit was very heavy, and frequently rather crusty. Not the greatest conditions, except for one small patch coming off one of the peaks, accessible only by a rather old 2 person chair.

But Crystal wasn’t just ancient chairs. Oh no, this place was pretty fancy. Two 6 pack  high speed chairs, one high speed quad, and a gondola going top to bottom in one fell swoop, ending up at a stunning view point (clearly designed with sightseers in mind). The base area, though minimal, was quite nice too, as was some of the on-hill dining options. The fancy continued with a small but fabulous example of top notch guest service. Getting on a chair I somehow indicated I didn’t know where I was, and the liftie asked if I had a map. When I arrived at the top station, the liftie there was standing there, map in hand, to pass to me as I got off the chair. Impressive.

This was no small local hill by the way. 2600 acres are on tap, though admittedly some of it is not very usable due to an unreasonably long cycle, and one of the bowls does take some hiking. But even sticking with the more convenient lift serviced routes, there was a very nice selection of excellent terrain. including several bowls and a good selection of nicely spaced tree skiing on the north side. I found myself thinking this place deserved a second day to explore… or at least it would have had the snow been better. I also found myself wondering why I had never heard of this place before? Why so many people from Stevens and no-one from this fantastic place? It doesn’t seem any farther.

I gate it right up to last chair but still came away feeling I had not sufficiently experienced this hill. I start to wonder whether this whole idea of 1 day per resort (with a few exceptions for the biggest names) was realistic. This place was under 3000 acres and still had much more than a day’s worth of exploration to serve up. But I had to move on to Mt Hood, so I headed back to the homestead and got myself ready to move. Before I pulled away though, the camp host came by to chat, and I found out that the whole RVing at Crystal program was on probation. Seems past years have seen a few too many party bus type campers, and the USFS just isn’t willing to deal with that. Hence the position of a Host to keep people in line. I hope they keep the program going, and it would seem dumb not too given there were several RVs there even on such a dead day, and I was told they fill right up on good weekends.

It was already getting dark, so time for me to mossy on,  and put my mind back on the task of which of the three ski hills at My Hood to visit two days later.

The Crystal base area. Compact but nicely done and well maintained.

Looks like heaven, but this day it was super heavy and very crusty.

Looking south from the top of the gondola to the Silver Queen peak, only 10' shorter than the Silver King, but the latter requires hiking.

Mount Rainier trying to stay hidden. But that's hard to do when you are the biggest thing around and the namesake of the rather large park you are standing in.

More of the view off the backside of the hill. The blue skies wouldn't be there all day, but while they were the views were fantastic.

Stevens Pass

As I drove east towards Stevens Pass, there were alot of cars coming the other way. The proprietor at Doug’s RV where I had my battery mystery solved mentioned that it had been that way for hours. Given that this was the last day of holidays (an observed Monday, as the day before was New Year’s Day), this was not unreasonable. That and when I ask guests I am showing around Blackcomb where they usually ski, Stevens is the most common answer I hear. Clearly the popular choice of the Seattle crowd.

As I got past the populated areas and into parkland, it began to snow. Pretty heavily. Now I had an intro to driving the RV in the snow with Baker, but that was nicely plowed, sanded, and heavily traveled crawling. I was feeling a bit anxious about a quiet mountain pass on fresh snow at highway speeds. Well, highway speeds in this case meaning 50 to 60km/h. Thankfully, there was hardly anyone traveling in my direction so I wasn’t holding traffic up. Some 20kms or so from the ski area, I came across a message in big lights above the highway: “heavy snow ahead. oversized vehicles prohibited” Uh oh, does that mean me? I started trying to find out. The web (thankfully there was a good mobile signal) didn’t have my answer, and the couple numbers I called went to closed offices. As I was trying the local highway patrol number again, a bit of luck as a cop pulled up behind me and came knocking on my window (perhaps the first time I’ve ever been happy for that to happen). No, it does not mean me, and the officer assured me that it didn’t get much worse ahead.

A little while later I arrive at the base area, brightly lit up amidst the foggy darkness and heavy snowfall. A rather eery sight actually. But one I was happy to see. Stevens has a great area for RV parking. Some 70 spots, many (perhaps all) with power, and right at the base of the hill… in fact it is better parking than the main day visitor lots. $30 isn’t the deal of the century, but given what you are getting, pretty reasonable. And as it turned out I was happy to have the power as my battery was on its way out after just a couple hours.

I was up fairly late that night, trying my best to make straight cuts in my boards of insulation and making a tight fit to where the pieces needed to go, all the while trying to design pieces that would be convenient to take in and out as needed, and minimize waste. Oddly similar to programming a website. About midnight I popped my head outside to move the last full piece, and discovered a solid 10cm since I had arrived… but also a suspiciously warm ambient temperature.

The next morning bore out the curse of that warmth: all that fresh snow was heavy… I’m talking the heaviest “powder” I have experienced in my life. At least it was served up with broken sun that morning, but still quite a disappointment after what the previous evening has promised. Combine such heavy snow with my tuckered out, early season legs and it quickly became apparent that this would be a mostly piste day. Which, surprisingly, was not all that well served. The groomed parts of Stevens feel almost smaller than Steven’s 1100 acres, which the off-piste and black terrain actually felt pretty generous. Once again, not the terrain type distribution I had expected from a regional ski hill. I found myself cursing my weak legs and the heavy snow as this place could have served up a rip snorting good day otherwise. But as things were, my exploration of the more interesting terain had to remain limited.

Other than the selection of advanced terrain and how far the hill was from the city, I would have to say Stevens was more or less what I expected. Generous daylodge buildings, but clearly nothing targeted to a destination skier, a mix of lifts including a couple high speed quads (and an up and over lift, which I have never seen or heard of before), and a mix of skiing abilities represented (mind you, this isn’t the weekend, so probably not truly representative of Stevens’ usual clientele). The views perhaps were better than I expected though. Being this far out along a mountain pass, Stevens afforded some very nice views, especially over the backside.

A very cool feature I saw for the first time here: RFID tickets. Rather than having your ticket scanned by a person every time you boarded a base area left, you simply went through a gate that read your ticket in your pocket and opened the gate to let you through. Very efficient. Definitely something more ski areas should use I think. I’m sure it takes a bit of capital to start, but given the reduction in labour I would think it would pay off fairly quickly. More importantly, it is just plain convenient for the skier. Another cool techie thing I didn’t realize at the time, is Stevens claims to be supplied by 100% wind power. Call me an eco-geek but I like that.

Does Whistler’s superiority remain intact? It does. But if I lived in Seattle I don’t think I would be making the trek up north more than a couple times a year. Stevens is pretty decent for a weekend ski, especially if you don’t go every weekend. Wish better snow it would have been a very good day of skiing. Although I think if I lived in Seattle I would be seeing more of Baker or Crystal (coming up next).

Since my cheap ass didn’t want to pay for another night here, and the road was looking pretty clear, I took my leave of Stevens, backtracking towards Seattle. Certainly not much of a snake of cars leaving today. Stopped at Doug’s RV on the way to find out that my battery was manufactured in ’08 and no warranty remained. Oh well, Costco here I come.

Feeling pretty nervouse right about now.

Beautiful view over the backside of the hill

Pretty generous base facilities, but appropriate for the type of crowds this place attracts on weekends I'm told.

A good chunk of the hill is lit up for night skiing. Not something that tickles my fancy though.

NYE in Seattle

After pulling my well and truly dead legs into the driver’s seat after skiing Baker, it was time to boogie on down the road to Seattle, where I was happy (for my selfish sake) to find that my friend from university days Andy had no plans for New Year’s Eve. After a few hours of driving and frantic “how late are they open on NYE?” store searching, I find myself at Andy’s place in Redmond. Computer chit-chat begins immediately, as it always does. We’re both computer engineers and programmers, it can’t be helped.

But hey, it is New Year’s Eve, and we’re not quite so nerdy as to spend it debating Windows vs Linux. It is a fairly quick drive to downtown Seattle, but not a quick search for parking, which is difficult in Seattle at the best of times. We finally find a spot and make a fairly lengthy run for the Space Needle. I never thought I’d actually see the Space Needle NYE celebrations in person, having seen it several years on TV. I’m certainly glad I did though, as it was a good fireworks show, and the celebratory downtown atmosphere was fun. Drunk NYE revelers spilling out of bars on the walk back to the car make for good entertainment too. This was certainly an unexpected, but welcome, addition to the adventure. Reminded me that this trip has more to offer than just visiting ski resorts.

New Year’s Day gave me a chance to get a bit caught up on some work while I had the good WiFi connection and warm office space of Andy’s place to take advantage of. After the beating my legs took at Baker, I knew there was no hurry to get to the next stop anyway, as my legs are always useless for the 2 or 3 days following the first ski of the year. But I couldn’t put things off too much either, so that afternoon I took my leave from my friend, as I had yet more shopping that needed doing. Seriously, all this shopping was getting annoying, especially what with me being naturally frugal.

That night saw me sitting in a Costco parking lot. Fancy, I know. But it was actually a decent place. As quiet as you like, and no-one around to bother if I had to use the generator, which of course I did as my batteries were really not holding much of a charge. The next morning my main mission was to find out what was going on with the batteries. While I was told that they were fairly new (installed in ’11 or late ’10) I got the distinct feeling they were on the way out. First shop I found with a tester… claimed they were fine. But this was just testing voltage, which I know is not a proper battery test. I would have to try again and hope the next person had more of a clue.

In the meantime it was time to his a laundromat. Ah yes, one of the great road-trip traditions. Can be as interesting or as nightmarish as a bus station experience. Thankfully I was not in the projects, so this place was just fine, and even had nice front load washers so I could give my less than presentable ski jacket a clean. The long hair and bushy beard goes a long way towards giving me a homeless image. I don’t need to add to it with a jacket that looks like it was found in a back alley.

Next stop was Home Depot, where I would spend quite a bit of time agonizing over what foam board insulation to pick up and just how many sheets I would need.  The answer turned out to be 4 full sheets of their top tier 2″ foam boasting R-13, better than the walls in my RV. Getting 4×8 sheets of anything into an RV is quite a challenge, by the way. But it can be done. Barely.

No more dawdling. It was time to make my way to Stevens Pass. Thankfully along the way I hit a tiny but well stocked and knowledgeable RV shop (open late no less, it was almost too good to be true) that resolved one mystery: one of my two house batteries was well and truly dead. So much so that it would be constantly discharging the good one. 6 hour battery life explained. They even carried the same brand of batteries so I had hopes of picking up a warranty replacement on the way back the next day, since it had a three year warranty. That night I would find out how well a single good battery holds up.

Seattle Space Needle NYE

Despite a coup;e pauses in the fairly length show, obviously not intended, it was a pretty good display.

Never thought I would see one of these in person.

The REAL first stop: Baker

I had planned on hitting Baker on the 28th or 29th, following my last scheduled family stop  in Vancouver on the 27th, but sure enough RV preparation ate a couple days with gusto. I do find myself wishing I had bought, as I originally planned, an RV from someone who had done winter camping and sold it as a complete kit, including experienced advice. But no, I would be learning all the lessons the hard way. Certainly there was more than two days’ worth of things that needed to be done but it was time to get moving before complacency set in and I started rethinking everything.

So, on the 30th I finally crossed the border, spent an hour and a half sitting around (despite being on the Nexus program) while they looked my records over and took a quick tour of my living quarters, and got as far south as Bellingham where once again I spent a few hours shopping. Stores are quickly becoming a representative of civilization and normal life to me, which is not a good thing as time spent in stores always ends up with my credit card getting some exercise. As much as I wanted to find some nice spot off the highway to camp out, I ended up with my first Walmart parking lot night (Walmart allows overnight camping in their lots). There are a surprising number of RVers who take advantage of this, even (or perhaps especially?) in the winter.

The next morning found me doing yet more shopping, mainly trying to set up a US cell phone with a good data plan. Since I need to keep working full time as I travel (planned as 4 hours most days) a plan with plenty of data included and good coverage is critical. Unfortunately this also means expensive. While mobile phone service in the US can be incredibly cheap, if you want the full meal deal, not so much (compounded by my insistence to stay with a SIM card network rather than getting another phone). So now I give AT&T some $130 a month, but thankfully it looks to be a good choice, having good coverage and data speed at every stop thus far. More than I wanted to spend, but it felt very good to have that dealt with… and finally allow me to move on to my first new ski area.

Mid afternoon and I was finally on the highway heading east of town towards Baker. It didn’t take too long before I came across cars heading down from Baker. And more. And more… and even more. The road up to the ski area itself is decidedly tricky… a narrow two lane deal with snow banks crowding each side, VERY tight hairpins, and half the time a very long shear drop off to one side. Combine this with a nonstop snake of cars coming down, and a newbie RV driver in a 101″ + mirrors RV and you get one nerve wracking drive up the hill. Oh, and let’s not forget a first experience driving on snow covered roads without snow tires. Thankfully, other than one mirror being forcibly folded in on a snowbank, I got to the top unscathed and surprisingly without drama. Turns out, heavy trucks + snow = no snow tires needed. Good thing, as the alternative would have been another $1600 or so in tires that would have worn out by the end of this trip.

Another pleasant surprise awaited me at the top of the road: overnight parking at Baker is free and in a primo location to boot. A number of RVs lined one side of the upper lot already, complete with a beautiful view on three sides. They ranged from the small $500 beat up 80s class C to a very nice industry owned (Trew) class A with slideouts providing staff lots of room. I settled in, plugged the phone into the computer and enjoyed a nice strong data connection (thankfully ski resorts pretty much always have good cell coverage, even when they are deep in the middle of nowhere) and hit a backlogged email inbox for a few hours. As I did so, I could hear other RV dwellers having a good time, some younger ones with sleds on the snow banks on the far side of the lot, some older ones laughing over beers in their not very soundproof campers. Plus the snow began to come down harder and would continue most of the night.

Morning found be quite comfy on my warm memory foam topper and under my massive down blanket… but pulling off the blanket revealed a problem: it was -1C inside my RV. And this time it was not the result of me living a window open. My house batteries (the 2 that run the camper, separate from the one that starts the engine) had completely died overnight, and the propane fired furnace can’t work without any electricity to run the controls. I couldn’t start the generator without any hours batteries (bit of a catch 22) and wouldn’t anyway since it was still fairly early and I would wake anyone in neighbouring RVs, especially with the rather noisy unit I have. The truck engine it is then, which is surprisingly MUCH quieter despite being about 80 times as powerful as the generator. Once tolerably warm, it was time to put on the ski clothes, check the morning emails, boil myself some eggs for breakfast, and get outside to enjoy the real start to the whole point of the trip: discovering new ski terrain.

It was a fantastic start to the experience. The snow that had fallen overnight had pilled up pretty well… at least 10cm/4in on top of an already good soft base from the day before. And it was nice and light. The clouds stayed high so as not to interfere with visibility. I really couldn’t ask for much more.

Same goes for Baker itself. What a fabulous ski hill. I’ve heard Baker described as a typical regional ski hill. Not too big, old lifts, gets really busy on the weekends (and I was there on a Saturday in the midst of holiday season). I assumed the terrain would be mostly green and blue, the perception I’ve always had of most smaller ski areas. Oh boy was I wrong. Baker has some 8 chairs, mostly pretty quick triples, plenty of terrain, and I’d have to say that per acre, the vast majority of it is black and double black. A bit of alpine, lots of good trees, a number of tight couloirs… Baker has it all, and it came with a very nice coating of snow to boot. Not to mention spectacular views. I was one happy camper (literally as well as figuratively in this case). As to the place being busy, after talking to a few locals on the lifts it became apparent that their idea of really busy doesn’t match what we call a busy day at Whistler. I think I may have waited as long as one minute in line all day, despite several locals’ insistence that this was a pretty busy day. Although I suspect the day before may have been a different matter: turns out that huge snake of cars was the result of them breaking their one day attendance record. Wow, luck timing on my part, especially as I had tried so hard to get there a day earlier.

Staff were very laid back and friendly, as were all the people I met on the lifts. The level of skill was pretty impressive here too. Despite another stereotype I had about smaller hills, this place was not filled by people fumbling down blues, thinking they were great black level skiers. All the expert terrain here was being put to good use by alot of people. I wish I could have done a better job of joining their ranks, but my first-day legs were not going to allow any styling top-to-bottom runs. Frequent stops were definitely the order of the day. Ah the joy of being out of shape :\

Although I’m not really focused on facilities outside of the lifts and terrain, there were some nice lodges at Baker. The main lodge at their lower (and newer) parking lot was very nice looking, and they had a brand spanking new small log house lodge in the middle of the ski area. Very cute place for lunch or a coffee.

Oh, did I mention the Baker value? $52 including tax gives you access to all this.

Baker definitely turned out to be a nice surprise. Much more than I came expecting. Anyone from the Vancouver area should definitely make a day trip there one day (when the snow conditions are good). To the subheading of Confirming the Whistler Supremacy though, does Baker stack up? Yes and no. The hills are clearly different things. Baker doesn’t have any tourist village and minimal amenities, so it isn’t a destination resort. If it is your local hill, you will have a great time, but it is small enough that you could get a little bored over the course of a season. But for an occasional visit, and certainly as a day trip a couple times a season at least, it is fantastic, particularly for strong skiers and boarders.

What a start to the adventure. As it would turn out, it would be a while before I could repeat such a fabulous ski day as Mother Nature would not cooperate fully. But hey, anyone who is familiar with snow sports knows that is just the way it is. Be happy when you are given a great day, be satisfied when you are not. Today was firmly one of the former. The cold morning proved I had RV issues to sort out still, but I was pretty sure I was going to enjoy this trip.

Not Mount Baker, but an impressively rugged peak on the other side of the ski area.

The older upper base, with my home for the night among the cars seen on the left edge.

More fabulous views, this to the left of the peak pictured two above.

All inbounds terrain, although it requires a touch of hiking, still fairly fresh at the end of the day thanks to a good skiier per acre ratio.

Baker ski area's namesake, the real Mount Baker peak (quite a ways beyond the ski area boundary)

First stop: Seymour

It seemed appropriate to start off the trip with the first place I can remember strapping two planks to my feet and sliding on the snow (I don’t count the plastic kiddie skis that I attempted to use on a cover of fallen cherry blossoms on a small bump in the back yard). After (barely) learning at Seymour when I was… 8 perhaps? I returned for some occasional cheap weekend skiing at about 12. For the last 10 or those 23 years gone by, I’ve been meaning to return, just to see what has changed, and because it is always trippy to see how your younger perception doesn’t match current reality.

As it turned out, things were pretty close to what I remembered. In fact, VERY close. The only things that have changed over 23 years are 2 new buildings. Same 3 old double chairs, with nothing but a couple more coats of paint. In fairness, there was a very new looking magic carpet on the bunny hill replacing the rope tow. Boy would I have loved to have that back in my day. My gloves would never last more than a few pulls, and neither would my weak grip.

Seymour is really small. Like 200 something acres. After spending as many years as I have in Whistler, this size, which seemed plenty in years past, showed. I was worried I wasn’t going to have time to properly explore the whole place since I arrived 2 hours later than I wanted to, but I skied the whole area twice in a couple hours. A quick lunch in their cafeteria, and back for another couple tours. At this point there was still a couple hours of operations to go, but I was done for the day, with my pathetically out of shape first-day legs not even bothered. There wasn’t any deep snow to help give the legs a workout, in fact there wasn’t much snow at all. I assumed the North Shore mountains would have a great started to the season as Whistler did, but no. They were hurting. As it turns out, it was something of a sign of things to come.

One thing I must say I forgot completely about Seymour are the views. Whether you look over the city of Vancouver below, or towards the mountain range to the east, or to the standout Mount Baker to the south, or the backcountry to the north… the views are absolutely beautiful in every direction (wish the photos did them justice). Those plus the trailheads heading into the wonderfully typical west coast forests on the way up the hill, really make me wish I had done some hiking while I lived in Vancouver.

Time was ticking, so back home to Whistler for Christmas, and what was supposed to be a short break for beat legs. And lots of RV setup (that’s another ongoing story to come).

Despite the underwhelming visit, I still say Seymour has its place. I was perfectly happy with it when I was young and still fairly new to the sport, and it was always the least expensive option (though it isn’t the bargain it used to be). Plus park rats (skiiers and snowboarders with little fear of bruises and broken bones who spend all day in the Terrain Park) never get a ton of terrain anyway, so Seymour is as good an option as any for them.

Me? I’m looking forward to bigger things. And they would start just south of the border on the last day of the year, with Baker.

The abandoned fourth chair, unchanged since I last skied Seymour

View towards downtown Vancouver, from the top of Brock chair (which used to take people from one side of the PNE grounds to the other, installed the year I last visited Seymour)

Same view but from the top of Mystery chair.

This is really happening

I have a dream. Well, I had one. It is no longer a dream but my current reality.

I’ve spent the last decade with a telecommuted career, which affords me incredible flexibility both in terms of time and location. I’ve taken frequent advantage of that, with motorcycle trips for a few days or a couple weeks, working a couple hours each day to keep on top of the most important tasks. But I’ve also dreamed of getting a camper and hitting the road long term, continuing to work full time. Friends have given me the ol’ “you should do it!” but there were always excuses. Mostly that it is a step out of my comfort zone, what with the hundreds of unknowns and things to go wrong. Hey, it was just a dream anyway, I never really expected it would happen.

I usually thought of it as a summer trip, or at least a warm climate trip. But when the stars aligned just right at the beginning of this winter, a new angle wormed its way into my brain: I’ve been a Mountain Host in my chosen town of Whistler since ’99. In that time I’ve heard all about how we are the best in North America, and also heard about many other ski hills from visitors as I toured them around BlackComb. And just this season it occurred to me: I should find out what makes this place the best for myself.

And so, after two months of researching and preparation (which is not nearly enough time by the way) I’ve got what I believe to be a suitable RV and provisions and am on the road. Yes, this is really happening.